Bound by Blood, Book #1 in the Cauld Ane Series, is now available everywhere for download! You can read the first chapter at my website.
In the process of releasing Bound by Blood, the printer made an error in the paperback copies, which means I have a few "freebies" to give away with a slightly "pinker" cover! If you are a U.S. resident and you'd like a chance to win a signed copy, leave a review (good or bad) of any of my books (at Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, etc.) and email me to let me know where you left the review! Three (3) people will have a chance to win.
If you've already left a review somewhere in 2012, let me know where and when, and I'll enter you (reviews left between Jan. 1 and now).
If you are not a U.S. resident, I am offering up three (3) free downloads of any of my books to those of you who leave a review. Just let me know where and I'll enter you.
Contest ends November 10th, 11:59PM (PST)
Thanks for reading and good luck!
Be sure to follow me on Facebook for special offers!
SAMANTHA MOORE STOOD in the middle of her childhood bedroom and surveyed the damage as she tried to fit her life into two large suitcases. She’d moved out of the apartment she shared with her best friend and back home with her parents six weeks ago in order to take care of her “affairs” so she could start her life in Scotland with no unfinished business.
“Sam?” her mother called.
“In here, Mom.”
Her mother pushed open the door and sighed. “Oh, honey, you’re going to need to purge some of your stuff.”
“You don’t think I can get all of this on the plane?” Samantha raised an eyebrow. “Oh, ye of little faith.”
Her mother laughed. “I’m more concerned that if you continue stuffing those suitcases, the plane won’t be able to take off and land safely.”
Samantha groaned. “I know. I’ve already filled six storage bins with stuff I want to keep and nine bags with stuff that can be donated.”
“I just don’t know what to take with me. I know nothing about Scotland, but I can’t seem to part with what I’ve packed so far.”
“You’ll figure it out.” Her mother smiled gently. “You’re smarter than anyone I know.”
“Book smarts isn’t going to help me with this.”
In all her twenty-five years, Samantha had never been anywhere outside of Georgia. Her focus had been on graduating first in her class from Mercer University and being the youngest research scientist in the world. Her specialty was hematology, and it was why she’d been offered a position with a large pharmaceutical research company in Edinburgh. But the thought of moving from her small town just outside Savannah to Scotland was overwhelming, particularly since she was painfully shy.
Samantha checked her watch. “Pepper was supposed to call me a while ago. She promised to help.”
“She’s probably running late at work.”
“More than likely.”
Pepper Brooks was Samantha’s best friend and a self-confessed hippy. Well, sort of. Her mother certainly was, hence the name “Pepper,” but Samantha was convinced there was an uptight snob buried deep within her friend somewhere.
Pepper had moved from California to Savannah in second grade and had attached herself to Samantha immediately. Which was fine by Sam—she needed someone to be her voice. Even at seven, Sam figured out that Pepper was a protector. She was happy to let Pepper fight her battles for her…even if she didn’t always agree with Pepper’s methods. They had been inseparable ever since.
Admittedly, Sam was much less shy than she had been as a child, but she still had difficulty speaking her mind to strangers. Her family and Pepper were a different story. Most days, she gave as good as she got.
“I swear, Mom, I don’t know how she can go to school, work full time, take care of her horse, and then find time for a sanity break.”
“I have a feeling her horse is her sanity break.” Her mother wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze. “But she is pretty amazing.”
“No doubt,” Sam agreed. “What time’s Dalton going to be here?”
Sam frowned. “Why so late? New lady?”
“Who knows?” her mother grumbled. “I’ve given up trying to figure out what your brother’s doing with his personal life.”
Dalton had been a high school football star and was now the most eligible bachelor in their small community. He owned a chain of high-end car dealerships around Savannah, and with access to any car on the lot, his playboy status was unbreakable.
“Sammi!” The unmistakable voice of Pepper could be heard from the foyer.
“Speak of the devil,” Samantha said as she stepped to the hallway railing. “Up here.”
Pepper glanced up at Samantha. Her hair was scooped into a messy bun on the top of her head and shone in the foyer light. She was the polar opposite in looks and personality of most of Samantha’s friends, and Samantha adored her. Pepper made friends easily and could talk to anyone about anything. Petite and blonde, she was the epitome of a southern belle, without a southern bone in her body. She’d wrapped a bandana around her head and, with her overalls, she looked like a forties pinup girl.
“You look like you’re dressed for World War Two.”
“You like?” Pepper rested a hand on her hip and chuckled. “It’s laundry day.”
Samantha’s mother leaned over the railing. “Come on up, honey, and I’ll check on dinner. Will you join us?”
“Yes, please! Thanks, Mrs. Moore.” Pepper waved a piece of paper in the air as she jogged up the stairs, two at a time. “You’re never going to guess what’s happened!”
Samantha laughed. “You won the lottery and are going to join me in Scotland.”
Pepper bobbed her head. “Yes.”
Samantha snorted as she made her way back into the bedroom. “You’re hilarious.”
“No, seriously. Not the lottery, per se, but I got into MGA.”
Pepper handed her the notice. “I auditioned for MGA. In Edinburgh. They accepted me. I’ve committed to their one-year advanced course.”
“MGA?” Samantha skimmed the letter. “Performing arts? Seriously? Pepper, this is a lot of money. How are you going to pay for this?”
“I have almost eight-thousand saved.”
“To train Jonesy for the trials!”
Pepper waved her hand dismissively. “Trials, shmials.”
“I thought winning the Olympics was the most important thing in your life. Or at the very least, getting away from your mother while you’re training him. He’s the reason you haven’t dated or done anything outside of school or work for three years.”
“Priorities change, I guess.” She shrugged. “And, technically, I will be getting away from her…all the way across the ocean.”
“What about Jonesy? You were essentially the midwife to his mother. You’ve raised that horse since birth.”
Pepper’s composure slipped, but she pulled it back…a little too quickly. “It’s just a year. I’ll have no problem finding a nice young girl to look after him for me. And Mom can look after Rover.”
