Sunday, July 24, 2011

National Week of the Cowboy

Free western novel offered.

I've just put my previously out of print western novel, THE WINNING HAND, up for free via the Smashwords website. You can get Kindle editions there, too. This offer is good through July 31. Enjoy. If you like it, Amber Quill has a bunch of my novels, westerns and time travel, available for Kindle, Nook and just about every other e-reading device known to man.
C.K.Crigger
http://www.Smashwords.com/books/view/56460

Monday, May 10, 2010

Haunted by JADE DREAMS


Some authors have the ability to work on multiple writing projects at one time, but not me. I don’t have that skill. Once I start a story, I concentrate on it from beginning to end. That’s not counting pictures or stray ideas for new stories that come my way. I’ll file those in my Ideas notebook and continue on.

As Barbara Clark, I had written three contemporary romances and five books in my paranormal romance series, Sons of Earth and Wind. Jade Dreams, Book VI in the series, broke the pattern.

I had written the first few chapters, then, “Life,” interfered requiring all my attention. When things were resolved, I’d lost the flow of the story and enthusiasm about telling it.

So, I put Jade Dreams aside and began writing science fiction and fantasy paranormal erotic romance under a new pseudonym, April Reid. However, while I was researching and writing one novel, a short story, and five novellas as April, I kept coming across pictures and notes reminding me about Jade Starr and Ash Hunter. As I drove along the freeways here in Southern California, or along highway 101 paralleling the Pacific Ocean and into the coastal range, I recalled scenes from Jade Dreams I’d already written or planned to write.

During that time, I received a few emails from readers asking if Jade’s story was finished.

Time passed. Then in 2009, a reviewer emailed me to ask about the book and I realized it was time to finish telling the story.

To help me get back in the flow of the story, I compiled the completed chapters into one file and put it on my Kindle ebook reader to experience the story as someone reading it instead of the one plotting and writing it. The story came alive for me. I was ready to tell Jade and Hunter’s story with more understanding and depth than I’d had when I’d written the opening lines.

Here’s the description:

Sons of Earth and Wind, BookVI; Jade Dreams

By Barbara Clark

ISBN: 978-1-60272-637-6 (Electronic)

ISBN: 978-1-60272-812-7 (Print)

Jewelry designer, Jade Starr’s paranormal gift to set emotions in metals and gems has made her the target of a powerful and ruthless enemy bent on revenge. Two years earlier, that same enemy had sent his men to ambush her and her bodyguard, Blake. Unknown to Jade, Blake was really Ash Hunter working undercover.

Hunter, whose appearance has been changed by life-saving surgery, can’t remember the months leading up to the attack, including his deep attraction to Jade. Now he’s assigned, once more as her bodyguard. Lately, he’s disturbed by dreams about a woman, resembling Jade, who once betrayed him.

Jade, who thinks Blake died, is startled by Hunter’s eerie resemblance to Blake. She learns the truth but is forced to keep the knowledge a secret while her love for him flares higher.

