Prologue & Chapter One-Photographic Memories

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Prologue
Panic ripped through her as she raced through the tall underbrush, huge droplets of rain drenching her head and back, breathing in strained gasps. Her focus was trained on the busy interstate highway some five-hundred feet in front of her. If she could get to it, she could flag down an oncoming car.
Footfall from behind her ratcheted the beat of her heart to a feverish pitch. If she stopped for even a second, he’d catch her. Involuntarily, she glanced over her shoulder. She had no idea how close he was.
Shadows all around, rays of daylight hampered by the storm playing overhead had her picking up speed. One of her feet slid on the wet grass and she lost her footing, fighting like hell to regain her lead.
With force, she was pulled back by her hair, then spun around, intense pain forcing her to stop struggling.
A strangled scream ripped from her throat as she dug her nails into his forearm, tearing into the flesh.  If she gave up and quit fighting, he’d win.
For a split second, pain crossed his features. Then, a sardonic grin curled his lips and his eyes darkened with an intensity that sent a chill shooting over her body.
His other hand came up.
That’s when she saw it.
The glint of a blade.
She grasped his wrist, using all her strength to fight the descent of the knife. Her arms strained until they cried out in agony. Tears filled her eyes and mingled with the rain on her cheeks. She bucked, fighting for her life, only to have his knee land hard on her chest, knocking the breath from her. She knew at that moment she was going to die, and with that, he’d have bested her for the last time.

Chapter One

Detective Trisha Brent stepped over the yellow tape staked across the marsh and almost lost her footing in the thick sludge. She grimaced and shook the foul gunk from her shoe, only to splatter it on her beige slacks. “Son of a—”
Why did this always happen to her? She should have worn boots, or a bikini.
Lightning flashed in the distance, followed seconds later by the boom of thunder, making her flinch. The incoming storm had her nerves on edge for more than just the obvious reason—losing evidence. Rain was forecast for the next eight to twelve hours, so the forensics team would have a small window of opportunity to process the scene before the sky opened up again.
Trish sloshed down the steep incline to the body that lay draped with dark-gray plastic.
“What do we have?” she asked the detective standing next to the body.
“White female. In her twenties,” Detective Frank Warren said.“Extensive bruising around the throat. Cause of death looks like strangulation. The killer was strong, too. He left finger depressions in the skin. Blood was found under her nails, so I bagged her hands.”
“Good work. What does it look like, murdered here or dumped?” Trisha peered around the area, trying to put herself in the mindset of a killer. One thing was certain, the rural, overgrown terrain was perfect for hiding a body.
Detective Warren shifted his stocky weight and nodded toward the road. “On the way down, I noticed a narrow path where the vegetation had been flattened, consistent with something being dragged. It started from the top of the incline. I’d say she was killed somewhere else, then brought here.” He took a weary breath and tipped his balding head, glancing at his notes. “A Mr. Winston’s retriever came across the body. The man was out walking the dog and found him barking next to the woman.”
“Anything else?”
“She’s partially nude. From the waist down.” Warren cleared his throat again. “We found no visible signs of semen on her clothes or body, but the rain from earlier could have washed it away. We’ll have to wait for the Medical Examiner to tell us if she was sexually assaulted or not. He’s en route now. He’ll be able to better determine how long she’s been dead. If I had to hazard a guess though, I’d say less than twenty-four hours.”
Trish studied her surrounding again, swallowing back the bitter taste of acid working its way up her throat. Eight years suddenly evaporated, and with it came a similar place, an uncanny odor. The only thing missing, the strong, copper smell of blood.
She shivered uncontrollably. Push the past away, Trish. The last thing you need is to show weakness around the men you work with.
“Detective Brent,” an officer called from above the embankment. “We got a purse up here.”
Maybe luck would be on their side. “Great. Bring it down.” Trisha sure as hell hoped the bag belonged to the victim.
Being with the Special Victims Unit was not an easy job. Their cases were horrific and sad in so many ways. Her unit was responsible for informing loved ones that their sons, daughters, wives, mothers were dead, difficult on a good day, downright heart-wrenching when the victims were young and had their whole lives ahead of them.
“Detective?” The approaching officer held out a brown handbag, the smell of wet leather mingling with the dank air.
Trisha pulled a pair of latex gloves from her jacket pocket and snapped them on, then took the purse. With care, she opened the flap, finding a matching wallet inside. She pulled the clutch out and flipped it open. A woman’s New Mexico driver’s license fit snugly inside a plastic holder.
Trisha flashed Detective Warren the picture. “Is this our victim?”
He glanced at the photo. “Yeah, that’s her.”
Dupont, Elizabeth Jo. 240 Weldon Hills. Birth date, 3-27-91.
That would make her twenty-three, not much more than a child in Trisha’s eyes. Ten years had passed since she’d been that age.
In the last decade, she’d witnessed things most people would be sickened by, all sexually motivated, but somehow she had gotten used to seeing the worst society had to offer.
She sighed and forced her mind back to the job at hand.
Vital Statistics: Hair: Blonde. Eyes: Blue. Height: 5′ 8” Weight: 125.
She closed the wallet, placed it back into the purse and rifled inside again, coming across a Santa Fe Continental Inn room key.
What a dive. By reputation alone, Trisha knew the motel was one of the worst in the city. One of the only motels with hourly rates. Perfect for hookers and their clientele to take care of business.
Trisha frowned. Already, some facts in this case didn’t fit. According to the woman’s license she lived a few miles from where her body now lay. So why would she have a motel key in her purse? From across town? The whole thing made no sense, unless the woman was a prostitute, and had been servicing a John at the motel. Boy, if that were the case, they’d have to interrogate half the male population of Santa Fe.
She shook her head at the idea, then allowed her mind to wrap around what they knew—which wasn’t much.
Often times, the body itself gave clues to what happened. Hopefully the woman could tell Trisha something.
She squatted next to the body and lifted the plastic. She knew from Elizabeth’s ID that she was a beautiful woman, but you could hardly tell now, with the lacing discolorations on her face. Her eyes were wide-open, and told the horror she’d endured in the last moments of life.
Trisha sighed. Would she ever understand what drove someone to kill?
A flicker caught her eye. She glanced at the victim’s wrist and spotted a gold watch, its face encrusted with diamonds. Hardly something a streetwalker could afford, unless she was doing it to supplement her income. Now that Trisha thought about it, the woman’s handbag was definitely designer quality. Not a cheap knockoff. This crime was obviously not robbery related. No, it was much worse. The person who killed Elizabeth was angry with her—wanted to see her suffer.
Maybe an affair gone bad? There was definitely a fine line between love and hate, something, she herself, had learned the hard way.
Trish glanced back at the woman’s face.
Strangulation was a horrible way to die—took long, agonizing minutes to render the victim unconscious, enough time for them to realize what was happening. This would definitely constitute as fitting the criteria for the murderer to get the death penalty. When Elizabeth’s killer was found, Trisha would see that the prosecutors insisted on that. Hell, anyone capable of such atrocities deserved to die, even if they were big shot attorneys.
Trisha took a ragged breath, shaking off the past that insisted on creeping in.
She covered the victim and stood, her cognitive process working double time. Why would a woman able to afford expensive watches and handbags have a motel key to a dump in a seedy part of Santa Fe? She’d have to check out the motel. Maybe something inside the room would garner a hint as to why Elizabeth had been there and what happened to her.
Another crash of thunder made her jump.
The officers standing around the body smirked at her reaction.
Trisha scowled at them. So she was afraid of storms. Was that a crime? They’d be too if they had gone through what she had.
Let’s see if they think this is funny. “I want the body and area around her checked for hair and fibers before it starts raining again.” She dangled the motel key from one finger. “I’m headed to the Santa Fe Inn. If you find anything, call me. Oh, and bag this.” She handed the purse to the officer, stuck the key in her pocket, then turned and trudged up the hill, working the latex gloves off her hands.
This was just another senseless murder—a man using his overpowering strength to subdue and kill a helpless woman. Would this particular scenario ever lose its popularity?
Trisha slipped, steadying herself before she went down. Darn miry mess. She’d be thankful to get out of this miserable weather and back to town. Treading through ankle deep mud was hardly her idea of paradise, especially if she ended up on her ass in front of a handful of men. Something she was sure they’d find amusing as well.
“Hey, Brent,” Detective Aiden Travis hollered from his gray sedan parked directly behind her Jeep. “Leaving the scene of a crime?”
She stopped dead in her tracks. Her skin crawled at the sight of him. Why did he always seem to show up at her crime scenes? The man was a nuisance, a real pain in her backside. Would he ever get it through his thick skull she wanted nothing to do with him? Two years ago, when she’d transferred to the Special Victims Unit in Santa Fe, he’d seemed nice enough until he opened his mouth and asked to get into her pants, then kept asking. Truth be told, she’d rather do a warthog.
He slid from his car and swaggered toward her, his thumbs tucked strategically next to his belt buckle to draw attention to the area—a region of his body he boasted about every chance he got. What was it he’d said just a day or two ago—oh yeah, “Tommy Lee had nothing on him.” Right, like she’d believe a word Aiden Travis said. The man was a walking poster-boy for over-inflated egos. He actually thought if he kept hounding her he’d get what he wanted, and to think that way would only get him a swift kick to that enormous package, fictional or not.
“How about you and I get some coffee, babe?”
“No thanks, babe,” Trisha mocked. “I’d rather contract dysentery.”
His eyes took on a hard glint that would intimidate most men, but she wasn’t going to be bullied by a womanizing man with a God complex. Not again. She’d gone that route once, and would never allow another man to have that kind of control over her.
“Why are you playing so hard to get?” His eyes did a visual sweep of her body. “You know I want you.”
“And you know I want you to drop dead. Now, I’m off to check out a motel.”
His dark brows shot up. “Did you say check into a motel? Is that an invitation?”
Trisha stared at him. How stupid could one man be? “Didn’t you hear what I said? What I always say to your advances?”
A cocky grin crossed his features, and with a heavy sigh he placed his hands on his hips. “I heard. I just don’t believe you.”
She rolled her eyes and stalked to her car, wanting to get as far from him as she could. As she climbed in and started the engine, he winked, then graced her with a lopsided smile.
Trisha returned his grin, knowing it was best to appear unscathed by his sexist attitude. Every male at SVU was nothing but a little boy in a big man’s body. She’d learned that from day one. But she planned to wipe the arrogant smirk off Detective Travis’s face today. She revved the engine and sent the vehicles tires spinning, slinging mud everywhere.
Her smile turned genuine when she saw Aiden in her rearview mirror, his face and expensive overcoat splattered with brown muck.

