Book Releases

Tempting Fate (Colorado High Country #4) —
Chaska Belcourt’s story is out! Head back to Scarlet Springs for more Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue Team adventures and more humor and sexy romance. The book is available in ebook and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords.


Barely Breathing (A Colorado High Country Novel) — The first book in my new Colorado High Country series is now only 99 cents at all ebook retailers! This new contemporary series is set in the small mountain community of Scarlet Springs and focuses on the lives and loves of members of an alpine search and rescue team.


About Me

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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Monday, December 31, 2012

My personal Best of 2012 list — Thank you!


As 2012 comes to an end, I’ve been looking back on what has been one of the most incredible years of my life. I left my job under adverse circumstances and, without a penny in the bank, began writing fiction full-time. Determined to reclaim my life and turn it around, I had some successes and some areas where I didn’t meet my goals at all. I also had some setbacks, in particular the herniated disk at C3 just above the C4-C7 as-of-then unhealed surgical site in my neck. 

But rather than focusing on the setbacks and mistakes, I want to take a moment to look at the best parts of 2012 and the things for which I am most grateful.

If this year had a theme, it was new friendships and promises kept.


This is the ocean sea.


Without a doubt, my trip to San Diego with Benjamin in August stands out as the most incredible experience of the year and one of the best in my life.

When Benjamin was little, he used to want me to read one particular book over and over again. Titled Treasures of the Sea, it had been dumped in the freebie bin at the used bookstore by someone who did not have Benjy’s appreciation for it. I was a very young single mom and didn’t have a dime, so a good book in the freebie bin was a real find. Although it was bound backward and upside down, the content was all about pirates and lost treasure. Or so it seemed. This intro turned out to be a tease for talking about the real treasures of the sea — fish, eels, sea slugs, octopus, sea mammals, coral reefs, and so on.

I cannot tell you how many times I read that book to pre-school-age Benjamin. Every time he saw a body of water — we don’t have many in Colorado — he would ask me, “Mommy, is that the ocean sea?” And I would reply, ”No, Benjy, that’s Boulder Creek,” or “That's just a big mud puddle,’ or whatever. After a couple of years of this, I made Benjamin a promise: One day, I would take him to the beach, point to the water and say, “Benjamin, this is the ocean sea.”

We both took the promise seriously. Benjamin turned down chances to see the ocean on trips with college friends — annoying for them, I’m sure — and it seemed like he and I would never get the time or the money to visit the sea together.

And then it happened, thanks to a surprise royalty check. I could have used that money to pay bills, but I chose to use it for this special experience. I do not regret that in the slightest.

On Aug. 9, I kept that promise. I stood in the sand, water lapping at my ankles, and pointed and said the words I’d waited to say for so many years: “Benjamin, this is the ocean sea.”

Words can’t express how that moment felt for me.

We spent three days relaxing in the sun on the beaches at Mission Bay and Mission Beach and splashing in the waves, eating good food, talking, floating around Mission Bay on various water craft.

I remember bouncing in the surf with Benjamin, taking big four- and five-foot swells, for three seemingly endless hours until the sun set. I remember the two of us laughing, getting tangled in seaweed, getting knocked down by waves again and again, nothing at all in our heads but the experience of that moment.

Of all the days in my life, those three days were nothing less than perfect.


This year was a year of spontaneous fun, interesting projects, and new friendships.

When you don’t have a job, you can decide that it makes sense to put together a box of props and head up into the mountains with your filmmaker son and new friend — in this case author/photojournalist Jenn LeBlanc — and a hot male model — Karl Biermann — to make a live-action book trailer. What started out feeling like it was going to be a lot of hard work turned out to be the best weekend of the year outside of our trip to San Diego.

It wasn’t just the fun of watching a half-naked man transform himself into Connor from my July release Defiant (MacKinnon’s Rangers Book 3), though that was delightful in so many ways. It wasn’t just working with Jenn to suppress our giggles. (Heck, I didn’t even know I could giggle — or blush.) It wasn’t just the scenery or missing meals as we drove around in the mountains or watching Benjamin do his thing as a filmmaker or almost hitting Jenn in the head with the barrel of my 1757 Brown Bess musket. It was all of that put together.

And we’re going to do it again — as soon as I finish another book.

Jenn and I worked in the same field — journalism — passing within feet of each other at the awards ceremony where she earned a photojournalism award and I was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. But we didn’t know each other or get to know each other until we met at Lady Jane’s Salon in Denver. I think fate wanted us to be friends, and I’m happy to say that we are.

I want to also take this chance to thank Jenn for the support she gave me this year, both in terms of the lovely cover for Skin Deep and the emotional support. She made me smile at a time when I really needed that. She still does.

Thanks, Jenn!




In May, Benjamin graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. Watching him enter the stadium to receive his degree in Film and Photography was so gratifying. Not only was I incredibly proud of all he had achieved, but it was the fulfillment of another promise.

As a single mother on a very limited income — journalism isn’t a way to get rich — I had no idea how I was going to help my kids get through college. My ex and I each took responsibility for helping one son. Alec, my oldest, pretty much worked his way through school himself, and I was so impressed with how he managed to get great grades while working full-time.

Benjy and I, however, had made an agreement when he was a freshman in high school. He would study hard and get the best grades he could in hopes of entering college with advanced credits and winning scholarships. I would pay every dime I could to help him. He kept his end of the bargain, graduating with a 4.67 from high school, earning 22 advanced college credits, and getting a number of scholarships from Ithaca College. And I kept mine, using every penny of the money I earned through writing fiction to pay the balance on his tuition bills.

When he stood to be recognized for his achievements and his degree with the rest of the senior class at IC, it was a victory for both of us — shared goals seen through to their ending, promises kept, respect and affection.

Ruth Salisbury and I enjoy drinks in Anaheim. 

Among the spontaneous fun things I did this year was to zip off to the Romance Writers of America conference in Anaheim, Calif., where I got to hang with Jenn some more, as well as Kati R. of Romancing the Rake for the Love of Romance and a lot of other friends.

I finally met Marie Force, Jill Shalvis and Joyce Lamb face to face. That was wonderful! We email one another every week, but we’d never met in person. Modern life is weird that way. I also got to spend more time with Julie James.

And, Marie, I still have that napkin. I haven’t forgotten what’s written on it.

I also got to meet a number of my readers, including Ruth Salisbury and her lovely daughters, who drove for more than two hours to be able to have drinks with me one evening. It means a lot to a writer to put faces and voices with the names of friends we’ve met through our writing. I loved every minute of it!



In terms of my career, this year marked my setting sail on the uncertain waters of self-publishing. I had put Sweet Release and Carnal Gift, my first two historicals, up on Amazon.com, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble in the summer of 2011. But in 2012, I sat down and wrote my first entirely self-published work, Skin Deep: An I-Team After Hours novella. It was an amazing experience because I felt that, more than anything, I was writing directly for my readers. I included “Marc & Julian Make a Beer Run” as an extra thank you for hardcore I-Team fans, and, much to my surprise, most of them skipped straight to that little extra short story and read it first before reading Nate and Megan’s story.

I feel very empowered by this to head off in some new directions as an author. Yes, I’ll still be writing the I-Team series, as well as historicals, for Penguin. I’m very happy to be doing that. But I am also about to start on a straight contemporary series set in a mountain town here in Colorado. It won’t be romantic suspense, so it will be something new. I also have a contemporary urban fantasy/paranormal/whatever that I want to write and self-publish one day. I’m not sure that will make it onto this year’s agenda or not. But I have the freedom to make it happen, and I love that!


I’m an audiobook lover, having discovered the joy of listening to books when the first Harry Potter book came out and I was seeking a way to keep my two boys from fighting and turning every commute to work into a nightmare. Harry truly was magic, because as long as that cassette tape was playing the boys were quiet. It was as if Harry had cast the “Shutupus Totallus!” spell. We went from Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and all of Tolkien’s books to Dickens to Mark Twain and so on.

Naturally, I wanted to see my books released in audiobook format. But it just wasn’t happening. Until one day it did. I got an email from Tantor asking who owned the rights to the stories. I sent them on to Penguin... and then waited for what seemed a terribly long period of time before I heard that Tantor had bought the rights to the entire series.

Unbeknownst to me, the I-Team had finished at the top of the list two years running in All About Romance’s annual poll about books readers wanted to see in audiobook. Tantor had taken notice of this, and, urged by the wonderful women of AudioGals, they had acted. (If you’re an audiobook fan, the AudioGals blog is one you’ll want to follow.)

If the first part of this process took an eternity, what happened next did not. One moment I was digesting the news and jumping up and down, and the next I learned that they had chosen an actor/voice artist to voice the books — a man by the name of Kaleo Griffith.

