“Hurry Up and Wait!”

I’ve been a published author for almost thirty years now, and I’m still amazed at how some things have changed dramatically–while other things remain the same.

When I started out, I thought I knew everything. Everything. After all, I’d read every book I could find on “the biz.” I read all of the writers’ magazines. What was there to learn that I didn’t already know? A great deal, as it turned out.

I started writing my first (published) novel, Alexander’s Empire (later retitled Dance of the Gods by my publisher, and now reissued under the original title) in 1981. After working on the manuscript on lunch breaks and after Collin was tucked into bed at night, I queried my agent in May 1984. She responded quickly, asking for a detailed synopsis and sample chapters. In June, I got a response, asking for a phone meeting, during which she instructed me to send the entire manuscript. The next time we talked, in September, she started with, “This manuscript is completely unpublishable.”

“Hold on,” I told her, “while I go slit my wrists.”

She quickly explained that it could be made publishable with some work. She told me that it reminded her a great deal of a novel she’d repped that had been her first New York Times bestseller (she’s since had at least 100 of those, and many more national bestsellers). She believed my novel could also be a bestseller. Okay, I forgot all about that wrist-slitting business. Things were definitely looking up. She was sending me her agency agreement. I couldn’t sign it fast enough.

What followed was months of blood-letting–or that’s how it felt, anyway–as we worked together, restructuring the story, reinventing the characters, editing, revising, polishing, until she was satisfied it was ready for submission. I had gone into this figuring that, as an unknown new writer with no previous publishing background, a $5000 advance was the best I could hope for. Maria told me she was going to ask for much more than that. It took her fifteen minutes to get me to stop laughing (okay, maybe not that long). She explained that she would be sending it out to twelve publishers, all of which she felt would be a good fit for me and my novel. She did it in late March. Of the twelve, eight made offers. She weighed each offer carefully and discussed them with me. On the morning of April 26, 1985, she called to tell me that Berkley was the one she’d chosen. At that time, paperback original was the way to go. Build a career, then go to hardcover. She also felt the acquiring editor was someone I would work well with She was right, as it turned out.

Damaris was so enthusiastic about the book that she would end up offering us a contract for my next two books in December–while we were still working on (more) edits for Alexander’s Empire. By the time it was published in May 1988, Berkley would have a total of five of my books under contract–and at that point, I still didn’t know what number five was going to be!

Times have changed. The process of publishing, not so much. It can be a slooooow process. One of my fellow authors once called it the “hurry up and wait syndrome.” The authors are expected to hurry up and then wait on the publisher…and wait, and wait.

But now, authors have other options. When I was starting out, there were only two: traditional publishing and vanity presses, where the author paid to have a contracted number of copies printed and had to figure out on their own how to sell them. Now, we have traditional publishing, vanity presses, self-publishing, and indie publishing. I’ve done three of the four. I’m still amazed that we can finish a book and have it available for sale within a week. Sure, self-published authors have to to their own marketing and promotion, but so do most traditionally-published authors. For anyone not chosen to be a lead title with all of the advertising, promotional and marketing dollars that goes with that position, it can be frustrating. Self-published authors get as much as 90% of the royalties and have full creative control, which at this point in my career is the most important thing. And self-published books can remain in print forever–traditionally-published books that aren’t bestsellers have a limited shelf-life. If the author wants to make any changes to boost sales after publication, self-publishing makes that possible. Try getting that from a traditional publisher!

Indie publishing gives authors the best parts of self-publishing without the grunt work. My current publisher, Creativia, is making great progress in marketing and promotion. I’m more than happy to take a smaller percentage of the royalties to be free of that. They’ve landed many of their authors on the Amazon bestseller list. And now, even the New York Times recognizes self- and indie published books.

It’s good to have options. There are pros and cons for each (except vanity presses–I can’t think of a single good thing about them). I learned a great deal from having been traditionally-published for my first fourteen books that’s served me well as an indie. There are authors who have successfully gone with both traditional publishing and self-publishing. Whatever works!

When is a Facepalm Not a Bad Thing?

Answer: When the solution to your problem has been right there in front of you all along.

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It took Collin and me ten years to write Chasing the Wind. The idea was conceived in spring 1998 and the book was originally published in May 2008. In between, there were multiple changes, revisions and rewrites, until the finished book bore little resemblance to the early drafts. It was frustrating at times, but I’m happy with it.

One of the cuts that were necessary involved the storyline of two characters, Alex Stewart and Robyn Cantwell. I loved the characters and decided the sequel, An Army of Angels, would focus on them…but it didn’t take long to discover that I hadn’t really thought it out. As secondary characters, they worked…but was there enough for a standalone novel?

I’ve been wrestling with that problem since 2008. I knew how their story started, I knew how it would end, but I didn’t know how they would get from A to Z. I didn’t want to give up, but I just couldn’t figure it out. I’ve shelved it at least half a dozen times. I even considered turning it into a romantic comedy after plotting a series of comedies featuring Robyn’s five brothers.

Nothing worked.

I tried serializing their story, along with stories involving characters from four of my previous novels, on a separate blog. It didn’t work.

Then, at 3:00 this morning, the solution presented itself. Most of my best ideas come at the most inconvenient times, so it’s not really that much of a surprise.

I’ve wanted to write shorter novels ever since I discovered James Patterson’s Book Shots. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re novels that average 150 pages, fast-paced, perfect for readers like myself with chronically short attention spans. I realized that the format would be ideal for continuing the story Collin and I started in Chasing the Wind. It would be the perfect way to move back and forth through all of the characters’ stories and still stick to the timeline.

Now to find out if it’s going to work….

Chasing the Wind: A New Look for an Eight-Year-Old Book

Creativia just launched the new landing page on their site for Chasing the Wind. I hope you’ll check it out!

CTW 2014

As I posted previously, I’ve been learning dictation…and giving a lot of thought to where I go from here professionally. I want to write screenplays. That may succeed, but it may not. I’ve never been one to ever have a Plan B, because that means I’d have something to fall back on if Plan A fails. But I’m no spring chicken anymore and my collaborator is currently busy with other things, so maybe Plan B isn’t such a bad idea anymore. Besides, there are characters I need to catch up with, stories I need to tell. Stories I need to finish. I’ve changed a great deal since most of my novels were written, and so have those characters. I could write about them on my blog, or….

I don’t see myself writing 400-500 page novels anymore, but there is an alternative. For example, James Patterson started something called Bookshots–novels that can usually be read in one sitting. 150 pages or less.  That’s a length I could probably handle. Readers these days (like me) tend to have shorter and shorter attention spans. Several authors have turned to shorter formats. Me? I already have plots for three, possibly four.

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Anything is possible….

Character Blog: Connor Mackenzie and Lynne Raven Mackenzie, Chasing the Wind

A few years ago,I did a series of character blogs–getting into the thoughts of my characters. From time to time, I’ll be reposting these entries for those who weren’t around to read them back then….

CTW 2014

Connor says:

I was attracted to her right off, but I wasn’t seeing her as more than a bedmate–a temporary one at that–at the time.

I didn’t even want to go to the bloody lecture. Sarah wouldn’t let it go. I realised she wasn’t going to give up. It was really quite odd, because Sarah and I have never been close. Why she wanted me with her that night remained a mystery for months to follow.

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When Lynne told me of her difficulty in obtaining funding for her dig in Egypt, I saw an opportunity. I had made plans to fly to Cape Town the next day, to lie low the until the furor subsided. This, however, was a much better option. No one would be looking for me on an archaeological excavation. I would be living in the middle of nowhere with a woman I found quite appealing. 

It had definite possibilities.

Edward wasn’t going to be an easy sell, but he understood the urgency of the situation. I couldn’t stay in London. If I did, I could well end up in prison. What we had done was illegal. If the Foundation provided Lynne’s funding, it would all be perfectly legal and no one would be the wiser. It would not be connected to me. And if I got it on with the lady while in exile, all the better.

I had no idea then how it was all going to turn out…. 

Lynne says:

There’s no such thing as coincidence. Nothing happens by accident.

