Like the Unicorn, He Was Believed to be a Myth….

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Is He Telling Me to Give Up, Or Testing Me to See How Badly I Want It?

I have very poor eyesight. There hasn’t been any sight in the left eye since birth. The right, well, that’s cataracts, a matter of aging. So I taught myself to dictate so I could continue to write. Then, I discovered I’d had a pinpoint stroke and some other unpleasant brain-related issues.  Now, I have some intermittent speech problems and the attention span of a flea. So much for dictation. Writing in longhand, as I did way back when is out. Arthritis. I’m lucky I can grip an orange!

 

It’s been said that God never throws more at us than we can handle. He must think stubbornness is strength.

I have all kinds of book ideas that will probably never be written because I’m so much slower than I used to be–and I’m not getting any younger. Back the the ’80s, I wrote The Unicorn’s Daughter in four months and it required very little editing. Ten years ago, I finished Chasing the Wind after working on it for ten years. There are at least five projects on the back burner at the moment. I want to write them. The ideas are there, forming, percolating–but they never seem to get any further.

Am I giving up? No, not yet. In a few weeks, I’ll be publishing a collection of posts from my personal blog, The Three Rs: Rants, Raves and (Occasional) Reflections. I have a memoir almost finished, Sam’s Story in progress, and Collin and I are working on a series that started with Chasing the Wind. With Collin collaborating, I can at least get that far.

I started a novel featuring five secondary characters from Chasing the Wind, but found it had no plot–and a comedy about the quirky residents of a college town, including a booze hound who really is a dog. Just a bunch of episodes. I thought they would have to be scrapped. Then I remembered that my partner in crime, William Kendall, does several serials within his blog, Speak of the Devil–including one featuring a cranky Mountie who hates entertainment reporters.

Maybe these projects aren’t dead, after all. At least not until I am….

 

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot (On Sale)!

Around the globe, extraordinarily gifted children are abducted.

In the Sinai, archaeologist Lynne Raven searches for proof of the Exodus and finds a papyrus that proclaims the emergence of a prophet sent to defeat the darkness that threatens to consume the world.

Meanwhile in London, a powerful cartel manipulates politicians and controls a think tank with an unthinkable agenda.

One thing connects them all: the truth about Connor Mackenzie.

 

 

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Jack Spangler was a night owl and, snowstorm or no snowstorm, he did not appreciate interruption in the middle of his work to take his pregnant-and-alone neighbor Katie Maxwell to the hospital. But off he went, since the alternative was to deliver her baby right in his living room.

Things only got worse from there. Somehow, he found himself mistaken for the non-existent Mr. Maxwell and whisked into the delivery room to help young Jeremy into the world. He even found himself caring about the baby – not to mention Katie herself.

Living next door to a crying new-born was enough to make Jack crazy, but craziest of all, it looked as if making marriage – and instant parenthood – a priority was the only way to stay sane.

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….

What’s Better Than Free?

Two of my novels are currently free (ebook editions only) at Amazon. If you haven’t read them but would like to, now’s the time!

Angels at Midnight Complete

Angels at Midnight

From Publishers Weekly

Set primarily in the glamorous art milieus of San Francisco and Manhattan, Beishir’s (Dance of the Gods) novel makes exciting stopovers in Monte Carlo, Venezuela, Big Sur and other exotic locales. The pages are rife with sizzling sex, suspense and conflict, expertly paced, as both hero and heroine are motivated to bend the law by a powerful need for revenge. Abby Giannini, who has changed her name to Ashley Gordon, loses custody of her son in a vicious court battle with her deceased husband’s parents. Collin Deverell, heir to an oil fortune, trades his share in his late father’s company for the rights to his mother’s art and jewelry estate. But when his ambitious twin Justin defrauds him of his inheritance, Collin too has a score to settle. Collin and Ashley’s joint quest for justice and lusty romance make for compulsive reading.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information Inc.
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Amazon review by William Kendall on Aug. 10 2016

The author published the book during her days with Berkely, and gives us two very sympathetic protagonists we can immediately connect with in an intricately plotted, well paced novel that explores themes of love, family, loss, revenge, and how far people will go for their own measure of justice. While our protagonists don’t actually meet until halfway through the book, that’s a good thing, as we get to follow them along parallel lines for more then a decade, getting to know them, sharing their triumphs and their despair.

