Archive for September, 2013

Serialized Short Story: Trapped Part 6

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Howdy all, here is Part 6 of Trapped. Enjoy!

**

Arlie turned toward him and looked at the single window, afternoon sun now obscured by clouds and rain. Hank moved closer, and suddenly his presence was a huge comfort. After all, what if Junior had left her dead out there, life spilling away on the floor?

“Arlie? You said that your grandmother raised you after your parents died. Then you moved away ten years ago for college. How did your parents die?”

She dared look up at him, at the concern and certainty. Did he know? Had he guessed why her fear wouldn’t leave, even after she’d heard his self-assured words about the fire calming down?

She sat on the only metal folding chair in the storage room. It creaked. She folded her hands in her lap. “Twenty years ago my parents and I lived in Sulfur Springs. Thirty miles from here.”

She saw recognition dawn in his eyes. “I thought you said you’d lived in Chimney Rock all your life until you moved ten years ago?”

“No, I implied it. Said I was from this area, not Chimney Rock.”

“Why?”

“Maybe because I didn’t want to remember. I figured if I lied it was like forgetting, you know? I was in Sulfur Springs that June when the forest caught fire.”

“Shit.” His voice was so low it was more a whisper than a word. “That was a big one. Fifteen thousand acres.”

“Yeah.”

He stared at her for long moments, as if he wanted to ask her to elaborate and give her experience of that day, yet was afraid to ask. He’d saved her life today—the least she could do was explain.

“My parents…they’d left me at home to go into Chimney Rock because my grandmother had fallen at her trailer and they were afraid her hip was broken. An ambulance had taken her to the hospital. I begged them to let me stay home because I thought I was old enough to take care of myself. They agreed, but said they’d call when they found out how grandma was and make sure all was okay.”

“How old were you?”

“Twelve. I was mature for my age, too. Anyway, that was back before social media and big time Internet. My parents had Internet access but they didn’t let me use it much. I had my head in a book all day. I didn’t know about the fire but something just felt…wrong. Something told me to look outside. I ran to the west window and there it was. This big ass plume of inky black and gray. I’d never thought of fire the way I did that day. It had this reddish glow at bottom that I could barely see through a clearing in the trees. It was a…monster like in my nightmares.”

She stopped, her throat so tight she could barely force out another word. She rubbed her arms as air conditioned, forced air over her head. She shivered with long-buried fears she rarely allowed to see the light of day.

Hank shoved a hand through his short hair, his eyes filled with comprehension. “Oh, my God.”

“Yeah. I froze to the spot at first, completely unsure what to do. Less than a minute later my parents’ friends and next door neighbors a half-mile down the road came roaring up the driveway and saw me standing outside. If I hadn’t been outside looking at the fire they would have thought no one was home…our SUV was gone. Anyway, they’d evacuated, the sheriff deputies were right behind them trying to get everyone out. They threw me in the car, and I was so happy to get away. I was…”

She stopped, staring into space and recalling the stark and primitive fear.” I was so afraid, Hank. Up until that moment I’d always seen fire as something to be respected. This was different. This was the most horrifying thing I’d ever seen. The fear was uncontrollable.”

He nodded, and he stepped a little closer. “You were just a child. I’m glad your neighbors were there for you.”

What could she say? “We drove to Chimney Rock. My neighbors took me to the hospital where I thought we’d find my parents and my grandmother. When we found grandma in her hospital room, she told me my parents had left to go back to Sulfur Springs. They’d heard about the fire, tried calling me and…I’d left my cell phone in the house.”

He reached out for her as she stood up again. He caught her forearm and drew her near.

“Your parents went back for you when you didn’t answer the phone,” he said.

“Yes.”

She hated that she’d revealed even this much to a virtual stranger, but at the same time she trusted him. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to hear about my hang-ups.”

He took her hand between both of his, his eyes filled with understanding. “That’s not a hang up. It’s a trauma. A terrible one. Your parents didn’t make it back, did they?”

She swallowed around the agonizing memory. “They got to the house but the fire moved too quickly. They were found in the house later that after the fire went through.” She swallowed hard and forced the words out. “They were at the front door, as if they’d discovered I wasn’t there and tried to leave…”

Her imagination went where it shouldn’t, to visualize what her parents had gone through.

He still held her hand, his eyes now sad. “I’m sorry. A horrible tragedy.”

She nodded, but couldn’t get a word past her throat.

“You realize it wasn’t your fault, right?” he asked.

“Yes. At first I didn’t.”

“There’s nothing you could have done.”

“Have you…” How did she ask this question? “Have you ever been afraid of fire?”

He smiled and released her hand. “Hell yeah. Everyone should be respectful and afraid of fire. Even firefighters. If you don’t have a healthy understanding of what fire can do, you can make huge mistakes that can cost your life. But even if you know what you’re doing, Mother Nature still does what she wants, when she wants. We can curb her, but there are times when she wins.”

She took a huge breath. “Of course.”

“I know this is personal, but did you get counseling after your parents died?” he asked.

She smiled as some of the fear she’d been feeling for days eased. “Yes. I found someone who had a good handle on PTSD, even way back in the day. She was a great counselor.” She switched midstream, wanting to know something important. “What on earth made you want to be a firefighter?”

“Helping people. And there’s a rush to it, I’ll admit it. I love being outdoors with nature, even with a bitch like fire.”

She smiled, seeing the cockiness in his stance that she found attractive. A stirring built inside her. Yeah, she was trapped in here with him for who knew how long, but an attraction burgeoned inside her moment by moment.

**

Part 7 comes up on Wednesday!

