Friday, March 20, 2020

New Orleans's Nobody

Enjoy this condensed first chapter (and part of the second) from Vampire Vignette New Orleans's Nobody.

I’m a nobody. I fade into the background at parties, nobody remembers my name when we’re introduced because I’m quiet, and bullies pick on me as their preferred prey because I don’t like to cause trouble and rarely fight back.

It makes me the butt of a lot of April Fools jokes. I don’t mind. People like to play pranks. Some can be mean, and it’s better they be mean to me, who can take it, than some poor soul who can’t.
Still, I should have been more wary about that particular note, found on March 31.

Meet me at the minimart at midnight. It’s a matter of life or death. ~Shawna. In my defense, it was her loopy handwriting.

I slipped out of my home, a two-vamp household, at eleven forty-five and walked briskly to the meet. The minimart was halfway between my household and Shawna’s. 

Trying to exude confidence, I strode along. Hoping any rogue vamps would think I had a protector vampire shadowing me. Jacksonville’s grandmaster has patrols out from dusk to dawn, but rogue vampires still hunt for easy blood, with us humans as prey.

Still, life or death, right? That wasn’t an overstatement. My best friend, Shawna Rice, was in the dangerous process of proving her household master vampire was…overtapping the veins, if you know what I mean. We’d meet at strange places at strange times, to avoid preternatural ears eavesdropping. 

If Shawna’s corrupt master got any hint of what she was doing before she had a solid case to bring before the Jacksonville grandmaster, she was dead.

The minimart was dark when I got there, the lot empty. No Shawna.
Instead a paper fluttered, taped to the glass door.

At that point my subconscious knocked on my brain (“Hello? Anyone home?”) and I got a bad feeling. Maureen “Mo” Gaffney, mistress of the obvious. 

I trotted toward the store, foreboding making my hand shake as I plucked the note off the door and read it.

Gotcha! April Fools, Mo! ~Jerkface. Not his name, but it should’ve been.

April Fools, right. I was the April Fool.

That was when the rogues melted out of the night.

Vampires circled me. I scanned them, using my peripheral vision. You don’t want to meet their hypnotic red eyes. One, two, three…French fry me. A dozen or more. 

Two were big goons who looked like they used soda straws made of hollow bones.

Three were pale and skeletal, which meant they hadn’t drunk blood lately. They’d be especially savage attacking. 

There I was, a human alone in the night. The paper rattling in my trembling hand wasn’t a particularly good weapon.

My heart pounded, but I stood my ground. Never run from a vamp. It excites them. And anyway, where would I go? The minimart, which had been a twenty-four/seven before the Great Unmasking—when we found out vampires weren’t fictitious and definitely did not sparkle—the minimart now shut up tight by sunset. No protection there.

I was a little light on weapons because I’d sneaked out of the house. The paper in my hand wouldn’t do squat.

One of the big goons broke away from the pack, stalking toward me with murder in his eyes.Eyes met mine, glowing red in a pale face. A tongue darted out to lick fangs. Thirsty.

Still, I tried to tough it out. “I know it looks like I’m helpless…but I’m not.”

“You look pretty helpless to me.” The vampire grinned, horrid with the fangs. “Unless you’re going to papercut my head off.”

Jerkface’s paper rattled in my hand, no danger to anyone except my ego. I did have one thing up my sleeve—or rather, in the open pocket of my cross-body day bag.

I’m a chef in training, with plenty of good, professional knives. Before heading out, I’d slipped a ten-inch chef’s knife and a small meat cleaver into cardboard sheaths, and they now nestled against my ribs in the bag’s pocket. The knives aren’t good for throwing, but for close-in defense? Brand-new and expensive, if anything could slice vampire hide, these knives could.

Whipping out the meat cleaver with my free hand, I chopped the arm of the sucker holding me. I managed to cut deep enough into sinew and meat to make him let go without slicing myself. Well, all right. Those hours of dicing practice, chopping until my arm screamed, had finally paid off. He shrieked and jumped back.

The adrenaline pumping through my veins spun me from the vamp at twice my normal speed—which was about half the speed of the remaining rogues, six of whom flickered into place before me. 

Faces now masked in horrifying armor, slavering at me with fangs the size of drywall nails.

Swallowing bile, I randomly swished the air in front of me with the cleaver, the sheen of vamp blood on it black in the phosphorescent light. Armor was bad news. I had a feeling I was only pushing out the inevitable TOD. 

My thoughts swirled like a life replay as I tried to come up with a defense. I remembered a time my mother had been teaching me to cook, fresh buttermilk biscuits in our warm kitchen. Me, piping, “There’s no baking powder! It’s ruined!” Her soothing alto voice. “If you don’t have baking powder, Moberry, just improvise. Use baking soda and cream of tartar instead.”

Improvise. Dropping the paper, I drew my chef’s knife. Cleaver in one hand, knife in the other, I started spinning, arms extended. As I spun, I randomly swiped up and down with my blades. It’s a fair strategy for Asteroids or any other video game where enemies come at you randomly from all directions. 

