Happy Thanksgiving for those who celebrate! As much as I
love Turkey Day, my favorite time of the year—Black Friday—is almost here!
To celebrate, HOUSE OF PAYNE: PAYNE, HOUSE OF PAYNE: SCOUT, HOUSE OF PAYNE: TWIST, and BRUISED will be on sale for $0.99 from Friday through Monday–yay!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year to fill your ereader or the ereader of your loved ones with all the hot Alpha male goodness my heroes have to offer. Don’t hesitate on that one-clicking—this sale ends Monday!
Also, quick update status on HOUSE OF PAYNE: LOKI. I’m about
halfway through (Chapter 11 of an estimated 20 chapters). I was hoping to be a
bit further along, but I got hit with a virus that turned into bronchitis and a
double ear infection, so that slowed me down a bit (like, a lot). I’m still
hoping for a late January release. Fingers crossed!
After LOKI, I’m already blocking out chapters for the final book in the Brody Brothers series, BROKEN. The biggest problem has been getting the right feeling for the heroine, but I think I’ve got that hammered out. I’m getting excited for Des’s story, so fleshing out his lady-love has been a real bonus.
I hope your Thanksgiving Day is filled with good food, good friends, happy family and memory-making moments that fill you with warmth and joy. I’m thankful for each and every one of you, my readers, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to entertain you with the greatest thing in the world—love everlasting!
I’m so excited to share Styx and Sydney’s story with you all, and it’s going to happen tomorrow! But I thought I’d give a little sneak peek of STYX’s first chapter NOW, because I’m funny like that. 🙂 Enjoy!
were slick on her beloved Pokey’s steering wheel, and she threw another
terrified glance at the rearview mirror.
The dark Caddy
with no plates accelerated so fast all she could see was the car’s grill.
“Oh God, no.”
She floored Pokey’s accelerator as hysteria-edged breaths panted out of her. She
thought—prayed—she saw an opening in the traffic in the lane next to her. If
she could just get off the freeway, she might have a chance of bringing this
insane car chase to an end.
Why is this
happening? Dear God, why?
She didn’t know.
Too bad she
couldn’t stop and ask them.
Blindly she groped
for the phone she’d left in her purse on the passenger seat. She cried in
relief when she found it almost immediately and started dialing 911, only to
drop the device when she had to grab the steering wheel to avoid hitting an idiotic
car that cut in front of her.
Okay, screw the
police, she thought, gripping the wheel with both hands once more while tears
of frustration dripped down her face. She’d get herself to safety before
calling them for help. The right lane next to her was clear. She could move
over. The two lanes after that, though, were full of midday workers either
going to or coming back from lunch—
A crunch of metal
on metal ripped a scream from her even as her poor car fishtailed with the
vicious bump from behind. She almost lost control as her trusty Camry tried to
deal with the rear impact while going eighty down I-90.
“Go straight, go
straight,” she screamed at her car, knowing with a clairvoyant-like clarity
what would happen if she was forced sideways at that speed. Her car would flip,
the roof of the car would crush in like a soda can, and there would be no
livable space within the car’s interior.
In short, she’d
die a grisly death.
It seemed to take
forever to get Pokey back under control, but at last she got it, her icy hands wrapped
around the steering wheel so hard they hurt. Just as she sent fervent thanks
out to whatever guardian angels she had, she spotted a sign for a familiar
She was done with
waiting for people to kill her.
If she was going
to die, it was going to be because she was trying to live, and not waiting for
death to come get her.
scream tearing out of her, Sydney hit the brakes and wrenched the wheel sharply
to the right, flew across four lanes of traffic, and shot onto the exit ramp.
In her wake, the sound of screeching tires and blaring horns filled her ears.
“I’m sorry, I’m
sorry.” She didn’t care that the words were useless. They gave her comfort,
because unlike the people chasing her, she had no intention of hurting anyone.
For a moment she
was weightless as her car zoomed down the steep off-ramp. Then Pokey landed so
heavily the undercarriage bottomed out and there was another horrible metallic crunching.
She blew through a yellow-to-red light, turning a hard right amidst another
symphony of car horns, but she didn’t bother to look at whatever she left in
The only thing
that mattered now was escaping whoever was trying to murder her.
Home, her brain pounded at her, but logic
overrode the instinct to hole up in what had always been a comfy, safe space. Home
was one place she absolutely couldn’t
go. The last thing she wanted to do was lead her attackers to her door. Bad
enough they obviously knew what her car looked like. If they knew where she
lived, she might as well get her final affairs in order.