Collin Deverell is one of two twin sons, heir to a fortune that his father, an oil tycoon, expects him to take part in. While his brother Justin readily involves himself in the family business, Collin has little wish to tie himself down to an executive life, preferring a carefree life of adventure and his love of fencing. With the sudden death of their parents on a business trip, Collin takes the chance to live life on his own terms, turning over shares in the family company and all responsibility to his brother in exchange for the family mansion, the art collection, and his mother’s jewellry. He lives abroad for some years, rarely settling down, living his carefree life, seducing whatever woman crosses his path. When he returns home, he finds that the valuable paintings and jewels have all gone missing, sold off by his devious brother. Collin vows to take back what’s rightfully his, even if it means breaking the law and going after some very dangerous people to do it.

Ashley Gordon is an artist from the Napa Valley in California who establishes a career for herself in San Francisco. After becoming a success in the art world and on the social circuit, she falls in love with Brandon Hollister. They’re happy together, and Brandon wants to marry her, though she’s puzzled by his complete estrangement from his parents. When we meet them, it’s not hard to understand: Bradley and Claudia Hollister are downright nasty to the core. Ashley and Brandon marry, have a son, Robert and are happy together, until Brandon is killed in a plane crash. In the wake of her grief, Ashley is hit again when her in-laws launch a custody battle for their grandson, using bribery, lies, and their connections to take him away from Ashley. Ashley is, understandably, devastated.

It’s into this mix that Ashley and Collin meet. Collin’s been busy recovering what was stolen from him by becoming a thief himself, learning the trade from a master who saves his life. What started out for him as a mission to take back what’s his becomes something more, as he discovers his father’s company has been mismanaged by his brother, and is falling into the hands of a criminal syndicate who are readily dismantling it. The syndicate are made up of the same people who have possession of his property, and what began as thefts to recover property gradually shifts, as Collin realizes he does, in fact, have a responsibility to save the company his father built. And since Bradley Hollister is a member of the syndicate, Collin decides to enlist his former daughter-in-law as a partner to bring down the syndicate, save his family company, and restore Ashley’s son to her custody.

It’s a wise decision to keep the two from really meeting until mid way through the book. We, the reader, get to see both characters develop fully on their own, so we care about them and what happens to them (Ashley’s loss of her husband and her son are particularly painful, which is one of the reasons the book works so well). When Collin and Ashley start working together, we see a growing connection between them, an emotional intimacy that comes across as very real. This is a testament to how human the two characters feel. They have depth, quirks, and flaws. As Ashley learns the tricks of the trade, of sleight of hand and the use of disguise, she and Collin find themselves drawn closer and closer. The bond and growing love between them comes across to the reader as the real thing. We come to root for them to achieve all they’re after, and it’s because of how well both of them have been written.

In every heist story, to root for the person pulling off the heist, it requires that the target be unsympathetic. Certainly having the target be a criminal syndicate is a very good way of having the reader dislike the target. And the primary targets, Bradley and Claudia Hollister, are more then worthy of our dislike. Both of them, particularly Claudia, are cruel and malicious. It’s not hard to understand why their son broke ties with them, and as readers, we want to see them brought down, broken, and defeated.

Justin Deverell is another interesting character in the book. Early on it felt like he’d be the primary antagonist of the book, but as things go on, it’s made clear that he’s the dupe, the tool for the syndicate to dismantle the family company after they’re done using it. I enjoyed the premise Norma used that Collin and Justin aren’t the kind of twins we’re used to in fiction… they have nothing in common but blood, barely speak for years, and ultimately are so far apart that it’s doubtful they’ll ever bridge that gap. There’s no closer then blood mental connection sort of bond between these two twins, and it’s a refreshing change.