Sam recalled the discussion of what to name Pepper’s rescue pup. It came down to either Rover or Fido.
“Pepper.” Samantha handed her back the letter. “What’s really going on? You’ve always said that acting and singing was for fun and would never take priority over becoming a vet. I’m still not clear on how you’d be able to finish veterinary school and train for the Olympics at the same time…but then again, you’re the dreamer.”
“You make that sound like it’s a bad thing.”
Samantha shook her head. “Not at all. I envy it and you know it. Spill.”
“I can’t just want to join my best friend for an adventure in a land full of sexy men?”
Samantha smirked. “You assume all Scottish men look like Ewan MacGregor.”
“And you assume they all look like Gobber the Belch.”
Samantha giggled. “Is it weird we went to see How to Train your Dragon and we don’t even have kids?”
“No, because we took Chelsea’s kid as a cover…she got a free afternoon, and Chase got to see a movie with his favorite spice.”
“Okay, you have me there, but still, what’s really going on?”
“Nothing. Really. My mom’s just driving me crazy.”
“You’ve been home for less than a month,” Sam pointed out.
“I know. At least she passes out drunk more nights than most, but still, I probably should have stayed at our place.”
Pepper waved her hand dismissively. “I’m the one who can’t stand the thought of living alone. It’s not your fault. But I do need to make a change.”
Samantha sighed. “Yeah, you should get out of there, but don’t you think this is a bit drastic?”
“Nope, not at all. I just want to go somewhere where there’s no drama.”
Samantha couldn’t stop the laugh. “So you’re going to drama school.”
“How about we halt this fascinating conversation and I’ll help you finish packing?”
“Okay, okay. You’re off the hook for now. Just give me some notice before you arrive. I’m assuming I’ll have to find a two-bedroom place to rent, huh?”
“I’ll take the couch,” Pepper said. “I’m not picky.”
Samantha choked in response. “Says the woman with champagne taste on a beer budget.”
“Oh, I at least have enough to spring for the sparkling wine.”
“Nice. Let’s get to work.” Samantha went back to the first bag she’d packed, thinking she could leave some of the clothes behind, but reluctant to part with any of her shoes.
* * *
Dr. Kade Gunnach sat behind his large mahogany desk and stared at the data in front of him. It wasn’t promising. A knock on his office door elicited a frown, but he knew the inevitable couldn’t be avoided. “Come in.”
His brothers Brodie and Connall pushed inside and sat in the chairs across from his desk.
Brodie leaned forward and settled his arms on his knees. “So?”
Kade rubbed his forehead. “Nothing.”
“At all?” Connall asked.
Kade shook his head.
“Shite!” Brodie stood and made his way to the bank of windows facing the university.
Connall dropped his face into his hands. “Have you told Fi?”
Fiona Gunnach was their only sister and the baby of the family.
“No,” Kade said. “I thought Brodie could do that.”
“Hell no.” Brodie turned from the window, his hands in his pockets, an indication he was trying not hit something or someone. “Con should. He’s the only one she won’t kill…well…and Angus.”
“What’s the next step?” Connall asked.
“I’ve already hired someone…at a significant cost, but she’s the best in the world,” Kade said.
“Who?” Connall asked.
“Her name is Dr. Samantha Moore. She was top of her class and the youngest graduate of her university in a hundred years.”
“Where’d you find her?” Brodie asked.
“I didn’t. Duncan did.”
“Obviously. But from where?”
“An outsider, Kade?” Connall snorted. “What about Angus?”
Angus McFadden was their sister’s fiancé and one of the most talented doctors on staff.
“Angus did what he could, but he’s not the best, Con. She is.”
Brodie narrowed his eyes. “How do you know that?”
“Because Duncan spent six months trying to get her.”
Brodie swore. “You can’t be serious.”
“I gave Angus a year, Brod. He’s one of us and has a vested interest in finding a cure for Fiona’s sake.”
“So she probably knows, then,” Connall said hopefully.
Before Kade could answer, the buzz of his intercom sounded and he pressed the button. “Yes, Anna.”
“Your sister’s here, Dr. Gunnach.”
Kade glanced at his watch. “She’s early. Go ahead and send her in.”
Before he’d hung up with his assistant, Fiona sailed into the office. “Och, it’s bloody hot in this building.” She wore a sleeveless blouse and he noticed her skin was pink and blotchy.
Kade glanced at the thermostat in his office. Fifteen degrees Celsius…well below the danger threshold.
Fiona’s dark, shoulder-length hair swung across her flushed cheeks as she dropped her purse on Kade’s couch. She clapped her hands and then settled them on her hips. “All right, brothers, Angus said you had news.”
“Well, hello to you too.” Kade rose to his feet and made his way from behind his desk. “Where is your fiancé?”
“He’s in the lab. Where else would he be?”
Kade was about to deliver a retort when his sister’s eyes widened and she took three quick breaths. He stepped toward her, but Connall was faster and caught her just as she collapsed.
“Brodie, ice—now!” Kade snapped as he moved Fiona’s purse so that Connall could lay her on the sofa.
Brodie waved his hand and the freezer door flew open. With another flick of his wrist, icepacks began to hurl themselves at Kade.
“What the hell happened, Kade?” Brodie snapped.
Kade shot him a look of annoyance, even though he knew Brodie’s question was somewhat rhetorical. He and Connall packed the ice around Fiona.
“Someone ring Angus,” Kade directed. He felt Fiona’s forehead as he took her pulse. Grabbing his stethoscope, he laid it over her chest. She was warm and her heart was racing, but as the ice began to cool her down, her heart rate slowed to normal. He waited for her to take a deep breath and then get through the inevitable coughing fit, indicating she was going to be okay, before helping her to sit up. “You all right?”
Fiona groaned and nodded.
Kade’s office door flew open and Fiona’s very frazzled fiancé rushed into the room. “Fi?”
Fiona rubbed her forehead. “I’m all right, Angus.”
Angus sat beside her on the sofa and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Turning accusing eyes on the brothers, he asked, “What happened?”