I wasn’t even supposed to be in London. I’m an archaeologist specializing in Biblical archaeology. I’d been working on a dig in Egypt, searching for proof of the Exodus. Yes, that Exodus. My partners and I had been there for a while, almost three years. The money was running out, and we hadn’t been able to secure further funding.

Then came the call.

A colleague who had been slated to give a series of lectures in London was injured at his dig site and was unable to fulfill his obligations in Britain, so he asked me to take his place. That might not seem odd to you, but this guy was someone I’d always been at odds with professionally. Why me? I wondered. Why had he asked me, rather than someone with whom he actually got along?

I didn’t question it too closely, though. I figured a couple of weeks in London would give me a chance to take one last shot at finding the funding we needed to keep going. It was my last chance.

Then I met Connor Mackenzie, and everything changed.

I’ll never forget that night. I walked into the lecture hall, and he stood out like Chris Rock at a Klan rally. He was wearing worn jeans and a leather biker jacket. He was of average height, with light brown hair that was almost blond, and blue eyes that, well…. He looked a lot like Ewan McGregor.

We talked briefly. When I told him of my funding dilemma, he suggested he might be able to help. I didn’t take him seriously, but he was so compelling–all right, I confess. When he asked me to have dinner with him, I didn’t want to refuse…. 

Coming in for a Landing…But Where’s the Rest of the Squadron?

I once told a fellow author I was going to take flying lessons as research for a book (that was never written, as it happens, because my agent didn’t find the idea glamorous enough). The fellow author’s response: “Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the air.”

I should probably point out that this comment was made in the early ’90s, when air travel was still fun.

Anyway, I’m not flying now. Not even as a passenger. By “landing,” I was referring to Creativia’s landing pages for my books. So far, only two are up and running. I’m guessing they’re doing this in alphabetical order, as the first one up was Alexander’s Empire and now we have Angels at Midnight. To check them out, just click on the links. And while you’re at it, check out my author page at their site. (They haven’t yet added my latest release, Ms. Maxwell and Son, to my bibliography.)

Angels at Midnight Complete

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When I decided to reissue my backlist books, I had a choice to make. These books, with the exception of Chasing the Wind and Final Hours, had all been written and published in the late 1980s-early 1990s. That was a time when the most popular fiction was either historical romance (not my cup of tea) or glamorous, suspenseful contemporary romance. Today, the market is decidedly different. On one hand, I really wanted the old books to be available on a permanent basis, even if they didn’t gain many new readers. Om the other, I felt an urge to rewrite all of the old stuff, not just to make it more relevant to today’s readers, but in the case of Alexander’s Empire to satisfy my need to finally publish the story I’d wanted to write from the start.

If I were writing them today? Alexander’s Empire would still involve wealth and power–to a degree. But it would be, at its heart, the story of a man who discovers he’s not who he’s always believed himself to be, that his present life was created out of a tragedy that destroyed several lives. It would focus on his inability to trust, to love, and his search for answers.

As for Angels at Midnight, again, there would be less glamour and more of a modern “MacGuyver meets Robin Hood” story. Ashley might still be a celebrated artist, but Collin wouldn’t be an oilman’s heir. He’d be someone who was one of many cheated by a ruthless employer. He’d be more high tech than he was back in the ’80s. And there would be more fencing. Those were my favorite parts of the original.

That’s what might have been….

What Do a Single Pregnant Woman, a Cranky Musician, a Toilet-Flushing Cockatoo and a Snowstorm Have in Common?

Since my first series romance novel, Ms. Maxwell and Son (originally published by Silhouette in 1988, reissued by Creativia in August 2016) is currently on sale at Amazon through Monday, here’s an excerpt….

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Chapter One

This is it. This is really it. The baby’s corning. The contractions were thirty minutes apart now, and still nothing more than a vague cramping sensation in the lower abdomen. I have plenty of time, Katie Maxwell thought, brushing a strand of her short, dark auburn hair off her forehead. She willed herself to remain calm. Plenty of time to get to the hospital. Plenty of time. She drew in a deep breath and tried to focus her attention on the comic strip she’d been working on, but without much success. Deadline or no deadline, she couldn’t think of anything but what was happening inside her own body.

It was about time. Her due date had come and gone almost two weeks ago with no indication that her baby had even considered making his debut in the outside world. Just like your father, Katie thought. She immediately pushed the thought from her mind. Mustn’t think of Michael now. Not now. Michael’s not your father …not in any way that really matters. He was just my husband. Was. The man who made me pregnant. That’s all.

She looked at her watch. She had to keep timing the pains. This couldn’t be false labor. It just couldn’t be. It had to be the real thing. She couldn’t wait another day. Not after having waited so long already.

Her obstetrician had told her to be patient, that first babies often arrived late. But everyone’s patience had its limits, and Katie’s was no exception. She’d waited eight months already. . . eight long months since she took the home pregnancy test that had changed her life so drastically.

She got up from her drawing board and walked across the room to the windows, her left hand gently massaging her aching back as she moved at a slow waddle. In the past few months she’d begun to feel like an unflattering cross between a duck and an elephant. It was snowing.

She had no idea how long it had been snowing . . . she hadn’t looked outside in hours. She’d been struggling to meet her deadline when the first contractions came at just past mid- night. She hadn’t had the TV on, so she’d had no idea there was any inclement weather in the forecast. God, why did it have to snow tonight, of all nights? Normally Katie loved the Connecticut winters. The countryside that was verdant green in summer and rich with reds and golds in autumn was especially beautiful after a freshly fallen snow–before that special beauty was marred by the snowplows and salt and cinder trucks. Normally Katie looked forward to that first snowfall, but tonight it only meant trouble. It meant she wouldn’t be able to drive herself to the hospital as she’d planned. It meant she’d have to call for a taxi…or an ambulance.

She settled down on the overstuffed couch and waited for the next contraction. When they were fifteen minutes apart, she would call Dr. Rowen and leave for the hospital. She decided it would be safer to call an ambulance than take a chance on a taxi that might not arrive in time. Katie frowned. No wonder her mother kept insisting a baby needed two parents. One to do the heavy labor, and one to drive to the hospital in case of nasty weather, she thought wryly. At least I haven’t lost my sense of humor—yet.

Another pain came, this time more intense than the last. Katie caught her breath and checked her watch again. Twenty-five minutes apart. They were coming closer together. She lay back against the couch and sucked in her breath. Had she made the right decision? she wondered for the hundredth time in the course of her pregnancy. Not that she’d really had any other options. Michael had made the decision for her the same day she told him about the baby. Michael had never had any desire to be a father—he’d made that clear from the day they were married. Still, Katie had always hoped he’d change his mind. He hadn’t. If anything, he’d become more adamant in his refusal to even consider starting a family. She’d never had to worry about forgetting to take the pill—Michael always reminded her. She recalled now how he’d reacted to the news of her pregnancy….

“You’re supposed to be using birth control,” he said evenly as he went to the bar to pour himself a drink. As he’d put it, he was sure he was going to need one.

She watched him for a moment as he poured automatically. Just the right amounts of vodka and tonic, two ice cubes, never any more, never any less, and just a small twist of lime. He could almost make it in his sleep. It never varied. It was almost as though all the glasses were marked and the lime cut in precisely the same size pieces. Katie realized for the first time how annoying that was. She searched his handsome face for some sign of emotion, any emotion. There was none.

“I was–that is, I am,” she said finally. “Something must have gone wrong.” She gave a helpless shrug.

“Obviously.” He lifted the glass to his lips, his expression now as cold as the ice in his drink. He took a long swallow, slowly, as if taking time to consider the options. “How far along are you?”

“About six weeks.” He was taking an interest, anyway, Katie thought, however slight. Itwas a good sign. A beginning. But her hope had been short-lived.

“Well, thank God for that,” Michael said with relief in his voice.

“I don’t understand–” Katie began.

“At least it’s not too late.”

“For what?”

“An abortion, of course,” he said as he put down his glass, as if the decision had already been made.

“I have no intention of having an abortion, Michael,” she told him. “This pregnancy may not have been planned, but there’s no way I’ll terminate it.”

