Monday, June 25, 2012

Excerpt of my new e-book, Flash Heat


Here's an excerpt of my new e-book, FLASH HEAT, while my website is in the Apple ICU. Enjoy! (Buy links are at the bottom -- it's $2.99 on Amazon and BN.com. Other formats will come later.) And, hey, if you love romance novels -- and why wouldn't you? -- you might be interested in my USA Today blog dedicated to all things romance novels, Happy Ever After.

CHAPTER 1

Some days started out bad and got worse.

Bailey Chase ground the Honda Civic’s gears in her haste to shift into third. Not only was she late, but she wasn’t entirely sure where she was going. She snagged the photo assignment in the passenger seat and tried again to decipher the scrawled address. No joy. Reporters had such crappy handwriting.

Hoping to spot Cole, she scanned the sidewalks along the practically deserted street. The lack of activity was usual for so early in the morning in downtown Kendall Falls, Florida, especially in this seen-better-days area. In an hour, workers would be striding toward their offices, not noticing the dingy pink stucco or the blue-and-white-striped awnings that had gotten ragged at the edges.

Now, though, downtown was quiet and still, save for a few stray cars. A motorcycle stayed stubbornly behind her, despite her crawling speed. Probably a tourist who also had no idea where he was going. Kendall Falls was home to its fair share.

The sun warmed the cool air, the weather typical of southwest Florida in March: not a cloud in the sky, the temperature headed for a comfy seventy-five degrees. A perfect day to hang out at the beach, which was where she had expected to be this morning.

Too bad her buzz from her nephew’s sixth birthday party last night had already fizzled. She still smiled, though, thinking of his excitement as he’d unwrapped the old Nikon. She’d given him her first “real” camera, and she’d loved how into it he was as she’d showed him the basics of apertures and f-stops and how to focus. He’d caught on even faster than she’d expected.

Spotting Cole Goodman pacing on the sidewalk next to his gun-metal gray SUV, she swerved to park along a section of crumbling curb. She could see that the next street had been blocked off because of the massive construction project.

He met her at her door as she swung it open and stepped out.

“You’re late.” And then his gaze swept over her khaki shorts, white T-shirt and hiking shoes. “You do know we’re meeting Senator Waters, don’t you?”

Bailey walked to the trunk, popping it open with the button on her key. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t have time to change. I inherited this assignment five minutes ago.”

She’d arrived at the newspaper expecting to be shooting spring breakers at the beach, not snapping pictures of a state politician at the site of his latest pet project. While she admired the senator’s goal of turning one of downtown’s oldest industrial buildings into lofts for low-income housing, she would have preferred the beach.

Lifting her camera bag out of the trunk and onto her shoulder, she met Cole’s deep blue—annoyed—eyes. He wore an impeccable black suit and royal blue silk tie, making her feel even more underdressed. And did he have to look so dang hot? The man filled out a suit like no man she’d ever met. All broad shoulders, thick, muscled arms and lean waist. He looked like he’d wandered off a page of Men’s Health or GQ.

He seemed about to say something, then clenched his chiseled jaw. “Where’s Carrie? Last I heard she was scheduled for this gig.”

What am I? Chopped liver? But instead of sniping at him, she said, “Carrie’s having an appendectomy.”

His dark brow furrowed with what might have been concern before he gestured at her camera bag. “Do you need help with that?”

“I’ve got it, thanks.” She clasped the wide, leather strap with both hands, not knowing whether to feel flattered or insulted. None of the other reporters offered to help with her equipment. Was Cole being a gentleman or did he think she was too weak to handle it herself? Yeah, it weighed some forty pounds, but she’d been lugging it around for years.

He indicated the parking meter at the front of her car. “Don’t forget to feed that. You’ll get a ticket.” Digging into the pocket of his slacks, he flipped a quarter to her. “That’s all I’ve got.”

He turned on his heel and started walking as Bailey lowered her bag to the pavement and knelt to dig coins out of a side pocket. When she glanced up, change in hand, he was already striding into the next block, his shadow disappearing under the shade of navy blue awnings on a white building.

“Thanks for waiting,” she muttered.

If it had been anyone but Cole Goodman, she would have called after him to put on the brakes. But doing so would only irk him further. He had a Florida-sized chip on his shoulder when it came to her, and she knew exactly why. Her ex and Cole were friends, and her breakup with Daniel hadn’t been pretty. Cole had to have heard lots of stories. None of them good.

