… The desire in Stuart’s eyes made her swoon. She forgot her name; she forgot to breathe. With a tender kiss, he wrapped her up in his arms. Her hands craved the heat through his shirt … from Their Rigid Rules
… The desire in Stuart’s eyes made her swoon. She forgot her name; she forgot to breathe. With a tender kiss, he wrapped her up in his arms. Her hands craved the heat through his shirt … from Their Rigid Rules
Seniors in college, Joe and Eva debate Taylor’s interest in the visiting professor of their weekend seminar in this excerpt from Their Rigid Rules. Is Joe right? Or is he just mad Taylor’s drawn to someone else?
Sitting on her bed in their dorm room, Taylor bit her thumbnail again. Joe quickened his pace between her and Eva’s beds and mumbled about not protecting her enough. For some reason, Eva smiled and watched him. He didn’t say anything for a while.
“Joey, are you mad at me?” Taylor asked, pulling her pillow onto her lap.
“Yeah, I’m pissed. This is some mess you’ve gotten yourself into,” he replied.
“Me? What did I do?”
“You’re flirting with your professor at the bar and at class. What’s the matter with you?”
With her mouth open, she stared at him then looked at Eva. She didn’t think she flirted although she considered trying. Feeling the tears in her eyes, she buried her face in her pillow.
“What’s wrong with flirting?” Eva asked him. “You can’t go an hour without hitting on a woman. Fess up. You’re really pissed that Taylor’s interested in a guy.”
Taylor looked up as Joe glared. “He’s her professor! It’s wrong,” he replied, scratching the back of his neck.
“Who do you think you are? The sex police?” Eva asked, leaning back.
Taylor’s eyes widened. “Sex! Jeez, we watched a couple of football games. That’s it.”
Joe turned on her. “That is not it. Reese Forester is not a student. He’s a private investigator.”
With her mouth open, Taylor stared in shock.
“Working for whom?” Eva asked.
“I have no frickin’ idea,” he replied, falling into her desk chair.
Taylor’s head spun. How much more confusing could this get? “Can we just call Dr. Morgan?” she asked, handing him the business card.
Joe glared at the card then at her. “No, you’re not calling him. We don’t know who hired Forester. He’s obviously checking into you.”
“What should I do?” Taylor asked, hugging the pillow tighter.
“Until I get those answers, stay away from Morgan,” he replied.
Eva jumped from the bed and stood level with Joe in the chair. “Wait a minute. Taylor hasn’t done anything wrong. They were only watching the game when Reese grabbed her arm. I would think you’d be happy that Dr. Morgan made sure she got home safely.”
“What are Morgan and Forester up to?” he demanded.
“I don’t know, but she can’t stay away from him. We need the credits from his seminar to graduate,” Eva replied.
After Joe stormed from the room, Taylor slid sideways from a sitting position on her bed to a fetal one. She needed to stick with her life plan. Any minor deviation was obviously a mistake.
“A fantastic job of balancing all the plot points for an enjoyable story and a satisfying ending.”
“The pace is quick, filled with action…the suspense was riveting.”
“If you’re looking for a new book to keep you on the edge of your seat, this would be the one to pick up!”
Taylor Valentine, a senior at Western Michigan University, has had her life planned out since kindergarten. After her parents died while she was still in high school, she had perfected it to make them proud. Now, with the help of her best friends, Joe and Eva, she focuses on graduation and a career—romance in the far distant future. However, when the visiting professor enters the lecture hall, her perfect plan hits a snag.
Handsome history professor and decorated Marine, Dr. Stuart Morgan keeps infatuated students at a distance using his own set of strict rules. Nonetheless, he’s drawn to Taylor’s empathetic outlook. When death threats upend his boring life, he inadvertently puts her in danger. With pressure from family and foe pulling them apart, Stuart wonders if they can sustain the stress.
When my daughter’s friend from Barcelona, Spain visited this past spring, I decided it was time to check off an item on my bucket list. Learning Spanish topped the list. As a translator, this young man knows four languages: English, Dutch, Spanish, and Catalan. I find that absolutely amazing.
For his next visit to the U.S., I wanted to learn a few words and phrases hoping to make him feel welcome. Well, he offered to help. He rewrote an excerpt of Chemical Attraction from English to Spanish and then he recorded it. Wow!
Since I know my story and characters better than anyone, I found the translation and exciting tutorial incredibly helpful. Hearing Joe, Madeline, and Sylvia come to life in Spanish was a bit surreal, too. I made this video. Follow along and enjoy.
Gracias, Kevin Nasarre Krols!
For Joe Roberts, this scene is a culmination of his life choices. Is he unworthy of love? With raw despair, he wonders if karma has finally caught up to him, demanding retribution. Is this karma’s revenge? Joe thinks so.
An excerpt from Chemical Reaction:
Joe loved his home. His sisters had helped decorate it. He and his brother-in-law Stuart hung out and played video games. But tonight, his apartment was an empty shell. He understood why Madeline hadn’t stayed. To have her find a woman in his bed was not how he wanted to start their new life together. Would they have a life together?
In the bathroom, he scrubbed Madeline’s ring and necklace with a spare toothbrush until every bit of soot had been removed. After a shower, he slipped the ring onto the necklace and then put it around his neck hoping to feel her energy. He felt despair. His or hers?
Opening the bedroom door, he saw the unmade bed and a red stiletto on the floor by his blinking answering machine. With a groaning shout, he ripped the comforter, sheets, and mattress pad off the bed and threw them into a pile. Not caring which telemarketer or utility company left messages, he flung the machine across the room. It hit the wall and shattered. Sitting on the naked mattress, he bent over and rubbed his eyes in frustration.