Sometimes, things just turn out right. And this is an instance where everything that could go wrong went right. Not only does Kaleo have an incredibly sexy, masculine voice, one capable of handling the alpha males of the I-Team books and their heroines, but he’s also an incredible human being. He wanted to discuss the stories before recording them, to hear where the stories came from, to learn more about the characters. He showed an incredible sensitivity toward the characters as real people — that’s what they became for him, as they have always been for me — while also really seeing the text and subtext of the stories. As a result, his narrations really bring the stories to life in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I’m halfway through Naked Edge now, and Breaking Point should be out any day. I love them!

But more came out of this than simply getting the I-Team into audiobook format. I said one of the themes this year had been new friendships, and that applies here. Not only do I admire Kaleo for his professionalism and skill, but over the course of a few months, Kaleo and I became good friends. I feel very connected to him and his wife Kristine — and I’ve never even met them. Working with Kaleo, getting to know him, getting to know Kristine, was the absolute highlight of the last part of this year. I’m already looking forward to meeting them in person one day.

In the meantime, I want to thank Kaleo for putting his heart into these books. I can’t begin to say how much it means to me.

Other highlights include: 

Seeing Crystal and her husband Dusty roll up in a pickup truck in the dark of a cold February night to deliver firewood so that Benjy and I wouldn’t freeze. I had pneumonia at the time and could barely get up to open the front door. Thank you, Crystal, Dusty and Ronlyn (who, naturally, arranged the whole thing from 1,500 miles away). You helped us through a very tough period!

Getting together with the real I-Team — the men and women who made up the investigative team I headed in 1999-2000 and the staff I worked with at my second paper. Terje Langeland came back from Japan, and we had a reunion that included food from Qdoba and a lot of beer. I miss these guys so very much. If you put all of us together, barred publisher types and bean counters from the newsroom and set us loose on the world, what a newspaper we would have! Terje, Michael, Oakland, Mark, Jeff, David, Elizabeth, Erica — it was so good to see you!

Hanging with reader friends in the I-Team and Camp Followers groups on Facebook.

The release of Defiant, finally getting Connor’s book out to fans who’d been waiting since 2008

Joining Rock*It Reads and meeting new authors, who now number among the new friendships I made this year.

Feeling the support of my readers and friends through the difficult times of 2012. I am so grateful for my sister Michelle’s love and friendship and the support and caring of author Norah Wilson, Jenn LeBlanc, Joyce Lamb, Libby Murphy, Sue Zimmerman, Kristi Ross, Marie Force, Jill Shalvis, Julie James, Ronlyn Howe, Crystal Scott, Hope Frost, Julieanne Reeves, everyone at Rock*It Reads, Bonnie Vanak, Alice Duncan, Alice Gaines, Jan Zimlich, and Mimi Riser. You make such a difference in my life!

And I’m grateful for all of you who read this blog, follow me on Facebook, send me emails and share the love of reading and of books with me. Your readership means a lot to me.

Most of all, I’m grateful for my two sons, Alec and Benjamin, and for the joy they bring to my life each day. Being your mom is the most important thing in my world. And, Benjamin, thanks for your help this year. We accomplished a lot!

Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year to us all!

Happy 2013, everyone!
Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!



Wishing you warmth, health, and happiness this holiday.

Merry Christmas from my house to yours!



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kenleigh-Blakewell Boxed Set on sale at Amazon.com



With the release of Ride the Fire less than two months away, I’ve created a boxed set for the first two books in the series and am offering them at a discount on Amazon.com until Christmas. Yes, it’s the Kenleigh-Blakewell Family Saga Boxed Set, featuring the re-edited and complete versions of Sweet Release and Carnal Gift.

If you enjoyed the MacKinnon’s Rangers series or haven’t yet tried my historical romances, here’s a chance to get them on the cheap.

Here’s a bit about the series:

Volume I: Sweet Release

For five pounds sterling, the convict was hers. Though Cassie hated the slave trade, her Virginia plantation demanded the labor, and she knew this fevered man would surely die if she left him. But as his wounds healed, and as his muscled chest bronzed from the sun, Cassie realized Cole Braden was far more dangerous than his papers had indicated--for he could steal her breath with a glance, or lay siege to her senses with a touch.

Abducted, beaten, and given a new name, Alec Kenleigh went from master of an English shipbuilding empire to fourteen years of indentured servitude in the American colonies. There, he was known as Cole Braden, a convicted ravisher and defiler of women. While he longed to ravish the auburn-haired beauty who owned him, he knew his one hope of earning her love--and his freedom--was to prove his true identity. Only then could he turn the tables and obtain his ... Sweet Release.


Volume II: Carnal Gift

“I expect you to show my friend just how grateful you are. Your willingness is everything.”

With those harsh words, the hated Sasanach earl decided Bríghid's fate: Her body and her virginity were to be offered to a stranger in exchange for her brother’s life. Possessing nothing but her innocence and her fierce Irish pride, she had no choice but to comply.

But the handsome man she faced in the darkened bedchamber was not at all the monster she expected. His green eyes seemed to see inside her. His tender touch calmed his fears while he swore he would protect her by merely pretending to claim her. And as the long hours of the night passed by, as her senses ignited at the heat of their naked flesh, she made a startling discovery: Sometimes the line between hate and love is dangerously thin.

After Christmas, I’ll be working to get both Sweet Release and Carnal Gift, as well as Skin Deep (An I-Team After Hours novella) into print. Watch here for updates on that.




In the meantime, Unlawful Contact  (I-Team #3) was released in audiobook format. I just finished listening to it at 1:30 AM. I just couldn’t turn it off to go to sleep. Once again, I think Kaleo Griffith put his heart into the narration, bringing both intimate character moments and humor to life. Advice: Don’t drive while listening to the sex scenes, okay? I did and found myself speeding.

Naked Edge (I-Team #4), will be out on Monday at Tantor.com. Hopefully, Audible.com will have it up sooner this time. Then, 2012 will finish out with Breaking Point coming out on audiobook on Dec. 31. Working with Kaleo on these productions has been one of the brightest highlights of 2012 for me. I hope you all enjoy them!

December is such a busy month for most of us. We have our tree up and our house partially decorated — Benjy was very sick last weekend and we spent hours upon hours in Urgent Care and the ER — and hope to finish decorating today. I’ve got dough for Christmas cookies, our favorite cookies of the year, chilling in the fridge, so we’ll be baking this afternoon.

With the tragedy in Connecticut, I find that I just want to be close to my kids, even if they are fully grown. The grief those families are enduring is beyond anything most of us can imagine. I hope we all take time to hugs our kids a little closer. My heart and prayers go out to all of the families affected by the shooting.



Friday, December 07, 2012

Audiobook Update — plus other book news



 I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Things got busy around here with my sister’s arrival from Sweden, and now suddenly it’s December.

Lots of things are going on, so I thought I’d give you all a quick update.

First, as many of you know, there’s been a delay in getting Unlawful Contact out. The book was available in audio CDs as of this past Tuesday. It isn’t yet available on Audible.com or iTunes for download, but I know it will be soon.

I haven’t listened to the book yet, so I’m feeling just as impatient as everyone else. I am dying to hear what Kaleo Griffith did with Marc Hunter, and I know many of you, especially those of you suffering from OKD — Obsessive Kaleo Disorder — are, too!  Click here for the audio sample.




 Naked Edge is on schedule for a Dec. 17 release date, and there is a audio sample available on Tantor Audio’s website. I was really impressed with the way Kaleo voiced Grandma Alice and Grandpa Red Crow in this scene, excerpted from the beginning of the book.


And just today I received the unfinished cover image for Breaking Point, which Kaleo is recording right this very minute and which is slated for a Dec. 31 release.


No word yet whether the I-Team novellas will eventually be a part of the audiobook series. Because I own the rights to Skin Deep myself, I hope to get that novella published as an audiobook, too.




But I’ve got more going on that I want to share.

Right now, I’m working to get the first two books in the Kenleigh-Blakewell Family Saga — that’s Sweet Release and Carnal Gift — put together as a boxed set. The set should be available around Dec. 12 on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble’s website for download to Kindle and Nook at a special discounted price for the holidays.

AND... I’m working to get Skin Deep published in print. Yes, print! I’ve gotten so many messages from readers who don’t have ereaders and who don’t want to read the book in the cloud or on their computers. SO... my goal is to have Skin Deep available in print before the end of the year!

I took most of the month of November off from writing. I’ve been working on different aspects of Striking Distance with a goal of taking up the pen again next week. The book got bumped back to a Nov. 5, 2013, release date. I wasn’t happy with what I had so far and knew I’d have to rush to finish it on time. I just couldn’t do that. My editor was very understanding and said she’d rather have a good book than a quick book. As sorry as I am to make you all wait, I think you’ll appreciate it in the end.

