When She Was Bad . . .
If I were a good girl, I'd be working on the WIP, which I really need to finish by the end of July. And I will, most likely -- I have the first three chapters finished and I've written the plotting synopsis. I'm not stuck or out of the groove or anything like that.
If I were a good girl, I'd be getting a start on my print galleys for WMM, which are duy July 27.
If I were a good girl, I'd probably be using my spare time to do even more promo for TAC, since I'm scared to death those numbers won't shine. (Why I have this fear, I don't know. Maybe because my numbers for WMM were really good and I'm afraid it was a fluke.)
There are a hundred things I could be doing if I were a good girl.
Well, you know that old saying, "When she was good, she was very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid?" Usually, I'm Ms. Responsibility. I meet deadlines and I work on writing and I take care of the myriad other tasks in my life. But this week, for the past three days anyway, I've been the definition of bad and oh, my, it's been fun.
What have I been up to?
Well, okay, I'll tell you. Shhh. You can't tell anyone else! Okay?
I've been writing just for fun.
I told you it was shocking. It feels like the writing I did way back in 1996 and 1997 when it was me and Jen and ideas and all these scenes tumbling through my head. I'd write something up, zip it off to her, she'd reply, and somehow, we'd put together these huge mystery/relationship stories that were just for us. We were writing simply because we had to get those ideas down. It was fun, and I'm very nostalgic about that period in my writing life.
So it's very likely no one will ever see what I'm writing now (well, other than Carol -- I subject her to snippets on a regular basis, but she hasn't complained yet, although it can't make much sense, these pieces of a story given out of order). It's not intended for my editor or an agent or even for a nebulous crowd of readers.
This is for me. And I think it's just what I needed to make my summer complete.
Labels: Linda's Posts
:~: Thursday, June 28, 2007 :~:
Review In Progress: Revealing Skills by Summer Devon
So to tease you for said review, I'm popping in with the blurb:
The untrained skills coursing through her might kill a man... but what a way to die.
When Gilrohan, shapeshifter and king's man, is thrown into a dank prison cell, his only option is clear-turn himself into a rat and escape. But fleeing the iron bars is easier than escaping the quick hands of the woman who captures him-and undoes his magic. Her undiscovered power is a rare gift, and unknown even to her.
Tabica lives as a slave to her oversexed overlord. Life seems grim until the furry tesslerat shifts into a sleek, naked man beneath her hands. Gilrohan wants to explore her power, and she wants to explore him. Together, they discover that magic can actually work between two people whose lives and love should never have intertwined. But her awakened skills land her into a new existence that threatens to be as dreary as her old one.
A very cool read so far. Click HERE to learn more.
Labels: Linda's Posts
:~: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 :~:
Back To Basics
Labels: Joan's posts
:~: Tuesday, June 26, 2007 :~:
All By Myself...
Tomorrow I'll be back to writing again. I have a deadline coming up very quickly and a rough draft to polish, but at this point I'm not rushing it. I'm enjoying the peace and quiet and taking some time to relax so I don't burn out, which I usually do during the summer trying to get so many things done at once.
What do you do when you have time for yourself? Do you write, or take some time to do other things you enjoy?
:~: Monday, June 25, 2007 :~:
Too much partying the night before, Eli?
Unless you've been living under a rock (or just don't care), I'll fill you in. The College World Series has been going on in Omaha, Nebraska. And my alma mater - The Oregon State Beavers and 2006 National Champs - were back to defend their title.
You're probably thinking...hm...what's this got to do with writing? Let me tell you. Everything.
You see, these guys were underdogs. And there's nothing more exciting to read (or watch) than an underdog story. Yes, they were the 2006 National Champs. No one expected them to win last year. They faced six elimination games and came through the loser's bracket to win the title. It was only their second trip to the college world series. This year (again) no one expected them to make it back. Even more important, there were questions about whether or not they deserved to go back. They lost all of their starters from last year except for two. They lost almost their whole pitching team. Their star pitcher this year is a freshman from nowhere, Washington with no experience. They had a losing record in the Pac-10 and even those of us who are true Beaver Believers thought there was no way they'd get back to Omaha. And then by some miracle they were selected for the playoffs because of their strength of schedule. They struggled through the Regionals and then have proved everyone wrong, kicking butt in every single game since then. Straight through to the championship series this weekend where they shut out North Carolina. Swept everyone and didn't lose a single game. It was amazing to watch. I had tears in my eyes last night. Total underdogs.
My favorite movies are underdog stories. Lord Of The Rings, Indiana Jones, Pirates of The Caribbean, Rudy, National Treasure, The Rookie. I've posted about this here in the past. But this is just such an awesome example of that in reality, I had to post about it again. It's like the guy who just won Britain's You've Got Talent and went from being a cell-phone salesman to a now-famous tenor. (That guy is amazing). I like to write (and read) books about everyday people who end up doing extraordinary things. Underdogs. Raise the stakes, gimme a hero (or heroine) who defies all odds to get to the end, and you've got me hooked.
What about you? Do you like the underdogs?
And WAY TO GO BEAVS!!! YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME!
Labels: Elisabeth's Posts
:~: Friday, June 22, 2007 :~:
Luckily, I have been able to keep myself pretty focused on my edits for His Ordinary Life. One thing that's really helped with that is my new little jump drive. 512 MB of storage in one neat little package! How does it help? Well, the ancient laptop doesn't have Internet access. So when I don't want the distraction of "Did Wayne email me about that unit proposal I haven't read yet? Let's go check!" or "Has the top ten list at My Bookstore and More changed yet? Let's go look!", I copy HOL to the jump drive and go work on the laptop in the living/dining area. The upside is, I can put the satellite on music and write away (if the Monsters aren't around).
(This is how unfocused I am right now -- I just lost my train of thought, stopped in the middle of writing this post and bebopped over to email my editor a status report on my edits. What is wrong with me?!)
Do you have days when you feel completely out of whack mentally? How do you cope?
Labels: Linda's Posts
:~: Thursday, June 21, 2007 :~:
New Release: TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES
Truth and Consequences by Linda Winfree
For undercover FBI agent Jason Harding, coming face to face with the grown-up version of his adolescent dreams is a nightmare. Kathleen Palmer sees him as a despicably corrupt small-town law officer and a murder suspect. Trapped in a web of his own making, he must see his mission through to the end and bring down the crooked cops who’ve run Haynes County for decades. To do so, he must betray the only family he’s ever known and fight his growing love for Kathleen, a relationship that could get one, or both of them, killed.
Determined to uncover the truth, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Kathleen struggles with her attraction to the one person who’s awakened her since she buried her heart and emotions in her son’s tiny grave. Listening to her heart could destroy all she has left in life – her career and reputation. When the truth about Jason’s identity surfaces, they both face unimaginable consequences: Jason may lose his life and Kathleen the man she loves.
Labels: Linda's Posts
:~: Wednesday, June 20, 2007 :~:
Want or Need?
I'm headed into my fifth year of writing. The honeymoon is over.
I've netted hundreds of rejections, endured dozens of revisions. I've been through the agent hunt, the publisher hunt, the industry research. I've studied promotion and industry trends, ridden the request-for-partial roller coaster.
For the first four years, I wanted to write. Wanted to create characters and twine plot. Wanted to cultivate unexpected twists and delve into dark moments.
During the last round of the last round of revisions on the manuscript slated to hit editor's desks in the next month or two, something changed. (Revisions will do that to you.) I went through a period of about six months where I was angry. Angry that I was burnt out, that I didn't enjoy the journey anymore. Angry that I hadn't sold. But mostly, angry that while I wasn't happy, I still found myself writing everyday. Slogging through those revisions. Blogging those blogs. Entering those contests.
Recently, I discovered the root of my frustration. I'd crossed the line from wanting to write, to needing to write. In my mind, that meant writing even if I never publish. That may not seem like a big deal to may of you, a lot of writers don't seek publication but write to express themselves or for the simple love of the art. But for me--the goal-oriented overachiever--it was a very big deal.