Was this payback for his past transgressions? Over the years, he had hurt many women. Now, all of their pain, hate, and sorrow hit him in the chest with such a profound force he had to gasp for a breath. Bitter anguish gnawed at his heart as he thought about ruining the only relationship he wanted, needed, craved, and may never have. Without her in his life, he didn’t think he could recover. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Joe slid to the floor and cried.
How did Joe get to this point in his life?
Check out The Chemical Attraction Series and find out.
This short story is based on The Garden Collection, one of my favorite novels to reflect on during the holidays … “The heartwarming story of struggle, determination, heartache, and true love …”
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31ST
In Mason’s Diner in rural West Michigan, six-year-old Chloe Miller’s paper snowflakes cover all of the windows as if another blizzard hit town. Multicolor Christmas lights blink around the window frames. By the cash register, a two-foot-high fake Christmas tree holds so many of Chloe’s homemade ornaments the patrons can’t see the branches.
Standing behind the counter, Brianna Carlson waits for Henry Mason to pass her orders through the grill window. She stares at the poster behind the register.
Her best friend, Lucy Donovan, had suggested Bree put her own doodle sketches to good work and enter the competition to design the New Year’s Eve Gala poster. Out of one hundred applicants, she won.
She had drawn dark snowy woods where the old trees have snarled branches. The trees’ arthritic fingers reach for the sparkling red box with a bright white bow that illuminates the small clearing. The caption reads WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GIFT?
The regulars at the diner celebrated her excitement by encouraging her to attend the gala. As the winner, she received one hundred dollars and a ticket to the party. She had saved her money for three weeks to buy a dress with matching shoes.
“Bree, your order’s up,” Henry yells from behind the grill. She sees only his eyes and the top of his bandana-covered baldhead through the open window.
The retired men on the stools at the counter chuckle. “Are you daydreaming again, Cinderella?” Charlie asks.
She blushes. “Maybe I’ll find my Prince Charming tonight,” she replies, picking up the cheeseburger platters.
George unrolls his silverware from his napkin. “Are you ever going to tell us what’s in the red box from your poster?”
She grabs the ketchup from under the counter. “What do you think is in the box?”
George takes the bottle. “Money?”
“How about keys to a yacht?” Charlie adds.
“I know what’s in the box,” Chloe says from the end of the counter. Her long brown hair in a thick braid matches her big sister’s. Chloe bites into a French fry and grins.
“Well, my sweet one, please share with us,” Bev Mason says from behind the cash register.
Chloe looks at her. “Can I tell them?”
Bree nods. “I always thought it was obvious.” She caresses the etched ivy on her gold heart-shaped locket, an emerald in its center.
“Tell us right now,” George demands. He winks at Chloe as he wipes his mouth.
“It’s LOVE, sillies. I can’t believe you never guessed it.”
“Oh, I forgot you’re a genius,” Bev jokes.
“I’ve gotten all excellent marks so far in first grade.”
Brianna nods. “You have a lot of wonderful tutors,” she says, glancing at her work family. Chloe grew up on that stool. They even put her name on it.
As the men tease Chloe that they made her smart, Officer Eddie Kent stomps his feet inside the door. In his dark blue uniform and auburn crew cut, he sits at the opposite end of the counter. Bree greets him with his usual glass of milk.
“It’s not ready yet?” he asks.
“I wasn’t sure you were working today. I’ll get right on it.”
Bree quickly enters the kitchen and helps Henry with the order of rare steak and scrambled eggs with a side of raw onions and garlic toast. Eddie eats it every day he works.
She carefully sets his plates in front of him. She had learned not to stand too close afterward.
“Bree, don’t worry. I’m here if you need anything,” Eddie says, reaching for the knife.
“Kent! I will explain it,” Chief Cameron Mason says, taking up the entire doorway. He smooths down his thick mustache with his thumb and finger then points her to the end booth. With a hand over her stomach, she sits. He stops Chloe from jumping off her stool. “Stay put. I want to talk to Bree in private.”
“Cam, what’s wrong?” she asks as he slides in across from her.
“Wayne is being paroled due to overcrowding.”
She gasps. “When?”
“Oh, God.” She places her shaking hands on her lap. Chloe stares at her reaction. “Do you think he’ll come back here?” she whispers.
“I honestly don’t know. If you see him anywhere in town, call my cell,” he says, pulling out his card.
She stops him. “I still have it memorized.”
Cam leaves for the kitchen to talk to his father. She stares out the window at the two fresh inches of snow. What should she do?
Wayne Miller’s letters from prison promised to take Chloe away from her. Bree has no legal rights to Chloe. Could he reclaim his daughter?
Bree had taken the brunt for years so he wouldn’t hurt her half-sister. She would not let Wayne hurt her now.
She jumps as Chloe slides in next to her. “Bree, what’s the matter?
She hugs her. “Nothing for you to worry about, my sweet Clover.” She nudges her out of the booth. “I have to get back to work.”
While carrying the tub of dirty dishes, she bangs her shin into the metal cart behind the counter. The tub crashes to the floor. Plates and mugs shatter. With tears in her eyes, she rushes to clean the mess. Partial blindness in her left eye and a limp from a healed broken leg makes her clumsy, especially when stressed or tired.
Eddie Kent laughs as he finishes his meal. “Bev, have you run out of plates yet?”
Bree looks up at her. “I’m sorry.”
“Honey, we know it’s not your fault. Why don’t you and Chloe take off? Tonight’s the big night. Happy early birthday.”