There is a wild card sort of character I thought I’d make mention of. Anton DeVries, an insurance investigator, lurks in the background of the story. He first comes into the picture after Collin discovers the theft of his possessions. Through the rest of the book, he suspects Collin, looks for proof, and takes part in a pivotal moment towards the climax. He’s an interesting character, something of a bloodhound, or a Javert to Collin’s Valjean. DeVries is a good adversary, conflicted by catching a man who he knows to be morally right.

The attention to detail throughout the book is spot on, and perhaps never as much as during the various thefts that take place in the book. From training sequences in which both Collin and Ashley learn how to become thieves to the heists themselves, each act feels intricate, and brings a lot of variety to the table. An escape from a time lock safe and a judicious use of a mirror stand out particularly for me during the theft sequences. And the attention to detail also reflects itself in the early sequences featuring fencing and the artistic process.

Angels At Midnight is a beautifully written book that you’ll enjoy reading. The plot and pacing of the novel keeps the reader on the edge. The details drawn out in the book about technique, places, and situations give it a very real world sensibility. And the characters really make the novel. Collin and Ashley are a winning couple that we can’t help but sympathize with, to root for, and to cheer.

And who knows? Perhaps Robert has siblings… and all of them have grown up to take after Ashley and Collin’s habit of breaking into high security vaults….

 

Final Hours cover - new

Final Hours

 

Amazon review by Mark R. Hunter on November 14, 2013

Final Hours fooled me: Despite the title, it isn’t really about the giant asteroid that’s about to wipe out human civilization. On the contrary, if there was ever a story that’s all about the journey, it’s this one.

Jamie Randall has to make a decision in the hours leading up to the apocalypse: Retreat to a secretly built bunker, where he might survive to continue his loveless marriage, or seek out the woman he’s loved for the last fourteen years and die with her? We soon know his decision – the story is about why he made it, and as we wait to know his fate the story flashes back to the events that led him there.

It turns out Jamie is – let’s face it – a jerk, although as we learn more about his history we get to know why. He married his wife to get ahead, to get revenge over those who once had power over him. The events that keep him in the marriage are believable, if tragic.

He’s rescued in every way when Kate appears, quite literally saving his life. The rest of the book is a love story, as Jamie woos Kate but is stymied again and again in his attempts to make her more than “the other woman”.

The truth is, Jamie probably doesn’t deserve either of the women at first, and by the time he starts trying to do the right thing he’s dug himself into a hole deeper than the one the asteroid’s going to make. Kate is practically a saint, while Jamie’s wife is trapped just as much as he is, and I kept rooting for a way for them to all get away happy.

That says something about the story – that we want to know how it all comes out, even though we already know it from the very beginning.

 

on July 14, 2009
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Final Hours is a good book to spend an afternoon curled up with. The story follows a man named Jamie, who has heard that the end of the world is coming, and because his wife is the daughter of a senator, he and his family are secured a spot in a safehouse, where they will be most likely to survive. But Jamie does not want to go. Instead, he realizes that he must face up to his mistakes and do the one thing he’s been wanting to do for the last fifteen years: spend his final hours with the woman he loves.

Forced to choose between his own happiness and the happiness of those he cares about, Jamie spends most of the book torn between the woman he loves and the woman he needs. His wife, the mother of his sons, was able to give Jamie everything he thought he wanted out of life, but when a free-spirited photographer named Kate saves his life, he begins to realize that maybe his priorities were wrong all along, and it’s time to start living the way he now knows he needs to.

Despite some bad choices all of the characters make, they really are what makes the story golden. Everyone makes bad choices, and these characters are all willing to face up to their mistakes, which makes them all the more admirable. They’re doing what they think is right in the current situation, and that’s really what sets them apart. The story really makes you think about life and love, and what it really means to be alive. And most importantly, when everything is stripped away, what truly is important enough for us to spend our final hours doing?