My sister is spending the weekend with me, which means we’ll be decorating, listening to lots of music, talking until late at night. She is the soul I am closest to on this earth apart from my sons, and each and every minute I spend with her is precious.

Let’s all enjoy the approaching holidays with those we love!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and readers! I have so many reasons to be grateful, and I count you all among them. I wish you a peace-filled, fun holiday with your families.



Five reasons NOT to go shopping on Thanksgiving

5. While you're off shopping, your relatives will eat the rest of the pumpkin pie.


4. The best way to save money is to NOT buy stuff, rather than buying it on sale — 20 percent off is still 80 percent on.


3. Thanksgiving is about gratitude for what we have, not scrambling to buy things we don't have and don't need.


2. Black Friday is bad enough. Don't let commercialism encroach on yet another holiday.


1. Would you want to leave your family to go to work after Thanksgiving dinner? People with retail jobs need a holiday, too! Their bosses will only get that message if no one shows up tonight to spend money.
 

Please, respect the holiday! Shop at locally owned businesses on Saturday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

HARD EVIDENCE is out on Audiobook — Contest!



On Monday, Hard Evidence (I-Team #2) was released on audiobook by Tantor Audio, and I was too busy doing other things to celebrate the moment. So let’s make up for that now!

For readers who are new to the I-Team, Hard Evidence tells the story of undercover FBI operative Julian Darcangelo and Tessa Novak, the reporter who unintentionally comes close to blowing his cover. It’s a gritty book that deals with a difficult topic, one I investigated during my years as an investigative journalist.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

After the murder of a teenage girl, a mysterious man in a black leather jacket was seen lurking near the crime scene. Investigative reporter Tessa Novak has him in her sights as the culprit…

 That man was Julian Darcangelo—an undercover FBI agent working with the Denver police. He’s closing in on the trail of a human trafficker and killer. Tessa’s accusations could blow his cover—and he wants her off the investigation.

But just as Tessa has made Julian a target of interest, she is now a target—of the killer. And as they are forced to trust each other, their physical attraction escalates as intensely as the threat from a ruthless murderer who wants to see both of them dead…


Readers familiar with the series know that Julian is a favorite. In fact, he is the only I-Team hero after whom multiple Kindles and iPads have been named. His name is also part of one reader’s tattoo. What makes him so special?

He’s a tortured alpha male, a man with a good heart who has taken a bad childhood, locked down his emotions, and used his knowledge of crime and his skill with fighting as a weapon.

I’ve always had a very soft spot for him. And that soft spot got softer after listening to talented actor and voice artist Kaleo Griffith narrate his lines in a deep, dark, silky voice for 11.5 hours. As one readers said (hi, Pat!), she’d listen to Kaleo narrate the phone book. He could probably make it sound sexy, too.

To celebrate the release of Hard Evidence, I’m giving away THREE copies of Extreme Exposure, the first book in the series.

All you have to do to be entered to win is to comment below AND leave a contact email address so that I can more easily reach winners. This contest will continue through Thanksgiving to Sunday.

I’ll draw winners on Monday morning.

In the meantime, Unlawful Contact is just around the corner with a Dec. 3 release date. I can’t wait to see what Kaleo will do with bad boy Marc Hunter!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Introducing Julieanne Reeves and RAZING KAYNE



I’m turning my blog over to Julieanne Reeves, a talented new writer whose debut novel, RAZING KAYNE, is about to be released. I’ve gotten to know Julieanne through the Facebook I-Team group, and I was impressed by some of the stories she shared about her life. A person who has lived through a lot generally has a lot of material to draw on for fiction. 

Without further ado, I give you Julieanne.

* * *

It’s almost here; launch day for RAZING KAYNE. I’m about to join the ranks of published authors. I’m excited and quite frankly scared. Publishing my book, sending it out into the world feels a lot like the first day I had to put my children in daycare. I bawled having to leave them that day. They, however, barely spared a wave goodbye; they were too excited to meet and play with their new friends.

The road to publication:
I took a creative writing class in high school in lieu of a traditional English course, and discovered that while I struggled with the mechanics of writing — grammar and punctuation — I flat out loved getting all the thoughts and emotions that swirled inside my head onto paper. So I wrote. For year and years after that class I continued to put stories on paper — well computer — that no one would ever see.

Not even my family or closest friends knew I wrote.

Then a few years ago I ended up spending weeks in the hospital with a systemic staph infection from a spider bite that went south on me. (Sorry Pamela, I know I used the S word, but that is what bit me) I of course had waited until my temp was nearly 105* F before I went to the hospital, which made recovering that much worse.

Laying there, miserable and sick, missing my kids like crazy, I started making a list of all the things I was going to do when I got out of the hospital. Most of that list involved my children and making special memories. But the one that was wholly just for me was a goal to be published before I turned 40. As of Tuesday I will have met that goal with months to spare. I’m still working on those goals with my children. They’re going to take a lifetime to complete.

It was also during that time in the hospital that RAZING KAYNE. That high school creative writing teacher drilled into us that you should “write what you know and do it from the heart.” Up to that point my writing has been fantasy and paranormal and I’d never dared share it with anyone. Honestly it was crap.

Searching for inspiration:
I took a long look at myself. I was a 30-something year old adult, I’d worked for years in law enforcement as a police/fire/911 dispatcher who’d been trained and certified in hostage negotiation and suicide intervention. Working in a small agency allowed me the opportunity to work closely with the Special Response Team, Narcotics Task Force officers and Property and Person’s detectives.
Heck, I’d even applied and been accepted to test for the police academy. I passed the testing though never went through the academy. Experiences I never would have had working in a big agency.

As far as my personal life, I’d adopted two children from foster care as a single mother. Up until going into the hospital I had been a full time stay at home foster mom. This meant that I usually had four kids in the house at any given time. Between special education issues, counseling and doctor’s appointments, and life in general I stayed busy. But, oh, how rewarding — and heartbreaking — it was.

Looking at all my experience — personal and professional — and thinking through the cases I’d been involved with, and remembering the ones I’d heard about, I realized I had a treasure trove of inspiration. So, I did what that creative writing teacher taught me; I wrote what I knew and did it from the heart. I spent three weeks in the hospital and several more at home on IV antibiotics, and by the time I was done, so was my rough draft of RAZING KAYNE.

Publication:
It would take two more years and lots of encouragement from my online friends before I finally got up the nerve to publish it.

Now that moment is here, and I’m on a roller coaster of emotions. I think the only thing that makes this easier is that I know I haven’t seen the last of Kayne and Jessica and their wonderful children. In Razing Kayne we met some awesome supporting Heroes: Officer Nick Astenbeck, Detectives Trace St.Moritz and Rafe Chatham, Dr. Mark Oberly, and Fire-medic Joe Sutton. They will be getting their own stories over the next couple years. Payson, Arizona is a small town in real life and in fiction so I know we’ll be seeing the whole gang around from time to time.

I hope you enjoy RAZING KAYNE as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Blurb:
For two years, State Trooper Kayne Dobrescu has wanted only one thing: to understand why his wife inexplicably killed their children and then herself. Memories haunt his days and lay siege to his nights, leaving him questioning his reasons for living.

Jessica Hallstatt became a window and single mother the night her firefighter husband died in a fiery explosion at an accident scene. While her husband may have died a hero, he left Jessica with deep emotional scars that haven’t begun to heal.


When Kayne accepted a transfer to the mountain town of Payson, Arizona, he never expected to meet anyone like Jessica. From the moment he pulled her over for speeding, he was drawn in by her whiskey-colored eyes and sassy dimple. He knows she and her children are a forever type package, and he’s vowed never to give anyone the power to destroy him again. Yet fate has other ideas, throwing Kayne and Jessica together in a fight against an unknown enemy to save the life of a child — and hopefully one another.


Release date: 
Nov. 20. (Paperback through Amazon.com, E-book available through all major distributors. Pre-order NOT available.)

Leave a comment below and be entered to win an e-copy of RAZING KAYNE. One lucky winner – worldwide – will be randomly drawn on or about Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Winner will be announced in the comments so please be sure to check back. 

Excerpt:
Want to read an excerpt? Go to http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/3252957-razing-kayne-uncorrected-excerpt for the Prologue and first two chapters.

Pamela thanks for hosting me, and to all her wonderful readers, thanks for taking the time to stop by. I hope you enjoy the upcoming holiday weekend. 

Julieanne Reeves
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Project Happiness Update — Standing Up Again


 It’s been a long time since I’ve done a personal update to this page. Somehow in my mind, it ought to be the beginning of June, and yet here we are in the middle of November. Time has flown by at a pace that boggles my mind. So let’s catch up.