As she puts the last broken plate in the tub, she slides it to the side and stands. Charlie asks, “You’ll save me a dance?”
“I’m first in line. She promised me yesterday,” George adds.
“Only if you recognize me. It’s a masquerade ball after all.”
Thankful for their understanding, Brianna helps Chloe with her coat, hat, and mittens. Stepping outside, she takes a deep breath. They would make a run for it. They’d hide, and Wayne would eventually give up looking. With a purpose, she reaches for her sister’s hand.
“Bree, do you want a ride?” Eddie asks, absently patting the gun at his side.
Resisting the urge to wrinkle her nose at his horrid breath, she shakes her head. “We have errands. Thank you though.”
Chloe shuffles her boots through the snow on the sidewalk and sings “Let it Snow.”
After closing out her savings account with one hundred and twenty-six dollars, she pulls open the door to the pawnshop. The stifling heat hits them in the face as they wipe their boots on the rug just inside the door. In a Santa hat, Gus Fuller strokes his long white beard and waves.
Bree sighs. “I need to talk to Gus for a moment. Do you want to wander around?” Chloe nods and heads for the stack of board games while Bree meets him at the counter. “I’d, uh, like to see what I can get for this,” she says, slipping her precious locket over her head. A treasured gift from Lucy’s brother, Robert.
Gus turns it in his hand. “This is a high-end piece. I’d say it’s worth a grand. I can only give you five hundred, but Donovan’s Jewelry may give you more.”
She groans. Robert had spent too much money on her. She quickly wipes her eyes. This is about responsibility and survival not a sentimental trinket.
Bree takes the locket back from him and stares at it. She wears it all the time and touches it often. Finally nodding, she sets it back on the counter. As she tucks the money into her wallet, Chloe joins her with a magic kit.
“Do we have extra for this? It’s three dollars,” Chloe says.
“It’s yours for a hug,” Gus replies.
Chloe runs around the counter. After paying with a hug, she kisses his cheek and tugs his beard. “Thanks, Gus.”
With slouched shoulders, Bree moves toward the door.
“Take care,” Gus says quietly.
She wants to grab her locket and run. Instead, she limps out the door. No turning back. At the bus station, she opts for the trip tomorrow morning so she can attend the gala. Her one last hurrah.
“What are you going to wish for?” Chloe asks as they walk down the snowy sidewalk.
“Hmm, my birthday wish,” she says, swinging Chloe’s hand. “What would your wish be?”
“It’s a secret.”
“You’re keeping secrets from me?” Bree asks.
“Only my wish.”
“Are you wishing to hold hands with your boyfriend, Patrick Dugan, during recess?”
Chloe yanks her hand away. “I don’t like Patrick.”
“If you say so.”
“Well, I don’t,” Chloe replies.
Bree laughs. “So what’s your wish or should I keep guessing?”
Chloe takes a deep breath. “I wish I had a mom.”
Bree winces. Her eyes blur again. “I’m sorry things are different for us. I try to take care of you the best I can.”
Now, Bree would be making their lives even more difficult. The stress and worry sends an ache to her leg as they walk up the hill.
“Bree, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s okay, Clover. I sometimes wish for that, too.” Bree points to the golf course country club where the gala would be held. Delivery trucks drop off flowers and balloons. The band unloads their equipment. “Should I bring you home one of those huge balloons? Silver or gold?”
“Both,” Chloe replies, taking her hand again.
Bree slows her pace and huffs as they approach Paul and Marta Donovan’s house. She and Chloe live in the studio loft above their two-stall garage.
After retrieving Chloe’s backpack for her overnight stay, they enter the main house through the huge kitchen. Passing two freshly pressed tuxedos still in their plastic wrap, Chloe races up the steps. Bree limps behind her.
In Lucy’s room, a cluttered oak desk overlooks the snow-covered in-ground pool and golf course. Working from home, Lucy has a knack for marketing while Robert, always away, travels the world and designs amazing necklaces, earrings, and bracelets for the family business — Donovan’s Jewelry.
On the plum couch, Chloe scoots closer to Lucy so they can look at her new magic kit.
Lucy grins as if she knows a secret. “Turning twenty-one will be your best birthday ever. I can feel it. The stars have finally aligned.”
Lucy believes in Happily Ever After scenarios. She had said having a sprained ankle would allow her to watch Chloe while Bree went to the gala this year.
“A new year always brings hope and excitement,” she replies, letting Lucy’s positive energy wash over her. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”
“Chloe and I are going to have a girls’ spa night with facials and manicures,” Lucy says.
“Oh boy,” Chloe says. “Bree, you can go now.”
Bree kisses Lucy’s cheek and whispers a “thank you” in her ear. “Behave, my sweet Clover. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“Why so early?” Lucy asks. “We’re staying up until midnight.”
“I want to start celebrating my birthday. Chloe promised to be extra nice. I want to take advantage of it.”
“You’re not going to be mean, are you?” Chloe asks.
“I’m going to be so horrible, and you’ll still have to be nice,” Bree replies, kissing her head. Chloe laughs at her jest and pushes her away.
After leaving the main house, Bree hurries up the steps to the loft. Inside, she kicks off her boots and tosses her coat on the double bed that she and Chloe share. She loves this small space but her home no longer.
The Garden Collection: Blurb
A few words of encouragement can stay with you for a lifetime. Robert and Brianna’s childhood friendship grew into respect for each other and their ideas. Robert gave her the confidence to stand up for herself. Brianna helped him see his artistic potential and encouraged him to travel for his inspiration. He found it in the letters she wrote.
