Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sample Sunday

New Years Eve and what is the obsessed wannabe writer doing?

Yeah, you guessed it writing away.

Whether you're starting off the New Year with resolutions or indulgences I hope you have time to read the first chapter of my new project. I'd love to feedback (good and bad)from all those Harlequin Presents fans out there and the rest of you too. :)

Happy New Years!

Chapter One

Camilla Worth waved for a taxi. A cold steady drizzle dripped down her neck. At least the water kept her awake. The weather drove all but the most intrepid travelers indoors. Normally, rainy or not, a trip to Paris was a keenly anticipated treat.

Not this time.

Not even the joy of coming home could unclench the fist of fear in her stomach. She was tired, cold, wet, jet-lagged and worried sick.

At last, she flagged an empty taxi and sank into the back seat. Her overloaded mind fumbled for the right French words, words that usually came so easily. The address for her missing sister’s employer evaporated from memory, forcing a search for her organizer.

Once they were headed in the right direction she tried her sister’s cell number for the hundredth time. The same caller-not-available message as she’d gotten on the last ninety nine attempts tightened the fist in her stomach.

Distracting herself with the passing scenery, she watched the city stream by the rain splashed taxi window. Paris was a Grande Dame; youth and innocence were only parts of her distant past. Camilla had been away too long. Her last memories were of a vibrant urban legend that didn’t quite match the debris and decay streaming past. An underlying elegance of structure, grace and joie de vivre, which still simmered and hummed, made the city’s age irrelevant.

She'd been working her tail off for three years to build a professional reputation as a choreographer. Her effort paid off in a couple of off-Broadway shows and a commercial. Turning down the second commercial hurt, but it had been an easy decision. She had only one little sister.

A small tic jumped above her left eye. She smoothed the muscle with chilled fingers. Opening her tote bag, she re-examined her only clue – the photograph she’d clipped from The Moon and Stars, a weekly scandal sheet. In the picture her sister, Mallory looked glamorous and much older than nineteen. In the photo, she smiled, with eager brilliance, at a crescent view of a man’s face.

The narrow slice of his features, more head than face, held Camilla captive. He had dark hair, long enough to tickle his jacket collar, a neat ear and a killer jaw-line dark with five o’clock shadow. There was nothing in the photo distinct enough for easy identification, yet, the man’s virile energy almost pulsed off the cheap paper. Carefully she refolded the tabloid photo and slipped it back into her bag.

She would find him. She had to. He was her only lead.

The House of Hugo’s Paris showroom shone like a pearl amid gravel. Camilla paid off the cab adding a correct tip and got out. Grabbing her bags, she marched through the sleek entry way and headed directly for a petite sales clerk. “Pardon me Miss – can you direct me to Monsieur Hugo?”

The doll-like brunette shook her head. “I’m sorry Mademoiselle. That is impossible. Monsieur Hugo sees no one without an appointment.”

Camilla dug out one of her business cards. “Please give him this,” she wrote a brief message on the back: we need to talk about Mallory and signed it. “I think he’ll make an exception.” She smiled with what she hoped passed for winning confidence.

Taking her card, the clerk disappeared, behind a hidden door.

Looking around, a super-sized photo of Mallory wearing rose petals, and little else, caught her eye. How could such a famous face just vanish?

Minutes dragged by and Camilla fought to stay awake in the overly warm shop. She’d have to rest soon. Sheer determination was the only thing keeping her upright.

The clerk’s voice jerked her to attention. “I’m sorry Mademoiselle. Monsieur Hugo said he would ring you this afternoon.”

Camilla snapped her mouth shut. What kind of heartless monster was this Hugo? She wanted to drop her bags and indulge in an old-fashion temper tantrum, but she couldn’t afford to waste any of her precious energy.

“Thank you for your trouble. One other thing –” She retrieved the news clipping, unfolded it, and held it out to clerk. “Do you know this man?”

The clerk barely glanced at the picture before shaking her head.

“But you didn’t –” Camilla cut herself off and calmed her angry voice. “Thank you anyway.”
Painstakingly she folded the tabloid image and returned it to her tote bag. Gathering her cases, she hurried toward the door. Possible strategies churned in her head. There had to be another way to get to the designer.

With her thoughts on how to get to Hugo and her eyes on the floor, she brushed against someone. She stopped, the pull of watching eyes too strong to ignore. Turing her head half way locked her eyes with a dark and powerfully built stranger. A group of Japanese shoppers streamed in, breaking their strange connection.
Keeping her eyes locked on the front door, she took long strides to put distance between her the stranger who called to her like a hot backbeat.

She hurried outside, still slightly out of step, but anxious to find answers. A cautious survey of the area revealed a backdoor protected by a uniformed guard smoking a cigarette. Slipping on oversize sunglasses and pulling her hair back with a butterfly clip emphasized her resemblance to Mallory. Since she was ten pounds heavier and two inches shorter than her famous sister, she walked tall and hoped her cherry red raincoat hid her curves.

“You’re in for it, wild child.” the guard barked.

Camilla turned her head aside to cough and then mimed having no voice.

“Good luck selling that excuse,” he hacked. “But you do look pale – in with you now and take your medicine like an adult,” he laughed at his own joke.

