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.

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 Pen is Mightier than the Sword…Or Is It?

Today’s excerpt is once again from Angels at Midnight, which begins a special ebook promotion at Amazon on Sunday–just $.99!

In this excerpt, Collin Deverell is caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, wanting to pursue a last shot at Olympic gold and his father’s determination to have both of his sons join the family business….

 

Angels at Midnight Complete

Boston, February 1976

“En garde!” Two men in traditional white fencing attire moved around on the floor of the gymnasium with lightning speed, the blades of their French foils flashing in the harsh glare cast by the fluorescent lighting high above them. One of the men, his foil raised menacingly, took full advantage of a miscalculation on the part of his opponent, lunging forward in an aggressive move that caught the second fencer completely off guard. He backed off hastily, attempting to regroup his forces while using his own weapon to block the attack. The aggressor moved swiftly, and it seemed to his opponent that he was suddenly everywhere—parrying, lunging, feinting, counterparrying, and thrusting with the skill and assurance of the experienced swordsman he was. He scored one touch and then another and another, until he had made the required five touches on his opponent’s target area to take the match in the allotted six minutes.

Once won, however, the aggressiveness of his manner vanished as quickly as he removed his wire mesh face mask, revealing a lean, angular face flushed with triumph, the vel­vety brown eyes crackling with fire. His thick, wavy dark hair was tousled and damp with perspiration as he faced his defeated opponent and bowed gallantly from the waist, displaying the natural grace of a superbly conditioned ath­lete. As he straightened up again, he grinned. “We really should do this more often, Farnsworth,” he commented with a twinge of amusement in his voice.

The other man laughed wearily. “I don’t think my heart could take it, Deverell,” he responded breathlessly. “You weren’t playing a game out there—you were waging war!”

Collin Deverell laughed heartily as he pulled the leather glove and gauntlet from his right hand and ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it into place. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that there’s no crime in playing to win?” he asked in a mocking tone.

“Playing to win?” Derek Farnsworth said with a laugh. “Come on, Collin—for a minute there, I was beginning to wonder if you’d forgotten that there was a friend behind this mask! I felt as though we were actually engaging in combat!”

Collin grinned. “You’re slowing down, pal,” he warned. “Not equal to the challenge anymore?”

“I’m hardly a match for a former world champion,” Farnsworth reminded him. “Look, I think I’ll hit the show­ers and get back to my law books, okay?”

Collin nodded. “Tomorrow, then?”

Farnsworth gave an exaggerated groan of despair. ” Please—it’ s going to take me a week to recover from to­day’s match! Give me a break, will you?”

“I keep forgetting I have to go easy on you softies,” Collin teased. “All right—I’ll just have to find someone else to take me on.”

“Keep this up and you’re going to run out of friends,” Derek Farnsworth joked as they walked back to the locker rooms together. “They’ll all be mounted on your wall with your swords and other trophies!”

At that moment, the doors at the far end of the gym opened and a third man entered, a tall, slim blond man Collin recognized immediately from one of his classes at Harvard. “Hey, Deverell! I’ve been looking all over for you!” he called out loudly with an unmistakable New En­gland accent.

Collin waved him off. “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it!” he yelled back.

The other man ignored his response. “Your father’s in town—he’s been looking for you. He called here twice. Your brother also called.”

“My brother,” Collin said ruefully, so low that only Derek Farnsworth, who stood next to him, could hear him. “Baron Stormcloud himself.” He turned back to the other man who stood poised in the doorway. “My father knows where I live,” he said loudly.

“Sure he does, and he also knows that you spend most of your time here,” the blond man responded. “Better give him a call. He said he’ll be staying at the Ritz-Carlton.”

“As if I wouldn’t know where to find him,” Collin said in a casual tone. “I guess I’d better make this fast. When he flies up from New York instead of calling, it’s usually urgent.”

In spite of the bitter cold, the Boston Common was crowded. A group of demonstrators marched in formation, brandish­ing large, crudely lettered signs while a soapbox orator de­livered his impassioned—and very loud—speech from the center of the group. Several children bundled in warm win­ter attire ran off in the direction of the playground while two bag ladies rummaged through a trash can. Three young girls sat on a bench, lacing up their skates as they prepared to go ice skating on Frog Pond. Collin walked through the Common, oblivious of everything around him except the cold. Turning up the collar of his heavy winter coat, he pulled his gray cashmere muffler up over the lower half of his face. His cheeks stung from the icy wind and his eyes felt uncomfortably dry. The wind whipped through his hair, still damp from the shower, as he walked along the pond, headed for the underground parking garage just beyond the Public Garden at the west end of the Common. Breaking into a run, he dashed through the park and into the garage, not slowing down until he reached his silver Ferrari. Pulling off his gray leather gloves, he dug into his coat pocket for his keys and unlocked the door hastily, his breath visible in the bitterly cold air. He slid behind the wheel and closed the door. As he put the key in the ignition and turned the switch, the engine came to life immediately. He listened to the low hum of the Ferrari’s powerful, perfectly tuned mo­tor for a moment, then put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking stall, reaching for the garage ticket he’d left on the dashboard. The garage, he noticed as he headed for the exit, was almost empty now. He glanced at the gold watch on his left wrist. It was later than he’d thought.