Now struggling to care for her six-year-old half-sister, Chloe, after their mother abandoned them, Brianna Carlson receives news that her abusive stepfather will be released from prison. Still limping from a once broken leg, she’s terrified he’ll come back to hurt Chloe this time. She decides to leave town.
While traveling for his family’s jewelry business, Robert Donovan designed The Garden Collection, his newest line of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Returning home, he discovers Brianna had lied in every letter she sent. She never received any of his. Before he can demand answers, she disappears without Chloe. As Robert learns about Brianna’s life during his absence, he sets out to find her and convince her to trust him again.
I first met my husband twenty-nine years ago at a bar when he asked me to dance. The defining memory of us is still vivid in my mind. I thought Joe and Madeline should have their own intimate moment while dancing. Enjoy this excerpt from Chemical Attraction.
“. . . Keeping Madeline in his arms, Joe guided her into an East Coast Swing. He found it refreshing that she knew the steps. Not many of the women he’s dated did. He had to work extra hard to maneuver them around the dance floor. It got to the point where he just didn’t bother dancing. Now, he realized how much he missed it or maybe he finally found the right partner.
Madeline’s eyes sparkled as he spun her around. He winced at how much he liked making her smile. What the hell! Focus, damn it! Don’t get carried away!”
“. . . In a formal dance position, Madeline shivered slightly at Joe’s warm hand on her waist. His other holding hers set a wave of heat to her face. She craved more of his touch. She gently squeezed his bicep and shoulder. Even through his suit jacket, she felt his taut muscles.
She inhaled his cologne mixed with his sweat from drumming earlier. He oozed a chemical attraction. As a neuroscientist, she had read about the effects of pheromones. Fascinated, she wanted to lean in closer to taste his neck. She blinked and stiffened slightly. Calm down! Joe was here officially as an agent of the FBI. And she would not become one of those women in his phone.
But, it had been a year since she danced in a man’s arms, her uncle’s arms. Most men couldn’t dance, not that she bothered to find out for sure. It didn’t surprise her that Joe knew how. She supposed it was another way of impressing women. And, damn, if it wasn’t working. . . .”
Pick up your copy of the stand-alone romantic thriller, Chemical Attraction (also the third book in The Chemical Attraction Series)
I have yet to make a good first impression; I’m too guarded. The affliction, I believe, is called Resting Bitch Face.
In this excerpt from THE KINDRED CODE, Eva meets Matt’s mother and makes a horrible first impression. . . .
. . . Turning into the long unplowed driveway to the Ready’s farmhouse, Matt gunned it. Nothing was going to stop his time alone with Eva.
As Matt walked with David to the door, he lectured one last time. “No feigning sick and no causing trouble. Eva and I will pick you up Sunday morning.”
“Fine, but I get to hog her all day Sunday,” David said, knocking on the door.
In a red cardigan sweater and skinny jeans, Kathy Ready opened the door. David quickly slipped through the crack. Kathy’s long, red manicured nails rested on the door and showed no signs of working on a farm. She usually glammed up in the winter off-season.
“Don’t worry about David. We have a few fun distractions for the boys this weekend. Enjoy your peace and quiet,” she said with a wink.
“Thank you. He has his cell just in case,” he replied, before turning from the door. Does everyone in town know about my romantic weekend? He’d ring Bobby’s neck. The gossip that passed his partner’s lips rivaled that of Matt’s mother, Gail Connor.
After sliding out of the driveway, he headed home. Having someone waiting for him gave him a thrill he had never felt before. As he turned onto Pine Street, he saw his mother enter his house. Crap! He hadn’t told her about his weekend plans, but he wondered if David had.
He hit the garage door opener and parked in the empty space. The other spot housed his push lawnmower and the snowblower. As he entered the house through the mudroom next to the kitchen, he heard his mom yelling.
“What in God’s name!”
“Damn, damn, damn,” he muttered, tossing his uniform coat over the wooden chair next to his kitchen table. Seeing his mother in the hallway, he quickly set his gun and belt on top of the refrigerator. Wondering where Eva was, he met his mother next to his bedroom doorway. With a tight curly poodle perm and newly-colored chestnut brown hair, Gail frowned at him.
“Matthew,” she demanded, “who’s that naked woman in your bed? She wears too much makeup.”
He leaned past his mother and saw Eva burying her face in his navy blue comforter, her embarrassment hidden behind her long red spiral curls. Damn, he liked seeing her in his bed.
“Can you be more specific?” he asked. He grinned when Eva stiffened and glared at him.
“Matthew, David could have seen this harlot,” Gail said.
Matt’s amusement at seeing Eva suddenly shifted to annoyance at his interfering mother. He clenched his jaw. “Don’t ever call her that again. Eva’s studying to be a doctor. I invited her here, and I expect David told you that. I just dropped him off at Jimmy’s for the weekend, of which you are also aware. I warned you about dropping by unannounced. Give me your key.”
He would not allow his mother to undermine this relationship. She opened her mouth but thought better of it. Dropping the key in his hand, she stormed out the front door. Dismissing his mother’s antics, he turned back to Eva.
“Hello,” he said, leaning on the door jam.
“You have a parade of women coming through here that you need more information?” Eva demanded. She reached over to retrieve her clothes on the nearby chair.
“It’s sarcasm. I never wanted to take the time to date until you,” he replied. “You definitely made a lasting first impression with my mother.”
She groaned and continued to put on her black leggings and pink bra under the covers. “God, I just wanted to surprise you,” she said.