He held the backdoor and she sauntered inside as if she knew where to go. The backrooms of the designer boutique were only slightly grander than the rabbit warren behind most theaters’ stages.

She’d lost all sense of direction when an imposing male figure strode toward her with alarming speed. To her utter mortification she froze on the spot. Rather than plowing her down, he grasped her firmly by her upper arms.

Ten minutes earlier, Alex Romanov listened to Hugo’s pleas for help. No amount of phone conversation was going to calm the excitable designer. Alex gritted his teeth and told Yuri of the change in plans. His driver smoothly reversed directions taking them to The House of Hugo’s Paris showroom.

The phone calls, the pleading and the whining were out of control. Hugo’s crisis du jour – a missing model, a spoiled brat he’d imported from New York for the fall fashion show, was typical of the designer’s problems. Lost models, delayed fabric, flawed sequins – Alex wanted nothing to do with such difficulties. Time to take action.

He’d invested in the design business to humor his former mistress Danielle. A foolish attempt to be sensitive and supportive. Thank God, no one other than his attorney, the designer and Danielle knew of this momentary weakness. His silent investor status was in constant jeopardy with every crisis Hugo whimpered for him to solve. Sooner or later the paparazzi would catch him coming or going from the showrooms. Hell, he’d even let Danielle drag him to the special sneak preview last week.

The beginning of the end, they’d quarreled. He’d left early and alone.

Publicity, which the fashion business thrived on, wreaked havoc in his world. Privacy was essential for his peace of mind and for the business negotiations he routinely handled.

Next time he wanted to indulge a mistress, he’d stick with jewelry.

Luckily, he’d found the perfect solution to extract himself from the unhappy investment. The shares in the fashion business would be his parting gift to the lovely Danielle. He’d had his attorney draw up the papers to transfer his shares in the firm to his former mistress. She and Hugo would be perfect together.

The sleek lines of the boutique glowed from a sudden break in the clouds as his car pulled to a stop. Alex considered the sunshine a good omen. He took the steps two at a time barely slowing at the heavy glass doors. The intricate gold leaf pattern on glass didn’t consciously register as he strolled through the ultra-chic showroom heading for the workrooms behind the boutique.
An icy blonde with million dollar legs prowled straight for him with her eyes trained on the floor. Considering the high heeled boots she wore, watching her step made perfect sense. Colliding with her might be fun on some other day. This morning he had more urgent business. He stepped aside allowing her to pass. Her raincoat brushed his slacks leaving droplets.

As he shook off the moisture, a trace of her essence teased his nose, something sweetly spicy blended with pheromones. For a second, she glanced back and their eyes met. Up until that second he’d thought limpid pools was an inane expression. But she really did have the kind of eyes of that reminded him of a deep water lake on clear crisp day.

A group of Japanese shoppers surged into the store breaking her hold on him. When the crowd cleared, the beautiful blonde with the amazing eyes had disappeared. He focused his thoughts on business.

“Bon jour Francine. Where’s Hugo hiding this morning?” Alex asked.

Francine fluttered her lashes at him. “Monsieur Hugo is in the main studio, would you like me to show you the way?”

“Thanks, I’ll manage,” he said.

Working his way through the narrow corridors toward the main studio, his progress was stopped frequently by employees eager to share advice, gossip or concerns. He listened gravely to each one giving lucid terse directions and silently promising that never again would he mix business and pleasure.

A flash of red caught his attention. He reversed his direction to intercept the icy blonde who’d disappeared from the showroom. Who was she and what did she want? Whatever her objective, she had no business wandering around the workrooms unescorted.

The moment she saw him she froze – more evidence she was trouble. Plainly, she had something to hide or she wouldn’t look so guilty. For a few seconds disappointment tugged him down. He didn’t want his icy hot blonde to be another opportunist. His jaw clenched, whatever she was involved in she had no business wandering around the workrooms. She could even be a sleazy tabloid reporter . . . He grabbed her harder than he’d meant to. A jolt of electricity raced from her through his body and settled in his core.

“You!” He pried his clamped fingers off her arms setting her free.

The tingling sensation lingered urging him to touch her again. He ignored the strange feeling to study her and then forced himself to step back staying close enough to prevent escape.

He raked her with his eyes from the top of her head to the toes of her boots loitering at her breasts and hips. His earlier anger and suspicion blunted by the pleasure of looking at her.

“You were in the store a few minutes ago. How did you get back here?”

“The guard thought I was someone else,” she admitted.

Alex chuckled. The last thing he’d expected from her was candor.

“Monsieur Hugo?” she asked hopefully.

Her voice had a breathy, sexy-as-hell, quality that snaked right to the root of his desire.

She’d surprised him twice in row. He laughed again. It felt amazingly good – it had been too long since he’d really laughed.

“No,” he swallowed the rest of his chuckle, “but I can take you to him. If you’re sure that’s what you want. I’m a lot more fun.”

She studied him, plainly doubtful. “Fun isn’t the word I would use to describe you.”

Every thought was written on her features, her openness charmed him and he warmed even more to her, certain whatever brought her in the backdoor was nothing too nefarious.

“I could change your mind,” he said layering the quick retort with serious undertones of erotic promise.

A promise he was suddenly quite interested in keeping.