As danger tightens around them, Hunter fights his attraction to this woman he believes had tried to kill him. He’d take a bullet for Jade, but he doesn’t trust her.

~~~

Here’s what The reviewer for Romantic Times Book Reviews said:

4 Stars, HOT

If novels with psychic characters and plenty of action and romance are your thing, then this one, Sons of Earth and Wind, Book VI, is for you. Clark wows the reader with action that just won’t stop, but tempers it with plenty of red hot romance set in a world of gems and jewels.

SUMMARY: Jade Starr makes wonderful jewelry and carvings from beautiful jewels she infuses with well-being and healthy thoughts, thanks to her psychic ability. Ready to rejoin the real world after losing the love of her life two years ago during a robbery, Jade learns she is the likely target for the Golden Dragon cartel, so she reluctantly agrees to a bodyguard.

Enter Ash Hunter, a strong, handsome man who bears an unsettling resemblance to her deceased fiancé, Blake. It doesn’t take Jade long to realize that Blake and Ash are the same person and that Ash doesn’t remember Jade or their time together. Ash, for his part, doesn’t believe in psychics, no matter how beautiful. While waiting for the right time to convince Ash of their past, the two grow closer. The question is, can their love survive?

Reviewer: Cindy Himler www.rtbookreviews.com

For more information about Jade Dreams and my other books writing as Barbara Clark, please visit my website.

Best Wishes,

Barbara

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Shannon Leigh's Newsletter

It's been quite a while since I've put out a newsletter, but I'm happy to say that I just finished one for April (yes, I realize it's half over!). I try to include things like my latest releases, reviews, excerpts, as well as fun stuff like a joke of the day, and Rune readings. I encourage readers to email me, make comments on my writing, requests, etc.

I also give members special sneak-peaks at what I'm working on, as well as special contests for items such as coffee-mugs, handmade jewelry, autographed book covers, etc. I generally write paranormal romance/erotica, but I've dabbled in contemporary and have recently ventured into the science-fiction realm.

I won't bog down your inbox with numerous emails; I generally keep it to 1 or 2 a month unless something spectacular happens that I just can't wait to share. If your a lover of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, cowboys, guardians, and just about any other far-fetched character that I can come up with, then I invite you to join my newsletter and keep abreast of Shannon Leigh's paranormal world.

Sincerely,

Shannon Leigh

join my Newsletter

EROTIKOS *a not-so-ordinary board game where sexual fantasy becomes reality.*

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ravenstar Nominated!


I found out last nigth that Ravenstar's Bride has finaled in the Best Overall Science Fiction Romance Category in the Fantasm Awards!
The voting goes on until May, so if anyone is so inclined to check out the long list of categories and finalists [you have to scroll down to the end for my category, btw]
There are some brilliant authors on the list and some kick a$$ titles so be sure to go and vote for your favorites!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

El Diablo Now At Amazon!


EL DIABLO
by Catherine Snodgrass
Romantic Suspense
February 2007
Amber Quill Press http://www.amberquill.com/ElDiablo.html
ISBN-13: 978-1-59279-665-6 (Electronic)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59279-692-2 (Paperback)

The lust of artist Megan O’Connor’s life, Jeff Duncan, has returned. This time, however, nothing and no one will get in the way of her having him. Just when Jeff thinks he's free of the DEA, his boss uses the lure of his old love, Megan, to entice him to do one more job. Old passions simmer between Megan and Jeff, a reunion more than one person opposes. When their investigation leads them right back to his grandfather's ranch and the nearby El Diablo gold mine, Jeff and Megan soon discover just how tangled their lives are with that of the man they are watching. It’s a family secret for which someone is willing to kill in order to keep hidden.

Excerpt

Jeff Duncan trotted his black gelding through the sprawling valley between his grandfather’s ranch and the El Diablo mine. There weren’t too many things that could top a horseback ride on a cool desert morning. And certainly nothing much that could rival the glory of a desert sunrise after a day of gentle winter rain. Too bad he was about to ruin it all in a confrontation with his boss.

He nudged Thor to a canter, anxious to top the saddleback dip between the low mountain ridges. A well-worn path led the way. He wasn’t the first Duncan drawn here, definitely not the first human. The place was rich with history.

Jeff topped the small ridge and eased Thor to a halt scant seconds before the sun peeked above the horizon. The edges of low clouds in the distance shimmered with molten gold. Midnight blues lightened, skipping all the spectrums of the prism to leap right to pink and gold, as if the sun couldn’t wait to start the day. Then the fiery ball inched higher, shooing what remained of the night until all that was left was a beautiful blue sky.

He shifted his gaze to the shimmering lake bed below. With the recent rain, water skimmed the surface of the formerly dry lake. A hard-packed road ran around the perimeter, but some fool had ignored it looking for a short-cut or cheap thrills by cutting across. A hint of vehicle tracks gouged in the fragile surface thrust in parallel lines above the water. By late spring the water would all be gone. The tire tracks would mar the lake bed for years to come. Scars on the desert landscape weren’t easy to erase.

Jeff shut the disfigurement out of his mind. He could easily see how it had been tens of thousands of years ago, when the area had swarmed with Native American tribes. This was their home. The place was rich with artifacts, an archaeologist’s dream. Thankfully, the Bureau of Land Management had quickly recognized that fact and protected the area. It was now adjacent to the vast Joshua Tree National Park.

The sun scattered the last of night’s shadows. Some of Jeff’s peace drifted away with them.

He’d shifted through the mound of evidence collected from the previous month’s drug bust at least a hundred times. Despite the haul, his boss insisted it was a small part of an even bigger puzzle. Frankly, Jeff couldn’t see where Ray Culverson got that idea. He’d sat for hours memorizing each statement and the tidbits of detail they provided. Then he’d poked in the brown contacts to cover his bright blue eyes, and crawled into the underbelly of the drug world to try to find more clues. So far…nothing. And that left him testy, to say the least. That seemed to be happening with far too much frequency lately.

The longer he did this job, the more reclusive he became. He could barely live with himself under these circumstances; he sure wasn’t going to inflict his bad mood on friends and family. Thankfully, they understood. Jeff wished he could.

It didn’t used to bother him, but years of undercover assignments, coupled with the Christmas just past, had left him unsettled. Seeing his brothers with their wives and kids, then learning his cousin Kurt was getting married, made Jeff really open his eyes and wonder where his life was headed. The only real friends he had were those he worked with, and they didn’t associate outside the job. Girlfriends were nonexistent. In fact, he hadn’t had a girlfriend in…

Jeff frowned. Hell, he hadn’t had a girlfriend since before he started with the DEA. It can’t have been that long! The more he thought about it, the more he realized it was true. Oh, he’d had his share of women, but no permanent relationship and none he wanted. His job was his sole focus. He thought he was satisfied…until this last family visit. For the first time in ten years, Jeff found himself resenting the drain of time and energy his job took, not to mention the danger. It was fine when he was younger and considered himself immortal. Now…well, he’d seen too many co-workers killed.

It had taken him a month to realize he needed to make some changes. A month spent chasing clues that led nowhere, except to more frustration. Then it took another week to get Ray to meet with him about it. Jeff knew Ray wouldn’t be happy about his decision. The man would probably try to talk him into doing one more job. Jeff was willing, but that was it, and he’d be firm about that. He’d seen Ray one-more-job agents into retirement…some beyond.

What Jeff wasn’t prepared for was giving Ray an alternative to his present undercover work. He didn’t want to leave DEA behind, just the undercover assignments. But the thought of sitting behind a desk drove him nuts. Jeff liked to be out and active. Training might be an alternative, but he’d be away from his family again. After all these years of traveling, Jeff really wanted to be closer, not farther away.

It was only by sheer luck that he’d wound up in California. But that good fortune was interwoven with the need to see his family was protected. He’d had to be extra careful on what little off-duty time he had. Thank God for his grandfather’s horse ranch.

Jeff smiled. The Sims’ ranch was in an isolated high valley just east of Twentynine Palms. The only neighbor was Ned O’Connor, a half mile away across the valley. As a kid, Jeff had thought this place was paradise. As an adult, he knew it was. There was nowhere else on earth Jeff felt safer. Obviously, Ray felt that way as well, since he’d chosen this location for their meeting.

Jeff had to admit he got some degree of pleasure from the fact that the rain had forced Ray to hike in. The man had originally decided to land a small plane on the dry lake. The thought of more damage to the fragile surface had irked Jeff. Who knew what would be destroyed because of it? Arguing was fruitless. Ray’s mind was made up—in and out. With the rainstorm, Jeff had laughed out loud. That had begged the question from Gramps about what was so funny. How could he respond without divulging too much? So he’d just shrugged, shutting out family members as he’d had to do so many times in the past. They knew what he did for a living and were used to it. It was Jeff who had grown to hate his vague responses—it further cemented his isolation.

Thor shifted from hoof to hoof. Jeff patted the horse’s neck. “I know, big guy. We’ll finish our ride in a few minutes.”

It had become their morning ritual since Christmas. Jeff hated to miss it as much as the horse did. Unfortunately, time was running out. Even if he did manage to convince Ray to move him to other work, he’d still have to do one more job that would force him to leave the ranch.

He scanned the desert floor for some sign of Ray’s arrival. An old dirt road entered the area from the west and skirted the lake. A four-wheel drive could easily get Ray in. Just as Jeff was thinking that, he heard a small plane approach.

“Please tell me that’s not Ray.”

Thor nickered in response.

Jeff pondered the sanity of any pilot stupid enough to try landing as he watched the single-engine plane near. It was only when he noticed the side hatch open that he realized Ray’s intent. Sure enough, someone leaped into the air. Seconds later a parachute opened.

“Ten guesses who that is.” He continued to rub Thor’s neck, assuring him all was well.

Ray had always had a flair for the dramatic. Jeff hoped he landed in the middle of the lake and had to slog his way out. But his aim was as precise as everything else the man did. He hit dry earth barely one hundred yards from where Jeff waited, then reeled in the chute hand over hand.

Jeff swung from the saddle and left the reins to dangle on the ground.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll run away?” Ray asked as he walked up.

“Nope…long as those reins are dragging the ground, Thor will stay put.” He tucked his fingertips in the front pockets of his jeans. “Do you plan to beam yourself back to the plane?”