“Oh boy, did you. Why are you getting dressed?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Seriously?” She slipped a bulky forest green sweater over her head then struggled to put her ankle cast back on.
“Did she kill the mood?” he asked.
Eva left off her wrist brace and threw back his comforter. Matt joined her as she stood beside the bed. She sighed into his uniform shirt. He lifted her chin and smiled. Her makeup was tastefully done in shades of brown against her heart-shaped face. He liked her classy look.
“How about dinner?” he asked, kissing her forehead.
She smiled. “Allenton has a night life?”
“Until eight o’clock,” he replied, hugging her. Would she get bored with this kind of life? He didn’t have much to offer her. “I was hoping to show off my sexy girlfriend.” He touched her soft cheek with his thumb.
“After meeting your mother, are you sure you want me to meet your town?”
“Oh yeah, I can’t wait,” he whispered, before kissing her lips. . . .
THE KINDRED CODE is available in eBook and print formats: https://www.amazon.com/Kindred-Code-Chemical-Attraction-Book-ebook/dp/B073ZM4M7Z/
Already read The Kindred Code?
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Here’s a sneak peek into some of the new content:
With his FBI badge hanging off a chain around his neck, Joe Roberts, in jeans and a t-shirt, set a file and large coffee on the counter in the FBI reception area in the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit. He patiently waited for Jane Whitmore, the young doe-eyed woman behind the counter, to hang up her phone.
On the early Saturday morning, he glanced around the empty area. Offices surrounded the perimeter of the floor with the hallways connecting as a square. Eight large rooms in the middle were used for meetings, evidence, and work areas.
Joe liked the shared space in the larger work room with his team although they probably didn’t. Known as a hardass, he had vowed that no one would ever get hurt on his watch. His solemn promise rivaled the FBI’s motto of Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity.
When Jane hung up her phone, Joe handed her the coffee. “Thanks for coming in on your day off. Is he here yet?” The whole office had the day off. Except for a rare three-day weekend, he hadn’t taken a real vacation in years.
“No, but you can wait in his office,” she replied, smelling the coffee’s cinnamon aroma, her favorite.
Joe shifted his legs as he leaned on the counter. “I dropped my work phone in the … well … let’s just say it got wet. Can you acquisition me another?”
She smiled. “Sure. I’ll have one for you Tuesday.”
“No hurry. I’ll be gone for a week or so. I have my private cell until then.” Joe took her picture with his cell then added her number to his contact list.
“At the Director’s request, I had the black suit you leave here for court pressed. It should arrive after your meeting,” Jane said.
“Moneypenny, you deserve another raise,” he replied.
“Hey, hey, you know the rules. If your father caught me flirting with you, he’d assign me to an Alaskan outpost,” Joe said.
Jane laughed. “And here I thought you liked living on the edge. I wouldn’t tell.”
“Seriously? He’d ship you to a convent.”
“Good point. By the way, be thankful you’re leaving. I heard Rita has her sights set on you this week,” Jane said.
Joe cringed. “I’m glad you have my back.” After checking the empty area again, Joe leaned over the counter and gave her a peck on the cheek.
Inside Division Director Peter Bingaman’s large office, with a sofa, coffee table, and private bathroom, Joe sat in one of the three chairs across from the enormous desk. Propping his feet on the corner of it, he leaned back and stared at the woman’s headshot clipped to the front of the file. With her golden brown hair in a bun, she smiled back at him. He wondered how long her hair was. When the Director walked in, Joe snapped back to his new assignment.
Peter shoved Joe’s tennis shoes off the edge of his desk before sitting behind it. “Jane’s out there grinning like the cat that ate the canary. What did you do?” Peter demanded.
“What do you mean? She’s waiting for my suit to arrive,” he replied, sitting up in his chair.
“You called her Moneypenny again, didn’t you? Never mind. Just give me the specifics on this new case.”
Joe passed him the thin file. “Well, I ID’d the anonymous caller as Dr. Madeline Pierce. She’s a scientist working with nanotechnology at BennTech’s Research Facility in Allenton. Her call didn’t give us much information though.”
“It warrants attention. You may have to deal with Matt Connor,” Peter said, glancing at Madeline’s picture on the file.
“I’m a professional, Pete. I would never let my personal life interfere with my career.”
“How many times have we been over this, Agent Roberts? I’m Director Bingaman in this building.”
Joe snorted. “Yes, Sir. Eva and my brother-in-law won’t be an issue.” When Joe’s cell vibrated, he checked it. A sexy brunette’s photo identified her as the caller. Cringing, Joe let it go to voicemail then snapped a picture of Peter to add to his contacts. “I gotta use my private cell until Jane orders me another work one.”
“Don’t get distracted with your Fun Phone. That’s what Eva calls it, right?”
Joe scowled. “Yeah, that’s what she calls it. She’s been bugging me to go to the memorial fundraiser there … so two birds.”
Peter chuckled at Madeline’s picture then set aside the file. “A word of warning: Your sister has an agenda. She called me to make sure you had a few days off to attend that party,” he said, leaning back in his chair.
“Great. Another setup,” Joe replied, rubbing the back of his head.
“Have fun with that. I only want work-related updates, especially since this scientist researches and develops drugs.”
With a nod, Joe stood. Out of respect for his mentor, he used his t-shirt to wipe off his shoe smudge from the desk before leaving.
In the meantime, add CHEMICAL ATTRACTION to Goodreads
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Mark your calendars for the release of The Kindred Code on Wednesday, July 19th. In the meantime, enjoy the excerpt between Joe and Eva, who are siblings by choice. They tease, harass, deflect, and know each other so well…
Excerpt from The Kindred Code
“Joey, focus! You missed the street,” Eva said.
