Thanks again for all who participated in the contest. It’s so fun seeing the creative names everyone comes up with, and I look forward to finding a spot for most of them in this new story.
Here are some of my favorites that I’ll use (but didn’t win for complex reasons): Adam Greene for the eco-terrorist. But the book has more than one such bad guy, so I’ll definitely work him in. And I loved Thistle Caruthers, but my FBI agent is a woman, so he’ll have to be a witness or suspect. Charlotte Fitzroy is a great name, and so is Preston Walker, but I’ve used that first and last name in recent stories.
And Fiona Beatrix Ingram for the FBI agent? Awesome! Thanks, Dani. My character will probably use it as her alias. We’ll see what my editor thinks and how the story progresses.
For now, I’ve picked Russell Crowder for the main eco-terrorist (aggressive tone!), and Jamie Barnes (easy for readers) for the young female FBI agent. But I used Jamie in Secrets to Die For so my editor might veto it. I’ll try to contact everyone individually, but if you don’t hear from me, please contact me and let me know which ebook you want in in which format.
And because I can’t wait, I’m posting an excerpt of the first chapter of Rules of Crime, which will be released in late February.
Saturday, January 7, 4:35 p.m.
Renee Jackson slipped out of the AA meeting a little early. She felt queasy and didn’t want to talk to anyone after it adjourned. She shouldn’t have come. The secret drinking had been going on for weeks and the meetings weren’t helping. It was time to check herself into rehab, but she couldn’t bear the thought of her daughter knowing she’d relapsed again.
Renee zipped her jacket against the cold, shuddering at the gray sky that seemed to swoop down and smother her. Christ, it was getting dark already.
Could she get away with one more shot of vodka without Ivan or anyone noticing? Probably. She kept a thermos in her car, along with a bottle of mouthwash. Her ex-husband Wade, the detective, would know as soon as she spent five minutes with him. So far she’d managed to avoid him.
She waited for the traffic to pass, then trotted across the street to her car, pumps clicking on the asphalt. She’d parked in the alley next to the vegan restaurant, not wanting anyone to see her Acura RDX near the Jesco building. Not that anyone she knew would be in the Whitaker neighborhood. If Eugene, Oregon had a slum, this would be it.
As she entered the alley, two men stepped out from behind a large dumpster. Renee took in the details in a quick painful breath. Baggy jeans, heavy jackets, and tattooed necks. Gang members.
Her heart skipped a beat. Could she make it to her car, get in, and lock the door? Or should she turn and run? She froze, paralyzed with fear. Too late to dash to her car. Renee spun and started back toward the Jesco building. She wanted to run but was afraid to, feeling like she had a predatory animal behind her that would only be excited by the chase.
Then she saw Dave, the meeting leader, hurrying across the street toward her. Thank god. A car barreled past just as he stepped onto the sidewalk.
“Renee, I wanted to talk.” He smiled but his tone was serious as he reached for her arm.
She glanced over her shoulder. The gang members turned and headed back down the alley. Had they ever been a threat? Was the alcohol making her paranoid already? It usually took years.
“I’m sorry, Dave, but I don’t have time. That’s why I left early.”
“I know you’re drinking, Renee. Can I do anything to help?”
It took every ounce of self-control she had not to burst into tears. God, she hated herself. “I’ve got it under control. Thanks, though.”
She spun and trotted to her car, unlocking it with her clicker. Guilt made the sick feeling in her gut worse. Dave was a good guy, but she wasn’t ready to talk about her drinking. Her fiancé, Ivan, was a casual drinker and she knew she had to make an impossible choice. Renee started the car and backed toward the street. In the growing darkness, she heard the rumble of an engine. Was it the thugs’ car? She peered down the alley, framed by thick shrubs on one side and the backside of the restaurant on the other. Headlights came on.
Renee glanced back at Blair Boulevard, saw no traffic, and gunned her car into the street. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dave head into the Jesco building. He glanced back at the revved sound of her car and Renee looked away. She raced to the first stoplight and grabbed the thermos of Vodka from under her car seat. After a quick sip, she shoved the metal container back. Her chest warmed and her panic subsided.
An engine rumbled behind her. Definitely not a new-model car. The same sound she’d heard in the alley. She glanced in her rearview mirror. A red low-rider, idled behind her. The driver wore a heavy dark jacket and had a shaved head. Why were they following her?
Renee jumped on the green light and sped through the intersection. To go home, she needed to turn right, cross downtown, and head south. She’d moved in with Ivan a month ago, giving up her apartment by the park to live in his plush, oversized home in the foothills. She wasn’t ready to face him, but had no idea where she was headed. Was she ready to quit drinking? Damn! How had she let herself get into this mode again? Would the cycle ever stop?
Instinctively, she drove toward the university area.
A quick glance in the rearview mirror told her the low-rider was still back there, but not directly behind her anymore. She gave a little sigh of relief. They were just going in the same direction. It happened all the time.
She kept driving, not knowing where, not making conscious decisions. Ten minutes later, she parked a half block from Serenity Lane, an in-patient rehab center for drugs and alcohol that was tucked into a quiet residential area near the campus. The site of the building made her cringe. Renee reached for the thermos and took a long slow belt of vodka. She’d never make it through the door this sober. Grabbing her phone from the seat, she started to text Katie, but couldn’t do it. Not yet. She’d call her daughter later, after she checked in.
Renee clutched her purse and stepped from the car. Would three times be the charm? Would this be her last in-patient stay? Fortunately, she ran her own publicity business now and didn’t have to explain to her boss why she needed a month off. One foot in front of the other, she forced herself to start down the sidewalk, toward the building with the glass door she knew so well.
The low-rider was suddenly there, only five feet away on the street. In the twilight, she felt, as much as saw, two guys burst from the car. Renee screamed and started to run. Her heel snapped and she stumbled. From behind, a thick hand slammed over her mouth and yanked sideways. Another pair of arms wrapped around her torso and dragged her into the back of the car.
In six seconds, she’d disappeared off the sidewalk. Had anyone witnessed it? A student bicycling to class?
The car raced forward, away from the rehab building and student housing. Renee struggled but the alcohol made her weak and the man shoved her to the floor. Strong, thick fingers dug into her flesh and quickly bound her hands and mouth with duct tape. She kicked wildly, panic driving her. She connected with a shin, and the man backhanded her across the face, a stinging blow. She choked on her cry and hot tears filled her eyes.
A knife was suddenly in his hand and her heart missed a beat. She screamed into the duct tape but only made a gurgling sound. The man cut her purse strap from her shoulder, then rummaged through her pockets until he found her cell phone. He shoved her last little hope into his jacket pocket and taped her ankles together. Oh god, what did they want with her? Panic exploded in painful shards in her lungs and she couldn’t think straight.
A few minutes later, the car star stopped in an alley between two buildings. The sun had nearly set and Renee had no idea where she was. The men dragged her from the floor of the back seat and shoved her into the trunk. They slammed down the lid and left her alone in the small dark space, trussed like an animal on its way to slaughter.
Heart pounding, all she could think was: I wish I’d finished the thermos.