Since that realization, I've settled into the reality of it. I've discovered that there is nothing I can do. Writing is a big part of how I process life and how I view the world. Writing is my daily catharsis, and while some days are more satisfying than others, I've discovered that whether I like it or not, writing is something I need to do.
And once again, I find myself wanting to write.
Do you write because you want to or because you need to?
Labels: Joan's posts
:~: Tuesday, June 19, 2007 :~:
Teaching Spelling Early
That isn't really what got me thinking, though I have noticed that my kids' work is always corrected in blue. What I noticed that had me nodding my head was the part about spelling, and how the kids get points on tests just for getting the sounds of the word right, even if the spelling isn't correct. Ugh. Maybe this bothers me more since I tend to be pretty picky with spelling and grammar, but when I was in elementary school (which wasn't really that long ago *grin*) we were taught from the very beginning that the only way to get the word correct on a spelling test was to spell the word correctly.
My daughter had a second grade teacher who encouraged creative spelling, as she called it. I'm all for that--the kids are trying, and they're learning to sound out the words and attempt to spell them on their own--but I think it would have been more helpful to the kids if the teacher wrote the correct spelling next to the word so they could learn the correct spelling for next time. My daughter is now going into fifth grade in the fall, and she still struggles with spelling, not just on tests but as she writes every day. If she'd been taught early on that correct spelling was important, maybe this wouldn't be an issue for her now.
What do you think? Do you think it hurts kids to wait until they get older to start teaching correct spelling?
:~: Monday, June 18, 2007 :~:
Bizarre Research Questions
So because I'm procrastinating this morning, I thought I'd share a list of my bizarre research questions that still need to be answered:
1. What on earth do you call a mall in Egypt? Do they have malls? Or are they market places?
2. What would one keep in a garage apartment that might possibly be combustible?
3. What does Northern Pennsylvania really look like? I've been there several times, but who was paying attention to the details back then? I never intended to set part of any book there at the time, it just happened.
4. How long can one really spend outside in a blizzard without literally freezing their ass off?
5. If it snowed in Northern Pennsylvania, would it snow in the Philadelphia area too? What are the weather patterns like back there?
6. When you get a lap dance in a strip club, do you pay before or after the dance? (My husband offered to take me to research this one. Surprised?)
(By the way, if any of you know the answers to these questions, I'm all ears.)
That's just a small sampling. I have a lot more, mostly specific street names and neighborhood locations in Philadelphia. The DH - who has been to Philly more times than I can count for work - was supposed to help with this part, but he's clueless when it comes to all things direction-oriented, so I'm on my own. And it's a lot of research that seriously slows a writer down, so I'm planning do spruce all of that up at the end.
What weird research questions are you looking up for your wip? And what kind of research points MUST you do before you write?
Labels: Elisabeth's Posts
:~: Friday, June 15, 2007 :~:
How I Learned to Love Editing
I have discovered that the editing process never ends -- I have an Editor Goddess who wants the book as perfect as possible, a trait I adore, and that means I do several rounds of edits before the final copy goes to the publisher. That's just the way it should be, I think.
Truth and Consequences saw a total of six rounds of edits.
I'm already working on my edits for my September and December releases. (And I have an idea of what my editor-requested changes will be for my 2008 releases).
That means I'm faced daily with the stupid mistakes I made that I didn't catch on mulitple readings/polishings. It kills me.
But there's a good side. Now that I've got edits under my belt on two books, I kinda/sorta know what not to do in my future books. I'm applying that to the WIP. I know my characters SMILE a lot. (They're a happy lot, obviously). I apparently love the word AGAIN. There's quite a bit of QUIRKING of EYEBROWS. I've learned that subtle action/reaction can work better than in-your-face internals (Joan is probably ready to slap me right now, as often as I wrote "need internals here" when I was critting something of hers). I've learned that when I write my working synopsis, I need to make a copy for me that includes a timeline -- which events happen on which day. And I need to refer to that while writing.
With the big picture revisions I'm making to HOL and HOTM based on my editor's suggestions (and I like how she suggests things -- it's not a "do this" -- it's "I see a problem with this" and I get to figure out how to fix that. I still maintain creative control to a point.), I'm learning to better move a story forward with the characters' emotions, so there's more of an arc rather than a continual push-pull that really just ends up in a circle.
So although I might groan when I send off a round of edits and get another one back almost immediately, I'm loving the editing process.
Because I'm loving the writer it's making me.
What lessons have made you a better writer?
Labels: Linda's Posts
:~: Thursday, June 14, 2007 :~:
Review: LEARNING CHARITY by Summer Devon
In the short story "Learning Charity," Summer Devon (a.k.a. Kate Rothwell) certainly delivers.
Eliot Stevens is my kind of hero -- an upstart American traveling in London, he's a self-made man with still a few rough edges. Eliot obviously enjoys a challenge (it's there from the first page) and his newest challenge is finding a respectable society girl to be his wife. Events I won't divulge lead him to a London brothel where he meets Cherry, the working psuedonym of Charity Vincent, a well-bred English girl driven by circumstances to a life of prostitution.
Charity is my kind of heroine. She isn't the cliched "happy hooker with a heart of gold." She despises what she has to do to survive and has created the Cherry persona to help her deal. Inside, she has a strength that I don't think even she is aware of.
But Eliot is.
The story's setting involves mere hours. In those hours, Eliot seeks to learn how to approach a lady, how to interact with her, how to woo and win her. Devon makes it obvious Eliot is the right woman's dream -- he's teasing and funny, innately respectful, and the way he gentles Charity when she is tense, frightened or angry is swoon-material. Watching Charity come alive as a woman under Eliot's influence is pretty swoon-inducing, too.
In terms of style, Devon is a straight-forward writer, but there are absolute gems in her subtle use of metaphor. (The whisper-scream one of desire had me stopping and re-reading with a "wow.") There were a couple of rough transitions, where I stumbled and had to reread, but overall the story flows smoothly and quickly, just as a short read should.
And if Devon had me with her first line (love it!), she really had me with her ending. As mentioned above, I like a not-the-normal HEA. I dislike stories where the hero/heroine know one another a few hours and are trading "I love you's." Instead, Devon delivers with a proposal to die for and a heroine's realization that's even better. I was left with the feeling that Eliot and Charity will lead a long, happy, adventurous life -- just as it should be.
For more on the book (including a gander at Scott Carpenter's fabulous cover art) and an excerpt, visit Samhain Publishing.
:~: Wednesday, June 13, 2007 :~:
Imagine, if you will…
How would your life change?
Depending on your perspective, that might seem huge—it does to me—but let’s break it down.
From what I understand, advances are typically paid out in thirds as edits are completed and approved. So, you’re not going to get all that money at once. You’ll get it over, say, the course of a year or more.
Now, think about taxes. As a writer, you are considered self-employed. Lucky you, you get nailed with a few extra taxes—self-employment taxes. As a ballpark, let’s say that hundred grand puts you into the 30% tax bracket, and your self-employment taxes for that bracket run at about 15% (I’m taking these rough numbers from a previous year of my own taxes several years ago.).
You’re 100K, just shot down to 65K, doled out over the course of a year or two.
(Of course there are deductions you can employ, shelters you can find to cut down on the amount of taxes you pay, but we’re just playing with numbers here.)
So, here you are with new pressures and time constraints—revisions, edits, promotion, web site maintenance, blogs, fan mail, speaker requests, etc. You have no guarantee for future book deals. At this point, you have no idea how much $ or time your publisher will invest in promotion or how well your book will sell.
The big question: Do you quit your day job?
The answer is as unique as each individual’s circumstances.
For me, quitting the day job is tricky. My job depends on skills which wither when not utilized. Without working consistently, I could see how it would be difficult to find another job if I suddenly needed to go back.
That said, I currently only work part-time, and my income is negligible compared to the $100K (which I would reduce the hell out of via deductions to pay the least possible amount of taxes).
