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Valentine’s Rewind: The Storm Inside meets Tease

Valetine's Rewind Banner

Hello everybody! Welcome to this stop on the Valentine’s Rewind Blog Hop! I’m Alexis, your host for this stop. I write steamy, emotional, knock-your-socks off erotic romances and today I’m bringing back TWO couples for one very important reason. My two series were born out of the same (unpublished) book. Part of that story went into creating Jake and Eve from The Storm Inside. The rest of that book is Adam and Elizabeth’s story in Tease. Today I’m uniting the families (this feels very gangster mob…should I have a gun for this??) and explaining how they are (still) connected. This might also be a lead-in to a new book.

Maybe.

I hope you enjoy it!

Valentine Rewind

REVIVAL

Goodwood (Adam & Elizabeth…with a little Theo & Allison)

I was one of those people.

You know the ones, they say money can’t buy happiness. I walked around honestly believing that money and happiness were, at their core, unrelated.

But the truth? The truth was money could buy a whole lotta happiness. Case in point: money had purchased Elizabeth a slot at the Goodwood Revival in West Sussex. And the look on her face as she gunned Theo’s Mercedes 300SL down the winding track was nothing short of pure joy.

“I had no idea she was so proficient behind the wheel,” Theo murmured, his hand tucked inside Allison’s as they stood beside me watching Elizabeth’s run.

I chuckled as Allison threw me a shrug. She and I both knew all too well that Elizabeth was a pretty amazing driver. Allison’s face mirrored mine. We wore giant smiles as we watched. Theo on the other hand? He had some pretty wide eyes and a slack jaw.

“She could’ve been a driver if she’d wanted to. Lucky for her, she’s got me.” In the last year I’d managed to get her track time in my AMG, and a run in one of my team’s cars. Working for a Formula 1 racing team had come with far more perks than I’d originally dreamed. I occasionally kicked myself for waiting so long, but then again, if I had taken the job in Brackley working as a design engineer for Mercedes AMG, I might not have met Elizabeth. At least not when we did.

“Lucky indeed,” Allison murmured, giving me a much longer look than she had before. This one, if I wasn’t mistaken, was meant to be a statement on the current state of my relationship with her best friend.

We lived together and there was no one else on the planet for me…but Elizabeth wasn’t the kind of girl who wanted a ring, to change her name, or have a big wedding. She liked things the way they were. And because of how far she’d already come, I wasn’t going to be the one to push the idea of making our relationship more permanent. Most mornings I woke up thanking my lucky stars the drop-dead gorgeous woman who could drive a stick and command a classroom full of brilliant college students was still in bed beside me. I was a lucky fucking bastard and I knew it.

Asking her to marry me would push her over the edge. I wanted to love her, not hurt her. But Allison didn’t agree. Of course, she was also the one who’d been pushing Elizabeth since they became college roommates. She was a lot more comfortable with the boundaries Elizabeth could handle.

The crowd erupted in cheers as the cars on the track crossed the finish line. I watched with a ridiculous amount of pride coursing through my veins as Elizabeth navigated the car into the line headed off the track, wondering if Allison was right. Maybe it was time to test the waters.

“Could you grab us another round, and we’ll meet you down there?” Theo murmured in Allison’s ear.

She nodded and smiled. “See you there. It’s time to celebrate.”

We strolled across the grounds, making our way between exceptionally well-dressed groups. The fun thing about Revival was that it was a period festival. You didn’t have to dress up, but most did. Theo was in one of his throwback three-piece gangster suits. Allison was dressed to match in one of her champagne-colored gowns, and I was in one of my standard suits. After Elizabeth had the car squared away she’d be slipping back into her bright red dress as well.

Between the clothes and antique racecars, the music, and the food, I felt like I’d stepped back in time. Maybe it was time to act like we were in someone else’s life.

Theo cleared his throat. “Thank you for arranging all this, Adam. It’s more than perfect.”

I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the red velvet box. “It’s been my pleasure. I don’t think you could have picked a more appropriate time or place for this.”

He grunted and came the closest Theo ever came to smiling when Allison wasn’t around. “If her parents have their way, we’ll be here in this exact same spot one year from now for the wedding. Her mother is losing her mind. The minute she saw the pictures of Revival she started seeing the perfect wedding in her head.” He shrugged. “It gives her a year to plan the wedding to end all weddings, and I think Allison will be okay with it since she’ll get to have a period wedding.”

He tucked the box into his pants pocket and straightened his suit. I had to give it to the man, he had a style all his own and he made it work.

“How did you know?” I asked.

He cocked an eyebrow. “Please, please tell me you aren’t pulling this shit. You’re supposed to be my mature friend.”

I just barely managed to hold in a snort. “Ummm…what?”

“My mature friend.” He waved his hand through the air as we wedged between a particularly enthusiastic group dressed in WWII uniforms. “Higgins is clearly the guy who gets me in trouble, and James is my girly guy. You, my friend, are supposed to keep my ass out of trouble while being wise and practical about women. James has the over emotional crap all under control. Please tell me you aren’t switching sides on me. I don’t think I can handle being married without a mature friend.”

“Okay…” I drawled as I tried to figure out what Theo was talking about. “You’re saying I’m the guy you call when Allison’s been standing in the closet for an hour saying she has nothing to wear even though she has an entire closet full of clothes?” Girls were often very confusing.

“Yes!” he exclaimed. “Exactly. I love that woman with everything I have, but sometimes I don’t get her at all. I need someone to call and say ‘what the ever living fuck’ to so I don’t say it to her. Higgins will never get that. James will just call Allison and tell her what I said.”

“So it’s up to me.” I clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry my friend. I wasn’t asking you anything mushy. I promise.”

He sighed and pulled to a stop. “Good. What are you asking me?”

I tried very hard to put myself in Elizabeth’s shoes. Her level of distrust was earned a hundred times over. I wished that I could wave a magic wand and make her problems disappear, but I couldn’t. And sometimes, I had no idea what kind of fire I was playing with.

“By all accounts, you’re the last man who should be jumping into marriage with that cheesy fucking grin you’ve got on your face, but you have it, and you seem really happy about the choice you’ve made in asking her today.” I shrugged and shifted uncomfortably on my feet. “How do you know when you can move forward without the past pulling you back?”

His face fell and then his jaw ticked as anger took over. “Fuck everyone who ever hurt the women we love. Fuck every one of them.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I got a clean break. That past was always coming for me. It was like quicksand. No matter what I did, I couldn’t escape it. Then I got a gift. I was able to surgically sculpt the past right out of my life. Everything pulling me back…it’s gone. I was left with a choice. Do I wallow in the doubts, or do I cut ties and fucking run?” He shook his head. “The choice was pretty clear. I’d take a life of ups and downs with that woman,” he cocked his head toward Allison as she came toward us with a bottle of champagne in her hands, “over anything else. Period.”

“What on earth are you two talking about? Elizabeth is waiting!” Allison huffed as she shot right past us and over to the car, oblivious to the fact she was about to be engaged.

Elizabeth was grinning from ear to ear as she threw her arms around Allison. Her cheeks were red and her eyes were bright. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

“Thank you!” she squealed as she launched herself into my arms. She smelled like petrol and exhaust. Not to mention, the fire retardant suit she was wearing was itchy as hell.

And I didn’t care about anything other than the look in her eyes.

I brushed her sweaty hair back from her face. “You’re happy?”

“So fucking happy!” she breathed, and then kissed me.

Like, kissed me. It was deep and it was dirty. “I always forget how horny you get after driving fast…” I murmured against her lips.

“So horny,” she shook her head, her breathing growing deeper.

“Champagne, then shower sex?”

She shivered as she jumped out of my arms and yanked the zipper down on her suit. “You sir, have a date.”

Fifteen minutes later we were all a little tipsy. I was relieved when Theo whisked Allison away to complete his plan. It left me alone in a fast car with a fast woman that I happened to be madly in love with.

“What are you thinking so hard about over there, lover?” she drawled, feet up on the dashboard, hair spilling everywhere. We had the seats pushed back and down as far as they’d go—which wasn’t far. Not that being squeezed into a small space was a bad thing.

I ran my hand up her leg (the fire suit was now long gone and she was in leggings and a t-shirt) and to the spot I knew would make her sigh.

And sigh she did.

“Oh, Adam…you better get me up to our room. Now.”

“In a minute. Let me warm you up first.”

She groaned and closed her eyes, sinking into the discrete pleasure I was giving her. Everyone outside the car was so busy they weren’t paying any attention to us…or where my hands were wandering.

She lit up for me, her chest rising and falling, her cheeks flushing as I applied pressure in the ways she liked it best. We’d been like this from the moment we met. We sparked. We fed off each other. She made me a better man, and I stood by her side while she put the past behind her. We were good for each other. We were a team. And we were damn good together—in every way possible.

But could she see that through the fog of everything else?

“What are you thinking?” she whispered.

I was so deep in thought I hadn’t realized she was watching me. “About you.”

“What are you thinking about me?”

“That I want to spend the rest of my life with you. That I want everyone to know we belong to each other. That no matter what happens, or where it happens, no one can keep up us from each other.”

She studied me for several long beats, her eyes practically digging inside me. “So what’s stopping you?”

I swallowed. The emotions swirling around the tiny car were far bigger than anything I’d ever dealt with before. “I don’t want to scare you. The last thing I ever want to do is hurt you.”

To my complete surprise, she grinned, then twisted around so that she was leaning toward me, our lips almost touching. Her eyes drifted from my mouth up to my eyes. “I double dog dare you to ask me the question you’re thinking right now.”

Her breathing was ragged. She was turned on, excited, and she was absolutely terrified.

I looked up and waited until it felt like we were wrapped up by some invisible cloak, connected from the current buzzing across my scalp, all the way down my spine, and into my toes. “Will you be my wife?”

She stopped breathing and so did I, and then her head started bobbing up and down, eyes still locked on mine. “Yes,” she finally breathed.

“Yes?” I growled as some sort of alpha-instinct kicked in. I took her face in my hands and pulled her closer.

“Yes,” she repeated, her voice several octaves deeper than it had been a moment before.

“Well isn’t this an interesting development,” I said a split second before I kissed her. She melded into me and it took everything I had not to brand her right there in the driver seat of Theo’s car with all of the revival watching.

Instead I cradled her against me and dropped my hand back down to finish what I’d started.

“Are you absolutely sure you’re ready for something this big and permanent?” I wanted to be absolutely positive this was what she wanted.

She shuddered in my arms, her nails digging into my shoulder. “Yes!” she cried out, a little louder than was prudent, not that we ever cared what anyone thought. “I moved here to cut all those ties. They’re gone, Adam.” Her panting grew deeper, more erratic. She was close and I was about to lose my damn mind.

“I love you, Elizabeth.”

Her eyes flew open, locking with mine as she pulsed against my hand. “I love you too, Adam. I want to marry you. I need to make sure those eyes and lips and hands are legally mine to have and to hold and all that shit.”

She grinned as her post-orgasmic high blissed her out.

“Oh, I’m yours babe. I have been since you grinned at me over your book at Seychelle’s. How about we take this to the shower and explore all the ways you can use and abuse me for the rest of our lives?”

*****

“Someone’s at the door!” Elizabeth yelled from the bathroom. We were…well we were significantly cleaner than we’d been an hour and a half ago. She was drying her hair and getting dressed for dinner while I watched football highlights.

The last person I was expecting to see staring at me through the hotel door peephole was my grandfather.

I ripped the door open. “Senator?”

He grinned and threw his arms open. “Adam! It’s good to see you.” Secret Service, or bodyguards, or whoever the heck traveled with him overseas, stood to either side with more down at the ends of the hallway.

“What are you doing here?” I asked as I hugged him and invited him inside.

“Same as you. I’m a special guest at Revival this year. I saw your lovely girlfriend listed as a driver today and tracked you down.”

“She’s just getting dressed for dinner,” I stammered as I took in the sight of my grandfather, one of the longest serving and famous United States Senators, sitting in my suite. What in the hell was going on? “Can I get you a drink?”

“A scotch would be lovely, if you have something decent.”

I held up the bottle we’d brought with us and poured him two fingers. He immediately downed half of it. That’s when I knew something was wrong.

“Senator McKinley!” Elizabeth gasped as she stepped out of the bathroom dressed in a sexy vintage red cocktail dress and stilettos. Her lips were red, her eyes were dark, and I was suddenly struck by the realization that I couldn’t wait to escape tomorrow to find a ring to put on her finger.

My grandfather shot to his feet and kissed my fiancée on both cheeks. “You look lovely, Elizabeth. And you drive like a bat out of hell.”

“Thank you,” she blushed, throwing me a curious look over his shoulder. “Sit, let’s talk.”

He cleared his throat and my nerves spiked. Were my parents hurt? Was there a terrorist threat? He was the head of the intelligence committee…

“I’m glad I caught you. I was going to set a meeting with you for next week.” He shot the rest of his scotch and set the glass down. “I’m running for president. The announcement is set for the first.”

My jaw dropped. Sure, we all knew the Senator would run one day. It was an inevitability. But now? And with this look on his face? There was more.

“Congratulations. We’ll help in any way we can.” Well, as long as Elizabeth could handle the spotlight. The Senator would understand if we limited our involvement…unless this was about her family.

“I appreciate that. I do need your help on one matter. We’ve been doing the necessary background checks. Digging in places we’ve already dug, but you know how it is when you take things to this level.”

I nodded. I hated it, but I understood.

“We’ve hit one small, new bump in the road. Your aunt. Lydia. Her husband’s finally died and our investigators have discovered she has a son. He’s just a couple of years older than you.”

I instinctively reached for Elizabeth’s hand. She squeezed it. “Aunt Lydia?” she asked.

I nodded. “My mom’s oldest sister. She married this…drunk,” I shrugged as I tried to find the appropriate words to explain the family black sheep. “The family was opposed to the marriage. She was being rebellious and stupid. The man was abusive and went through money faster than he could earn it. Lydia thought he was the answer to her high-profile family nightmares.”

“Your family cut her off?” she guessed.

The Senator stared at his feet, listening but not joining the conversation. This had to be killing him. Letting Lydia go was the regret that always haunted him.