I started this year determined to remake my life, determined to be the happy change I needed. After getting socked with pneumonia, I felt I was off to a good start with daily visits to the gym, a self-published I-Team novella that I felt good about with a super-sexy cover from Jenn LeBlanc, and every single day of the week to work on my fiction writing and the life I want.

Benjy, my younger son, graduated in May with a film degree. Summa cum laude. Yes, I was proud. 

Then summer came, and I started working on Striking Distance, the next I-Team novel. And things began to unravel. 

I seem to think I can do everything all at once and do it well. As some of you know, I’m a strong proponent of urban farming and the local food movement. It’s vitally important that people have some skill with growing food, and it is likewise important for all of us to keep as many pollutants out of our bodies as we can. In keeping with my views, I began growing veggies a few years back with great luck, supplying most of our veggie needs from June through about October. 


When May came and we planted, I was trying to juggle a few balls: exercise, tending a very large veggie garden as well as the flower garden, handling the massive amount of watering we had to do this year due to extreme heat and drought, harvesting and processing all the food we grew, and writing books. 


It seemed possible. I figured it was just a matter of discipline. Because if something isn’t working, the fault must lie with me, right? 

I began getting up at 5 AM and working outdoors in the early light when it wasn’t so hot. And this lasted a week. At the end of the week, I was in so much pain from my neck that I couldn’t raise my arms. I ignored this, afraid that if I went in to see my neurosurgeon he'd tell me I messed up all his fine work and needed another neck operation. Unwise. This meant that the neck pain continued all summer. 
 
I did, however, realize that I can’t handle the more physical aspects of gardening any longer, and this left me feeling really depressed. Realizing that you have physical limitations is never fun for anyone; when those limitations are linked to activities you enjoy, as has happened several times to me in this life, it’s a huge downer.

Summer drifted on, and I just couldn’t write. I went to Romance Writers of America and got to meet both readers and author friends. It was a lot of fun and a great way to relax. I came home still in pain but charged up — only to find that I still couldn’t make Striking Distance budge. I had planned initially on writing Joaquin’s book next, and it seemed the Muse was making me pay for having walked away from the inspiration I had for his story. I assure you, that won’t happen again.

Is it a coincidence that it’s my 13th book? 

In the midst of this frustration, Benjamin and I made a spontaneous trip to San Diego where I was able to keep the promise I’d made to him as a 2-year-old and show him the ocean sea. It was a wonderful four days, the most magical of the year and some of the most precious in my life thus far.  Also, I got lots of afternoons and evenings with Alec at Coors Field, where we talked about everything from how much we missed Tulo this season to the fact that my book still had no plot.



I returned to find myself facing a book that still needed to be written and a deadline I could not meet. I’ve had books that were difficult to write, but never a novel that flat-out evaded me, where I would turn inward to write and find... nothing.

It was due in August. Then November. I tried everything I could think of to wrench a story out of my brain — I had the characters and the gist of it — and nothing worked. Last week, I finally told my agent and editor that I had hit a true wall. I spent a couple of hours on the phone with my sister in tears over what felt like a failure. The book has been bumped back to a November 2013 release date.

And then with the pressure off, it started to dawn on me that my well had quite simply run dry because I haven’t done much to refill it. Apart from RWA, RomCon in Denver, and our trip to San Diego — or Sandyego, as I wrote one night on Facebook when I hadn’t had enough sleep — I’ve treated myself the same way I always have, like a work horse who needs to do everything perfectly. No weeds among the roses. No veggies that go unharvested and uneaten. A clean house. Writing perfect chapters. Exercise. Making healthful fresh-picked meals. A smile plastered on my face. And all of this despite the fact that my neck has been killing me.

I haven’t read a book in ages. I’ve started reading half a dozen, but they inevitably get put aside because there’s work to do. I have art supplies but haven’t drawn so much as a smiley face.

Project Happiness? No, more like Project Creative Exhaustion.

Somewhere in the midst of this year, I started to wonder why things weren’t working out as I’d hoped. I was home every day, writing full-time, and yet things were sucking — with a few bright lights. Jenn LeBlanc and I started buddy writing, something I’ve been doing with my good friend Libby. That helps fight the isolation that I often feel as a writer, and helps us all focus better, especially when we ban the Internet.

But why were things not going as I’d hoped? I think part of it is that this is a huge transition from working in a fast-paced group environment to being alone all day with no really daily structure. It’s like walking into a new life. I just haven’t quite gotten it down yet.


Also, however, I ignored too many things — my need to relax a lot after leaving journalism, my need to refill my creative well, my need to not being in pain 24/7 because I'd spent the day doing things my body can’t handle. 

I finally got an MRI and learned that the C4-6 titanium/implant construction was fine, but that by bending over and cocking my head back, I had herniated C3. It is healing, and the surgeon says I don’t need surgery. That was great news and a big relief — and another sign that it’s time to quit pretending I didn’t fall off a mountain. 

I guess to sum it up, you could say that this has been a year of great successes with regard to my writing career, but that I’ve had some difficulty getting my act together, doing it in fits and starts and getting really angry with myself when I feel I have failed.

But the year isn’t over yet. Every day is a new day, a new chance, not to be perfect, but to take care of myself.

Here are some good changes I’ve made. In hopes of taking pressure off my neck that comes from sitting and writing for 16 hours a day (bad posture), I got a treadmill desk, which you can see crammed into my office below. I’ve been walking on it for more than an hour now as I type this. My goal for the moment is to walk two hours a day, gradually increasing until the bulk of my work day is spent walking. It wasn’t cheap, but I think it will make an enormous difference to my health, and so I deemed it worth the expense.


Another thing I’ve done is take time to be with Benjy. He’s my roommate for the moment, but he’ll be leaving and I don’t want to spend the last few months he and I live together writing in the evenings while he hangs out in the house basically alone. Nothing is more precious to me than my kids, whether it’s Star Trek in the evening with Benjy or watching the Rockies lose (again!) at Coors Field with Alec.

Here’s a shocker: I quit drinking coffee. No more artificially pumping myself up so that I can stay awake when what I probably need more than anything is lots of sleep to make up for 20 years of journalism. I do sleep more deeply at night on nights when I’m not in pain, and sometimes I even wake up feeling like I’ve slept.

Also, I’m taking the rest of November off writing to really think about this story. I’m doing the things I do when I finish a book — cleaning the house, reading, giving myself permission not to think about writing. I’m just letting the pressure go away and putting myself first, something I almost never do. Plot arises from character, so when I do work on the story, I’m working on character using a couple of new tools.

Another bright spot has been the release of the I-Team books in audiobook format. Getting to know Kaleo Griffith, the actor/voice artist who is narrating the series, has been a true joy, as has hearing my work brought to life in a new and exciting way. His respect for the stories and the characters has been deeply touching. His sexy voice certainly hasn’t been difficult to listen to, either. 

I’ve made some decisions: No more urban farming. This was a tough one. I can join a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm and support the work of local organic farmers without doing that work myself. 

Also, I’m going to get a sprinkler system and help with yard work so that the outdoor work goes away.  No more stress over weeds or any of that.

I also need to step back from the Internet. I let this blog go forever because I just didn't have the time to get to it. I’ll post as often as I can, but writing and family need to come before social media.

This way, my life can focus on exercise, sleep, good food, and writing.

I’m not a work horse. I’m a person with only so many days allotted to my life. My books mean so much to me, but writing has to come from the inside. If my insides are empty, I’m screwed. I can’t fake it.
As we near Thanksgiving, I’m basically standing up again, brushing off the dirt, and reassessing how best to commit myself to happiness for the rest of my life. I have so many things for which I am grateful, so many reasons to feel blessed and happy. 

I am going to try very hard not to stand in my own way any longer.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rock*It Reads Heating Up the Holidays Blog Hop





Blog Hop

Welcome to the Rock*It Reads Heating Up the Holidays Blog Hop. There are 15 stops on the blog tour. The more blogs you visit and comment on, the greater your chances of winning the grand prize, a $75 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble or Amazon, and a huge collection of books from the authors of Rock*It Reads. Smaller prizes will be available at each stop along the way.

Good luck, and have fun!


Welcome to my blog, blog hoppers! I’d like to introduce you to Nate West, the hero of my I-Team After Hours Novella, Skin Deep.






Nate fought with a Marine Special Operations Team in Afganistan, serving as backup for Navy SEALs on hazardous missions involving high-value targets. During the return trip from one of those missions, the transportation truck carrying him and some of his buddies was hit by an IED, and Nate was severely burned over the right side of his body. He has spent years recovering, and is now living on his family’s ranch high in the Colorado mountains.

What makes Nate special? There are so many things, but among them is the fact that he doesn’t feel sorry for himself, but focuses on getting strong again, being as supportive of the other survivors from his team as he can be. But at the same time, he doesn’t believe he stands much of a chance of finding a woman with him he can share his life.