Ray yanked off his helmet and dusted his fingers through his silver-gray hair. “Something like that.” He smiled. “You know there’s a big oasis on the other side of that ridge?”

Jeff glanced in the direction of his nod. “No, I didn’t. It’s part of the El Diablo mine claim. The only access is through the mine, and Ned O’Connor would never allow anyone inside. Said it was too dangerous. Considering some of these old mines around here, I’d have to agree. None are stable.”

Ray nodded, then shifted into business mode. His own demeanor changed from light-hearted and upbeat to down-to-earth serious.

Jeff didn’t give him a chance to speak first. “I’m done, Ray.”

“I had a feeling that’s what was on your mind.” He stuffed the parachute into his knapsack. “Well, you had a good run. This ketamine bust you helped with on the base was top notch.”

Jeff waited. Ray was being too agreeable. It wasn’t like him. He expected every agent to want to jump into the fray each time as he did.

“In fact…”

Here it comes.

“Just as I suspected, it’s a bigger bust than we expected. And a much bigger target.”

When Jeff still didn’t respond, Ray cocked his head. “What can you tell me about Megan O’Connor?”

Ray could have plowed his fist into Jeff’s gut and it would have had less impact.

He snorted. “There’s no way you will ever convince me Megan O’Connor is involved in drug trafficking.”

“Didn’t say she was.” He spotted a smooth outcropping of rock and sat down. “Just asked what you could tell me about her.”

Jeff stayed where he was, never once taking his eyes off his boss. “You already know or you wouldn’t be asking me.”

He shrugged. “Just want to hear your thoughts.”

“Uh-huh, sure.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Her uncle owns the El Diablo Mine. He’s actually her father’s uncle. Ned’s lived here just about as long as my grandfather. They’ve been friends all that time.”

“And I understand the families are close.”

“Very. As kids we used to play together. When my brother got his law degree, Pete O’Connor hired him. Adam’s now a partner, as is Megan’s brother, Michael. I haven’t seen or kept in touch with Megan or her brother in ten years.”

Ray flicked his hand in the air. “Michael O’Connor’s of no interest to us.”

Yet apparently interesting enough to have checked him out and dismissed him as of no consequence. “But Megan is? May I ask why?”

He nonchalantly brushed the sand off his jeans as he stood. “Need to know only. Since you’re leaving this particular field—”

“Cut the crap, Ray.”

A hint of a smile flickered over his lips. Ray did like his games. Jeff didn’t feel like playing.

“Are you in or out?” he asked.

“All depends on what ‘in’ means,” Jeff replied.

Ray did smile this time, broadly. “Just one more job.”

And there it was. At least Ray hadn’t lost his predictability. Jeff’s smirk lifted one corner of his mouth. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“But wasn’t the build-up worth it?” he said with a chuckle.

“Orgasmic, Ray,” he shot back. “So…what’s up?”

Serious once more, Ray resumed his spot on the rock. This time Jeff joined him.

“There’s more involved here than ketamine. A little digging uncovered a surprising link. We’re talking big money here—a hotline from Columbia to the United States. All apparently processed through one source—Vincent Devlin.”

That made his eyebrows shoot up. “Are you crazy?” Jeff laughed. “Vinnie Devlin is one of the most influential men in Southern California.”

“Not to mention well on his way to being one of the richest,” Ray added. “I was shocked as well.”

“I doubt that. Not much shocks you anymore.”

He gave a single nod. “True. But evidence is starting to point right at him. And I’ve looked at it from all possible angles.”

“So pick him up.”

Ray tossed a rock. It plunked into the shallow lake, sending ripples across it. “This is risky. If it’s as big as we think… I’d just like to get a little more information, hopefully from inside.”

“And how does Megan fit into all this?”

Another rock followed the first. This one skipped over the surface. “She’s an artist. A very good one from what I understand.”

“That’s what I’ve been told.” Jeff hadn’t seen any of Megan’s work lately, but his family couldn’t say enough great things about it.

“Devlin fancies himself a recent patron of the arts. I understand he’s been taken with her work and decided to open a gallery with her paintings prominently featured. The grand opening is about a week away and will be held in conjunction with a fund raiser. The proceeds will be distributed locally to charities.”

“And you’re going to ask Megan to use his patronage to your advantage.”

“No.” Ray swiveled his head Jeff’s way, nailing him in place with a dark-eyed stare. “You are.”

He tossed his head back on a humorless chuckle. “I am not asking an untrained civilian to go undercover.”

“You won’t have to,” Ray quickly replied. “You’ll go in with her. Establish a relationship of some kind—romantic, business, brother/sister, I don’t care. Just something, anything that’ll get you in that house.”

Now that might work. There was just one thing that bothered Jeff. “I won’t lie to Megan.”

Ray’s gaze didn’t waver. “I wouldn’t ask you to. She needs to know exactly what’s going on and the risks involved. I could have another agent do it, but I thought the long-standing relationship between your families would make her more comfortable.”

Who did Ray think he was kidding? “What you mean to say is you knew I wouldn’t say no under these circumstances.”

The other man tilted a nod his way. “Whatever works to my benefit.”

That was always the bottom line for Ray.

“All right. I’d offer to contact her parents for her address and number, but somehow I suspect you already have that on you.”

His smile gleamed as he unzipped a side pouch in his knapsack. Seconds later he pulled out a small slip of paper and handed it to Jeff. “Here you go. She’s living in Palm Springs.”

“I knew that.” He snapped the paper from Ray’s fingers.

“Did you?” Ray’s eyebrows lifted in question.

“Yes.” Just not her exact location. On those rare occasions when he was with his family, they mostly caught up on each other. Over the years, he’d been told snippets of what was going on in the O’Connors’ lives, but nothing too detailed—which was probably best, all things considered. If he’d known where Megan was, there might have been more than a time or two he wouldn’t have stayed away. The lure would have been too much. He wouldn’t have thought about how he’d be exposing her to danger by going to her, being with her. Wanting her, needing her, feeling her naked body twined with his in passion would have superseded logic.

“Any history I need to know about the two of you?”

Jeff laughed and shoved the paper in the pocket of his jeans as he stood. “Only one kiss when we were teenagers.” A hell of a kiss that still left him wanting more, even after all these years.

Her mother had freaked out big time when she caught them. Helen had whisked Megan away the next day. Chastity belts were less effective.

But she couldn’t keep them apart forever. Four years later, the death of his grandmother drew them into each other’s lives. They were adults this time, fully capable of doing what they wished, and so on fire for each other, every caution was tossed aside. Sex had never been better—before or after Megan. Nights he’d lay awake thinking of her, relieving his needs alone or into whatever date-of-the-moment was spread beneath him. No one compared to Megan.

“Must’ve been a hell of a kiss if it still manages to give you a hard-on after all this time.”

Jeff fought the reaction to cover his crotch. “All right, you caught me. We had a brief affair four years after that.”

“How did it end?” Ray asked. “If she’s going to hand your balls to you on a platter when she sees you—”

“We ended it by mutual agreement after a pregnancy scare. We were young, crazy in love, but the scare put it all into perspective. We weren’t ready for settling down. I was headed to DEA and she was off to Paris to study art.”

“Still…it’s been ten years.”

Considering Ray’s personal situation, he should know better than to say that. “I love her, Ray. Do you think I’d honestly expose her to the danger of being an undercover DEA agent’s wife…or girlfriend? Or, worse yet, dishonor her with clandestine liaisons and never acknowledge she exists.”

The comment hit its intended mark. Ray stared a hole through him. The chirr of a helicopter pulled their heads toward the mountain range, and conveniently saved Ray from having to reply. It wasn’t necessary. They both knew the truth. Jeff had her name and number memorized. If anything ever happened to Ray, his instructions were to contact her. That was the closest Ray would come to acknowledging the woman he’d spent years with.

“There’s my ride.” Ray slung his pack over his shoulders and tucked his helmet on. “If anyone asks, tell them an action movie was being filmed. Later.”

He set off at a trot as a ladder fell from the chopper. Jeff shook his head. Ray snagged the bottom rung and scrambled up. The man was a serious adrenaline junkie.

Threading Thor’s reins through his fingers, Jeff swung into the saddle. The horse quivered with barely suppressed excitement. Leaning forward, he patted the sleek black neck. “Okay, boy, once around the valley, then home.”

He didn’t need to show him the way. Thor was well accustomed to the routine by now. Once they turned, the horse pranced off, head and tail high. Jeff soaked it all in—the ride, the freedom, the fresh desert air. God only knew when he’d have the time to enjoy it again. He hated like hell to tell Gramps he was going to take off again. The old guy was really starting to show his age, especially in the memory department. But Jasper Sims still did what he wanted to do; he always had. He didn’t need a keeper. That didn’t keep Jeff from worrying about him, or stop the feeling he was letting him down by leaving again. Gramps had made no secret of the fact he appreciated Jeff being around to help out.

God, I’m going to miss it here.

He smiled as he scanned the desert landscape awash with the pinks and golds of early morning. The view never ceased to chase away his demons. No matter where he went, the desert always felt like home.

With the exception of the El Diablo mining claim a half mile across the valley, all the land he could see belonged to grandparents. They’d arrived in Twentynine Palms over fifty years ago and built the place up through a hell of a lot of hard work. Turned out to be quite a legacy to be proud of, but then his grandfather wasn’t one to be boastful.

Ned O’Connor’s mine and homestead were around the same age as the Sims’ ranch. A well-worn trail tied the two properties. The gray tailings of rock and dirt deposits from years of excavation cascaded from the mine down the darker mountain. Too bad it hadn’t made Ned a wealthy man. But it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. His little white clapboard house had every comfort he needed.

The ranch was a great place for energetic kids, too. Jeff remembered a childhood of cowboys and rustlers in this valley, when he and his brothers divided up and declared war on each other. And Megan would always be in the thick of it when the O’Connors visited Ned. She wasn’t afraid to get dirty or climb the mesquite trees lining the Sims’ house. She could ride a horse like a pro, hit a ball way past left field, and run faster than any of them. Her mother had laughingly called her a tomboy. Jeff didn’t think it fit. Her feminine side was just as strong as her masculine side. Before she could top the counter, she was helping in the kitchen and loving it. By the time she could work without a stepstool, Megan was putting out some killer desserts. She made the best peanut butter cookies in the world.