Joe backtracked and finally found Matt’s house, a plain, well-kept country blue ranch with a two-car attached garage and a chain link fence in back half buried in the snow. In the neatly shoveled driveway, Matt’s old Bronco had also been cleared. Joe stopped beside it then blew out a breath in relief, glad to be done with the long drive on the slippery back roads.
“Crap,” Eva said, searching through her brown leather purse. “He gave me a key and I forgot it.”
“Damn it, Eva. I’m not going back,” he replied, flexing his fingers to ease the ache from his tight grip of the steering wheel. “Maybe he has one hidden somewhere.”
She laughed. “Here,” she said, holding it out for him. “You’re the one who needs to lighten up.”
He ripped it from her hand. She continued to laugh as he walked around the car to help her out. She handed him her purse and mittens then struggled to stand on her own, despite the walking boot cast on her right foot. Stubborn as always. With a sigh, he filled his arms with her crutches and suitcase from the back seat.
Taking the crutches, she started hopping toward the front door. Matt had shoveled the walkway bare, too, and rock salt covered every cement surface. Matt was definitely a responsible guy. Joe chuckled as he followed her.
Eva held out her hand for the key. “Just drop my purse and suitcase inside then you can leave,” she said, unlocking the door.
“No way. What kind of brother would I be if I didn’t look around and make sure he’s not some psycho?” he asked.
Inside, Eva turned and glared at him. “He’s a cop and a wonderful father who owns his own home.”
“You do need to lighten up. I was kidding, except for the snooping part.”
In the living room, Joe set her suitcase, purse, and mangled mittens beside the worn yet comfortable looking sofa. Under one end table, he spotted a wicker basket with yarn and a partially crocheted blanket.
“How domestic do you want to be with this guy? Crocheting? Really?” Joe said with a chuckle.
“Aren’t you going to be late?” Eva replied.
“Nope. I’ve got time.” He walked toward the kitchen on the right.
The plain white kitchen had enough room for a square wooden table and four chairs. David’s school paintings on the refrigerator added the only color to the room. To annoy Eva, Joe opened a cupboard above the bare countertop.
“Joe, stop,” she said, leaning on the back of one of the chairs.
“Do you really want to get tied down with a kid?”
Opening the fridge, he found it overflowing with Tupperware containers. He pulled out the closest, lifting the lid to see what was inside. His mouth watered at the macaroni salad. He quickly found a spoon in the drawer. After taking a huge bite, he moaned and held out a spoonful for Eva.
“This is so good,” he mumbled with another mouthful.
“I think his mom made it. His parents live across the street.” She hopped to the lid on the counter and held it out for him to cover the bowl. Instead, he walked around the table, making her hop after him.
“Sounds like Everybody Loves Raymond,” he said, before taking another bite.
“Have you talked to Taylor today?”
“No,” he replied, taking the lid she thrust in his face. “She’s not my problem anymore.” He shoved the container with its lid back into the refrigerator.
“Not your problem? She’s your family.”
“You know what I mean. She’s with Stuart now.” Leaving the kitchen, he headed down the hallway and glanced in David’s dinosaur-themed bedroom. In the guest room next to David’s, six boxes of toys and books rested on the bed beside two police uniforms lying across an ironing board.
“Do you want to talk about her?” she asked at his heels to keep him from snooping too thoroughly.
“This place is void of a female touch. Are you gonna decorate right away or wait until you’re living here?”
“Peter’s going to make you wear a suit everyday with the FBI.”
“Not if I can help it,” he replied.
Before Joe could add another retort, he and Eva heard a bang then a rattling from the basement. Joe whispered for Eva to go into the bathroom and lock the door. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head while Joe opened the basement door. The rattling vibrated the steps as Joe carefully descended. Eva hopped down behind him.
Beside neatly packed boxes on metal shelves that lined the perimeter of the small clean basement, an old furnace shook. At closer inspection, Joe found a large wrench sitting on the water heater and a slight dent in the furnace beside it. He banged the wrench into the dent and the rattling stopped. The heat popped on.
Joe grinned. “Owning a home is easy. I’m a pro already.”
Eva snorted and hopped back up the stairs huffing as she went. When his cell rang, Joe checked the caller ID. He let Taylor’s call go to his voicemail. Eva watched him.
“You need to work through your feelings for her,” Eva said.
“And, on that note, I’m out of here.” She was right, but he wouldn’t openly admit it.
Using her crutch, Eva poked him in the back, stopping him. “I love you, Joey.”
“Stay out of trouble,” he replied, giving her a hug, “although nothing ever happens in these farming towns.”
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Tuesday, December 31st
When the side door to the singlewide trailer slammed shut, Brianna Carlson sighed with relief. In her cramped bedroom, she bounced her eleven-month-old half-sister, Chloe, on her hip to keep her quiet. Her mom and Wayne had argued all afternoon. The fight had escalated, and they blamed her.
While she waited for the door to jar the trailer again, she gazed into the mirror propped on top of her worn dresser. Between caring for Chloe and getting ready, it had taken two hours to style her hair into a loose bun with long brown ringlets. Now, strands of it fell around her heart-shaped face.
She picked up the paper cup next to her brush. She had wanted to put the tiny silk rosebuds throughout. Not now, and it would take forever to comb out the hairspray.
Sidestepping the crib wedged between the wall and her bed, she listened at the door. She slowly cracked it open. The dark wood paneling and water-stained ceiling tiles trapped the tension along with the lingering scent of cigarette smoke. The drawn shades with frayed edges mimicked her hidden life.