This is what I would probably do:
- Work the day job only on an emergency need basis (regular girl calls in sick, etc.)
- Hire a housekeeper
- Buy those prepared meals to stick in my freezer to feed my family.
- Employ the skills of a personal coach (at least temporarily) to get myself on track.
(Home-based self-employment is a lot harder to manage than it sounds—I’ve done it before.)
- Focus on perfecting craft and storytelling, honing brand and marketing skills in hopes of keeping book deals coming.
Now tell me – how would your life change with a $100K three-book deal? Or how has it changed since you've sold?
Labels: Joan's posts
:~: Tuesday, June 12, 2007 :~:
Not long after I started writing, I took over what used to be the kids' playroom and made myself an office. It doesn't have a door anymore (we took a wall down to make the kitchen bigger), but it's in a private area off the kitchen so I have peace and quiet to work when I need it. The room itself is 7"x25", and I use about half that for my office area.
My necessities for when I'm working:
1. My to-do list: If I don't write down what needs to be done--and keep it in a place I can see it--I tend to forget and end up scrambling to get things finished at the last minute.
2. A Post It storyboard--this is for a story I've been working on revising off and on, and the storyboard helped me see what was lacking and what I had too much of. Once I finish the revisions, the storyboard will come down, but it's probably going to be there for a good, long while. :grin:
3. My desk organizer--lots of index cards for notes during editing, Post Its, pens and pencils so everything is within easy reach.
4. Hand lotion--I use this all the time when I'm writing, especially in the winter.
5. Since most of my writing lately is done at night, I've had to bring in a second lamp so I can see what I'm doing once it gets dark.
7. (Yeah, I know there's no 6. I labeled this when I was tired and miscounted. LOL) The mini-phone book with all the restaurant menus in it, so I can order takeout without ever having to leave my chair.
8. Scrap paper for plot and character notes, which inevitably later become bookmarks.
9. Hair clips and elastics--I can't deal with my hair in my face while I'm working.
10. My stapler that the mini-diva keeps stealing for art projects.
11. Index cards, which I use a lot of to make note of what needs to be changed as I'm editing.
12. A picture of the mini-diva when she was a baby. She put it there herself, telling me it would make me think of her whenever I looked at it.
13. A painting of the ocean in Gloucester, not far from where I lived when I was younger. I don't know why, but for some reason it gives me inspiration.
14. The only type of monitor that will fit on my narrow desk. It was a Christmas present a few years ago, and it definitely gets a lot of use.
What is your office space like? What do you keep on your desk when you're writing?
Okay, I couldn't post a picture in the comments, so I'm hijacking Dawn's blog to show you the opposite of her office space--my office space.
1) Flat panel TV my DH got as a party favor from his last union golf tournament.
2) Storage for junk I don't need (and don't even know what's in there).3) Pictures of the loved ones I see all day, every day, just in case they're acting their age and I need to remember how cute they were when they were little.
4) My certificate for finalling in the 2006 RWA GH, that's my inspiration.
5) Pictures/crafts created by the little darlings.
6) Envelopes -- 500 of them -- that should last until I'm 88.7) Bills I should have paid before I left, but didn't, and lots of junk that should be in the bathroom, but only made it as far as my desk.
8) Phone - the cheapest piece of crap you can buy with a cord that instantly tangles and stretches 4" max so you find yourself bent over while talking.9) A cute little crap holder - the little sister to #2.
10) Paper that has been printed on one side--I use this for printing out mss for editing purposes...I'm recycling!
11) Regular paper. I buy it by the case.12) Two more shelves of miscellaneous stuff...brothers to #2 and #9.
13) Oh, look at that...more bills I didn't pay before I left.14) World's most tempermental POS printer.
15) Makeshift lighting so I can doctor the tempermental POS printer -- just about everyday.
Maybe we can get Linda and Elisabeth to post pics of their writing spaces!! What do you say, girls?***
Well, I'm not as talented as J and Elisa, so there are no fancy numbers, but I'll give it a go.
Voila. My office.Bwahahahahaha....
Surely I jest. (And no, my name isn't Shirley)
Actually, that's the office I want. *sigh* Right now my office is the dining room table. I'm trying to talk the DH into transforming our dining room into my office (see above) and moving the table to another location in the house which would actually be a better spot for it. We might actually use it as a table then. We're still in negotiations. If my book ever sells though, this is going to be my celebratory purchase.
Labels: Elisa's Posts
:~: Monday, June 11, 2007 :~:
Drive By Posting
So how do you handle comments from others about what you write? And I'm going to leave you with a quote from the book I'm reading now. Yes, it's a romance (RS, actually) and I think this passage sums up how I feel about romance in today's fiction.
It comes from Angels Fall, Nora Roberts' latest paperback release. A woman who, in my opinion, so eloquently knows how to say what most romance writers think. In the passage, the hero, a writer, is telling the heroine about the characters in his latest book. She (the heroine) is a chef:
"I started your book." She lifted her gaze to his as she spoke, and his heart took one, quick lurch.
The woman had a pair of eyes on her.
"How's that going for you?"
"I like it." She came around the counter to sit beside him, spread her napkin on her lap. "It's scary, and that's good. It takes my mind off my own nerves. I like Jack - he's such a screwup. Hope he doesn't end up in that grave. Plus, I think Leah can straighten him out."
"Is that what women are supposed to do? Straighten men out?"
"People are supposed to straighten people out, when they can, and if they care enough. She cares for him. So I hope they end up together."
"Happily ever after?"
"If justice doesn't triumph and love doesn't make the circle in entertainment fiction, what's the point? Real life sucks too often."
"Happily ever after doesn't win Pulitzers."
She pursed her lips as she studied him. "Is that what you're after?"
"If it was, I'd still be working for the Trib. Cooking pot roast over a diner in Wyoming, or flipping buffalo burgers in that diner, isn't going to win you whatever the epicurean equivalent of the Pulitzer might be."
"I thought I wanted that once, too. Important awards, acknowledgment. I'd rather cook pot roast..."
Kinda says it all about why romance writers write romance, and why so many people buy and read them. I'd rather cook pot roast too. What do you think?
Labels: Elisabeth's Posts
:~: Thursday, June 07, 2007 :~:
The Poolhouse - Part II
She knows guys like him. Hell, she'd fallen for one.
One . . . one . . . Damn, she can see his face. Blond hair, gray eyes. Why can't she think of his name?
Vince's gaze sweeps the length of her body, from the tips of her grungy sneakers, up her worn denim jeans, hovers - just long enough to make heat rush to her cheeks - on her breasts covered by the white tee, then grazes over her face. There's approval in his eyes. A hint of mischief. She forgets about the blond no-name in her head, focuses solely on the sex-god in front of her.
He steps forward, reaches for the box still clenched between her hands. "Pretty thing like you doesn't need that." He sets the box on a nearby table, takes her hand, leads her toward another box across the patio that seems to have magically appeared out of nowhere. "Now this," he opens the lid, pulls out a pink crochet string bikini with matching sarong, "looks like it'd fit you much better."
Kat's mouth falls open. She stares at the scraps of fabric. Can't really recall what she's doing here or why she feels like protesting. "I . . . I don't wear pink."
"Honey, with your coloring," he brushes his fingertips over her cheekbone, "you would look perfect in this."
She should say no. There's something - someone - on the edge of her mind, but she can't put a name with the face. She should say no because . . .
Her brow lowers. Confused, she takes the suit from . . . Vince? Is that his name? Yeah. That's it. Sexy Vince. She turns to look at the others. Caitlin's rolling her eyes. Angie and Paige and Cassie are all staring at the man next to her like he's Adonis.
Maybe he is.
"I know what you're doing," Caitlin says. "It won't work."