His smile was cold. “Don’t tell me it’s against that Irish Catholic heritage you’re so damn proud of,” he concluded.

“Heritage or not, I don’t believe in abortion,” she said tightly, her fists clenched in the folds of her full skirt. She was fighting to control her anger. “This is my child, and I have every intention of keeping him.”

“Then you’ll keep it alone,” he said with barely controlled anger in his voice. “I told you before we were married that having children was one subject that would not be open for discussion. I didn’t want children then, and I still don’t.”

“And that’s all that’s ever mattered to you, isn’t it–what you want!” Katie exploded. “What I might want doesn’t matter to you at all, does it?”

“If you were so set on a life of home and hearth and sticky fingers and runny noses, you should have married a family man, Kathleen,” he said acidly. “You knew my position on this before we were married.”

“Your position? My God, Michael, you make this sound like a legal debate!” she responded incredulously.

He looked at her calmly. “We had an agreement.”

“No, Michael, you had an agreement. I had a marriage–or I thought I did, anyway.” She was fighting to control the temper that was very much a part of her Irish heritage. “What I wanted never mattered to you. How I felt never mattered to you. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that.”

“Then you’re determined to go through with this pregnancy?” he wanted to know.

“Yes. I am.”

He nodded slowly. “Fine,” he said finally. “Do you want to get the divorce, or shall I?”

“I think I’d better do it,” she said dispassionately. “As far as I know, pregnancy isn’t grounds for divorce in this state…but discovering I married a selfish jackass just might be.”

Katie’s thoughts returned to the present. Looking back on it now, she realized she shouldn’t have been surprised. Michael had never really liked children. She’d seen it when he was forced to be around her nieces and nephews for any length of time. He’d never showed any interest in even trying to learn to like them. He didn’t like children, didn’t want any of his own, and that was that.

At least he was honest about that much, she thought dismally. After the divorce she’d often wondered if he had ever really wanted to be a husband, either, or if marrying her had just been more convenient than having to go looking for someone to take care of his sexual needs when he felt the urge.

By three in the morning the snow had reached blizzard proportions and Katie’s contractions were fifteen minutes apart. Time to call the doctor. She picked up the phone on the table next to the couch and started to dial, realizing halfway through the number that the line was dead. “Oh, no,” she breathed, depressing the button on the cradle repeatedly, frantically. Nothing. The snow must have downed the lines. She tried her cellphone. Again, nothing. No signal.

Terrific, she thought. Now what? She searched her mind frantically for a possible alternative. She could have the baby right here, alone. She shook her head, dismissing that idea. She could just as easily fly to the moon on gossamer wings. Only as a last resort, she promised herself. Stay calm. She willed herself not to panic. It wouldn’t do any good. It might even make matters worse. Or would it? She remembered reading somewhere that anxiety could actually prolong labor. It might give her time to figure out how she was going to get to the hospital.

Good grief, what was she thinking of? Who in her right mind would actually want to prolong labor? The thoughts of a desperate woman, she decided. A very desperate woman. Who else in the building was home right now? she asked herself. Who might be able to help her? There were only six apartments in the converted Victorian manor. Two were vacant at the moment. Julie, her only real friend among the tenants, was away for the weekend.

“Don’t have that baby till I get back,” she’d told Katie jokingly as she was leaving yesterday.

“Don’t worry,” Katie had laughed. “I think he’s waiting for the spring thaw.”

I’d be happy if he’d just wait until morning–or at least until the phone’s working again, she thought now, ready to push the panic button. The Kellers, the elderly couple who lived upstairs, were off on one of those “Love Boat” type cruises. Even if they had been home, Mr. Keller was hardly physically up to a mad race to the hospital inthis weather—and Mrs. Keller didn’t drive at all. The man who lived next door had just moved in two weeks ago. Katie had seen him on the stairs a couple of times, but knew nothing more about him than his name and the fact that he liked to play his piano in the middle of the night. She’d heard he was a real grouch, too. She considered her options, then got up off the couch.

It looked like the man in 2B was her only chance.

*****

Jack Spangler tapped out a tune on the keyboard, then paused long enough to scribble some illegible notes on a music sheet on top of the old, scarred piano. Had he taken the time to look in a mirror, he would have seen a face that looked as if it had been without sleep in at least a week, one that probably had not known a razor in almost as many days. He would have seen bloodshot eyes shadowed by the effects of too little sleep, and thick, dark brown hair in desperate need of a barber’s scissors. He would have seen a body that was just a little too thin from skipping too many meals. But he would not have cared, even if he had taken the time to make those observations. There was only one thing on his mind, and that was his music. He was not a dedicated composer; he was an obsessed one. When he was in the middle of a composition, it occupied his every waking thought and haunted his dreams. He lived and breathed music. It was his mistress, his tempestuous, demanding mistress, possessing his soul as no mortal woman ever could. And unlike a woman, his music would never leave him; it would always be with him, always be a part of him. When he was composing, the rest of the world ceased to exist. And that was the way he wanted it.

He raked a hand through his thick, dark hair and took a long swallow of the cold coffee in the mug that had left a ring on his completed sheet music, making a face at the unexpected bitter taste. Time to make fresh coffee. He got up from the piano and walked barefoot into the too small kitchenette, mug in hand. After dumping its contents into the sink, he rinsed the mug, then filled it with hot water from the tap. No point in wasting time boiling water, he thought. He opened a jar of instant coffee he kept on the counter and spooned three heaping tablespoons into the water, stirring it as he scanned the shelf overhead for the individually wrapped crackers he always pocketed in restaurants. Finding the packets in an old cracked mug, he took two. “Hungry, Sam?” he called out.

“Sam’s hungry,” a large white cockatoo responded from his perch in the living room. He spread his wings wide and ruffled his feathers as if to emphasize the point.

“You’ve been on your best behavior,” Jack decided aloud as he returned with the coffee and crackers. “I guess you’ve earned these.” Putting the mug down on the top of the piano, he unwrapped the crackers and offered one to the bird. Sam took the cracker in one claw and started to eat it.

“Where’re your manners, Sam?” Jack asked as if he were speaking to a child to whom he’d just given candy.

“Thank you, Jack,” Sam answered on cue, immediately returning his attention to the cracker.

“You’re welcome, Sam.” Jack sat down at the piano and started to play again, but was interrupted by the unexpected sound of someone knocking at the door. At first he thought he was hearing things. Nobody in this quiet, very normal neighborhood could possibly be out and about at this hour. He’d begun to think they all went to bed at sundown.

Then he heard it again. He glanced at the clock on the mantle. Who the hell could be knocking at this ungodly hour? He’d thought he was the only living soul in this part of Connecticut who kept graverobbers’ hours. He dragged himself off the bench again and crossed the room.

“Listen, whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying–” he stopped short as he pulled the door open.

The woman standing in the hall looked familiar, but he couldn’t place the face. She was short, with thick hair cut to frame her face like a glossy red cap, a delicate, heart-shaped face and dark green eyes. She was, he decided in the seconds he’d had to appraise her, quite attractive. She was also either very pregnant or a Weight Watchers dropout. Even under her bulky winter coat, he could tell that her stomach was quite large.

“I’m Katie Maxwell,” she told him, clearly upset about something. “I live next door.” So that’s where I’ve seen her before. On the stairs, Jack thought.

“I need your help,” Katie was saying.

He gave her a puzzled look. “Lady, it’s three in the morning–” he started.

“I’m in labor. I need someone–I need you, that is, to drive me to the hospital,” she went on.

“Where’s your husband?” Tact had never been Jack Spangler’s strong suit.

“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” Katie said crossly, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I don’t have a husband—and right now, I don’t have any other way to get to the hospital. I can’t drive myself. Nobody else in the building is around, and I can’t call an ambulance because the phone lines are down.” She’d gotten it all out in one breath. Jack was still staring at her, bewildered.

“Will you help me?” she asked, almost pleading by now.

He hesitated for a moment, considering the alternatives. She could end up having her baby right there in his living room. He would have to deliver it. The thought of that made him feel a little anxious himself. “Yeah, okay,” he said finally, nodding in surrender. “Give me a minute to pull myself together, okay?” He dropped onto the couch and started pulling on his socks and boots. “You got a suitcase or anything?”