Serialized Short Story: Trapped Part 5

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Hey everyone, here’s Part 5 of Trapped. Enjoy!

*

“I left the area ten years ago after marrying my college sweetheart. It’s a really long story but when I came back to town after a divorce two years ago, I moved in with my grandmother at her trailer. She needed someone to look after her.” Tears filled her eyes but she blinked them back. “She had a stroke and died two weeks ago…she was ninety-eight.”

“I’m so sorry.” His voice was soft with sympathy, his eyes warm.

“Thank you. Anyway, up until that time she was spry. I met Junior a year ago when he was doing a patrol through the trailer park. He seemed nice enough. Grandma encouraged me to get to know him. She thought he was a good man. I thought he as a good man. There were a lot of signs that he wasn’t, but I ignored them. Then when grandma died he helped me make the arrangements.”

“So he was your boyfriend?” He asked the question with an even tone.

She shook her head vigorously. “No, no. I considered him a friend. I’d never let it get to a dating stage. I’ve known him a year, but he’s never asked me out.” She sighed and pushed her long hair back from her face. “After she died he started pushing me to date, which I thought was odd…I mean inappropriate to push someone to date right after their grandmother died. She was my last living close relative.”

“Your parents aren’t alive?”

She hated talking about how they’d died, and it sent another cold shiver over her. “No. My grandparents raised me. Granddad died three years ago.” She stopped, the last few hours rolling around in her mind and body with such force, she trembled with it. “Sorry. I’m rambling.”

“It’s okay. We don’t know how long we have in here before we get out.” He stood up and walked toward a shelf and removed two bottles of water from a twelve pack. “Want one?”

She stood up and took one. “Thank you. I’m parched.”

She unscrewed the top and sipped slowly, watching him take a large gulp from his bottle.  He stayed standing, his big frame somehow comforting in the room.

She put her bottle down on a shelf and stuffed her hands in her hair. “Oh, God. Bufford. How could I forget him?”

“I know. If I could have checked on him, I would have. Junior threatened to shoot if I tried to help Bufford. He was behind the counter, and I couldn’t see how bad he was or if he was even alive.”

She brushed tears away, wanting to be stronger. She couldn’t afford vulnerability in this time and place.

“So Junior the jackass was pushing you to date him?” Hank asked.

“Yes. I decided I’d had enough and when the pre-evacuation order came I was about ready to leave. I didn’t have much left to do because I’d packed up before the preevac order came.”

He leaned against the wall, still holding the water bottle. “Why?”

She hesitated. “The fire. It’s been boiling up there off and on for days. It’s been making me antsy.”

He didn’t look critical, but she waited for his response.

“There’s no shame in leaving early. Especially because the smoke is so bad,” he said.

A little surprised, she said, “Junior told me I was overreacting.”

Hank snorted. “The man’s an asshole.”

She made an equal noise of disgust. “A murdering asshole.”

“Definitely that. It’s better to leave early and be safe if you can leave early. A lot of people tend to wait too long. They ignore their instincts.”

Tears rushed to her eyes and almost spilled over as bad memories slammed her in the stomach. She drew in a steady breath and fought to keep the tears from becoming a gully washer.

“Anyway,” she said, “the next door neighbor on one side of me, Mrs. Jefferson, was outside her trailer saying she wouldn’t evacuate, and I was trying to convince her,” she said. “I was…my imagination was too good and I knew what would happen if she didn’t get out. Junior showed up right then and started berating me again. I went inside the trailer to get my purse. I already had the truck packed so I planned to leave right then.”

Hanks voice was soft and low. “What did he do?”

She swallowed hard. “He cornered me in the living room and started kissing me. I pushed him away. He kept insisting. I realized he was getting worked up by my struggles.” She swallowed hard. “He liked that I didn’t want it. He was excited that I was afraid. That I was…” She almost choked on the next words and took a sip of water. “I tried to reason with him. I said that we could leave for a hotel, anything to get him away from the trailer. I told him it was dangerous because the fire was coming. He blew me off and started trying to take my t-shirt off. I grabbed a pan off the kitchen counter and hit him in the head with it. I grabbed my purse and ran. Jumped in the truck and took off. I thought either I’d knocked him out or killed him.”

“You didn’t call the police?”

She drew in a deep breath. “No. He’s…the first thing that ran through my head was that he is the son of the corrupt mayor and no one would believe me that he assaulted me and it was self-defense. He’s a law enforcement officer. I’m an administrative assistant at the law center down the street. When I was a kid I was a handful, always giving my grandmother fits. I had run ins with the cops.”

“Running makes you look guilty.”

She didn’t see censure in his eyes, but she did see questions. “I know. But the fire was also advancing and I…I just wanted out of there. I wasn’t thinking.”

He advanced to stand closer to her, and he placed his water bottle on the shelf next to hers. She realized tears had escaped, even when she’d tried desperately to control them. They ran down her cheeks, tear after tear. He cupped her shoulders. His touch held comfort. Not the greedy, clasping touch of a man wanting something from her.

“I understand. When we get out of here obviously the whole story will come out. He’s probably killed Bufford and tried to rape you. We can’t let that stand. We won’t let him get away with it.”

They went silent for a moment. Rain splattered the small window, and she looked up. She drew in a deep breath, trying to calm her heartbeat. Rain was good. It was so good.

“Someone has to discover us soon,” she said. “People are evacuating and will need gas. Not everyone will go to the truck stop.”

“It’ll be all right.” He sounded so calm, so self-assured she almost resented it.

“How do you know? I mean, how do you really know the fire isn’t going to—“ She cut herself off.