After plugging coins into the meter, she hefted her bag up and looped the strap over her head so that it securely crisscrossed her chest. As she hurried to try to catch up with Cole, she hoped for a short shoot so she could get to her next assignment. She couldn’t wait to mingle with spring breakers giddy with youth, sun and freedom. Not one of them would sport a stick up their butt the size of the one occupying Cole Goodman’s.

“Would you come on?” he called over his shoulder.

“I’m coming,” she replied, irritated at how breathless she sounded. She was in excellent shape. She played tennis every other day, and it wasn’t just hitting the ball around. It was cutthroat, I’m-serious-about-this-crap tennis. On days when she didn’t play, she rode her bike at least twenty miles, up hills and everything. Her muscles were toned, her body trim. But trailing a good twenty feet behind Cole—who moved fast and silently—made her feel out of shape and clumsy.

Of course, it did give her the opportunity to admire one of his better features. The man might be an ass, but he also had a damn fine one. Add to that long legs, a flat stomach—she was sure that a work of sculpted art lurked beneath the crisp shirts he usually wore—and he was indeed a very well-constructed man.

Dark good looks went with the fantastic body. His short, almost black hair always looked as if he’d just gotten out of bed, but rather than looking messy, it was sexy as all hell. Long thick lashes framed blue eyes the color of the water in the Caribbean—and showed just as many shadows.

He rounded the street corner ahead of her, bypassing the barricades blocking vehicle access to the closed street, and Bailey kicked her pace up to a jog. She imagined him standing next to the senator, both already in hard hats and each tapping a foot while they waited. She was just a few steps from the intersection, glancing into the front window of an indie bookstore she’d always meant to visit, when the strap of her camera bag caught on something.

Off-balanced, Bailey spun, more startled than afraid. But then she saw the man in motorcycle leathers and shiny black helmet. He seized the strap of her bag and dragged her back several feet into an alley that separated the bookstore from a hair salon.

“Hey!” she yelled, struggling against his strength.

He slammed her hard against the peach stucco, and a gloved hand that smelled of cigarettes cut off her next scream.

She could do no more than slap at his jacket and helmet until he trapped her between his body and the unyielding wall and held her immobile. Terror nearly choked her. Oh God oh God oh God …

He tugged at the camera bag, but the way she’d put it over her head made it impossible for him to simply tear it away from her and run.

She clasped the strap to her, instinctively protecting the expensive equipment, but then she heard a snick and saw morning sunlight reflect off a blade. White noise began to roar in her head.

He’s going to kill me.

She tried to fight, to scream, but he held her so tightly she couldn’t budge. And then he began to saw at the leather strap of her bag, his movements awkward as he struggled to hold her still at the same time and see what he was doing despite the helmet.

The buzzing in her head waned. He wasn’t killing her. He wanted her camera equipment. Fine with her. Hell, she wouldn’t even lose any work because the camera’s memory card was empty. But his hand clamped over her mouth prevented her from telling him he could take it all.

The strap, nearly separated, slipped from the blade, and her attacker swore in a guttural voice. He stabbed forward with the knife, the gesture laced with frustration, and missed the strap.

Bailey sucked in a strangled gasp, stunned by the shaft of pain. He jolted back and stilled. She saw her face reflected in the dark visor of his helmet, saw the shock in her expression. Then he gave one last swipe at the strap, and it snapped. He turned and ran, her bag clutched to his chest.

Suddenly free of the weight of both the man and the heavy equipment, Bailey staggered. She pressed a hand to her side. Blood, warm and sticky, oozed between her fingers. Dizzy already, she knew she needed help, fast, but her iPhone was in the bag. She looked around the alley at the faded peach walls on all three sides of her, felt the rough stucco at her back. No one could see her here. She had to move, get into the street, call for help.

Unfortunately, her legs and lungs seemed frozen, pain pulsing in her side. Glancing down, she forced herself to look, to assess. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe the dizziness would pass in a second, once she confirmed that it was nothing more than a surface cut. Please, God.

Drawing her hand away, she saw the bloody edges of fabric where he’d cut her. Her first thought was that the son of a bitch had ruined one of her favorite shirts.

She couldn’t see the wound for all the blood. And now her head was spinning again. Black splotches splattered her vision, much like the splatters of blood on the pavement at her feet. She told herself she felt lightheaded because she was one of those wussy people who passed out at the sight of blood. The faintness would pass. Any second now.

Her knees buckled, and she slid down the wall.

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