***

A flashing vacant room sign pierced through the fog in his brain, slowly brightening until it forced him to focus. Intense pain gripped the back of his head and acid forced its way up his dry throat.
He stumbled out of bed, naked, and made his way to the bathroom.
His stomach instantly gave up the fight, and he vomited into the toilet, his hands gripping the cold porcelain as if his life depended on its support.
When the rolling motion in his gut stopped, he lifted himself from the floor and turned on the water in the sink to wash his face, catching a glimpse of his distorted image in the cracked mirror on the wall.
With narrowed eyes, he leaned closer. What he saw made his stomach pitch and roll again. Blank, hooded eyes stared back at him. His skin was pasty white. Curly blond hair lay plastered to the left side of his head, and the dim lighting overhead cast an eerie glow on a strange reddish tint clotted in the strands.
He threaded his shaky fingers through the matted curls, and smears of red wetness adhered to them. When he rubbed his thumb and forefinger together, he found the substance sticky. What the hell was it? Paint? Hair dye?
“No… blood,” he murmured. His heart thudded against his ribcage—so hard it hurt.
Almost in a trance, he stared at his hand as a cold sweat washed over his body, with it, a sick sense of foreboding.
When he snapped back to reality, he turned on the tap and rinsed his fingers, transfixed on the red swirling around the drain.
Weak and breathless, he hung his head and found three long scratches running down his chest. He ran his hand slowly over them and flinched.
What the hell had happened to him? Had he been in an accident? Why did his head pound like an out of control jackhammer?
He glanced in the mirror again and inhaled deeply. What he realized next paralyzed him. Not only couldn’t he remember what happened, but he had no clue who he was.
Minutes ticked by as he stared at the stranger in the mirror.
With his thoughts in chaos, he turned and left the bathroom.
Back in the bedroom, he squinted at the bright lights on the ceiling. Dull orange paint covered the walls, and a gray, badly stained carpet stretched the length of the floor. Nothing looked even remotely familiar, and the more he tried to remember something, the worse the pain in his head became.
Thoughts collided with one another. Had he taken a blow to the head?
He quickly checked, finding a tender gash at the base of his skull. So he had taken a hard whack. That would explain a lot. But how? And did the long scratches coincide with his head injury?
Agonizing pain gripped him. He needed to get dressed and find help. Someone had to know who he was.
He glanced around, but came up short, finding not a stitch of clothing anywhere. That wasn’t possible. No way could he have checked into a motel naked.
Maybe he’d been robbed. That could explain the head injury. Someone could have broken in and stolen everything he owned, including his memories.
A huge lump formed in his throat. What was he going to do? Maybe something in the room could trigger a memory.
His gaze landed on the double bed. He walked over and ripped the sheet off the top, exposing a blood stain on the fitted linen beneath.
Wrapping the sheet around his waist, he opened the nightstand next to the bed. It was empty. Not a thing inside to tell him who he was. All he knew was that he’d taken a powerful blow to his head and it had bled, a lot.
A Bible lay atop the table. He picked it up and jumped when something hit his foot. A Polaroid photograph lay face down on the carpet.
He grasped the snapshot and studied it closely. In the picture was a pretty blonde woman with striking blue eyes.
“Who are you?” He hoped by some unforeseen miracle her identity would come to him, then felt defeated when it didn’t.
He threw the Bible against the wall and pictures inside flew in all directions. When they landed, all surprisingly face down, he stared at them. Each photo could be a possible piece of a puzzle, a chance to unlock his identity.
Swallowing hard, he was almost afraid to see what was on them. What if the pictures were his only chance to remember?
Then again, maybe they weren’t even his. They could have been in the book for years. How often did someone read a Bible in a motel?
His temples throbbed, and he held his aching head in his hands.
He took a deep, ragged breath and prayed for help. Please let the pictures trigger something.
With his heart racing, he reached for another photo only to be stopped by the sound of a key slipping into the lock of the door.
His spirits rose. Whoever stood on the other side had to know who he was. Why else would they have a key to the room?
Then a more sinister thought blindsided him, and his heart careened out of control. What if the person who’d inflicted his injuries was coming back to make sure he was dead?