What a nightmare.
In the minutes it
took to shoot through Goose Island toward her neighborhood of Old Town, she
racked her brain trying to figure out where she could go. A police station
would have been ideal, but since she’d never been in this kind of trouble, she
had no idea where the nearest station was. Second choice was getting pulled
over by a cop for going sixty on a surface street, but clearly the old saying
was true—there was never a cop around when you needed one.
Then she saw it.
A flash of a
dark-colored car in her rearview mirror.
Shit, was that the
She wasn’t going
to hang around to find out.
With her heart in
her throat, Sydney swerved off Division Street, zigzagged randomly through the
cross streets to wind up facing the other way on Division. With her dashboard
lit up like a Christmas tree and something smoking under the hood, she parked
in a lot in front of the strip mall located across the street from her
It wasn’t home,
but it was close.
The heavy humidity
of an unusually warm autumn day slapped at Sydney the moment she dashed out of
her smoking car, but she barely noticed as she tried to figure out what to do
next. Again, her instinct was to run to a place where she knew was safe. Her
best friend, Zemi, had a yoga studio, OMMniscience, tucked right in the middle
of the strip mall, so maybe she could go there. Or maybe she should run into Edibles,
the donut shop next to the studio, where she and Zemi usually landed after yoga
But to go to a
place connected to her in any way could prove dangerous for everyone involved.
OMMniscience, and no Edibles.
But she couldn’t
just stand there.
thought, she sprinted past the strip mall and around the corner, eyes open wide
for a random place to hide. The flash of light on a glass door as it slowly
swung shut snagged her attention. Without another thought, she zipped through
the glass door and into the high-rise building’s vestibule.
And crashed into a
solid something that almost had her bouncing back out through the door.
Hands shot out to stabilize her even as a handful of mail scattered to the
black and white tiled floor. “Where the hell’s the fire?”
“I’m sorry. I’m
sorry.” Out of breath and terrified she was going to throw up, Sydney glanced
back through the glass door only to see a dark Cadillac—oh Geez, was that the
same one? —drive by. “Oh my God, hide.”
“Are you fucking
crazy?” the solid object demanded, but she didn’t listen as she grabbed him by his
dark T-shirt and yanked him sharply to one side of the door with all the might
she had in her 5’2” frame. For good measure she pivoted so that his back was to
the glass door while she huddled as small as she could against him so that she
was shielded by his rangy, solid body.
Any port in a
“What. The. Hell.”
The voice was aggravated, gruff, but he didn’t jump back or try to push her
away. Instead arms came around her, and strangely, that feeling of being in a
safe port while a storm raged around her increased. “Jesus. You’re shaking like
“I’m sorry. I’m so
sorry.” Apparently these were the only words her freaked-out brain was capable
of producing. At least it was better than screaming.
He started to turn
his head to look outside the glass door. “What are you so afrai—”
Hastily she reached up and yanked his head back around…
And looked into
the face of the man she’d been drooling over for the past two months.
Every Thursday and
Sunday, Sydney made sure she was at Market Place grocery store, ostensibly to
work. But in actuality, she did her best to keep an avid lookout out for this
delicious specimen of a man, who usually could be found putting a major dent in
the frozen pizzas.
While he had
dubious taste in food, the rest of him was perfection—short brown hair several
shades darker than her own, strong dark brows that hooded pale blue eyes with
long lashes, and a mouth that turned up at the corners even when fully relaxed.
But even more fascinating than his riveting face was his ink.
The man was a
walking work of art.
His black T-shirt,
emblazoned with the words House Of Payne, exposed muscular arms covered
with tattoos all the way down to his wrists. His neck also sported some ink,
just glimpses of colorful art peeking out from under his shirt’s neckline.
She’d never been this close to him, so she hadn’t known about that intriguing
art going up his neck. For a totally inappropriate second she wondered what she
needed to do to get him to take his shirt off so she could get an even closer
Then she shook her
head. Wow. She must be suffering some weird sort of nervous breakdown to wonder
such a thing at a time like this.
He looked down at her—way down, since she’s pretty much stopped growing around
the age of thirteen—and gave her a smile that would have charmed the Devil
himself. “You’re safe, all right? You got a boyfriend or something that’s
hunting you down? I can take care of that shit, no worries.”