Kade held a hand out to Brodie, who looked about ready to kill his sister’s significant other. “We don’t know, Angus. She was only here a few seconds before she collapsed.”
Fiona took a deep breath and squeezed Angus’s knee. “I’m all right, sweetheart. I just overheated.”
“How could you possibly overheat in this weather?” Angus laid his hand on her forehead. “It’s barely seventeen degrees outside and even cooler in here.”
She pushed his hand away and rose to her feet. “I don’t know.”
Kade closed the door and advanced on his sister. “Fiona, where were you?”
She stared down at her engagement ring.
“Damn it!” Angus snapped.
“What?” Kade asked.
“Angus,” Fiona admonished. “We’ll talk about it when we’re alone.”
Connall grasped his sister’s arm. “No, you’ll talk about it now. What the hell were you doing before you came here?”
“You were at the library, weren’t you?” Angus accused.
Kade swore. “Fi, I thought we’d been over this.”
She scowled at her brother. “No, you went over it.”
Without comment, Brodie retrieved a power bar from Kade’s stash in his desk and handed it to his sister. She thanked him and opened the package.
“How long has this been going on?” Connall asked.
“Six months,” Angus answered, and then turned to Fiona. “You promised you’d stop. It’s not safe.”
She frowned. “When did I ever say I’d stop? I promised I’d be careful, but I never said I’d stop.”
“Fiona, the library isn’t temperature controlled and the tunnels are worse,” Brodie pointed out. “What the hell were you thinking?”
The private rooms below the city were known to very few people and housed many of the secrets and historical information passed down from generation to generation of Scots. The only way in and out was through hidden passages and tunnels that were often a good ten to twenty degrees warmer than the outside temperatures.
Fiona jabbed a finger toward him. “Don’t you dare speak to me as though I’m an idiot, Brodie Gunnach. I know exactly what I’m doing and you have no say in it.”
Angus sighed. “But I do. You are not to go there again.”
Kade shook his head. No one told his sister what to do and lived to tell about it.
Fiona’s eyes narrowed and she took a quick breath through her teeth. “We are not bound, Angus McFadden. You have no dominion over me.”
“Fiona, I’m sure Angus wasn’t—” Connall started.
“Don’t!” she snapped. “Ganging up on me right now will not go well for you.”
Connall raised his hands in surrender and took a step back.
“Fiona, you need to eat.” Kade leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. “Con, why don’t you and Brodie head on back to your offices. I’d like to talk to Fiona and Angus alone.”
“You’re playing chieftain now?” Fiona snapped, but took another bite of the power bar.
“Verið varkár,” Angus warned.
“She doesn’t need to be careful, Angus.” Kade waved his hand dismissively. “She’s in no danger.”
Connall and Brodie left the office, and Kade spent the next thirty minutes attempting to get answers to questions he didn’t even know to ask.
It's Sophie's birthday tomorrow (August 15th) and since her book, The Bride Price, is already available as a free download everywhere, she has asked me to offer up Emma's book, The Bride Found, for free.
If I do this, I will have to admit that my characters talk to me, but as all writers are a little on the crazy side, I'm going to listen to her.
So, for August 15th, 2012, The Bride Found is free at All Romance (no coupon required) and Smashwords (coupon code: RU56L).
As some of you are aware, I haven't always felt the need to write. I am easily distracted by shiny things and have been more obsessed with my photography and music over the years.
In 2008, that all changed. I'd read a really bad romance and my husband challenged me to write something better. Up 'til that then I'd done a few articles for radio spots, but never anything over 250 words, so I gave him my dismissive giggle (more of a snort, really) and went on with my day. For a few hours.
I was bored by mid-day (no more shiny things), and my laptop beckoned. My kids were blissfully self-sufficient and my husband was holed up in our recording studio, so I sat down and started to write.
After a few stops and starts, and some amazing advice from a very talented and successful writer, I began Jamie and Sophie's journey to the past.
Now, three years later, I have written eight more books. I believe (I hope) that I have improved under the strict tutelage of my editor and the simple fact I'm exercising my writing mind.
In the spirit of improvement, I have made some very minor changes to The Bride Price. Basically, I have changed the ending. I have always felt it was a little abrupt, but have been so busy writing, I haven't had the brain power to go back and write something a little more satisfying. It's just a few lines to cap off their story, but I like it much better and I hope you do too.
It will still be available for free everywhere in the coming weeks, but the latest changes are available now at Amazon, Smashwords and AllRomance.
Tomorrow's my birthday and I want my readers to celebrate with me, so I'm giving away a copy of your choice from The Civil War Brides Series! Just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the date and place of Abraham Lincoln's birth and I'll enter you in to win!
For US residents who send me the correct answer, you will be entered to win a signed copy of your choice (please let me know which city/state you live in).
If you live outside of the USA, you will be entered to win a free download (please let me know which country you live in).
Also, I have noticed paperback sales picking up. I want to make sure you guys are getting the best deal! If you buy directly from CreateSpace and enter coupon code: 6QNKX2LZ, it will take $3.00 off each book.
Congratulations to Martha L! She won a signed copy of The Bride Accused!
25% off The Civil War Brides Series!
From now until July 31st, you can save 25% off the entire Civil War Brides Series at All Romance (no coupons needed) and at Smashwords! (Enter Coupon Code: SSW25 at checkout).
I'm pleased to offer 50% off The Bride Pursued and The Bride Accused in celebration of our amazing country! Let's face it, it's the greatest place to live and I personally wouldn't want to live anywhere else!
Head on over to Smashwords and enter the following coupon codes for your discount.
The Bride Accused, Civil War Brides Series, Book #8 is now available. If you answer the following question correctly, you will be entered in to win a signed copy (for U.S. residents) or a free download (worldwide).
Who are Jessica and Mark (Jessica's brother) excited about spending Thanksgiving with?
To get summer off to a great start, I'm offering the first three books of The Civil War Brides Series for free! From now until Wednesday (June 27th), you can get them free at Smaswords using the following coupon codes:
The Bride Accused, Civil War Brides Series #8 is available for download! I'm offering a special deal at Smashwords for my loyal readers. Enter coupon code:GL68H at checkout for 25% off! You can read the first chapter at my website.