Vince's eyes flick from Kat, to Paige, to Cassie, still holding the cobalt blue bikini she'd found in her room loosely between her fingers. "Oh, little sis of mine, it's already working." He clucks his tongue, lets his gaze hover on Cassie's long legs. "Damn, you women are enough to make me consider hero status. Of course, my series would have to be something along the lines of James Bond." He shakes his head, shoots Angie a sexy come-get-me-grin. "I just can't imagine riding only one woman for the rest of my life."
Angie lets out a yearning sigh. Cassie runs her hand up her neck and mutters, "Oh, my." Kat seriously considers taking that ride herself, extended trip or not.
Caitlin pushes up from the chaise with an irritated exhale and snaps her fingers. "Ladies. Snap out of it! The dark hormone over there is working you."
"Oh," Cassie says on groan. "But I really need a workout."
"God, help me," Cait mutters as she looks up to the sky.
Vince steps forward, pulls each of the women to their feet in turn. "Don't listen to her, girls. She's just jealous. Tell you what. Take your pick. There's something in this box for each of you. Change, then come back out. The party's just about to get started." With a soft chuckle, he heads for the bar.
As the women start to move off the patio, he looks toward his sister as he pours himself a scotch. "There's even something in there for you, sister mine."
Caitlin crosses her arms over her chest. "I don't want whatever it is. I know what you're doing. It won't work. Yeah, you've got these girls all in a sexual frenzy right now, but they'll wise up soon enough. You can't make them forget their heroes forever."
He lifts the glass, takes a long swallow. Ice clinks in the bottom as he sets it back on the counter. "Ten bucks says I can. And I can make you forget him too."
Caitlin drops her arms. "Vince, don't meddle in-"
He chuckles, looks toward the end of the patio as footsteps approach. "Well, what do you know. Help's already arrived." He looks back at her. "Fifteen minutes and Tick Calvert will be nothing but a vague recollection for you. Guaranteed."
"I should kill you." Caitlin narrows her eyes at him. "I know a lot of ways to do that."
"You love me too much."
"Don't bet on it, Vinnie-boy."
The footsteps grow closer and she glances toward the steps. "Oh, my God," she groaned. "Him?"
Vince slants her a look. "Caitlin, dramatics are not becoming."
She quirks an eyebrow at him. "Neither is manipulation."
He refills his glass, extends the bottle in the direction of the newcomer. "A drink, Dr. McClane?"
Ethan shakes his head. "No, thank you." He's still not sure why he's here. He should be off in Happyland, living ever after with Sam. Not on some incredible island caught in the middle of what looks like a brewing battle of wills of epic proportions. He glances in Caitlin's direction and inclines his head. "Agent."
She returns the gesture with a cool smile. "Doctor."
"Now that the niceties are out of the way, can we get down to business?" Vince drains his glass and sets it aside. He adjusts his cufflinks, a devilish smile gracing his face. "I have . . . plans."
"What you have are serious issues." Caitlin points at Ethan. "Good thing you called him. You definitely need his services."
Ethan spreads his hands. "Would someone like to tell me what's going on here?"
"He's interfering in my life again. Or trying to." She crosses her arms, quirks one eyebrow and smirks. "He probably wants you to give me a hypnotic suggestion or something equally ridiculous."
Vince smiles at Ethan, the expression beatific and angelic. "Make her forget the farmboy cop and I'll make it worth your while."
Caitlin laughs. "Give him a conscience and I'll double the money."
Ethan glances between them and sighs.
Before he can speak, once more footsteps whisper up the steps.
"Precious?" The voice is a deep, dark Southern drawl.
Vince rolls his eyes on a groan. Caitlin whirls, a smile breaking over her face. "Tick!"
He stops at the top step and she rushes to meet him, turning her face up for his kiss. Tick shoots Vince a look over her shoulder. "Foiled again, huh, Vinnie?"
"That's a villain's line, farmboy." Vince straightens his cuffs. "I'm not a villain."
Caitlin draws Tick's attention back to her. "Does this mean . . ."
"Yes. She typed the last sentence this afternoon." He kisses her again, a wild joy visibly vibrating in him.
Caitlin pulls back to study him. "Have you been drinking?"
He waves a dismissive hand. "Couple of shots during a poker game."
The other women enter, giggling and complimenting one another on the scandalous swimsuits they're wearing. His eyes widen. "Holy hell. Just what's been going on around here?"
Labels: The Poolhouse
:~: Tuesday, June 05, 2007 :~:
The Poolhouse, Part One
And a villa poolhouse to die for.
Plus, they have nicer manners.
Caitlin gives the flowers a quick adjustment in their crystal vase. The table looks perfect, except for . . .
"Hey, Ange, bring out that little bowl of lime slices and mint leaves, would you?"
"Sure." Angie's voice, with its lingering New Jersey accent, carries from the house. Caitlin wanders to the edge of the lanai, the breeze playing with the gauzy tiered skirt she'd paired with her paisley tankini. She's tired, as if she's recently been embroiled in a grueling investigation.
She frowns. That's not all, either. She feels... different.
Not real sure she likes this, either.
Angie steps through the french doors and sets the tiny bowl on the snowy white tablecloth. Caitlin glances around at her. The sportier bikini with its belted swimskirt suits Angie's no-nonsense personality. God, she hopes Fish wises up soon. If anyone deserves an HEA, it's Angie.
"I'm telling you, Cait, worst damn blind date of my life. He was obviously not interested, couldn't focus on the conversation, kept calling me by the wrong name. You're welcome to him."
Footsteps whisper on the wide steps leading the lanai. Both Caitlin and Angie turn to watch the three brunettes approaching. They are disparate as could be -- one petite and blue-eyed, one tall with short curly hair, the last slender with the most beautiful amber eyes.
Caitlin nods at the last woman. At this point, she's taken charge of the trio; it's obvious. The other two women are nervous, gazes darting everywhere. They're ready to run; it's obvious.
Pulling up her best hostess smile, the one she patterned after her grandmother's, Caitlin steps forward. "Ladies, welcome. Would you like to freshen up before we eat?"
"First things first. I think we could all use a drink."
Cassie offers her hand to the woman who'd welcomed them. A kindred spirit to be sure--independent, strong, intelligent, used to being in charge. Cassie respected her immediately.
"I'm Cassie." She gestures to her right, to the woman with the most beautiful eyes she's ever seen, but also full of suspicion. Cassie knows the look. "Paige." And to her left, another strong, smart woman, her dark eyes clever and watchful. Cassie would stay on her toes around both of them. "And this is Kat."
"A drink," Kat says, "Definitely." Her gaze skips around the pool house the same way Cassie had seen Rio case Hussongs, the bar he frequents. But Kat is no cop, Cassie's sure of that much.
Cait smiles and Cassie is struck by the transformation--professional and confident to mischievous and stunning. "I can tell we'll get along just fine, even if our heros are down there in a damn pissing contest."
She turns toward the bar on the opposite side of the well-appointed living room and her pretty skirt billows. Cassie brushes at her own jean shorts, wishing she'd had a little more notice before being plucked out of her novel. She could have worn something a little more appropriate.
"This is Angie." Cait's hand sweeps gracefully to another gal in a darling little skirted swimsuit. "She's made up a batch of killer cosmos."
"I'd rather have a beer if you've got one," Kat says moving deeper into the room, hugging her elbows.
"You got it." Angie pulls a Corona from the fridge, pops the top and hands it to Kat.
Cait pours a raspberry colored drink into a cocktail glass.
"Can you add an extra splash of vodka for me?" Cassie asks.
A conspiratorial smile lights Cait's eyes. "Rough trip?"
"Are you kidding?" Cassie takes a long deep drink, savors the tang of cranberry and the bite of vodka. "She's been dinking around with this latest round of revisions for about a month already. The last episode cut deep and went on for eight months. Before that... Oh, you don't want to know."
Another sip and Cassie's body warms nicely, tension eases. "No offense, but you look a little like I feel after I've been on duty in the E.R. two days straight. I'd bet you're under some heavy duty revisions, too. And these two gals are as jittery as June bugs, which makes me guess they're still in the initial stages--maybe in creation or first round revisions." She tips her glass toward Angie. "Now you, little missy, I can't read."