Grace Under Fire-Chapter One

Chapter One
Cord Rawlings lifted the bottle of cheap whiskey to his lips and drained the last drops. He wouldn’t say he was drunk, simply numb to everything around him.
He’d spent all evening in Rockford, Illinois, holed up in a room at a roadside motel, drinking, and still the pain hurt as if someone had plunged a knife deep into his chest.
Would the troubling memories ever fade—like the face of his partner Vincent Diaglo had?
He forced himself to swallow past the burning in his throat as he slammed his fist into the lumpy bed mattress. His self-contempt was all consuming. He blamed himself for Vince’s death. He should have been the one in the car that exploded, not his partner. Now, all Cord pictured when he thought about his friend was his charred remains—not the strong, dedicated cop he’d been.
The image in itself made Cord feel dead inside.
Maybe he should just end it all. Right here, right now.
He shook his head. That would be taking the coward’s way out. Something Vince would never have done.
Cord flung the empty bottle. The container landed with a dull thud onto the stained carpet.
Vincent would have been disgusted with what he’d become, and that bothered Cord more than anything. Vince and his wife had been like family.
God, he could still see Grace’s pale, tear-streaked face at the funeral as the graveside attendants lowered the shiny silver casket into the ground, her hands white-knuckling the American flag that had draped it only moments before.
He hadn’t been able to face her that day. Guilt had eaten at him with a vengeance. He’d watched from a distance, afraid she’d blame him for not being there to save her husband—to save the only friend he’d ever had.
The morning of the funeral, he’d envisioned Grace’s misty green eyes filled with loathing, eyes that had haunted him from the moment he’d met her, and known facing her would be impossible. Burying his partner and losing her respect, all in the same day. No way could he have dealt with that.
Instead, he’d run away and buried himself in a bottle.
Shaking off his alcohol-induced buzz, Cord forced the images from his mind. He refused to think about Grace any longer. Every time he did, his stomach knotted. What he needed was another bottle of whiskey. Maybe then he’d pass out.
Loud banging on the motel door had him going for his gun, instinct from years on the force.
Who the hell could that be? No one knew he was there.
He stuffed the .38 into the back waistband of his pants, then stumbled to the door. “Yeah?” When he got no answer, he shouted, “What do you want?”
“I was wondering if you needed some company?” a female voice asked. “The desk clerk said you were alone.”
Cord finger combed his shaggy blond hair and rolled his eyes. He’d have a little talk with the man later since it was unethical and illegal for a man in the clerk’s position to give out that kind of information, especially to a hooker. Eight years in the line of duty taught him that.
“Come on, mister. I’m just looking for someone to spend some time with.”
He unlatched the chain and opened the door, not surprised to find a scantily dressed young woman leaning against the wall, studying her long, hot pink nails. A face caked with makeup peeked out from under stringy blonde hair—a cheap synthetic wig from the looks of it—the whole getup worn to conceal her age. Cord had worked Vice, knew all about prostitution rings and how they preyed on young runaways.
“So, would you like some company?” She purposely tugged at her tube top, revealing more of her creamy white breasts.
“How old are you?” Cord was sure she’d lie. He’d seen it all too often. Most of the girls walking the streets today were fifteen or sixteen-year-olds with no means of support other than selling their bodies.
“I’m twenty-two. So, what do you say? How about a date?”
He looked her up and down, angry when his body responded to the offer. It had been a long time since he’d indulged in some gratuitous sex, and with a bottle of whiskey in him, she didn’t look all that bad. Would almost be pretty, if she’d lose some of the makeup. What color was the hair under that hideous wig?
She licked her bright pink lips, then made a suggestive play with her tongue.
Cord swallowed hard. The erotic gesture spoke volumes of her sexual experience, but it still didn’t make her legal. “You wouldn’t happen to have any ID?”
Her black-outlined eyes narrowed. “No. Why?”
He leaned on the doorframe and crossed his arms over his bare chest. “Because I’m not sure you’re as old as you say you are.”
Her eyes widened, a sure giveaway he was right.
She wasn’t twenty-two, but just how young was she?
“Why does my age have to do with anything? If you’re looking for someone your own, I could always call my mother.”
Cord scrubbed at the three days worth of stubble on his jaw and smiled at her insult. Hell, he probably did look older than his thirty-two years. All he’d done for the past six months was drink. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Tammy. So, what do you say? I’ll give you a quick blow for twenty.”
The offer sounded tempting, but it didn’t sit well with Cord, especially in light of his past profession.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Tammy, I think you should reconsider your line of work. I’m going to give you twenty bucks. Go get something to eat, my treat.”
“You mean, you don’t want anything in return?” A deep line creased her forehead. From the looks of it, he’d surprised her. She was clearly not used to getting something for nothing.
He stuffed the money in her hand. “No. Just promise you’ll think about what I said.”
“Sure, whatever.” She turned and sashayed down to the end of the hallway, knocking on another door.
Cord shook his head, stepped inside his room, and closed the door behind him.
That patron would probably take her up on her offer. Nothing surprised him. Tammy’s actions were as clear as day. She wasn’t planning to go home until money and bodily fluids were exchanged.
Dropping onto the bed, Cord was determined not to think about Tammy and her next trick, or Grace Diaglo, for that matter. He knew what he had to do.
Tomorrow, after he sobered up, he’d go back to Chicago. It was time to face his demons.
* * * *
“Grace Diaglo, would you please stop worrying about everyone else for a change?” Emily pointed toward a full-length mirror hanging on the wall. “Look at yourself. You’ve lost more than ten pounds. Have you heard the word anorexia?”
Grace hung half a dozen dresses they’d priced on a rack in front of her, trying to ignore her sister. Emily had become a broken record the last few weeks. “Are you planning to do any work today?”
She stared at Emily, hoping she’d stop hounding her and help her restock the inventory. Her sister’s ragging was hardly positive reinforcement. Her weight had become a moot point after the umpteenth time she’d heard about it.
Emily’s gaze pierced hers. “Since Vincent’s death, all you’ve done is volunteer—from baking cookies for the annual policemen’s fundraisers, to feeding the homeless. Anything to keep yourself out of the house. You need to put Vincent to rest, Grace, and move on with your life. If you don’t, and soon, I’m afraid you never will. Do you want to end up all alone, your only company a houseful of stray cats?”
Grace needed to put a stop to this. Her sister would go on and on if she didn’t. “I’m fine, Em. Please don’t worry about me.”
“How can I not? You look sickly.”
“Thanks. I appreciate the kind words.” Grace tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, hair that had become as dull and lifeless as everything else seemed.
Emily wasn’t the only one who didn’t like what she saw. Grace hated the way she looked. But Vincent’s death had sent her into a deep depression. Even antidepressants hadn’t helped. Her husband had been her life for three years. She’d loved him with all her heart, and since his death, she’d had no appetite. All she wanted to do was go to sleep and wake up from this awful nightmare. Have Vincent back. But that wasn’t going to happen. He was gone, and her unconscious fasting wouldn’t change that. Nothing would, no matter how hard she prayed.
She had to start eating again or she’d get sick. Something she couldn’t afford when she had a shop to run. Emily would be out on maternity leave soon. That would leave no one to run things if they were both in the hospital.
Grace inhaled, the scent of lavender and rose sachets from a basket on top the stand inundating her senses. The late morning sun streamed in through the long, wall-length windows, helping to dispel the chill her thoughts had brought on.
She glanced around. Lightly Seasoned was all she had left. Thank God it was making a profit, not an easy feat for a newly opened business. It was hard to believe that she and Emily had turned their dreams into a reality. They’d made the consignment shop bright and welcoming to everyone who came in, working long hours to give it a personal touch, which had obviously paid off.
Grace sighed. Time to get back to work.
She picked up a few navy blue dresses in different styles from a box on the floor and placed them together on the revolving rack.
She glanced toward her sister and smiled. “I know you’re worried about me, Em, and I love you for that. But I’ll be fine. I just need to stay busy.”
“You need to do the opposite and slow down, Grace. And for God’s sake, eat something.”
“If I promise to gain some weight, will you lay off awhile?”
“It’s a start, but you need to pace yourself, too. Chicago PD can do without your brownies for one event.”
Grace’s hands unconsciously clenched at her sides. “But that’s the only way I can keep in touch with Vincent’s friends. I don’t want to lose them, too.”
“I hate to say this, Grace, but perhaps letting go of those people will allow you to move on.”
Grace’s patience slipped. “I can’t do that. Vincent wouldn’t like it. He was such a dedicated police officer. He’d want me to stay involved.”
Emily shook her head again, her strawberry blonde bob swinging in her face. Grace’s hair used to be the same vibrant shade before Vincent had passed away.
“I thought you wanted to have children. You can’t do that with a ghost.”
Grace didn’t understand why her sister wanted her to lose more than she’d already lost. What was wrong with helping out at the police functions? Wasn’t that a good thing? Weren’t people supposed to get involved, help wherever they could? Emily acted as if she was doing something wrong.
Heck, she could have gone in another direction after Vincent died. She could have picked up a bottle the way his partner had. Everyone knew how far he’d fallen. Made a point of telling her that little tidbit. She hadn’t seen Cord in months. He hadn’t even bothered to pay his respects at the funeral.
That in itself still hurt and made her angry.
When she’d heard Cord resigned from the force two weeks after Vincent’s death, she’d been shocked.
Why hadn’t he told her he was leaving? He had become family when he’d been partnered with her husband. For two years, Cord and Vincent had been inseparable, at work and off duty. But for whatever reason, Cord had disappeared without saying a word to her. Another painful blow. First losing her husband, then him. He should have stuck around to help her through the months of missing Vincent with every breath she took. But Cord hadn’t cared enough about her to do that.
“When are you going to bury Vincent, Grace?”
Emily’s question drew Grace back to their conversation. One she was putting an end to right now.
“What is this? Why all the sudden resentment for Vincent?”
“I don’t resent him, Grace. I just think it’s time for you to let go.”
Grace held onto her temper. “I’ll decide when it’s time to pack Vince’s things and say goodbye. Until I do, I want you to respect my wishes and let me deal with this in my own way, all right?”
Emily walked over and hugged her. “Okay. But promise me you’ll take better care of yourself.”
Grace pulled back, smiling. “I promise. Can we get the last of these dresses hung now, so we can go have lunch?”
Her sister’s round face lit up as she patted her oversized belly. “Now that’s music to my ears.”
* * * *
Cord sat slumped in his car, watching the front door to Striker’s Grill. This was the first time since Vincent’s death he’d been back.
Jack Neil was inside. How the man had the nerve to show his face in a cop hangout was beyond him. Was he there to meet with one of their officers? To offer money under the table?
Frustrated, he threaded his hands through his hair and turned away. The man made him sick. Neil ran Chicago’s biggest car chop outfit in the area and was known to bribe cops to look away. Before Vince died, Cord had really wanted to nail the creep.
He glanced back at the café and noticed a woman walking into Striker’s entrance. She looked familiar.
Behind her stood a pregnant woman.
He squinted to get a better look.
Emily?
That meant the woman in front of her had to be Grace. Cord’s heart revved like a wide-open boat motor.
What had happened to her? She looked rail thin.
He swallowed, watching through the restaurant window as she made her way down the aisle to a booth.
It was Grace. He’d know that profile anywhere. He’d memorized it the first time Vince introduced them. No woman had ever looked so enticing. The day he’d met her, her blonde hair had been pulled back, emphasizing her incredible cheekbones. She had the face of an angel, eyes that captured the soul, and full, pouty lips made for hours and hours of kissing.
Hell, she’d been the only woman to make him even notice that about a woman. He desired her even now—even when guilt ate at him for doing so.
How many nights had he laid in bed thinking about those lips, about her striking, light green eyes beckoning him, only to be reminded that she was his partner’s wife?
Maybe deep down he’d willed Vincent to die to have her.
The recrimination ate at Cord’s gut. He was the one who’d deserved to die.
He closed his eyes.
Before he could allow his self-destructive ways to get the better of him again, he had a job to do. He had to uncover the dirty little secrets buried deep inside Chicago’s Ninth Precinct and find out who killed his partner.