Check out Goodreads for your chance to win a signed copy of The Bride Pursued, Civil War Brides Series #7 and continue to check for an upcoming giveaway next month!
“Nurse Battaglia to the first-floor nurses’ station. Nurse Battaglia to the first-floor nurses’ station.”
Jessica Battaglia sighed and stared down at the hypodermic needle sticking out of her patient’s arm. She guided it into the vein and pressed the plunger down. “All right, Mr. Simon, just relax and let the medication do its job. You should feel better shortly.” She discarded the used needle and made a notation in the chart. “I’ll be back to check on you in a few hours, but if you need something sooner, press the call button.”
The elderly man smiled. “Thank you, nurse.”
Jessica set the chart back in place and made her way to the elevator bay. Geriatrics wasn’t her regular rotation. She usually worked in the pediatric ward, but one of the nurses offered Jessica her shift, and Jessica decided to take her up on it. The extra money would go far at the moment and since she adored the elderly, the rotation was typically stress-free for her.
With her hand deep in her pocket, Jessica clicked and un-clicked the pen while she waited for the elevator to arrive. The simple pleasure of the rhythmic sound of the hollow clicks had become her habit, relaxing her when she was stressed.
The elevator doors swished open, and Jessica stepped out into the busy hallway of the first-floor nurses’ station. Nancy, the head nurse, waved her over. Her dark hair, woven with streaks of gray, was pulled tightly back into a ponytail, and mocha-colored eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled. Nancy set the phone on the desk. “Jess! There’s a call for you.”
Jessica frowned. “Who is it?”
Nancy shrugged. “No idea, he didn’t say.”
Jessica lifted the receiver to her ear. “Hello? This is Jessica.”
“Jess?” a deep, shaky voice choked out.
Jessica nearly dropped the phone. “Granddad? Are you okay?”
“Yes. Ah…Eve and I would like you come for dinner tomorrow night.”
Jessica squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath to gain her composure. “Granddad, you shouldn’t call me at work.”
“I couldn’t get you on your cell phone.”
She shook her head in frustration. “So leave a message.”
“You don’t call me back when I do that.”
“I wonder why,” she grumbled.
“Will you come?”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “For dinner?”
“I don’t think so.” Jessica leaned against the counter, bumping against the pillar next to it. She couldn’t stop her quick intake of breath as she smacked her upper arm, right where she’d just gotten a flu shot.
“We are all the other has left, Jess.”
“You’re forgetting about Mark.” Jessica scowled as she tried to rub the pain away. “And you have Evil.”
“Don’t call her that. You don’t know her.”
“I know her well enough.” She chewed the inside of her cheek to keep from swearing, her arm now throbbing. “Look, I have to go.”
“You have to forgive me at some point. After all, your grandmother has.”
“Nice try. I’m busy tomorrow. I’ve made plans with Hailey.”
“Bring her along. I’ve always liked her.”
Jessica groaned. “I’ll ask her. But no promises.”
“Very good. We’ll see you tomorrow. Six o’clock.”
Jessica dropped the receiver back on the cradle with a clatter. Nancy handed her a chart and raised an eyebrow. “Who was it?”
Jessica rubbed her arm. “My grandfather.”
Nancy nodded to Jessica’s arm. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I just smacked my arm.”
Nancy grimaced. “Want me to look at it?”
“Nah, I’m sure it’s just tender from the shot.” Jessica blew away a red curl falling across her forehead. “Tell me about this patient,” She said as she pulled her hair back into her scrunchy.
* * *
Travis Wade turned his head and stared at the naked form of the buxom blonde lying next to him. She’d offered him a meal and a place to sleep, or not sleep, as the case may be. He’d taken her up on it, not that it made a lick of difference. He was still Private Travis Jonah Wade, 69th Infantry Regiment, Company F, listed as deceased in the army records, and on the run from who the hell knew. He wondered if he’d ever sleep again.
Dragging his hands down his face, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the mattress. How low he’d sunk in the last year couldn’t be measured. He’d joined the army at eighteen, looking for a chance to escape Glens Falls, NY. His life firmly laid out in front of him, and his future set—or so he thought. He’d left his childhood home, his little brother in tow, and promised to fight for the Union. His faith in God and man had been unshakable.
He pushed away his memories. He couldn’t relive them…wouldn’t relive them.
He stood and pulled his long underwear on. Sidling to the window, back against the wall, he peered out into the early morning. A fresh snowfall greeted him, and he watched the oranges and yellows of the rising sun wash over the ground.
“Come back to bed, soldier,” the widow whispered, drawing his focus.
“There’s nothing I’d like more.” Travis chuckled without humor. “But I can’t stay.”
“Of course you can.” She sat up, letting the sheet slide from her body. “I’ve been so lonely since my husband died.”
Travis stepped away from the window and pulled his shirt and pants on. Slipping his feet into a piss-poor excuse for socks, he tried to fold the material around the holes before stepping into his boots. “I can’t. I have to meet someone.”
The blonde wrinkled her nose. “Who could be more important than me?”
Travis smiled and shrugged into his warm coat. “No one, sweetheart. Just a man who’s waiting for an answer to a question I have no intention of answerin’.”
“Will you come back?”
He stood and made his way to the bed. “I’ll do my very best,” he lied. If he had his way, he’d never come back. Leaning down, he kissed her cheek. “Now, where’s the horse you mentioned?”
“In the barn. She’s real old, but she’ll get ya to where you need to be.”
“I appreciate the hospitality.” He kissed her, lingering until he heard her sigh. He’d perfected the seduction of the mouth, using his skill when he needed something from a woman. It worked every time.
Without a backward glance, he left her bedroom and slipped from the house. He found the horse where she’d said it would be. His heart dropped at the sight of the nag. Old didn’t begin to describe her. He checked her teeth and sighed. Patting her neck, he ran his hands over her body. She seemed sound, even if she was well past her prime. “Well, girl, can you survive long enough to get me to Harrisburg?” The horse nudged his shoulder. “All right. All right. I’ll take a chance.”