“No, I don’t have
a boyfriend or anything like that.” Just to be on the safe side, she pulled him
up against the wall, where all the apartment building’s mailboxes were located,
and out of direct line of sight. “It’s the Brisket Bandit posse.”
He slow-blinked. “Uh…what?”
“I’m a secret shopper
for Market Place grocery store, though that’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.
Otherwise I’d just be a shopper, not a secret one, and I’d certainly lose my
Employee of the Month status if everyone knew I was a secret shopper.” Very
carefully Sydney chanced a quick peek over his shoulder, then ducked back when
a chatting couple walked by. Eek. “I finally caught the Brisket Bandit.
Only come to find out, he’s not a solo act. He’s got a posse, and he sent them
after me to murder me with their car.”
“Slow down.” Again
he glanced over his shoulder, then gave her a look that clearly doubted her
sanity. “A secret who? The brisket what? Wait, don’t answer,” he said when she
opened her mouth to fill in the blanks. “I just need to know one thing. Are you
supposed to be taking medication for anything? No judgment, I have
impulse-control issues, so I know how it can be. I’m just wondering if you’ve
missed a dose.”
For crying out
loud… “Secret shoppers
are employed by retailers to blend in with other shoppers, and we’re trained to
spot shoplifters. Market Place has had a problem with big-ticket items
disappearing, like brisket. That’s why this particular thief got branded with
the name Brisket Bandit.”
“Thank you. I’m,
uh, the one who made it up,” she added, while her face got hot. Great. Now she
was babbling. Who cared about what name she’d slapped on her target? “Anyway,
it’s taken a while, and we almost caught him over Labor Day weekend at the
South Loop Market Place store a couple weeks back, but he got away before the
cops could arrive.”
“So you work as a
secret shopper slash undercover cop—”
“Oh, no. I’m not a
cop. I mean, I don’t carry a gun, or anything like that.”
“I’m thinking you
should.” Putting her firmly in the corner of the vestibule and out of sight, he
bent to pick up his scattered mail, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the
door. “So you work way the hell and gone down south, and these assholes chased
you all the way up to Old Town?”
“I usually work at
the Market Place store a few blocks from here.” What she didn’t mention was
that was where she’d secretly perved all over him whenever he showed up on his
frozen pizza shopping days. “I was subbing for another secret shopper who
was out sick at a Market Place store over in South Loop. That’s where I finally
caught the Brisket Bandit a couple hours ago. I did everything by the book, and
I even had the police there waiting for me to run him out of the store right
into their waiting arms, so he’s officially wrapped up and taken care of.
Little did I know he had a crew watching and waiting for me in the parking lot.
They saw me chase their guy, and decided to go after me on the freeway. I
don’t even get why. I mean, I’m not the one who tackled him, slapped the
handcuffs on him and carted him off to jail. The police did all that. What’s
more, taking their anger out on me isn’t going to change anything. Why go after
stupid, but not stupid enough to go after cops. A secret shopper like you is
easy pickings. That pisses me off.”
she bent and gathered up the last of his dropped mail. “I’m really sorry I’m
bothering you like this.”
you haven’t done anything wrong. You got a name?”
Bishop.” She handed him his mail and tried to smile when all she felt like doing
was bursting into freaked-out hysterics. “Hi.”
Bishop. Terrance Hardwick, though everyone calls me Styx, except my mother.”
His eyes never left hers as he took the mail from her. “You live in this
Syd. That was
cute. “I actually live across the street, in the red brick building with all
those gorgeous big industrial windows. See?” Carefully she peeped through the
glass door and pointed at her second-story window. “I just didn’t want to lead
them right to my doorstep.”
“So you thought
you’d lead them to mine? Kidding,” he chuckled when his statement filled her
with such horror she gasped. “If they come here, they’ll get a helluva lot more
than they ever bargained for. Not only do I know how to take care of assholes
who like terrorizing women, but my family’s lousy with cops.” Rising from his
crouch, he held out his hand to her. “One phone call, and I’ve got just about
every hard case with a badge over here ready to defend you. That’s how my
Sliding her hand into his, she slowly rose to her full height, and all the
while she couldn’t seem to stop looking at him. Which wasn’t unusual when it
came to her grocery store guy. From the moment she’d spotted him tossing frozen
pizzas into his cart by the armload, she hadn’t been able to keep her eyes off
him. “My family’s not at all like that.”
you’re not figuring out a way to make space travel fun and convenient for the
masses, or winning a place on the Olympic team, then you’re ignored because
you’re failing at life.” Too late, she bit her lip. Since when had she decided
that sharing the pitiful low points of her life was a good way to flirt? She
wouldn’t blame him if he ran for the nearest exit.