Paige tests a smile, feeling the tension ease for the first time in too long to remember. "Creation," she says. "But just barely. She wrote the first couple of scenes, but then left me with blood on my hands--literally--locked in a windowless room."
Now the smile grows. Fitting that Christian was now locked away in some basement. Served him right for locking her away without any form of explanation. This is so much better than any form of revenge she might have come up with herself. "Anyway, she's stuck on the first chapter. I don't know when she'll get moving again."
Though this isn't such a bad place to be stuck. Not bad at all. More of the tension seeps from her shoulders. She glances down at her hands. They're clean. Thank God for that.
Kat stares at the group of women, chatting and drinking like they're already old friends. She grips the bottle of beer in one hand, tugs on her elbow with the other. Tight. She doesn't fit in here.
Big whoop. Story of her life.
The one in the flitty skirt is passing out hors d'oeuvres now. Kat watches as the woman with the pretty blue eyes - Paige? - reaches for a crab puff. Caitlin smiles, glances around the group, moves to refill glasses.
The perfect hostess. Yet there's something off with her. Watchful. Wary. And the looks she's sending Kat make the hair on Kat's neck prickle.
The woman has to be a cop. It's in her eyes. Kat watches her body language. The way she has command over the group, the area, the situation. Maybe a Fed. That might prove to be a good thing, Kat thinks. Then she remembers what happened in the park.
No. Definitely not a good thing.
She takes a step away from Caitlin, closer to a chaise lounge. "So, not to be a party pooper or anything, but how does this work? I mean. How long will we be here?"
The one in the stylish swimskirt quirks a brow. "Anxious to get back to your hero?"
"No. God, no." Kat sits on the blue striped cushion. Runs a hand through her short, messy hair. For a minute wishes she could be as stylish as the other women here, then figures she doesn't really care. There are more important things to worry about.
She glances around the poolhouse. Gretian columns encircle the crystal blue water. A mountain of rock and stone form a waterfall that spills into the far end of the pool. Soft, summer grass fans out, bordered by towering pines swaying in the soft breeze. It's peaceful. Serene. But way too open. And tight. She swallows hard. "I just don't like being confined anywhere."
Caitlin crosses the stone patio and sits on the chaise next to her. A small circular table with a wide, open umbrella blocks them from the warm sun. "A little claustrophobic, are you?"
Kat looks into her dark eyes. Careful not to back down. She's okay. She's fine. She can talk to a Fed and not freak out. "No. Just ready to go back. I have things I need to do."
Like run. This whole poolhouse thing was just getting in the way of her escape plans.
Caitlin eases back on the chaise, stretches her long legs out. "I'm not sure. It's up to Them." She casts a knowing look Kat's way. "Judging from how our boys are acting though, it could be a while."
Great. Kat lifts the bottle to her lips and takes a long pull. This had the makings of a long day.
"Since we've got a while," Cait says. "Why don't you each tell me what your heroes did to get tossed in the Basement with Tick?"
Cassie let the last of her second double cosmo slide down her throat. "God, I needed this. I'm telling you, between Rio's intensity and Her stressful life, it's a wonder we're this close to our HEA."
She sets the cocktail glass on the glass table at her side with a clink.
"Man, that water looks good," she says, squinting against the sun. "This place is a haven. I feel like we should all be wrapped in crisp white sheets with gold belts, floating on clouds. A very Goddess-like setting."
She glances around, sizes up the other girls. "Cait, you look about my size. Have an extra swimsuit I could borrow. Swimming always helps me beat the stress."
"I'll get you a suit if you answer my question. Rio's your HEA, right? What did the boy do to tick Her off?" Cait grins. "He's hunky, by the way. But if you tell Tick I said that I'll handcuff you to the bar."
Cassie laughs and relaxes against the chaise, enjoying the warm breeze across her face. She didn't know what The Basement was like, but she was pretty damn sure it didn't even come close to this.
"Yeah," Kat says with a sly look in her eye. "What about those handcuffs? I heard a rumor--"
"One at a time," Cait cuts in, color striking her high cheekbones. "Let Cassie finish."
Kat rolls her eyes, opens her mouth to argue, Cassie guesses by her expression.
Angie laughs. "Don't you worry, Kat. We'll get that story out of her before we leave."
Satisfied, Kat settles back. "Sorry, Cassie. Go ahead."
"Nahvae wants the ending changed. She thinks its too complicated as it stands, wants the CIA thread and the ICE thread separated." She opens her eyes and glances around to find all eyes on her. "But, Rio...well, that ending puts him front and center of attention. The epitome of knight in shining armor as he saves my life and gets shot in the process. You know," she waves a hand, "the whole sacrificial hero thing."
Angie nods, her gaze distant over the pool. "I know that syndrome too well. Those guys can be such asses."
"What do we need them for anyway?" Paige's soft voice draws everyone's attention.
"We don't," Kat says. "They need us."
They all lift their drinks in saluted agreement.
"Okay, Cait," Cassie says. "Your extra suit?"
"Don't have one." She laughs, a light tinkling sound. "But I believe She left one for you in your room. Although, I doubt its the kind you can swim laps in."
Caitlin closes her eyes and listens to Cassie scurrying off in excitement to see what gifts lay inside her room.
Next to her, Kat is a humming, seething bundle of nerves. Caitlin can sense it, realizes the heroine has already pegged her for law enforcement. Definitely a story there, but the other woman hasn't figured out yet that at this point, Caitlin's probably the least of her worries.
And she has other things on her mind. She wonders if it happens to the others, if they get the flashes and snippets of what's going on in the author's mind, on the page. Those glimpses have been haunting her all morning and the connection she's always had to Tick Calvert is tugging at her differently.
All combined with the enforced vacation, it's seriously making her edgy.
"Are you all right?" It's Paige, the one with the gorgeous blue eyes. Her voice is soft, and when Caitlin opens her own eyes, Paige is watching her a steady, knowing gaze.
Caitlin's not sure yet, but somehow it seems Paige can see inside her...? Is that possible? Or is she just imagining things?
"I'm fine." Caitlin swings her feet to the floor, sitting up opposite Kat.
Kat casts her a glance, smirks a little, lifts her beer bottle once more. "Sure you are."
Desperate to change the subject, Caitlin glances between them. "So who's next? Paige, what's up with your hero?"
Cassie's face burns as she walks back out on the patio. "Excuse me, but I want to know who the hell my muse is. She or he or it is sure as heck not my author because my author would never have left these in my room."
First she holds up a cobalt blue bikini. "This doesn't even enter the "string" category." She grips the ties and shakes them at the other women. "Dental floss maybe."
Angie snickers. Cait laughs. Paige grins. Kat tips her head in consideration. "You've got the body for it."
"That's sweet, Kat. But believe me, I won't be stuffing myself into this unless I have another three pitchers of cosmos."
Cassie drops her arm holding the suit out and closes her eyes on a huff. "And this. Oh, my God. I can't even look at it. I mean, I know what it is, but what the hell you'd do with it and why on earth you'd want to is completely beyond me."
Opening her eyes, face a hundred and six degrees, Cassie thrusts out the rectangular box. "My author knows these don't fit my character. And She swears she doesn't have a muse. So what the hell is up with these sex toys?"
Kat narrows her eyes on the box. Peers inside. Angie and Paige do the same. Paige's face turns red and she eases back against her seat. Angie lets out a rolling laugh and slaps her thigh. "Well you lucky girl."
"Lucky?" Cassie asks with wide, irritated eyes. "I have a hero. I don't need this, this . . . stuff."
Kat glances at Caitlin, still leaning back against her chaise, eyes closed, seemingly uninterested in the conversation around her. Something's up with the woman. And the worried looks Paige keeps sending her set Kat's nerves on edge. The woman - correction, the women - know something the rest of them don't.
Not her issue, Kat figures. She plans to be well out of here and on her way before anything big goes down. And besides, she's never going to see these women again, so what does she care what's bothering the Fed?