She left his grip and paced across the room as a wild shudder went through her body. She didn’t look at him, ashamed at her lack of control. Her cowardice.

She heard him behind her, but he didn’t come too close and didn’t try and touch her again.

“There’s more to this story than you’re telling me,” he said. “I can see in your eyes that something else is very wrong.”

**

Part 6 coming up Sunday! Yeah, we’re moving a bit more quickly. 🙂

SUDDEN HEAT IS OUT AND CONTEST!!

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

SUDDEN HEAT BOOK LAUNCH CONTEST!

Sudden Heat is out! Come help me celebrate with this brand new awesome contest! I’d love help getting the word spread around that Sudden Heat is available. Sudden Heat is the first novella in my military romantic suspense trilogy Love Under Fire. You can find a blurb and excerpt at this book page.

TO ENTER this giveaway, spread the word that Sudden Heat is out.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

You can post about the book on Facebook or Twitter.
If you’ve read it, you can leave a review.
You can blog about it.
You can add it to your Goodreads to-be-read list.
Each action counts as one entry, so there are multiple chances to enter. The contest is open until October 31, 2013 at noon EST.

For all tweets, use the hashtag #SUDDENHEAT so I can log your entry from Twitter.

You only need to tell me once in the comments section below what your twitter handle is and I can track your entries with the hashtag (#). For all other entries like Facebook or blogging, please post a note in the comments section here on my blog letting me know everything you’ve done so I can log your entry! (And please include your email address so I have a way to contact you if you are a winner.)
Sudden Heat is currently on sale at:

Ellora’s Cave

Amazon

Barnes & Noble (coming soon)

Kobo (coming soon)

iTunes (coming soon)

THE PRIZES

One winner: $10 Amazon eGift card

One winner: $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble eGift card

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*International entries accepted as long as I can email you your prize.

Need a sample tweet with a hashtag? Here are some examples:

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Thank you so much for participating!!!

 

Serialized Short Story: Trapped Part 4

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Hey everyone, here’s Part 4 of Trapped. Enjoy!

* *

Arlie came to with a throbbing headache, her body one big ouch, and her mind scattered. Someone held her, and the arms cradling her felt incredibly strong. Panic surged. What if Junior had her in his grip? Her hand lay against a solid wall of muscle, and she thought a heart beat steadily and calmly under her fingers. She struggled against the arms, but they held her tight. She drew in a deep breath. He didn’t smell like Junior’s overwhelming citrus aftershave. No, this scent was a light musk and far more pleasant than Junior’s.

“Easy. Easy,” the man’s deep voice murmured close. “You’re hurt. Lay still.”

Her eyes flew open, and she had her first real look at the man holding her. It wasn’t Junior, thank God. She recognized the short dark hair, the navy t-shirt and the solid body. No one would call the mystery man gorgeous, and his carved, rough-hewn face belonged on a gangster. He had cruel lips, a crooked nose and…okay, the warmest, most intriguing brown eyes she’d ever seen. His eyes filled with genuine concern as he cradled her on his lap as he sat on the floor. The man who’d tried to negotiate a deal with Junior that included roasting alive in the gas station. Fear spiked so high she almost choked on it. They needed to get out of here.

“Let me go,” she whispered, her voice a croak.

“You’re safe now,” he said. “Junior’s gone.”

Relief sank straight to her bones. She glanced around at the big room, the only light from a small window high on the wall above them. It was cold in the room as air conditioning blew in her face.

“Oh, God. We’re in a supply room,” was all she could think to say. She felt so scrambled, she couldn’t think straight. “He didn’t…he didn’t shoot us, did he?”

To her surprise Mystery Man smiled. “He shot at you but you dodged, and I knocked you down. A little too hard. You hit your head on the counter.”

“Why didn’t he just keep shooting?”

His arms tightened around her a bit. “Because I convinced him locking us in here really was the best idea. I yelled as loud as I could and stayed down so that I wouldn’t seem like a large man even though I’m at least as big as he is. I wanted him to think he’d defeated us so he’d just leave. I told him if he shot us he’d be caught. I told him if he burned us up in the fire there would be no evidence.”

Her stomach lurched at the terrifying idea, but she said, “A smart idea.”

She struggled in his arms a little and he loosened his grip. “Take it easy. You might have a concussion.”

She touched her forehead. “I think I’m good. It doesn’t ache anymore. My muscles hurt like hell, though.”

“You fell hard when I pushed you. You probably tensed up during the whole time that ass was pointing the gun at us.”

She nodded, and was pleased to note her head barely ached. “Tense is an understatement.”

He eased her out of his arms, and she sat on the floor next to him.

He turned to the side and inspected her. He gently tilted her chin. “Let me see your eyes.”

She allowed his touch, and his presence comforted her in a way it shouldn’t. “I’m fine.”

“Ever have a concussion before?”

“No. Are you a doctor?”

A small smile tilted his mouth. “No. I’ve had some EMT and paramedic training. Your pupils are even at least.” He took her pulse. “Pulse is a little fast, but you’re scared.”

She ignored all the medical talk. “Junior locked us in here?”

“Yep. I carried you in here, and he slammed the door. He must have shoved some stuff in front of the door because I can’t get it open.”

She rubbed her arms. Her shorts, Hello Kitty t-shirt, and athletic shoes had seemed right for the blazing hot weather outside, but in this air conditioning goose bumps raced across her body.

“How long have we been in here?” she asked.

“Less than ten minutes.”

“My purse…my cell phone.” Renewed hope filled her up until she realized she didn’t have it.