C.V. Madison is my guest today!

CVMadisonHeadshot

With Proper Maintenance Media Kit
by C.V. Madison

Title: With Proper Maintenance
Author: C.V. Madison
Release date: 09 October 2014
Publisher: Jupiter Gardens Press

Blurb:
Named the youngest head engineer in the history of his company, Ethan Cole’s first voyage on the Platinum Bow is his chance to stand out from his father’s shadow. His dream is dashed by the roguish Cecil Goode, promoted to Ethan’s position just before the ship sets sail. When the Bow is hijacked by pirates, Ethan and Cecil have to work together to bring the pirates’ nearly wrecked ship to safety. Will they make it to port before the ship plummets from the sky? And what will become of the combustible passion between them? Will it outlast the pirate attack?

Book buy links:
http://jupitergardenspress.com/shop/with-proper-maintenance/
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OA035EY
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Proper-Maintenance-C-V-Madison-ebook/dp/B00OA035EY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412796519&sr=8-1&keywords=with+proper+maintenance
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http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/483202

About the author
C.V. Madison is a licensed massage therapist, author, feminist and gamer full of schadenfreude pie and Mountain Dew. She pens urban fantasy, horror and steampunk with a side of heavy romance. Her characters are straight, LGBTQIA and some shades not on the spectrum. She has been published in both fiction and non-fiction anthologies.
Through the month of November, she can be found in local coffee houses, over caffeinated and armed with her trusty laptop as she strives to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days for National Novel Writer’s Month. She serves as a Municipal Liaison for Columbus, Ohio.
She is a writer for the Caffeine Crew and does book reviews and promotion for the Yeah Books! Blog.

http://cvmadison.com
http://www.twitter.com/deaubreydigest
http://www.facebook.com/cvmadison
http://www.goodreads.com/cvmadison

Giveaway codes:
http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/287ac18e1/

If you buy your copy of With Proper Maintenance from the Jupiter Gardens Press website and use the promo code GAYSTEAM, you get a copy of Angelia Sparrow’s steampunk story Sky Rat for $0.99!

Excerpt 1
Ethan signed the bottom of the requisition form and gave the list another once-over. Accuracy was the key to a clean, tight, steam-powered airship. All forms were submitted in triplicate with neat, easy to read handwriting. Two copies would be on the captain’s desk within the hour, just as promised.
Three sharp raps brought him from his work as he finished the final pen stroke. Ethan set aside his quill, careful not to spill ink or make a mis-mark on the copied requisition forms, and pulled open the door.
Captain Quinn, a tall man with a head of thick black hair, a lantern jaw with a cleft chin and, presently, five-o-clock shadow, filled the doorway. He wore no coat and tie, his shirt was unfastened three buttons down and his trousers hung wrinkled. Ethan hoped he covered his shock at the captain’s attire.
“Good evening, Engineer Cole. I hope I find you well.”
“Indeed. What might I do for you, Captain?”
“Have you walked through the engine compartment? Is everything satisfactory for departure?”
“I found a few pieces in need of attention. I am duplicating requisition forms now, sir.”
“Requisition form?” The captain’s thick fingers pinched the corner and plucked the crisp page from Ethan’s grasp. “I can’t even read this.”
Ethan’s cheeks heated. How could he have been so foolish as to keep the original in hand when he answered the door?
“I will make the submitted forms legible.”
“Tut, tut, tut.” The captain wagged a stout finger and leaned in, his cologne mixing with the bourbon on his breath. “You come highly recommended. I have no worry. Go, find what you need, stop off at the office on the way back and give them your forms. I can’t exactly allow them to see me like this and expect to keep my job, now can I?”
Ethan shook his head and took a step back. The captain weaved in the doorway and, thankfully, returned from whence he came. Once the pervasive odor of stale bedsheets and hair oil dissipated, Ethan drew a breath of relief. If the captain didn’t dry out, Ethan would be certain they wouldn’t leave port. A captain should keep his wits about him at all times. At any point a mechanical failure or invading ship could kill an entire crew. Ethan would not become another casualty of piracy.

Excerpt 3 R rated
Cecil pulled Ethan down with him onto the bridge deck, their kisses deep and hungry as Ethan’s backside met the splintered wood. Cecil pressed a knee between Ethan’s thighs, his lips hovering over Ethan’s, his breath ragged. He took Ethan in hand, giving him a long, slow stroke from base to head. His thumb traced the tip of Ethan’s cock before plunging back down. Ethan hardened under his touch, his heart racing with anticipation.
Cecil’s tongue passed Ethan’s lips, caressing his with the taste of cherry tobacco. The scent lingered on Cecil’s skin mixed well with the cologne of his sweat. Hardened flesh pressed against Ethan’s.
The hull sputtered and seized, a steady stream of steam shooting through the cracks in the deck. The ship’s momentum slowed and the pitch dipped. The engine rattled and smoke poured from the exhaust.
Cecil and Ethan shared a look of panic, neither of them daring to breathe. Ethan grappled for Cecil’s hip and pulled his weight atop him. If they were going down, they were going down right.
The ship rumbled and the engine whirred back to life, only to stutter out. Cecil pulled back, studying Ethan’s face. He lifted Ethan’s leg and pressed into him with a gentle first thrust. The lack of lube meant no glide and Ethan winced as the burn set in.
The engine caught wind again and roared back to life. The deck lurched beneath them. They shared a breathless laugh and Cecil began a slow rhythm. The stinging burn of entry faded as Cecil hit just the right spot.