One sucker lunged for me. Surprisingly, my Asteroids strategy worked. He was young enough that I actually got in a few debilitating slices. He jumped back in surprise.

His cuts sealed up before my eyes. Unless you cut off their heads or hack out their hearts, a vamp will only laugh, heal up, and come back twice as hungry. 

Cold truth splashed through me.

Only a matter of time.

Sheer cussedness kept me spinning. I’d make them work for their supper.

Mid-revolution, something dark and massive wavered behind the rogues.

I was getting dizzy. Seeing things. My panting didn’t help. I was also seeing spots. I kept spinning.

My next time around, the shadow had shifted closer—and swept talons the size of kitchen knives through a rogue’s neck.

I slowed, almost afraid to complete this revolution.

The rogue stood there—shorter by ten inches of head.

I ground to a halt, my feet suddenly bricks of ice, staring as the headless sucker crumpled to the ground. My arms drooped in bewilderment. I nearly cut my thighs open before I remembered to turn the blades flat.

While the shadow—or should I say death machine?—methodically worked through the rest of the rogues.

Broad shoulders. The flash of muscle. Another swipe of powerful talons took off another sucker’s head.

I gulped. The vampire was huge and cutting through the suckers as if they were butter.

Bending over, I gulped air like I’d run the fastest race of my life. Beyond me, the thuds and thumps of fighting had stilled.


Then something…someone…took my knives from my hands, leaving me utterly defenseless. Then a large, warm hand settled on my shoulder. 

I froze hard, not even breathing.

“You’re safe now.” The voice was deep, sure, and touched with an unidentifiable but liquid accent. “We can put these away.” 

My cross-body bag dragged down. He’d put the knives in the pocket, returning them neatly to their sheaths. Considerate and tidy.

“You’re safe,” he repeated, his vowels fluid and warm. “Breathe.”

Since it was obey him or pass out, I managed a couple shallow breaths and a swallow. My throat felt like sandpaper. I still hadn’t looked at him. “Th-thanks?”

“You’re welcome.” He rubbed my shoulder soothingly. “Relax. Take a deep breath. It will slow your heart rate down.”

Yikes. He was listening to my heart? A heartbeat was the vamp equivalent of the sizzle and snap of frying bacon.

“Why?” I yelped. “Is it beating Eat At Mo’s?”

He chuckled. He had a nice laugh. “No, no. I’m quite content at the moment. Stress isn’t good for you, though. Your name is Mo?”

“Yes…” Curious, I dared look up at the creature who had wiped out a dozen vamps like bugs, but had a nice chuckle.

My breath stopped again.

He was…handsome is too tame a term. Beautiful is too restricted. Humans are handsome or beautiful. Vampires, thanks to their predator genes, swing a couple branches above that. This guy? He wasn’t simply stunningly handsome or exquisitely beautiful or jaw-droppingly attractive or wrenchingly virile. 

He was magnetic, as in, I wanted to plaster my body against his and do whatever he wanted, give him whatever he wanted, just to see that smile.

So I was stunned, and my jaw did drop, and my insides wrenched with a need so exquisite I shook with it. But more.

My heart broke, knowing little human me would never be more intimate with him than this, having his hand on my shoulder and his momentary smile filling my eyes.

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Night's Kiss deleted scene

BONUS! Here's a deleted scene from upcoming Night's Kiss (The Ancients series, book 2). This is a flashback to Kat's first meeting with Enkidu/Ryker (we meet Enkidu in Downbeat). Kat is Liese Steel's half-sister, adopted by the Kean family along with older sister Rey. Kat is in Meiers Corners to meet her birth parents. She's a vampire hunter. Enkidu/Ryker is an ancient vampire. Kat, when she meets him, doesn't know he's Enkidu/Ryker. She only thinks of him as the vampire king.

Note: This scene is deleted, and therefore both unedited and not canon.


I’d met the vampire king the night I’d nearly died.

It was maybe five years ago, in Dallas. Late at night, in a commercial area with nobody around. I’d been hunting monsters for quite some time at that point. Max, my mentor, had been killed only a year before, but I was used to hunting alone.

At least, that’s what I told myself.

I’d been taking more and more risks, telling myself I was pushing my limits, but in truth, I missed Max.

A rogue jumped me. I easily took off his head with my practiced slice. Three more appeared. I shifted onto my toes, ready for their attack. Three was tough; I was tougher. I’d live, and I’d win.

Then four more joined them. I swallowed hard. My confidence wavered.

A dozen more rogues appeared behind them.

Nearly twenty bloodsuckers started floating toward me.

Sweat broke out under my leathers. My thudding heart sent fear-electrified blood singing through my veins. I grasped the hilts of my blades, the whooshing in my ears drowning out the footfalls of the oncoming vampire mob.

Is tonight the night?

I could’ve defended myself, blocking with Joyce and using Shredder’s curved blade for long cuts. It might’ve kept me alive longer.

I chose to go out in a fury of pure attack.