It’s a good thing for Nate that fate has the perfect woman in mind, a woman who understands scars.  But her scars on are on the inside...

 Here’s an excerpt:

Though Nate tried hard to hide it, Megan knew it wasn’t easy for him to share himself in this way. He didn’t seem to understand that she found him attractive—even downright sexy. His scars were a part of the attraction because they were a part of him.

She ran her hand slowly over his right cheek, trailed her fingers down the scarred side of his neck to his chest. The muscles on the left side were firm, his skin soft and bronzed, coarse curls tickling her palm. His dark nipple was flat and smooth like satin, its center a hard little pebble. The hairless right side of his chest had no nipple, his skin pinched, puckered and creased, some of it almost white, some of it darkly pigmented, some of it with an underlying diamond pattern as if it had once been held in place by mesh. It was harder and stiffer than normal skin, too. But it was his skin.

She could see now that the burns went all the way around his right side to his back, dipping below the waistline of his briefs, stretching down his right leg to just above his knee. He’d been burned, front and back, from his cheek to his right thigh.

And beneath his boxer briefs? Was he scarred there, too?

His left thigh also bore a large scar, but it was different, not puckers and creases, but a large, pale rectangle that wrapped around his heavy quadriceps. Was that where they’d taken skin for his skin grafts?

So much pain.

And so much courage.

Other than that first night when he told her how he’d been burned, he hadn’t spoken of his service with the Marines, keeping all the horrors he’d seen, all the things he’d done, all he’d suffered quietly to himself. He didn’t complain. He didn’t show self-pity. He simply endured.

She traced a finger down the uneven line roughly in the center of his torso, where scars met normal skin. She couldn’t imagine how much he had suffered, couldn’t imagine how any woman could have turned her back on him and left him to face the agony of recovery alone. She felt a sharp surge of protectiveness, wishing she could take all of this away from him.

“There are no nerve endings. I can’t feel anything beyond pressure. You don’t have to touch—”

“Shhh.” She lowered her head, pressed her lips firmly to the place where his right nipple ought to have been, wanting to touch him everywhere, to know all of him, wanting to show him that every inch of him, scarred or not, was precious to her.

He sucked in a breath, tensed, his fingers sliding into her hair. “Megan, I…”

His voice faded as she kissed her way down the taut, scarred skin of his belly, her hands sliding down his sides to his hips, his muscles jerking every time her mouth touched him. But if he couldn’t feel her, then why… ?

She glanced up, saw him watching her, a look like pain on his face. And she understood. It wasn’t so much that he could feel her kisses, but rather just the fact that she was kissing this part of him that made him react.

Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them away, swallowing the lump in her throat as she lowered her lips to him again, the sympathy she felt for him warming to desire as she indulged herself, kissing, licking and nibbling her way back up his belly, across his chest, to his neck. Then she did what he’d done to her so many times today, teasing the sensitive skin beneath his left ear, delighting in the way he shivered.

“Oh, Megan.” His hands sought out her breasts, his thumbs flicking their tips, making it terribly hard for her to concentrate. Then one big hand slid down her back and beneath her pajama bottoms to grasp and squeeze her bottom. “When are you going to take these damned things off?”

“Later.” She was too busy for that right now—and too nervous.

It was so much easier, so much less frightening, to concentrate on him.

She nipped his earlobe, sucked it into her mouth, bit down, the natural scent of his skin filling her head. It was a warm scent, unmistakably masculine, arousing her even more, an intoxicated feeling swelling inside her. She was drunk on him, his taste, the male feel of him. She wanted to kiss him and touch him—everywhere. She wanted to chase away his pain with pleasure. And—oh, yes!—she wanted him to keep doing whatever he was doing with his hands, his touch sending shivers of bliss straight from her aching nipples to her womb.

Had she ever felt anything like this?

No, never.

She stretched out on top him, seeking his mouth, her moan mingling with his groan of satisfaction as their lips were reunited in a deep, hard kiss, his head rising off the pillow to meet her, his right arm encircling her to draw her closer, his left hand still busy with her breast. They devoured each other, tongues tasting with slick strokes, teeth nipping, lips teasing. And still it wasn’t enough.

But Megan wasn’t sure she was ready for what came next.


* * *

 I hope you enjoyed that! One lucky winner will get an ebook copy of Skin Deep and will be able read all of Nate and Megan’s story.

Thanks for participating, and have fun on the rest of the blog hop!



Leave a comment with your email address below to enter for your chance to win!

Don't forget to visit the other authors on the Blog Hop for more chances to win!


















Kris KennedyBonnie Vanak
Erin Kellison

Sharon Page
Lila DiPasquaElisabeth Naughton
Norah WilsonJennifer LyonMonica Burns

Vanessa Kelly
Mia MarloweJoan Swan
Pamela ClareMargo MaguireRock*It Reads



Monday, October 29, 2012

Audiobook Release Day Celebration & Giveaway



Today is the day!


It’s the official release day for Extreme Exposure (I-Team Series Book 1)! There are a couple of celebrations going on hereabouts on the Interwebs. After all, the I-Team books have been at the top of reader polls for books they want to have in audiobook format.

Audiogals is having a big release-day event and giveaway. Two lucky entrants will win a set of the first THREE books in the series — that’s Extreme Exposure, Hard Evidence, and Unlawful Contact — in audiobook format. They’ve also posted fun interviews with me and with Kaleo Griffith, the actor who is voicing the series.

UndertheCovers is hosting an interview with Kaleo today. (I really want to read it, but every time I’ve tried to get on the site since last Friday — four times now — it has crashed my computer.)

And here on this blog we’re having our own party. Post your favorite line from Extreme Exposure for a chance to win a copy of the audiobook signed by me.  I’ll pick a winner on Friday.

Partying like this is going to become a bit of a regular thing around here for a while, as the remaining books in the series are coming out at two-week intervals through the end of the year. Here’s the release schedule:

Extreme Exposure — October 29
Hard Evidence — November 19
Unlawful Contact — November 26
Naked Edge — December 17
Breaking Point — December  31

At this point, the audiobooks don’t seem to be available internationally, but I hope they soon will be.

In the meantime, big thanks to Tantor Audio, Kaleo Griffith, Audio Gals, to all of you who voted for the I-Team series in AAR’s annual poll of books you wanted as audiobooks. You have made this all happen.

In the meantime, I want to let those of you who live along the East Coast know that I’m thinking of you. I hope this storm isn’t the disaster officials fear it is. I don’t want to see loss of human life or catastrophic loss of property/infrastructure. My thoughts and prayers are with you and with the members of the Coast Guard, who risk everything in such situations.

Stay safe!
Friday, October 26, 2012

Countdown to audiobooks! UPDATED w/ Audio Excerpt


Just one weekend to go, and Extreme Exposure (I-Team, Book 1) will be out in audiobook format. I cannot wait!

Tantor Audio is releasing the first five books between now and Dec. 31.  Here are the release dates and links:

Extreme Exposure — October 29
Hard Evidence — November 19
Unlawful Contact — November 26
Naked Edge — December 17
Breaking Point — December  31

The series is being voiced by Kaleo Griffith, a talented actor and voice artist. I just listened to an audio clip of Extreme Exposure and got to hear firsthand what he has put into his work on this series. I was so impressed!

I just got the link. Click here to listen!

For those of you who worry about male narrators voicing female characters rest assured there is no falsetto, no fake sounding girly voice. He does a great job of handling Kara — and then turns it around and does sultry, rough men’s voices, too.

An audio clip should be available soon on Tantor Audio’s website, so be sure to check it out!

Kaleo has really committed himself to bring this series alive for readers. He and I have spoken on the phone and exchanged emails, discussing the characters and the stories. It’s been really reassuring to me to know that he not only takes his job seriously, but is enjoying the series as well.

So how are we going to celebrate?

On Monday, a couple of wonderful blogs will be hosting interviews with me and Kaleo. Audio Gals is also going to be doing a giveaway of the audiobook — and sharing the audio clip.

Here on my blog we’ll celebrate the release with a giveaway contest: You tell me which line from Extreme Exposure you’re most excited to hear Kaleo voice for you, and one commenter will win a copy of the audiobook. This doesn’t start till Monday, so you have a bit of time to think about it and prepare.

In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you could help spread the word among I-Team and audiobook fans. Thanks!

And have a great weekend!

P.S. Sorry I haven’t been here much lately. I’ve been working on Striking Distance and just need the time to focus on that.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tantor Audio & Kaleo Griffith to bring the I-Team to life


If you’ve been following my Facebook posts and tweets, you already know that the wonderful and talented people at Tantor Audio purchased the audiobook rights to the I-Team series from Penguin. As this is something I’ve wanted for a long time — I love audiobooks — I was delighted when I got the news.