“Nope, it’s out there where you dropped it. When I tried to pick it up, he told me to leave it. Then he forced me to give him my cell phone so I couldn’t call either. Believe me, I would have called for help by now.”

Damn, damn, damn. Despite the kindness in his eyes, how could she trust him? And now she was stuck in here. She decided to test the waters and pinned on a strong face, even if the fear eating her inside her hadn’t diminished.

She plastered on a weak smile and held her hand out. “I’m Arlie Davis.”

This time he gave her a genuine smile as he enveloped her small hand in his much larger one. His handshake was confident but not too hard. “Hank Clancy.”

“Hank?” she asked automatically.

“My father loves Hank Williams.”

She grinned again. “Ah, I see. Hank, I’ve got a very serious question for you. Why did you suggest he put us in here? Aren’t we…I mean the whole town is being evacuated because of the fire.”

He drew his legs up and propped his arms on his knees. “The fire probably won’t get this far.”

Arlie frowned in disbelief. “Probably?”

He shrugged. “Anything is possible, but it isn’t probable.”

“How do you know? It looked pretty damned angry by the time I left. It blew up. I mean the smoke looked like those explosions from a volcano.”

He nodded, but he didn’t look in the least disconcerted. “The southerly wind driving it toward town died down in the last hour, and there’s a heavy storm front coming from the north, and its winds are starting to blow the fire back into itself.  Best thing that could’ve happened since we didn’t get a chance to set up a backburn. At base camp, I heard the weather report and it’s been raining like hell at the top of the pass. Before I got kicked out they said the fire was no longer making big runs. The slurry planes and choppers had to land, because with this rain they won’t be needed for a while, if at all.”

She remembered the wind and heavy clouds she’d seen in the distance as she’d scurried from Grandmother’s trailer, but hadn’t given it a thought, as she’d run for her life.

“But they’re still evacuating the town, right?” she asked.

“Better to be safe than sorry.”

“You’re right. I was happy to get out of there. Wait…kicked out? You said you’re a firefighter?”

“Wildland firefighter in season. Fire science instructor at the community college off season.”

She glanced at him, taking in the authority in his voice when he spoke of fire. He didn’t sound like a man given to fibs and lies, but her record with Junior proved she didn’t always know a good man from a bad one.

“You’ve always been a firefighter?” she asked.

He smiled. “I had a stint in the Navy on aircraft carriers. I managed to get my bachelors in fire science and Chimney Rock’s branch of the University of Arizona needed an instructor when I finished my time with the military. Right now I’m teaching basic fire science.”

She lifted one eyebrow. “You’re a native to Chimney Rock?”

“Yep.”

She guessed him somewhere in his thirties…about her age. “So why did they kick you off fighting this fire?”

She knew the skepticism wasn’t lost on him. He lifted one eyebrow.

“Last few years I’ve had trouble with asthma. I started having a damn attack before we even left base camp.” He didn’t sound any too pleased, and the disappointment on his face said it all.

“You didn’t want to leave?”

“No.” He tilted his head to the side. “You seem suspicious.”

“I don’t know you, Hank. Would you expect me to trust you?”

He nodded. “At least a little after everything that’s happened.”

She didn’t speak, uncertain how to answer when her misgivings remained around the edges.

“All right,” he said, lifting his hands in surrender. “I understand. Why was the deputy after you?”

“I’m not a criminal.”

“Didn’t say you were.”

She drew her legs up and hugged them. “I don’t know where to start.”

“Anywhere you like.”

* *

There’s a bit of a break in here because on Tuesday, September 25 my latest story Sudden Heat comes out and I’m posting a kick ass contest for you all to participate in! So be sure to stop by Tuesday so you can jump in! Part 5 of Trapped is coming up Friday.

Serialized Short Story: Trapped Part 3

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Hey guys, here’s part 3 of Trapped. Hope you enjoy it. 🙂

* *

“What did you do?” Bufford asked, his voice sounding cranky.

“I told him no.” Her voice sounded strangled, as if she was trying to suck in air at the same time.  “He tried–”

The doors came open and Junior barreled in, his weapon drawn. She held her hands up as if surrendering, her mind a riot of panic. The man clutching her arms didn’t move and didn’t say a word, his hands steady, his body hard against her back.

Junior was a television stereotype of corrupt law enforcement. He looked the part with slicked back greasy dark hair. His face reminded her of Elvis in a way, his features too good looking, as smooth as a baby’s butt and just as pale. He was at least as tall as the man behind her and bulging with obscene muscles. He’d always been a blockhead, but the sheriff had hired him because Junior’s father was the mayor and had more money than sense. Much of that money came in the form of a large housing development scarring the mountainside near town. The same development that was in imminent danger of destruction from fire.

He pointed the gun directly at her. “There you are. Did you really think you’d get away with it?”

“Now what’s going on, Junior?” Bufford asked, his voice calm but a little pissed.

Junior smiled without a hint of humor, his blue eyes colder than winter. “She ignored me for the last time. Now she’s gotta pay.”

Bufford cleared his throat. “Uh…I don’t understand. Did she commit some crime?”

Junior sneered. “She’s been committing crimes since high school. Has everyone fooled into thinking she’s the good little bitch, but she’s not so holier than thou.”

“Now Junior, I don’t–” Bufford started to say.

“Shut. The. Hell. Up.” Junior’s voice stung like a slap. “Shut up.”

“Junior.” Her voice was thready, a mere whisper. “Let them go. It’s just you and me. Don’t involve them.”

“Too late for that. You screwed up, just like you always do.”

The stranger behind her moved his hands down her arms until he released them, then landed on her waist. She flinched, shocked. What the hell?