Her eyebrows lifted and her mouth parted, completing the picture of shocked disbelief.

Alex couldn’t remember the last time he’d had so much fun dressed, hell even undressed.

“Alex,” he offered her his hand.

After an unflattering hesitation, she accepted his hand. He took advantage of her trust by brushing her knuckles against his mouth.

“Camilla,” she sighed, her eyes still wary.

“Beautiful name,” he murmured. Like its owner, he wanted to add. He wasn’t sure she’d appreciate the compliment and stayed silent.

A smile flirted with her lips before she grew serious again. “Can you direct me to Monsieur Hugo?”

“Certainly, I said I’d take you. Give me the case.”

For a minute he expected an argument, but she handed it over without comment. He stepped aside waiting for her to draw level with him. Without thought he settled a proprietary hand at the small of her back. The strange tingling awareness sizzled between them making him long for more intimate contact.

A few turns and Alex opened a workroom door and ushered her in. He made an effort to see the chaos inside through her eyes. The room was crowded with hollow-cheeked-big-eyed waifs wearing garments pulled tightly and pinned in place. A bevy of seamstresses – all dressed in mourning trailed pins, chalk, and tape measures – scurried around ready to execute Hugo’s latest whim.

The designer himself made a fashion statement. Slim as any model, with platinum hair arranged in artful spikes, a single ruby earring and swathes of fabric decorated a plain black tee-shirt and elegantly tailored slacks. His trendy bad-boy image was spoiled by a full moon face.

Alex kept his hand spanning Camilla’s back enjoying the feel of her fine muscles under his palm too much to let go. “Hugo, you have a visitor,”

The designer whirled his round face brightened with a boyish grin and quickly faded to an exaggerated pout. “You wicked man! You’ve kept me waiting for hours.”

Hugo shrugged off the swathes of fabric unconcerned about where they fell and drifted over to where he waited with Camilla.

“We didn’t have a meeting scheduled,” Alex replied mildly.

Hugo frowned. “No, didn’t I call? I was certain I’d called. We have a horrible crisis –”

“Yes, we’ll talk about that later.”
This time Alex injected a warning bite in his voice. He had no intention of discussing anything in front of Camilla. Killer legs, electric touch and amazing eyes made her desirable, but her role was still in question, and her trust rating nonexistent.

A deep sigh escaped Hugo. “I’m sure you’re right. You always are. So who is your little friend – no don’t tell me. I’ll guess shall I?”

Impatiently Camilla stepped forward. “Camilla Worth – Mallory’s sister. I want to talk to you about the last time you saw her and I was hoping you might recognize this man.” Carefully she extracted the newspaper photo, unfolded it and smoothed the image.

Both men leaned closer examining the picture.

Alex was grateful for the excuse to avoid her eyes. His lovely Camilla was the missing model’s sister. With that single fact lots of little clues slid home; the cases, her urgency and her surreptitious entry into the backrooms.

“Well? Do you know who he is?” Camilla asked.

Hugo pressed his lips together in a narrow line and tapped them with a forefinger. “No, I don’t recognize the man. Really, he could be anybody. I couldn’t possibly say who he might be, not really.”

Alex suppressed a groan at Hugo’s transparent lie.

Camilla narrowed her eyes but politely refrained from calling him on his blatant fib.

While he poured over the image, Alex’s face turned away from Camilla. For a few seconds, a trick of the light made him resemble the man in the picture. She was so tired she was seeing a resemblance where none existed. The small slice of the man’s face could belong to any one of a thousand dark haired men.

Clearly, the designer deferred to Alex. Why? Did Alex control the business? She knew nothing factual about him. Even a few minutes in his company was enough to learn he was used to command. She wanted to trust him for reasons she didn’t fully understand, but doubts hovered. He and Hugo knew each other well, she definitely didn’t believe the designer so how could she believe Alex?

He dwarfed the designer by almost a foot in height and twice his width, though he carried no extra body fat on his powerful frame. So dark and intensely male, he contrasted vibrantly with the feminine clutter of the workroom.

Camilla forced her wayward thoughts back to the business of finding Mallory. She was certain Hugo thought he’d recognized the man in the picture. She considered pressing him, but in the end she didn’t. She needed allies. Antagonizing him would accomplish nothing. Instead, she switched topics. “When did you last see Mallory?”

Hugo rolled his eyes but answered. “Friday evening, she left early, claimed she had cramps.” His pursed lips announced he hadn’t believed the excuse.

“Maybe she was sick. It was only a rehearsal –” she suggested hoping for more information.

“It was the sneak preview show. A critical occasion,” Hugo sniffed.

“I didn’t realize she’d left early,” Alex said.

“It’s not the kind of thing I would dream of bothering you with,” Hugo assured him.

Oh Mallory, didn’t I teach you better? Where did I go so very wrong? Fresh shame for her sister, and for herself, raced to heat Camilla’s cheeks. She’d agreed to the Paris assignment primarily to give her sister a chance to act like a responsible adult. In a new city, with a new job and new friends, Camilla hoped Mallory would make new, smarter, choices.

Listening to Hugo, Camilla’s heart sank as she realized none of the things she’d hoped for Mallory actually happened.