With Proper Maintenance-highres

Something I’m working on as a serialized story.

Part One

Dr. Ben Everett never dreamed he’d get the call. Yes he’d trained for the scenario in a controlled setting and practiced procedure for such an event. Yet, to actually be told to activate protocol for an outbreak of unknown origin made his blood run cold.
He forced a breath out through his teeth and glanced around the laboratory at the men and woman he’d worked with for close to a decade now, all unaware of what they were about to face. Over the years, the team had dealt with Swine and Bird flu epidemics, cases of H1N1. But this was a virus that mimicked Ebola in its high mortality and infectious rate. Yet, biologically the strain wasn’t the same. Ben’s team would be thrust into the middle of it, trying to figure out what it was.
He swallowed a lump of emotion. “Can I have everyone’s attention. I just received a call from Barnes-Jewish Hospital in Missouri. They have a highly contagious, unconfirmed deadly virus. I was told to gather everything we can and get to St. Louis.” He stepped around the desk and stuffed his hands into his white lab coat, studying the people he considered his friends. “I have to be honest with you all. This has potential of turning into something bigger than we’ve ever trained for. So, I’m asking for volunteers only. I know a lot of you have young children to think about. I completely understand if you decide to stay here in Atlanta.”
“How many cases are there?” Ted Allery asked, the expression on his weathered face grim.
“At least a dozen that are confirmed. More than half have died.”
“Oh my God, Ben.” Susan Florentine’s eyes widened. “You know when you have that many confirmed cases, it’s simply a tip of an iceberg.”
His assistant didn’t have to tell him that. He knew more than anyone how quickly a virus could spread. People who came in contact with every confirmed case had a potential of becoming infected. They’d need to be quarantined before they became a threat themselves.
“We’re wasting time. I need a show of hands on who will be going to St. Louis. Like I said, don’t feel obligated to say yes.”
Ben about lost his composer when everyone in the room raised their hand. The clog in his throat returned. “I’m touched that everyone is this dedicated, but Katy, I can’t in good conscience let you go. You have an infant at home and she needs you. I will however expect you to come into the office everyday while we’re gone and man the phones.”
“But, I…” The petite blonde’s shoulders hunched forward.
Ben gave her a weak smile. “You’re staying, and that’s that. Now, let’s get everything we’ll need together so we can get on the road. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can get whatever this is contained.

Copyright © 2014 Jerri Drennen

Coming soon!

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Gruesome murder rocks art world

Hard-nosed Detective Dane Reynolds has met his match with up-and-coming sculptress, Simone Preston, the prime suspect in his current homicide. As he digs into her past and uncovers another dead ex, he questions if he has a Black Widow on his hands.

Simone is shocked when her ex-boyfriend is found strung to a piece of art she has up for auction, especially since he’s not the only former flame to be murdered. Someone is setting her up, and with the help of the one man who could put her away, she’s determined to find out who.

Together, the two find themselves caught up in a tangled obsession that could leave them in danger of losing their lives as well as they hearts.

 

 