That thought made Jeff smile. Her brown eyes would shine when the boys devoured the treats. She was a pretty girl, a fun friend who’d played and worked as hard as any of the boys. Then one summer, when the Duncans and O’Connors converged on the Sims Ranch, it all changed. He’d never forget that kicked-in-the-gut feeling when he realized the girl was gone, replaced by a beautiful young woman. What a difference a year had made! She was curvy in all the right places, sweet smelling in all the others. He’d followed her around like she was a dog in heat, until that wonderful night he’d caught her alone under the mesquite tree. He’d barely had time to slip his lips over hers before her mother barreled from the house screaming her head off. They left the next day.

Jeff didn’t see her again for four years. Another summer gathering, this one to say good-bye to his grandmother. Megan at twenty took his breath away. She buzzed around the house, taking charge, seeing to everyone’s care. But at night, tucked away in the converted attic, she was his. She stayed his until reality gave them a wake-up call. Ten years ago.

“Man.”

It was hard to believe so much time had passed. He wondered if she was still as beautiful, if her smile was still as quick, her lips just as soft, her body as tight. Just thinking about the way she’d melted into him and clutched him in passion made him harder than he really cared to be.

Jeff shifted in the saddle, trying to find a comfortable position. Thor snorted his annoyance. But all Jeff could think about was her laugh, her spirit, and that summer. It had haunted him all these years, only to worsen when he returned to the ranch. It didn’t take long to discover she visited every spring. Her favorite room was the attic—their place.

Jeff couldn’t count the times he’d wandered there since he’d gotten back. Her scent lingered on the daybed, energizing him and making his spirits soar, while his blood raced like wildfire.

He wondered if she was involved with someone, then alternately cursed the possibility and discounted it. If she was, Ray wouldn’t have suggested a feigned liaison.

Feigned, hell. The way he was going…

Jeff tried to shake the idea out of his head. You didn’t pounce on a woman you hadn’t seen in ten years. A guy had to have some manners.

Jeff glanced toward Ned’s place and wondered if he was up yet. Usually the old man was an early riser. If anyone knew about Megan, he surely would. Jeff nudged his horse in that direction, then just as quickly pulled back on the reins. Notwithstanding the fact he had an erection that would arrive two minutes before him, the last thing Jeff needed to do was get the family talking about his renewed interest in Megan.

With his luck, her mother would come tearing after him again. Considering what he and Megan were about to become involved in—if she agreed—Helen was definitely not a complication they needed.

He turned Thor toward the ranch. Time was wasting. Ray liked his plans instituted quickly. Maybe she wouldn’t agree. Maybe she’d run straight to Vinnie Devlin with the news he was being investigated. But if Jeff knew Ray—and he did—all those things had already been researched and discussed. Megan was in. All he had to do was ask. The question that remained was—phone call or in person?

He debated on that while Thor picked his way home. Halfway there, he tugged his cell phone from his pocket and punched in her number. She picked up on the second ring.

“Hello?”

Her voice felt like night desert breeze against his skin. The problem in his jeans doubled.

“Blast from your past, Megan.”

“Jeff?” Was there a hint of laughter in her voice? And how in the world after all this time could she know it was him?

“Wow…maybe you should put the art aside and set up a psychic hotline.”

“I’ll consider it a fall-back job. Where are you?”

“With Gramps, but getting ready to leave. I need to come see you, if that’s all right.”

“I’d love it. Business or pleasure?”

EL DIABLOby Catherine SnodgrassRomantic SuspenseFebruary 2007
Amber Quill Press http://www.amberquill.com/
ISBN-13: 978-1-59279-665-6 (Electronic)ISBN-13: 978-1-59279-692-2 (Paperback)

The lust of artist Megan O’Connor’s life, Jeff Duncan, has returned. This time, however, nothing and no one will get in the way of her having him. Just when Jeff thinks he's free of the DEA, his boss uses the lure of his old love, Megan, to entice him to do one more job. Old passions simmer between Megan and Jeff, a reunion more than one person opposes. When their investigation leads them right back to his grandfather's ranch and the nearby El Diablo gold mine, Jeff and Megan soon discover just how tangled their lives are with that of the man they are watching. It’s a family secret for which someone is willing to kill in order to keep hidden.

Excerpt

Jeff Duncan trotted his black gelding through the sprawling valley between his grandfather’s ranch and the El Diablo mine. There weren’t too many things that could top a horseback ride on a cool desert morning. And certainly nothing much that could rival the glory of a desert sunrise after a day of gentle winter rain. Too bad he was about to ruin it all in a confrontation with his boss.

He nudged Thor to a canter, anxious to top the saddleback dip between the low mountain ridges. A well-worn path led the way. He wasn’t the first Duncan drawn here, definitely not the first human. The place was rich with history.

Jeff topped the small ridge and eased Thor to a halt scant seconds before the sun peeked above the horizon. The edges of low clouds in the distance shimmered with molten gold. Midnight blues lightened, skipping all the spectrums of the prism to leap right to pink and gold, as if the sun couldn’t wait to start the day. Then the fiery ball inched higher, shooing what remained of the night until all that was left was a beautiful blue sky.

He shifted his gaze to the shimmering lake bed below. With the recent rain, water skimmed the surface of the formerly dry lake. A hard-packed road ran around the perimeter, but some fool had ignored it looking for a short-cut or cheap thrills by cutting across. A hint of vehicle tracks gouged in the fragile surface thrust in parallel lines above the water. By late spring the water would all be gone. The tire tracks would mar the lake bed for years to come. Scars on the desert landscape weren’t easy to erase.

Jeff shut the disfigurement out of his mind. He could easily see how it had been tens of thousands of years ago, when the area had swarmed with Native American tribes. This was their home. The place was rich with artifacts, an archaeologist’s dream. Thankfully, the Bureau of Land Management had quickly recognized that fact and protected the area. It was now adjacent to the vast Joshua Tree National Park.

The sun scattered the last of night’s shadows. Some of Jeff’s peace drifted away with them.

He’d shifted through the mound of evidence collected from the previous month’s drug bust at least a hundred times. Despite the haul, his boss insisted it was a small part of an even bigger puzzle. Frankly, Jeff couldn’t see where Ray Culverson got that idea. He’d sat for hours memorizing each statement and the tidbits of detail they provided. Then he’d poked in the brown contacts to cover his bright blue eyes, and crawled into the underbelly of the drug world to try to find more clues. So far…nothing. And that left him testy, to say the least. That seemed to be happening with far too much frequency lately.

The longer he did this job, the more reclusive he became. He could barely live with himself under these circumstances; he sure wasn’t going to inflict his bad mood on friends and family. Thankfully, they understood. Jeff wished he could.

It didn’t used to bother him, but years of undercover assignments, coupled with the Christmas just past, had left him unsettled. Seeing his brothers with their wives and kids, then learning his cousin Kurt was getting married, made Jeff really open his eyes and wonder where his life was headed. The only real friends he had were those he worked with, and they didn’t associate outside the job. Girlfriends were nonexistent. In fact, he hadn’t had a girlfriend in…

Jeff frowned. Hell, he hadn’t had a girlfriend since before he started with the DEA. It can’t have been that long! The more he thought about it, the more he realized it was true. Oh, he’d had his share of women, but no permanent relationship and none he wanted. His job was his sole focus. He thought he was satisfied…until this last family visit. For the first time in ten years, Jeff found himself resenting the drain of time and energy his job took, not to mention the danger. It was fine when he was younger and considered himself immortal. Now…well, he’d seen too many co-workers killed.

It had taken him a month to realize he needed to make some changes. A month spent chasing clues that led nowhere, except to more frustration. Then it took another week to get Ray to meet with him about it. Jeff knew Ray wouldn’t be happy about his decision. The man would probably try to talk him into doing one more job. Jeff was willing, but that was it, and he’d be firm about that. He’d seen Ray one-more-job agents into retirement…some beyond.

What Jeff wasn’t prepared for was giving Ray an alternative to his present undercover work. He didn’t want to leave DEA behind, just the undercover assignments. But the thought of sitting behind a desk drove him nuts. Jeff liked to be out and active. Training might be an alternative, but he’d be away from his family again. After all these years of traveling, Jeff really wanted to be closer, not farther away.

It was only by sheer luck that he’d wound up in California. But that good fortune was interwoven with the need to see his family was protected. He’d had to be extra careful on what little off-duty time he had. Thank God for his grandfather’s horse ranch.

Jeff smiled. The Sims’ ranch was in an isolated high valley just east of Twentynine Palms. The only neighbor was Ned O’Connor, a half mile away across the valley. As a kid, Jeff had thought this place was paradise. As an adult, he knew it was. There was nowhere else on earth Jeff felt safer. Obviously, Ray felt that way as well, since he’d chosen this location for their meeting.

Jeff had to admit he got some degree of pleasure from the fact that the rain had forced Ray to hike in. The man had originally decided to land a small plane on the dry lake. The thought of more damage to the fragile surface had irked Jeff. Who knew what would be destroyed because of it? Arguing was fruitless. Ray’s mind was made up—in and out. With the rainstorm, Jeff had laughed out loud. That had begged the question from Gramps about what was so funny. How could he respond without divulging too much? So he’d just shrugged, shutting out family members as he’d had to do so many times in the past. They knew what he did for a living and were used to it. It was Jeff who had grown to hate his vague responses—it further cemented his isolation.

Thor shifted from hoof to hoof. Jeff patted the horse’s neck. “I know, big guy. We’ll finish our ride in a few minutes.”

It had become their morning ritual since Christmas. Jeff hated to miss it as much as the horse did. Unfortunately, time was running out. Even if he did manage to convince Ray to move him to other work, he’d still have to do one more job that would force him to leave the ranch.

He scanned the desert floor for some sign of Ray’s arrival. An old dirt road entered the area from the west and skirted the lake. A four-wheel drive could easily get Ray in. Just as Jeff was thinking that, he heard a small plane approach.

“Please tell me that’s not Ray.”

Thor nickered in response.

Jeff pondered the sanity of any pilot stupid enough to try landing as he watched the single-engine plane near. It was only when he noticed the side hatch open that he realized Ray’s intent. Sure enough, someone leaped into the air. Seconds later a parachute opened.

“Ten guesses who that is.” He continued to rub Thor’s neck, assuring him all was well.

Ray had always had a flair for the dramatic. Jeff hoped he landed in the middle of the lake and had to slog his way out. But his aim was as precise as everything else the man did. He hit dry earth barely one hundred yards from where Jeff waited, then reeled in the chute hand over hand.

Jeff swung from the saddle and left the reins to dangle on the ground.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll run away?” Ray asked as he walked up.