“It’s a good night to die!” Screaming my defiance, I raised both blades and hit the mob’s edge like a blender, stabbing with Joyce, slashing with Shredder. I struck down one, two, three rogues.

Revealing four times as many—waiting, now. Grinning. Too many, too sure of themselves.

They were going to play with me before they killed me.

Fear juiced my veins. Tonight’s the night. The question wasn’t whether I’d die, or even how painfully. The question was how small they’d carve me before I did.

Panting, I swung my swords threateningly.

A brute of a vamp butted in front, bald and heavily muscled, the kind who probably crocheted steel cables for fun. He licked his lips. “You’re a tasty morsel.”

This is how it ends. He reached for me…


The bull roar came out of nowhere, so potent and hair-raising my legs turned to numb pegs. Halba must’ve meant halt, because the thunderous bellow not only froze me, it turned the encroaching gang of vamps to statues, including Baldie and his reaching hand.

Breath rasping in my throat, I raised my eyes.

From the shadows a couple blocks beyond the ravening gang, a giant emerged, a vampire who dwarfed even Baldie.

The giant flickered—and he stood at the far corner of the next block. Flickered. Appeared mid-block.
Flickered again, and loomed right behind the mob.

The hairs on my nape stood straight up.

I swallowed a long, cold shaft of terror. Holy halberds, that was one enormous vampire.

He made the once-terrifying predators of the gang seem like toothpicks. Even Baldie cowered at the sight of him.

Black karate pants circled lean, muscled hips. An unbuttoned dark shirt revealed a slit of bronzed, shockingly strong-looking torso. Black hair framed blood-red eyes set in a face that…shish-kebab me.

Most vampires’ skin hardened in battle, flat and thick like red-leather armor plates.

This monster? Not leather or anything half so friendly. No, his face was a steel mask, brandishing spikes for extra fear. A Samurai’s somen face plate. If the guy had been Darth Vader he couldn’t have been scarier.

I would never forget that mask, so primally terrifying it was almost beautiful. He was the Alpha vampire, with a capital A.

Or the king of all vampires.

His eyes met mine, and my stomach dropped out my legs. Next I’d feel the brunt of his will, aimed to turn my brain to mush. I braced myself. I was immune to vampire compulsion—though with him, I got the feeling mere immunity might not cut it.

Strangely, his red eyes cooled to a red-black, gleaming with intelligence and awareness. Almost as if he was trying to reassure me.

That actually freaked me worse.

Baldie growled, reclaiming my attention. Fight the vampire in front of you. That was Max’s advice on battling mobs. It was enough to unlock my muscles, slow my panting breath from bellows to accordion, and let my arms and brain engage.

I launched my whole body to spear Joyce through the musclebound vampire’s heart.

He sucked in a shocked breath that burbled a bit as I twisted the blade, blendering his respiratory system. One-handed, I chopped Shredder into the monster’s thick neck.

I hadn’t used enough backswing. My talwar cut halfway and hit his spine with an impact that jarred my whole body.

I breathed through the ringing ache, chafing at every second lost. Even if I managed to down Baldie, there was still the rest of the gang.

Plus King Vamp.

One fight at a time. I withdrew Joyce and swung her at the other side of his neck. Between the two swords, I managed to scissor off Baldie’s head.

Next. I looked up, expecting dozens of monsters slavering to take me.

At least half had been mown flat by King Vamp. He slashed his way through the rest as if he was batting cobwebs with talons like machetes.

Coming toward me.

My whole body went struck-by-lightning haywire. I couldn’t move a muscle.

The king was terrifyingly efficient. His monstrous claws scythed through three necks at a time. He followed up with his other hand, scooping hearts from rib cages like a truck spade digs out a tree.

He was surprisingly graceful, despite the carnage. Gliding fluidly from vamp to vamp, he dealt slaughter in a deadly ballet, his open black shirt billowing around him as he spun and twirled. Bronzed skin and an intriguing ripple of muscles flashed in the opening.

Liquid heat stirred in my pelvis, shocking the hell out of me.

Not intriguing. Scary. Remember scary.

I managed to chop one more head while he plowed through the rest of the gang. Then his dance came to a standstill.

Before me.

I swallowed a lump of dry ice. Up close, he was huge. His arms looked as strong as my whole body, his hands powerful as mallets. He stood utterly still, his swinging shirt the only remnant of his violent dance.

His burning gaze locked onto mine.

My insides erupted in bright terror. He’d gone through the gang of bloodsuckers like a pizza cutter. I’d be butter.

Fight, damn it.

I tried to lift Joyce or Shredder, but my limbs were too weak and shaky. No last-minute inspiration rose in my brain to save me. I panted through a dry throat, my breath scraping painfully. I could only stand there, trembling.

He opened his mouth to speak.

Hey tasty morsel. Let me reward you with my kiss of death. In a way, it would be a relief to get cheesy lines. He felt different from the usual monster, and I didn’t understand or like that.