For a horrible minute, Camilla wondered if she would ever get the chance to scold her sister again. She pushed the unthinkable out of her mind. She’d find her sister and bring her home to New York. There was plenty of work for her where Camilla could keep an eye on her.

She should never ever have agreed to the Paris job. At nineteen Mallory’s emotional age was closer to six. Mallory was in trouble from day one, overspending and not returning calls until she needed money. Now she was missing. No one knew where she was, who she was with, or even if she were alive.

Cold fear whispered down the back of Camilla’s neck. She lifted her chin and held her voice low and even. “Have you notified the police?”

Hugo averted his eyes. “No, what would I tell them? A silly girl is acting irresponsible? Believe me, they would not be interested.”

Camilla stepped closer. “She’s missing and she’s only nineteen – a very young nineteen. We need to alert the police, the press – every minute lost puts her in greater danger.” She pivoted meeting Alex’s eyes. “Do you have a car?”

He scanned her face, looking for something, before he answered. “Of course –”

“Would you be so kind as to drive me to the nearest police station?”

Alex stepped aside with a slight bow. “We’ll talk tomorrow,” he called back to a sulking Hugo as he ushered her out the door.

His words to the designer were heavy with meaning she could only guess at. Was he issuing a warning to the designer? Why? What was he afraid Hugo would reveal? Lord she was tired and disappointed. She’d hoped to find answers from Hugo. All she had were a bunch of new questions.

Alex’s long strides hurried them through the famous showroom and into a waiting car. She appreciated his rapid pace and take-charge manner. Hugo had been worse than frustrating. Even a scatterbrained genius should have thought of reporting one of his models missing.
Alex handed her into a luxurious stretch Mercedes and spoke rapidly to the driver in a language Camilla didn’t recognize. One of the Slavic tongues, Russian? The powerful car moved them efficiently through the crowded streets. Alex began making calls.

After several minutes, none of the scenery looked familiar, she darted a glance at Alex. He still had his phone to his ear. She shifted in her seat unsure where they were heading and increasingly nervous. Yet she didn’t want to interrupt his conversation. She waited until he re-pocketed his cell. “Where are we heading?” The police station is five minutes from Hugo’s.”

“You do not want to involve the police Camilla.”

It was the first time he’d said her name and she loved the way it sounded on his tongue. Desire, thick enough to taste, swirled around her. Why now? Why this man? Even as she asked she realized how silly the questions were. Alex was an incredible man with way more than his share of sensual appeal. She’d never met anyone like him. He was physically imposing, but she’d seen powerfully built men before. His eyes were so dark they appeared to be black. She found herself falling into his gaze looking for answers when she didn’t even know the questions. His lips were neither thin nor thick and slow to smile. Somehow his serious expression made her long to hear him laugh. She hoped none of her foolish thoughts showed.

“Why is that Monsieur?”

“Alex, please. I want to be your friend.” He lifted her hand to his lips brushing her knuckles with the lightest of kisses.

She doubted his words. But she had no intention of entering into a debate, or anything else, with him. The man was a walking invitation for sin. An invitation she would never accept. But there was no denying that his caress did strange and wonderful things to her insides. She sat still only with the greatest effort.

“Were you Mallory’s friend?” She regretted the words the moment they left her lips. But she still wanted his answer.

He dropped her hand. “No, I was not her friend.”

“Neither was I.” Camilla shocked herself by admitting that truth.

He tilted his head, an invitation to continue.

“I nagged, scolded and lectured,” Unshed tears thickened her voice. “I was so busy trying to keep her safe, make her perfect – I never had time to be her friend.”

“Don’t blame yourself. She was irresponsible and she moved with a fast crowd.”

“She’s young. What does fast crowd mean? Do you know who she’s with? Please, tell me what you know.”

This time Alex looked away. “Mallory is of legal age yes? Perhaps she’s enjoying herself and does not wish to be found.”

“I don’t believe that. She’ll have to tell me that herself. I have to find her. And I will – with or without your help.”

“What do you know about Bratva, the Russian Mafia?”

“Nothing.” She sat straighter – ready to fight for her sister.

Dark eyes held her pinned.

“Is Mallory mixed up with this . . . this Bratva?” She wanted to sound strong but fear and regret chilled her words. “She’s so young. . .”

“How old did you say she was?”

“Nineteen,” she said, terrified by his use of the past tense. What did he know?

“How old are you?”

“Twenty three.”

“Ancient,” He teased.

She whipped to face him. “She’s my responsibility. I’ve been taking care of her since she was three.”

“Since you were seven? Where were your parents?”

“Mallory’s mother wasn’t well. Papa had to work. It was my job to watch the baby,” Camilla insisted, sounding defensive even to her own ear.

Alex didn’t understand about Mallory. Technically, they were stepsisters. When Camilla’s father married the ethereal Faith, she brought three year old baby Mallory into their lives. Camilla, four years older, adored the toddler who followed her everywhere with chubby legs and wide blue eyes. For the next six years, Faith’s health declined and Camilla looked after the baby.
After Faith’s death Camilla became a fulltime mother. Mallory was as real a sister as any blood relative. Now, sixteen years after their first meeting, Camilla knew Mallory needed a different kind of support. She needed emotional guidance. But no matter what she’d done or how much trouble she was in, she was still Camilla’s responsibility. He didn’t understand how young, how fragile Mallory was. The four years of age that separated them meant little, a lifetime of practice made her responsible for her sister.