“Nope…long as those reins are dragging the ground, Thor will stay put.” He tucked his fingertips in the front pockets of his jeans. “Do you plan to beam yourself back to the plane?”

Ray yanked off his helmet and dusted his fingers through his silver-gray hair. “Something like that.” He smiled. “You know there’s a big oasis on the other side of that ridge?”

Jeff glanced in the direction of his nod. “No, I didn’t. It’s part of the El Diablo mine claim. The only access is through the mine, and Ned O’Connor would never allow anyone inside. Said it was too dangerous. Considering some of these old mines around here, I’d have to agree. None are stable.”

Ray nodded, then shifted into business mode. His own demeanor changed from light-hearted and upbeat to down-to-earth serious.

Jeff didn’t give him a chance to speak first. “I’m done, Ray.”

“I had a feeling that’s what was on your mind.” He stuffed the parachute into his knapsack. “Well, you had a good run. This ketamine bust you helped with on the base was top notch.”

Jeff waited. Ray was being too agreeable. It wasn’t like him. He expected every agent to want to jump into the fray each time as he did.

“In fact…”

Here it comes.

“Just as I suspected, it’s a bigger bust than we expected. And a much bigger target.”

When Jeff still didn’t respond, Ray cocked his head. “What can you tell me about Megan O’Connor?”

Ray could have plowed his fist into Jeff’s gut and it would have had less impact.

He snorted. “There’s no way you will ever convince me Megan O’Connor is involved in drug trafficking.”

“Didn’t say she was.” He spotted a smooth outcropping of rock and sat down. “Just asked what you could tell me about her.”

Jeff stayed where he was, never once taking his eyes off his boss. “You already know or you wouldn’t be asking me.”

He shrugged. “Just want to hear your thoughts.”

“Uh-huh, sure.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Her uncle owns the El Diablo Mine. He’s actually her father’s uncle. Ned’s lived here just about as long as my grandfather. They’ve been friends all that time.”

“And I understand the families are close.”

“Very. As kids we used to play together. When my brother got his law degree, Pete O’Connor hired him. Adam’s now a partner, as is Megan’s brother, Michael. I haven’t seen or kept in touch with Megan or her brother in ten years.”

Ray flicked his hand in the air. “Michael O’Connor’s of no interest to us.”

Yet apparently interesting enough to have checked him out and dismissed him as of no consequence. “But Megan is? May I ask why?”

He nonchalantly brushed the sand off his jeans as he stood. “Need to know only. Since you’re leaving this particular field—”

“Cut the crap, Ray.”

A hint of a smile flickered over his lips. Ray did like his games. Jeff didn’t feel like playing.

“Are you in or out?” he asked.

“All depends on what ‘in’ means,” Jeff replied.

Ray did smile this time, broadly. “Just one more job.”

And there it was. At least Ray hadn’t lost his predictability. Jeff’s smirk lifted one corner of his mouth. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“But wasn’t the build-up worth it?” he said with a chuckle.

“Orgasmic, Ray,” he shot back. “So…what’s up?”

Serious once more, Ray resumed his spot on the rock. This time Jeff joined him.

“There’s more involved here than ketamine. A little digging uncovered a surprising link. We’re talking big money here—a hotline from Columbia to the United States. All apparently processed through one source—Vincent Devlin.”

That made his eyebrows shoot up. “Are you crazy?” Jeff laughed. “Vinnie Devlin is one of the most influential men in Southern California.”

“Not to mention well on his way to being one of the richest,” Ray added. “I was shocked as well.”

“I doubt that. Not much shocks you anymore.”

He gave a single nod. “True. But evidence is starting to point right at him. And I’ve looked at it from all possible angles.”

“So pick him up.”

Ray tossed a rock. It plunked into the shallow lake, sending ripples across it. “This is risky. If it’s as big as we think… I’d just like to get a little more information, hopefully from inside.”

“And how does Megan fit into all this?”

Another rock followed the first. This one skipped over the surface. “She’s an artist. A very good one from what I understand.”

“That’s what I’ve been told.” Jeff hadn’t seen any of Megan’s work lately, but his family couldn’t say enough great things about it.

“Devlin fancies himself a recent patron of the arts. I understand he’s been taken with her work and decided to open a gallery with her paintings prominently featured. The grand opening is about a week away and will be held in conjunction with a fund raiser. The proceeds will be distributed locally to charities.”

“And you’re going to ask Megan to use his patronage to your advantage.”

“No.” Ray swiveled his head Jeff’s way, nailing him in place with a dark-eyed stare. “You are.”

He tossed his head back on a humorless chuckle. “I am not asking an untrained civilian to go undercover.”

“You won’t have to,” Ray quickly replied. “You’ll go in with her. Establish a relationship of some kind—romantic, business, brother/sister, I don’t care. Just something, anything that’ll get you in that house.”

Now that might work. There was just one thing that bothered Jeff. “I won’t lie to Megan.”

Ray’s gaze didn’t waver. “I wouldn’t ask you to. She needs to know exactly what’s going on and the risks involved. I could have another agent do it, but I thought the long-standing relationship between your families would make her more comfortable.”

Who did Ray think he was kidding? “What you mean to say is you knew I wouldn’t say no under these circumstances.”

The other man tilted a nod his way. “Whatever works to my benefit.”

That was always the bottom line for Ray.

“All right. I’d offer to contact her parents for her address and number, but somehow I suspect you already have that on you.”

His smile gleamed as he unzipped a side pouch in his knapsack. Seconds later he pulled out a small slip of paper and handed it to Jeff. “Here you go. She’s living in Palm Springs.”

“I knew that.” He snapped the paper from Ray’s fingers.

“Did you?” Ray’s eyebrows lifted in question.

“Yes.” Just not her exact location. On those rare occasions when he was with his family, they mostly caught up on each other. Over the years, he’d been told snippets of what was going on in the O’Connors’ lives, but nothing too detailed—which was probably best, all things considered. If he’d known where Megan was, there might have been more than a time or two he wouldn’t have stayed away. The lure would have been too much. He wouldn’t have thought about how he’d be exposing her to danger by going to her, being with her. Wanting her, needing her, feeling her naked body twined with his in passion would have superseded logic.

“Any history I need to know about the two of you?”

Jeff laughed and shoved the paper in the pocket of his jeans as he stood. “Only one kiss when we were teenagers.” A hell of a kiss that still left him wanting more, even after all these years.

Her mother had freaked out big time when she caught them. Helen had whisked Megan away the next day. Chastity belts were less effective.

But she couldn’t keep them apart forever. Four years later, the death of his grandmother drew them into each other’s lives. They were adults this time, fully capable of doing what they wished, and so on fire for each other, every caution was tossed aside. Sex had never been better—before or after Megan. Nights he’d lay awake thinking of her, relieving his needs alone or into whatever date-of-the-moment was spread beneath him. No one compared to Megan.

“Must’ve been a hell of a kiss if it still manages to give you a hard-on after all this time.”

Jeff fought the reaction to cover his crotch. “All right, you caught me. We had a brief affair four years after that.”

“How did it end?” Ray asked. “If she’s going to hand your balls to you on a platter when she sees you—”

“We ended it by mutual agreement after a pregnancy scare. We were young, crazy in love, but the scare put it all into perspective. We weren’t ready for settling down. I was headed to DEA and she was off to Paris to study art.”

“Still…it’s been ten years.”

Considering Ray’s personal situation, he should know better than to say that. “I love her, Ray. Do you think I’d honestly expose her to the danger of being an undercover DEA agent’s wife…or girlfriend? Or, worse yet, dishonor her with clandestine liaisons and never acknowledge she exists.”

The comment hit its intended mark. Ray stared a hole through him. The chirr of a helicopter pulled their heads toward the mountain range, and conveniently saved Ray from having to reply. It wasn’t necessary. They both knew the truth. Jeff had her name and number memorized. If anything ever happened to Ray, his instructions were to contact her. That was the closest Ray would come to acknowledging the woman he’d spent years with.

“There’s my ride.” Ray slung his pack over his shoulders and tucked his helmet on. “If anyone asks, tell them an action movie was being filmed. Later.”

He set off at a trot as a ladder fell from the chopper. Jeff shook his head. Ray snagged the bottom rung and scrambled up. The man was a serious adrenaline junkie.

Threading Thor’s reins through his fingers, Jeff swung into the saddle. The horse quivered with barely suppressed excitement. Leaning forward, he patted the sleek black neck. “Okay, boy, once around the valley, then home.”

He didn’t need to show him the way. Thor was well accustomed to the routine by now. Once they turned, the horse pranced off, head and tail high. Jeff soaked it all in—the ride, the freedom, the fresh desert air. God only knew when he’d have the time to enjoy it again. He hated like hell to tell Gramps he was going to take off again. The old guy was really starting to show his age, especially in the memory department. But Jasper Sims still did what he wanted to do; he always had. He didn’t need a keeper. That didn’t keep Jeff from worrying about him, or stop the feeling he was letting him down by leaving again. Gramps had made no secret of the fact he appreciated Jeff being around to help out.

God, I’m going to miss it here.

He smiled as he scanned the desert landscape awash with the pinks and golds of early morning. The view never ceased to chase away his demons. No matter where he went, the desert always felt like home.

With the exception of the El Diablo mining claim a half mile across the valley, all the land he could see belonged to grandparents. They’d arrived in Twentynine Palms over fifty years ago and built the place up through a hell of a lot of hard work. Turned out to be quite a legacy to be proud of, but then his grandfather wasn’t one to be boastful.

Ned O’Connor’s mine and homestead were around the same age as the Sims’ ranch. A well-worn trail tied the two properties. The gray tailings of rock and dirt deposits from years of excavation cascaded from the mine down the darker mountain. Too bad it hadn’t made Ned a wealthy man. But it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. His little white clapboard house had every comfort he needed.

The ranch was a great place for energetic kids, too. Jeff remembered a childhood of cowboys and rustlers in this valley, when he and his brothers divided up and declared war on each other. And Megan would always be in the thick of it when the O’Connors visited Ned. She wasn’t afraid to get dirty or climb the mesquite trees lining the Sims’ house. She could ride a horse like a pro, hit a ball way past left field, and run faster than any of them. Her mother had laughingly called her a tomboy. Jeff didn’t think it fit. Her feminine side was just as strong as her masculine side. Before she could top the counter, she was helping in the kitchen and loving it. By the time she could work without a stepstool, Megan was putting out some killer desserts. She made the best peanut butter cookies in the world.