Today, I learned that actor/voice actor Kaleo Griffith is going to be doing the voices for the series. I went straightaway to his Facebook fan page and “liked” him, then zipped off to listen to samples of other books he’s narrated.



He’s a very attractive man — he makes a very hot cowboy — and he has a warm, sexy voice, so I’m excited to see what he can do with the I-Team men and lines like this:

 “You need a man, Kara. A man you can open up to. A man whose passion for life matches yours. A man who grabs your hair in big fistfuls and twists and pulls it when he’s fucking you. A man willing to walk the wire for you.”

And this:

“When you tell your friends about this, be sure to tell them about the sucky-swirly thing. If you’re going to share details, you might as well be thorough.”

And this:

“It’s not so much where I want you, Sophie, as it is how. Nothing tastes quite like a woman, and no woman tastes like you.”

The company hasn’t yet purchased the rights to “Heaven Can’t Wait” or Skin Deep, and I’m not sure they will. But they’ve already bought the rights to Striking Distance. Which is just one reason I need to hurry up and finish with copy edits for Ride the Fire and get that book written!

Tantor already has a tentative publication schedule:

Extreme Exposure — October
Hard Evidence & Unlawful Contact — November
Naked Edge & Breaking Point — December

The company is putting me in touch with Kaleo to go over pronunciations. How, exactly, we’re going to manage the Navajo I’m not certain. But I am sure the experience will be fun.

Now, here’s something I didn’t know...

Apparently, some kind of reader vote was held either earlier this year or last year for the series readers most wanted to have released in audio format, and the I-Team series won. I knew nothing about this, but I want to say THANK YOU to the fans of this series who are so devoted to the characters and the books. YOU make all the difference!
 You can follow Kaleo on Twitter at @KaleoGriffith and Tantor Audio at @TantorAudio. Head over to their Facebook fan pages to give them a big “like.” If you love audiobooks, I suggest following @AudioGals on Twitter. They knew all of this before I did!

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m in the middle of the long-awaited epilogue for Ride the Fire, and then need to charge full-steam back into Striking Distance.

What lines from the I-Team series are you looking most forward to hearing Kaleo bring to life?
Thursday, August 30, 2012

Excerpt from STRIKING DISTANCE (I-Team 6)



A quick note just to say hello. I am too busy writing to update my blog, keep up with email or much of anything else.  Sorry to abandon you! But to help tide you over, I thought I’d share the first official excerpt from Striking Distance (I-Team Book 6), which tells the story of Laura Nilsson and active-duty Navy SEAL Javier “Cobra” Corbray. 

I have started and restarted this book several times, but I’ve found the story and am moving forward. I’m going to be staying offline as much as possible to get this story written and polished as quickly as I can. 

Wish me luck! 


PROLOGUE



She knelt on the carpet facing Mecca, going through the motions of the first Rak'ah, doing her best to say each word of the Sura Al-Fatiha correctly so that no one would find fault with her.

Inshallah. God willing.

She kept her voice quiet, barely a whisper.  This morning while praying Fajr, she had failed to do so, and Zainab had claimed that Abu Nayef’s guests, who were not family, not mahram, had heard her.  Zainab had struck her, making her lip bleed.
But then Zainab always struck her.

“You will never learn, Hanan!” Zainab had shouted in her face.  “You are as stupid as you are ugly!”

“I am sorry, Umm Faisal.”  She never dared to call Zainab or any of the other women by their given names, for they would deem it disrespectful and beat her.  “You must help me to do better, sister.”

She’d called Abu Nayef’s wives her sisters, but none of them had ever treated her with any kindness.  She was the least of all the women here, and that is why she prayed at the back of the room, behind all of the other women and girls.  And yet still Zainab seemed to see every mistake she made.

The women bowed, and she bowed with them, standing up straight once more before prostrating herself, her nose and forehead touching the carpet, her belly pressed against her thighs as was proper for a woman, the odors of sweat and dust rank in her nostrils.  She rose, caught a glimpse of the mirror across the room, but did not see her own reflection.  She prostrated herself again, the prayers and motions flowing together in a rhythm that was familiar, even comforting, as they finished the first Rak'ah and moved without pause into the second.

But as they began the third Rak'ah and prayed at last in silence, her heart began to pound, for it was time for her nightly rebellion.  She clenched her hands to hide their trembling, afraid that Zainab, Nibaal, or one of the other women would notice her nervousness and somehow realize what she was doing.  If they knew what she was thinking, they would surely denounce her to Abu Nayef.

Then he would do what he’d always promised to do and cut off her head.

Pulse racing, she reached secretly for her Swedish and English, the words burning in her mind like a fever.

Mitt namn är …

My name is…

My name is Laura Nilsson.
# # #
February 17, 2011
Near Parachinar, Pakistan
15 clicks west of the Afghan border
22,000 feet altitude

SOCS Javier “Cobra” Corbray sat in the dimly lit belly of the modified C-130J “Super” Hercules, waiting with the other operators of Delta Platoon for the signal to start their oxygen.  Banter had given way to silence as the men turned their minds to the night’s mission.  They’d trained for months for this one, the pre-deployment workup one of the most grueling Javier could remember in his twelve years as a SEAL.  Endless fast-roping drills.  Rock climbing and uphill PT runs in full night combat gear.  Close-quarters combat practice.

The stakes were high tonight—for both the U.S. and for Javier personally.

Then again, the stakes had been high on every deployment since 9/11.

Abu Nayef Al-Nassar, a Saudi national, had been at the top of Uncle Sam’s list of most-wanted assholes for five long years.  The leader of an al-Qaeda splinter group operating out of northwestern Pakistan, he had masterminded simultaneous bombings in Hamburg, Paris, and Amsterdam that had killed hundreds, not to mention orchestrating several attacks against U.S. citizens in the Middle East and Shia Muslim villages around Pakistan.  Al-Nassar was also the sugar daddy for a network of AQ groups, turning heroin profits into cash for weapons, travel, forged documents.  If Delta Platoon managed to bring him in alive, along with his computers and cell phones, they would strike a major blow against AQ—and give the alphabet soup intel agencies a crack at uncovering his operation both abroad and in the homeland.

That was Javier’s duty and goal as a SEAL.

His goal as a man was much simpler: vengeance.

“Hey, senior chief!” Eric Krasinski had been with the Teams for about a year now.  Nicknamed Crazy K for his love of rough water, there was no one more at home in pounding surf than Krasinski.  “This asshole—he’s the one who kidnapped and killed the Baghdad Babe, isn’t he?”

The Baghdad Babe.

U.S. troops had given her that nickname back in 2007 during The Surge when they’d crowded around mess hall televisions to watch her nightly live broadcasts from Baghdad.  Tall and slender with white blonde hair and big, ice-blue eyes, she’d fueled the fantasies of soldiers and seamen alike, though not Javier’s.  Oh, she’d been one sexy mami, but her Nordic good looks and reserve had been a bit too cold for a man with a puertorriqueña mother and a black-Cherokee father.  He’d take a woman with curves and the heat of the island in her blood over a Valkyrie like Laura Nilsson any day.

Or so he’d thought until the night he met her.

He’d been in Dubai City on his way home after a long deployment in the sandbox.  She’d walked into a hotel bar where he was having dinner and a beer and had sat at a table nearby.  He’d recognized her instantly.  When two big Russian men had wandered over and started hassling her, he had intervened, pissing her off.

Do you really think I needed to be rescued?

No, of course not.  I’m sure you were about to unleash some hardcore karate moves on those two, but my fragile male ego wouldn’t have been able to handle watching a woman kick ass better than I can.

What had followed was a weekend of the most mind-blowing sex Javier had ever experienced.  She might have seemed cool and reserved on the outside, but beneath her skin Laura Nilsson had been pure fire, igniting Javier’s blood, sending him into a kind of sexual meltdown, the two of them risking not only their careers but also flogging and prison time.  Unmarried sex was illegal in Dubai, even for foreigners.

Oh, Javier, what have you done to me?  I never hook up with men I meet in bars.

Neither do I.

If he closed his eyes, he could still taste her, still feel the softness of her pale skin, still hear the sound of her cries as she came, still see the pleasure on her sweet face.

Two month’s later, she’d been gone.

Her last broadcast had come from a women’s safehouse in Islamabad where she’d been reporting on the epidemic of fatal burnings in Pakistan—hundreds of young women burned alive every year by husbands and in-laws, their excruciating deaths blamed on “stove accidents” and never investigated.  One moment she’d been interviewing a young burn victim, and the next the room around her had exploded with AK fire.  Her security detail, her camera crew, and the safehouse director had all been killed.  She’d been dragged fighting and screaming from the building while the abandoned camera continued to film from its tripod.

That had been the summer of 2009.