He tacked her up and led her from the barn. Her thick coat would help with the cold, but he added an additional blanket to pad the saddle just to be sure. He mounted her and moved her toward Harrisburg…and he hoped, safety.
* * *
“Jess, it’s going to be fine.”
Jessica turned from the mirror and raised an eyebrow at Hailey. “My grandfather’s up to something—or, Eve is, anyway.”
The girls stood in the master bathroom of Jessica’s grandmother’s house, readying themselves for dinner with Jessica’s grandfather.
Hailey shook her head, her short brown hair swinging across her cheeks. “You don’t know that. Maybe he’s just trying to reconnect.”
Jessica faced the mirror again and leaned forward to apply mascara. “You’re always so quick to accept the good in people.”
“You make it sound like that’s a bad thing.”
Jessica shrugged and shoved the mascara wand back into the tube. “People lie, Hails, and there’s something off with Evil.”
Hailey giggled. “I can’t believe you call her that.”
“Look, your granddad left your grandma after fifty years of marriage and married the affair. It was awful, but your grandma’s happier than she’s ever been with her new man…living in Italy, for Pete’s sake. Plus, we get a free place to live out of the deal. If she’s moved on, don’t you think it’s silly to continue to hold a grudge?”
“Not sure. Ask me after dinner.”
Hailey laughed while Jessica checked her appearance. She’d pulled the front and sides of her long red hair away from her face and secured it with a simple clip at the back of her neck. She sighed. Her hair was ridiculously curly and impossible to control, but she was sick of the heavy bun she wore while nursing, wanting something a little different for tonight.
She wore a tight but comfortable pair of khaki pants, dark brown boots, which she’d replace with killer heels later, and a chocolate-brown sweater with a zipper that opened just enough for her lace cami to peek through. Although she didn’t consider herself busty, she had enough for an attractive cleavage and felt, all-in-all, her choice of sexy and functional would work well for her tonight. The plan being to eat dinner, make a quick exit, and then hit the new club in downtown Harrisburg.
Hailey layered on clear lip-gloss and then faced Jessica. “Are you going to wear heels?”
Jessica nodded. “Later.”
“If you do, I’ll look ridiculous.”
Hailey was referring to Jessica’s height. At 5’10”, she was taller than most of the men she met, and definitely towered over all of her girlfriends.
Hailey wore black tights with a plaid mini-skirt that showcased her sexy “runner” legs, and leather boots with a four-inch heel that zipped to her knees. Her cream turtleneck hugged all the right curves, and she’d curled her light brown hair just enough for bounce.
She crossed her arms. “Right now, I’m only three inches shorter than you. If you wear heels, we’ll be back to our seven-inch span.”
“Which ultimately helps you,” Jessica pointed out. “I’ll look like a big oaf next to you.”
Hailey giggled. “Big oaf, my butt.”
Jessica shoved a scrunchy in her pocket and sighed. “Okay, I’ll nix the heels.”
Jessica’s phone buzzed, shaking the eyeliner pencil next to it. Her brother’s name came up on the screen and she pushed the answer button. “Hey, Mark! Long time, no hear.”
“Hi, Jitterbug. Sorry. Tour’s been crazy.”
Mark groaned. “Yes, really. Just because you don’t like his music doesn’t mean he’s not good…or popular.”
Mark was currently on tour with Shaunessy, a multi-million-selling pop star. Jessica personally didn’t get it. Her musical tastes bent toward something heavier, but her brother was an incredible dancer, and hard rock bands didn’t have much of a place for dancers…at least not of the male variety.
“Well, he’s no Justin Timberlake.”
Mark laughed. “No, but he is a friend of J.T.’s.”
Jessica nearly dropped the phone. “Shut up.”
Hailey waved her hand and grinned. “Say hi.”
Jessica smiled. “Hailey says hi, but I want to know more about his friend J.T., and when I’ll get the chance to meet him.”
Mark chuckled. “Tell Hails “hi.” And if you play your cards right, you might get to meet him when they do the summer tour together next year.”
“Nuh-uh! They are not.” Jessica leaned a hip against the bathroom counter.
“Limited shows in limited cities, but yes, it’s true. I’m doing double duty in the performances.”
“Have I mentioned how glad I am that you’re my brother?”
“Not for a very long time,” Mark droned.
Jessica brushed some blush onto her cheeks and grinned. “Well, consider it mentioned.”
“Good. In that case, I need a place to crash.”
“What? When?” Jessica dropped the brush onto the counter. “You’re visiting?”
“Yep. We have a one-week hiatus. The first show on this leg is in three weeks in Pittsburgh, so I thought I’d just come to you and then meet everyone in time for show rehearsal.”
“That would be amazing. I can’t wait to see you!”
“Me too. I should be there the Monday before Thanksgiving and I don’t have to leave until the following Tuesday.”
“Yay. We can hang out and then join the Mulligans for Thanksgiving.”
“Perfect,” Mark said. “I should go, Mandie’s waving me over.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to you soon. ’Bye,” Jessica said and then hung up the phone.
“Mark’s coming?” Hailey asked, a quiet sigh escaping her mouth.
Jessica raised an eyebrow. “Is your heart pitter-pattering?”
“Yep. Among other things.”
Jessica tapped the phone against her palm. “Thanks for that. I hope your mom won’t mind an extra mouth to feed.”
“Are you kidding me?” Hailey giggled. “She adores your brother…almost as much as I do.”
“I’ve never understood you crushing on him.”
Hailey rolled her eyes. “He’s gorgeous, you just don’t see it.”
“Maybe not. My grandfather’s probably going to want to see him too…but he can do that without me. Tonight’s going to be enough for me.” Jessica sighed. “I guess we should go.”
“It’s going to be fine, Jess.”
“I hope so.”
The girls made their way downstairs, grabbed their outerwear, and took off for dinner.