I sighed. “Yeah. The minute she married him, they cut off all ties and told her she was on her own—which was exactly what she wanted. To be free of the family.”

“I’ve kept up with her over the years,” the Senator murmured. The pain…it was so raw and evident in his voice. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to have a child hate me. “Nothing formal or too specific. Just making sure she was alive. We knew she had a son, but we lost track of him for several years. We weren’t sure we’d want to reestablish contact after Jake died, but my investigators have informed me that the son is a good man with a nice family. And that he has no idea about us.”

That wasn’t surprising. From what my mother had told me, Lydia would have done anything and everything to stay as far away from the McKinleys as possible.

“You want me to make contact.” I guessed. There was no way I could ever say no to the haunted look in my grandfather’s eyes.

“You’re close in age and profession, actually. He’s an engineer as well. He’s got a wife and a couple of kids, so I thought,” he glanced at Elizabeth, “perhaps the news would come easier from the two of you.”

“Before the media digs up the connection and surprises them on their doorstep.” And turns a perfectly happy family’s life upside down.

“We’ll go straight from here,” I said.

Elizabeth nodded. “Of course. I’ll make it work.”

If anyone understood what these people were in for, it was her. I needed her help desperately.

“Where are we headed?” I was already fifteen steps into a plan.

“Tampa,” my grandfather said. “The weather should be nice this time of year.”

Valentine's Rewind

Tampa

(Jake & Eve)

“Yes, yes, yessssss!” Eve moaned above me as she came. “You are a freaking genius!” She collapsed on my chest, panting. “Happy house birthday…” she sighed as she quickly moved from exhilarated to sex-drunk, slurring her words.

I chuckled and wrapped my arms around her, looking out at the thunderstorm. The kids were on a play date with Natalie and I’d brought home this ridiculously expensive chaise lounger for our upstairs screened-in porch to celebrate a full year of living in our new house.

Just as the daily afternoon thunderstorm rolled in.

Life is all about timing.

“I take it you like it,” I said as I dropped a couple of kisses on the top of her head.

She nodded. “Does life get any better? I think not.”

She had a very good point. I’d just had amazing sex in the middle of a thunderstorm, on my porch, with the most beautiful woman in the world. Not to mention our two daughters were happy, healthy, and entertained while we indulged in a little marital bliss. Life did not get any better.

We really should have known better than to say that out loud. My phone started ringing from the bedroom. I ignored it.

Eve burrowed in closer and started to drift off. My phone rang again, which was weird, but I ignored it again. Natalie, Lily, and Marie all had a special ringtone. If there was a problem with the kids, I’d know. Whoever was calling me, it was not about the kids.

“I love Sam and Max, I do. But this is nice…” she sighed again.

Peace and quiet was a luxury once you became a parent. But peace and quiet, alone with your spouse? Might as well sell it on the black market. It’s that valuable and rare.

“We need to take advantage of our babysitters more often. We get caught up and forget to schedule down time,” I agreed. That was probably my fault. It was baseball season. Eve barely had enough time to eat, sleep, and spend time with the kids. I needed to pick up the slack and plan the alone time…like I did today.

Obviously planning had its benefits.

“Your phone’s ringing again, Jake. I think you better see who has a stick up their ass before I remove it for them.”

I chuckled as I rolled Eve to the side, offering her my t-shirt as I slipped away. “Here, babe. I’ll be right back.”

“Bring water!”

By the time I ducked inside, my phone was already ringing again. I was annoyed until I saw who it was.

“What?” I barked. Charlie, my private investigator, only called like this when there was an emergency.

“We have a problem.”

My heart took off. “The kids?”

“No,” he quickly reassured me. “Your family is safe. We have more obtuse problems to deal with. Something I didn’t see coming.” His voice was laced with disappointment. Charlie was the best and he took his job very seriously. Missing a piece of the puzzle was the kind of thing Charlie took personally.

“What is it?”

He took a breath and let it out. “I’ve been contacted by a representative of Senator McKinley. You know the guy?”

I knew of him… “What did he want?”

“That’s the thing,” Charlie said. “He says the senator is your grandfather and the family wishes to make contact. They have a representative landing at TIA now.”

I knew I’d heard every word he said, and yet not one made a lick of sense. “I’m sorry…what did you just say?”

“You said your mother’s family disowned her when she married your father, right?”

“Yeah.” I sank down onto the bed. It really wasn’t safe for me to stand any longer.

“Well, her family is the McKinley. The McKinleys. The political dynasty. They disowned her and have had zero contact until they reached out to me.”

I always knew my mother had taken a twisted joy in punishing her parents by marrying my father. I’d assumed it was your typical overbearing parents not wanting their daughter to marry the abusive alcoholic. A few times I’d imagined she was from a rich family. And yeah, on one of those occasions I’d let myself pretend I was descended from royalty, but I’d never imagined I was right. The McKinleys were American royalty. And apparently…my family?

“Is this a joke?”

Charlie laughed. “Nope. I’ve got the documents they sent me and they line up with the holes I’ve never been able to fill in your family history. I’m assuming this representative they’re sending will have more information. Do you want me to be there?”

I nodded, then realized Charlie couldn’t see me. “Yeah. If you can.”

“I’ll be there. You might want to have someone watch the kids.”

“I’ll take care of it. When will they be here?”

“Four o’clock. I’ll see you then.”

He clicked off and I let the phone dangle from my fingers.

“What’s wrong?” Eve asked, standing naked in our doorway.

“It’s just family shit. Charlie is bringing someone over to talk to me. Can you call Natalie and ask her to keep the kids?” The sooner I found out what the hell this all really was, the sooner I could get it out of my life.

In a blink she was kneeling in front of me. “Tell them to take a hike. We’re busy.” She squeezed my hand.

“Not this time, babe,” I whispered. “We can’t ignore this one.” There was only one reason Senator McKinley—if he was my grandfather—would be making contact now. He had to be running for president. If I ignored this we’d wind up with a sea of reporters on our lawn. It would disrupt our lives so much more than a single meeting with a representative. “It’s one meeting to clear up some confusion. By dinner we’ll be free and clear and back to normal. Promise.”

Eve ran her hand down the side of my face, across my shoulder, and over my bicep. Then she squeezed my arm and rested her head on my knee. The anxiety I was feeling evaporated. It was like that one movement erased it from existence.

I returned the gesture and brushed back her hair. “I love you, Eve Spencer. That’s the only thing that matters in this fucked up world. Loving you and Sam and Max. You don’t have to worry about what this meeting is going to do to my head. I’ve got too much to at stake to let the past pull me back.”

That was the thing about love…it was never about happily ever afters. It was about the fight. True love was in the battle. Standing side by side with your partner, defending each other and celebrating life’s victories. Love was messy and it was beautiful.

Her worry lines disappeared, then she smiled. The sweet, slow, seductive kind. “Damn, you’re sexy when you pull the defensive father card,” she growled.

She’d said that on more than one occasion since the girls entered our lives. Something about men in love with their daughters being the ‘hottest thing ever.’ I was absolutely fine with that.

“I have my problems, we know that. But I will never allow anything to hurt my girls. All three of you. You’re my world.”

“And you’re ours.” She sat up and ran her hands up my thighs. “How long until this meeting?” Her right eyebrow arched up.

I glanced at the clock on my phone. “An hour.” I really liked where this seemed to be heading.

“Then how about I give Natalie a call while you start the shower. I think we need one more round of stress relieving exercise before we face the firing squad.”

“I love the way you think Mrs. Spencer.”

“I love the way you love me, Mr. Spencer.”

As she sashayed around the bedroom, stark naked and mine, I was struck by one very overwhelming thing: I was the luckiest man who ever lived. Despite all the hell I’d survived to get where I was, I’d do it all over again. Going head first into the storm allowed me to come out on the other side stronger than ever. Loving my girls with all my heart and soul was the only way to love them, and I couldn’t do that if I hadn’t dealt with my past. I’d weather a hundred storms for the chance to live this life.

And nothing from my past would take it away from me.

♥♥♥

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed reading REVIVAL, a look at how Tease and The Storm Inside connect! The next stop on the hop is Rebecca Grace Allen. Be sure to comment on each story to be eligible for the massive giveaway at the end. Thanks for joining us for #ValentinesRewind! ♥

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Under the Bright Morning Light (a Storm Inside short story)

12 Days Revision

When Julia Kelly approached me about a Holiday Blog Hop my first thought was that Jake and Eve needed an appearance. It’s been almost a year since I published Reflected in the Rain (the sequel to The Storm Inside) and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see what they’re up to. Of course we’ll be seeing quite a bit of them in When Lightning Strikes, and they have a specific B-story in the book that leads up the moment you are about to read about. This moment will also lead us into the their next book, Book 4 in the series. I don’t have a title yet, but I know exactly what happens in the book. I can’t wait to write it, but first, let’s see what’s going on in the world of Jake and Eve:

Under the Bright Morning Light

I was too scared to get out of bed.

For one, it was freaking cold out and the wood floor in our bedroom was going to feel like ice on my toes.

And for two…I wasn’t ready to find out.

I could put it off a few more days, heck I could probably put it off a couple of weeks.

I mean, technically I knew.

There was just a feeling that had come over me in the last forty-eight hours. It was probably hormones. So yeah, technically I knew what the stick was going to say once I peed on it, but that didn’t mean I was ready to see it.

Jake was snoring lightly beside me. Light filtered in through the blinds casting a yellow slanted glow on everything in our bedroom. The poor guy was exhausted. Between work and advising meetings for the new position he was taking at the University, this week had just about wiped him out.

Which was fine with me because that meant he was distracted. Normally Jake was pretty aware of my cycle…he was just that kind of guy.

But that also meant that for the last six months he’d checked the app on his phone, watching the days count down, hoping we’d get a positive pregnancy test instead of a period. So far, we’d only been disappointed.

Well, Jake was disappointed. I was scared shitless. Sure, I’d agreed to the whole “let’s start a family” idea, but that didn’t mean it didn’t terrify me. Kids changed everything and I loved what I had with Jake. We’d both waited so long to have this. Call me a terribly selfish brat if you want (I do every day) but I didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t want to lose Jake. And a huge part of me was convinced a baby might change everything in our lives for the worse.

So here I was, lying in bed on the day I knew I should be getting my period—absolutely convinced I was pregnant because of the weird vibe I’d been feeling—and I was too scared to get out of bed and find out the truth. The smart thing to do would be to wake Jake up and tell him what was going on.

But I wasn’t feeling terribly smart at the moment. Instead I was feeling a little crazy and glad that I was getting a chance to absorb this alone.

And if I really and truly wanted that chance, I needed to get my chicken-shit ass out of bed.

I took a deep breath and gently rolled out. The floor was freezing as I scurried across it and into my giant bathroom. I stole one last look at Jake before I closed the door. He was still snoring with his bare back to me.

He was so lucky that a baby wasn’t going to make his body look completely different. No actually, knowing him, he’d somehow wind up sexier and in better shape in nine months, the bastard.

My bastard.

My heart skipped a beat and I remembered exactly why we were doing this crazy thing. Why I wanted to do this crazy thing. My sexy, cocky, sweet husband desperately wanted to be a father—and that was more important than my selfish fears which, let’s be honest, were a little dramatic.

I opened the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a plastic box I’d hidden in the back, out of my daily line of sight. Inside were a variety of pregnancy tests (when you’re trying for six months, it makes sense to buy a few different brands). I dug around until I found the one I wanted: the one that was the most sensitive.

It was first thing in the morning so this was the best time to take the test. I ripped open the package with a deep, deep breath, angled the clock we kept on the counter, bit my lip, and dropped my sweatpants.

Peeing on a stick is exactly as weird and uncomfortable as it sounds, by the way.

I was just pulling the thing out from between my legs, putting the little plastic cap on the end, when the bathroom door opened. “What’s it say?”

“How do you know what I’m doing?” I asked as he closed the door.

He turned around and flashed me his sexy, cocky dimple. “Darlin’…”

“Okay, fine. I should have known you’d know.” I stood up and flushed before putting the toilet seat down and sitting on it. I was an idiot to think Jake wasn’t paying attention. He was probably the most attentive guy I’d ever met.

At least when it came to me. “Sorry if I woke you up.”

He chuckled. “I always know when you get out of bed. It gets cold and I get so damn lonely I can’t sleep anymore. I rolled over and sure enough, you were gone. I knew what today was so I put two and two together.” He dropped to his knees in front of me and took my hands in his. “Are you more scared that it will say yes, or no?”

It always surprised me how well he knew me. By this point I shouldn’t still be this surprised, but I was. I guess ten years apart didn’t mean starting over, it just meant starting fresh. “I’m scared it will say yes.”

He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, pulling my hands up and around his warm face. He held them there with his large hands over mine. “Why?”

He was so handsome with a little scruff on his face, his hair all crazy from sleep and no shirt to cover his gorgeous chest. But it was his green eyes that always did me in. I could see everything he thought and felt—and right now I saw concern, a little fear, and a lot of hope. I wanted to give him the world.

“I…” my voice fell away as the words got lost in my throat. I didn’t want to confess to the man I loved that I was scared he wouldn’t love me like this forever.

He pressed his cheek into my hand and closed his eyes like he was savoring the feel of my hand on his skin. “Darlin’? As much as you think I can, I actually can’t read your mind.”

I laughed a little at his joke. “What if things get hard again?”

His eyes flew open and locked onto mine. For once I wasn’t sure what I saw in his eyes.

“Things will get hard again, Eve. Life isn’t easy and sure as fuck isn’t fair. I can absolutely guarantee things will get hard again. But you can bet your sweet ass that I will never stop loving you.”

Well, fuck. “I can’t lose you again. Not ever.”

He took a deep breath and kissed the inside of my palm, then sat up on his knees so that we were eye to eye. He grabbed my face in his hands and shook his head. “Eve, you will never lose me again. You can get horrifically fat with my baby and I will love you even more than I do now. You can go bald, lose a foot to gangrene, or become as harry as a Sasquatch. It won’t change how much I love you. No matter what comes our way, I’m going through it with you. I will never leave you again and I will never pull away from you again. You are stuck with me, whether you like it or not.”