And he said…


His voice, when he wasn’t bellowing, was as smooth and golden as basswood honey. That single word flowed, warm and teasing, through my flesh and straight into my muscles. A shiver, hot and cold both, turned me inside out. My limbs started trembling for a new reason.

My brain tumbled into free fall. What the hell does that mean, hello? Why isn’t he attacking? I managed a stuttered, “You’re a vampire…aren’t you?” I nearly choked on my own idiocy. Of course he was. That terrifying facial mask wasn’t tied on.

His lips tipped up in a slight smile, hot-damn edible despite the mask.

My insides jumbled again, harder, steamier.

In contrast to my panting, he was barely breathing hard. Each lift of his chest parted his shirt to reveal a hint of his pectorals’ deep valley and a march of truly spectacular abdominals.

This was one powerful monster.

My heart, already hammering, kicked into overdrive, and I shivered—with lust.

Daggers and damn. My sister sometimes wondered if I was attracted to death, but this was ridiculous. What is wrong with me?

“I’m a vampire hunter.” I snarled it at myself as much as at him. “My life’s work is to kill bloodsucking monsters. Like you.” Snapping Shredder into his scabbard, I reared back with Joyce alone. Ingrained muscle memory took over.

Putting my whole body behind it, so much that I lifted from the ground, I impaled his heart—or tried to.

With King Vamp, it didn’t go like practice at all.

First, he was too tall. Instead of nailing him in the sternum and piercing his heart, I hit him somewhere north of his navel.

Hit, not pierced. Because his skin resisted my blade.

Shock electrified my nerves. My blade was a plasma-cut hollow grind Damascus-like steel with cementite nanowires and carbon nanotubes and…basically, she was immensely tough, resistant to shattering, and honed to a sharp, resilient edge with a ribbon of silver behind to slice clean. She’d bested hundreds of rogues, cutting through any vampire, no matter the plating.

Yet King Vamp’s hide resisted.

He laughed, a low, dark chuckle that rippled over my skin and said how unimpressive he found me. “You’re different. I like that.”

Freaked, I pushed harder on the sword. Not a good idea. Joyce quivered with the pressure. Much more of this, and she’d snap.

And still his flesh stayed alarmingly whole.

His honeyed voice dropped into my stunned brain. “What qualifies as a bloodsucking monster?” His tone was merely conversational.

Acid reality flushed through me. I can’t destroy him. I couldn’t even hurt him. Now he’d kill me with a slash of claws, and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it.

In a final defiance, I glared up at him. “What qualifies? Bloodsucker,” I spat. “It’s all there in the name. Drinks helpless people dry.”

“Ah. You hate vampires who abuse humans.” His lips pursed, thin and mobile within the mask. “So do I.”

Suddenly, his flesh dissolved around the blade, and Joyce sank in.

I was already off-balance mentally, and now I was thrown physically as well. For the first time, my rigorous training didn’t save me.

I sank with her toward him.

In that moment, he could have simply stepped back, and I would’ve fallen. Flat on the ground, I’d be helpless to whatever he wanted to do to me. He could’ve stripped me of my clothes and my choices, as those vampires did to my sister, all those years ago. Or wound up like a snake and struck, piercing my throat with his fangs, drinking me to death, as the monsters had done to my parents.

All he did was put his hand over mine on the hilt.

Hot skin seared mine. My shocked gaze fell to our joined hands. His long fingers wrapped easily around my fist, his talons like a wreath of thorns. The heat of his skin raised my internal temperature to broil. I glanced up.

He smiled faintly.

That slight curve of lips, dusky rose in his bronzed, hardened skin, was worthy of a da Vinci oil painting. His enigmatic smile shot electric darts into my every weak point, my throat, my belly, my knees. My quivering legs buckled.

He caught me by the shoulder, one-handed. Maybe to steady me, yet it was as if his hand was a live wire.

Wild heat ignited inside me, ripping through my arm and breasts to burst in my chest as an excited heartbeat. Insanely, it lifted me and my whole body toward that glorious mouth. Wanting desperately to plaster mine to his.

His smile turned triumphant.

Sweet swords of insanity. He was a vampire. I’d made a promise to myself after the fateful night that took my parents—as long as I wasn’t dead, I’d continue to fight.

I twisted my sword in his belly. Or tried to.

Joyce wouldn’t move.

I glanced down at where she was embedded in his body. He’d hardened his flesh around her. Absolutely no blood welled around the blade.

An intriguing feathering of black hair led down from it, though.

“Fuck me,” I muttered. I was an idiot.

He released my arm. His hand rose toward my neck.

Panic choked me. He’d peel away my neck guard. Hold me with his enormous strength and bite, fangs thrusting, into my juicy, exposed throat…

Get away, get away, get away.

My feet wouldn’t respond.

His fingers touched my chin, whisper soft. He tilted my face up. His own was close and getting closer…

My racing blood thudded in my ears, my brain a raging thunderstorm, so much wild energy pulsing through me that my short hairs seemed to rise from the overload.

His mouth touched mine.