Javier had been at home in Coronado Beach when it happened.  He’d watched the news footage, finding himself on his feet, helpless and thousands of miles away.  Her screams had ripped him apart.  They still haunted him.  When Al-Nassar’s group had claimed responsibility for the attack weeks later and bragged that they’d executed her, there hadn’t been a U.S. serviceman anywhere in the world who hadn’t wanted to send Al-Nassar straight to hell—and that included Javier.

Now Delta Platoon was going to hit that target.

Javier had pushed hard to get his guns into this fight, had done everything he could to make sure Delta Platoon got tasked with this job.  To this day, no one knew about his weekend with Laura—he refused to call it a fling—and no one could ever know, or they would question his ability to handle this operation.  Did he want to bring Al-Nassar down?  Hell, yeah, he did.  For his country and for Laura.  And that made him the right man for the job as far as he was concerned.

Canto hijo e la gran puta.

Dirty son of a whore.

“Yeah, he killed her.”  Javier met Krasinski’s gaze.  “But she had a name, and it wasn’t Baghdad Babe.  It was Laura Nilsson.  Show her some respect, man.”

She’d been one hell of a journalist, an amazing lover, a beautiful woman.

She deserved that much.

Krasinski’s expression was hidden by shadows and by the black and green face camouflage, but regret flashed in his eyes.  “You got it, senior chief.”

A voice came over the speaker.  “We’re forty-five minutes out.  I say again, forty-five minutes out.”

“Masks on!” Boss, known to the rest of the world as Lt. Matthew O’Neill, shouted out the order, making the motion with his hand.

JG—Lt. Junior Grade Ben Alexander—repeated it, as did Javier, before fastening his O2 mask in place.
The men breathed normally, inhaling 100 percent oxygen to eliminate the nitrogen from their bloodstreams so that no one would get the bends and die from the dramatic increase in atmospheric pressure on the way down. This was a HAHO jump — high altitude, high opening.  The mountains were too full of insurgents for them to risk the noise of parachutes opening close to the ground.

As the minutes ticked by, Javier ran through the details of the mission in his mind. Al-Nassar knew how to hole up—that much was for damned sure.  His lair was built on a plateau a with a fifty foot cliff at its back, elevation giving him a clear one-eighty view of the landscape below.  Caves at the base of the cliff provided Al-Nassar a handy place to stash weapons, ammo, explosives, heroin—and men.  They also gave him a place to hide should he see anyone headed his way.

That’s why Delta Platoon wasn’t going to drive up and ring the doorbell.

They were being dropped over a mountain valley west of Parachinar about 3.5 clicks from Al-Nassar’s hideout.  They would hike their way from the DZ to the cliffs.  There, the Boss’s squad would divide into two elements.  He, Howe, Force, and Murphy, the platoon sniper, would remain atop the cliffs with suppressed Mk12s, an FN M249 Para for suppressive fire, and a M72A2 LAW grenade launcher to watch the men’s six, while the rest of the platoon would fast-rope down to the compound.  JG would take the caves with LeBlanc, Johnson and Grimshaw, setting charges to demolish any ordnance they found, while Javier infiltrated the compound with his squad—Krasinksi, Ross, Zimmerman, Salisbury, Wilson, Reeves, Biermann.  When Al-Nassar was in custody and the compound was secure, three modified CH-47D Chinook helos would swoop in for extract, one grabbing the Boss and his element off the top of the cliff, the other two landing just outside the compound.  As they lifted off, JG would blow the caves to hell.

Of course they weren’t being sent up against a high-value target like this without backup firepower and air support.  They’d be in touch with their tactical operations center, or TOC, throughout the night.  A drone with thermal/infrared capability would patrol the sky above the job site, giving them a bird’s eye view of the action.  If things got messy, two Marines special operations teams—MSOTs—would arrive in Blackhawks to make them messier.

Provided nothing went wrong, it would be a piece of cake.

Forty minutes later, the light turned red.

Two minutes to drop.

The men switched from the pre-breathers to their bottled O2, careful not to inhale room air in the transition.  Then both squads got to their feet, boots thudding dully against the steel plating, each of them carrying more than a hundred pounds of gear on his back.  With an efficiency born of constant training, each checked his gear and that of the man in front of him.  They’d already passed a jumpmaster inspection, but in their line of work there was no such thing as being too prepared, too careful.

The ramp and door began to open, icy, thin air rushing in.  The two squads moved toward the yawning exit, waiting for the signal to jump.  Javier touched a gloved hand to the chest pocket that held the photograph of his abuelita, Mamá Andreína, that he always carried with him.  She was his good luck charm.  She kept a candle lit for him, prayed novenas to Santa Clara for him every night.

The light flashed green.

The men moved together, tumbling almost as one into the slipstream, Javier leading his squad out of the Hercules and into the black night.

# # #

She lay in the dark in the corner of the small back room that was hers, her bed an old blanket, her head pillowed on her neatly folded burka.  Her mind ached for sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come, chased off by the knot of dread in her stomach.  It was the same dread she felt every night until the household fell silent and she was certain everyone was in bed asleep.

In the next room, Safiya’s new baby girl cried.

She would have offered to help.  She wanted to help.  Safiya was only twenty-four and already had six other children.  But Safiya wouldn’t let her near the baby.  No one would.  They all believed her unfit.

A creaking door.  A man’s deep voice.  Footsteps.

She held her breath, listening until the footsteps faded away.

Would he come tonight?

She’d seen him take Nibaal to his room.  Surely, Nibaal would be enough for him and he would leave her alone.

Inshallah.

She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping with everything inside her that he would stay away.  She hated him.  She hated the feel of his old man’s hands on her.  She hated the sour odor of his skin, his breath, the coarseness of his beard.  He was always so rough with her, even when she lay still and didn’t fight.

Stay away.  Stay away.  Stay away.

She drifted off, only to jerk awake at the sound of a man’s voice.

His door opened, closed, soft footfalls sounding in the hallway as Nibaal made her way back to the room she shared with the other wives.

She exhaled, certain she’d been spared for the night, her body relaxing, sleep stealing over her at last.

Screams.

She sat bolt upright on a rush of adrenaline and grabbed her burka, drawing it overher head just as the door to her room crashed open.

A dark shape filled the doorway.

A man with a weapon.

He aimed it at her, a red dot dancing over her chest.

Too terrified even to scream, she shrank back against the wall, her heart hammering, her mouth dry, fear making it impossible for her to think.

A light blinded her.

“Come with me!” he shouted at her in heavily accented Arabic, aiming his weapon at the corners as if he expected someone to be hiding in the room.

She wanted to do as he’d asked.  She didn’t want to be shot and killed.  But fear kept her grounded to the spot, her breath coming in terrified whimpers.

“Clear!  All clear!  Got one more woman here, senior chief,” he said, crossing the room in two big strides.  “Bring her to the courtyard.  Roger that.”

The sound of his American English made her breath catch.

“Come.”  The man spoke more softly this time, motioning for her to get to her feet and come with him.
As if in a dream, she rose, her heart beating erratically in her chest, his uniform and his American accent awakening something nameless and terrifying inside her.

He nudged her ahead of him, his weapon still raised. “Go!”

Her legs seemed to be made of water as she walked down the stairs, across the main room and out into the frigid night, where the other women were huddled together in their burkas with their children, all of them crying, some praying aloud.

“Hanan!”  One of them reached for her, called to her in Arabic.  Zainab.  “Hanan, sister, come here to us!”

She felt a rush of warmth to hear Zainab call her “sister,” something comforting in Zainab’s concern for her—and something frightening as well.  The older woman’s fingers dug into her arms as she drew her into the cluster of women, pushing her to the center, where other hands reached out, grabbed her, held her.

And then she saw.

There, in the center of the courtyard, lay Abu Nayef.

He lay face down on the dirt all but naked, his wrists bound together behind his back, one of the uniformed men standing guard over him.  And not far from him…

The dead man lay on his side, his eyes open, part of his head missing, a spray of blood and brains on the wall behind him.

Her stomach seemed to fall to the ground, memories of another day, of blood and dead men sliding into her mind.  She looked away and swallowed hard, fighting the urge to vomit.

“They are going to kills us all!” Nibaal sobbed.

No, they aren’t. 

She couldn’t say how she knew this, but she did.

Armed men in heavy uniforms seemed to be everywhere—on the rooftop, in the courtyard, inside the house.  Their faces were covered in black paint, making them look like shadows in the darkness.  They seemed to be searching for something.

“Where are your tears, Hanan?”  Zainab pinched her.  “Do you see what has become of our husband?  Do you see what these Americans have done to him?”

Americans.

The nameless terror inside her grew stronger.

But she couldn’t bring herself to weep, not for Abu Nayef.  Instead, she listened to every word the men in uniform said to one another.