She nodded. “I’ll get it.”

He shook his head. “I’ll get it. Just tell me where it is.” In every TV sitcom he’d ever seen, they always rushed off without the suitcase and had to come back for it. He had no intention of coming back for anything.

Katie nodded. “It’s just inside my door, on the big chair.”

“Hey, good lookin’!” Sam squawked as Jack started looking for his coat.

“Shut up, bird!” he ordered as he walked out, closing the door behind him.

A Prophet…or an Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong?

Today’s excerpt is from Chasing the Wind, my favorite of my works. It took Collin and me ten years to write and revise, during the worst period of our lives, but we stuck with it–even when agents and publishers who wanted to work with us insisted we had to turn it into something I didn’t want it to be in order to sell it. Early on, it was a screenplay. I finally realized we would have to self-publish it in order to make it the story I really wanted to write, so in 2008, that’s what we did. Then a few years later, I told Collin we had to rewrite it, switching from third-person point-of-view to multiple first-person POVs. We did, and it was re-published by Creativia. The ebook edition is available via Amazon at a special promotional price–$.99–now through Wednesday!

This is the story of Lynne Raven, a Biblical archaeologist with a failed marriage and a yearning for motherhood, and Connor Mackenzie, a mysterious benefactor with an incredible secret he has yet to discover himself….

 

CTW 2014

Caitlin Hammond

The woman was hysterical.

Her husband wasn’t in much better shape. He could barely talk, struggling to answer my questions in fragmented sentences. Their six-year-old daughter had been abducted from their backyard. There were no witnesses, and an exhaustive search of the neighborhood turned up nothing.

“I don’t understand how this could have happened,” the child’s father said, choking on every other word. “She only let Mandy out of her sight for a minute.”

He looked over his shoulder at his inconsolable wife, being tended by a neighbor. “She’s always been an overprotective mother,” he said, lowering his voice. “Mandy’s our miracle baby.”

“How so?” I asked, taking notes. In the years I’d been with the FBI, I’d found child abduction cases to be the biggest test of my objectivity. If somebody took my kid, I’d probably hunt them down and kill them. Kidnappers and pedophiles should always be turned over to the parents. The courts might let them go. But you didn’t hear that from me.

“We’d been trying to have children for years, almost as long as we’ve been married,” the distraught father went on.  “We both come from big families and wanted kids of our own, but it just wasn’t happening.”

“Is your daughter adopted?” my partner, Jack Farlow, asked.

He shook his head. “No, no,” he said. “She’s ours. We went to a fertility clinic when we couldn’t conceive. It took everything we had, all of our savings, but Mandy’s worth it.”

“You had difficulty in having a child,” Jack said slowly. “Who was at fault?”

The man was at first puzzled, then angry. “What kind of question is that?” he asked. “What has it to do with Mandy being missing?”

“Probably nothing, maybe everything, depending on the circumstances of her birth, sir,” Jack said. “Did you use an egg or sperm donor?”

The man shook his head. “No,” he said. “Mandy’s ours, one hundred percent. She was conceived by in vitro, but we used our own…you know.”

“We have to ask,” I apologized. “If your daughter were not biologically yours, then we would have to consider the possibility that the biological parent might have taken her.”

“We’re her parents, no one else,” the man insisted. His face reflected his deep fear for his child’s safety. “Please bring our baby home. Please.”

***

“I only turned my back for a moment,” the distraught teacher repeated over and over. “I never left the schoolyard!”

A six-year-old boy had been abducted outside a prestigious Seattle school for gifted children. No one saw it happen, even though there were several children in the schoolyard, being picked up by their own parents. Everyone was being questioned.

“We understand, Mrs. Harwood,” I said in an attempt to calm her.

I don’t understand!” The emotional outburst came from the child’s mother. “You were responsible for him! You were supposed to be watching him!”

“I was watching him!” the teacher attempted to defend herself. “I was watching all of them! I only turned away for a moment!”

“Long enough for someone to take my son!” the angry mother shot back at her.

“Easy, Mrs. Wyndham,” Jack urged. “She won’t be able to remember anything if you keep attacking her.”

Charlotte Wyndham turned to the window, hugging herself tightly as if trying to shield herself from the chill of fear that consumed her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She said her husband was in Paris on business. He’d booked a flight as soon as she called him, but he could not be there before the next morning.

“We only had each other, until Noah was born,” she said. “Neither of us have any other family, and we both wanted children. When we couldn’t get pregnant on our own, we sought out the experts. It took us three years and thousands of dollars to have Noah, but he’s worth every penny. If anything happens to him….”

***

The woman’s body was found in her car, parked in the driveway outside her Florida home. She was still in the driver’s seat, her seatbelt still in place. She’d been shot in the head at close range. Her five-year-old son was missing, presumably taken from his car seat.

We questioned her husband at length. He was frustrated by the endless probing. “My wife is dead, my child is missing. Why are you wasting time questioning me?” he demanded.

“You found her, sir, ” I said. “We have to start there. With you.”

“She had no enemies,” he said irritably. “None. She got along with everybody. I always envied that about her. She was the peacemaker. I was the loose cannon.”

“Were you a loose cannon with her, Mr. Reynolds?” Jack asked.

“No, of course not.” Roger Reynolds didn’t miss the implication. “What are you asking me?”

“Only if there were any problems between the two of you.”

“You think I killed her?” Reynolds asked incredulously.

“Did you?”

“No, of course not!”

“What about your son?”

“What about him?”

“Were there any problems regarding the child?” I asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Reynolds snapped. “Our son was perfect. Perfect.”

 

Lynne Raven

Dear God, how long has it been? As I stood at the window in my hotel room in London, looking at the city below, I found myself feeling like I’d just landed on another planet.

I should probably explain. I’m a field archaeologist. Home is wherever I happen to be excavating—at that time, “home” was Egypt. The only people I see on a daily basis are the members of my team. Restaurants, theaters, shopping—all are rare luxuries. My wardrobe is simple and functional, much like everything else in my life.

As I looked at the royal blue tunic I’d planned to wear that night, I realized I hadn’t worn it in months. It didn’t fit my normal lifestyle. Too feminine for a dig. Thinking about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made the effort to be feminine, to actually look like a woman. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt like a woman, the last time I’d wanted to feel like a woman. Feeling and acting like a woman always seemed to get me into trouble. I had discovered long ago that I got on better with people who’d been dead for a thousand years than I did with the living.

I’m not one to spend a lot of time worrying about my looks. For what? I’ve been divorced over a decade and can’t remember the last time I was on a date. I turned forty that summer, but on the good days, I could still pass for thirty. I had fine lines around my eyes—“archaeologist’s squint,” an occupational hazard more than a sign of aging. I haven’t changed my hairstyle since college—it’s long, dark and threaded with strands of copper from being out in the sun all day, every day. I know I don’t look my age. But there are times I feel it acutely. I got good genes from my parents. Genes that I haven’t been able to pass on to any children of my own. The thought of the children I’d never have and the family I hadn’t seen in a year brought a wave of unexpected sadness I couldn’t shake. It was Thanksgiving in the States. How many years had it been since I’d gone home for Thanksgiving or any other holiday? I told my parents I was too busy, but the truth was that it was too painful to see my three sisters with their children. Seeing what I’d been missing.

I always believed this was the path God had chosen for me. I could never have been satisfied with the life my sisters led back in Missouri. Taking the easy route had never been my style. We all have a purpose. I believed without doubt that mine was to find evidence that would prove the events described in the Bible had actually happened.

As for why I was in London, I hadn’t planned on being here. Three weeks before, I’d been minding my own business, working on my dig in Egypt when that call came, asking me to do a series of lectures in London, to replace a colleague who’d been injured in an earthquake in China. The request surprised the hell out of me, since it came from someone I not only didn’t know well personally, but had been at odds with professionally. What was it Dr. McCallum had called me? Too much of a dreamer to ever be a serious archaeologist. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t about to debate the merits of his request. It had been so long since I’d taken any time off from my work, for any reason…and as much as I loved it, I’d been feeling the need for a break for a long time now. It was a feeling I’d never had before, one I was at a loss to explain, even to myself. Work had been my whole life for…how long? Ever since the divorce.