“What’s the charge against her?” the customer’s deep voice rumbled close.

“What the hell do you care?” Junior frowned. “You a cop?”

“No.”

“Then you don’t know Jack.”

Bufford started to move around the counter. “Let’s be reasonable about this. It must be a misunderstanding because Arlie would never–”

Junior aimed toward Bufford and fired.  She flinched at the ear-splitting sound.

For a second she wondered if she’d feel pain. Because he must have fired at her. She’d said the wrong thing, held her mouth the wrong way. She heard a loud cry from Bufford and swung around.

“Oh, Jesus! Bufford!” She started to move as Bufford fell back behind the counter where she couldn’t see him.

“Don’t move!” Junior crouched into a stance, as if he had a bead on a highly dangerous individual.

“Take it easy.” The customer lifted his hands as if surrendering to his own arrest. “We just need to calm down here.”

“I’ve got to help him. Please,” she said, tears overflowing her eyes as she heard Bufford moan in agony. “He’s innocent. Please!”

Junior snorted. “Too late for that, Arlie. Too damned late.”

“Look there’s a solution to this,” the customer said.

“Solution?” Junior laughed. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Put us in the storage room in back. The fire is coming pretty fast, and if you want to get away with murder that’s the best way to do it. I figure when that fire gets here in the next few hours it’ll burn so hot they won’t find much more charred corpses.”

The very idea made Arlie’s blood run thick with dread. Which was worse? She’d rather Junior just shoot her now, because the thought of perishing by fire made her sweat with icy fear.

By now the customer had eased around so he stood almost in front of her. She still hadn’t looked at his face. Her attention stayed riveted on Junior’s hate-filled expression.

“Look, I don’t know what beef you have with this woman, officer, but this isn’t the way to solve it,” the man said to Junior.

Junior’s lip curled. “Shut up or I’ll shoot you, too. You don’t know shit what she did to me.” Junior’s voice had turned raspy, as if he’d already sucked on the smoke coming down the mountain. “But maybe you got an idea. I mean, how dumb is that giving me an idea on how to kill her?”

She almost agreed, but something in the customer’s tone earlier made her think he’d given Junior the idea for a good reason she didn’t understand. Could the guy have a clever plan? She could only hope.

The deputy sheriff’s eyes glittered with a strange insanity, one she hadn’t heeded well enough. She’d learned her lesson. Never, ever become involved with a crazy-assed local from her hometown. First things first, she had to survive this encounter with this particular crazy-assed local. Her heart still slammed in her chest, and she thought she’d suffocate. Hell, she was a friggin’ basket case. Time continued to slow, and she realized she was dizzy–maybe she’d held her breath, or maybe unfettered terror had cut oxygen to her brain. She’d made a critical mistake stopping here. Very critical and now she’d pay with her life.

“Well, I’m tried of this. Time to get the show on the road,” Junior said as he steadied his gun hand by clasping his wrist.

A second later Junior fired. Mystery man dove for her and the day turned to midnight.

Part 4 coming up Monday!

 

Serialized Short Story: Trapped Part 2

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Hey everyone. My bad! I said this would be up on Saturday and totally forgot I said I’d put it up. 🙂 Here’s the next part of Trapped.

* *

She careened into the right turn lane and down the long off ramp that led to the gas station. Benson Hardy’s Gas Station and Convenience Store had been here fifty years, even though Benson Hardy had been dead the last thirty of them. Successive owners never changed the name. They’d tinkered with the building, made changes like adding a big trucker’s style bathroom and shower area. She screeched up next to a pump. Only one other pump was occupied by a nondescript black SUV with tinted windows. No one was at the pump with the vehicle.  She jumped out and hurried toward the station with her purse slung over her shoulder. She had cash, a lot of it, and didn’t plan to pay with a credit card. That meant she had to go inside. She glanced back at the massive glow of red and yellow mixed with gray boiling along the top of the mountain as it devoured dead Spruce trees. She hated the trees being blackened and destroyed. She really hated that.

She pushed through the double glass doors. A man stood at the counter, back turned to her. Old Mick Bufford, current owner of the gas station, was helping the patron. She took in a few details about the customer. He was way taller than her five foot eight, and had dark hair cut military short. His ripped arms and broad back were well displayed by a form-fitting navy t-shirt. Trim-waisted, the man wore jeans that were tight enough to show off a nice rear, but certainly not enough to look as if he was purposefully displaying the facts. The cash register beeped as Bufford scanned a large bag of nuts and two bottles of water. The customer’s arms flexed as he reached into his back pocket for his wallet, and she noticed a tattoo inked onto his left bicep that looked Celtic.

“Damn fire is a bit close. You from town?” Bufford asked the man.

“Yeah.”  The man’s voice had low, rumbling quality.

Bufford looked like he was examining the guy’s T-shirt. “Hey, Creed Hot Shots. You a firefighter?”

“Yeah, but maybe not much longer.”

The guy’s voice was liquid and deep. The type of voice that could get a girl into trouble if she was looking for it. Which she wasn’t. No, not for a long, long time after this mess. If ever again.

“Not much longer?” Bufford looked up at the man.

“They sent me packing.”

“Oh.” Bufford’s eyebrows went up, but he didn’t ask the man any more questions. Bufford smiled when he saw her. “Hey Arlie.”

She tossed him a weak smile, eager to just pay and leave. “Hey.”

The customer didn’t look around as he paid for his purchases. Bufford grabbed a plastic bag from under the counter and loaded it with the nuts, water, and a receipt. Before the man turned around, the sound of screeching tires made her look out the windows. Junior’s squad car had come to a crooked halt near the doors. Her body froze to the spot. Shit, shit, shit.