The Advice Most Often Given to Writers: Write What You Know

The trouble with that advice is that a lot of thrillers, supernatural suspense novels and tales of horror would never be written if we followed it. I’ve written about killers, genetic experiments, financial empires, supernatural powers, espionage, the Middle East and other topics of which I have no personal experience. If I only wrote about what I know, the list would include idiots, self-absorbed and spineless jerks, nutcases, liars, and false friends.

Okay, so I could write political novels. As we all know, Washington is full of all of those type of characters.

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My friend and fellow author, Shelly Arkon, has lately been writing a  great deal about matters of faith on her blog. Shelly has spent the past few years studying both the Bible and the Torah and has learned a great deal. While bloggers are often warned about writing about matters of faith in a cheesy manner, Shelly’s posts are honest, from the heart and thought-provoking. I’ve done a lot of thinking myself. I’m a Christian, and I’ve experienced a great deal in my life that has confirmed my faith–but I still have more questions than answers. I’m by no means an expert, but still I want to write things that make people think and hopefully find a door opened to them that they haven’t seen before. So how to do it?

Fiction, mostly. In Chasing the Wind, I write about characters who also have more questions than answers: cynical FBI agents, an agnostic photojournalist, a Biblical archaeologist who has faith but challenges it, and an atheist who is called to be a prophet but still can’t believe what’s happening to him. I put them in situations where they get pushed to their limits and their faith (or lack of it) is tested. They witness miracles. They deal with loss and rise above it. And they face many of the same questions I’ve faced.

I always believed in God–but as the Bible says, even demons believe in God. They know He exists. Believing is not the same as putting one’s faith in God. I wasn’t able to do that completely for a long time. That door opened for me twenty-two years ago, on a dark night in which I felt more hopeless than I ever had. I went to bed that night, facing a situation for which there seemed to be no resolution. I prayed, more than I ever had before, and was still praying when I finally fell asleep. I was awakened the next morning by what first seemed to be just a ringing telephone, but in fact was God’s answer to my urgent prayers–the miracle I needed.

That miracle has led me to write my first work of nonfiction–a memoir that’s (finally) almost finished, Riding Out the Storm. It’s not easy to lay bare one’s soul for all to see, as my close friend William Kendall discovered with his most recent blog post. But sometimes, we need to write about the things that make us most vulnerable. Sometimes, as in William’s case, it’s a way to exorcise our personal demons in order to be free of them. It took tremendous courage for William to share the things he’d kept so private for so many years. For some, like Shelly, it’s a way to share our discoveries of faith…and to provide a warning of what’s ahead. For me, it’s hopefully a means to testify, to show others that anyone can–and will–change. And that it really is darkest just before dawn.

 

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…. 

There’s Safety–and Sales–in Numbers!

Fellow author Mark R. Hunter did a blog post about setting up a booksigning in advance of the Christmas shopping season. I haven’t done a signing in years. It’s so much easier to just do all of the selling online. Besides, I never really enjoyed doing them–unless it was a group signing. Solo signings can be productive, sure–but unless you’re Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, or one of those really big names, it can be pretty quiet, too. (Cue the crickets.)

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I’ve done a number of group signings. And not only do readers show up, sometimes your fellow authors come to cheer you on–like this one, some years ago, at a Waldenbooks store in south St. Louis County, where I live. That’s fellow author Anna Eberhardt, aka Tiffany White, with me–and peeking around from the safety of the bookshelves is Collin, who refused to pose with us but didn’t object to photobombing us!

My favorite group signing was one I did with twenty other authors at a B. Dalton in a large mall. We had a blast! We made snarky remarks at each other and hammed it up for the shoppers, getting us lots of attention. We also sold a lot of books. I didn’t even mind that our car broke down en route and I had to hitch a ride with the aforementioned Anna and her husband, Leo.

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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.