A few tears tumbled out of my eyes as I squeezed them shut. “What if we can’t have kids? What if this is another no?” I was so sure it was a yes, but there were no guarantees.

He leaned his forehead into mine and held me there for several seconds before he whispered, “You are my family, forever. Kids or no kids.”

A little weight suddenly lifted off my shoulders. I hadn’t even realized I was worried about not being able to get pregnant. Sure I was scared to death of what having a kid could do to us, but I was more scared that I wouldn’t be able to give my husband something he so desperately wanted. I wanted to give him the world, and if he wanted a kid, I wanted to be the one to give it to him. It was such a ridiculous burden to put on myself when I knew Jake didn’t feel that way at all.

He wanted a family—not for me to provide him with offspring. Those were two very different things and somewhere along the way, I’d lost sight of that.

“You want to find out?” I asked.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

“Do you want to do the honors?”

He shook his head slowly, moving mine with his. “No, you need to do this.”

I pulled my upper lip between my teeth. My heart was racing like crazy and I was so nervous I thought I was going to puke. I blindly reached out for the stick sitting on the edge of the bathtub and wrapped my sweaty, nervous palm around it.

Jake looked directly into my eyes. They never moved, never faltered. I had a feeling he was curious as hell, but was more worried about me and my reaction than anything else.

Maybe he knew what it was going to say, too.

“You tasted different last night,” he whispered.

I gulped. A dark image of him coming home late last night from the university and crawling up under the covers flashed through my mind. I remembered the pleased grunt he’d made when he first tasted me. I also remembered the goofy grin he had on his face as he pulled me into his arms and kissed me goodnight.

The bastard knew right then.

“I was wondering about those funny noises you were making.” I shook my head.

He grinned and bounced his eyebrows, his forehead still pressed firmly against mine. “I’m looking forward to all the changes the next few months are going to bring.” His voice was husky and very, very seductive.

I squeezed my legs together as I pulsed with a greedy little bit of need. Leave it to Jake to find pregnancy sexy.

“You are very confident that you know what this stick is going to say.”

“I am. I know your body, remember? I know what I felt last night as I ran my hands over your skin. I know that you tasted different, and I know that you reacted differently than you normally do. Add that to the confident glint in your eyes and the scared shake of your hands and yeah…I’m pretty damn confident I know my wife.”

I wrapped my arm around his neck and kissed the hell out of him. I slid forward on the toilet seat, wrapped my legs around his waist, and kissed him until I throbbed so painfully I felt like sex was the only relief I could ever want.

He panted as he pulled back to look into my eyes. “You better look at that stick so we can go and celebrate already.” His voice was almost a purr it was so deep and dark.

I kept one arm around his shoulders and turned the stick over in my other hand. This was it. Truth or dare time.

Pregnant.

The perfectly typed little words in the oval window were very easy to read for about three seconds, then the water in my eyes blurred my vision and I couldn’t really read it any more.

Jake kissed my lips and then each of the tears as they fell down my cheeks. “Darlin’,” he whispered. “What does it say? Are these good tears or bad tears?”

His hands held my face and his eyes searched mine.

“Good tears. Jake, you are going to be a dad.” Fear mixed with excitement. Yep, that was what I was feeling. Total fear, but absolute excitement.

His eyes widened and we both just kind of froze for a few heartbeats. I could hear each one thud in my ears.

Holy shit we were pregnant.

I was having Jake’s baby.

He started breathing heavier and his eyes glistened a little. Then he kissed me again and pulled me up into his arms. He held me tight against his strong chest, kissing the top of my head and running his fingers through my hair before he tilted my face up to his and kissed me slow and deep.

“I love you, Eve. I’m going to take such good care of you and our baby. I promise. You both will always know how much I love you.” The he suddenly dropped to his knees and kissed my belly, pulling my t-shirt up so he could kiss my skin. “I love you,” he said to the baby. “All you will ever know is love. I promise.” He dug his fingers into my hips as he pressed his forehead against my stomach.

He took several deep breaths before standing and then picking me up. “Mother of my child, it’s time to celebrate.”

I was worried about him until he flashed me that cocky grin of his. His dimple peeked out through his stubble and I ran my thumb into the dip. “Let’s take it slow, okay?”

“Oh darlin’,” he shook his head. “You have no idea.”

And then he made the sweetest, deepest, most impressive love to me in our bed under the bright morning light.


 

Here is a special sneak peek at the cover of When Lighting Strikes (The Storm Inside #3):

WhenLightningStrikes_Cover

Greg’s a jerk, everyone knows this. He’s made an art form out of pissing people off and swearing with style. What nobody knows is why.

The act works on everyone except Marie, a confident, no-nonsense woman. Or in other words, the only woman who can handle Greg. Together they’re passionate and honest in a way he never thought was possible. They have a rare kind of chemistry that makes everything else seem pointless.

Well, except the past. Greg hasn’t been able to let that go, and unless he figures out a way to forgive himself, he’ll lose Marie and his shot at the all-consuming, life altering happiness he didn’t think he was allowed to have.

Lightning doesn’t strike twice. Or does it?

Coming January 2015

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First Undressing Blog Hop

First Undressing

Do you remember the First Kiss Blog Hop? Two strangers meet (on camera) and kiss for the first time. We hopped all over the blogosphere back in April, sharing our Flash Fiction short stories of what happened when our two imaginary characters kissed on camera.

And now we’re back, with the First Undressing Blog Hop. Two people undressing for the first time.

Only I couldn’t really follow the rules. You see, I haven’t been able to get Owen and Alice out of my head ever since I made the up, put them in front of the camera’s, and made them fall in lust. So I’ve brought them back. They’re getting undressed and it’s all swoony and romantic!

You can find both my First Kiss and my First Undressing on Kindle Unlimited!

Or hop on over to read some other great undressing stories!

LM Sparks   Cate Dean   Rebecca Grace Allen   Karen Booth   Mary Ann Rivers   AL Parks   Julia Kelly   Amber Belldene

To catch the rest of the hop, click here for details!

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Chapter Six of The Unspoken Game

Hey gang! Sorry for taking a couple of weeks off from Flash Fiction Friday! Things got…busy. But I’m back with Chapter Six from The Unspoken Game: The Mummy Maneuver! Just to update you on the progress of The Unspoken Game series, Mummy Maneuver is DONE aside from final proofreading and formatting. The cover is mocked up, but not finalized. The Art of Deception, the first full-length novel in the series, is in another round of revisions, but the story is complete (I think!). The cover is also mocked up, but not finalized. I don’t have a solid release date, but it will be in June (for all your summer reading fun!) Now, here is Chapter Six!


The Unspoken Game: The Mummy Maneuver

Chapter Six

“Antonia?  What is it?” he asked a second time.  She was frozen with her mouth hanging open and one hand in the air.

Her eyes flicked over to his but she still didn’t say anything.  It was like she was processing a flood of information.  He took a step toward her hoping it would make it easier for her to talk.  Her eyes followed him and he saw her muscles soften.

“We’ve got this all backwards,” she whispered.

“Backwards how?”

But she was frozen again, thinking and not talking.  He took another step toward her and placed a hand on her arm.  “Antonia, you’ve got to talk to me, I’m not a mind reader.”

She rolled her eyes and finally put her hand down.  “Take off those stupid glasses so I can actually see you when you talk.”

He had half a mind to leave them on just to piss her off, but he really needed her to talk, so he took them off and spun them around to sit on the back of his head.  “Better?”

She smiled smugly.  “Yes.”

“Then talk,” he was already tired of the banter.  Antonia was exhausting.

“Simon wasn’t kidnapped.  This is Simon’s apartment.”

Donovan felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room.  “Come again?”

“Simon was living here.  I’d bet money on it.  This room is feng shuied.  How many people feng shui their bedrooms?”

“I do,” Patterson quipped from behind her.  “I came to see what all the fuss was about,” he added when Donovan glared at him.

“Ok,” Antonia replied.  “Besides you, how many people go to the trouble of arranging their bedroom like that?”

Patterson and Antonia were like opposing magnets, one minute it looked like they were on the same page and then the next, the energy between them was moving in the opposite direction.  Right then, Patterson was intentionally annoying Antonia, who looked like she wanted to punch the kid in the face.

Donovan was strangely annoyed and attracted to her all at the same time.

“Shut up Patterson,” he replied, then he turned to Antonia.  “Not many, but you’ve got give me more than the way the bedroom in arranged.”

She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  He knew right then and there that she was right.  She knew this was Simon’s apartment for a lot more reasons than bedroom furniture.

“The banana in the garbage can—Simon eats a banana every morning.  The books on the bookshelf are all books I know he loves and the People magazine in the living room?  He always had a thing for celebrity gossip.  Simon lived here.”  She was adamant about that fact.  “You said you couldn’t find anything on McQueen, right?”

He shook his head.  They were still coming up with dead ends.  The driver’s license used to rent the apartment belonged to an eighty year old man who lived in a nursing home in Texas.

“Simon stole this mummy,” she said firmly.

“But why?”  It made no sense and perfect sense all at the same time.  Why would he stage his own abduction?

Antonia shook her head and twirled the end of her ponytail as she thought.  “You said he and Seleron went way back.  Way back where?”

“Prep school.  They were childhood friends.”  As far as he knew.  That was what The Old Man told him.

“But not friends as adults?”

Donovan shook his head.  He didn’t like where any of this was going.

“Do you have the paperwork Simon submitted for the grant?”

Donovan took a deep breath and waved for a tablet computer.  It only took a moment to pull up the paperwork.  He handed the tablet to Antonia and held his breath as she read through it.  He saw it the moment she stopped.  Her eyes widened just a little, her hands tightened around the black tablet, and she stopped breathing as her eyes went back and forth over the same thing over and over again.

She finally licked her lips and whispered, “You didn’t say he originally requested a sample as well.”  She sat slowly on the bed.  She looked pale, very pale actually.  Like all the blood had just drained out of her head.

“I’m not sure I even know what that means.  Is that different from the scan?”

She looked up at him with her dark brown eyes.  “Very different.  It also explains why the Egyptians were being so difficult.  Simon didn’t just want to scan the mummy, he wanted to take a sample.  The Egyptian government denied his request—numerous times—but ultimately allowed the scan provided the mummy was immediately returned afterward.”

“I’m not following any of this…” he replied. Why was a sample such a big deal?

Her shoulders slumped.  “Simon is part of a genetic research collective that is cataloguing every sample of DNA they can get their hands on.  In cases where they can’t get a sample, or when there is a low probability of getting a viable sample, they are scanning skeletons and mummies instead.  They are attempting to create a genetic map of human history through time and across the world.  They’ll be able to see how diseases were born and spread, where genetic mutations originated, and how populations interbred.”

“And so you think when he was denied a sample he just took it?  Why?”

She turned off the tablet and set it beside her on the bed.  “The Little One is special.  She is a full-grown woman, but the size of a ten year old girl.  Scans done in the nineties confirmed all this, but scanning technology wasn’t what it is today and genetic research has gone into a whole new stratosphere.  The Little One is a genetic anomaly.  She’s very special.”

“Special enough to steal and leave your entire career behind?”

“If I’m right, then yes,” she replied.  “Several of the scientists involved in the research have been quietly hired on by a company in Switzerland that is creating its own genetic database.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” A very bad thing.

“Their goals do not seem to be research oriented.  My feeling is that they are looking into much more lucrative things to do with information like that.”

“Lucrative how?”

She held up her hand and ticked items off on her fingers. “Genetically modified diseases, population specific attacks, diet manipulation—”

Donovan held up his hand to stop her. “I get it. Let’s assume you’re right.  What do we do now?  Where is Simon?”

“He’ll have had enough time to scan the mummy and remove a sample.  He’ll be looking to get out of the country by now.”

Which also meant they were probably about to lose him.

Donovan went right into action putting out feelers for Simon at all the major airports, but he had a gut instinct Simon would be heading to the closest one, the one they had all just left.

So it was with a lot of frustration, leering, and scowling, that he the rest of the team threw themselves back in the Suburban and rushed back across town.

Donovan was feeling caged after an hour in the truck and he could feel time slipping between his fingers.  He hated playing catch-up.

Sophie and Patterson moved directly to the International Terminal after purchasing tickets that would allow them through security.  Sparks, on the other hand, was doing what he did best: working his connections.  He was inside the security center in less than five minutes.  The man knew everyone, or knew someone who knew someone.

Donovan stayed with Antonia as she scanned the crowds and made phone call after phone call.  Her expression darkened with every minute.

He checked in with Sophie.  “Anything?”

“Nope.  A big fat negative here.  There’s too many people.  Patterson is running some sort of program telling me which flights are boarding in which order and I’m hopping around the terminal trying to catch everyone before they board.  We could really use some help back here.”

He leaned closer to Antonia, her long ponytail catching his bare arm as she turned to face him.  They were nose to nose.  He lifted his glasses.  “We’re not doing any good up here.  Sophie needs our help, are you alright with that?”

She studied him for a moment, the lack of barrier between them made him feel unusually exposed.  He hadn’t realized how much he relied on his glasses.  “I think it’s our best shot.  Yeah, let’s do it.”

She handed over her passport at the counter while he checked in with Sparks.

“We’ve got eyes on all the terminals.  We’re watching for him, boss.”

They passed through security with a few funny looks, but Sparks made sure to call ahead and warn the officers they were coming through.  International travelers without bags tended to get noticed.

“Talk to me Patterson.”

The kid’s familiar voice came through Donovan’s earpiece loud and clear.  “I’ll rotate you, Antonia, and Sophie so we can hit as many departures as possible.  Send Antonia to F7 and you can take F5.”

Donovan didn’t like how far apart those gates were, but they really didn’t have much of a choice.  “Take F7.  Use your comm if you need help.”  He pointed his finger at her just to make a statement.

She rolled her eyes and jogged off toward the gate.

Donovan had studied Dr. Green’s photograph, paying special attention to his jaw line and lips.  People could cover their eyes and ears, even disguise their noses, but jaw lines and lips were harder.  He carefully scanned every person lounging in the chairs and along the columns.  He took note of the cell phones and tablets plugged into the charging station.  No one looked like Simon.