His dark brows
shot up. “Your family’s into space travel… and the Olympics?”
“According to my
parents, a goal isn’t worth aiming for unless you’re aiming for the very top.”
thought my family’s expectations were bad.” He cocked his head toward the
sweeping lobby beyond an interior set of automatic glass doors. “You wanna come
in and take a load off while I make a couple calls? You could say I’ve got the
heart of Chicago PD on speed dial.”
“Um…” She looked
into the lobby, not sure if he was inviting her into the building, or up to his
place. At first glance, being invited up to her grocery store guy’s place was
all sorts of awesome, but the fact was he was a stranger. He might be her idea
of yummy, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t an ax murderer. “I’ve been too much
trouble already. I’ll just hop across the street, get myself calmed down with a
nice cup of tea, and call the police from there. At the very least, I’ve got to
get them out here so they can take a look at the damage that was done to my
poor Pokey and make a report.”
“My car. I name
cars,” she added, then wondered if she had survived I-90 only to die of embarrassment
at the feet of her grocery store guy. “I think it’s clear at this point that
I’m easily amused.”
He took this in
with a shake of the head. “You’re not walking across the street alone, Syd.
Anything happens to you, that’s on me.”
Like that, the
fear and dread flooded back in. “I can’t let you do that. For all I know,
they’re right outside, waiting to run me over.”
“Calm down.” To
her surprise, he reached out and hooked a strong hand around the nape of her
neck. “What’d the car look like?”
“It, uh…” For some
reason, it was hard to think with that warm, strong hand branding itself into
her flesh. “A dark Cadillac sedan, dark gray or black. No license plate. It
should have front-end damage because they rammed poor Pokey when we were on the
freeway. If that car is waiting outside, we’re all going to die, so you are
definitely not going out there with me. I’ll chance it alone.” She could dash
across the street without getting hit. Probably.
Again, he shook
his head as he let his hand drop. That’s very brave of you.”
“We’re not going
to go playing in the street when there’s someone out there using their car as a
fucking murder weapon.” With his mail clenched in one hand, his free hand
grabbed hers. Before she was over the oddly delightful shock of his hand
holding hers, he was dragging her through the automatic glass doors that led
into the lobby. “I don’t have tea, but I make a mean cup of coffee, and I can
get any number of cops you want here within the next five minutes. I’m not
letting you go out there until I know you’re safe.”
Elevators are over here around the security desk—”
“Look, I just need
to know one thing. Are you an ax murderer?”
That stopped him
“I’ve had a hell
of a day,” she said on a sigh, and she wasn’t surprised to see her free hand shake
before she dragged it through her hair. “Catching the Brisket Bandit, nearly
dying at eighty miles per hour on I-90, and then crashing headlong into
you…” My crush for the past couple of months. “I just need to know
I’m not jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, because that’s pretty
much how my luck has been today.”
“Ah, got it. You
want assurances that I’ve never killed anyone with an ax.”
“Or any other
implement. I’m not picky about details.”
letting her go, he turned to the security desk, a good twenty feet away, sucked
in a breath, and bellowed out, “Yo, Marty! Vouch for me, yeah? Lady here is
worried I’m an ax murderer. Am I an ax murderer?”
An older man who
strongly reminded her of Stan Lee leaned over the desk to get a good look at
them. “Not that I know of. Why? Is she
an ax murderer, and maybe she wants to meet like-minded people?”
“That’s a good
question.” Turning back to her, the man known as Styx lowered his voice while
Sydney gaped at them. “Are you an ax murderer?”
She shook her
head, amazed that the majority of the people in the lobby ignored them,
casually going about their business as if having a yelled-across-the-lobby
conversation about ax murderers was a perfectly normal event. “You just yelled
about murder in public.”
Marty’s a retired badge and has seen it all when it comes to this city. Not to
mention he used to be my dad’s partner when they were both in uniform, so he
knows to just roll with whatever impulsive shit I toss his way. So? You an ax
Wow. “I once killed a spider when I felt it
crawling on my arm, but I swear it was an accident. I still feel guilty about
“Spiders get my
boot, with no guilt, but that’s about as scary as I get. That’s a promise, Syd.
She took a deep breath, held it a moment, then took a leap of faith. “Okay.”