"Nineteen is hardly a baby.” His mocking tone was back.

“You don’t know Mallory,” Camilla muttered.

Alex chucked, the sound so seductive, she smiled at him in spite of everything.

“You’re quite the actress. This is by far the best performance I’ve been treated to all year. Tell me how much money is it going to take to rescue your missing sister?”

“I beg your pardon?” She’d heard his words. Yet she couldn’t believe he’d say something so heartless. What kind of man could be so cruel?

“Forgive me, was there more? Is your sister suffering from a dire medical condition perhaps? Have Bratva thugs made threats? Is there a ransom demand? That would be a nice touch.” His dark eyes glittered with amusement.

How dare he!

Apparently the ruthless monster dared with the greatest of ease. She thought several unworthy things about his ancestry, but refused to demean herself by saying them aloud. “Please stop the car right now. I’ll find my own way to the police. Thank loads for all your help.”

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you mon petite choux. I’m very impressed with your performance. You have no cause to take offense.”

Furious with his amused attitude, she forced herself to speak reasonably. “Never the less, I want you to stop the car and let me out.”

Alex snorted, whether in disbelief or amusement hardly mattered.

Camilla reached for the door handle. The passenger door was heavy and much harder to open than she’d expected. Before she’d pried it past the first two inches, a strong arm snaked out and hauled her hard against a granite wall of heated male.

The door slammed shut. Security locks clicked down. He held her with one iron arm locking her in place. Her first instinct demanded she struggle. A stronger instinct made her long to snuggle closer. She fought against the drugging effect of his strength, his heat and his scent, which was a complex blend of wool, leather, moss and hot man designed to seduce.

When she dared to open her eyes, the harsh beauty of his jaw-line filled her view.

“It was you! You’re the man in the picture. You were with Mallory. You lied to me.” The words flew from her lips before she had a chance to consider the consequences.

He hauled her onto his lap and gently tilted her head until their eyes met. “I don’t lie.”

At that moment she believed him. His voice, his eyes were utterly convincing. The next second doubts returned. He had to know something. It was him in the picture. Why wouldn’t he help her? What was he hiding?

Then both certainty and doubt vanished as his head pressed nearer. So near, she could feel the small warm exhalations from his nostrils. So near she could almost taste him. So near she couldn’t think of anything but him.

Self-preservation made her pull back.

Something flickered in those dark eyes. Pain? This sinfully beautiful man feared her rejection. That tiny glimpse of his vulnerability changed everything. The balance of power shifted and resettled, leaving her with a new and heady equality.

Daringly, she brushed her lips over his. For the first time in her life she took charge of a kiss. Delicately she sampled the corners of his smile. Oh my. He tasted more delicious than she’d imagined. A surprising blend of flavors – sweet, hot and something addictive teased her tongue. The combination went straight to her head.

What other explanation could there be for her behavior? She was the sensible sister, practical and always in control. She’d kissed before, but not like this. Thoughts scattered as one of her hands framed his hard jaw without her permission. Her lips softened and coaxed. Wanting. Needing. More.

He responded cupping the back of her head to hold her in place while he ravished her mouth. Her desire stirred then surged and became an urgent hunger for him. For all of him.

He’d meant to kiss her to make her shut up, to reestablish control and to teach her a lesson. His plan backfired. He was the one who learned. He learned the icy blonde had a fiery center. Alex would’ve smiled if he hadn’t been fully occupied plundering her soft mouth of every sweet secret and swallowing her sighs of delight.

Then she moaned, deep and throaty. The sound grabbed him, adding urgency to an already ferocious need. He deepened the kiss – stealing her breath, giving her his. Their heart beats accelerated and synchronized pounding in tandem. The need to claim her fully raged through him heating already hot blood.

His free hand traced the line of her neck stopping to follow the collarbone. He stroked over the knob of her shoulder and down a slender arm. Touching her pushed him past the constraints of civilized behavior.

She pressed closer inviting more.

Without stopping to consider location, time or circumstances, he took the kiss to the next level raising the stakes. Instantly, desire blazed into heat and control stretched dangerously tight. Every fiber of his being urged him to take what he wanted. What she wanted.

A faint voice of caution stopped him. He could order Yuri to take them . . . no, definitely not. He wasn’t that far gone. Tinted windows and a discreet driver might maintain his privacy but he wouldn’t risk Camilla’s exposure to the ever present paparazzi.

His loss of control shook him. The lapse was unprecedented and intolerable. Gently but firmly he disengaged himself smoothing her ruffled clothes as best he could. Anger, with himself – with her, simmered tightening every muscle.

He met her eyes. They were pools of blue fire so naked with erotic invitation he almost relented. The fresh reminder of his weakness enraged him more.

She was a silly little opportunist. Well, perhaps not all that little. Perhaps not silly. But an opportunist? Most definitely. The story about the missing sister was laughable. Who cared if their bratty sister disappeared for a long weekend?

The woman was doomed to disappointment if she expected him to pay ransom or whatever scheme she’d dreamed up. If she was looking for an excuse to have an affair – she might have better luck.