* * *
Jessica’s grandfather was a large man and his Italian heritage contributed to the fact he looked years younger than his age. He greeted Jessica with a warm hug, and although he appeared to have lost weight since she’d last seen him, he seemed in good spirits.
Eve was more than twenty years her husband’s junior and could only be described as the perfect trophy wife. Dark hair, dyed to perfection and pulled back into a stylish bun, drew focus to an elegant neck adorned with a triple strand of pearls….a “gift” from Jessica’s grandfather, no doubt. Eve drew Jessica into an awkward embrace, and her tiny frame made Jessica feel as though a skeleton were hugging her.
“Have you heard from Mark?” Jessica asked her granddad.
She filled him in on Mark’s travel plans and once the niceties were over with, the group gathered in the dining room. Eve had employed a chef for the special meal and dinner was delicious, and surprisingly uneventful.
“Did you hear about the vet clinic being robbed?” Jessica’s grandfather asked.
Jessica shook her head. “I didn’t.”
She tried to listen to her grandfather as he gave a play-by-play on the stolen drugs, but she found herself thinking about her brother’s visit and the potential of meeting Justin Timberlake instead. She did manage to smile and nod her head from time to time, in an effort to appear interested.
Then he started in with the Cary landslide already evident in the mayoral polls, despite the November election being a few weeks away. Jessica grimaced. She fully intended voting for whoever ran against Cary, but didn’t know who that would be. The opposing candidates seemed to be dropping like flies, and since the Carys held political offices from the west coast to the east, she didn’t know if anyone could win against them anyway.
Eve set dessert in front of her and smiled. “Your grandfather said you love chocolate. I hope you’ll enjoy this.”
Eve’s smile never quite reached her eyes, and it made Jessica nervous. She shivered. “Thank you.”
Eve delivered dessert to Hailey and then stood next to her husband and slid an arm around his shoulders. “Would anyone like coffee?”
The three of them nodded and Eve made her way back into the kitchen. Jessica’s grandfather reached over and patted her hand. “Thanks so much for coming, Jess. I’ve missed you.”
“It’s been a nice visit, Granddad.” Jessica forced a smile as she studied his sunken eyes and grayish pallor. “How are you, anyway? You look tired.”
“I’ve been a little under the weather. Nothing to worry about. Eve’s takin’ real good care of me.”
Jessica shared a concerned glance with Hailey. As nurses, they could tell he was more than “under the weather.”
“Why don’t you come down to the hospital tomorrow,” Jessica said. “I’ll take some blood and we can see what’s going on.”
Her grandfather shook his head and took a bite of dessert. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Yes,” Eve added, a frown flickering over her face as she stepped back into the dining room. “He’s got a cold. It’ll be over in a few days.”
That was when Jessica saw something she couldn’t ignore. Fear in her grandfather’s eyes. Pure and unadulterated fear.
“Cream?” Eve held the creamer up, drawing focus back to her.
Jessica nodded. “Yes, please.”
Eve poured the cream and then took her seat. Jessica watched her grandfather as she sipped her coffee. Something was wrong. She just didn’t know what. She blinked, her eyes growing heavy.
“Wow,” Hailey said and then yawned. “I’m suddenly really sleepy.”
“That’s a surprise,” Eve said. “The coffee’s not decaf.”
Jessica couldn’t focus. Eve took a dainty bite of a cookie…not the chocolate pie everyone else had just eaten. “Evil, why are you not eating the shoklit,” Jessica slurred. She rubbed her eyes, forcing herself to focus on Eve.
“Me, dear? I don’t like chocolate.” Eve rose to her feet and made her way to Jessica. “Perhaps you should lie down. Why don’t you come with me?”
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Shaye Montgomery stood with her hands on her hips in the middle of the Seattle apartment she’d shared for several years with her best friend, Rayne Green. A multi-platinum recording artist, Rayne had mysteriously disappeared two months ago after her sold-out concert in Chicago and Shaye was trying to find a clue as to why. Anything that might lead her to her friend.
Shaye glanced to where Trevor Miller, Rayne’s head of security, stood in her open concept kitchen. Six feet something and built like a brick wall, Trevor embodied the epitome of what many women considered the perfect man. His dark hair and olive skin emphasized intense brown eyes and when he smiled, the dimple in his cheek deepened. “Do you want some wine?”
Trevor had stopped by to check on her, and found her surrounded by notepads and newspapers. In pure Trevor fashion, he’d forced his way in and offered to make dinner.
So far, he’d managed to open a bottle of wine.
“Sure, Trevor. Thanks.” Shaye ran her hands through her hair with a sigh.
Trevor leaned across the kitchen island. “Any word from that Jared guy?”
“He just gave me the address in Chicago of where he’d last seen her. Now, he won’t respond to anything.” A little quieter, “the jackass.”
“Did you just swear, Miss Montgomery?” Trevor asked in mock offense.
Shaye sent him a pointed smirk. “They use the word ‘ass’ in the Bible, so, no, I did not swear.”
Hearing the deep timbre of Trevor’s laugh as she slipped around the corner of the living room, she moved to the front of Rayne’s desk and opened one drawer, then another. She slammed the last drawer shut and kicked the desk chair in frustration. “Ouch! Dang it!”
Trevor rushed from the kitchen and nearly tripped over her sitting on the floor, injured foot in her hand. “What did you do?”
Shaye glanced up at him with a frown. “I kicked the chair.”
“Without shoes on?”
“Well, that was dumb,” he said, but tempered it with a sympathetic chuckle. “What are you looking for, exactly? The police have already gone through this place with a fine-toothed comb.”
“I know. I guess I hoped I could open a drawer and something would pop out at me.” She reached out her hand. “Help me up, so I can get some ice.”
Hearing the sound of “I’m Too Sexy” break the silence as his cell phone rang, Shaye raised an eyebrow. Trevor grinned and grasped her hand, lifting her from the floor. He flipped the phone open, raised it to his ear—and scowled. “Oh, hi, Kimber.”