Not a kiss. Skin barely brushed skin.

Yet all the adrenaline zinging inside me exploded. My whole body short-circuited, like a hundred forked bolts striking the entire grid at once. I must have been deranged because I reached for his head—but not to shove him away.

To pull him closer.

The warmth of his breath heated my lips for another beat—and then with a low, almost inaudible growl, his body blew into smoke.

My blade dropped from my unnerved hand to clatter against the concrete as his mist streamed away.

I stood there, panting, wondering what the hell had just happened.

First pass edits are turned in on this! I'll update you as soon as I hear more.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Falling For the Billionaire

Falling On For the Billionaire
Copyright © 2013, 2016 by Mary Hughes

Enjoy the following first chapter from Falling On For the Billionaire:

Vicky Brooks was at her kitchen table, peacefully grading papers, when international model Ronnie Rivers phoned to drop the bombshell on her.

“This weekend, sister dearest,” Ronnie said. “CommuniCon. I’m going—and so are you.”

“I am?” Uh-oh. Vicky laid her pen carefully atop the papers. She was a successful junior college teacher, but somehow her twin’s schemes always managed to land her in trouble, starting when they were seven and Ronnie’s “looking beautiful” ended up with Vicky caked in their mother’s expensive lipstick and eye shadow when the spanks got handed out.

Vicky loved her sister and knew Ronnie’s plans weren’t malicious. She was just overly efficient about getting other people to meet her needs.

“CommuniCon. The communications convention in Kansas City?” Vicky stifled her stampede reflex in order to hear her twin out. Besides, she was already registered—where could she stampede to? “I just saw you last week when I visited you in Los Angeles. Much as I’d love to see you again, why do you want me to go?”

“Because I’m going, silly,” Ronnie said brightly. “We’ll be seen by the beautiful people and shop for hours and have such fun!”

“Says the woman who flosses her behind in the name of fashion. Can you make ‘fun’ sound any less like ‘root canal’?”

“They’re called thongs, Vicky, and they give the glutes definition while avoiding embarrassing panty lines. What’s wrong with being seen?”

“Nothing, except you know what happens when I’m seen. I’ll photo-bomb without even trying.”

“It’s not your fault you’re not photogenic.”

And that was why Vicky put up with all her sister’s machinations. Ronnie always defended her in her own way.

“Besides, that’s my job,” Ronnie continued breezily. “Looking good.”

“Looking great, Ms. Supermodel. Your job to be seen, my job to think.”

“You can think while we’re shopping. C’mon, Vicky, it’s not healthy for you to stay home reading all the time.”

“Reading is perfectly normal. I’m perfectly normal.” Sometimes Vicky wished she didn’t have to defend herself.

“Of course you are,” Ronnie said quickly. “I’m sorry. I just want to see you happy. I love you.”

“I love you too.” Vicky smiled and shook her head. “Let’s talk about something else. How is your acting going?”

“I’m working my way up,” Ronnie enthused. “I’ve got a role in Crime Scenes: LA. A dead body, but Dead Body #1, which means I have two scenes, one where I get discovered and one where the stars have a big discussion over me. Lots of screen time.”

“Soon you’ll be getting lines yourself.” Vicky tucked the phone under her chin, picked up her pen, and started correcting the next paper.

“That’s why I’m going to CommuniCon, for the classes on emotional presentation. They’ll help my acting.”

Vicky paused in her grading. She’d learned to listen to what wasn’t said as much as to what was. “And…?”

“No other reason.”

“Veronica Lynn Brooks. You’re lying so badly, if Mom catches you, you won’t sit down for a week.”

There was an embarrassed pause. “Damn. How do you do that?”

“That’s my profession.”

“Well, if you must know…Alex will be there. I think he wants to get back together.”

Vicky flinched, dropping her pen. “Dr. Sinclair?”

Alexander Sinclair, PhD and billionaire rock star communications expert, had shot straight to international fame and fortune while still gathering professional kudos. Dating him, being seen in his Lambo, had thrust Ronnie’s career into overdrive. They’d since broken up—amicably—as he only dated anyone a couple months.

Vicky knew Sinclair would be at the convention. She’d heard he’d signed up last minute. Here might be the reason why. “Ronnie. You think Zan Sinclair wants to date you again, or he told you?”

“His friends call him Alex.”

Vicky shook her head impatiently. Of all the things for her to pick up on…though her sister was wrong. Ronnie might have dated him, but Vicky knew more about Dr. Alexander Sinclair, far too much. Sinclair’s friends called him Zan, not Alex. “You’re avoiding the question. Did Sinclair tell you or not?”

“He texted me about the acting classes at CommuniCon. And he’s going. What else could that mean? Vicky, please. You have to help me land him again.”

“I do? Why?” More importantly, how? Vicky was a middle-class academic, while Sinclair was a billionaire genius. She tended to get a touch tongue-tied around handsome men. And rich men. And brilliant men. Sinclair was all three.

Worse, she’d crushed on him for years—from afar, all safe and secure that she’d never actually have to talk to him.