“What the hell?” Bufford said.

“It’s Junior Douglas.” Her tongue felt thick and as dry as cardboard. “Mr. Bufford…look I have a problem. I just left Junior back at my old place, and he wasn’t too happy.”

Instinctively she backed toward the counter, her heart slamming in her chest and her breath coming faster as fear spiked.

“Why’s that?” Bufford asked, surprise clear in his tone.

“It’s a long story,” Arlie said.

Junior’s enormous frame exited the squad car. The only thing she had going for her was witnesses. What could he do to her? He could arrest her, take her somewhere in the woods where no one would see him execute her. A wave of pure terror made her move back again, and she bumped right into a tall, hard body. The customer. His hands clamped on her upper shoulders.

*

Part 3 coming up Thursday.

Serialized Short Story: Trapped Part 1

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Hey everyone! Here’s the first part of Trapped. Hope you enjoy it.

Author’s Note

I got the idea for Trapped June 29, 2013. When I learned June 30 that 19 hotshot firefighters had lost their lives, I was thrown back. Here I was writing about a wildland firefighter.

Fire is a theme in many of my stories, and in the last several years wildfires have menaced communities I’ve lived in such as the Monument and Antelope Fires in Sierra Vista, Arizona in June 2011, and the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs in June 2012. Then came June 11, 2013 and the Black Forest Fire. Black Forest was where I grew up, and while I haven’t lived there for many years, it is dear to me. Fortunately, my old home survived the conflagration.

My relationship with fire is a curious one, as it has been all my life. It’s one of enormous respect for the raw power of Mother Nature and with it a fear that can’t always be avoided.

So with that, I dedicate this story to the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots who saved homes here in Sierra Visa in June 2011 but who perished in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona on June 30, 2013. They were doing what they loved and did so well, saving property and lives. Thank you for your service. May you rest in peace.

Disclaimers: In this story Chimney Rock, Arizona is a fictional town, but it might be Anywhere Town here in the Southwest. Also, as far as I know, University of Arizona does not have a fire science program.

 *

Arlie Davis ran from fire once before and yet paid a terrible price. A new fire threatens her world and an entire community and fear nips sharply at her heels. When a madman decides she’ll succumb to the flames, firefighter Hank Clancy is her only hope for survival.

Trapped

Chapter One

Chimney Rock, Arizona

Friday

100 degrees Fahrenheit

Arlie Davis watched the rickety building loom up in the distance as she floored the gas petal on the old blue pickup.

The gas station on the flats just north of Chimney Rock looked like it belonged in a damned slasher flick.

This isn’t a movie, Arlie.

Wind gusted heavy for a second and moved the truck around. She corrected with the steering wheel.

From a distance, the gas station appeared abandoned, but a closer look revealed it still operated. Sure, the big truck stop on the other side of the four-lane highway served more patrons, but the old station catered to locals who preferred a personal touch.

She pressed down on the gas pedal again. She’d passed cars like her life depended on it, and it well might. She wasn’t proud of her driving, but she didn’t have time to wait in line with the others fleeing before the Chimney Fire roared into the town and roasted the place into oblivion. She glanced in the mirror, half afraid she’d see Junior sailing up behind her in his squad car, or perhaps even worse—the raw and deadly power of the wildfire. Her skin prickled, goose bumps traveling along her body like the touch of many tiny insects. She shivered, unable to control the fear spiking her system into redline. One part of her was damned annoyed at not being able to control the reaction, but it came from somewhere primal. She tried slowing her breathing, but her heart didn’t care. It rattled in her chest like an old engine.

She shifted on the seat. Her butt hurt–the bench seat must have lost stuffing a long time ago, if it ever had any, and the seat belts were shoved so far down she couldn’t have reached them even if she’d had time. Her mouth was dry but she didn’t take her hands off the steering wheel to grab her water bottle.

This isn’t safe Arlie. Slow down. Yeah, but where am I going to go?

Hell, no. It wasn’t safe. She hadn’t had time for pretty, reasonable driving when she’d grabbed the keys and jumped inside the truck, rammed it into gear and shot out of the driveway. Tears moistened her eyes. God she was a mess. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision. It wouldn’t help her a damned bit if she ran into the ditch and wrecked the pickup. She needed Grandmother’s old contraption to make it out of here. To make it out of the universe. Because God only knew what it would take to escape the fire roaring down the mountain and Junior Douglas.

When Junior woke up with a splitting headache he’d be damned pissed.

That is, if he woke up at all.

She glanced at the gas gauge and groaned. She didn’t want to stop, but trucks didn’t run on fumes. Emotions battered her from a half dozen directions. She’d evacuated her grandmother’s old trailer with a few important papers in her purse, a suitcase of clothes in the bed of the truck, and the t-shirt, khaki shorts and athletic shoes she wore now. If the trailer burned, she’d start again. Starting again didn’t scare her half so much as the red beast chewing up the trees on the peak and the law that would be after her if Junior was dead.

She glanced in the rearview mirror as her scrambled thoughts tried to right themselves. She’d never suspected Junior’s pathology, never guessed he was nuttier than a fruit basket and meaner than an entire hive of Africanized bees. She looked at the gas gauge again. No one else was stopping at the old gas station, so maybe she had time. Considering the long line behind her that she’d circumvented by taking a back road, it was possible if Junior woke up he’d be stuck in the traffic jam. She could only hope.