Shaye gave a quiet giggle and then whispered, “Don’t you have caller ID?”
Kimber LaRue, Shaye’s assistant—and she used the word loosely—was the record company president’s niece, and an all around pain in the butt.
“Yeah, Kimber, I don’t think that’s going to work.” Trevor rolled his eyes. “No, I’m at Shaye’s.”
Hobbling to the kitchen for an icepack, Shaye found the glass of wine Trevor had poured. She poured another one, walked back into the living room, and handed one to him before sitting on the sofa.
“No, we haven’t heard from Rayne,” he continued.
Holding the icepack on her foot as she sipped her wine, Shaye watched Trevor pace the floor.
“Kimber, tell your uncle there’s nothing to tell,” Trevor snapped.
Shaye noticed his nostrils flare. Nothing ever went well when Trevor got angry, and it would appear he was rapidly achieving irritation.
This might take a while.
She picked up her laptop and pulled up her current Google News page in an effort to ignore his conversation. Rayne’s disappearance had slipped to the number six story. Sipping her wine again, she was so lost in thought, she didn’t notice when Trevor ended his call.
Shaye looked up in confusion. “Huh?”
“Are you okay?” Trevor frowned.
“Yes, sorry. I was just reading.” She smiled. “How’s Kimber?”
“You mean, the dingbat?”
“Be nice, Trevor. I know she’s a little negative, but she’s had a rough life.”
“Yeah, her silver spoon life really sucked.” Trevor let out a derisive snort. “Shaye, you’re too nice to her, especially considering she tries to sabotage you all the time.”
Shaye gave a little shrug. “Maybe.”
Trevor sighed. “Never mind. How’s your foot?”
“Why the frown?”
Shaye forced a smile. “What frown?”
Trevor chuckled. “Nice effort. Seriously, though, are you okay?”
“I just want to find Rayne.” She set her laptop aside and rose to her feet. “But there’s nothing we can do tonight, so where’s that meal you promised?”
Trevor gave an unconvincing look of contrition. “You’re drinking it.”
Shaye’s stomach rumbled rather loudly. “Chinese?”
Grabbing their coats, they left to find an open restaurant.
* * *
Shaye woke the next morning with a plan in mind and a way to execute it before anyone realized what she was doing.
At least, that was her hope.
After showering and packing a few things in her backpack, she looked at the clock. Her working lunch with Trevor, scheduled for just after twelve, meant she only had an hour to get on the road before he’d try to stop her. She rechecked her bag, made sure she hadn’t missed anything, and then made her way out to the waiting taxi. She wrinkled her nose as she stepped outside her building and was greeted by sheets of rain and a sudden gust of wind. Luckily, she’d grabbed her jacket, scarf, and gloves before she left the apartment.
The driver dropped her on the sidewalk of SeaTac’s departing flights and she made her way inside the terminal and found the airline kiosk, where she entered her information. Tapping her foot as she waited for the boarding pass to spit out, she grabbed the piece of paper almost before it stopped printing, and took off for security. She took her place at the end of the line.
Her flight was scheduled to leave in thirty minutes and if this line didn’t move faster, she’d never make it. She pulled out her driver’s license and wrapped her boarding pass around it in an effort to be prepared. Her cell phone rang as she readjusted her backpack. She didn’t recognize the number and waffled between ignoring and answering the call. In the end, she chose to answer. “Hello?”
“Where are you?”
Shaye rolled her eyes, regretting her choice. “Hi, Trev. Where are you calling from?”
“A buddy loaned me his phone. Mine’s dead. Now, where are you?”
“What do you mean, where am I? I’m at home.”
“Uh, no you’re not, ’cause I’m here and you’re not.”
“Oh,” she said. “You’re early.”
“What are you doing, Shaye?”
“Miss? Right over there,” a security guard interrupted her and guided her to a shorter line.
“Are you at the airport?” Trevor sounded mad.
Shaye shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Are you going to Chicago?”
She grabbed a plastic bin and set it on the metal table. “Maybe.”
“What the hell are you thinking, Shaye?” he snapped.
“I need to find my friend, Trevor,” she said as she removed her shoes.
“The police have already searched for her. What do you possibly think you can find that they haven’t?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like I have to do something.”
“You won’t get anywhere. They’ve boarded up the abandoned building and have security everywhere.”
Shaye frowned. “I doubt there’s “security everywhere,” Trevor. It seems to me everyone’s given up on finding her, even the police. I just want to see if I can do something more.”
“Why? It’s not like she’s worth the hassle.”
“Trevor! Don’t say that. I know she can be difficult at times—”
“Yes. At times,” Shaye stressed.
“You go above and beyond, Shaye.”
Dumping her shoes into the bin, she shrugged off her jacket and settled it on top. “She’s my other sister. For all intents and purposes, anyway.”
“I would have come with you.”
“I know you would have and I appreciate that, but this is something I need to do on my own. Can you at least understand that?”
Shuffling behind a large man who apparently hadn’t heard of deodorant, Shaye sighed. “Look. You have the Shaunessy concert tomorrow night, and I’m not sure I’ll be back by then.”
“I could have found someone to cover for me.”
“That would have started rumors and innuendos up the wazoo and you know it.”
An incomprehensible string of words filtered down the phone line.
“Keep the lines moving, please,” the security guard bellowed in her direction.
“Hey, I need to go, okay?” She slid her bag and bin into the x-ray machine. “I’ll see you in a few days.” She hung up the phone and set it in the plastic basket one of the security guards held out to her. “Thanks.”
Hearing it jingle again just as she walked through the archway, she grabbed it and the rest of her items off the roller table. A missed call from her mother she could ignore for a while. She sat down on one of the benches to tie her shoes and then made a mad dash for her gate. She arrived at the plane with seven minutes to spare, but the flight attendant still gave her a dirty look as she ushered her down the gangway.
Finding her seat, Shaye sat down, turned her cell phone off, and popped a piece of gum in her mouth. She had a fully-charged iPod, so once the all clear was given by the pilot, she stuck it on random, leaned back, and tried to relax. She almost laughed when the first song to play was her favorite Rayne song.