She swings one leg over each side of her chaise, the worn jeans she's wearing creasing at the hips as she stands and scoots over the chair. She reaches for the box. "Well, I don't have much of a hero. At least not one that wants me, so I'll take those if you seriously don't want them."
Cassie shoots her a disbelieving look. "Are you sure?"
Kat nods. "Trust me. It'll be the best sex I've had in longer than I can remember."
Angie lets out another hoot of laughter. "Honey, that's some hero you've got there. You need to get out more."
Kat takes the box, replaces the lid, refuses to think about Pete right now. Or what he's doing. What he's thinking. And if it's at all about her. "No kidding."
Paige's expression turns serious. "Something tells me we all might be needing that box before long."
All eyes turn her way. Silence settles over the poolhouse as her somber words drop onto each of them like a lead weight.
Caitlin finally opens her eyes and looks over at Paige. "I wasn't wrong, was I? This feeling? It's . . . happening, isn't it?"
"What?" Cassie asks. "What's happening?"
Caitlin looks from face to face, something in her eyes sad and . . . scared. Yeah, that was it, Kat realizes. The Fed is scared. "Tick and I have been together a long time. Longer than the rest of you." She fixes her gaze on Cassie. "Even you, I'd bet. We've been around and around more times than I can count, but each time, I knew how it would end, what would happen and where we'd go from here. Now . . ." She lifts her hands, drops them. "Something's wrong. I can't see what's going to happen next. Almost as if there isn't . . ."
"A HEA after all, " Angie finishes for her, eyes wide and concerned.
"Yes," Cait says, nodding. "Which means either we did something wrong, or Tick and our boys did something to seriously tick Her - Them - off."
"Oh my God," Cassie mutters, sinking onto the end of a chaise lounge. "No HEA? But . . . but . . . but Rio . . ." Her brow lowers, shock and worry darkening her eyes. "I can't picture him in my head. Why can't I picture him?"
"Because it's changing," Paige mutters. "It's all changing. That's why we were brought here. Our futures are about to change course, and there's nothing we can do to stop it."
Kat grips the box of sex toys to her chest and thinks about Pete. His blond hair, slate-gray eyes, the irritation in his expression the last time he'd looked at her. Yeah, she wanted to get away from him right now, but there was always that knowledge in the back of her mind that they would work things out at some point. But now? No HEA with him? Ever? The idea makes her stomach roll.
She senses it in the other ladies, as they each think about their heroes. Like a dark wave of smoke settling over each of them. And then, as if a wind had blown and the smoke cleared, they hear footsteps.
Kat looks over at a dark shadow coming through the trees, sunlight shining behind, making it hard to see a face. The body is male though, toned and fit and increasingly sexier the closer it gets. And the voice? A smooth rolling gate as he says, "Hello, ladies. Looks like I'm just in time."
Caitlin rolls her eyes. "Oh, no, not you. I'm so not in the mood for this."
He extends his arms. "Now what kind of greeting is that?"
"The only one you're going to get. Now go away."
"I see how this is, Angel Face." He shrugs and drops his arms. His tall form flattered by a well-cut pinstriped suit, he strolls to the buffet table and picks up a small cluster of grapes. He tosses one into the air, catches it in his mouth.
Caitlin watches him with narrowed eyes. Kat studies the body language between the two. Lots of hidden affection, a huge power struggle, and . . .
Matching green eyes. Kat nods. Siblings. Gotta be.
Paige and Cassie are watching as well. There's something arresting about him, from the too-perfect face, to the air of money and power about him, to the fact the man oozes sex. He's reminiscent of the ultimate alpha hero in a Harlequin Presents novel.
Kat shakes her head, trying to free herself of the daze he inspires so easily. Something about him tells her he's not hero material. More like heartbreak material. Any self-respecting heroine would have to be nuts to go there.
"But it would be a fun ride," Paige whispers and settles on the chaise behind her.
"Cassie." Kat reaches out, snags Cassie's hand, tugs her nearer. There's safety in numbers. And at least this isn't that hot new Amie Stuart novel, so she doesn't have to worry that the Grecian setting will inspire an old-fashioned Bacchus party, either. "Stop staring. Remember Rio."
Cassie runs the tip of her tongue over her lips. "Rio who?"
"Vince." Caitlin's voice is cold now, all of the warm hostess politeness gone. "You had something to do with this, didn't you? What did you do this time?"
He ignores her, his emerald gaze tracking over the other three women. Oh, yeah, definite Harlequin Presents material -- a lean face, hawkish nose, thick black hair, an arrogant mouth.
He catches Cassie's gaze and smiles, a definite predatory expression. "Nice swimsuit. Are you going to try it on?"
Caitlin huffs. "I asked you a question."
He waves a dismissive hand at her. His gaze falls on the box in Kat's grip and another slow smile spreads over his gorgeous face.
Labels: The Poolhouse
:~: Saturday, June 02, 2007 :~:
The Basement - Part Two
This went beyond revision hell. This ranked right up there with buckin' hay in 120 degree temps and bathing in a pool of baby vomit.
"You guys got the wrong idea here," Pete says, careful not to move too quickly so he doesn't end up with a chest full of lead. That'd seriously put a dent in his HEA. "I'm not the bad guy in this little scenario."
"Villain," The Alex Rodriguez look-alike says with a nod, business end of a Glock still aimed dead center at Pete's chest. "We call you MF's villain's."
Shock ripples through Pete. "Villain?" he sputters. "Are you out of your ever-lovin' mind? I've just spent the last twenty-four hours being drugged, kidnapped, shot at, nearly incinerated and knocked on my ass by the best damn sex in the world until She," he nods up to the ceiling, "put a halt to it, then tossed in here with you yahoos, and now you're accusing me of being a villain? Do I look like a friggin' villain to you?"
"Some villains come wrapped in neat little packages," Hollywood mutters.
Fish sits up on the couch and darts a look at the trio over his shoulder, all still unmoving with guns aimed at each other like it's the shoot-out at the OK Corral. "Hey, villain-boy. I like your style. Tell ya what, you pop choir-boy over there for me and I'll give ya a month's salary."
Hollywood's jaw tightens. "Fish, you sorry piece of--"
Rodriguez rolls his eyes. "Look, are we gonna do this or not. Because my arm's getting tired and I'm seriously losing my patience with all of you. Villain or not, I need to shoot someone."
Weird-guy steps out of the shadows again. "I sense trouble."
"Oh, for the love of God." Hollywood drops his weapon and throws his arms out. "Can't ya tell we're having a moment here?"
Just then, three pagers go off. Pete, Rodriguez and Hollywood all look down at the cell phones clipped to their waistbands.
"Crap, that's Cassie," Rodriguez says in a suddenly concerned voice.
"And Cait," Hollywood mumbles, glancing down at his belt.
They both look toward Pete.
Pete nods, confusion drawing his brows together. "Kat, too." He hesitates, figures that's gotta be some kind of sign and slowly lowers his weapon. Hollywood and Rodriguez exchange a look, then Rodriguez does the same.
Pete turns toward Weird-guy. "How in the hell do you do that?"
Fish chuckles, flops back on the couch and turns the volume up. On the screen, Gene Simmons is extolling the virtues of his tongue.
"Who the hell cares," Rodriguez grumbles. "All three of them paging us at the same time can't be good, can it?"
Tick flips his phone open. "What the hell?"
Rio peers over his shoulder and reads aloud. "T -- revised through p. 70. Complete timeline worked out. No worries -- we get to keep the cuffs." He grins and quirks an eyebrow at Tick. "The cuffs?"
A deep flush colors Tick's cheekbones. "Yeah." He frowns over the screen. "The sunrises here are great. Hopefully u won't be there long. Love, C. Sunrises? Oh, crap."
Pete is scowling at his phone. "Kat's talking about sunrises, too. What does that mean?"
Rio pulls his phone from his belt. "So is Cassie."