Instinct prickled along her skin like a thousand tiny spiders dancing along her and arms. She knew that feeling well and the consequences of ignoring it. She’d ignored her squiggy feelings about Junior because he was a deputy sheriff and look where that had gotten her.  The thought of running out of gas as the wildfire came across the mountains frightened her more than Junior catching up with her.

*

Part two coming up on Saturday!

New Short Story Blurb: Trapped

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Greetings all! Hope you’re having a wonderful week. As you can see it’s already been a busy week on the blog. But that’s a good thing. Today is a short little blurb of Trapped, the new short story coming next week.

Trapped

A short story by

Denise A. Agnew

Arlie Davis ran from fire once before and yet paid a terrible price. A new fire threatens her world and an entire community and fear nips sharply at her heels. When a madman decides she’ll succumb to the flames, firefighter Hank Clancy is her only hope for survival. 

**

First part is next week!

Serialized Short Story: Closure, Part 3

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Here’s the end of Closure. Hope you enjoy it. Next week I’m starting you off with Trapped, a firefighter romance. Stay tuned for a blurb of Trapped on Thursday.

“Yes. What happened here was more than one man’s madness and the fire. When I came here, I wanted to feel the place. I was always a skeptic during paranormal investigations. That night I stopped being a skeptic. But I figured if I came here I’d know if this ground was still evil. I know how crazy it sounds.”

“You’re right it does sound crazy … or it would to someone without an open mind.” He released her shoulder, but his gaze was still gentle and concerned. “You think the place is still haunted?”

She glanced around, trying to listen with all her senses. “It feels uncomfortable, but I don’t know if that’s the PTSD talking to me.” Silence fell on them for a short while before she asked, “You followed me up here?”

“I had a feeling you’d come up here at some point and took the chance it would be sooner rather than later.”

She jumped into another topic out of curiosity. “Why hasn’t Steele Company torn down the place?”

“They were talking about rebuilding it.”

“No.” She hated the idea. “No.”

“Afraid so. But they can’t get anyone to buy it. My guess is they’ll have to clean the property off before anyone will think about it.”

“It’s insane to even consider rebuilding the place or selling it.”

“They can’t leave it fenced up and useless.”

She grunted. “Practically speaking I don’t suppose they can.”

“Pippa, now that you’ve been here, why don’t you do that shopping you promised yourself. Forget this damned place before it takes over the rest of your life.”

Maybe he did understand more than she’d originally believed. “Do you … feel anything off when you’re here?”

Oh, yeah, she was taking a huge chance asking that question.

He pivoted until his broad back was to her and he could survey the ruins, but he turned back a moment later. “I’ve been here by myself quite a few times and felt … something. I grew up in the next county, but as kids we heard ghost stories about this place. I’ve never seen a ghost or heard one, but I can’t deny something bizarre happened that night.”

A new respect grew inside her. “I don’t know many cops who’d admit that.”

He smiled and this time it was a full-blown grin that made him impossibly handsome. “Neither do I.” Another silence penetrated until he asked, “How are you? How’s work and life in Denver? Still doing paranormal investigations?”

Pippa cleared her throat. “No. Our leader got really sick right after the fire. They still don’t know what’s wrong with her. Some mysterious illness. The team broke up. I’m not sure if I ever want to join another team, but time will tell. A great team like ours isn’t easy to find. What about you? How’s life here as a deputy?”

“Quiet most of the time. Weekends I sometimes head out to Denver and visit my parents. Last month I went to Wyoming where my sister lives on a ranch with her husband. But I’m moving soon.”

“Where?” Part of her hoped he didn’t say out of state.

“I applied to the Denver police department, and I was hired. I’m moving in three weeks.”

Surprised, she allowed the pleasure to run through her. Jason might come to Denver? Whoa, girl. That doesn’t mean he wants to have a relationship or date you.

“That’s wonderful,” she said. “Congratulations on the new job.”

A sound came from somewhere nearby, and she jerked toward the ruins. The wind rustled the forest around them and spoke of mysteries she didn’t want to explore.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s … this place is still alive. I thought maybe the fire would have cleansed the place, but I don’t think it did.”

He slipped his arm around her shoulders. His size and strength made her feel safe, and the tension in her body eased.

“It’s all right. I won’t let anything hurt you.”

She looked up at Jason and his sincerity convinced her that he meant it. “I know. Listen, I never really thanked you for what you did that night. I’m ashamed that I didn’t send you a card or call you and thank you.”

“I was doing my job. You didn’t need to thank me.”

He’d gone above and beyond. He’d taken care of everyone that night as one of the first responders to the scene, his professionalism obvious. Yet when she’d broken down in tears as the fire raged, he’d pulled her into his arms for a minute to comfort her. In just those few moments he’d loaned his strength. Some of the team had suffered smoke inhalation and had gone to the hospital. He’d driven her to the hospital to check on her friends, then taken her to the hotel to sleep.

She could see in his eyes that he remembered what had happened next—the way he’d walked her to her hotel door, and what she’d done. Heat burned her face with embarrassment. She also knew her recovery would go a long way if she owned up to her mistake.

“I also didn’t apologize for kissing you,” she said, daring to meet his gaze. “It was idiotic to simply grab you and kiss you.” She rubbed her chilled hands over her face to try and remove the heat. “I’ve never done anything that ridiculous before.”

She’d thought he might appear uncomfortable, but instead she saw an answering heat in his eyes. A smoldering acknowledgement of the fierce attraction she’d felt that horrible night. He cupped her shoulders, his big hands warm. “Hey, it’s all right. I sure as hell don’t regret it. If anyone had seen me kissing you I might have gotten reported for unprofessional behavior. But while we were kissing, I wasn’t thinking about that.”