That thought made Jeff smile. Her brown eyes would shine when the boys devoured the treats. She was a pretty girl, a fun friend who’d played and worked as hard as any of the boys. Then one summer, when the Duncans and O’Connors converged on the Sims Ranch, it all changed. He’d never forget that kicked-in-the-gut feeling when he realized the girl was gone, replaced by a beautiful young woman. What a difference a year had made! She was curvy in all the right places, sweet smelling in all the others. He’d followed her around like she was a dog in heat, until that wonderful night he’d caught her alone under the mesquite tree. He’d barely had time to slip his lips over hers before her mother barreled from the house screaming her head off. They left the next day.

Jeff didn’t see her again for four years. Another summer gathering, this one to say good-bye to his grandmother. Megan at twenty took his breath away. She buzzed around the house, taking charge, seeing to everyone’s care. But at night, tucked away in the converted attic, she was his. She stayed his until reality gave them a wake-up call. Ten years ago.

“Man.”

It was hard to believe so much time had passed. He wondered if she was still as beautiful, if her smile was still as quick, her lips just as soft, her body as tight. Just thinking about the way she’d melted into him and clutched him in passion made him harder than he really cared to be.

Jeff shifted in the saddle, trying to find a comfortable position. Thor snorted his annoyance. But all Jeff could think about was her laugh, her spirit, and that summer. It had haunted him all these years, only to worsen when he returned to the ranch. It didn’t take long to discover she visited every spring. Her favorite room was the attic—their place.

Jeff couldn’t count the times he’d wandered there since he’d gotten back. Her scent lingered on the daybed, energizing him and making his spirits soar, while his blood raced like wildfire.

He wondered if she was involved with someone, then alternately cursed the possibility and discounted it. If she was, Ray wouldn’t have suggested a feigned liaison.

Feigned, hell. The way he was going…

Jeff tried to shake the idea out of his head. You didn’t pounce on a woman you hadn’t seen in ten years. A guy had to have some manners.

Jeff glanced toward Ned’s place and wondered if he was up yet. Usually the old man was an early riser. If anyone knew about Megan, he surely would. Jeff nudged his horse in that direction, then just as quickly pulled back on the reins. Notwithstanding the fact he had an erection that would arrive two minutes before him, the last thing Jeff needed to do was get the family talking about his renewed interest in Megan.

With his luck, her mother would come tearing after him again. Considering what he and Megan were about to become involved in—if she agreed—Helen was definitely not a complication they needed.

He turned Thor toward the ranch. Time was wasting. Ray liked his plans instituted quickly. Maybe she wouldn’t agree. Maybe she’d run straight to Vinnie Devlin with the news he was being investigated. But if Jeff knew Ray—and he did—all those things had already been researched and discussed. Megan was in. All he had to do was ask. The question that remained was—phone call or in person?

He debated on that while Thor picked his way home. Halfway there, he tugged his cell phone from his pocket and punched in her number. She picked up on the second ring.

“Hello?”

Her voice felt like night desert breeze against his skin. The problem in his jeans doubled.

“Blast from your past, Megan.”

“Jeff?” Was there a hint of laughter in her voice? And how in the world after all this time could she know it was him?

“Wow…maybe you should put the art aside and set up a psychic hotline.”

“I’ll consider it a fall-back job. Where are you?”

“With Gramps, but getting ready to leave. I need to come see you, if that’s all right.”

“I’d love it. Business or pleasure?”


EL DIABLOby Catherine SnodgrassRomantic SuspenseFebruary 2007
Amber Quill Press http://www.amberquill.com/
ISBN-13: 978-1-59279-665-6 (Electronic)ISBN-13: 978-1-59279-692-2 (Paperback)

The lust of artist Megan O’Connor’s life, Jeff Duncan, has returned. This time, however, nothing and no one will get in the way of her having him. Just when Jeff thinks he's free of the DEA, his boss uses the lure of his old love, Megan, to entice him to do one more job. Old passions simmer between Megan and Jeff, a reunion more than one person opposes. When their investigation leads them right back to his grandfather's ranch and the nearby El Diablo gold mine, Jeff and Megan soon discover just how tangled their lives are with that of the man they are watching. It’s a family secret for which someone is willing to kill in order to keep hidden.

Excerpt

Jeff Duncan trotted his black gelding through the sprawling valley between his grandfather’s ranch and the El Diablo mine. There weren’t too many things that could top a horseback ride on a cool desert morning. And certainly nothing much that could rival the glory of a desert sunrise after a day of gentle winter rain. Too bad he was about to ruin it all in a confrontation with his boss.

He nudged Thor to a canter, anxious to top the saddleback dip between the low mountain ridges. A well-worn path led the way. He wasn’t the first Duncan drawn here, definitely not the first human. The place was rich with history.

Jeff topped the small ridge and eased Thor to a halt scant seconds before the sun peeked above the horizon. The edges of low clouds in the distance shimmered with molten gold. Midnight blues lightened, skipping all the spectrums of the prism to leap right to pink and gold, as if the sun couldn’t wait to start the day. Then the fiery ball inched higher, shooing what remained of the night until all that was left was a beautiful blue sky.

He shifted his gaze to the shimmering lake bed below. With the recent rain, water skimmed the surface of the formerly dry lake. A hard-packed road ran around the perimeter, but some fool had ignored it looking for a short-cut or cheap thrills by cutting across. A hint of vehicle tracks gouged in the fragile surface thrust in parallel lines above the water. By late spring the water would all be gone. The tire tracks would mar the lake bed for years to come. Scars on the desert landscape weren’t easy to erase.

Jeff shut the disfigurement out of his mind. He could easily see how it had been tens of thousands of years ago, when the area had swarmed with Native American tribes. This was their home. The place was rich with artifacts, an archaeologist’s dream. Thankfully, the Bureau of Land Management had quickly recognized that fact and protected the area. It was now adjacent to the vast Joshua Tree National Park.

The sun scattered the last of night’s shadows. Some of Jeff’s peace drifted away with them.

He’d shifted through the mound of evidence collected from the previous month’s drug bust at least a hundred times. Despite the haul, his boss insisted it was a small part of an even bigger puzzle. Frankly, Jeff couldn’t see where Ray Culverson got that idea. He’d sat for hours memorizing each statement and the tidbits of detail they provided. Then he’d poked in the brown contacts to cover his bright blue eyes, and crawled into the underbelly of the drug world to try to find more clues. So far…nothing. And that left him testy, to say the least. That seemed to be happening with far too much frequency lately.

The longer he did this job, the more reclusive he became. He could barely live with himself under these circumstances; he sure wasn’t going to inflict his bad mood on friends and family. Thankfully, they understood. Jeff wished he could.

It didn’t used to bother him, but years of undercover assignments, coupled with the Christmas just past, had left him unsettled. Seeing his brothers with their wives and kids, then learning his cousin Kurt was getting married, made Jeff really open his eyes and wonder where his life was headed. The only real friends he had were those he worked with, and they didn’t associate outside the job. Girlfriends were nonexistent. In fact, he hadn’t had a girlfriend in…

Jeff frowned. Hell, he hadn’t had a girlfriend since before he started with the DEA. It can’t have been that long! The more he thought about it, the more he realized it was true. Oh, he’d had his share of women, but no permanent relationship and none he wanted. His job was his sole focus. He thought he was satisfied…until this last family visit. For the first time in ten years, Jeff found himself resenting the drain of time and energy his job took, not to mention the danger. It was fine when he was younger and considered himself immortal. Now…well, he’d seen too many co-workers killed.

It had taken him a month to realize he needed to make some changes. A month spent chasing clues that led nowhere, except to more frustration. Then it took another week to get Ray to meet with him about it. Jeff knew Ray wouldn’t be happy about his decision. The man would probably try to talk him into doing one more job. Jeff was willing, but that was it, and he’d be firm about that. He’d seen Ray one-more-job agents into retirement…some beyond.

What Jeff wasn’t prepared for was giving Ray an alternative to his present undercover work. He didn’t want to leave DEA behind, just the undercover assignments. But the thought of sitting behind a desk drove him nuts. Jeff liked to be out and active. Training might be an alternative, but he’d be away from his family again. After all these years of traveling, Jeff really wanted to be closer, not farther away.

It was only by sheer luck that he’d wound up in California. But that good fortune was interwoven with the need to see his family was protected. He’d had to be extra careful on what little off-duty time he had. Thank God for his grandfather’s horse ranch.

Jeff smiled. The Sims’ ranch was in an isolated high valley just east of Twentynine Palms. The only neighbor was Ned O’Connor, a half mile away across the valley. As a kid, Jeff had thought this place was paradise. As an adult, he knew it was. There was nowhere else on earth Jeff felt safer. Obviously, Ray felt that way as well, since he’d chosen this location for their meeting.

Jeff had to admit he got some degree of pleasure from the fact that the rain had forced Ray to hike in. The man had originally decided to land a small plane on the dry lake. The thought of more damage to the fragile surface had irked Jeff. Who knew what would be destroyed because of it? Arguing was fruitless. Ray’s mind was made up—in and out. With the rainstorm, Jeff had laughed out loud. That had begged the question from Gramps about what was so funny. How could he respond without divulging too much? So he’d just shrugged, shutting out family members as he’d had to do so many times in the past. They knew what he did for a living and were used to it. It was Jeff who had grown to hate his vague responses—it further cemented his isolation.

Thor shifted from hoof to hoof. Jeff patted the horse’s neck. “I know, big guy. We’ll finish our ride in a few minutes.”

It had become their morning ritual since Christmas. Jeff hated to miss it as much as the horse did. Unfortunately, time was running out. Even if he did manage to convince Ray to move him to other work, he’d still have to do one more job that would force him to leave the ranch.

He scanned the desert floor for some sign of Ray’s arrival. An old dirt road entered the area from the west and skirted the lake. A four-wheel drive could easily get Ray in. Just as Jeff was thinking that, he heard a small plane approach.

“Please tell me that’s not Ray.”

Thor nickered in response.

Jeff pondered the sanity of any pilot stupid enough to try landing as he watched the single-engine plane near. It was only when he noticed the side hatch open that he realized Ray’s intent. Sure enough, someone leaped into the air. Seconds later a parachute opened.

“Ten guesses who that is.” He continued to rub Thor’s neck, assuring him all was well.