“I’ve got nothing again,” Sophie sighed.

Patterson replied, “Help Antonia at 7 and then cut down to 12, that gate will be boarding in fifteen minutes.  I’m headed there now.”

The flight attendant came over the loudspeaker and started boarding the flight.  Donovan casually checked each passenger.  Tired families, happy couples, men and women on business, but no Simon.  The next round of passengers was called to the gate and Donovan’s blood pressure continued to climb. He hated the waiting game.

He glanced at his watch as the flight attendant called for the last group of passengers.  This could all be useless.  Simon could have already come and gone, there was no telling.

“I’m heading to twelve,” Sophie said.  “They just started boarding this gate, Antonia’s got it.”

Final boarding was called and the doors closed.  Donovan headed toward Antonia and Gate seven.  “I’m headed your way, Antonia.”

But he didn’t get a reply.  She had two Ph.D.’s; surely she knew how to use the communicator.  “Antonia?”

He quickened his steps back across the terminal, a sense of dread quickly building.  Gate seven was boarding, but he didn’t see Antonia anywhere.  His heart rate and blood pressure skyrocketed.  “Sophie, where was Antonia?”

“By the column. Shit. I’m headed back your way now.”

Donovan circled the column, but Antonia wasn’t there. He didn’t see her anywhere.  His eyes shot to the corners of the room.  There, in a dark corner, he saw two people arguing.  “Back corner, Sophie.”

“I see them,” she replied.

They silently flanked the two archaeologists. As he got closer, Donovan could hear Antonia’s angry voice. “It can’t be worth it, Simon.  It can’t.”

“Look what they did to you,” he shot back. There was an obvious edge to his voice. “You can’t tell me the last six months have been easy for you.”

She shook her head and put her hands on her hips. “It’s been hell, but I’m not selling my soul—you are.”

Simon shook his head. “That is where you’re wrong, Antonia. This is a chance to actually make progress for a change. All we’ve done for the last ten years is watch our budgets shrink. We aren’t going to have careers soon. This is my chance to do the work I’ve always dreamed of doing.”

“In hiding, after stealing the work you need?”

Simon smiled.  “Everything we do is stealing, Antonia.”

She took a step back which was when Donovan managed to catch her eye. “Well, good luck with that, Simon. These two want to have a word with you, I’m afraid.”

To Donovan’s surprise Simon bolted for the gate and thrust his boarding pass at the flight attendant. Was he actually trying to board the plane?

The woman looked at them all with surprise.  “I’m sorry sir, but I can’t let you board until this matter is resolved.”

“I suggest you take a seat,” Donovan waved his hand at the recently vacated bank of chairs.

Simon’s shoulders sagged and he shook his head. “I didn’t hurt the Little One. I only took one sample. I left her somewhere safe and I was going to send instructions on where to find her after I landed.” He was looking right at Antonia as he spoke, but then turned to Donovan. “You have what you need. Please, just let me go. I’m sure Teddy will understand.”

Donovan tried not to laugh. No one called The Old Man “Teddy”. “I think a few things have changed since the two of you were kids. Seleron is pretty mad about the position you’ve put him in.” It was the truth, sort of.

In reality, The Old Man was sure Simon was up to something and that they’d be able to track it all down. What Seleron really wanted was a good excuse to bring the team together. None of them would have agreed to a meeting with Seleron on their own.

So while The Old Man had other motives, he was also pretty pissed off at Simon.

A minute later Sparks arrived with a team from security. They took care of the messy task of dealing with Simon, while Donovan took on the equally difficult job of bringing the team to Seleron Headquarters.

“Can’t you just drop me back at the airport?”  Patterson asked.  He’d given the front seat to Sparks, preferring to sprawl out in the backseat like a teenager with gadgets and cords spewing out of him like some half-robotic mutant.

“No, Seleron asked to see you all and thank you in person.”  Donovan replied.

“I’ll take a direct deposit,” Patterson muttered, sinking deeper into his seat.

“You know, I just realized I know Seleron from television, but I don’t know anything about him,” Antonia was in the far back again. Donovan had kept his eye on her, and not just because he enjoyed what he was seeing. Dr. Warren was an interesting combination—she intrigued him. He knew before he walked into the bar that the archaeologist was a contradiction.

On paper she was the poster child for over achievers. Graduating college at twenty with degrees in biology and anthropology, she moved to England where she quickly became the hottest up and coming archaeologist on early civilizations. She was considered to have more promise than her own mother, who was the pre-eminent expert in the world. Antonia did her internships at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and it wasn’t long after she became a full member of their staff that things veered from the expected.  There were blank spots that could only be filled in by government documents.  It took digging, but he’d eventually found reports detailing her dealings in the black markets of antiquities.

Antonia’s mother publicly denounced her for working with dealers, but Donovan didn’t feel like the information in his files quite followed the story in the papers.  To him, it looked a helluva a lot more like Antonia was hunting something down.  Her activity had all the hallmarks of someone looking for something in particular.  And he was willing to bet she was still looking for it.

For the last six months she’d been working odd jobs, most recently as a field monitor for a pipeline company.  It was hard, honest work, but it was a far cry from the type of research she’d been doing in Europe.  Antonia was keeping her nose clean, staying off the radar, and avoiding her tainted name at all costs, but based on the attitude he’d seen since he met her, Antonia was hardly the quiet, mild-mannered archaeologist.  She was a brilliant woman on a mission, more than willing to get her hands dirty when necessary.

That was when Donovan realized no one had answered her question about Seleron.  Everyone seemed to be looking blankly out the windows of the Suburban.  “He’s exactly how he seems on television, Antonia.  Driven, passionate, firm.  Headquarters is based out of his mansion.  All research and development is done in the compound that surrounds his house.”

“So we’re headed to his house?” she asked with surprise.

Sparks turned around to face her before Donovan could respond.  “He works constantly.  He walks into any lab or office at any time.  He works in every division himself and knows almost every employee by name.  He never sleeps.  He’s a machine.”

“Ok…” Antonia drawled.  “The Old Man is a super human control freak.  Got it.”

“This should be interesting,” Sophie replied.

And hopefully painless.

Read Chapter 7 now!


Thanks for reading! My new erotic serial is out now! And check back next week for more on The Unspoken Game!

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Chapter Five of The Unspoken Game

Hey gang! I totally missed last Friday thanks to the holiday weekend but I’m baaaack with the next chapter in The Unspoken Game: The Mummy Maneuver, the kickoff story to my new action/adventure series about an unexpected group brought together by a mysterious technology billionaire to find technologically advanced artifacts of the ancient world that were lost to time.  The first four chapters have already been posted: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4. Catch-up if you haven’t read them yet! The full story and the first full novel in the series are BOTH coming out next month!

Have a great Friday everyone!

The Unspoken Game-JS

Chapter Five

When Antonia stepped off the jet in Atlanta she was greeted by a smiling mountain of a man.  He was probably a good two inches shorter than Donovan (which still made him enormous) but he was built like a linebacker.  His presence was intimidating even from a distance. His muscles made Donovan and Scott look like weaklings, and his voice when he spoke, was like a deep purr.  “Jonathan Sparks, nice to meet you.”

“Antonia Warren,” she replied taking his hand.  To her surprise, he didn’t crush it.  Instead he shook it firmly, but gently.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading while I waited for you three.  It seems we share a few friends.”

“I’m sure we do,” she replied.

Jonathan looked over her shoulder.  “Donovan, I’d say it’s good to see you again but…”

He and Cole shook hands.  Ever since he told her his first name Antonia had been rolling it around in her head, which she really needed to stop doing because, more than likely, she was going to say it.

“…But it’s not.  I know.” Donovan replied.  “I’m sorry to call you in like this, but we really could use your help.”

“And so here I am.”

Jonathan smiled back at Antonia, a split second before he caught sight of Sophie.  “And who do we have here?”

She walked right up to Jonathan with her hand out.  “Sophie Reynolds.”

His voice dropped another octave, which didn’t seem possible.  “It’s very nice to meet you Miss Sophie.”

She wrenched her hand out of his grasp which only made him laugh—a deep belly laugh that bounced off of every surface in the hangar.

“It’s Sophie or Miss Reynolds.  Keep it straight, asshole.”  Then she stalked off toward the waiting Suburban.

Jonathan leaned in and spoke quietly.  “I just did that because I knew it would bug her.”

“Do you two know each other?”  Antonia was under the impression she and Sophie were both completely new to the Seleron Technology experience.

“Naw,” Jonathan waved in Sophie’s direction like he was batting away a fly.  “I just know her type.  I like riling them up for fun.”

“Cool it, Sparks.  I don’t need any help pissing people off.”  Donovan’s irritated voice matched the expression on his face.

Jonathan nodded in the direction of the Suburban.  “Where we headed, boss?”

It was interesting how they’d all fallen into calling Donovan “Boss” so easily.

“We just got a tip I want to check out.”

“Shotgun,” Sparks said as he moved toward the waiting truck.

But when they got there, the passenger seat was already occupied by Patterson.  He had taken over the entire seat with two laptops and two tablets.  Ear buds dangled from his ears with music loud enough to be heard even from a distance.  Sophie was sitting opposite him in the seat behind with the strangest look on her face.

It had been interesting working with her.  Sophie was blunt, clearly miserable, but smart as a tack.  She didn’t seem to be the kind to work well with others.  And since Patterson had joined them in New York, she’d looked like she’d seen a ghost.

Patterson pulled out his ear buds when he realized he had company.  “Hey, nice for you all to finally join the party.  It isn’t exactly a long walk from the jet to the tuck.”

“You seem to have made yourself comfortable,” Donovan drawled as he started the engine.

Patterson was a little younger with longer hair that flopped around his ears and eyes.  “Was I supposed to sit around twiddling my thumbs instead while you morons wandered around?”

Antonia moved into the far back of the Suburban, giving the other middle seat to Sparks.  She couldn’t imagine a world where he could squeeze his frame all the way into the back of anything.  Even as he sat in the bucket seat, he turned so that his long legs were in the aisle.  Besides, the back was the perfect location to sit and observe—one of her favorite things to do.  She liked to blend into the background, giving the others the opportunity to forget she was there.  That was when people relaxed, said things they might have otherwise kept to themselves.

Donovan talked as he drove.  “Let’s get the introductions out of the way.  This is Gerard Patterson.  He’s an asshole, but he’s a brilliant asshole.  Outside of the men and women employed at Seleron Technology, he’s the only person to ever write software and code that perfectly mimics ours.  I was in charge of the team that tracked him down.”

“And,” Patterson replied, “I’m very grateful you let me live.”

Donovan tightened his grip on the steering wheel and the muscle in his jaw flexed.  Antonia was getting the impression Donovan didn’t like Patterson too much.

“Behind me is Sophie Reynolds.”  All three pairs of eyes swung to her.  “She has many talents, but the ones we are most interested in today are her connections to the art world.  Sophie has been studying and tracking down several high level dealers over the last three years.  Since antiquities and art tend to go hand in hand, we’re hoping she can help.”

Sophie gave a little wave.

“Next we have Jonathan Sparks.  Former military turned gun-for-hire turned philanthropist.  He’s got knowledge of how these operations work, plus the added bonus of keeping you all safe.  I call him the Giant Teddy Bear.”

“I’m trying really hard to stay on the straight and narrow, boss.  So you three need to find this mummy fast and don’t make me kill anyone for you, ok?”

Antonia wasn’t sure if he was being serious or joking.  It was impossible to tell with the way he spoke.  At first he sounded so genuine, but then he laughed at the end.

“And in the back we have Dr. Antonia Warren.  She’s friends with the scientist who was taken, Dr. Simon Green.  She is also an expert in both archaeology and the dealers and collectors who would be interested in a prize like our mummy.  What did you call it?”

“The Little One,” she replied and a chill ran over her skin.

“Right.  It’s now…” Donovan checked the time. “Six twenty-three on Saturday.  If we don’t have Dr. Green and the mummy back in our possession in the next thirty-six hours, we’re screwed.”

“I guess we won’t be sleeping until we find it, huh?”  Patterson asked.

Donovan glared at him.  His knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel.  There was no doubt about it, Patterson was driving Donovan nuts.

Jonathan was leaning back in his seat, his arms folded over his enormous chest, eyes closed. He was already sleeping.  “I think Sparks here is getting his sleep in now,” Antonia joked.

Donovan smiled at her in the rearview mirror.  “That’s a thing with Sparks.  He’s a napper—like a shark.  He closes his eyes and dozes off for a few minutes at a time here and there.  Don’t worry, he doesn’t sleep deep, he’s ready.”

“I’m not worried,” Antonia replied.  Jonathan Sparks had a way about him that exuded competence.  She had no doubts what that man could do if he was provoked.

“I should learn to do that…” Patterson looked back at Jonathan with pure jealousy in his eyes.

“You should learn to follow orders,” Donovan quipped.

Patterson made a face at him and went back to his work.

“So where are we headed, Donovan?” Antonia asked.

“Thanks to your tip we were able to locate the residence of an art collector named Randall McQueen.  My team is already there searching.”

So Randall McQueen the art collector. Things were starting to get interesting.  “What do we know about Mr. McQueen?”

“Very little,” Donovan replied.  He was completely focused on the heavy traffic.  Atlanta, as usual, was a nightmare.  “We can’t seem to find anything on him which for us, is pretty hard to do.”

Very interesting.  Antonia tried to keep her mind clear of thoughts.  She wanted to approach Randall McQueen’s apartment with a fresh set of eyes and no preconceived notions.  She would let the others handle that.

They pulled up outside the apartment building and quietly filed inside.  There was that uncomfortable silence of people who really didn’t know each other hanging in the air.  Sparks immediately started walking the perimeter of the room, checking every window, door, and vent.  Patterson made himself at home beside the guy sitting at the counter with a laptop, and Sophie began studying the art on the walls.

Every man and woman in the room was dressed identically in head to toe black.  They looked ready for war.  They all wore gloves and glasses, though many were different from the pair Donovan wore.  They all had guns strapped to their hips or backs or chests, and various other tools along their belts.  Seleron didn’t mess around.