I was giving serious consideration to adopting a child, maybe two. Not babies. Older kids. Kids who could live the way I live and actually enjoy it. There are lots of kids in the world needing parents. It doesn’t matter if I give birth to my kids or not.

Being in London would hopefully also provide me with an opportunity to seek the funding I needed to continue the dig. Time was running out and I’d already been rejected by the three private foundations that had funded my previous digs. God, I need a miracle, I silently prayed. That’s what it’s going to take if I’m to continue my work—Your work.

***

I saw him enter the crowded lecture hall. He was hard to miss. He looked so out of place in the sea of conservatively dressed attendees—but it didn’t seem to bother him. He wore faded jeans and a beat-up black leather jacket. He was with a young woman, a petite brunette who looked as aristocratic as he was scruffy. His light brown hair was in desperate need of a comb. His boredom was evident in his body language, the way he shoved his hands down into the pockets of his jacket. I decided I’d lost my audience before I even got to the podium.

“I fail to see why you couldn’t have come to this event alone, Sarah,” he said, annoyed. “You know quite well that I’ve no interest in spending the evening listening to a decrepit old man talk about life in some desolate outpost of Hades, digging up the pathetic remains of people who lived in another millennium.”

The woman shook her head disapprovingly. “If you had even bothered to read the brochure I gave you, you would know that Dr. Raven is a woman,” she told him.

“No difference,” he said with an offhanded shrug. “Frumpy, gray hair in a schoolmarm’s bun, sensible shoes, no doubt.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to need a pint—or two—to get me through this evening. I’ll be back. Eventually.” He turned to leave the lecture hall and we were face-to-face. He smiled, and his whole face seemed transformed by it. His eyes, blue and intense, instantly softened. “Hello,” he said in a low voice.

The woman came up behind him. “This is Dr. Raven,” she told him.

He extended his hand to me. “Connor Mackenzie,” he introduced himself. His Scottish brogue was unmistakable. I noticed that he didn’t introduce his date.

“Lynne Raven.” I shook his hand. “I left my sensible shoes back at the hotel,” I said, feigning regret.

He looked embarrassed. “You heard that?”

I nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“I’m sorry—”

“Don’t be.” I smiled. “I get it all the time.” It was the truth. People are always surprised when they discover I’m an archaeologist. They always expect us to look and act like Indiana Jones. I do have the hat and the leather jacket, but no bullwhip. I used to wish I’d had one when I was still married. My ex could have benefited from a good whipping.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “You certainly don’t look like an archaeologist.”

He wasn’t expecting Indiana Jones. He was expecting a fossil as old as some of my finds.

I laughed. “Having heard your description, I’m relieved to hear I don’t look like one to you.”

He looked me in the eye, which was a little unnerving. “I think you’re quite beautiful,” he said.

I could feel my cheeks flush. I couldn’t remember the last time a man had made me blush. Maybe my ex-husband, but that was another lifetime—one I preferred not to remember. “Good save,” I said, a bit unnerved by the intensity of his stare.

“Are you enjoying your stay in London?” he asked in an awkward attempt at small talk.

“Very much,” I answered, grateful for the change of subject. “I spend most of my time on excavations. This has been heavenly.”

“Where will you go when you leave?” he asked.

“Egypt,” I said. “We’re digging in the Sinai, near the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.”

He looked amused. “You don’t really expect to find stone tablets—” he started.

I shook my head. “The tablets were taken to Israel in the Ark of the Covenant,” I explained. “They were still in the Ark when it disappeared from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. It’s been rumored that the Ark’s now somewhere in Ethiopia, but no one’s been able to prove it. Much as I would love to be the one to find the Ark, we don’t expect to find it in Egypt. We are searching for evidence of the Exodus in general.”

He laughed. “Have you found the secret to parting the Red Sea?” he wanted to know.

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes. It’s called faith.”

“I’ve heard archaeologists are now using modern technology to aid their work,” he recalled. “Computers, satellites—”

“We do.” I drew in a deep breath, thinking of the equipment I still needed to continue my work. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped in this case. We haven’t found anything significant yet. This has turned out to be a long-term project, which means it’s been costly. My funding’s been cut off, and other sources I’ve used in the past have already turned me down. I have to find a new source of funding ASAP. Time is running out, if I’m going to continue my field work.” Why was I dumping this on him? I glanced toward his female companion, who was watching us intently. “I think your girlfriend’s getting the wrong idea.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” he said. “She’s my sister.”

Only then did I realize that he was still holding my hand. I withdrew it slowly.

“Have you eaten?” Connor asked.

I shook my head. “I’m beat. I thought I’d just get some Chinese takeout after I’m finished here and call it a night.”

He laughed. “A rare trip to the civilized world and you plan to spend the evening in your hotel room? That’s unacceptable.” he said. “Come have dinner with me.”

“I don’t think so—” I started.

“I may be able to save your project,” he suggested.

I was more than a little skeptical. “How?” He didn’t look like he had enough cash to pay for dinner. Except for the watch. The watch he wore looked very expensive. He probably stole it. Or so I thought at the time.

He winked, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “My trust fund,” he told her.

I nodded slowly. “Right.”

He wasn’t about to give up. “I could surprise you. What have you to lose by hearing me out?” he asked.

I hesitated for only a moment. “All right,” I said finally. Even if he didn’t have the means to save the excavation, there was something so compelling about him, I couldn’t refuse. I didn’t want to refuse.

God help me, I was thinking.

The Journey to the Bestseller List

It’s Wednesday, and today’s featured author is the wonderful Sahara Foley. I met Sahara shortly after Collin and I signed on with Creativia, and she gave me an audiobook copy of her novel, We Journey No More. I’m not normally into young adult novels, probably because they remind me that it’s been a long time since I’ve been a young adult–but I found myself thoroughly enjoying this one. Apparently I’m not alone, because Sahara is a certified Amazon bestselling author!

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Don’t take my work for it, though–check out Sahara and her wonderful books through Amazon or at Creativia, her publisher’s website!

How Far Would You Go to Be Reunited with the Person You Love?

Today’s excerpt is from Angels at Midnight, originally published in 1989. The ebook will be available via Amazon at a special promotional price 9/25/16-10/1/16:

 

Angels at Midnight Complete

 

New York City, July 1987

The penthouse was in darkness. Out on the terrace, a man and a woman, dressed in loose-fitting black overalls, prepared to make an unauthorized entrance. The woman, holding a large canvas rucksack, looked on as her partner ran a gloved hand expertly along the frame of the large glass door until he found what he was looking for: the wire con­nected to the burglar alarm. He reached into the rucksack and took out a pair of pliers and a long section of wire with an alligator clip on each end. Turning his attention to the alarm once again, he traced the wire to its source, moving slowly, deliberately. He stripped the wire and attached one of the alligator clips to the alarm. As he used the pliers to cut the wire, the woman tensed, an involuntary reaction, as if she expected the alarm to go off. When it didn’t, her entire body sagged with relief. Why did it still bother her? she wondered. After all the times they had been through this in the past few months, shouldn’t she be used to it? Shouldn’t she be convinced that he knew what he was do­ing, that nothing would go wrong? She kept thinking of something he had told her when she first entered into this devil’s bargain with him: one wrong move could be their last. He had said it himself. She looked at him, still amazed by how cool he was, how confident. Now he was taking a small glass cutter from the sack. Carefully, he cut a small hole in the glass, just large enough to allow him to reach inside and release the lock.

“Thank God that’s over,” she breathed as he slid the door open and stepped inside.

He turned to look at her, the strong, angular planes of his face shadowed in the moonlight, a lock of his thick, dark brown hair falling across his forehead. “Unfortunately,” he said in a low, deep voice, “this is only the beginning.”