Chapter One

Dane Reynolds had never seen anything like this in the ten years he’d worked homicide, and he had witnessed some pretty gruesome sights in the mile high city of Denver.
A murder victim hung like art? That threw him back and flooded his gut with something akin to nausea, though the feeling faded quickly once he started to examine the crime scene.
The man was suspended from a six foot marble statue right of the Troubadours auctioneer’s podium, facing a large room with fifty chairs, twenty-five on each side.
Superficial cuts crisscrossed his torso as if he’d been used as a whipping post. Cause-of-death, more than likely one of the three inch-and-a-half incisions on the upper chest. Lack of blood in and around the sculpture suggested he’d been killed elsewhere. That meant they’d have a small window of time to locate the kill site and ensure evidence wasn’t lost.
Dane brew out a breath and focused his attention on the people detained for questioning, a group of twenty or so standing off to his left. According to what he’d heard on the radio on his way over, the hall had been filled to capacity when they’d unveiled the body as the bidding began. The crowd that remained appeared as if they had witnessed the actual murder.
“Hey, Reynolds, seen anything like this?” Detective Reed Adams walked toward him, weaving a coin through his fingers.
Dane recognized his partner’s obsessive habit, Reed’s way of managing the job. He could hardly fault him for that. Dealing with the rigors of homicide took a special kind of resolve, and he had learned years ago that finding a coping mechanism helped keep one’s sanity.
“Any idea who the guy is?”
“ID in his wallet says Troy Draper. We’re running a check on him now.”
“Did he work here?”
Reed shook his head. “Not according to anyone we talked to.”
Dane glanced again at the victim as two coroner assistants removed him from the sculpture. When he was on the floor and zipped into a body bag, he analyzed the stone form the corpse had been strung to. “How about the statue? We know who created this monstrosity?”
“Not much of an art enthusiast, are we, Reynolds?” Reed smirked.
Dane’s upper lip twitched. He wasn’t a fan of some artsy-fartsy’s interpretation of the male anatomy, with a dong the size of a horse’s—created either by a man with an enormous ego, or a hopeful woman. “Who’s the sculptor?”
“The curator said the piece belongs to Simone Preston. Here’s the kicker. We found one of her business cards crushed in Draper’s hand. I think that makes her a person of interest.”
“Was there an address on the card?”
“Nope. Just a phone number and e-mail.”
Dane pointed to the crowd outside the gallery. If they didn’t bolt soon, he’d be surprised. “Did we find out anything from this motley crew? When the sculpture arrived at the hall? If the piece was checked when it was received?”
“Yeah. The statue was in the back since yesterday afternoon and rechecked last night before the workers left at ten. So, that leaves the murderer a ten hour window since the Troubadours staff arrived around eight this morning.”
“What about forced entry or surveillance cameras?”
Reed cleared his throat. “None of the points of entry—doors or windows—were jimmied. We’ve got people dusting for prints now. According to maintenance, the camera in the back hasn’t worked for weeks. The staff said they have one on backorder.”
Dane rubbed the taut muscles at the base of his neck. “That’s damned convenient. I’m going to need a list of people who knew that and had keys to the back door.”
“You think it was an inside job then?”
“With no signs of a break-in. . .? What about security, besides cameras? Do they have guards around in the evening? Isn’t art supposedly worth so much money?”
“Art is priceless,” a well-dressed man with a manicured goatee said in a snippy tone as he walked toward them. His hazel eyes narrowed in disapproval of Dane’s sarcasm.
“And you are?” Dane asked.
“Bradley Lyons, Troubadours’ curator.”
Dane reached into his breast pocket and extracted a small notepad. “Did you know the victim, Mr. Lyons?”
“I met him once. He came by with Miss Preston about six months ago.”
Again with the name. He’d need to talk with her.
“Do you know Miss Preston well?”
“She’s one of our most talented artists. We’ve sold a number of her pieces.”
Dane made a mental note of the way the man’s eyes lit up as he gushed about the woman. Maybe the two had something going, or Mr. Lyons wished they had.
“Do you have an address for Miss Preston? We’ll need to talk with her.”
“Yes, of course. It’s in my office. I’ll get it.”
The man left, and Dane turned to Reed. “Did you get the impression Mr. Lyons might have a thing for this Preston woman?”
His partner shrugged. “Perhaps he’s just a fan of her work.”
Dane glanced again at the piece of art, studying the sculpture with a critical eye. Definitely not his cup of Joe. But then, he wasn’t the type to appreciate fine art unless it was done on black velvet and had a picture of dogs playing poker. “Run a check on Mr. Lyons. I want to know if he’s hiding anything besides his bad taste in art.”
“I’m on it. Will you be headed to Ms. Preston’s?”
“Once I talk to the crew. I want to see if my questioning makes any of them nervous.”
Lyons returned with a slip of paper and handed it to Dane.
Her address surprised him. The woman lived in one of the most affluent parts of the city. Either there was a hell of a lot of money in art, or she had someone paying for all that luxury.
“Can I let my employees go home, Detective?” Lyons’ question drew him back to the man, the annoyance in his voice clear as rain. Typical rich snob—always assuming their time was more valuable than those lower on the socioeconomic ladder.
“Not yet. I have a few questions for them first.”
“Can you at least tell me when you’ll have this wrapped up? We do have a business to run.”
Dane clenched his hands at his side. “I don’t think you quite grasp the severity of this situation, Mr. Lyons. A man is dead. Murdered and strung to a piece of art you were planning to auction off today. Could take days for us to gather evidence. I’d suggest you get used to having us underfoot. Oh, and don’t wander off too far. We’ll probably have more questions.”
Lyons’ amber eyes darkened, then he huffed and turned to leave.
The guy walked away as if he had a stick up his ass. Clearly, he couldn’t care less that a body was found on his property—the murder nothing more than an inconvenience. At least, that’s how it seemed to Dane, and the toughest part was the man reflected the norm of society, not the exception.
The thought had acid working its way up his throat. He reached back into his breast pocket for a roll of Tums. He popped two in his mouth, and while chewing them up, glanced one last time at the piece of marble.
Maybe a different angle would help.
He tilted his head slightly and squinted.
Nope. Still ugly.
What type of woman created such a grotesque interpretation of the male form? Dane hadn’t a clue. But, he guessed he’d find out soon enough.
* * *
“You have to come see this, Simone,” Laurie hollered from inside the living room down the hall.
Simone Preston tossed her mallet and chisel onto the table next to the piece she’d been working on for months, then walked to the doorway and stuck her head in the room. “What’s going on now? I have a deadline.”
Her best friend pointed to the television.
Simone heaved a sigh and tucked a short strand of curly blonde hair behind her ear. “I couldn’t care less who’s doing who on your reality shows, Laurie.”
“This isn’t one of my shows, but you’re not going to like the reality of this. Watch.”
She stared at the TV screen, unsure of what she was seeing until a familiar landmark registered. “Is that Troubadours?”
Laurie nodded.
“What did I miss? Were they robbed?”
Her friend shook her head. “Someone was murdered.”
Simone’s legs began to shake. She clamped tight onto the doorframe to steady her balance, then swallowed a huge lump forming in her throat.
Horror unfolded as two men with “Coroner” stamped on the back of their dark jackets shoved a gurney with a body bag from the building.
She turned to her friend. “Did they say who?”
“No.”
The doorbell rang, and Simone’s heart jumped half out of her chest.
As she walked to the front door, her mind raced as to who could’ve died. She knew at least a handful of people who worked at Troubadours—all wonderful, generous individuals.
Simone squinted out the peephole at a tall, dark-haired man standing with his back to her, his hands stuffed into a well-worn leather jacket that fit snugly across a wide expanse of shoulder.
A tingling feeling worked its way up her spine while she fumbled with the bolt lock—a strange sensation that could be interpreted as a sixth sense, warning her not to release the chain. But then, she’d never had any insight before. If she had, her life would be so different now.
She eased the door open a crack and was immediately inundated with a light, musky scent that sent her stomach fluttering. This man was trouble—and she didn’t need any more of that.
He turned. ”Ms. Preston?”
Simone’s jaw slackened, her eyes fixated on the man’s incredible lips, in awe of their color and fullness. With her artist’s sensibilities, she could appreciate the beauty of a perfect feature, and that’s what he had—a mouth she envisioned crushed against her own. Strangely enough, she could almost feel its moist pressure.
Pull it together, Simone. One of your friends might be dead.
“Y-yes.” Heat infused her face. The last thing she needed was for him to see her sweat.
He reached into his jacket, pulled out a leather case and flashed a Denver PD badge.
As if she’d been doused with ice water, a shiver raced through her. This gorgeous, worthy-to-be-etched-in-stone, man, was a cop.
“I’m Detective Reynolds, Miss Preston. Could I come in and speak with you?”
Simone nodded, then closed the door and released the chain, tamping down her disgust for law enforcement—not easily done when she despised the whole lot.
She opened up and stepped aside, allowing him into her loft.
“Can I get you anything? Coffee? A soda perhaps?” She hated to offer the man anything but the door, yet her mother’s excessive lessons in the social graces forced her to remember her manners.
“No, thanks. I came to talk to you about Troy Draper. Did you know him?”
Simone’s heart stopped. Did she know him? What did the man mean? Why did it sound as if Troy was no longer alive?
The scene on TV struck her like a slab of cold granite. The murder. The men from the coroners’ office. The body bag. That was Troy inside.
Her hands clamped over her mouth. How could this be happening? Again?
“Are you all right?” He grasped her arm gently.
Even as the reality of the nightmare closed in around her, a sudden jolt of electricity shot up her arm. The man’s touch circuited through her like a two-twenty current, only reiterating the fact this man was trouble—the huge, uninvited kind.
Angry with herself, she yanked free from his grip and backed away.
“Is Troy dead?” Her lips began to quiver. She knew the answer, but needed confirmation.
Laurie chose that moment to stick her head out of the living room. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, everything’s fine.” Simone shooed her back into the room. She didn’t need her best friend causing problems. Laurie had a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Laurie disappeared, and Simone refocused on the detective. “Is he?”
When he nodded, tears clouded her eyes.
Talk about surreal. It’d been months since she’d given any thought to Troy. Especially when they’d ended their relationship so badly. Yet, she would’ve never wished this for him. Not ever.
“How?”
“He was stabbed.”
A tear slid onto her cheek. “At Troubadours?”
The detective’s eyes widened. “He was found there, yes. How did you know?”
Simone blew out a strangled breath. “I saw it on the news right before you rang the doorbell. Why would Troy be found dead there? He’d only been to Troubadours once, and that was with me almost seven months ago.”
“I hate to be the one to tell you this, Ms. Preston, but he was found strung to the statue you had up for auction with your business card in his hand. Would you have any idea why?”
Simone stared at him, numb to the world around her. Was he accusing her of murder? Because if he wasn’t, it sure as hell sounded like he was.
Her defenses shot up, along with the hairs on her arms. “I don’t have a clue, Detective. But I’ll tell you this, I didn’t kill him if that’s what you’re insinuating.”
The man’s gray eyes narrowed. “I assure you, Ms. Preston, I wasn’t accusing you of anything.”
Sure you weren’t. That’s what they’d told her the last time. Right before all hell broke loose, and she became the prime suspect in the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Jed.
 

 

New Unearthed excerpt

http://www.amazon.com/Unearthed-Specter-Hunter-Series-ebook/dp/B00E3APA6M/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1374504048&sr=8-10&keywords=Jerri+Drennen

Uncovering a ghostly secret, one skeleton at a time.

After years of investigating paranormal activity, lead ghost hunter, Jack Trader has little to show until, at an abandoned farm house in the boot-heels of Missouri, he and his partner record the presence of an angry specter. When the time approaches to show their proof, somehow it’s been erased, forcing them back to the house to try and re-film the footage.

Renovations at Lila Monclair’s successful bed & breakfast bring more than dust, noise and boot prints to the halls of the Inn. A ghostly figure, in the form of a mysterious, dark-haired woman in 40’s style dress keeps frightening off guests. As word spreads of the possible haunting, a number of reservations are canceled. Now Lila’s worried she could lose everything.