Now Ronnie wanted her to cruise directly into his path? Meeting him for real, Vicky would trip over her lolling tongue, bad enough. With her sister’s schemes, how many ways could that go really wrong?

She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself, but it didn’t work. She bleated, “Ronnie, I can’t.”

“You have to. He’s the best boyfriend I ever had. Please? Pretty please?”

Vicky’s heart pounded harder. She was fighting a losing battle. “Why him? Because he’s rich and handsome?”

“All the men I date are rich and handsome,” Ronnie retorted. “But Alex is smart. So smart, he could practically read my mind.”

“Yeah.” Being a nonverbal communications genius would do that. She speared a hand through her hair. Helping her sister land this particular big fish was the last thing she wanted to do. But they were sisters—Veronica and Victoria Brooks forever. Although her sister had shed her twin name for Ronnie Rivers, short and snappy, great for a sound bite or a head shot.

Didn’t change the fact that her twin needed her.

Still, she tried one last time. “Ronnie, that convention was sold out months ago. You can’t register—”

“I pulled some strings. I managed two spots, although it was hard to pay for you, since I’m a bit short on funds right now. The acting is costing more than I expected, and the time eats into my modeling…”

Vicky clenched her eyes against the inevitable. “Get your money back. I’m already registered.”

“Awe-some. I’ll see you Thursday.” In the endearing singsong she’d perfected in childhood, Ronnie rang off with “Love you! Buh-bye.”

* * *

Thursday at the convention, Vicky wandered the hotel, searching for the best place to wait for her sister. CommuniCon packed a whirlwind of sessions into four days, and events, vendors, and goodies were crammed into every nook and cranny of the hotel. She finally decided the conference registration area, in the atrium off the lobby, was the best place to meet up with friends.

She stationed herself beside a marble-clad pillar near the tables and people-watched for half an hour before she heard, “Yoo-hoo, Vicky! Darling, here I am.”

Her sister waved enthusiastically in the big arch between lobby and atrium. Ronnie’s blonde hair was covered with a silk scarf, and her eyes were shielded with big smoky glasses in best vintage Hollywood style.

Smiling in return, Vicky started toward the registration tables, but Ronnie headed straight for a little coffee cart parked near a pillar on the opposite side of the room. Vicky closed her eyes briefly; she’d already cruised by and noted the prices. She loved coffee but didn’t love paying ten dollars a cup. Dutifully, she pushed through the crowd to join her sister, hoping Ronnie didn’t expect her to buy, but knowing her sister probably hadn’t thought that far ahead.

Sometimes being the smart, sensible one sucked.

“This convention is bigger than I thought it would be.” Ronnie whipped off her glasses, revealing eyes as green as emeralds—she’d apparently taken to wearing contacts as well as dying her brown hair blonde. “For it not being in Los Angeles.”

Vicky suppressed a smile. Ronnie’s idea of geography was Google shopping. “Kansas City isn’t one of the big three, but it’s a central hub for the United States. It’s a real city, Ronnie.”

“So I see.” She waved at someone. “Otherwise the Dragons wouldn’t be here.”

Vicky followed her gaze. Two women sat just inside a fashionable storefront cafe. One was slender and smart in a tweed skirt set, her short, shining silver bob the only clue to her age. She returned Ronnie’s wave. The other, with aggressively styled red hair, masses of chunky jewelry, and an ensemble that screamed trendy, pointedly ignored them.

“Who are the Dragons?” Vicky asked.

“Style mavens. Gatekeepers for the Right Set, or at least the set Alex belongs to. Leda Loper is the Greater Dragon. She’s the one who waved. She’s a huge stickler for good manners and good taste.”

Ronnie held up two fingers to the coffee vendor. “Two skinny mocha lattes. The Lesser Dragon is Lolly Darling. We call her Lady LaLa, though not to her face. Oopsies, forgot my cash.” With a sweet smile at the vendor, she waved Vicky forward.

Vicky sighed and pulled out her wallet. “They’re in communications?”

“No, of course not. They’re probably here because of Alex. Speaking of…you’re going to be my wingman, right?”

Joy and rapture. A front row seat to watch Ronnie land Zan Sinclair was a special circle of hell. Vicky wanted to sob in frustration, despite not having a snowball’s chance with sizzling-hot bachelor Sinclair herself. She was shy and liked to read. He was the biggest name in communications. She lectured to half-empty rooms of bored freshmen. He’d catapulted to fame when his show Revealing Secrets was the sleeper hit of the year, and he entertained millions. He was rich, a billionaire at least. She wouldn’t even know a Prada if it bit her.

“Vicky? My wingman, right?” Ronnie prodded her with a long, lacquered nail.

“I would, but…” She paid and put her wallet away. Sinclair was handsome and articulate, and she could almost see the disaster. He’d smile and say a simple “Hi,” and she’d stutter and melt into a puddle of goo. “Are you sure you weren’t misreading his text? What about his three-date limit?”