Ray had always had a flair for the dramatic. Jeff hoped he landed in the middle of the lake and had to slog his way out. But his aim was as precise as everything else the man did. He hit dry earth barely one hundred yards from where Jeff waited, then reeled in the chute hand over hand.

Jeff swung from the saddle and left the reins to dangle on the ground.

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll run away?” Ray asked as he walked up.

“Nope…long as those reins are dragging the ground, Thor will stay put.” He tucked his fingertips in the front pockets of his jeans. “Do you plan to beam yourself back to the plane?”

Ray yanked off his helmet and dusted his fingers through his silver-gray hair. “Something like that.” He smiled. “You know there’s a big oasis on the other side of that ridge?”

Jeff glanced in the direction of his nod. “No, I didn’t. It’s part of the El Diablo mine claim. The only access is through the mine, and Ned O’Connor would never allow anyone inside. Said it was too dangerous. Considering some of these old mines around here, I’d have to agree. None are stable.”

Ray nodded, then shifted into business mode. His own demeanor changed from light-hearted and upbeat to down-to-earth serious.

Jeff didn’t give him a chance to speak first. “I’m done, Ray.”

“I had a feeling that’s what was on your mind.” He stuffed the parachute into his knapsack. “Well, you had a good run. This ketamine bust you helped with on the base was top notch.”

Jeff waited. Ray was being too agreeable. It wasn’t like him. He expected every agent to want to jump into the fray each time as he did.

“In fact…”

Here it comes.

“Just as I suspected, it’s a bigger bust than we expected. And a much bigger target.”

When Jeff still didn’t respond, Ray cocked his head. “What can you tell me about Megan O’Connor?”

Ray could have plowed his fist into Jeff’s gut and it would have had less impact.

He snorted. “There’s no way you will ever convince me Megan O’Connor is involved in drug trafficking.”

“Didn’t say she was.” He spotted a smooth outcropping of rock and sat down. “Just asked what you could tell me about her.”

Jeff stayed where he was, never once taking his eyes off his boss. “You already know or you wouldn’t be asking me.”

He shrugged. “Just want to hear your thoughts.”

“Uh-huh, sure.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Her uncle owns the El Diablo Mine. He’s actually her father’s uncle. Ned’s lived here just about as long as my grandfather. They’ve been friends all that time.”

“And I understand the families are close.”

“Very. As kids we used to play together. When my brother got his law degree, Pete O’Connor hired him. Adam’s now a partner, as is Megan’s brother, Michael. I haven’t seen or kept in touch with Megan or her brother in ten years.”

Ray flicked his hand in the air. “Michael O’Connor’s of no interest to us.”

Yet apparently interesting enough to have checked him out and dismissed him as of no consequence. “But Megan is? May I ask why?”

He nonchalantly brushed the sand off his jeans as he stood. “Need to know only. Since you’re leaving this particular field—”

“Cut the crap, Ray.”

A hint of a smile flickered over his lips. Ray did like his games. Jeff didn’t feel like playing.

“Are you in or out?” he asked.

“All depends on what ‘in’ means,” Jeff replied.

Ray did smile this time, broadly. “Just one more job.”

And there it was. At least Ray hadn’t lost his predictability. Jeff’s smirk lifted one corner of his mouth. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“But wasn’t the build-up worth it?” he said with a chuckle.

“Orgasmic, Ray,” he shot back. “So…what’s up?”

Serious once more, Ray resumed his spot on the rock. This time Jeff joined him.

“There’s more involved here than ketamine. A little digging uncovered a surprising link. We’re talking big money here—a hotline from Columbia to the United States. All apparently processed through one source—Vincent Devlin.”

That made his eyebrows shoot up. “Are you crazy?” Jeff laughed. “Vinnie Devlin is one of the most influential men in Southern California.”

“Not to mention well on his way to being one of the richest,” Ray added. “I was shocked as well.”

“I doubt that. Not much shocks you anymore.”

He gave a single nod. “True. But evidence is starting to point right at him. And I’ve looked at it from all possible angles.”

“So pick him up.”

Ray tossed a rock. It plunked into the shallow lake, sending ripples across it. “This is risky. If it’s as big as we think… I’d just like to get a little more information, hopefully from inside.”

“And how does Megan fit into all this?”

Another rock followed the first. This one skipped over the surface. “She’s an artist. A very good one from what I understand.”

“That’s what I’ve been told.” Jeff hadn’t seen any of Megan’s work lately, but his family couldn’t say enough great things about it.

“Devlin fancies himself a recent patron of the arts. I understand he’s been taken with her work and decided to open a gallery with her paintings prominently featured. The grand opening is about a week away and will be held in conjunction with a fund raiser. The proceeds will be distributed locally to charities.”

“And you’re going to ask Megan to use his patronage to your advantage.”

“No.” Ray swiveled his head Jeff’s way, nailing him in place with a dark-eyed stare. “You are.”

He tossed his head back on a humorless chuckle. “I am not asking an untrained civilian to go undercover.”

“You won’t have to,” Ray quickly replied. “You’ll go in with her. Establish a relationship of some kind—romantic, business, brother/sister, I don’t care. Just something, anything that’ll get you in that house.”

Now that might work. There was just one thing that bothered Jeff. “I won’t lie to Megan.”

Ray’s gaze didn’t waver. “I wouldn’t ask you to. She needs to know exactly what’s going on and the risks involved. I could have another agent do it, but I thought the long-standing relationship between your families would make her more comfortable.”

Who did Ray think he was kidding? “What you mean to say is you knew I wouldn’t say no under these circumstances.”

The other man tilted a nod his way. “Whatever works to my benefit.”

That was always the bottom line for Ray.

“All right. I’d offer to contact her parents for her address and number, but somehow I suspect you already have that on you.”

His smile gleamed as he unzipped a side pouch in his knapsack. Seconds later he pulled out a small slip of paper and handed it to Jeff. “Here you go. She’s living in Palm Springs.”

“I knew that.” He snapped the paper from Ray’s fingers.

“Did you?” Ray’s eyebrows lifted in question.

“Yes.” Just not her exact location. On those rare occasions when he was with his family, they mostly caught up on each other. Over the years, he’d been told snippets of what was going on in the O’Connors’ lives, but nothing too detailed—which was probably best, all things considered. If he’d known where Megan was, there might have been more than a time or two he wouldn’t have stayed away. The lure would have been too much. He wouldn’t have thought about how he’d be exposing her to danger by going to her, being with her. Wanting her, needing her, feeling her naked body twined with his in passion would have superseded logic.

“Any history I need to know about the two of you?”

Jeff laughed and shoved the paper in the pocket of his jeans as he stood. “Only one kiss when we were teenagers.” A hell of a kiss that still left him wanting more, even after all these years.

Her mother had freaked out big time when she caught them. Helen had whisked Megan away the next day. Chastity belts were less effective.

But she couldn’t keep them apart forever. Four years later, the death of his grandmother drew them into each other’s lives. They were adults this time, fully capable of doing what they wished, and so on fire for each other, every caution was tossed aside. Sex had never been better—before or after Megan. Nights he’d lay awake thinking of her, relieving his needs alone or into whatever date-of-the-moment was spread beneath him. No one compared to Megan.

“Must’ve been a hell of a kiss if it still manages to give you a hard-on after all this time.”

Jeff fought the reaction to cover his crotch. “All right, you caught me. We had a brief affair four years after that.”

“How did it end?” Ray asked. “If she’s going to hand your balls to you on a platter when she sees you—”

“We ended it by mutual agreement after a pregnancy scare. We were young, crazy in love, but the scare put it all into perspective. We weren’t ready for settling down. I was headed to DEA and she was off to Paris to study art.”

“Still…it’s been ten years.”

Considering Ray’s personal situation, he should know better than to say that. “I love her, Ray. Do you think I’d honestly expose her to the danger of being an undercover DEA agent’s wife…or girlfriend? Or, worse yet, dishonor her with clandestine liaisons and never acknowledge she exists.”

The comment hit its intended mark. Ray stared a hole through him. The chirr of a helicopter pulled their heads toward the mountain range, and conveniently saved Ray from having to reply. It wasn’t necessary. They both knew the truth. Jeff had her name and number memorized. If anything ever happened to Ray, his instructions were to contact her. That was the closest Ray would come to acknowledging the woman he’d spent years with.

“There’s my ride.” Ray slung his pack over his shoulders and tucked his helmet on. “If anyone asks, tell them an action movie was being filmed. Later.”

He set off at a trot as a ladder fell from the chopper. Jeff shook his head. Ray snagged the bottom rung and scrambled up. The man was a serious adrenaline junkie.

Threading Thor’s reins through his fingers, Jeff swung into the saddle. The horse quivered with barely suppressed excitement. Leaning forward, he patted the sleek black neck. “Okay, boy, once around the valley, then home.”

He didn’t need to show him the way. Thor was well accustomed to the routine by now. Once they turned, the horse pranced off, head and tail high. Jeff soaked it all in—the ride, the freedom, the fresh desert air. God only knew when he’d have the time to enjoy it again. He hated like hell to tell Gramps he was going to take off again. The old guy was really starting to show his age, especially in the memory department. But Jasper Sims still did what he wanted to do; he always had. He didn’t need a keeper. That didn’t keep Jeff from worrying about him, or stop the feeling he was letting him down by leaving again. Gramps had made no secret of the fact he appreciated Jeff being around to help out.

God, I’m going to miss it here.

He smiled as he scanned the desert landscape awash with the pinks and golds of early morning. The view never ceased to chase away his demons. No matter where he went, the desert always felt like home.

With the exception of the El Diablo mining claim a half mile across the valley, all the land he could see belonged to grandparents. They’d arrived in Twentynine Palms over fifty years ago and built the place up through a hell of a lot of hard work. Turned out to be quite a legacy to be proud of, but then his grandfather wasn’t one to be boastful.

Ned O’Connor’s mine and homestead were around the same age as the Sims’ ranch. A well-worn trail tied the two properties. The gray tailings of rock and dirt deposits from years of excavation cascaded from the mine down the darker mountain. Too bad it hadn’t made Ned a wealthy man. But it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. His little white clapboard house had every comfort he needed.

The ranch was a great place for energetic kids, too. Jeff remembered a childhood of cowboys and rustlers in this valley, when he and his brothers divided up and declared war on each other. And Megan would always be in the thick of it when the O’Connors visited Ned. She wasn’t afraid to get dirty or climb the mesquite trees lining the Sims’ house. She could ride a horse like a pro, hit a ball way past left field, and run faster than any of them. Her mother had laughingly called her a tomboy. Jeff didn’t think it fit. Her feminine side was just as strong as her masculine side. Before she could top the counter, she was helping in the kitchen and loving it. By the time she could work without a stepstool, Megan was putting out some killer desserts. She made the best peanut butter cookies in the world.