Bree didn’t hear her stepfather; she saw her torn pale pink princess dress draped over his greasy plaid recliner. Well, that just confirmed it. She wasn’t leaving tonight. After shifting Chloe to her other hip, she checked the dress. Maybe she could repair it.
When she heard the refrigerator door open and the clink of beer bottles, she winced and hugged her sister closer to her chest. Chloe seemed to sense her anxiety and whimpered as they faced Wayne Miller. His sweat-stained t-shirt uncovered his hairy gut as he chugged his beer from the kitchen doorway.
He rubbed his stubble and belched. “Jesus, Bree. You just couldn’t watch the baby for one night? You pushed her over the edge. She ain’t coming back this time.”
“I watch the baby every night. I wanted to go to the New Year’s Eve Ball with Lucy.”
“Now, nobody’s going,” he said.
“It’s not my fault. I asked months ago.”
His hand clenched into a fist. She braced herself and turned the baby away. The full force of his fist smashed into her cheek. The sharp pain shot through her head and down her neck as he wrenched it to the side. A flash of light behind her eyes blinded her. She would have fallen to the floor, but the back of the shabby sofa kept her upright. Afraid of dropping Chloe, she gripped her tighter. Her sister wailed, and Bree’s eye swelled.
“It is your fault,” he growled, before depositing his empty bottle on the counter with the others.
With blurred vision, she staggered back to her bedroom. When the side door slammed shut, she blew out a breath. That was her fault. She should have waited a while longer. Gently bouncing her sister, Bree hummed to keep herself from sobbing.
With her stepdad gone for the night and her mom gone for good, the thick tension dissipated within their dumpy trailer at Hilton’s Trailer Park in Rushing, Michigan. Chloe immediately stopped crying and wrapped her tiny arms around Bree’s neck.
In the kitchen, Brianna reached for a bag of peas from the freezer. “Don’t worry, my sweet Clover. I’ll never leave you.”
Slightly dizzy, Bree sat at the kitchen table and turned the baby around. Chloe grabbed the spoon from the edge of the round table while Bree held the peas against her cheek. She cringed from the cold pain. The side of her face throbbed. Closing her eyes, she frowned at the disappearing possibilities.
“No use waiting any longer,” she said, taking the end of the spoon out of Chloe’s mouth.
She set the baby in her playpen and handed her the bag of peas. Chloe stuck a corner into her mouth and smiled as it numbed her sore gums. Brianna dialed her best friend, Lucy Donovan, who lived in the big house on the hill next to the golf course.
“Bree, are you ready? How do the roses look in your hair? Robert will pick you up at seven-thirty. He has your ticket.”
“Well, he can let someone else have it. I can’t go,” she replied, forcing herself not to cry.
“No! Bree! You got permission months ago. What happened?”
“Apparently they forgot. You go and have fun. I want to hear all about it tomorrow.”
“I think it sucks, especially on your birthday.”
“My birthday isn’t until tomorrow so it doesn’t count.” She grimaced as she touched her puffy cheek.
“We were pretending that it was your Sweet Sixteen Coming Out party,” Lucy pouted.
“It’s not a big deal. There’s always next year.”
“All right, well, we’re having a family dinner for Robert tomorrow before he leaves. You can come and bring Chloe, too.”
“Sure, Lucy. Call me tomorrow.”
Bree wouldn’t go. She’d get too many sympathetic looks from Lucy’s family. Paul and Marta Donovan welcomed her into their home, but she caught the glimpses. She was the scruffy kitten they fed on their back doorstep.
Lucy had been her best friend since kindergarten. She didn’t care that Bree wore clothes from Goodwill. They bonded over each other’s hair. Bree was fascinated with Lucy’s short blond curls, and Lucy liked to brush Bree’s thick brown mane like her dolls. Bree didn’t mind. It was soothing and quite funny that someone envied her.
Through the years, Lucy tried every type of expensive shampoo to make her blond hair stronger and longer. She jokingly begged her for the secret. Bree’s secret was a ninety-nine cent bottle of Suave shampoo and her dad’s genetics. He had a thick head of hair. That’s what she was told anyway. He left when she was four. A distant memory now. She wallowed in self-pity for a few more minutes and then saw Chloe covered in mashed peas.
“Oh, Clover. What have you done?” Chloe smiled and held out a pea for her. Bree laughed and lifted her out of the playpen. “You made a mess. I hope they were good.”
Chloe shoved one into Bree’s mouth and giggled. Her mood lightened as her sister fed her the mashed peas off her shirt, her arms, her hair. While she took her time cleaning Chloe and the peas, she thought about the party.
For the last month, she imagined that it was in honor of her sixteenth birthday. She had saved her money from her part-time job at Mason’s Diner and had found the dress at a second-hand store. She loved the frilly pink ruffles. Now, her ripped dress lay across the recliner.
While Chloe played in her clean playpen, Bree hung her pink pretty in the closet. After one last look, she sighed. She had hoped to dance with Lucy’s brother, Robert. Five years younger, she’d had a crush on him since she was in the fifth grade.
Years ago, Robert had picked her and Lucy up after school. He had just gotten his driver’s license and wanted to show off his new car. As she and Lucy walked toward him, one of the boys in her class made fun of her watercolor artwork and tore it in half. After yelling at the boy, Robert said he liked the picture. He had asked for it and had carefully put the ripped pieces next to his seat as if a priceless possession. She had never felt so proud to have someone like her art. She would always remember that feeling and has secretly loved him ever since.