When it was over between them the first time, Vicky felt bad for Ronnie. But she’d also felt rather sorry for Sinclair. All those supermodels, starlets, and rich daughters—how had he not found a single person to share his life with?

“Maybe it’s just three consecutive dates.” Ronnie shrugged elegant shoulders. “Or maybe I’m the exception.”

“Ladies?” The coffee vendor held out two cardboard-wrapped, capped cups. “Your lattes.”

Ronnie snagged hers. “Come on. I want to see the goodies room.”

Vicky barely snared her own cup before Ronnie latched on to her elbow and dragged her away. The last thing Vicky saw of the registration table was three people hanging a ten-foot poster of Dr. Sinclair. She sighed. He was so handsome, his dark eyes gleaming with intelligence. Just seeing his picture made her want to swoon like a Victorian heroine.

She sighed. She’d been crushing on him too long. Mega-rich media star versus poorly paid junior college lecturer? They were from different worlds.

But Ronnie was from his world. If she could make him happy, if he made her happy, who was Vicky to stop them? In fact, wasn’t it her job to do everything she could to facilitate them? However personally painful it was?

She sighed and accepted the inevitable. “Wingman.”

“Great!” Ronnie happily dragged Vicky into the vendor display room, also known as the goodies room. “I’m hoping he’ll introduce me to his producer.”


“Alex’s producer is a real name in the business.” Ronnie stopped at a booth filled with high-resolution webcams.

Vicky picked up a brochure. The tool helped students read expressions and identify emotions. She touched a webcam. Her finger sprang up, two feet tall, on a flat-panel monitor. She jerked back. “Why do you want to meet a producer?” Stuffing the brochure into her convention bag, she picked up the software’s accompanying manual and flipped through it.

Ronnie pulled Vicky tight, so fast Vicky dropped the manual. She whispered in Vicky’s ear, “I’m nearly thirty. I know that doesn’t mean much to you, but modeling’s a young woman’s game. And it’s cutthroat. I won’t last forever.”

“But…but you’re sought after worldwide. You’re at the peak of your career.”

“The peak, yeah. You know what that means.” Ronnie bent over the webcam. Her left nostril filled the whole screen, along with the barest shadow of a wrinkle. “No direction to go but down.”

Vicky blinked, suddenly understanding. “That’s why you’re trying to break into television.”

“Which means meeting Alex’s producer. Which means getting back in Alex’s good graces.”

This was about more than Ronnie’s love life. It weighed on her whole future.

“All right, sister,” Vicky said. “I’ll not only be your wingman—I’ll be the best darned wingman you’ve ever had.”

* * *

Alexander Sinclair slid from the presenters’ greenroom near the CommuniCon registration desk, twitching straight the sleeves of his Kiton K50 suit while he scanned the masses of people in the atrium. He searched for two particular heads, one silver-blonde and one plain brown. As he was taller than most of the people here, he quickly saw the pair he sought weren’t in the room.

Zan wasn’t disappointed. Half of doing any job well was not letting extraneous emotions get in the way. It was ninety-nine percent of doing his job well. Effective communications relied on clear channels, free of clogging feelings. He had a plan, and he executed it efficiently. Moving into the hallway he made his way to the next room.

The pair wasn’t in that room either, but he simply proceeded to the next, and the next. His careful planning and patience was rewarded when, in the swag room, he saw the toned blonde.

At first he didn’t see the blonde’s sister and nearly panicked. But no, Veronica, in her platform heels, was simply half a head taller than her twin. There. The slender brunette stood nearby, reading a manual.

Dr. Victoria Brooks.

A zing of pleasure shot through him, quickly suppressed but not ignored. Though he didn’t indulge in his emotions, he did have them. He especially had them around her.

Strange to feel so strongly about a person he’d never actually met.

But if things went the way he hoped they might, he’d remedy that soon enough. Ronnie would introduce them. She might even think it was her idea.

“Dr. Sinclair?”

Nearby, a woman waved at him. He didn’t know her, but she knew him. That happened a lot these days, a part of the fame gig. He smiled as she rushed up, offering an open convention booklet and pen. He signed his name, chatting easily with her while she stood with a slightly dazed smile. Finishing with a flourish, he pressed her booklet and pen into her hands, nodded goodbye, and strode toward the sisters.

They were close in conversation, looking as different as fraternal twins possibly could. He hadn’t a clue they were sisters when he’d first seen Dr. Brooks in a series of homemade teaching videos on the Internet. He’d immediately been struck by her. She looked smart, sweet, and genuine. In her most recent video, posted three weeks ago, she’d invited students to connect with her at CommuniCon. Lonely, he’d planned on trying to meet her here.

The conference organizer, Josiah Johnson, had been most helpful when Zan called to arrange a late berth. Almost too helpful—he’d wanted to ax the keynote speaker for Zan. Zan had explained that he’d rather attend for pleasure—and had gotten assigned as a speaker anyway.

He’d discovered only after it was too late that Vicky Brooks was related to one of his ex-girlfriends.