“Neither was I.”

Oh, it had been impossible for her to think straight during the kiss. She’d reached up to pull his face down to hers and within seconds of her lips meeting his, his arms had gone around her waist. He’d responded with full, ravenous need, his body hard and wanting against hers. The kiss hadn’t lasted long, but she’d never forget it. He’d released her quickly and bid her goodnight. She hadn’t heard from him or seen him again until today.

His palms caressed her shoulders. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you after that. For a while I told myself it wasn’t a good idea to have anything to do with someone I’d met under those circumstances. I forced myself not to contact you. But I’ve thought about that kiss every damned day.”

Her heart warmed. Good. This attraction wasn’t one sided, and that pleased her more than anything right now.

She wouldn’t let an opportunity pass her by. “I’m glad you’re coming to Denver. I’d like it if I could see you again.”

“I’d like that, too. We can start fresh in a new place.”

“Sounds wonderful.”

He smiled widely, and slowly drew her against him. “Here I go being unprofessional again.”

“Please do.”

Her heart felt light, and her body hummed with arousal. His hand cupped the back of her neck, and she closed her eyes as he leaned in for a kiss. His kiss started tenderly; he treated her like spun glass. She slipped her hands into his thick hair, and the kiss exploded. Their mouths mated, and when his tongue caressed hers, she wanted to get closer.

When they came up for air, he released her slowly. “Damn. You’re addictive.”

She laughed softly.

“You’re in town for how much longer?” he asked.

“Two days.”

“Good. Let’s spend some of it together.” He headed toward his car. “Come on. Let’s get out of this place. I think it’s had a hold of you for too long.”

“Yeah. Let’s.”

She started to walk away, but then heard it. A long, drawn out sigh. She turned around quickly as her attention swept over the ruins and the forlorn graveyard beyond. Wind moved the trees again.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

She turned back to him, determined to start a new life and forget Tranquil View. She had her closure now.

“Nothing.” She had a feeling happiness might win over this dark place after all.

He got into the cruiser and they left Tranquil View behind. As she followed him in her SUV, she didn’t even look back at the ruins in her rear view mirror.

The End

Guest Author: JoAnn Smith Ainsworth & Indomitable Women Going It Alone

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

A warm welcome to fellow historical romance author JoAnn Smith Ainsworth. JoAnn is celebrating a book release Polite Enemies (available now in ebook and print from Whiskey Creek Press), and her blog today is about indomitable women. Like JoAnn I love novels rich with character development. Take it away JoAnn!

 

Indomitable Women Going It Alone

by JoAnn Smith Ainsworth

You may be like me and prefer to write and read character-driven stories.

Recently, my writing partners pointed out that I consistently write “coming of awareness” and “self acceptance” stories in an historical setting. The heroine is of prime importance to the resolution of the story question. Self acceptance transforms the heroine into an “indomitable” woman as she struggles with plot elements. She gains strength, wisdom and becomes empowered as she overcomes each challenge.

My writing partners also point out that my heroines, although living in historical times, could easily be transported to today’s world. Their type of courage is timeless. People struggle with the same relationship intricacies generation after generation. People face the same types of emotional highs and lows as their ancestors as they grow into adulthood, marry, and nurture children. They have aspirations. They endure despair. They are blocked while trying to reach their goals or make their lives better.

These universal events in the human condition tie us together with an understanding that spans the centuries.

That gave me an idea. I decided to compare my historical western romance heroine, Ida Osterbach, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ida’s story is set in 1895 Wyoming. She has survived Indian and range wars and the murder of her husband. She’s kept the family farm going with sheer grit and determination. Hard working, focused, fiercely proprietary, she’s determined no outlaw gang is going to steal her land out from under her. Ida would have said the same words as Eleanor Roosevelt if asked about her life:  “As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along.”

Both women are fearless in their own way. Eleanor sets up canteens for people living in city slums. She works with the Red Cross during World War I and takes care of the shell-shocked and wounded soldiers in the hospitals. Ida acts despite bullets flying and willingly risks her life for her fiancé and her friends.

Both women were widowed when they took their longest strides in personal achievement.

Eleanor goes against social norms to support the women’s suffrage movement. Ida lives in a territory which refused to join the union unless its women could continue to vote (as was the law in the territory).

As both women met and dealt with each challenge thrown at them, they rose above the “average”. They became “indomitable”. They are examples of courage and the ever-driving force of the human spirit toward a fulfilled life.

As you read various novels, do you ever find a heroine who reminds you of someone you know?

Share with us.

JoAnn

Bio 

When JoAnn Smith Ainsworth carried wood as a pre-teen so her Great Aunt Martha could stoke up the iron stove to prepare dinner, she wasn’t thinking, “I could use this in a novel someday.” Yet, the skills she learned from her horse-and-buggy ancestors translate into backdrops for her historical romance and paranormal suspense novels.

MATILDA’S SONG (ISBN:  978-1-60504-195-7)

OUT OF THE DARK (ISBN:  978-1-60504-277-0)

POLITE ENEMIES (ebook ISBN:  978-1-61160-636-2) release Sept. 2013

THE FARMER AND THE WOOD NYMPH (ebook ISBN:  978-1-61160-660-7) release Dec. 2013

EXPECT TROUBLE (print ISBN:  978-1-61009-074-2) release April 2014

Her debut medieval romantic suspense novels received 4 stars from RT Book Reviews.

To learn more, visit JoAnn Smith Ainsworth or Twitter @JoAnnAinsworth or Facebook.

Again, you can find her latest novel Polite Enemies at Whiskey Creek Press so be sure to click on the title for the direct link.