“Hey, JG, we’ve got a dozen women and kids here.  Are they going to be safe when you blow those caves?” asked the tall one standing over Abu Nayef, speaking into a slender mic near his painted lips.  “Roger, that.”

“Hey, senior chief, we got three laptops, four cell phones, a handful of flash drives, and a box full of CDs, along with some files.”

“Bag ’em,” the tall one said.  “Boss, we’re good to begin our exfil.  Yo, boys, get ready to roll!”

Americans.

Chills shivered up her spine.

“What is that?  Do you hear that?” Zainab looked up.

It was the thrum and whir of distant helicopters.

She looked up through her burka at the starless sky, saw nothing, the night having taken on an air of unreality.

One of the women—Safiya—started to sob, crying baby clutched to her chest.  “They’re taking Habibi away from us!  The Americans are taking Habibi away!  What will become of us?”

Out of the dark sky appeared three helicopters, black against the black night, each with one rotor in back, another in front.  One lowered itself to perch against the cliffs above, men in black uniforms rising like ghosts from the ground and climbing aboard, weapons in their hands, while two more landed outside the walls, their giant rotors blowing dust everywhere.

The house had been surrounded, and they hadn’t even known it.

One of the men began shouting to the women in bad Arabic, telling them to take shelter inside the house for their own protection, warning them that the caves in the cliffs had been set with explosives and were going to blow up.

She found herself caught up in a panicked tide of blue and black as the burka-clad women pushed her toward the house, Zainab’s fingers holding fast to her arm, digging deep into her flesh.  She looked over her shoulder to see the tall one overseeing three of his men, who lifted Abu Nayef by his elbows and dragged him toward the waiting helicopter and up its rear ramp.

They were leaving.

The Americans were leaving.

There was a buzzing in her brain, her pulse pounding so hard it all but drowned out the sound of the helicopters, that nameless fear gathering momentum, rushing against her like a wave, the terror in her mind coalescing into a single, heart-stopping realization.

Ana amrekiah.

I’m an American, too.

Ana amrekiah.”  She didn’t realize she’d stopped walking or spoken aloud until Zainab jerked her arm.
“Shut your mouth, or I will cut out your tongue!”

Strong hands shoved her toward the house, making her stumble.  She looked back, saw the tall man watching them, and she realized he was waiting to board the helicopter until they were all safely back inside.  Then he, too, would disappear up that ramp.

As the women reached the door, he took two steps back, then turned his back, speaking words she couldn’t hear into his microphone.

The Americans were leaving—without her.

Dizzy with terror, she jerked away from the other women.  “Wait! I’m an American, too!”

But her words were blown away by the roar of the helicopter’s rotors.

# # #

Wait! I’m an American, too!  

Javier just managed to catch the words over the drone of the helos, but it took them a moment to register.  Had that come from beneath one of the burkas?

“Senior chief, watch out!  You got one running up behind you!”  Inside the chopper, Ross aimed his weapon.
Javier pivoted, weapon ready, and saw the tallest of the women running toward him, the red dot from Ross’s laser sight dancing on her covered forehead.

“Hold your fire!”  He aimed his M4 at her. “Stop!  Get down!”

But she had already fallen to her knees, turquoise blue cloth billowing around her, her breath coming in terrified sobs.  She cried out again, her accent American.  “H-help me!  I’m… I’m an American, too!”

He started toward her, just as one of the other women broke out of the group, this one holding a knife in her hand.  She shouted something in Arabic and ran not toward Javier, but toward the woman on her knees, her intent clear.

Without hesitation, Javier raised his M4 and dropped her with a double-tap, her knife falling to the dirt.
JG’s voice sounded in his ear.  “Senior chief, what the hell’s going on?”

“I think we’ve got a hostage.”  He strode quickly to the woman on her knees, grabbed a fistful of blue burka, and ripped it aside.

Staring up at him was ...

Laura!

For a moment all he could do was stare, his gaze taking in the tears and bruises on her cheeks, her swollen lip and thin face, her threadbare nightgown, the shock and terror in her eyes.  And then his training kicked in.

“This is now an AMCIT recovery.  I say again: This is now an AMCIT recovery.  Do you copy?”

“We hear you lima charlie, senior chief,” the Boss answered from the third helo several hundred feet in the air above them.  “Get her, and let’s go.  We’ve got enemy QRF pushing our position from the east.  We need to get airborne now!”

The second Chinook was already nosing its way downwind.  Slow and cumbersome at lift-off, the helos would all make great targets for the Soviet-era RPGs that AQ combatants loved to fire at them.  If the pilots couldn’t get them in the air and up to speed before the enemy got within firing range…

“Roger that.”  Knowing that Ross was covering for him, Javier clipped his M4 into his tactical sling, lifted Laura into his arms, and turned toward the last helo, covering the ground in long, fast strides.  Without a glance back, he ran up the ramp, and settled Laura on the bench.  “All boots onboard!”

“Ramp!” The shout was repeated as the cargo ramp was raised.

The helo rotors accelerated, seconds ticking by like hours as the big bird slowly left the ground, heading into the wind as the pilot fought for translational lift.  Javier listened as the pilot relayed their altitude, enemy QRF drawing closer every second.

A shell exploded not far from the helo, making Laura gasp.  Javier put a gloved hand on her shoulder, hoping to reassure her.

Too close.

The seconds ticked by, punctuated by two more explosions, each of them more distant than the last as the helo gained speed.  Then came the deep rumble as JG detonated the explosives in the caves.

They’d made it.  They were away.

“We did it, senior chief!”

“We’re not done with the mission till we get back to home plate, Krasinski.”  Heart beating hard, Javier leaned back against the webbing that lined the helo, grabbed it for balance, catching his breath, ratcheting down on the adrenaline, taking stock of his men, of the situation.  Reeves had caught a round in the shoulder, but it hadn’t penetrated deeply.  Wilson, the platoon medic, had already treated it.  Reeves would need a few stitches, but he’d be fine.  Apart from a few bruises and scrapes, no one else was wounded.  Al-Nassar was a battered but alive, his laptops, cellphones, disks and drives bagged and tagged.

Delta Platoon had done what they’d been tasked to do on this mission—and they’d come away with something extra.

He let his gaze drop to Laura, felt something twist in his chest.  Clearly in shock, she sat shivering on the bench in a white cotton nightgown that left little to the imagination, her face downcast, her long hair tangled.  She was rail thin and pale, as if she’d recently been ill or hadn’t eaten a good meal in months.  There were fresh bruises on her face and her arms, proof that the other women had tried to restrain her.
All this time—eighteen goddamned months—she’d been here alive.

Son of a bitch!

Al-Nassar’s group had claimed they’d executed her.  They’d lied.  Why?

He glanced at Al-Nassar, whose gaze was fixed on her, hatred mingling with something predatory in his eyes.

Lust.

The asshole had wanted her, had used her, had hurt her.

¡Mamabicho!

Cocksucker.

Like some wild thing, Laura looked around at the helo full of men, her vulnerability tearing at Javier.  He drew a blanket out of the webbing and wrapped it around her shoulders.

She hugged the blanket tightly around herself and looked up at him as if she wasn’t quite certain he was real.  “Th-thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”  He’d never told her he was a SEAL, and he was certain she didn’t recognize him beneath the uniform and camo face paint.

One by one, Javier’s men acknowledged her with polite nods.

“Ma’am.”

“We’re happy to have you on board, ma’am.”

“Welcome back, ma’am.”

Then Al-Nassar began to speak, muttering something to her.

Her pale face went a shade whiter, her eyes now wide.

And something inside Javier snapped.

He smashed his fist into the bastard’s face—once, twice—the blow and the pain in his knuckles doing nothing to satisfy the burning anger inside him.  Realizing what he’d done, he stepped back, fists clenched as he fought to rein himself in.  “Wilson, gag and blindfold this motherfucker before I kill him.”

“You got it, senior chief.”  Wilson grabbed a wad of gauze from his pack, rammed it into Al-Nassar’s mouth, tying it in place with more gauze.
Al-Nassar began to struggle, trying to pull his head away, blood trickling from his nose and a cut on his cheek.
Zimmerman stood, restraining him none too gently while Wilson tied a tourniquet over the bastard’s eyes. “You need to shut the fuck up and leave her alone, asshole.  Got that?  Yeah, I know you understood me.  Went to Oxford, didn’t you?  Paid the Brits back for your first-class education by trying to blow them up.”
Shaking with unspent anger, Javier looked down at Laura again.  She probably thought they’d come to rescue her when the truth was they hadn’t even known she was there.  If she hadn’t shouted out for him, if she hadn’t run…

He didn’t want to think about that.

What counted was that she had run.  She’d found the strength and the guts to break free, to shout out, to let them know she was there.

And now they were taking her home.

(c) Copyright 2012 Pamela Clare
All rights reserved


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