He took two pairs of infrared goggles from the pocket of his overalls and gave her a pair. He slipped his on and gestured for her to do the same. As she pulled them down over her face and adjusted them on the bridge of her nose, she looked around. The room was suddenly bathed in an eerie red glow, but now it was possible for them to see the infrared beams of light crisscrossing throughout the room, deadly beams that would have been invisible without the goggles, beams that would instantly set off the electronic security system the minute they sensed the change in tem­perature that would occur when they passed through the invisible light. She stood in the doorway, looking at her partner questioningly as he appraised the situation.

“It’s impossible, isn’t it,” she muttered.

He shook his head. “Not impossible—just difficult.” He turned to face her. “Shall we?”

“You must be crazy!” she gasped. “There’s no way—”

“You’re wrong,” he said quietly. “There’s always a way. You should know that by now.”

She hesitated for only a moment. “You really think we can pull it off?”

He grinned. “There’s only one way we’re going to find out, isn’t there?”

She took a deep breath, then nodded reluctantly.

They moved cautiously yet swiftly through the room, dodging the beams by crawling under some, jumping over others, finally making their way to the wall safe that was concealed behind a priceless Matisse in an alcove at the opposite end of the room. She watched as he let the beam of bright light from his large flashlight play on the painting for a few moments. Then he passed the flashlight to her and took the painting down from the wall, turned it over, and placed it face down on the floor. He cut it from its frame, rolled up the vellum, and handed it to her. She put it in the rucksack. He looked up at her and nodded toward the safe. “Let’s get to it.”

As she held the flashlight, focusing the light on the safe, they saw that a series of buttons replaced the traditional round combination dial. He went to the rucksack again, producing a small, rectangular device resembling a pocket calculator with a long wire attached to it. He connected the free end of the wire to the safe just beneath the panel of buttons with a soft, pliable substance he jokingly referred to as Silly Putty. He switched it on, and the digital display began to flash wildly as the device methodically sought out the combination. Swiftly, he opened the safe and swept its contents into the sack his accomplice held open for him. Then he closed the safe again, disconnected his equipment, and hastily stuffed it into the large rucksack, slipping his arms through the heavy straps that secured it to his back.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he told her as he pulled the goggles down over his eyes again.

Dodging the beams again, they made their way back to the terrace. As they prepared to make their escape, she looked apprehensively at the heavy cable strung from the terrace to the roof of another skyscraper several hundred feet away, the same cable on which they had entered. Though she had done this countless times in the past few months, and knew this particular cable to be safe, she doubted she would ever really get used to doing this sort of thing. She could not imagine ever being comfortable with the idea of her life literally hanging by a thread, five hun­dred feet above the ground. She leaned over the railing and stared down at the glittering lights of midtown Manhattan below. Normally, she would have found the view spectacu­lar, but now all she could think of was the danger. One wrong move could be your last. His words echoed through her mind. One wrong move could be fatal.

“Come on!” he urged, perching himself on the railing. He swung his long legs over the side as casually as if he were getting out of bed, and grasped a heavy metal loop attached to the cable. Using his body weight to propel him, he swung forward forcefully, a motion that sent him sailing through the night, speeding toward the other building.

She studied the cable for a moment, thinking about some­thing he’d told her the first time she used the cable: My life happens to mean a great deal to me . . . when I string a cable, it’s so safe you could sail a baby on it. She took a deep breath and climbed onto the rail, moving with the natural grace of a dancer. The wind whipped her long, dark hair about her face as she gripped the loop and launched herself forward. Now, as she sailed through the darkness like some night bird in flight, those old familiar doubts and questions flashed through her mind: When did it all begin to go wrong? she asked herself. When did the world as she knew it begin to fall apart?

And how had she ended up here—doing this?

An Empire of Secrets

Since Creativia is currently running a special promotion for my first novel, Alexander’s Empire (originally published by Berkley Books as Dance of the Gods back in 1988), today’s excerpt will be from that novel. It started out to be a psychological drama about a man who discovers he’s not who he believes himself to be, his fate altered by a tragic accident–but having been written and published in the 1980s, it was also heavily influenced by that time: glitz, glamour, greed and ambition. I chose the protagonist’s name, Alexander, because he was a Greek conqueror like Alexander the Great, but a conqueror of a very different world: international business….

7

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

New York City, December 1986.

A light snow was falling. Up and down Fifth Avenue the windows of all the fabulous shops—Cartier, Saks, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Gucci, Bergdorf Goodman, Steuben Glass—glittered with magnificent holiday treasures that beckoned shoppers to come inside. The sounds of honking horns filled the air as a river of pedestrians—shoppers laden with brightly wrapped Christmas packages, office workers gratefully calling it a day, wide-eyed tourists eagerly taking in the sights, and the usual assortment of street vendors—flooded the streets, resembling a scene from the Exodus. Traffic was bumper to bumper as buses, taxis, and chauffeured limousines jockeyed for positions along the thoroughfare.

Huddled in the back of one of those limousines, Meredith drew her Russian lynx coat around herself for warmth, but it did no good. The chill was deep within her bones, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Inside the limousine it was warm . . . but Meredith was numb with a fear she could not put into words. Normally, she would have been glad the day was over, glad to be going home, but tonight nothing gave her comfort. She felt as though her whole world was about to come crashing down around her, and there was nothing she could do to prevent it.

Tonight Meredith was oblivious of the pulsing excitement that was so much a part of life in Manhattan. She glanced absently at the shop windows, having suddenly lost her Christmas spirit. She peered through the window as the limo inched its way toward its destination. On the west side of the avenue, nestled between Forty-eighth and Fiftieth streets, was the sprawling community of skyscrapers, plazas, stores, and cafés known as Rockefeller Center. “As solid as seven million dollars,” Alexander had once told her. Alexander. Meredith was usually eager to get home and spend a quiet evening with her husband, but now she found herself glad he was not going to be there when she arrived. Alexander was in Paris on business, and Meredith was grateful. He knew her too well; he would have recognized her tension immediately. He would have known that something was wrong. Meredith wasn’t sure that this was something she could share with him. Not yet.

The limousine slowed to a stop in front of the Olympic Tower at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street. The chauffeur opened the door for her, and as Meredith stepped out into the cold night air, the wind whipped her long blond hair around her face. She paused for a moment to gaze up at the building, a magnificent bronze jewel rising into the twilight sky. Fifty-two stories of pure opulence, fit for a king. As she made her way toward it, the liveried doorman, poised at the entrance like a member of the Praetorian Guard, smiled and held the door for her. She nodded absently to him and headed across the red-carpeted lobby toward the elevators. She rang for the elevator impatiently, repeatedly. Hurry, she thought anxiously. Please . . . hurry.

“Is something wrong, Mrs. Kirakis?”

She turned, startled. One of the concierges, easily recognized by his familiar dress uniform—brown slacks, blue-gray jacket, waistcoat, and white satin bow tie—stood behind her, a look of concern on his face. “Are you all right, Mrs. Kirakis?” he asked, trying to be helpful.

She managed a weak smile. “Yes . . . I’m just a bit tired, that’s all,” she assured him. “It’s been a long day. I’m glad to finally be home.”

He smiled. “Your husband arrived about an hour ago,” he told her as he held the elevator for her.

Meredith swung around to face him, unable to hide her surprise. “My husband? Are you sure?”

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “No mistake. I went up in the elevator with him myself.”

“Thank you,” she said as the doors closed slowly and the car began its ascent. She leaned back against the wall, trembling. She wondered why Alexander was back from Paris so soon. What could have happened? What else could possibly go wrong now?

He was waiting for her when she let herself into their apartment. He came to her and embraced her gently. “I hoped you would not be late,” he said as he released her.

“Did everything go all right in Paris?” she asked as she took off her coat.

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. It’s just that lately we seem to be living in the eye of a hurricane. I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen next,” she admitted wearily. “I thought maybe whatever you went there for fell through or something . . .”

“It could not have turned out better.” He studied her for a moment, his black eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Perhaps you should tell me what is bothering you.”

“Me?” Her laugh was, mirthless. “Overwork, that’s all. Nobody’s told Harv Petersen that slavery’s been abolished.”

“Your work? You are sure that’s all?”