That thought made Jeff smile. Her brown eyes would shine when the boys devoured the treats. She was a pretty girl, a fun friend who’d played and worked as hard as any of the boys. Then one summer, when the Duncans and O’Connors converged on the Sims Ranch, it all changed. He’d never forget that kicked-in-the-gut feeling when he realized the girl was gone, replaced by a beautiful young woman. What a difference a year had made! She was curvy in all the right places, sweet smelling in all the others. He’d followed her around like she was a dog in heat, until that wonderful night he’d caught her alone under the mesquite tree. He’d barely had time to slip his lips over hers before her mother barreled from the house screaming her head off. They left the next day.

Jeff didn’t see her again for four years. Another summer gathering, this one to say good-bye to his grandmother. Megan at twenty took his breath away. She buzzed around the house, taking charge, seeing to everyone’s care. But at night, tucked away in the converted attic, she was his. She stayed his until reality gave them a wake-up call. Ten years ago.

“Man.”

It was hard to believe so much time had passed. He wondered if she was still as beautiful, if her smile was still as quick, her lips just as soft, her body as tight. Just thinking about the way she’d melted into him and clutched him in passion made him harder than he really cared to be.

Jeff shifted in the saddle, trying to find a comfortable position. Thor snorted his annoyance. But all Jeff could think about was her laugh, her spirit, and that summer. It had haunted him all these years, only to worsen when he returned to the ranch. It didn’t take long to discover she visited every spring. Her favorite room was the attic—their place.

Jeff couldn’t count the times he’d wandered there since he’d gotten back. Her scent lingered on the daybed, energizing him and making his spirits soar, while his blood raced like wildfire.

He wondered if she was involved with someone, then alternately cursed the possibility and discounted it. If she was, Ray wouldn’t have suggested a feigned liaison.

Feigned, hell. The way he was going…

Jeff tried to shake the idea out of his head. You didn’t pounce on a woman you hadn’t seen in ten years. A guy had to have some manners.

Jeff glanced toward Ned’s place and wondered if he was up yet. Usually the old man was an early riser. If anyone knew about Megan, he surely would. Jeff nudged his horse in that direction, then just as quickly pulled back on the reins. Notwithstanding the fact he had an erection that would arrive two minutes before him, the last thing Jeff needed to do was get the family talking about his renewed interest in Megan.

With his luck, her mother would come tearing after him again. Considering what he and Megan were about to become involved in—if she agreed—Helen was definitely not a complication they needed.

He turned Thor toward the ranch. Time was wasting. Ray liked his plans instituted quickly. Maybe she wouldn’t agree. Maybe she’d run straight to Vinnie Devlin with the news he was being investigated. But if Jeff knew Ray—and he did—all those things had already been researched and discussed. Megan was in. All he had to do was ask. The question that remained was—phone call or in person?

He debated on that while Thor picked his way home. Halfway there, he tugged his cell phone from his pocket and punched in her number. She picked up on the second ring.

“Hello?”

Her voice felt like night desert breeze against his skin. The problem in his jeans doubled.

“Blast from your past, Megan.”

“Jeff?” Was there a hint of laughter in her voice? And how in the world after all this time could she know it was him?

“Wow…maybe you should put the art aside and set up a psychic hotline.”

“I’ll consider it a fall-back job. Where are you?”

“With Gramps, but getting ready to leave. I need to come see you, if that’s all right.”

“I’d love it. Business or pleasure?”


Monday, October 30, 2006

Ravenstar Recommended!

I just received this review of Ravenstar's Bride. I was thrilled to have gotten a Recommended read from Fallen Angels!

Five Angels! A Recommended Read... , Jennifer Colgan’s, Ravenstar’s Bride is a treat... I could not put it down. Ms. Colgan’s skill keeps readers engaged and delighted throughout the entire story. I am hoping this is not the last story we will see with the Istrians. Truly well done. – Amanda, Fallen Angel Reviews







Here's a short excerpt from Ravenstar's Bride:

* * * *

Her hair was the color of sunshine, but the cut was shaggy as though she’d chopped at it herself. An uneven fringe hung over her brows and as he watched, she ceased rubbing her thighs and swiped at the hair. The movement revealed another questionable mark on her right forearm and Bren felt his gut clench. She’d been abused in some way, a common fate among the dock runners. Yet somehow, she just didn’t seem the type who would sell her body for a living and accept the physical abuse that came hand in hand with such an unfortunate life.

Despite her disheveled appearance, this one was no dock runner, of that Bren was now certain. There was something about her, a dignity that touched him. He tried to ignore the strange sensation that settled beneath his sternum when their eyes met. She was, nevertheless, a stowaway, and she had no business on his ship.

His job had just become more difficult.

Determined to treat her as he would any other stowaway, he steeled himself and hit the control to open the transparent inner door of the cell. She jumped back as the clear barrier slid sideways and though she held her ground then as he stepped over the threshold into the cell, he saw the apprehension in her eyes. It was his choice now, to intimidate her properly and send her on her way before Ravenstar was too far out of orbit to safely to shuttle her back to the surface. Or, he could find some excuse to grant her dubious request for asylum just to keep her around long enough to learn her secrets. It was a difficult decision made more so by her reaction to his arrival.

She looked up at him, her chin canted defiantly. She lowered dark lashes over her sapphire eyes and attempted a come-hither smile through the discomfort of her swollen lip.

“You are the captain, I presume?”

Bren regarded her skeptically. What is this little one playing at? he asked himself. “You presume correctly.”

“Good. Then shall we negotiate, Captain? I’m in need of asylum, and I will do anything to secure it. Anything.”

* * * *

For more info on Ravenstar's Bride, now available in Print and E-book:
http://www.amberquill.com/RavenstarsBride.html

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nip-and-Tuck, Ta Da...

I should be talking about my newest release, The Sultan’s Revenge, going on sale this weekend at http://amberquill.com/Amber-Heat/SultansRevenge.html.

Instead, I’ll regale you with my adventures as a nip-and-tuck patient. Not the TV program—reality.

Around ten years ago, my ophthalmologist commented that I should have surgery on my eyelids to correct some loose skin that drooped down and interfered with my peripheral vision. I put it off. I was busy, I didn’t want any surgery, and it would have been expensive.

Fast forward to earlier this year when I began to notice my view of things at the side had become restricted. Slamming a cupboard door into the side of my face was a good clue. Brushing my fingers across a hot pan, while cooking, was another, especially since it happened more than once. LOL

This time, the doctor told me the surgery had become a medical necessity, so the date—August 29th—was set and I had the “Nip-and-Tuck,” done.

The trickiest part, for me, was coming home with my eyes bandaged from that morning until the next morning at 9 a.m.. No fancy suite of rooms with nurses in attendance like the rich and famous seem to favor.

I learned:
Labels on the back of clothes are great for knowing which way is correct.
Panties with labels in a side seam are trickier.
To put toothpaste on your brush, hold the head with bristles up, and add toothpaste—to brush and fingers.
It’s possible to put butter and honey on your toast if you don’t mind sticky fingers.
And lots more…

Believe me, it gave me a new appreciation for any and all accomplishments made by a blind person.

What a relief when the bandages came off. Of course, both eyelids and below the eyes was bruised and swollen. That’s when the jokes began, such as, “Who popped you?” My white-haired, 80 years old husband said, “People will think I worked you over.”

The doctor was right; my peripheral vision is much improved.

And, as an author, the experience gave me an experience I may use one day in a story.


Warm Regards,

Barbara Clark
www.barbaraclarkbooks.com

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Building a Fictional World Part 1

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to create your own fictional world? Sort of—If I ruled the world, then…
Chocolates would be calorie-free
The dog would clean up his/ her own mess
All the traffic lights would turn to green for me
And more ☺

Most of my favorite authors in fantasy and science fiction have created their own worlds, so I decided to give it a try. My planet would be similar to Earth in topography and weather, but with a few differences, such as two moons instead of one, and native animals resembling dinosaurs. Later I added dragons.

I chose a name for my world—Traber, after the starship captain who discovered the star system and the habital third planet with no sentient population—or so he thought. Later events would prove him wrong.

By the time each of my stories open, plants and animals brought by colonists from Earth had adapted to the planet. A great famine swept the small group of colonists. During that time, their connection to their mother planet was lost, and their technology fell back to medieval times. Wars followed which split the people into several groups—each group settling on lands similar to those settled by their ancestors on Earth centuries earlier.

In Dark Passion, I introduce some of the dinosaur-like creatures, including the water-dragosaurs, called dabblers.

We first meet them and other creatures, tamed by men, in the opening:

PROLOGUE

The slavers struck without warning.
Some rose out of the sparkling waters of Conch Bay. Others, with a pack of rapto-dragosaurs at their sides, raced from where they'd hidden in the orangefruit grove. Women clutched their babies or little ones, frantic to protect them from the cruel men and slashing fangs of the leaping raptos.
Young boys and girls, who'd been digging in the sun-warmed, pink sand for oysterclams, froze or ran screaming toward their mothers. Small water-dragosaurs, known as dabblers, snapped at the slavers, biting and clawing the men and raptos who threatened their humans.
Dropping the basketful of orangefruit she'd collected for the evening feast, Alyssa Palanui, daughter of King Tristan, intercepted her preteen niece and the two boys nearest her. Quickly she drew them behind a roseberry bush. "Lani, Damon, Alan, run to Fernhaven. Warn them, and then stay there."
While precious moments ticked away, measured by shrieks of terror, Alyssa removed her lineage medallion and passed it to Lani. "Give this to their Keeper of the Flame. Now, go."
As the trio raced away, she picked up a long branch and ran toward the nearest woman fighting off an attacker.
Alyssa's heart fluttered in her throat with fear. All the men of Tamary and their neighboring village had left earlier to fish in the deep waters far to the south.
No one would come to their rescue.

If you want to read more look for Dark Passion by April Reid (my pseudonym for more sensual stories) at http://amberquill.com/AmberHeat/DarkPassion.html

If you have questions or comments, you can email me at: authorclark06@earthlink.net

Watch for Part 2 in Building a Fictional World.

Best Wishes,

Barbara Clark