When he’d met her at Hugo’s he’d thought she was another model. Her combination of confidence and uncertainty intrigued him. She intrigued him. Slender with long elegant legs, the soft fullness of the breasts she pressed against his chest surprised him. He imagined them perfect and his imagination was vivid. His gaze flickered over the mounds in question. They would be pale with the tips a dusky pink or perhaps the same light rose as her lips. She was a dark blonde with darker lashes and eyebrows, fair skinned. Light rose or dusky pink her nipples could go either way. His need to know grew more intense.

The more he studied her, the lovelier she became and the more dangerous.

More urgent than uncovering Camilla’s secrets, was mastering the breech in his controls. The solution was obvious. He would take her to his bed and exorcise her from his mind. Then he could go back to doing what he did best, making money and making love to beautiful women who were no trouble at all.

That was the only sensible course and the sooner he started with the beautiful woman next to him the better for his frayed temper. Deciding on his course of action made everything easier. He’d start by ordering an investigation of the enigma beside him.

Could she truly be worried about her sister?

He’d seen Mallory at Hugo’s preview party. Beautiful as the girl was, she hadn’t appealed to him. Brats never did. He preferred his women fully grown. He’d given her a wide clearance. Young or not, she dripped poison from every pore. No amount of beauty could offset that kind of misery. He pitied whoever was involved with the lethal spoiled child. When he’d last seen her and his old friend Sergei, the Bratva leader, she looked about as helpless as a Cossack princess. Hard to believe she and Camilla were sisters.

Even harder to accept, he could not trust his own instincts when it came to Camilla. No one could be as innocent as she seemed. The sooner she was where she belonged, naked and under him, the sooner he’d regained his control.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Writing life

I've been writing and holidaying and not blogging. Sorry :(. Today something happened that I have to share with you. I got a letter from Richmond. Now like every woman out there who was raised right, I usually follow the rules, too much so. A few weeks ago I recklessly sent off a partial thinking it would take months to hear back.
I mean considering the season and all, longer than usual, right?

Au contraire mon amis, today I got a letter from Richmond. My heart pounded, my knees turned to aspic and my fingers trembled. It was a nice thoughtful note telling me my submission arrived safe and sound.

This writing business has its moments of excitement.

Happy new year and may your fondest dreams come true.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Reading Report - The Brides of Christmas

I'm not a big anthology fan. Yet every tale in this triology medieval romance charmed. It even introduced to me to a new-to-me author Deborah Simmons. Is there anything more delightful than a new author with a substantial backlist?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanuka, Joyous Kwanzaa, enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate.

See you next year!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reading Report

Kitchen Confidential by Anothony Bourdain

Mr. Bourdain gets off to a slow start but manages to find his focus after the first few chapters and begins to talk about food. Now I may be alone in my fascination with the subject but I've been known to read cookbooks for entertainment. Mr. Bourdain is a comrade in this obsession. This book may not be good for your waistline if you're easily tempted. Nor is it likely to enchant the squeemish. But it offers a front line account of cooking by a man who's been there and done that, told with painful and captivating honesty.

Writing Life

During the dark days of no power, a letter from Harlequin arrived. One of those nice rejection letters, full of editorial pearls of wisdom, the kind that keep aspiring writers enthused about writing.

The only downside to this boon is it makes me want to drop my current WIP and go revise the story so kindly rejected.

I'm not going to do it. I have a commitment to write this manuscript. No it is not contracted or sold, but it has been submitted. What if (happy words that tingle in the writer's mind) that editor were to request the full and it was not the best I could make it?

The thought that I could write a bit faster has occurred to me, but I'm not all that speedy. When I push harder two things happen (neither or them good) I get cranky and the writing gets sloppier. I hang on to hope that with practice I'll pick up speed. It's possible. Or I might become more accepting of my limitations.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sample Saturday - postponed

Last Thursday night the Pacific Northwest had a big windstorm . Rain, sleet, seventy mile an hour winds. Like more than a million of our neighbors we've been without power. Again like most of our neighbors, we are ill-prepared for life without electricity. No heat, no lights, no internet. No computer. Horrors! And no reading, except during the brief daylight hours when firewood must be laid in and all chores done.

No wonder millions of pioneer women didn't writer novels. I'm amazed any of them found time to write a journal.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Writing Craft

Writing is a great career choice for the perpetual student. There is always more to learn, another layer of subtlety or intensity to be added. There are symbols, themes, messages and endless details. Editing can become a life work as opposed to creating.

So when is it good enough? The only answer I have for that is not yet. As long as you're not selling (and that is your goal) then there are only a couple of possible reasons.

  1. You're in the wrong market - publisher, line, genre - take your pick
  2. You're not good enough
  3. You're trying to break in to saturated market

The majority of the time it's number two. There are lots of market forces that work against the new writer. This is true and it has always been true. Success comes in many shapes and sizes . The brilliant poet will never enjoy a six figure income from the her poetry. Unless said brilliant poet is delusional, she didn't expect to.

If your goal is to make money pick another field. The odds are against you. Yes, there are a few authors making impressive incomes but it's a small list. The size of that elite group shrinks further when you consider how may wannabe writers there are out there.