Sophie began yelling at one of the technicians who was pulling a piece of art off the wall.

“Careful with that moron!  Do you even know what you’re holding in your puny little hands?”  Sophie was red in the face and her forehead was scrunched up so tight it gave Antonia a headache from across the room. Sophie somehow managed to always move at full speed. She was passionate, intense, and occasionally terrifying. Her personality matched her red hair perfectly.

The technician rolled his eyes and set the gold framed artwork on the carpet. “It’s a copy, don’t worry.”

Sophie’s voice shot up three octaves.  “A copy?  A copy?” She took the frame in her hands and looked at the painting the way a mother looks at her child. “This is a perfect copy by Emily Song. Her copies are so perfect they are worth nearly as much as the original.  It is a work of art in its own right.”

Antonia turned and found Donovan was talking with a tall woman in the corner of the room who looked like she was in charge.  She stood very straight and her eyes were on her team, not Donovan, as they spoke.  Not knowing what else to do, Antonia clasped her hands behind her back and started examining the room.

It was a large, open apartment with wide, curtainless windows, houseplants, and modern furniture.  It looked sparse and staged at first, but the more Antonia looked around, the more she saw signs of life.  The collection of books on the bookshelves weren’t random.  There was an old set of encyclopedias, Dickens, Camus, Heller, Sagan… McQueen was someone who tended toward darker reading.  On the end tables were recent editions of Popular Science, Forbes, and People magazine.

It was such an odd combination of reading material.

In the sink was a spoon and in the trash she noted a banana peel.  Antonia was so focused on studying the apartment she didn’t notice Donovan come up behind her.  Not until his musky scent hit her nostrils a split second before she felt the shift in warmth from his body.

“Would you like a pair of gloves?” he asked.  His eyebrow was cocked as he nodded toward her hands behind her back.

She smiled.  “I would, thank you.”

He dangled a pair for her to take.  “Do you always walk around with your hands behind your back?”

The latex glided across her skin easily.  “I know it is less conventional.  Most of my colleagues clasp their hands in front, but most of them were trained by medical doctors in college.”

“Not you?” he asked.  His eyebrow was quirked up again.

“No,” she replied, pulling open the kitchen cabinets.  “I was trained by my parents, who are, admittedly, a bit old school.  Hands behind the back,” she winked and clasped her hands behind her back again as she bent over and began examining a sculpture in the corner of the room.  “If your hands are in front it is easier to accidentally bump things.  When you are looking at artifacts or examining sites you are in a lot of weird positions, not just in front of an examination table.  It is better practice to have your hands behind your back, not in front.”

“You sound like you’ve been doing this for years…” he drawled.

“I have,” Antonia replied.  “Both my parents were anthropologists.  I spent half my childhood on digs, and the other half in labs and museums.  Thank god my parents didn’t have more kids… I think they would have had a nervous breakdown.”

“No playing on the playground then?”

She shrugged and stood back up.  “I was an adult by the time I was five, I’m sure of it.”  Donovan laughed and she smiled.  “I had my fun.  I was the only daughter of two incredibly uptight, by-the-book anthropologists…”

Donovan smiled, “So you rebelled?”

A lot,” she replied.  Antonia couldn’t count the number of times she was in trouble growing up.  It definitely helped form her personality.  “Rules were made to learned, understood, and properly broken.”

She had moved on to another bookshelf when she realized Donovan hadn’t moved.  He was standing right where he was, his arms crossed over his chest, and a huge grin on his face.  “I like the way you think, Warren.  I think we’re going to work well together.”

It was Antonia’s turn to stop.  Something about his statement surprised her.  Maybe it was the way he was smiling, or maybe it was the tone of his voice.  It didn’t really matter.  The shocking part was the way it made her feel.  Antonia was incredibly pleased.  She liked the way Donovan smiled and appreciated her rebellious nature.  It made her feel something… something she couldn’t come to terms with.  The man was a stranger, and yet, Antonia was pretty sure she was attracted to the smug, suit-wearing asshole.

She silently groaned inside already hating herself.  Donovan was not someone she wanted or needed to be attracted to.

His brows suddenly dipped and his head cocked to the side.  “They need us in the bedroom.” He must have heard something in his earpiece.  He stalked right past her, brushing her shoulder as he passed.

A current of electricity shot up her arm and her heart rate spiked.

Now she really, really hated herself.  But she followed him anyway.  The bedroom had high windows near the ceiling that lit up the whole room with natural light.  A king-sized bed dominated the room, there was a chair in the corner, and to the left, the closet was open.  On the bed was a pile of clothes, a wallet, and an ID badge.

Even from where she stood in the doorway she could read the badge: Simon Green.

“Simon was here?” she asked.

A man emerged from the closet.  “We found these in the laundry.”

Donovan was holding up the clothes in the light which made Antonia realize the way the room was arranged so that the light from the windows hit the bed and chair and it all became very clear.

“Antonia?”  Donovan asked when he saw her face.

But Antonia was speechless.  They’d all been wrong.

Read Chapter 6 now!


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Flash Fiction Friday: a little tease from “Tease”

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Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday, where I share a little bit of what I’m working on right now. For the last month I’ve shared the beginning of my new action/adventure series, but this week I’m changing things up and giving you a first look at the serial I’m starting to put together. It is very erotic, but this sample should be Safe For Work (SFW) (except for one line that kind of pushes things…). It will be a five-part serial coming to you as soon as I finish revisions (aka, very soon).

I think this first chapter is a little back story heavy and bogged down, feel free to let me know if you agree!

And don’t forget the First Kiss Flash Fiction Blog Hop that is going on this week! Twenty-five free stories to read!


 Tease

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“Your usual?” Mitch the bartender asked without even looking up.

“Please,” I huffed as I threw myself down onto the barstool and slammed my purse on the countertop. Seychelles Bar and Grill wasn’t just the restaurant I tended to eat dinner at every night, it was the restaurant on the ground floor of my apartment building. Inside was dim, but elegant. Dark wood was the main architectural feature and white table cloths covered every table. The bar was situated so that guests had a view out the back window of the beach.

I waved at Hannah, the hostess, as I settled in at the mostly empty bar.

Mitch grabbed the bottle of Wente Cabernet Sauvignon, my favorite of the month, and filled my glass generously.

“How’s it going so far? You aren’t lonely yet are you?” his forced smile told me my unhappiness was obvious.

“I’m up and down,” I confessed. In the short time since we moved to the South Carolina town of Calhoun Beach, Mitch had become a friend and sometime confidante. “I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”

I wouldn’t get used to it.

The problem was my entire world consisted of two people: my little sister Lily, and my best friend from college, Allison. Both of whom, as of two days ago, had left me. Lily was back at Yale for her last year of college, and Allison was on assignment with the London branch of her architectural firm for the next six months. Except for a group trip to London for the Thanksgiving break, I wouldn’t see either of them until Christmas.

I’d been abandoned, or at least that was what I told them as I put them each on their respective planes.

Mitch shook his head, “They’ll be home before you know it and the three amigos will be back here for drinks with me, yet again.”

“I need to make new friends, don’t I?”

Mitch nodded at me. “Pretty much.”

“Ugh.” I grunted and laid my forehead down on the cool surface of the bar. “But I don’t like people.”

“Thanks.”

I looked up but didn’t move. “Not you, you’re awesome. But most people… they kind of suck.”

Mitch just shook his head like I was a lost cause. “Look, give it a try, you might be surprised. You’ve only been here a few months and you’ve barely scratched the surface on all Calhoun Beach has to offer.”

I grinned as I sat up and shifted back against the barstool. “You mean there are places to eat other than Seychelle’s?”

An old historic building that had been completely refurbished ten years earlier, it was the perfect place to live in the tiny, historic beach town. We had food downstairs nearly every night, a bar any time we needed a drink, the beach out our back door, and a huge, gorgeous apartment. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when Allison and I did our first walk-through.

“As much as I love having a job…yes, there are other restaurants in town,” Mitch snorted.

“I eat at the diner across the street…”

“You’re hopeless,” Mitch agreed with a totally serious face. I would have punched him in the arm if there hadn’t been a bar between us.

“Fine, I’ll start getting out more, sheesh.”

“That’s my girl.” He pushed my wine glass closer and I took a sip. “Know what you want to have tonight? I can get your order in.”

“Scallops, please.” My stomach started growling at the mention of food.

“Coming right up.”

While Mitch busied himself with my order and the other two customers at the bar, I pulled out my Kindle and dove back into the book I’d wasted most of the day on: a ridiculously over-the-top romance. It wasn’t my usual fare, but with my friends gone, no life, and absolutely no desire for a relationship, it was actually kind of liberating to live vicariously through a fictional character. Love belonged on the page and as far away from my real life as possible. It was safer that way.

By the time Mitch brought me a water, I’d read three more chapters. “Dinner should be right up—” Mitch stopped mid-sentence as something over my shoulder caught his eye. “Hey Adam, It’s been a long time!”

I glanced back as a tall man strode up to the bar and enthusiastically shook Mitch’s hand. He was gorgeous.

Incredibly, perfectly, gorgeous.

My heart jumped and I had to swallow to stop a sigh from escaping my lips. Tan skin, chiseled jaw, straight nose, bright brown eyes, and a muscular body. The immediate physical reaction I had to the sight of Adam was embarrassing.

And much to my delight and fear, he grabbed the seat next to me, sitting down at the bar. Only inches away.

Why was he sitting so close to me when the bar was nearly empty?

Except the bar was packed. Sometime while I was zoned out in my book, the restaurant had filled to capacity—and the only empty seat was the one beside me. Lucky me.

“How’s Germany?” Mitch asked, leaning against the bar with his arms crossed. There was genuine curiosity on his face—this wasn’t small talk.

Adam leaned back in his seat and clasped his hands behind his head, giving me an enjoyable view of his long, lean body. The black t-shirt was fitted enticingly tightly around his biceps. “Man, it’s awesome. I’m having the time of my life. It’s been a real pleasure to see it all come together like this. I never would have imagined.”

“I’m so jealous, but happy for you. I always knew you’d do great things…”

“Thanks, I appreciate that,” Adam replied with a proud grin on his handsome face. “Glad to be back home, though. How are things here?”

Mitch chuckled, straightening up. “Same old stuff, nothing really changes. Can I get you a drink?”

“You still got that Golden Goose Ale on tap?”

“Sure do.”

I sat there listening, pretending to read, as Mitch and Adam continued to exchange random information. I couldn’t help but wonder what Adam did for a living, why it was in Germany, or what brought him back home to Calhoun Beach.

Or why he was so damn sexy.

For the first time in two days I wasn’t moping about Lily and Allison—heck I was half glad they were gone. I needed some fun in my life and Adam seemed like perfectly good way to start—if I could form coherent thoughts while looking at his delicious body.

My phone vibrated against the countertop, startling me from thoughts of stripping the stranger beside me naked. Allison’s name was emblazoned across the screen along with a picture of the two of us on the beach. An hour ago I would have been ecstatic to talk to her while I waited for dinner, but things were different now. Now, I wanted to soak up as much as I possibly could of the mysterious gentleman beside me.

I tapped out a message letting her know I’d call her later, when Mitch grabbed my glass and started refilling it.

“Thanks Mitch.”

“No problem Elizabeth. I just got the signal your dinner is ready. I’ll be right back.”

Mitch disappeared and Adam and I sat there, side by side, neither of us with anyone else. It was that awkward silence that comes when you are both fully aware the other one is also fully aware.

“You like the Wente? It’s a favorite of mine as well.”

My heart skipped a beat. He was talking to me in a deep, smooth voice that was softer than when he was speaking to Mitch.

“Yes, it’s very nice. I get it every time I’m here,” I answered quietly, flashing a small smile and making eye contact. Sweet Jesus… his eyes were amazing.

“You come here often then?” he asked, cocking his head to the side studying me as he turned to face me.

I blushed involuntary and suddenly wished I wasn’t wearing a sun dress. My telltale nervous flush extended all the way down my chest, I could feel its burning beacon prickling across my skin. It was a dead giveaway. “Yes, I actually live upstairs,” I point up towards my apartment, hoping to distract him.

But it didn’t work, his gaze was locked on me. It was steady and curious, with just a touch of confusion. “Really? How is it that we’ve never met before? I’ve been eating here for years and Mitch is a childhood friend.”

I took a steadying breath and tried to relax my nerves. It was scaring me how attracted I was to this man. My mind was filling with images of his hands against my skin, roving over my breasts, down my stomach, and between my legs. I wondered what it would feel like to have his lips on my breasts with his cock buried deep inside me as I rode him.

The images were so real and insistent. I felt like I needed a cold shower just to sit beside him.“I actually just moved to town about four months ago.”

He stroked his chin and I couldn’t stop focusing on his long fingers as the brushed past his lips. “Makes sense then,” he replied. “I’ve only been in and out of town briefly over the last few months. So what brought you to Calhoun Beach?” He leaned his elbow on the bar and I got the distinct impression he was genuinely interested in hearing about me. Which felt weird.

“Work. I’m an assistant professor at the college,” I answered his question but I didn’t want to talk about myself. I wanted to hear about him. “And what brings you to Calhoun Beach from Germany?”

His eyes didn’t move. “My family lives here, I come visit every few months.” The corners of his lips turned up slightly in a half-smile. “Where did you move here from?”

I fought my instinctive need to flee when his questions turned toward my past. I don’t ever talk about my childhood, I avoid all questions related to my parents, and I never tell people my real name. But there was something about Adam, so instead of asking for my check and ducking out the door, I searched for an answer I could live with. “I’m not really from anywhere. My family moved around a lot…the longest I lived anywhere was during college.”

“And where was college?”

“New Haven.”

Adam nodded thoughtfully, “Yale? Good school. And what are you teaching at the college?”

The questions were hard and fast. This wasn’t a normal, casual conversation between two people stuck at the same bar. This was a questioning. Why Adam felt the need to question me, I hadn’t figured out, but a small part of me was hoping it was because he was as attracted to me as I was to him.