Jack and Lila are seduced by these star-crossed ghosts, each in search of the other. Together, they play out the nightmare that tore the two soul’s apart more than 70 years ago, while the budding romance between them is threatened by an indiscretion of Jack’s that has Lila questioning if he’s even worthy of her love.

Excerpt

Jack staggered back as if she’d slapped him. “What are you talking about?”
“I went back up to the attic to try on that dress you showed me earlier. You came up. Music from somewhere started to play and we danced and…” She turned away.
And what? He grabbed her chin to make her face him. “And what, Lila?”
“You don’t remember any of this?”
He didn’t know what to think. If what Lila said was true, a spirit had taken over his body and mind, and something happened between them. “How far did this go?” In all the years he’d investigated paranormal activity, this had never happened to him.
Her cheeks turned pink, and Jack assumed the answer: too far.
“You said you went up to the attic again to try on that gown. Did you have it on?”
She nodded.
“I’m assuming that whoever possessed me thought you were the recipient of that dress. Benjamin saw you as Frannie.”
“That’s what you called me.”
“I’m so sorry, Lila. I don’t remember any of this. I’d been reading your great-grandmother’s journals. I learned that Benjamin forced Frances into sleeping with him. Eunice found out about it while she was pregnant with, I assume. Benjamin, Jr.”
Her jaw dropped. “My great-grandfather did that?”
“According to Eunice’s diaries.”
“I feel so awful for Frances and Thomas. Do you really think he killed them?”
“Somebody did. Who had more of a motive then Benjamin?”
“Why is his ghost back?”
“That’s a great question. It could be that Frances is here again—that he loved her so much he returned to be with her.”
“How do we find out what happened all those years ago, Jack? I feel as if Frannie came to me to fix something—to make things right. How do we do that?”
“We just keep digging until we find the answer. It might be as easy as just reuniting Frances and Thomas.”
Her eyes widened. “How?”
“I’m not sure yet. Let’s both sleep on it. At this point I think that would do us both a world of good.”
“Aren’t you worried that my great-grandfather could somehow possess you again?”
He snorted an impatient breath. “I wasn’t until you brought it up. I’ll do some research before I go to bed. There has to be a way to prevent that from happening.”
“Okay.” She started to walk away, but Jack reached out and grabbed her hand.
“I’m sorry about what happened.”
“It wasn’t your fault. The idea that my own ancestor tried to….” She shivered.
“Did you enjoy any of it?” Jack knew he shouldn’t ask such a question, but he couldn’t help himself.
Her cheeks reddened again. “What do you mean?”
“How about I kiss you, and you tell me if it feels any different? For scientific purposes only.”
“Seriously?”
He was playing with fire, but right now, he wanted nothing more than to kiss Lila Monclair. “What do you say?” He gave her one of his signature smiles, hoping to convince her to play along.
“All…all right.”
Her voice cracked, and he almost chuckled. He didn’t think she’d appreciate that, though. She might even change her mind about the kiss altogether.
“Okay, then. Try to take note of any difference. Do you think you can do that?”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Try to relax.” Jack placed his hands on her shoulders and drew her close. “You’re a little tense, Lila. You need to loosen up.”
“I’m trying.”
Jack leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers in a chaste kiss, surprised by how soft her lips were. He pulled back. “So, what do you think?
“He didn’t kiss like that.”
“He didn’t?”
She shook her head. “Unh-unh.”
“Let me try it again.” He covered her lips with his, this time with more pressure in the execution. He retreated. “Well?”
“Nope.”
“Nope, what?” Jack frowned.
“You don’t kiss the same.”
“Are you sure?”
“Definitely.”
He studied her look of indifference. “Can I ask why you’re so sure?”
“You don’t want to know.”
Jack slammed his hands on his hips. “I certainly do.”
“I didn’t feel anything.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Which time?”
She cleared her throat. “This time.”
No woman had ever said that about his kiss. Not once. Talk about a kick in the proverbial balls. Now, for pride’s sake he would have to try again—this time with a little more intensity.
“I’d like to give it one more shot to be hundred percent certain.”
“Suit yourself.”
Did she roll her eyes? Now she was just being cruel.
He pulled her close and crushed his mouth to hers, causing an inferno to ignite deep in his gut. He thrust his tongue between her lips as his hands roamed to the small of her back, drawing her flush to him. When she moaned against his mouth, Jack pulled away. “Was that close?”
She blinked and stepped back.
“Lila?” he prompted, smiling inwardly.
She swallowed. “Yes. That was close to the kiss in the attic.”
“All right, then. Good night.” Jack turned and walked up the stairs, smiling from ear-to-ear. He’d proven his point. Now he could go to bed, feeling like his balls were intact.

Steamy New Release: Micah’s Heart

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If you’re a lover of sexy paranormal romances, then be sure and check out Micah’s Heart. 

Dark clouds soar in the skies above Sabre Nichols the first time she meets Micah McGregor. Still the gloom doesn’t detract from the overwhelming hunger she feels for the sexy half native American with his lean body, long dark hair and captivating blue eyes. She wants him. 

After attending her great grandmother’s funeral, Sabre assumes she’ll stay a week at the old homestead on Witch Mountain, and then return to her job as a paranormal researcher. But strange events on the mountain and Micah’s sexy charisma wreak havoc with her plans. Micah seems to hide something eerie behind his brilliant blue gaze… 

Can she trust him to help find the source of the spectral activities? Or can she believe the tales of her witch heritage? If she puts her faith in Micah, will she find answers… and lose her heart?

Happy Reading!

 Judith Leger
 2009 Stella Cameron Scarlet Boa
Winner2012 CAPA nominee for ENCHANTED

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What I have coming in June!

Unearthed 500x750

Blurb

Unearthed

Uncovering a ghostly secret, one skeleton at a time.

After years of investigating paranormal activity, lead ghost hunter, Jack Trader has little to show until, at an abandoned farm house in the boot-heels of Missouri, he and his partner capture the presence of an angry specter. Except, when the time comes to show their proof, it’s somehow been erased, forcing them back to the house to try and re-film the footage.

Renovations at Lila Monclair’s successful bed & breakfast bring more than dust, noise and boot prints to the halls of the Inn. Her own apparition has taken shape, in the form of a mysterious, dark-haired woman in a 40’s style dress, who keeps appearing and disappearing, frightening off guests. When word spreads, people cancel longstanding reservations, insisting the Monclair Inn is haunted. Now Lila’s worried she could lose everything she’s sacrificed so much for.

Together, Jack and Lila are seduced by these star-crossed ghosts, each in search of the other, and has them playing out the nightmare that tore the two apart 70-plus years ago, while their own possibilities are threatened by an indiscretion of Jack’s that has Lila questioning if he’s even worthy of her love.