“Scout’s honor,” she said, making her voice light. “I’ve got a splitting headache. I think I might lie down for a while before dinner. Do you mind?”

He shook his head. He didn’t believe her for a minute and she knew it. She was grateful that he was not pressing her to tell him more than she had already. She had not been lying about the headache, however, feeling the familiar throbbing pain in her right temple. She kissed Alexander again and retreated to their bedroom before he decided to question her further.

As she lay in the darkness, she tried not to think about it, but it was impossible. She had thought of nothing else since the special messenger had arrived at her office with it that morning. There had been no letter, nothing to identify its sender—just a photocopy of a legal document that needed no explanation. Its message had been only too clear. Not knowing who sent it bothered Meredith most. It meant that someone knew the truth, someone who could turn it into a dangerous weapon. Meredith sat up and switched on the bedside lamp. She removed the envelope from her oversize shoulder bag as carefully as if she were defusing a bomb. A bomb would not have frightened her as much. She removed the paper from the envelope and stared at it for a long time. How was she going to break this to Alexander? she asked herself for the hundredth time that day. How could she ever make him understand? Would he believe her when she told him that she had no idea who had sent this?

That single piece of paper, in the wrong hands, could destroy them.

 

ONE

 

Los Angeles, July 1979.

Meredith Courtney, a newscaster for television station KXLA, parked her car across the street from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and glanced at her watch. Nine forty-five. Good. She was early. She peered into her rearview mirror and ran a comb through her thick, ash-blond hair. She checked her makeup automatically, a habit she’d picked up after a fellow newscaster once told her she looked overdone on camera. She twisted around in her seat and noticed that the KXLA mobile production van was pulling up behind her. Her cameraman had arrived. She got out of the car and waved to Brian as he began unloading his equipment. He grinned when he saw her.

“Hi, lady,” he greeted her cheerfully. “They got you workin’ early today. It ain’t even noon yet!”

She smiled. “We can’t all be night owls, now, can we?” she teased. “You’ve been spoiled, doing the nightside spot with Harry Jacobs.”

“Who is this guy, anyway?” Brian asked as they crossed Wilshire Boulevard together. “A foreign diplomat or something?”

“Constantine Kirakis?” Meredith laughed aloud at the thought. “Where have you been, Brian? He’s only one of the richest men in the world. You’ve really never heard of him?”

The cameraman shrugged. “I guess I’ve led a pretty sheltered life up until now.”

“You must have,” Meredith agreed, amused. “For the record, Constantine Kirakis is an honest-to-goodness Greek tycoon—ships, oil, diamond mines, the whole package. His is a classic rags-to-riches story if there ever was one: the poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks who built an empire with nothing but his own ambitions.”

“So he is news.”

“Definitely.” Heads turned as Meredith crossed the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire, but she did not notice. She was accustomed to being recognized on her home turf. After all, she knew she was in a highly visible profession. It had never occurred to her that she would have been noticed regardless of her profession. Meredith was a striking woman, slender, bronzed, with the kind of delicate, perfect features and wide blue eyes that made magazine covers, and a magnificent long mane of tousled blond hair. She was a genuine California golden girl.

Meredith maneuvered her way into the jammed banquet room and found a seat, while Brian looked for a suitable location that would give him a clear, unobstructed view of the podium from which Kirakis would be speaking. While Brian knew nothing of Constantine Kirakis, he knew that this tape was important to Meredith, and that was all he needed to know. Meredith Courtney, he knew from past experience, was a perfectionist who insisted upon total commitment and professionalism from all who worked with her. Brian knew she would be hell to get along with if this latest project turned out to be less than perfect. He made some minor adjustments and waited for her signal.

As Constantine Kirakis was introduced, Meredith dug into her shoulder bag for a thick steno pad and a handful of pencils. She took notes in rapid shorthand, thankful she’d taken the time to learn it. Her notes would help her later, when she prepared the material for broadcast. She had already thought of different things she wanted to mention about her subject on the air, and this assured her that nothing would be forgotten. She motioned to Brian, indicating that she wanted a closeup. Constantine Kirakis was an impressive man, something she wanted to convey to the viewers who would see this tape on the eleven o’clock news. She wanted them to feel the power and authority behind his forceful gestures, in his strong voice speaking heavily accented English. She wanted them to sense everything she experienced as she sat there in the crowded banquet room. He was a giant of a man, she noticed now—tall and powerfully built, an imposing figure in his black suit, which created a sharp contrast to his reddened, windburned face and his shockingly white hair and mustache.

He must have been handsome as a younger man, Meredith thought.

As the conference dragged on, Meredith began to feel as though she had wasted her time in coming. She was annoyed by the way the reporters from Shipping News were dominating the conference, obviously viewing this as the perfect opportunity to question Kirakis about tonnage, cargo rates, sea routes, and the issue of shipping versus air freight. Her viewers would not be interested in those topics; they would want to know about the Kirakis Corporation’s many projects now under way in the United States, projects that would mean hundreds, even thousands of jobs. They were interested in the fabulous diamond and emerald choker, reportedly worth over two million dollars, that Kirakis had given his wife Melina for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They wanted to know about Kirakis’s son, Alexander, the heir apparent to the Kirakis empire, the Casanova of the jet set, whose romantic adventures made gossip columns all over the world. At the rate things were going now, Meredith thought dismally, she might have to scrap the idea of showing the Kirakis tape at all.

At eleven forty-five, a Kirakis PR aide interrupted the conference, suggesting they all adjourn to La Bella Fontana, the hotel’s restaurant, for lunch. Maybe if she could manage to be seated next to him at lunch . . . that would be perfect! As the group filed out of the banquet room, she stopped to give Brian some last-minute instructions before sending him back to the station. They would not be allowed to tape in La Bella Fontana—she wouldn’t even ask—but if she could just talk to Kirakis, maybe they could return later and tape an interview in his suite.

Much to her disappointment, the reporters from Shipping News beat her to it. They’re like a bunch of hungry vultures, she thought irritably as she headed for an empty table. Distracted by this latest upset, she collided with a man headed in the same direction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

The man she’d bumped into was not one of her fellow reporters. He was tall, at least six feet two, dressed in a suit that probably cost a small fortune. He was dark, with sharp, symmetrical features and the most incredible eyes she had ever seen. They were so dark they appeared to have no pupils. His hair was also dark, neatly styled, falling in a deep wave across his forehead. When he smiled at her, his eyes glowed like polished onyx.

“I’m Alexander Kirakis,” he introduced himself. His voice was deep, resonant, with only a slight accent—not at all like his father’s.

“I’m Meredith Courtney—KXLA News,” she said. She stared at him like an idiot, unable to stop herself.

“A reporter?” he asked, somewhat amused. “I would never have guessed. You are far too lovely to be anything except perhaps a model or an actress.”

She smiled. “Do I detect a bit of chauvinism?” she asked.

“On my part? Never!” He laughed, a deep, husky laugh. “You must forgive me . . . I have been brought up to observe certain old-world traditions—”

She raised a hand. “No need to explain. Apology accepted, Mr. Kirakis.”

“Alexander,” he corrected.

“Alexander,” she repeated slowly.

Alexander Kirakis glanced back at the table where his father sat with four men from Shipping News. “You were hoping to join my father, were you not?”

She nodded. “Unfortunately, the sharks got there ahead of me.”

“This is most unfortunate for my father,” Alexander commented as he turned back to her. “He does not often have the opportunity to dine with a beautiful woman on these trips,” he said with a dazzling smile that made Meredith blush unexpectedly.

“Thank you, but—”

“I, on the other hand, never pass up such a promising opportunity,” he continued. “I would be honored if you would consider joining me, Meredith.”

“I’d like that,” she said without hesitation.

“Excellent.” He took her arm, and she felt an involuntary shudder course through her body. “Come, we’ll take one of the booths.” He guided her across the room to one of the curtained booths that afforded total privacy. “I prefer privacy whenever it can be found. It’s such a rarity for me these days,” he explained as they seated themselves. “I hope you do not object.”