"They're taunting us. A sunrise is some girly drink with vodka, orange juice and cranberry juice." Tick's expression darkens. "They're having a damn luncheon, probably sitting on the porch, talking it up, while my ass is stuck down here, having to start over again. And I don't have any freakin' cigarettes."
His phone chimes again. He glares at the screen. "Tick, this is a good time to quit. C."
Fish chuckles again. "You're whipped."
"At least my HEA is talking to me. I've seen that last scene She wrote. You just got kicked to the curb, Army-boy."
Fish gives him the finger again.
Rio and Pete exchange a look. "You really think they're all together."
Christian appears from the shadows. "Paige as well?"
"I'm sure of it." Tick clips his phone on his belt, returns his 10mm to its holster. "And it looks like we're going to be here a while. Who's up for a little game of five-card stud?"
Rio watches as the bars on his cell phone fluctuate. Seems there are spots in this cellar where his Altel does work.
He types out a message to Carlos first. Where the hell are you? When the screen flashes message sent successfully, he punches Cassie's speed dial and texts, What's happening with her?
"Though you didn't get service, ICEman," Tick says from his seat at the poker table. He collects the cards and shuffles.
Creature-man shoves his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and hunches his shoulders. "There are...pockets...of good air in here. The demons can't block his signal if he's standing in a pocket of good air."
Tick stops shuffling. "Pockets?"
Rio looks up from his phone. "Good air?"
Pete edges a little closer toward the door. "Demons?"
The three men exchange a look then Rio's phone vibrates. He punches the buttons to read a text from Cassie.
She's caught up in some "brilliant" blogging idea Her CP's had. Hasn't written a word of revision all weekend. From what I can tell, She hasn't even thought about straightening out that CIA plot issue that's bugging Her. She spent all morning at a rowing class of all things, and Her DH is finally home after being gone for weeks. Might as well get comfortable, handsome. I'll enjoy a sunset for you.
Rio growls. "For the love of God. Hey, demolition-boy, got any supplies on you? I could make an explosive out of a few key ingredients."
"Don't be an idiot," Fish says without taking his eyes off the television where Gene Simmons' bandages are about to come off after plastic surgery. He pops another stale cheese puff in his mouth and crunches. "After that...episode...my first time here, She confiscates all my toys before She locks the door behind me."
This is bullshit. This might even be worth declining hero status for.
Okay. Maybe not.
Rio snaps his phone closed and glares at The Darkone. "Any magical pockets in here with a transporter capability like on Star Trek?"
As Christian mulls the question over seriously, those crazy eyes of his scan the concrete like a metal detector.
Tick scoffs and shakes his head. "Let me share a piece of advice, boys. The harder you try to get out of here, the longer her revisions will take. You're just draining her creative energy." He gestures to the table where he's dealt five hands. "What shall we wager?"
Pete eyes Hollywood. Glances at the Army dude, over to the Rodriguez look-alike, then pauses on Weird-guy. What a group of rag-tag misfits. How in the love of all things holy had he ended up locked in here with these guys?
"Well?" Hollwood asks again. "Any of you manning up?"
Rodriguez shrugs, pulls out a chair at the table. "What the hell else do we have to do in here? If I can't shoot anyone, count me in."
Fish rockets off the couch. "Yeah, man. I'm in. Prepare to lose some green, choir boy." He plops down next to Rodriguez.
Hollwood looks toward Weird-guy. "What about you?"
Weird-guy's eyes narrow with suspicion, but he slowly moves out of the shadows and takes an empty chair on the other side of Rodriguez.
"What's up with the freaky eyes, dude?" Fish asks, tipping back a cold bottle of beer as Weird-guy sits. "Are those contacts or what?" Without waiting for an answer, he leans over Rodriguez to get a better look. "Where the hell did you get them? And can you you get me a pair for Halloween? Man, I bet my CO would drop a load if I had those puppies in."
Weird-guy only shakes his head and mutters under his breath, "I am surrounded by the waste remnants from the evolutionary superhighway."
Pete chuckles and decides he might just like Weird-guy after all.
"What about you, meat?" Hollwood nods at Pete. "You in or out?"
"You're a regular ol' Jay Leno-wanna be, aren't you? Your heroine laugh at those stupid jokes? Oh wait, I bet she gets enough laughs just looking at that dumb-ass mug of yours." Smiling, Pete pulls out a chair and sits.
"Laugh it up, hotshot," Hollywood says. "You won't be laughing in a few minutes when I take all your money."
Pete eyes him. "You're a cop, right?
Hollywood pops his elbow on the green felt tabletop, twirls a chip between his fingers. "Yeah, you could say that. What of it?"
"What's so funny?"
Pete shakes his head. "My Porsche costs more than you make in a year. I'm gonna truly enjoy taking your money, cop."
Hollywood studies him, narrows his eyes and smiles himself as he picks up his cards. "Well alrighty then." He glances around the table with a twinkle in his eye. "Hotshot here's feelin' pretty cocky. What do you guys say we up the stakes?"
"What do you have in mind?" Rodriguez asks.
Hollywood winks, stands up, goes to a cupboard across the room and returns with a bottle of Wild Turkey. He sets the bottle in the middle of the table. "Oh, just a friendly little game of Truth or Drink?"
"Yeah, baby," Fish says with a huge shit-eating grin. "I'm in."
Hollywood rolls his eyes, ignores Fish's comments. "Here's how it works. Loser gets to choose. Do a shot or answer a question. Simple as that, boys. So what'ya say. Game?"
A dozen hands later, no one still wants to fold. The men lay their cards on the table.
"I sense trouble." Christian's voice is soft, a little slurred.
"Dude, you've gotta get a new tagline." Fish studies the hands displayed and crows with laughter. The three shots he'd taken to avoid any questions have him good and loose. He slaps a hand on the table, and it rocks dangerously sideways.
Pete steadies it and shakes his head. He's managed to avoid losing yet and he's stone-sober. He eyes Tick and Rio, tension snaking into his gut. The only thing worse than a room full of cops has to be a room full of tipsy cops.
Well, two tipsy cops, one half-wasted Army guy, and . . . he wasn't sure what Weird-guy was yet.
He looks down at the table, realizes why Fish is so amused and a grin quirks at his lips. Tick's lost again, with yet another pair of twos.
He nudges the bottle toward him. "Go ahead. Wimp out again."
Tick's eyes narrow, bad humor darkening his face. "Go for it, thief-boy. Ask me something."
Rio brightens, stacking his chips with fingers that are slightly unsteady. "Ask him about the cuffs."
"Some back-up you are." Tick muffles a hiccup with his fist. "We're supposed to stick together, that whole Fed brick wall. Wait . . . I forgot. You're in immigration."
Offense flares in Rio's dark eyes. "You-"
"I really sense trouble." Christian scoots his chair back a couple of inches. His eyes flicker.
"Ignore 'im." Fish waves a hand in Tick's direction. "He's not even a real Fed anymore. Goddamn county mounty with a one-pony department. His HEA makes three times what he does."
Tick smirks, lifts his beer. "Advantages to being a kept man."
Pete narrows his eyes, drums his fingers on the table. "Quit stalling. What's the answer?"
A frown pulls Tick's eyebrows downward. "What was the question again?"
"The cuffs, genius." Fish rolls his gaze toward the ceiling. "Jeezus H. What about the cuffs?"
"Oh. Those." A wide grin splits Tick's face and he spins his beer in a slow circle. Caitlin would kill him for telling this story, but what the hell? She wasn't here and what she didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Besides, she'd spilled it to that damn psychologist, psychiatrist, whatever, from Oregon. "Holy hell, that's a story."
"Out with it, farmboy." Fish folds his arms over his chest and leans back dangerously far in his chair. Christian eyes him warily and shakes his head.
A smile plays around Tick's mouth. "Cait likes . . . control. It's a big part of her makeup."
Rio chuckles. Intrigued, Pete leans forward.