I'm virtually certain there are talented writers who've never sold a single thing. To succeed takes a combination of marketability, talent, good craft and timing. After all those stars line up perfectly, what have you achieved? I'm pretty sure it works out to less than minimum wage.

So why write? I hope it is because you love writing. No other answer makes sense.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reading Report - Into The Storm

Into The Storm, Suzanne Brockman's latest Blend of Team Sixteen SEALS with Troubleshooters (former SEALS)

I enjoy Ms. Brockman's OMG Navy SEALS style very much. Yes there is a certain amount of repetition in her stories. But her enthusiastic style sucks me in and I'm invariably enchanted. There are some of her stories I've re-read.

This story has believable romances woven around very Gamma heroes. These are men to die for, strong, handsome, daring and sensitive, yet human and believable. Ms. Brockman is convincing in her admiration, enthusiasm and entirely credible cast of characters.

This story made me think about the romantic suspense genre and all its varied practitioners. I came to a conclusion. There are writers who write suspense well and there are writers who write romance well. There are no writers who do both equally well.

Readers who enjoy romantic suspense read primarily for one element or the other. They find authors who deliver the preferred ratio. Occasionally, an author succeeds in garnering fans from the other side by virtue of wonderful writing.

Into the Storm is primarily a romance with a suspense element. The suspense element works well. It is woven deftly into both the primary romance and the sub-plot romances. The suspense element, while well done, would not stand alone, the romances would.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Writing Life

Tomorrow I drive down to the post office and put my baby into the international postage system. Weeks, months (heck I've lost track) went into crafting characters, plotting a story to showcase those fictional people, chosing words,and adding details. After all this work, mailing it to England feels like putting the book in a bottle and casting into the ebbing tide.

Eventually (I figure sometime after the holidays) an overworked editorial assistant will sit down and read my words. Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sample Saturday - Chapter Two continued

For those just joining the story - chapter one can be read in its entirety on the October 21st entry and the first part of chapter two on the October 28th entry, the next segments on November 4th,11th,18th and 25th and December 2nd.

His praise failed to soothe her. “Of course I called the cops. I told them about the other notes too and got an informative lecture on stalkers. I have a case number to prove it. Anything else you need to know?”

“Did they talk to you about upgrading your locks?”

“Yes,” she fumed. She knew she was taking her bad mood out on Derrick, but it felt good to get mad at someone safe.

“Good. Forget the coffee, let’s go”

“Where are we going?” she narrowed her eyes.

“Lock shopping.”

“You know how to install locks?”

“I’m a general contractor,” he said as if that explained anything.

“Where are you going to buy locking stuff at this time of night?”

“I know this all night hardware store,” Derrick wriggled his eyebrows and stroked his mustache.

She frowned at him, trying very hard to keep a straight face, but bubbles of laughter erupted. In an instant her giggles turned into hiccupping sobs.

Derrick wrapped her in his arms, rubbing her back and letting her release the fear, anger and tension. Slightly ashamed of himself for being aroused by her. That part of him had no sense of propriety and downright perverse timing.

“Some darn pervert walked into my house. Why?” she sniffled. “I mean why me? The cops said most stalkers are someone – someone you know intimately.”

“Do you have any idea of who it might be?”

Bella shook her head. “No, and that scares the hell out of me. I’ve thought about every man I know and no one makes sense.”

Derrick thought about the weird Reverend Tom and the men at the reception, all of them ogling Bella. He didn’t have any trouble imagining anyone of them as the stalker.

Pushing away from his chest, Bella gave a shaky laugh. “I’ve ruined your shirt.”

“Nah. It’ll be fine.” He frowned at the makeup smears. “No great loss if it isn’t.”

“I need to wash my face.”

Bella disappeared down the hall. The house was too quiet. He heard the water run in the bathroom and felt like audio-voyeur. He frowned. Voyeur meant watcher, that wasn’t the word he wanted – eavesdropper, that was the word but it didn’t fit either.

He busied himself finding the decaf and starting a pot of coffee. She wasn’t back yet so he searched for the yellow pages and scanned the locksmith ads.

Locks R Us promised a fifteen-minute response 24/7. Derrick didn’t check the time but a service truck appeared by the time the coffee had brewed.

“I thought we were going to an all night hardware store.”

Bella had changed into faded jeans and an oversized t-shirt. The pretty peach dress, fancy sandals and make-up were gone. She looked younger, softer and even sexier.

“There's a rough element hanging out in screws and fittings this time of night. I’d hate to have to mess up my fancy suit fighting to protect your honor, little lady.”

She gave him a weak smile. It had been a pretty weak John Wayne imitation so that was fair.

The locksmith went to work on replacing front and back door locks.

“Would you like a cup of coffee? It’s decaf.” Bella offered.

“That’d be great.”

“How do you like it?”

“Like my wo – um, two sugars if you have it handy.”

The locksmith cast a speculative glance at Derrick. “None of my business bud, but locks aren’t going to do you a lot of good here. The whole doorframe is so weak a determined toddler could kick his way in. If you take my meaning.”

“I read you. Do the locks anyway, okay?”