Excerpt

Jack Trader stepped inside the last of the upstairs rooms, his flashlight gripped tightly in his hand, the rickety boards beneath his feet groaning a protest under his weight. With the luck he’d been having the last few months, the floor would give way.
He forced his concern aside and glanced around. Tattered and faded, pink-striped paper covered the walls, the only room on this level that showed any sign that it’d been used as a bedroom. A female’s. Could she be the presence in the house? Or was it someone else?
“See anything, Jack?” The voice of his partner, Cody McCoy filled his left ear, the bluetooth-type hardware transmitting with ease.
The ultimate goal for his team was to catch sight of an orb of glowing energy, a sure indicator of paranormal activity.
“I’m in the last of the rooms. Give me a second.” Jack moved to the window, his eyes straining to make out anything in the dark that wasn’t illuminated by the light’s stream.
Nothing.
He glanced back toward the door.
Again, not a thing to indicate a ghost inhabited the house.
Maybe the reports of the old Martin place being haunted were merely campfire stories—blown out of proportion by a bunch of overzealous, trespassing kids. It’d hardly be the first time, or the last, for that matter. But Jack was disappointed all the same. He needed something to film, or yet again, they’d have to write this trip off to the boot hills of Missouri as another wild goose chase. Specter Inc. couldn’t afford many more of them, especially after losing their funding. Something that was totally his fault.
Jack heaved a sigh of frustration and started for the door. In the middle of the room a chill engulfed him.
Was it an apparition or a simple draft?
“Cody,” he whispered. “I walked into a cold spot.” Suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on-end. The temperature dipped further, like an arctic blast biting into his skin.
A sharp, almost inaudible voice uttered, “Get out.”
Jack’s heart rate ratcheted up.
The stories surrounding the abandoned pig farm were that the ghost, or ghosts, involved in the haunting weren’t exactly friendly, and this seemed to fit. Those two words sure as hell didn’t sound like a, ‘hello, welcome to my humble abode’ to him.
He fumbled into the back pocket of his jeans for the Tri-field EMT meter and pulled it out. With steady fingers, he switched the gadget on, watching the red needle jump like crazy. There was a current in the room that wasn’t caused by any electricity in the house—not when there hadn’t been any at this location in years, according to the Electrical Associations records. Not since the last known resident left.
Now, if they could get their cameras set up in a hurry, they’d see what range of power this spirit had.
“Bring the equipment up, Cody. I think we have something.”
“On my way.”
Jack walked toward the entrance, planning to meet his partner halfway when the door in front of him slammed shut.
His heart collided with his ribcage. “Son of a…”
When the pace of Jack’s heartbeat leveled out, he crept closer. At the door, he twisted the knob, surprised to find the thing was covered in frost and refused to budge. Footsteps on the stairs indicated that Cody was on his way up. Hopefully he’d be able to open the door from the other side.
“Where you at, Jack?”
“I’m in here,” he shouted. “I can’t get the door handle to turn.”
Shattering glass had Jack pivoting around. A grayish, mist-like image hovered next to the now jagged edges in the frame of the window. An icy breeze blew the thin sheers hanging from above as if they were twin flags in a gale force wind—and added to the intense chill in the air.
Whoever haunted this house was pissed.
The door handle behind him rattled. “Jack.” The hitch in Cody’s voice signaled his concern. “You okay in there?”
“We have an angry one.” Jack turned back to the window to find the specter had disappeared.
Cody charged through the door, his green eyes widening when they landed on the broken glass. “What the hell happened?”
“I guess it doesn’t like company.”
His partners looked around. “It?”
“The apparition I saw next to the window.”
“An actual specter? Was it in solid form, a misty image, or an orb?”
“A gray mist.” Jack reached for the bag Cody held. “We need to get everything set up, plugged in, then turn the power on in our van so we can have something to show at the Ghost Hunter’s forum in three months.”
Cody grinned, then slapped his hands together and rubbed them back and forth. “I can’t wait to see Giles Holland’s face when we have footage this year. It’s been such a dry spell for us. Hopefully, this will only be the beginning of what’s to come for Specter Inc..”
Jack smiled at his partner. “From your lips to ghosts ears.”

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Crimson Wonderland Blog Hop!

I’ve been reading for enjoyment since I was old enough to pick up a book. I was always in the library at school, looking for the next Boxcar Children adventure, then devouring the Mysteries of Nancy Drew. My tastes grew as I did. In the fifth grade I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald. I fell in love with Jay in the Great Gatsby. When I was 14 I stole one of my sister’s historical romances and I was hooked. It was my escape from boredom being stuck on a farm, when snow was raging outside. I couldn’t tell you how many romances I’ve read over the years but it could fill me house. In my late 30’s I began to write my own and the rest is history. I love romantic suspense because it’s fast-paced action filled with sizzling chemistry, so far removed from my raising children, stay at home life. What does reading a good book do for you? Send you to another planet? A parallel universe? Back in time? To exotic locals? For me, it does all of those things and more.

PRIZES

One Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift certificate for $100! And two gift certificates for $50 each! Every blog comment you leave during the hop is entered into a draw to win one of the grand prizes, so leave a comment on every blog with your name and e-mail address for the best chance to win. (Blog hop hosts are not eligible to win one of the grand prizes)

1. Sharon Clare

2. K.M. Jackson

3. Lynn Cahoon

4. Tessa Berkley

5. Black Creek Burning

6. Erin Richards

7. Shay Lacy

8. M. J. Schiller

9. Terri Herman-Ponce

10. Sylvie Fox

11. Ashlyn Mathews

12. NLSScribe/Scribbles

13. Carol Ritten Smith

14. Beth Yarnall

15. Peggy Bird

16. Rowena May O’Sullivan

17. Suzi Love

18. nora snowdon

19. Tara Mills Romance

20. Vristen Pierce

21. Embrace the Shadows

22. Alicia Dean

23. Heather Thurmeier

24. Rena’s Ramblings

25. Dare to Read

26. Denyse Cohen

27. Pam B. Morris Blog

28. Becky Lower Author

29. Nikkie Locke

30. Nicole Flockton

31. Rionna Morgan

32. Elizabeth Boyce

33. Amanda L. V. Shalaby

34. Meline Nadeau

35. Kate Fellowes

36. Lola Karns

37. D’Ann Lindun

38. Jerri Drennen

39. Kristina Knight Romance Author

40. Morgan O’Neill

41. Shelley Wall Blog

42. Holley Trent

43. Karen Sue Burns

44. Patti Shenberger

45. Tamara Gill

Cover, blurb & excerpt for Dark Moon Magic

Blurb

Practicing wiccan Regina Moon is starting over in the tiny town of Groves, Arkansas, hoping her New Age shop will succeed despite her friends objections. A ritual-type killing of a local man transforms the quiet little community into 1692 Salem, with all eyes on her, and has the sheriff, Trace Langston not only trying to solve a murder but disbanding a mob of angry townspeople hell-bent on burning her at the stake. In all the upheaval, a cold case, sealed within a circle, is unearthed and an evil no one knew existed revealed.

Excerpt

Regina wiped the paint splatters off her cheek with her index finger, then continued to roll the sage color onto the living room wall. Already, she felt much calmer than she had that afternoon. The whole dead raven incident had her on edge. Someone was trying to send a warning.

But why?

And who? Becky Riverside? Or was it someone else?

When the roller ran out of paint, she plopped it into the pan and rotated it back and forth. Maybe by the time she finished all four walls, she’d have a renewed sense of serenity.

Her cell buzzed. She discarded the roller altogether and raced for the phone. “Regina,” she spoke into the mouthpiece.

“Reggie.” Her best friend sounded upset.

What was wrong? Had Rod somehow found out where she was? The thought had her heart thumping hard. “What’s the matter, Tiah?”

“I had to call. I got a bad feeling. Are you all right?”

Relief washed over her as Regina shifted her balance from one foot to the other. “Yes, but something odd happened today.”

“Odd?”

“A flock of dead ravens were found next to my place.”

On the other end, she heard a gasp. Clearly Regina hadn’t exaggerated the significance of the birds. It meant trouble. What kind, though, she wasn’t sure.

“I don’t like this, Regina. Let me come stay with you for a while. Just until we know what’s going on.”

Regina inhaled, then let out a shaky breath. “I don’t think that’d be wise. Rod is probably watching you. I can’t chance him finding me.”

“I’m worried, Reggie. With me there, we could at least perform a protection spell.”

“Let me think about it. Right now I’m trying to get my business off the ground, and I wish this hadn’t happened. What if they find out I’m Wiccan and think I killed those birds with some kind of dark magic? It’d be Salem all over again.”

“You know how I felt about you choosing such a small town to move to. Everyone is so close-minded. They think Wiccan and assume something bad. Most don’t understand the difference between white and black magic.”

A loud crash had Regina whirling around just in time to see a rock skid across the hardwood floor. She looked up and found a gaping hole in the picture window and glass scattered all over everything. “I have to go, Tiah. I’ll call you as soon as I can.” She tossed her phone onto the table, wondering what to do.

Her focus fell on the large stone. Something was written on it … in red paint.

She moved closer, and the words she made out stopped her heart.