She smiled. Her imagination usually exceeded her reality. She figured it’s supposed to work that way. With her friend’s play by play, she could still enjoy the party. Lucy’s bubbly personality and dramatic views amused her. Lucy lived in a happy mystical world.
With another sigh, she returned to the living room and picked up the baby. “Okay, my sweet Clover, it’s time for bed. Tomorrow is a new year full of hope and adventure.”
As the ache permeated through the rest of her body, she slowly sat in the rocker and hummed to her fussy sister. She loved the quiet trailer. For an hour, she held Chloe while she slept in her arms. Chloe needed her, and Bree promised to be there for her, always. Her little sister would never feel her pain.
Hearing a tap on the side door, she looked up. Robert peeked through the glass. She wiggled her finger for him to come in. He carefully opened the door so as not to wake the baby.
He had just graduated college with degrees in both business and art and would be leaving for Italy tomorrow. He wanted to travel to find authentic art designs for Donovan’s Jewelry, his family’s business.
In a black tuxedo with pale pink shirt and bow tie, he had slicked back his light brown hair into a short ponytail. His green eyes narrowed. His jaw clenched.
She flinched. “Robert, I’m sorry. Lucy was supposed to tell you I couldn’t go,” she quickly whispered.
“What the hell happened to your eye?”
She shushed him as Chloe stirred. She had forgotten about it until now. It ached, but she was used to her stepfather’s fist and her mother’s hand. He folded his arms and waited. She stood stiffly. Not seeing clearly, she banged her shin into the coffee table. Biting her lip to keep from gasping aloud, she put the baby in the crib. She cracked the door and turned to face him.
“I’m sorry you made the trip here for nothing,” she whispered.
“Did Wayne do that?”
She nodded. He lightly lifted her chin for a better look at her eye. Her pain lessened. His concern touched her. She didn’t dare say anything for fear of crying. He growled and tugged her hand toward the kitchen. After sitting her in the chair, he retrieved the half bag of mashed peas that had refrozen into a hard block.
“What happened?” he asked in a slightly calmer tone.
She pressed the bag against her cheek and shook her head.
“I’m going to give him his own black eye,” he said.
“Please, don’t. It’ll only make things worse,” she replied.
“I’ll call Chief Mason,” he said, pulling his cell from his pocket. “Wayne can rot in jail.”
She sighed. “For a couple of days? Then what? I’ll be fine.”
She hoped she’d be fine. She wasn’t sure what would happen now with her mom gone. She’d have to rely on Wayne until she graduated high school. Maybe she could pick up more hours at the diner. And what about Chloe? Who would watch her while she went to school and work?
Sitting across from her, he stared. She broke the long silence. “You’re going to miss the party,” she said.
“You think I care about the damn party now? Can you even see out of your eye?”
“I have the other one.” She smiled. The fact that he was mad made her feel better.
“It’s not funny, Anna.”
“Don’t call me that.” She tossed the clump of re-thawed peas in the trash. After pushing the empty bottles and a full ashtray back from the edge of the countertop, she leaned against it.
“Why? It’s your name. Bree is too flaky and whimsical. Anna is grown up and fits your personality better.”
“Like an elderly aunt?”
He laughed. “Like a sixteen year old who’s taking good care of her sister.”
She wanted to tell him about her situation but held back. Why bring him down? What good would it do? He was leaving for an adventure tomorrow. Hiding her frown, she retrieved a small tatty ring box from her purse. She handed it to him.
He grinned. “Are you proposing?”
“Certainly not, I’m a mess. It’s a going-away present. Just promise to save it for the plane.”
“You’re not coming to dinner tomorrow?” he asked as he slipped it into his tuxedo pocket. When she shook her head, he held out a slightly larger sparkling red box. “Then Happy Birthday.”
She gaped as he set it in her cupped hands. The lovely box had a bright white bow on the top. The tag read To Anna from Robert.
He laughed. “Anna, it’s not a snake. It won’t bite.”
“Thank you,” she whispered as she carefully lifted the top. She caught her breath. “Oh my, it’s stunning but way too expensive. I can’t accept this.” She held out the box for him.
“Of course, you can,” he replied, taking the gold heart locket out of the box. Swirls of etched ivy covered the front and back. A heart-shaped emerald gleamed in the center. He placed the chain over her head and stood back to admire it. “It’ll match your one green eye,” he said with a grin.
Her hand trembled as she touched it. “It’s the nicest gift I’ve ever gotten.” It was actually the only gift. Born to alcoholic parents on January first had its drawbacks. They slept off the hangovers for the full day. “But it’s too much, Robert.”
“If you want to make it even, you can write to me at the villa.”
“I can do that.”
“I’ll expect a letter every few weeks that’s at least two pages long. You can fill me in on Lucy’s antics,” he said, reaching for her hand. “This is my big chance to prove myself. You understand, right?”
She nodded and held her other hand over her locket. “Thank you,” she whispered again.
Taking a step closer, he leaned down and kissed her. Her mind went numb, but her toes tingled. She didn’t want him to stop. He gently pulled her against him. She parted her lips letting him taste her. His tongue sent a wave of warmth throughout her body. She didn’t realize kissing was a pain reliever. Her cold body wanted to hide in the safety of his embrace.
“Robert. Please. Don’t leave me, too,” she silently begged.
He let her go and played with a long ringlet by her ear. “Oh, Anna, even with one eye, you’re still the prettiest girl I know. I’ll miss you,” he said, before leaving.
Standing alone in the middle of the room, she closed her eyes. A profound sadness settled over her heart. She wept.