“I’m in the Historic Preservation and Community Planning department.” Being a professor was the only thing I ever wanted to do. It was the furthest thing from my childhood I could imagine and it gave me the power and control I so desperately needed.

Adam’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow, you sure picked the right town for that.”

Calhoun Beach was pretty much one giant historic district, with buildings from nearly every era. The College of Calhoun Beach had one of the most prestigious departments for historic preservation in the country. Landing my job at my age was a coup.

It was at that moment that Mitch returned with my dinner. The scallops looked amazing and the smell alone made my mouth water. “Bon appetite, darling. Enjoy!”

“Thanks Mitch.” He caught my gaze, giving me the distinct impression that he was amused, then walked away to serve another customer.

“Those look delicious,” Adam murmured. “You’ll have to let me know what you think. I was going to order the steak tonight, but I think I might change my mind.”

I could swear his eyes were twinkling. Were they twinkling at me? I took a bite and the perfectly prepared scallop practically melted like butter in my mouth. I barely suppressed a groan.

A strange look of pleasure crossed Adam’s face, but he shook his head and closed his eyes, erasing it.

“They really are wonderful tonight, you should get them,” I said between bites, curious about his reaction.

He looked away from me as if he couldn’t stand to look into my eyes. Was I imagining it? I didn’t think that I was. Something had suddenly shifted and Adam seemed almost as uncomfortable around me as I first did around him. He downed the remainder of his drink, clinking the glass against the counter as he waved at Mitch, indicating he’d like a refill.

*****

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Flash Fiction Friday: Chapter 4 of The Unspoken Game

Welcome to the next addition of Flash Fiction Friday! This week I’m continuing with The Unspoken Game and next week I have some special stuff planned! Not only am I participating in the First Kiss Flash Fiction Blog Hop on Tuesday, April 8th, but (if all goes as planned) I will also have something different to offer next Friday!

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I’m super excited about the First Kiss Blog Hop! Not only are there more than twenty authors participating, but every piece of flash fiction is brand-new, original content! Every story will be different, but they are all based on the same premise: two strangers kissing for the first time on cameraI can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with! Make sure you stop by here on Tuesday, April 8th to see my piece! (Click on the link above for all the details plus the schedule of every blog on the hop!)

I have a special giveaway for my email newsletter subscribers! This month I’m giving away a signed copy of Tracie Puckett’s new New Adult novel, Breaking Rules! Make sure you are signed up for my newsletter! A name will be chosen on April 15th!

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Alright, now onto today’s Flash Fiction! (If you aren’t caught up, you can still read Chapter One, Chapter Two, and Chapter Three!)

The Unspoken Game: The Mummy Maneuver — Chapter Four

“Who are you?” the fiery red head looked Donovan up and down.

“My name is Donovan and this is my associate Dr. Antonia Warren.”

“Should I be excited?”  Sophie Reynolds looked tired, as he would expect after a night in a Vegas jail.  She was wearing black pants, a white blouse, and day-old makeup.

“I have a job offer for you.”

She laughed and tried to walk around him, but Donovan blocked the way.  “From Theodore Seleron.”

That got her attention, it always did.  Everyone knew The Old Man and they were always surprised he was looking for them.  It was a real selling point.

She stepped back, put her hand on her hip and looked Antonia up and down.  Antonia returned the careful examination with equal fervor.  “I’m not interested,” Sophie said without looking away from Antonia.

“At least let me tell you what the job is.”

“Not interested,” she repeated.

“We can help you find Bernard Redemski in exchange for your assistance.”

Sophie Reynolds glared at him with her jaw thrust out as she struggled.  She’d been the hardest of the team to track down.  The woman was angry, smart, and hell-bent on revenge for the death of her brother.  She had other objectives in her life, but the exact skills Donovan needed.  He was more than willing to exchange helping Miss Reynolds with her revenge for her help—if he could keep her out of jail long enough.

“Fine, what’s the job?” She finally looked back at him.

Donovan pulled out the tablet computer once again, “We need your help tracking down a mummy.”

Miss Reynolds snorted.  “I haven’t heard that one before.  Painting, sculpture, jewelry… not mummy.”  She ticked the items off on her fingers.

“I have a private message from Mr. Seleron for you.” Since she was walking out of jail, Donovan assumed she’d need a set of headphones to listen to the message.  He handed her both the tablet and the ear buds.

She frowned about half way through the message.  When it was done, she scowled at Donovan before practically throwing the tablet back at him.  “Fine, give me the contract.”

He quietly handed her a document nearly identical to the one he’d given Antonia.  Miss Reynolds signed it with a great deal of enthusiasm, folded it back up, and slapped it against his chest.

“Thank you, Miss Reynolds,” he said, slipping the contract into his jacket pocket.

“Call me Sophie.  Now, get me food.”

The three of them drove through a fast food restaurant that was open late at night (like everything else in Vegas) before heading back to the airport.

“I need a hamburger! No pickles.  And a double order of fries… with cheese.  A diet coke!  Aaaaand… another hamburger!” Sophie was leaning across Donovan’s lap as she screamed at the intercom.

“Will that be all?”

He looked back at Antonia who simply shook her head.

“Yep, that’s it.”

“We’ll have your total at the window.”

Donovan drove around the side of the building and waited at the window.  “You must be hungry,” he said to Sophie dryly.

“I haven’t eaten in twelve hours,” she replied.  Then she turned back toward Antonia.  “What’re you in for?”

“I know the man with the mummy.”

Donovan kept his eyes forward.  The less he looked at Antonia the better—even in the rearview mirror.  He’d already noticed his tendency to stare whether she was talking or not.

“Ah,” Sophie nodded.  “And what is it you do?  Wait, don’t tell me, let me guess.  Jeans, t-shirt, ponytail… yeah I got nuthin’.”

“Archaeologist.”

“Oh!” Sophie cooed, clapping her hands.  “That makes sense, actually!  Except I would have expected a bandana or something.”

Antonia laughed, “I do have some.  I’ll try and wear one for you.”

“Thanks!” Sophie exclaimed.  “How about one of those funny vests or a pith helmet!”

“I’m afraid all I’ve got for you are my boots.”  Antonia clunked her foot down on the console.

“Hey,” Donovan exclaimed.  “Get your dirty feet off the rental car!”  So far this car was in perfect working order.  The last thing he needed was one of these women adding to his track record.

Both ladies gave him questioning looks.

Antonia shrugged and pulled her foot back down.  “He has a thing about rental cars.”

“I can tell,” Sophie drawled.

They got their food and Donovan hurried toward the jet.  When he pulled up at the private hanger Scott was already laughing.  Donovan had no idea why Scott was laughing which made him feel very, very uneasy.

“Man, we can’t let you go anywhere, can we?”

“What do you mean?” Donovan sighed knowing full well when he turned around he was going to see something wrong with the car.  Sure enough, there was a beautiful ding on the rear bumper.  He swore a few times before shoving the keys at Scott and stomping aboard the plane.  At least everyone was used to his luck.

Unfortunately Scott was right on his heels.  “I’m sorry Donovan, but there’s more than bad luck with rentals.”

He spun around, coming nose to nose with Scott.  “Don’t tell me Patterson said no.”

Scott shifted uncomfortably and cracked his neck.

Donovan swore.  “Can’t anyone do their job?”

Scott shrugged.  “Patterson sent you a message.  He said ‘it would be a cold day in hell before he worked for you’.”

Donovan grunted.  Apparently the little twerp was still bent out of shape about their last encounter.  He’d hoped Patterson would take one look at the check and agree to let the past stay in the past.  Apparently money wasn’t a good enough motivator.

“Looks like we’re stopping in New York, Scott.”

Scott nodded, “Thought you might say that, boss.  We’re ready to go.”

After Antonia and Sophie boarded the plane and settled into their seats, Donovan jumped into bringing Sophie up to speed.

“Dr. Warren has been reviewing the data from the crime scene and our team in Atlanta is tracking down some leads she gave them.  What I need from the two of you now is a list or an idea of who would be interested in taking a mummy like this.”

Sophie slammed her feet down on the table and made herself comfortable before closing her eyes and holding her hands in the air like she was meditating.  “What are we working with here?”

Donovan looked at Antonia, “I believe you can handle bringing Sophie up to speed.”

Antonia took a deep breath and dove in.  “The mummy was nicknamed The Little One by the team that excavated it in 1923 and is approximately four thousand years old.  It was acquired by a small museum in Boston where it remained for several years before it was stolen in 1937.  It was found in the private collection of a formerly wealthy aristocrat and was returned to the museum.  In 1953 it was acquired by the University of Georgia.  It was stolen again in 1977 and returned a year later.”

“Why do people keep stealing this mummy?” Sophie asked without opening her eyes.

“A couple of reasons.  The Little One was excavated by Liam Pembrooke.  Pembrooke was famous for taking items under the guise of research and never returning them.  Add that to the fact he was a ladies man and did a brief stint in early Hollywood, the man had become a legend in his own right.  Collecting Pembrooke items are a niche market for a certain crowd of unusual items.”

“And the other reason?” Sophie prompted.

“Egypt requested the mummy be returned years ago.  It has been caught up in a legal battle ever since.  Because of the mummy’s strange history, a series of claims were made on the item.  Because of some other political things happening at the same time between the US and Egypt, it became a sore subject.  The mummy was scheduled to be returned last month when Simon put in a plea for a final scan of the mummy.  Apparently he was only granted the extension when Seleron stepped in.”

“So we’re looking for Pembrooke collectors, Egyptology fanatics, and political connections for anyone who has anything to gain by poking Egypt and the United States for funsies.  You guys sure know how to pick your friends.”

Antonia looked right at Donovan and he suddenly felt very naked.  “You have something to add, Antonia?”

“I still think we should look into the possibility they were after Simon, not the mummy.”

Donovan hesitated.  He never liked divulging too much unless it was absolutely necessary. “I already have someone looking into it.”  And by someone, he meant Sparks.

Donovan pulled out two phones and two computers.  “Work whatever magic you can between here and New York.”

Then he turned his attention to Gerard Patterson.  How the hell was he going to get Patterson to come to Atlanta?  The Old Man had made it very clear he needed all four of them or it wouldn’t work and this whole crazy extravagant plan would fall apart.

One thing was clear, Donovan was going to have to do something he’d tried really hard to avoid: apologizing to the kid.  Technically he’d done nothing wrong.  Patterson had perfectly duplicated an unduplicatable piece of Seleron technology.  It was Donovan’s job to make threats like that disappear.  He tracked down the kid to his apartment in New York with the plan to either hire the kid or scare him so badly he never dared come near Seleron Technology ever again.

The only problem was Patterson wasn’t really a kid and he was hardly your average computer geek. He was younger than Donovan by seven years, and thinking of Patterson as a punk teenager instead of a twenty-six year old man, helped Donovan hate him more—even if it wasn’t logical.  Patterson was brilliant, savvy, and incredibly quick on his feet.  The kid could take care of himself in a heartbeat and it caught Donovan completely off-guard.  When Patterson laughed at the job offer from Seleron, Donovan took it upon himself to teach the kid a lesson in spectacular fashion.  Not only would it keep Patterson from meddling in Seleron Technology affairs, but it felt damn good.

And all would have been fine if there hadn’t been one little hiccup: needing Patterson now.

The minute the jet was on the ground in New York, Donovan was out the door and on his way, leaving Antonia and Sophie behind to work their combined connections.

Since it was New York, he took a cab and saved himself the joy of a three-peat of rental car hell in a single trip.  Patterson lived in the same apartment and walking up to the familiar door Donovan remembered the anticipation he felt a year ago.  It was now replaced by dread.

He reached up and knocked anyway.

A minute later he heard the locks inside sliding and the deep laugh of Gerard Patterson.  The door swung open, the kid’s longer hair dancing in the rush of wind from the opening door.  “Well, well, well… to what do I owe this expected visit from my old friend?”

Donovan resisted the urge to roll his eyes.  “You know why I’m here.  Let’s make this simple.  We need your help, what can I do to change your mind?”

Patterson grinned, a wide proud grin.  His hazel eyes were dancing with absolute delight—he was loving every second of this.  “Oh, my dear, dear Donovan.  I think you and I both know I’m never going to work for Seleron and it has everything to do with you.”

Of course it was.  If this whole thing weren’t so damn important to The Old Man, and if they had any more time to find someone else, Donovan wouldn’t even consider what he was about to do.  But things were the way they were.

He swallowed down his pride and apologized.  “Patterson, I’m sorry for the way I so aggressively shut down your operation.  Your problem is with me, not Seleron.”

Patterson ruffled his hair and leaned against the doorjamb.  He was barefoot and for some reason that irritated Donovan.  “Yeah, but as your associate already explained to me, I’d be working under you, not Seleron.”

It took everything Donovan had not to simply grab Patterson by the scruff of his neck and force him to come along.  They could argue and hash things out later.

“I promise I’m much nicer when you work for me, not against me.”

Patterson chuckled low in his throat.  “Nicer maybe, but I’m not sure you’ll be much more fun.  It was one of the best days I had all year.  Sparring with you was a true test, not one I get very often.”

The kid had raw talent mixed with extensive training.  Sparring with him had been fun for Donovan, too.  “How about this?  I promise to leave you alone to do your thing with no interference from me—”

“And no wise cracks.”

Donovan sighed, “I’m not going to say anything unless it relates to the job.  I’ll leave you alone and spar with you when we’re done.”  He cracked his knuckles and grinned for the first time.  “I won’t hold back at all.”

Patterson perked up, pushing away from the door frame.  “Promise?”

Oh, he had no idea.  Donovan was going to thoroughly enjoy kicking the crap of Patterson.  “I promise.”

The kid smiled and walked away.  “Give me a minute to grab my bag.”

“And a pair of shoes,” Donovan called.  Now all he had to do was get to Atlanta and find a missing mummy.

Read Chapter 5 now!

*****

Thanks for reading! I’m really excited about getting this series out to you! Let me know what you think in the comments!

And don’t forget to stop by the First Kiss Blog Hop next week!