He remembered Ronnie Rivers. Fun, a touch self-centered—not that unusual for models—and easy to please.

But also easy to anger.

The problem was, if this didn’t happen in exactly the right way, Ronnie might get jealous. Not a problem if she only got angry with him. But she might lash out against Vicky. So he’d pretend to be surprised when Ronnie introduced him to her sister. He’d ask if the two of them were hungry—a few minutes after noon, it was highly probable. He’d take them both to lunch. Talk with both of them equally. Make plans for dinner, with both. Take them shopping; Ronnie liked shopping.

He wondered briefly if Vicky liked shopping, too. Soon, now, he’d find out. Another thrill of excitement rushed through him at the thought.

With his height and build, he cut easily through the crowd. Now that he was out from between the pillars, several people recognized him—well, nearly everybody did, but most only smiled or nodded. He smiled back but kept cleaving through. A few people tried to stop him for his autograph, but he had slips on hand for just this purpose—head-of-the-line passes for his autograph sessions during the convention. He kept his focus on the sisters and kept moving.

About halfway across the room, Ronnie saw him. She waved, just as the crowd thickened with people clamoring for autograph slips, and blocked his view.

He tamped down his frustration and slid from the grasping fingers.

Then a tug on his back suit coat flap—a tug down—turned him.

A child of maybe eight stood there, eyes hopeful, autograph book extended.

Touched, he stopped to sign her open book and handed it back with a smile, touched even more when she whooped and trotted happily away with it.

His attention had been off the sisters for only a few moments, but when he resumed plowing through the last of the crowd to where they’d been, only Ronnie’s silver-blonde head was there.

“Alex, darling. So good to see you.” She offered her cheek.

He gave her the expected double air buss, using the mimed pecks to search for Vicky. He couldn’t quite believe that she was gone.

“Who are you looking for?” A faint double line appeared between the model’s big green eyes, the only sign she allowed herself of a frown. A blatant warning to a man like him.

He straightened. As casually as possible, he said, “I thought I saw you with someone.”

Ronnie’s eyes narrowed.

Red alert. He recognized that expression. Not jealousy, but its prickly precursor. Think fast, Sinclair. His brain worked like lightning. “I only mention it because…my friend Nate Winters was talking about getting some lunch. I saw the two of you and thought we could make it a foursome.”

“Oh.” Ronnie slid her manicured hands over his. “Are you hungry? I’m starving. My sister is off listening to some boring presentation. Let’s ditch your friend Winters and go somewhere nice.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Love of Sharing -- the gift of great reads

I love to share the gift of great reads. Even better is when those books are by friends or recommended by fans! From time to time I'll be offering giveaways where the prize is a pick from the ebook bag o' awesomeness. Here, for my information, are some titles.

-Masked Attraction (Mary Hughes)
-Getting Wilde (Jenn Stark)
-Crescent Moon (Lori Handeland)
-Down on the Farm (Charles Stross)
-The Burning Men (Christopher Farnsworth)
-Unwanted (Jennifer Estep)
-The Golden Apple (Michelle Diener)
-Truth About Love & Murder (Edie Ramer)
-Bottled Up (Roxy Mews)
-Feels So Right (SL Carpenter & Sahara Kelly)
-Double Dare (Jodi Redford)
-Must Love Menage (Kayleigh Malcolm)
-SEALs of Honor: Mason (Dale Mayer)
-Hot Chips and Sand (Mary Hughes) 
-Surprise for Three (Remi Bond)
-Grayslake: More than Mated: PAWS & Surrender
-Grayslake: More than Mated: Sunday Bear-becue (Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance) 
-Romance Super Bundle (various)
-He's the Boss (various)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Treat Yourself Right This Holidays 2016

We run ourselves ragged making the holidays perfect for everyone else. I'm sending a little holiday love back your way!

I'm at a variety of events this holidays where my prize will be a pick from a big, heavy, exciting ebook grab bag!

What events? See my news page here.

And while you're  checking out the grab bag, remember this awesome box sets:
Happily Ever AlphaPreorder my latest romantic adventure for only 99 cents!
Hot Chips and Sand

Grab bag items

-Bite My Fire (Mary Hughes)
-Masked Attraction (Mary Hughes)
-Getting Wilde (Jenn Stark)
-Crescent Moon (Lori Handeland)
-Down on the Farm (Charles Stross)
-The Burning Men (Christopher Farnsworth)
-Unwanted (Jennifer Estep)
-The Golden Apple (Michelle Diener)
-Truth About Love & Murder (Edie Ramer)
-Bottled Up (Roxy Mews)
-Feels So Right (SL Carpenter & Sahara Kelly)
-Double Dare (Jodi Redford)
-Must Love Menage (Kayleigh Malcolm)
-Surprise for Three (Remi Bond)
-Grayslake: More than Mated: PAWS & Surrender
-Grayslake: More than Mated: Sunday Bear-becue (Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance) 
-Romance Super Bundle (various)
-He's the Boss (various)