As he pulled out of the garage onto Arlington Street, he was still wondering what could have brought his father to town. Business, no doubt. Quentin Deverell lived for Inter­continental Oil, the family business, as Collin referred to the corporation his father had founded and built into a global giant over the past thirty years. He expected the same total devotion from each of his many employees, and from his identical twin sons, Collin and Justin. It had been their father’s idea, sending the twins to Harvard, and then to the Harvard Business School. It was Quentin Deverell’s most fervent dream that one day his sons should rule side by side over the empire he had created. For Justin, it had been easy: Justin, like their father, had the blood of the board­room flowing through his veins. He couldn’t wait to occupy a seat on the board of directors. Collin, on the other hand, had never shared their enthusiasm. He had never quite been able to picture himself locked away in an office all day, pushing papers and making deals. He did not think of him­self as a businessman. He had only accepted the idea of the Harvard Business School because he knew how much it meant to his father, and because he was not yet sure what he wanted to do with his life.

There had been a time he had believed his future was in the world of sports, in fencing. It was a passion he had felt the first time he took a foil in his hand at the age of fourteen, much younger than most professional fencers begin their training. He had taken an interest in it first as a hobby, then later as a possible career. His first coach, a maitre d’armes from Paris, had seen a natural ability in Collin Deverell and filled his head with thoughts and dreams of Olympic gold. As he grew older, Collin’s love of fencing prevented him from giving one hundred percent of himself to his father’s plans for his future. Furious, Quentin Deverell had put an abrupt end to the training, insisting that his son’s future was in the boardroom, not on the tournament circuit. But Collin had persisted, and soon had a new coach, a former gold medalist from Milan who also saw promise in his young protégé and encouraged his ambitions. With his encourage­ment, Collin had gone from local to national tournaments to the international level of competition. He had developed a rather flashy style that combined the best elements of the intellectual, defensive French style learned from his original coach with the aggressive, offensive Italian game taught by his new mentor. By the time he was eighteen, he had won several major tournaments, including a world champion­ship. He had been preparing for the Pan-American Games when his father suffered a heart attack. Knowing how much it meant to his father that he and Justin pull together and concentrate on the family’s business interests, Collin had shelved his plans to go for the gold and concentrated on his studies, not wishing to upset his father or cause him further concern. That had been four years ago, and still Collin won­dered what his life would have been like today had he con­tinued to pursue that dream. Would he have found what he was looking for, or would he still feel the confusion, the uncertainty he was feeling at this moment? If only, he thought now, he could be more like his brother.

Though Collin and Justin were identical twins, and it was virtually impossible to tell them apart physically, one had only to spend a few moments with them to recognize the striking differences in their personalities. Collin was outgo­ing, flamboyant, daring, and enjoyed nothing more than poking fun at his twin brother’s serious, uptight, ultracon­servative ways. Though they were only twenty-three, Collin often complained that his brother behaved like a very old man, while Justin would refer to Collin as “childish.” There had never been any doubt in Justin’s mind that he would one day follow in their father’s footsteps, that he would hold a high rank within the upper echelons of Intercontinental Oil. Collin, on the other hand, had never been so certain about his future. He could not imagine himself an execu­tive, even within his own father’s company. He possessed the heart and the spirit of the true adventurer, and wanted something he had yet to find. Excitement. Challenge. For a while, fencing had been the answer. Nothing else had made him feel so alive, so exhilarated. And while his dreams of capturing the highest award possible in the game had been dashed, he had never been able to turn his back on it com­pletely. He still played, almost every day, whenever he could find someone willing to take him on. Unfortunately, most of the fencing enthusiasts he had met at Harvard were am­ateurs and offered little challenge for a world-class player such as himself.

Crossing the river into Cambridge on the Harvard Bridge, he glanced up at the gray, overcast sky. It looked as if Boston would finally get that snowstorm the forecasters had been predicting for the past three days. He switched on the car radio and fiddled with the dial until he found a station broadcasting the local news. “Damn!” he muttered under his breath as the announcer predicted five to eight inches of snow by morning. A traveler’s advisory had been issued by the National Weather Service, the announcer was saying. And Collin had plans for the weekend. Important plans. A snowstorm would definitely put a damper on them. He promptly switched the radio to an album station and adjusted the volume. Then he reached up and loosened the muffler wound around his neck. It had been a long day, and he was glad it was over, even if the coming storm did manage to ruin his weekend.

He drove into the darkened tunnel leading down into the parking garage under his apartment building and parked the Ferrari in his assigned space. He switched off the radio and the ignition and got out of the car, locking the door before he strode off to the elevators. As he rode up alone in the elevator to his floor, he looked at his watch. He would have to put in a call to his father at the Ritz-Carlton as soon as he got in the door. Quentin Deverell was a man who did not like to be kept waiting, even by his own son. He tugged at the muffler until he pulled it off his neck, then unbuttoned his coat. A small smile played on his lips as he thought about the art history major from Radcliffe who was coming over to cook for him tonight. She was quite a work of art herself, he thought. If she were to spend the night….  Maybe the possibility of a snowstorm wasn’t such a catas­trophe after all.

The elevator doors opened and Collin stepped out of the car, walking briskly down the corridor to his apartment, keys in hand. As he let himself into the apartment, the first thing he noticed was that the light was on in the living room. Concerned at first—he knew he hadn’t left it on him­self—he suddenly remembered: he had given Laura the spare key yesterday so she could let herself in if he were not home when she arrived. Of course—that was it. She’d prob­ably decided to come early and surprise him. Well, he had a few surprises in store for her, too. He turned and opened the closet door, smiling in anticipation of the night ahead.

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?