"We were working together, one of those twenty-four-seven investigations, and being around her like that . . . I was about to come out of my skin."
"That's understandable. She is hot. A little on the bitchy side, but hot." Fish lifts his bottle, squints at the level of beer in it, tilts it back for a swallow. Tick glares at him and considers swiping at his chairlegs.
"Focus." Christian gives him a stern look.
Tick runs a hand over his already disheveled hair. "Anyway, we get hot and heavy in my living room floor, and I end up with my ass handcuffed to the coffee table."
Rio laughs again. "This the same one you said would kick your ass?"
Tick shrugs. "Ever heard the term 'kick-ass heroine'? It don't always mean physically, buddy."
He reaches for the cards, swipes them into a pile and begins shuffling. "Another hand?"
A round of grunts signal tacit agreement, although Rio is seriously ready to go AWOL.
He hopes he loses the next ten hands because he wants to get drunk off his ass. This halfway point only made him miss Cassie. And alcohol always made him horny as hell.
His cell vibrates. "This had better be Carlos saying he's comin' to bust me out or I'm going to rip his head off and shit in his neck."
Fish hoots. Tick chuckles. Pete scoffs. The Darkone looked scandalized. "I sense--"
Rio waves him off as he flips his phone open. "Yeah, yeah. We know--trouble."
The screen bursts to life with color--a pix message. Of Cassie. Lounging by a crystal aqua pool. In a string--make that dental floss--bikini. Skin slicked up with suntan oil, face tilted up to the sky. The caption reads, Wish you were here.
Rio's already sensitized groin fills with heat. "Oh, good God."
The words came out in a low groan that has every man's head turning toward him. Tick pauses in his deal, alert for trouble.
Throat dry, blood draining from his head to his dick, Rio snaps the phone closed. "Nothing."
Fish's hand snakes out to snatch the phone from Rio's hand. "Lemme see that."
He fumbles to get it back, but his reflexes aren't working quite right--half a dozen shots of tequila will do that--and Fish twists away. He opens the phone and punches buttons.
"Hey, asshole," Rio pushes from his chair and rounds Fish. "Give that back."
Army-man maneuvers the phone out of his reach, but Rio can see Cassie in all her gorgeous glory filling the screen. Fish lets out a wolf whistle that bounces off the cinderblock walls. "Wowza. That's some... Those are seriously fine..." He shakes his head as if to clear it. "What the fuck did you ever do to earn a HEA like that?"
While Fish is distracted, Rio lunges, grips his wrist and twists.
Fish howls and swears, but drops the phone. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
With blurred vision and fingers not following instructions from his brain, Rio taps a text to Carlos. Get your ass over here and get me OUT!
Within seconds both Tick's and Pete's phones ring.
As the only remaining sober guy in the place, Pete watches the brawl on the floor with minimal interest and a whole lotta disgust. Army-boy'd been shootin' his mouth off for the last hour, so Pete figures it's about time someone rips him a new one. But considering the flare in Rodriguez's eyes and the fact the SOB still has that loaded Glock on him, Pete's rooting for the Army brat to take him out.
When his phone beeps, he glances down at his belt and eyes the message.
Oh, crap. Not good.
He looks at Hollywood, drunk off his ass and struggling to decipher his own message. Eyeing the cop's phone over his shoulder, Pete confirms what he'd thought upon reading his own cell's screen.
Aw, shit. This was bad.
With a frown, Pete pushes back from the table. "Yo, creature-man. Now would be the time for that famous tag line of yours."
Weird-guy tears his wobbly gaze away from the action, brow lifting in confusion. "I sense . . . trouble?"
With a capital T.
"Alex Rodriguez look-alike. You're gonna have to choke the Army brat some other time. We got problems."
Rodriguez hesitates, looks Pete's way with his hands still clamped over Army-dude's neck, but can't seem to zero in on anything. His dark eyes aren't tracking.
Pete holds up a hand. "Woohoo? Over here, Rodriguez."
Rodriguez's brow lowers, his brain in serious slow-mo and trying to catch up. "Name's not Rodriguez. It's . . ." He hesitates. Looks down at the floor. Back up again. Still can't focus. "Sanchez. No. Wait. Santana. Yeah. That's it. Santana." He lets go of Fish and drops hard onto his butt. "Man. I'm shit-faced."
Pete rolls his eyes heaven-ward. Rafe had better be figuring out a way to get him outta here. Knowing the POS though, he's probably kicked back laughing his ass off at what's happening down in this hell hole.
Shaking off the thought, Pete looks back at a confused Santana. "Like the guitarist? Oh, that's even better. You're just given me fuel to work with."
Santana stares at him like he's grown a second head.
Pete shakes his head and decides to take pity on the plowed sap. As long as the guy doesn't have his gun out, they're cool. Sort of.
"Look, guys," Pete says. "We got a problem. She just messaged me. And him too." He points at Hollywood, still sitting at the poker table, brow creased as he tries to read his own message. Okay, Rhode scholar he isn't. Maybe Fish wasn't far off on the county mounty bit.
"You're HEA's texting choir-boy?" Fish asks as he sits up and wipes the grime from the cement floor off his face.
"No, you dumbass. She. The Supreme Being. The Ruler. The Alpha and Omego and everything in between." When Fish only stares at him like he's speaking in tongues, Pete adds, "The Muse? Ring a bell, Einstein?"
Fish's brow lowers. "I know I'm wasted, but She's different for all of us, isn't She?"
Weird-guy stands, wobbles a bit, grips the table and takes a step forward. "Her texting you can't be good. What did She say?"
"That She's watching. They're all friggin' watching us make asses out of ourselves down here. That little .jpg Santana got? We're each gonna get one if we don't shape up. And our women aren't up there in thongs all alone. She - They've - got hunky secondary characters up there serving drinks to our girls."
The all stare at him, still too drunk to make connections.
"Oh for the love of God." Pete thwacks Fish on the forehead.
Fish jumps and yelps.
"Our women are getting wasted and most likely propositioned by the Chippendale dancers!," Pete says emphatically. "How many of you idiots left your HEA's sexually frustrated and horny as hell?"
Silence decends as reality sinks in. Four sets of wide eyes slowly jump from face to face.
Hollywood is the first to speak. "Holy Hell. We got serious trouble."
Tick pushes his chair back and it topples over. He paces, dragging one hand through his hair. Pete watches him, a little surprised at how quick the guy snapped to, even with all the alcohol.
"This is not good." Tick pinches the bridge of his nose.
Rio eyes him, still a little blurry. "What?"
Tick narrows his eyes, staring at the basement door. "Technically, none of us have a HEA."
"Like hell." Rio bursts into laughter. "Do you know how many times I've been through revisions. Believe me, I have a HEA."
"That's just it, buddy. Revisions." Tick glares at Pete and Fish. "Or drafting. Meaning, not finished."
"Oh, shit," Pete mumbles.
Still sitting on the floor, Fish puts his back against the couch and dangles his hands between his knees. "Oh, well. All I'm used to is Angie kicking my teeth in. Not like she was gonna text me with a photo."
Tick shoots him a look. "What is the IQ requirement for entrance into the Army, anyway?"
"Probably about what it is for the FBI," Pete deadpans. Rio chuckles.
"You don't get it, do you?" Tick throws his hands up.
"There is no end or beginning," Christian intones, although the words slur together a tad.
Tick points at him. "Exactly."
"Oh, ceee-rist." Pete shoots a glance at the door, then the ceiling. The realization is sinking in.
"This means . . ." Rio struggles to his feet. "Our girls are all single."
"Oh, yeah." Tick glares at Pete. "Got that one, hotshot? No ending, no commitment, no HEA."
"I sense . . ."
"Don't say it!" The other four men roar at Christian. He blinks and scowls.
Tick does the hand through his hair again, dark strands sticking out at all angles. "I'd bet my next pack of smokes that I know exactly whose up there. And when I finally get out of here, I'm going to kick his sorry ass."
Labels: The Basement