Bella came back with the coffee on a damn tray. Women. Derrick didn’t think he’d ever understand them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reading Report

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

This title currently holds the records for the most sticky notes. Mr. Swain packs a lot of advice into modest size paperback. This is the kind of basic craft book that makes tons of sense to me at this point. Would I have gotten as much out of it a few years ago? Maybe not. I think I would've found helpful hints - but it is a book that merits more than one reading. As I grow and learn more about writing craft there will be new lessons for me in the same volume.

The Purchased Wife, by Michelle Reid

I have a stack from the library that I need to dive into, but what can I say? I have a weakness for the calgon moment feeling of a Harlequin Presents Ms. Reid has deliciously tortured couples, sigh.

It used to be if you missed a category title you were out of luck. Amazon provides a real service for someone just discovering a favorite author - the backlist is available and economically priced.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Writing Life

One of the newest Blaze authors recently started a blog of her own.

Lori has interesting things to say that IMHO deserve a wider audience. Head on over and check her out. One of the genuine benefits to struggling with the written word is the community of amazing, talented and generous women who've shared the same journey.

One piece of advice I've heard over and over is write what you like to read - advice that always makes me want to gnash my teeth, pull out hair and pound on the floor. I read everything - there's no help there. At least not for me. In fact - I really admire styles and craft of literary art that I have no talent for, none.

Finding a match between your voice and readers who enjoy that sub-sub-sub-genre and a publisher who is producing for those readers is a tough assignment. Still working on that one.

The biggest surprise about publishing so far? The speed - or lack of same. The industry is acquiring books for 2008 and beyond as I type. This year it took nine months to get a response (negative) on one story from one publisher. Multiple submissions are frowned on, so what's the struggling writer to do?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sample Saturday- Chapter Two - part six

For those just joining the story - chapter one can be read in its entirety on the October 21st entry and the first part of chapter two on the October 28th entry, the next segments on November 4th,11th,18th and 25th.

The edges of her vision blurred and she realized she was holding her breath again. Expelling the used air with a whoosh, she drug in a gulp of air and took a step closer to the door. She leaned toward the viewer, hesitating. Thumps on the door made her jump back.

“Who is it?” she croaked. Her voice catching on something tight in her throat.
Right behind her fear anger sizzled and flashed. Her house. Her sanctuary. He’d violated her domain. How dare he? She was mad enough to pummel the creep. Something one of the officers said came back to her; most stalkers were someone the victim knew intimately.

She didn’t have an ex-husband, or an ex-lover, the last date she’d had was more than a year ago. What was his name? James, no, Jason friendly, quiet man, who turned into a grabby gorilla ten seconds after they were alone. He hadn’t had the patience for wooing; she couldn’t imagine him doing something like this.

The idea one of her friends would terrorize her was incomprehensible. A stranger fixating on her made no more sense. She tried to do the right thing; to live her life according to the principles Nana held dear. She treated everyone fairly. Well, she may have been harsh with Derrick’s girlfriend but she’d deserved worse.

Another round of knocking reminded her she was still cowering behind her flimsy front door. “Who is it?” she repeated. This time her voice rang out strong and clear.


She peeked through the viewer to confirm his identity. Could he be the stalker? No. Derrick would be too busy dodging women to skulk around leaving them weird notes.

Bella cracked the door.

Derrick barged in and she gave way. “What’s going on? What are you doing still up at this hour?”

Five o’clock shadow had darkened to midnight stubble. The skin around his eyes looked tighter. His rumpled shirt, loosened tie and dangling from one finger jacket said he’d had a long day. He looked tired, solid, normal and sexy as hell.

Crossing her arms, she snapped back. “I might ask you the same thing.”

“I stayed to help with the clean up; found this in the truck,” he offered her evening bag. “I thought you might need your keys.”

“Thank you,” she took the small purse. “How did you know where I live?”

“Your driver’s license. Good picture, by the way, mine makes me look like a felon. So what’s going on here?”

“There was another note,” she admitted.


“In the refrigerator.” Goosebumps rose with the memory.

“Show me.”

Bella led the way to the kitchen grateful to move. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Yeah sure, if you’re making some,” he examined her backdoor. “This was locked?”

She paused on her way to coffee pot to glare at him. A wasted effort since he was absorbed with the backdoor lock. “Yes the house was locked. I locked the house when I left. It was locked when I got home and to save you the trouble of asking; the police found no sign of forced entry.”

“You called the cops? Good for you.”

His praise failed to soothe her.

“Of course I called the cops. I told them about the other notes too and got an informative lecture on stalkers. I have a case number to prove it. Anything else you need to know?”

“Did they talk to you about upgrading your locks?”

“Yes,” she fumed. She knew she was taking her bad mood out on Derrick, but it felt good to get mad at someone safe.

“Good. Forget the coffee, let’s go”

“Where are we going?” she narrowed her eyes.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Writing Life

Just stopping by to whine, feel free to ignore this post. . .

I'm working on polishing up the first three chapters of Blackmailed By The Billionaire (yeah you're right I haven't updated the meters in a while). Back to my whine - all of the words - well maybe minus a thousand - are in place. The problem is they aren't in quite the right order yet . . .

Honestly, it's only a step away from chimpanzies typing sonnets.

Openings are hard, middles are tricky and ends are critical. Anyone who thinks writing is easy isn't doing it right.
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