25 Romance Authors25 First Kisses

 

Flash Fiction Friday: Chapter 3 of The Unspoken Game

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday! This week I’m sharing Chapter 3 of The Unspoken Game: The Mummy Maneuver (out this May). I don’t think anyone has read this chapter yet (except the Sexy Editor). Not even my CP’s. So this week is pretty special.

If you need to play catch-up, you can read Chapter One here, and Chapter Two here.

And then Tuesday, April 8th I’ll be participating in the First Kiss Blog Hop with a piece of Flash Fiction inspired by the viral video of strangers kissing on camera! All I can say right now is my piece includes an adorable geeky-type guy (or is he?!) and a reluctant lady. And a kiss, of course!

But for now, here is this Friday’s Flash Fiction. Enjoy!

Music as Muse 2

Chapter 3

Antonia was relieved to see the familiar Seleron Technology logo on the side of the private jet.  In the back of her mind there was still a little lingering doubt she’d just agreed to follow a complete stranger to her death.

The jet was top of the line.  Leather seating that felt like butter beneath her fingertips, dark wood-grain accents, and soft lighting that was soothing to the eyes.  She could get used to traveling in private jets.

“Can I get you a drink?” the flight attendant asked.  He was incredibly short compared to Donovan and Scott, who turned out to be nearly as tall and fit as Donovan.  Maybe there was a corporate policy at Seleron Technology that required all men to be huge?

Antonia wasn’t exactly short herself.  Five-foot eight wasn’t tall, but it was above average.  Maybe she’d fit right in.  “Just a water for me, thanks.”

“Sparkling?”

“Sure…” she drawled.  She didn’t really care if came from a spring, carbonated, or distilled from the air.  She just wanted a glass of water.

“And for you Mr. Donovan?”

Antonia’s eyebrows shot up.  Mister?

“A water for me, as well.  Thank you, Hank.”

Hank smiled and left to get their drinks.

“So…” Antonia began.  “Donovan is your last name?”

His expression didn’t change in the slightest.  “Yes, it is.”

The man could be surprisingly difficult when he wanted to be.  “So what’s your first name?  You introduced yourself as Donovan, I just assumed it was your first name.”

This time he smiled behind his black sunglasses.  “You know what they say about assuming.”

Antonia sighed.  “Fine, Donovan.  I take back my offer.  It’s back to Dr. Warren for you.”

This time it was Donovan’s eyebrows that shot up with surprise.  He didn’t seem to like that turn of events very much, which was fascinating to Antonia.

“No one calls me by my first name,” he finally said.  He sounded stunned, like he couldn’t believe he was telling her this.

And that made Antonia bizarrely thrilled.  “Why is that?  Is it something embarrassingly horrible?”

Donovan chuckled.  “No, actually, it’s not.”

“You aren’t named Fitzpatrick or Himey or something?” she was playing with him now.

“Hey,” he scoffed.  “What’s wrong with Fitzpatrick?  That sounds distinguished to me.”

“Fitzpatrick Donovan?  Talk about a mouthful…”

He grinned, showing all of his perfect white teeth.  “You do have a point.”

Antonia wished she could see his eyes and gauge what he was thinking better.  As it was, she was staring a set jaw and a pair of shiny black lenses.  He was impossible to read like that.

“What’s with the glasses, Donovan?  You wear them all the time.  Can you see through those things?”

He nodded, and adjusted in his seat, sitting forward to reach across the little table separating them, taking off the glasses and handing them to her.  “Take a peek.”

He was actually offering his sacred glasses.  Antonia had a feeling it wasn’t something he did every day.  She hesitated at first, taking a moment to look at his eyes one more time.  He looked wary despite the smile on his face.  “Alright.”  She took the glasses and slid them on her face.  “They’re a computer!”

“Basically.  I can do just about anything with these babies.”

Running down the side of each lens was a stream of data.  It took her a moment to adjust to what she was seeing, but only a moment.  Down one side seemed to be coded updates, and down the other was data for Simon’s case.  “How do you control it?”

“Eye movement, mostly.  And this baby.”  He held up the watch on his wrist.  Upon closer inspection Antonia realized it was also a computer.

“It’s like I’m wearing glasses, not sunglasses.”  Everything around her was as clear as day, not shaded like she expected.

“The lenses always look black on the outside, but inside adjusts based on the lighting of the room.”

“Amazing, can I get a pair?” she asked, reluctantly sliding the glasses back off.

“Negotiate it into your next contract.”

Next?  Was there something she needed to know?  But before she could ask, they were interrupted.

“Donovan,” Scott called as he climbed inside.  “Here are the updates you asked for from HQ.”  He handed Donovan a black laptop.

“How are things coming with the others?”

Scott smiled tightly, “Sparks has agreed to meet you in Atlanta and we’re still working on Patterson, but there’s a complication with Reynolds.”

“Complication?” Donovan asked as he opened the laptop.  “What kind of complication?”

“She’s in jail.”

Donovan groaned.  “Again?  I told Jones to keep her out of trouble for forty-eight hours.”

Scott smiled and crossed his arms, easing himself into a wide stance.  “In his defense, I don’t think it was Jones’s fault.”

“I’m sure,” Donovan agreed under his breath.  “Change of plans, then.  We’re headed to Vegas.”

“You got it, boss.”  Scott headed directly for the cockpit.

“Vegas?  Shouldn’t we getting to Atlanta as fast as possible?”  She didn’t like this turn of events one little bit.

“It will be a quick detour, besides,” he said turning the laptop toward Antonia.  “You have plenty of work to do.”

On the screen was a 3D scan of Simon’s lab.

“As you can see we’ve scanned everything.  There’s also enhanced security footage and photographs of any evidence our team was able to find.”

Antonia studied the screen intently.  She worked with 3D scanning all the time.  It was common to scan archaeological sites and digs, even artifacts.  She knew the software in front of her well, but it was like it was juiced up on crack.  “Let me guess, this is the Super-Seleron version of 3D scanning software.”

“You better believe it,” Donovan replied.  “It’s like you’re already in Atlanta.  I think you’ll find this is just as useful as being in the lab yourself.  Besides, my team is tracking down leads right now.  Hopefully they’ll find Simon before we get there and all of this will turn out to be a fun plane ride for you.”

Somehow, Antonia doubted that very much.

“Who’s Sparks?”

“An old friend with as many—if not more—interesting connections to unscrupulous people as you.”

He was probably slimy and completely untrustworthy.

“And this Reynolds we’re going all the way to Vegas for?”

“She’s… complicated.  But her skills will be useful to us.  Trust me.”

Interesting choice of words coming from a man she’d known for a couple of hours and hid behind computerized glasses.

During the flight Antonia combed through the data from the lab.  She was so focused on the images in front of her she felt like she was really there in the lab.  It was hard to believe Simon felt scanning this mummy was important enough to risk so much.  It was a mummy.  A person dead and gone for thousands of years.

She was often in the minority when it came to her opinions on the past.  She wasn’t a “put in a museum” kind of girl.  The past was a tool for the present and a way to plan for the future.  It was incredibly important, but it had a time and place in modern society.

Yeah, her mother hadn’t agreed with her on that point, either.

She moved away from the scans of the lab and started pouring through the security footage.  It was hard to watch.  Seeing Simon dragged off, limp and drugged, was painful.  The question that kept bugging Antonia was why.  If they were after the mummy, why did they take Simon?  Or were they really after Simon and using the mummy as cover?

“We’re getting ready to land,” Donovan said quietly.

“Good,” Antonia replied.  The sooner they got Miss Reynolds, the sooner they could move on.

“Finding anything useful?”

Antonia took a deep breath and sat back and away from the computer for the first time in well over an hour.  She rubbed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.  “I’m confused.  Why do you think they took both Simon and the mummy?  It seems like if they were after the mummy they wouldn’t need or want Simon around to complicate matters.”

“That’s an interesting point.”

“I mean, the whole history surrounding this particular mummy is complicated at best.  It’s now been stolen three times and because of its bizarre history.”  She sat up and ran the security footage again.  “They took the everything with them, Donovan.”

“What’s your point?”

She had his attention now.  “Why? What are they doing that requires Simon and his equipment? They aren’t just taking it to sell it. Something else is going on here.”

Donovan rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.  “You don’t think they’ve moved it very far from the lab, do you?”

“I think it’s somewhere very close by.” The thieves had an objective–and it wasn’t fleeing the country.

While they prepared to land, Donovan sent off several emails to his team in Atlanta refocusing their search.  Antonia set aside the data she’d been asked to look at and instead started to think like a thief.

She scanned maps of the surrounding neighborhoods hoping something would jump out at her.  Then she looked at her contacts, hoping to see a connection.  The minute they landed she had her phone out making calls.  Even if they weren’t planning on selling the mummy, they had to prepared to take it.  There had to be a clue somewhere.

“Leave your things here, we’ll be back in less than an hour.”  Donovan grumbled.

“It’s going to take you more than an hour to spring this lady out of jail, Donovan.”

He smirked at her as he stood up.  “Maybe for you, but not for me.”

“Does everybody always do whatever you say?”  Antonia was starting to see a trend where Donovan was concerned.

“Pretty much.  I have that special way about me that makes people bend to my will.”  He was grinning the whole time he was talking.

“Be careful, those special qualities have a way of backfiring,” she warned.

He laughed out loud, but then suddenly stopped at the door and turned around, looking down at her.  He was impossibly tall.  “My name is Cole—but never call me that,” he warned, then turned and walked down the stairs.

Antonia was stunned.  Cole was the perfect name to go along with those black eyes and dark demeanor.

Read Chapter 4 now!

*****

Thanks for joining me for another Flash Fiction Friday! Stop by next week and see what I have in store! And don’t forget about the First Kiss (#firstkiss) Blog Hop the week of April 7th! Three blogs a day, all week long, posting fresh flash fiction for free!

Also, join us Tuesday, April 1st for Music as Muse!

First Draught 2

Flash Fiction Friday: Chapter 2

Every Friday I’m posting free fiction! Last week was Chapter 1 of my new series: The Unspoken Game. Today, you get Chapter 2. Both are unedited works in progress, so please forgive my imperfections. Enjoy and please let me know what you think! If you missed Chapter 1 last week, get it here: TUG: Chapter 1.

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Chapter 2

Donovan followed Dr. Antonia Warren to her motel room and stood quietly by the door while she threw her things into a brown leather bag.  The room was a mess.  Her clothes were…everywhere.  Over the backs of chairs, across the table, on the bathroom counter, and a pile in the middle of the second bed.  She didn’t seem to care about any of it.  She just jammed item after item into the bag before suddenly stopping and looking down at herself.

“Wait, are we going to Atlanta?”  Her brown eyes were wide and she was standing completely still in the middle of the room.

Donovan nodded slowly, “Yes, we felt it would be logical to start at the beginning.”

“Crap I need to change,” she groaned and started pulling clothes back out of the bag.  “I just worked a full field day.  You and everyone else on earth are going to thank me.”

“I’ll wait here,” he said dryly.  It was kind of fun to watch her scrambling.  Dr. Warren was fun to watch period.  Her jeans were tight as was her t-shirt which he finally got a glimpse of when she took off her jacket.  The long brown ponytail that hung down her back wasn’t too bad either.

He’d definitely had worse assignments.

She cocked an eyebrow and rolled her eyes.  “I’ll be three minutes.”

The moment he heard the shower turn on, Donovan started to snoop.  Not because he was being rude, but because it was smart.  He needed to know everything he could about the sexy lady in the bathroom—especially the things he couldn’t find on paper.  He’d studied every piece of information on the good doctor on the way out, even the classified documents, but nothing was as informative as a peek through her belongings.

Five pairs of jeans, all the same brand.  Seven t-shirts, all the same brand.  Seven pairs of identical white socks.  A belt, a jacket, three gray sports bras, two lacey racer-back bra’s, and a pile of delicate, lacey underwear.  Odd that she had such standard clothes, but such beautiful underwear.

Donovan turned toward the bathroom counter.  Dr. Warren’s boots were carefully tucked under the open counter and Donovan realized it was the only pair of shoes he’d seen.  Her toiletries were all drug store travel sizes, face wash, toothbrush, the standard.  No makeup and only a couple of hair ties and bobby pins.  Talk about seriously low-maintenance.

Or someone with nothing tying her down.

The shower turned off and Donovan resumed his post at the door.  A minute later she emerged fully clothed in a fresh pair of identical jeans and a black t-shirt.  “Have fun snooping through my stuff?” she asked with a devilish grin.

“I did nothing of the sort,” he smiled back.  They both knew full well he’d snooped.

Dr. Warren sat down on the corner of the bed and pulled on her boots.  “Is there anything we know yet?”

“Dr. Green was abducted at seven fifty-two last night.  It was a team of four, all wearing ski masks.  They grabbed him and the mummy in less than three minutes, leaving in a white unmarked van—all very standard.”

“And how do you know all this?”

“Cameras,” he replied.

“Of course.  How silly of me.  You do realize most archaeology labs don’t have surveillance cameras, right?”  She stood up and resumed shoving things in her bag.

“Labs with extremely valuable mummies funded by a technology billionaire do.”

“Touché,” she said with a smile, zipping up her bag and throwing it over her shoulder.  At the table she shoved a laptop and cords into a red backpack and slung it over the other shoulder.  “Ready when you are.”

“Aren’t you taking your toiletries?”

She cocked her head to the side and smiled, “Don’t they have drug stores in Atlanta?”

“Touché,” he replied, pulling the door open.  She really was low maintenance.

Donovan’s rental car was a pretty standard blue Ford Focus.  The sight of it, however, made him cringe for one very important reason.

He popped the trunk and waited while Dr. Warren put her bag inside, then slid behind the steering wheel, crossing his fingers the stupid thing started.  It purred right to life.

“You ok over there, cowboy?  You look like you’re afraid the car is gonna bite you…”

“Forget about it,” he grumbled and backed out of the parking space.

If everything went well, when they landed in Atlanta there would be three more members of their team ready and waiting.  But that was only if things went well, which Donovan had a feeling wasn’t going to happen.  The crew The Old Man had selected was ragtag at best.  All of them were loose cannons and none of them were the type to follow orders.  Donovan hated when his orders weren’t followed.  Getting this foursome to work together was going to take finesse and a lot of patience on his part.