“Not at all,” she said quickly. Meredith looked around. She had not been there in some time, and she’d forgotten just how splendid it was. The red velvet wall covering and the trickling fountain in the center of the room gave it an elegant atmosphere. There were flowers everywhere, literally everywhere. It felt as though they had been transported by magic to some artfully contrived hideaway in Europe, perhaps in Vienna or Budapest.

“It reminds me of a place I once stayed in Austria,” Alexander commented, almost as if he had read her mind. “Tell me—have you eaten here before?”

“Once or twice—it’s been a while,” Meredith admitted.

“The food—how is it?”

“Oh, it’s excellent,” she assured him. “There’s no place close by that can compare.”

“I’ll trust your judgment,” he said promptly.

She smiled. “I hope you’re not disappointed, then.” Maybe she would get that interview after all; surely no one could be closer to Kirakis than his own son. She glanced at the menu absently, aware that he was watching her. “I hope you’re enjoying your stay here in L.A.,” she said. The way he looked at her, she felt like a schoolgirl again.

“Definitely,” he answered with a suggestive smile. “Everything I’ve seen here so far is quite beautiful.”

Meredith blushed once more. “I’d think our smog would be hard to take. Where you come from—”

“Where I come from?” He laughed aloud. “I live in New York City!”

“But didn’t you grow up in Greece?”

“I did.” He paused. “I take it you’ve never been there.” “No. No, I haven’t.”

“Athens is very much like Los Angeles,” he told her. “As a matter of fact, it has often been referred to as Los Angeles with ruins. It has the smog, the same traffic tie-ups, the same throngs of tourists. It was once a lovely old city, but in recent years it has become very commercial.”

“I take it you don’t approve,” she concluded, suppressing a smile.

“No, I don’t,” he answered truthfully. “Athens has always been a city rich with history, with tradition. As it becomes more and more a tourist attraction, it loses its specialness. I find it quite sad.”

“Then life in New York hasn’t caused you to sever your ties with your Greek heritage?”

He looked at her, surprised. “Where would you get an idea like that?” he asked.

“Well, everybody knows you’ve lived in the States for almost thirteen years. And everybody knows your father is against it. Wouldn’t you say you’ve become somewhat Americanized?”

He smiled. “In some ways, perhaps. Though I tend to feel that one never completely escapes the influence of one’s family traditions. I have found that I still observe many of the customs I grew up with, no matter where I happen to be.”

The waiter came and took their order. Over lunch, Alexander talked about his parents and his childhood in Greece. He entertained her with anecdotes about the people and situations he had encountered in his travels as a senior vice-president of the Kirakis Corporation. Meredith found herself wondering if this could be the same man she’d read so much about. She saw none of the arrogant, self-centered playboy in this bright, witty, exceedingly charming man who now sat across from her, going out of his way to be cordial. But then, she reminded herself, that had to be part of his charm, part of the fascination he held for some of the most beautiful women in the world. Just this morning, she’d seen a photograph of him in the Los Angeles Times with his woman of the moment, Italian film star Francesca Correnti.

Alexander was honest with her when she asked about the possibility of getting an interview with his father. “We are leaving immediately after this press conference,” he told her. “Our jet is waiting for us at the airport. We will be flying back to New York this afternoon. I am sorry—I think Father might have enjoyed it tremendously.”

I guess it would be asking too much to pray for a heavy fog at the airport, Meredith thought dismally. “Maybe next time,” she said optimistically.

“If there is a next time,” Alexander said slowly. “Father does not come to the States often—not since I’ve taken over as head of our North American operations. In the past few years he has seldom traveled outside Greece. He’s becoming a bit of a recluse in his twilight years, I think.”

“Then maybe I could interview you the next time we meet,” she suggested.

He flashed her an easy grin. “You have my word on it,” he promised. “If and when we meet again, I’ll give you an interview.”

“I intend to hold you to it,” she warned him. As if I’m ever going to run into him like this again, she thought.

***

Alexander and Constantine Kirakis left the Beverly Wilshire that afternoon, flanked by the security guards the elder Kirakis insisted upon having wherever he went. A limousine waited to take them to the airport where their private jet was standing by. “You are sure you will not come back to Greece with me, Alexander?” Kirakis asked as the limo traveled south on the San Diego Freeway. “Your mother would be so pleased to see you.”

“You know it’s impossible for me to get away just now, Father,” Alexander said. “There’s so much I’m involved in at the moment, so many meetings—”

Kirakis looked at him crossly. “You are sure it is business that prevents you from coming home?” He shoved a copy of the Los Angeles Times at his son, folded back to show a photograph of Alexander with Francesca Correnti. “Or perhaps this lady is your reason?”

“Hardly,” Alexander responded indifferently. He knew that Francesca would be there, waiting for him, whenever he returned, no matter how long he stayed away. She was always there, always ready for him. There were times he found her devotion a bit suffocating, times he felt the need to get away from her for a while. He would have liked nothing better than to return to Greece for a week or two. He had not seen his mother in months, and he missed her terribly. She had not been well lately, and her doctors had advised her against making long trips, even by air. This had prevented her from visiting Alexander in New York as she’d done frequently in the past.

Kirakis scowled at the newspaper photograph. “I think you could have been more discreet, Alexander,” he said finally.

“That photograph was taken—”

“As you and the lady were entering the lobby of the Plaza—where she is presently staying,” Kirakis finished. “You could not be more blatant about this—arrangement —if you had taken out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times.”

“It is most difficult to be discreet, Father, when the paparazzi follow me everywhere,” Alexander said defensively. “I have almost no privacy these days.”

“That is because you have made yourself such a good target for these people,” Kirakis insisted, his displeasure apparent. “They know if they stay with you long enough, sooner or later you will do something worth photographing. Today it is Signorina Correnti. Who will it be next week—or next month? You have become a media celebrity, my son. Unfortunately, the publicity you have been getting is most unfavorable.”

“Am I being reprimanded, Father?” Alexander asked icily.

“Your mother and I do not approve of the way in which you conduct your private affairs, Alexander—we have made no secret of our feelings about that—but we are aware that we cannot live your life for you,” Kirakis said, choosing his words carefully. “We ask only that you try to be discreet about it. Your mother is quite sensitive about airing the family laundry, so to speak, in public.”

Alexander drew in his breath. “Very well. I shall try to honor your wishes,” he promised. “Now—may we discuss something else? I’m weary of the subject.”

“I am sure that you are,” Kirakis agreed. “But tell me one thing, Alexander—do you not ever give serious consideration to the prospect of getting married? Do you not ever contemplate having a family of your own—children?” There was genuine concern in his voice.

Alexander’s laugh was weak. “I’m not ready for marriage, Father—and I am certainly not ready to become a father,” he said. “And even if I were, I have yet to meet a woman I could consider a suitable wife.”

“When I was your age—” Kirakis began, annoyed.

“When you were my age, Father, you and Mother had been married for almost ten years. You had already established the Athena Shipping Company—which later became Athena Maritime—the flagship company of the Kirakis Corporation. Mother had had two miscarriages and was warned that she could die if she attempted a third pregnancy,” Alexander finished, ticking off the facts on the fingers of his left hand. “Yes, Father—I know our illustrious history by heart. I should. I memorized it as a child, much in the same way that other children memorize fairy tales.”

“You make light of it, Alexander, but it is your heritage —your legacy. When I am gone, you will be the sole heir to all that I have fought so hard to achieve,” Kirakis reminded him. “And like all empires, it must have heirs if it is to endure.”

Alexander turned to look at his father. “So this is why people have children, is it?” he asked with a touch of bitterness in his voice. “Tell me, Father—why do poor people have them? They have nothing to leave to them.”

“I am trying to be patient with you, Alexander, but you do not make it easy,” Kirakis said quietly, staring absently into the traffic as they approached the Los Angeles International Airport. “I assumed that you, above all, would understand. The corporation must always be run by a Kirakis. A Kirakis must always be its majority stockholder.”

“And where is this written, Father?” Alexander asked coldly.

“Ah, it is no use trying to talk to you!” Kirakis growled.

Alexander could be so unreasonable sometimes, he thought. Would he ever really be ready to fulfill his destiny as sole heir to the Kirakis empire?