* * *
Shaye’s plane landed at O’Hare International ten minutes early. She exited the gangway and hit the ground running. She located the signs for ground transportation and made her way to a taxi stand.
Handing the driver the address where Jared said he took Rayne, Shaye’s heart raced as he pulled the cab out onto the freeway. She was close. So close, she could taste it. She wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans and looked to the heavens and prayed that she would find something…anything.
“This is it.” The driver pulled up to a boarded-up building. “Hey, isn’t this where that singer disappeared from?”
“They have it boarded up for a reason, you know. I don’t think you should go in there.”
“It’s fine. Really.”
“Are you some kind of über fan or something?” he asked.
Shaye bit her lip. This guy was making things more difficult than they should be. “Um, yeah, kinda, I guess.”
He stared at her for several tense seconds and then nodded. “Knock yourself out, lady. That’ll be thirty dollars and seventy-five cents.”
Shaye handed him a fifty. “Would you be able to wait for me, please? If you do, there’ll be a hundred in it for you.”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
Shaye opened the door, slid out of the seat, and made her way toward the building. It took her several minutes, but she found a loose board and pulled it aside, thankful there was a person-sized window behind it. Surprisingly, the window was unlocked, and she pushed it open. She couldn’t get through the opening with her backpack on, so she took it off and eased her body through. Once she was in, she reached back and grabbed it.
With no light in the building, she rummaged in her bag until she felt her penlight. Pulling it out, she twisted the top and let out a sigh of relief when the light came on. She settled her backpack on her shoulders, made sure it was secure, and shined the light in front of her.
She took a deep breath, walked slowly down the hall, found a door, and opened it. Met with the sight of a large mirror stretching the length of one wall, a bar attached to it, and the hardwood floor, she deduced it was the dance studio.
This is where Jared said he last saw Rayne.
Walking into the room, Shaye strolled the perimeter, frustrated that there was nothing necessarily evident. Just cobwebs and a strange smell.
Her cell phone peeled in the echoing silence and she jumped as she pulled it from her pocket. “Hello?” she whispered.
“Have you checked your messages?” Trevor snapped.
She rolled her eyes. “No. I just landed.”
“Why are you whispering?”
Shaye cleared her throat. “No reason. Just a frog in my throat from the flight.”
“Where are you?”
Shaye glanced around the room. “Chicago.”
“Shaye!” Trevor’s irritation was evident in his voice. “Where are you, specifically?”
“You’re breaking up, what was that?”
“Don’t play that game with me, Shaye,” Trevor said angrily. “I know you can hear me. Where are you?”
“I’m looking for Rayne.”
“You didn’t go to that building did you?”
Walking into a cobweb, she scrunched up her nose and tried to pull the silk from her face. “That would have been really dumb, Trevor, don’t you think?”
“Particularly if you get hauled off to jail for trespassing.”
“There’s no one here, Trevor. The area’s totally deserted. Even the crime scene tape is gone.”
“I thought you said you didn’t go in there.”
Something crossed her foot and she couldn’t stop her scream.
She felt sick…deep breaths, Shamus. “I’m okay, I’m okay. It was a rat. A large one, mind you, but still only a rat.”
Trevor let out an expletive. “You did go to that building.”
“I just need to look around a little. I promise I won’t be too long.”
“Where are you staying tonight? I’ll meet you there and then we can look together tomorrow.”
“No, Trevor, don’t. I’ll be fine. I’ll head back to the airport and catch the next flight out, okay?”
“You call me when you’re ready to board and I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
“I’ll just catch a cab.”
“Shaye,” he growled. “I’ll pick you up.”
“Fine,” she huffed. “It’ll be late.”
Trevor swore. “I don’t give a damn what time you get here, Shaye. Just get your ass on a plane.”
“Bossy much?” Shaye snapped. “I’ll call you when I get a flight. ’Bye, Trevor.”
Hanging up the phone, she threw it in the pocket of her bag, walked out of the room, and back down the hall. “Now where?” she said aloud.
Shaye opened door after door, finding more empty rooms until she came to the one that opened to a stairwell.
“Where do you go?” She stepped into the landing area and peered down between the railing. The door quickly closed and locked behind her. “Shoot,” she grumbled, but decided to go up the narrow staircase, rather than down. Going to the basement felt entirely too much like something out of a horror movie. She made her way up, gripping the banister as she willed herself to continue up the spooky staircase. There was a door at the top of the stairs, propped open by an old can of paint. She peeked inside, and then moved further into the small room. She pulled out her pen light and swept the space.
Old furniture that had seen better days was scattered haphazardly around the space, along with a few shelves up against the wall housing discarded paint cans and various cleaning supplies. She noticed a wad of fabric in the corner and nudged it with her foot. That’s when she saw light filtering from under the paneled wall. “What the heck?”
She pressed on the panels, looking for a door, figuring there must be a room of some kind behind the wall. She was about to give up when she pressed on the last panel next to the lighted area and it swung silently inward. “Well, well.”
She pushed the door farther open and looked down to find her footing. There was something on the floor. Bending to pick it up, she gasped. It was the diamond snake wrap Rayne had worn around her arm the night she went missing. “The police obviously didn’t find this place.” Shaye straightened, staring at the piece of jewelry as questions flooded her mind. “You came up here at some point, Reggie...but where did you go after that?”
A cool breeze ruffled her hair. Shaye shivered and looked around for the source of the draft. Her mouth dropped open as her gaze lit on a strange scene. What looked like a large oval entrance to something appeared before her.
Moonlight filtered through the opening, its beam forming a path on the scuffed wooden floor. The soft glow acted like a magnet, drawing Shaye closer. Hesitant, yet powerless to resist, she followed the moonlit path to the opening. She blinked. At the far side of an expansive field with tall grass stood a cluster of trees, and the sky above them twinkled with a million stars. She felt like she was looking at a painting.
Shaye shook her head. This couldn’t be. She leaned past the threshold and her world spun and then darkness engulfed her.