“There is a file,” he fumbled around with his bag behind the seat, finally feeling the right file slide between his fingers, “that should bring you up to speed on what we know.  When we get to the plane we will get an update.”

He drove in silence for several minutes while Dr. Warren flipped through the file.  “How well do you know Dr. Green?”

She sighed and slammed the folder shut, looking out the window.  “Simon is like family.  Well, more like an uncle you talk to a couple of times a year.”

“So you haven’t spoken in how long?”

She shrugged her shoulders, “Probably not in the last six months.”

“Since your fall-out with your mother?”

Donovan had seen a lot in his life and had the displeasure of relieving many people of their lives, but he had never felt fear like he did right then.  The anger rolling off the doctor was palpable.  “I don’t talk about my mother.  But yes.  Right around then.” She crossed her arms over her chest and slumped down in the seat.  “What do you know about my mother anyway?”

“She is the lead archaeologist for the Smithsonian and considered to be one of the preeminent minds in theories about early man.  And… she publicly called you a disgrace to the profession for agreeing to work with several black market dealers.”

There was a lot of silence after that.  Antonia sat there with her arms crossed not moving a muscle.  Donovan was actually afraid he might lose her before they even got to the airport, contract or no contract. “Dr. Warren, I didn’t mean to upset you.  I was merely talking about facts, not feelings.”

She sniffed and adjusted.  “You can call me Antonia.  Dr. Warren gets to be a mouthful.”

“And you think Antonia is better?”  Except that it was.  It was so much better.  Not only was it less formal, but it rolled off the tongue.  Antonia was soft and sexy and Donovan had a very good feeling that under the hardened exterior of Dr. Warren lay another layer.  The Antonia layer.

“Call me whatever you want, I don’t care.”

Oh, he was definitely calling her Antonia—there was no doubt about that.  “What I meant before was that I was simply going over the details, I wasn’t judging you.”

She smiled a little.  It was beautiful.  “You don’t think it’s immoral for an archaeologist to deal with the very people stealing our artifacts?  How very odd of you.”

He laughed.  She had a funny way with words.  “I think the black market isn’t going away, so if you feel there is merit there, then there must be something to it.”

“You trust someone you barely know?”

“I have good instincts,” he replied a split second before the engine sputtered and died.

He had good instincts for people… not so much for cars.

“You have got to be kidding me,” he swore under his breath.

“Pull over.”

“I am!” he spat back, wrenching the wheel and letting the car glide onto the grassy side of the road.

“Sheesh, you don’t have to get so bent out shape.  Cars break down.  They’re machines, you know?”

He simply shook his head, threw the car into park, and popped the hood.  “You have no idea, Antonia.  You have no idea.”

How was it possible to have that much bad luck?  Every rental car he’d ever been given had broken down, been dinged, or ended up in a fiery ball of flames.  Ok, so the last one only happened that one time, but the rest… it was a thing with him.  He had the touch of death for rental cars.

She hopped out and sauntered around the hood with her hands on her hips, looking very serious as she stared at the engine.  “What do you think is wrong?”

“Me.”

“What?”

Donovan shook his head.  “Never mind.”

“Can we fix it?”

“I have no idea.  The thing looks fine to me.”  They didn’t have time to play around with rental cars.  Donovan took out his cell phone.  “Scott?  I need a pickup.”

“Seriously?”  Scott replied.  “Where are you?”

Donovan flicked on the GPS tracking device.  “Follow the flashing light.”

“You have the worst luck, man.”

“Don’t start with me…” Donovan warned.

“I’ll be there in ten.  Hold tight.”

He flicked off his phone and tucked it away inside his pocket.  “Let’s get our things ready, our ride is on the way.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”  Antonia skipped around to the trunk of the car like she didn’t have a care in the world.

He was about to change all of that and for the first time in a long time, Donovan wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that.

Read Chapter 3 now!

*****

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First Draught 2

Flash Fiction Friday (also known as “something to read for free”)

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This isn’t “Flash Fiction” in the traditional sense (a very short, but complete story). Instead this is a short snippet of one of my many projects. Instead of hoarding them all in my hard drive never to see the light of day, I’ve decided to start posting some of them here. My hope is that some will jump out at you, that you will ask for more, and that it will become clearer to me which projects need to jump to the front of the line, and which ones need to stay on that back burner.

Plus, it’s Friday and it is fun to have something fun and free to read.

Here is a look at the short story I’m working on to introduce you all to my characters in The Unspoken Game series. Let me know what you think in the comments!

*****

“It’s too cold for this,” Antonia Warren hissed as she tapped her boots against the side of the truck, zipped her jacket up to her chin, and shoved her hands in her pockets.  “I’m getting a drink.”

“Suit yourself.  I’m going to bed.  See you in a couple months, Doc.”  Trevor Boyd was short, plump, and red in the face as he turned toward the dump of a motel they’d been sleeping in for the last month.

“Sure,” Antonia replied while silently thinking she’d rather shoot herself in the foot than be back in a different horrific motel with Trevor in two months.

Trevor waved as he continued to walk away and Antonia turned her attention to the bar.  Inside was dark, grimy, and a permanent cloud of smoke hung in the air.  It was seedy, but it would do the job.

“Beer?”  The bartender asked.  His name was Joe, or something vague like that.  He was balding and had eyes that saw everything even though he rarely said more than a word or two.  Antonia was sure he had a baseball bat hidden behind the bar, probably more.

“Tequila.”

His eyebrows shot up as he replaced the beer bottle with a shot glass.  “End of the week celebration?”

“End of hell celebration is more like it,” she replied.  The bar stool was hard and uncomfortable, but if she was successful, she wouldn’t be feeling it for long.  Antonia planned on getting drunk and then passing out until lunch the next day.

“Where you off to next?”  He poured the beautiful liquid right to the top and set a wedge of lime on a napkin.

She didn’t think, “As far away from this godforsaken stretch of Texas as possible,” was the answer he was looking for, even if it was the truth.  “London, actually.  I have some business to attend to.”  Business she’d avoided long enough.  Antonia licked the side of her hand and sprinkled some salt, then set the shaker down to pick up the shot glass.  “Bottoms up.”

It was like fire in her throat, but the pain was welcome.  What the hell was she doing with her life?  Living like this just to prove a point?  She was traipsing from one pipeline segment to the next, one of the only females on the crew, and using all her talent to stare at dirt.  Was punishing her own mother really worth… this?

“Another?” Joe asked.

“Please.”

Just as Joe finished filling the glass, the door opened and blanketed the bar in a soft glow from the fading sunlight.  Even though Antonia was mostly blinded by the light, the silhouette in the doorway was distinctively male.  Tall, broad, and serious based on the deliberate way he moved inside and closed the door.  “Fed?” Joe asked as he straightened his shoulders.

Antonia blinked twice to help clear the bright spot in her vision.  By the time she could see the man, he was standing beside her.  He was very tall.  Probably at least six-five, and clearly made of muscle.  His black suit fit him perfectly from his wide shoulders to his trim waist.  And he was wearing sunglasses despite the dark bar.  He was clearly an asshole.

“Is this seat taken?” he asked.

Antonia looked the stranger up and down and chuckled.  “Ummmm, yeah.  It is.”

The man nodded and frowned, stepped over to the next stool and sat down.  “I assume this seat is safe, or would you prefer I move further down?”

Who exactly was this man and why did he think he was so funny?  “You’re good,” she replied with a roll of her eyes.

“What can I get for you?” Joe asked warily.

The man looked at Antonia’s shot glass and smiled, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

She tried not to bristle, but Antonia could feel the man’s intense gaze even from behind his black shades and she did not like the vibe she was getting.  He knew her, that much was clear, and Antonia never liked being at a disadvantage.  So she ignored the stranger, licked the side of her hand and downed shot number two.

“And refill my friend’s glass, would you?” the stranger asked.

Antonia turned in her seat, leaning against the bar, and gave the stranger her very best “don’t mess with me” eyes.  “Just who are you, exactly?”

He smiled as he took the tequila straight with no chaser.  “The name’s Donovan and I’m guessing yours is Doctor Antonia Warren.”

Her blood ran cold.  He did know who she was and he was here to see her, she’d bet money on it.  “Alright, Donovan.  Why do you know my name?”

Joe refilled both of their shot glasses and stood back, watching but not saying a thing.

“I’m here to hire you.”

“Hire me?” she asked.  This had to be a joke.  No one was hiring her, not after her mother had her blackballed from every reputable museum, university, and research cooperative in the United States and Europe.  Hell, even Australia and South Africa had turned her down.

“Yes.  You have certain skills my employer needs.”  Donovan still hadn’t removed his sunglasses, though he seemed to have no issues seeing anything.

“And who is this mysterious employer?” she asked.  It had to be a horrible job.  Probably something criminal.

“Theodore Seleron.”

Or not….

“Theodore Seleron?  Of Seleron Technology?  The billionaire?”  What the hell would he want with her?  Seleron developed cutting edge software and gadgets.  The man had his own private satellites for god’s sake.  He dealt with the future, not the past.

“That’s the one.  The two of you happen to share a close friendship with Doctor Simon Green.”

Simon?  He was one of her mentors… basically an unofficial uncle.  How was he connected to Seleron?  “Ok… what does that have to do with anything?”

“Dr. Green was abducted from his lab at Emory University yesterday along with the mummy he was getting ready to scan for research.”

Her stomach knotted up with nervous energy.  “So why are you here talking to me?”

Donovan turned so he was facing her and pulled out a small tablet computer.  “Dr. Green was working on a grant funded by my boss.  As I’m sure you’re aware, the mummy was nearly impossible to acquire for Dr. Green’s testing and Egypt was very reluctant to grant him or the United States any leeway on this matter.”

Antonia swore under her breath.  To say this was a volatile situation was being kind.  She wondered how Simon had gotten all of it to go through.  A billionaire pulling strings was probably the only thing that had gotten him the mummy—at the expense of international relations.  “Let me take a wild guess, your boss would like to keep all of this under wraps.”

Donovan nodded slowly and brought something up on the computer.  “We are prepared to offer you a very nice sum of money in exchange for your expertise.  We are aware of your other connections and find they may be useful in tracking down exactly what happened to Dr. Green.”

By other, Donovan meant her black-market connections.  “I’m assuming you already have a team at work?”

Donovan nodded absent-mindedly.  “We have a basic team in place gathering evidence.  But time, as I’m sure you are aware, is of the essence.  The university will have no choice but to notify the Egyptian authorities of the theft by Monday at the latest.”

Donovan turned the screen toward Antonia.  “This is a private message to you from my employer.

Antonia pulled a pair of coiled up ear buds out of her jacket pocket, plugged them into the headphone jack, and pressed play.  She recognized Theodore Seleron immediately.  He was a distinctive looking man who wasn’t afraid of the cameras.  He had short gray hair, a clipped goatee that matched the hair on his head, and always wore a three-piece suit with a matching handkerchief and pocket watch.  The man had a style all his own and he never varied his appearance.  “Dr. Warren.  I’m sure you are skeptical of this situation.  I’m more concerned with Simon’s well-being than anything else.  However not having to stop a war would be nice as well.  I hope you will take us up on our offer.  You have the perfect blend of expertise, connections, and friendship with Simon.  My associate has the contract and official offer.  Thank you.”

And desperate.  Seleron forgot “desperate”.

She pulled out her ear buds and coiled them back up as Donovan put the tablet away.  He slid a folded up piece of paper across the counter.

Antonia’s eyebrows shot up and her jaw fell open.  There were a lot of zeros on the check she was holding.  “Seriously?”

Donovan smiled.  “Seriously.  We understand how dangerous and difficult this situation is and we value your discretion.”

They valued it a lot according to the check in her hands.  Simon was a good friend in trouble and Seleron was a well-connected man with the means and motivation to bring Simon home.  She’d love to help… but everything smelled of a catch.  A great big giant catch.  She opened the contract.

It looked pretty straight forward.  In fact, it was shockingly short.  Basically it said she wouldn’t sue them or hold them responsible for anything and vice-versa.

But could she trust Donovan with his black shades and suit?  He had to be former FBI or something.  The man was far too comfortable in his blazer and sat so straight it made her own shoulders ache.  Then again, his suit was nice, really nice.  Definitely not something a man used to government work would choose.  Donovan was an enigma.

“You gonna take those sunglasses off?” she asked.  It was making her nervous that she’d never seen his eyes.

He smiled and the simple action made her pulse race.  The man had a glorious smile—perfect white teeth and a strong, square jaw.  “I only take them off for special occasions.”

“This is a special occasion,” she challenged as she thought over the contract.  Might as well have fun while she was thinking.

“For you, maybe.  But I’ve worked for The Old Man for the last twelve years.  A new contract doesn’t exactly constitute ‘special’ for me anymore.  Not even for brilliant and beautiful archaeologists.”

She let the compliment slide.  “The Old Man?”

“That’s what we call Seleron,” Donovan explained.  The he dropped his voice to a whisper, “It’s also his code name.  I probably shouldn’t have told you that until you actually signed your contract, though.”

Something about Donovan made Antonia want to trust him.  He was stiff but oddly friendly—he was genuine.  “Will it become a special occasion if I sign this thing?”

“There’s only one way to find out,” he joked back and held up a black pen.

“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” Antonia asked.  This is for Simon, not the money.  She took a deep breath, scanned the contract one last time, and signed on the dotted line.  What the hell?  London could wait and with that many zero’s in her bank account she could buy some time to look around for a real job.

When she looked up, Donovan had removed his glasses, turning them around so they sat on the back of his head.  His eyes were nearly black but amazingly expressive—possibly the most expressive eyes Antonia had ever seen.  It was like the man didn’t need words to convey anything in his mind.  Every thought, every emotion was in his eyes, clear as day.

It was beautiful and overwhelming.  Antonia shuddered under the intensity of his gaze, distracting herself with folding up the contract and handing both the paperwork and pen back to Donovan.

“I sure hope you don’t regret it,” he quietly replied with a small smile.

Antonia chuckled, “Me too.”

Read Chapter 2 now!

*****

So what do you think of Antonia and Donovan? Let me know in the comments!

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