Thursday, August 29, 2019

Madness ~ A Legion Novella ~ Arrives September 30, 2019

I am excited to announce Madness ~ A Legion Novella is available for preorder on all eretailer sites! The audio version will be narrated once again by D.H. Jones for Atlantis Audio, who brought the first book, Many, to life, along with Rebecca Roberts.

This novella will be the first in dual narration for any of my works and I am pumped to hear these two titans of the audio industry narrate this story!

Check out the creepy cover! (Shameless plug - yes, I designed it).

Buy links:

A huge thank you to Jeff LaFerney, editor extraordinaire, and to my beta readers ~ you know who you are and I THANK YOU for all the honest feedback.

Here is the first chapter - enjoy!


JUNE 6, 1967
11:45 P.M.

…A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel
weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children,
because there were not. ~ Jeremiah 31:15

Raye expelled a heavy white plume of smoke from her lungs with an angry huff toward the dark, evening sky. With a gaze blurred by alcohol, she followed the languid trail until it disappeared into the humid night air. Twisting her thin lips into a grimace, she sighed. The vanishing vapors perfectly symbolized her entire existence—poof! Gone. Nothing lingering behind except the faintest odor, soon to dissipate with just one burst of wind, wiping all traces of her presence away.
“Gone with the wind,” she slurred, doing her best impression of Scarlett O’Hara.
Gone, but forgotten?
The Quast family’s contributions to Hot Spring County spanned generations and were many and memorable. Unfortunately, the sparkles were paler now, overshadowed by Stevie’s deplorable actions.
It’s all your fault. You were a horrible mother. You never let Stevie grow up! I told you he wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans! I told you!
The judgmental voice of her mother rang inside her mind. It was so crisp and clear it made her cringe. On instinct, her gaze searched the abandoned house and surrounding countryside. If she believed in such things, she expected to see the ghost of her mother hovering nearby.
Bourbon-tinged breath hitched inside her throat. Just thinking her son’s name made her tremble despite the oppressive heat. A wave of fresh grief broke through the haze of hooch and nicotine. Up until tonight, she’d never been drunk in her entire life. She leaned against the rickety spindle for support until the sensation passed, focusing all her attention on listening to the ruckus of cicadas and other night critters singing in the woods bathed in moonlight.
A strange squawking noise to her right made her jump. Silver tendrils of light from the full moon illuminated a large bird flittering from the sky. It landed on a long branch next to the porch’s shambling eave. She scowled at it once, then looked away, clicking the flashlight on.
Taking another deep drag, she mentally apologized to the heavens for sinking into the murky pit full of the devil’s brew to soothe her damaged soul. The heartfelt prayer was followed by a wicked, drunken giggle. “Oh, the congregation of First Southern Baptist would be aghast at my current predicament! Ettie Louise Hildebrand would pass smooth out if she caught me—the woman behind the push to turn the county dry back in the day—drunker than Cooter Brown. Such a scandal! Oh, heavenly days! Like it matters. What’s one more dark spot on our family’s ruined tree?” 
Shaking her head to rid the foolish, inebriated thoughts away, she stood, body swaying from a burst of alcohol-induced dizziness. Gripping the worn wood of the railing, she steadied herself before climbing the last steps. She stopped inches away from the front door, clutching the heavy purse to her chest.
Why are you here, Elizabeth Rachel? You should be home mourning the dead, not out catting around like some drunken floozy! Look at you! Dirty, sweaty, holes in your stockings…and smoking! I didn’t raise you to look like gutter trash! You’re a Dalton woman! You’re supposed to command respect!—remain pious despite any painful circumstances. Instead, you’re acting like a petulant child stomping and snorting because you didn’t get your way.  
“Take five, Mother,” Raye huffed. “Go bother Daddy for a while. I’ve got things to do.”
A bitter chuckle made her shoulders bounce up and down.
She was losing the last tendrils of her sanity.
Blinking twice, she gave a final glance to the road and surrounding fields. Nothing moved. No headlights. Nothing but the lone bird watching her with black, soulless eyes from the branch.
Shining the flashlight on the porch, she took in the dilapidated structure. Most of the windows were gone, destroyed by rocks or other projectiles. Graffiti in various colors and horrible words covered the entire front of the home. Some of the words were so vile she felt violated just reading them.
Hot anger bloomed inside her chest at the lack of respect. People died here. Children were slaughtered by their own mother. This wasn’t a place to defile but rather, a place to mourn.
The anger engorged to rage, blazing through her entire body until reaching her head. She wasn’t the kind of woman prone to violence or fury in the past. She was a pragmatic note taker, planner, who had a strong head for business. No-nonsense is what Daddy always said. He’d raised her to be that way, and she’d lapped up the attention he showered on her, absorbing every nuance of his own business ethics and dealings with people until she became a pro before graduating high school.
Unfortunately, life had taken a drastic, sharp turn during the last year—and it all started inside the four walls of the house she now owned.
“What happened inside this monstrosity will define us for all eternity! Stephen James Quast, you were wooed by a seductress! Shame on you! I raised you better than to succumb to the songs of a siren! Look what she made you do! Look what she made you do!” The angry words spewed out of her mouth before she could retract them.
She slammed a dainty fist against the doorframe.
Grief at the loss of her one and only child had brought her to her knees—literally. She would never forget the all-consuming sorrow the second Sheriff Clyde Tidwell broke the news. She’d collapsed onto the porch, ears ringing from her high-pitched screams of primal pain.
The first crack in her sanity formed that terrible day.
After the sheriff popped the bubble insulating her inside the perfect world she’d created, Raye retreated into her bedroom for two days straight, locked away from everyone, including her grieving husband. She didn’t bathe, eat, sleep, change clothes, or cry. Not one tear. Instead, she curled into a tight ball on top of the bed and stared out the window, seeing nothing.
Feeling nothing.
The horrible, heartbreaking day of Stevie’s funeral widened the mental crack. It turned into a deep fissure as she unleashed her pain in the form of a loud, resounding slap! across Tidwell’s cheek after Stevie’s casket was lowered into the earth. She’d berated the old sheriff in front of a gawking crowd of stunned mourners unaccustomed to seeing her normally calm and prim self lose control. She’d screeched like an old hoot owl, flinging spittle from her lips as she cast all the blame on Clyde for not watching out for her baby boy.
“He was supposed to be safe here, Clyde! You were to take him under your wing, protect him! I did everything a mother could to keep him from being shipped over to Vietnam, and yet he died anyway! By his own hand! It’s all your fault!”
Clyde’s wide, blue eyes had looked at her with pity. He didn’t say a word in response, and the silence infuriated her into what her momma would have called a hissy fit. Her fists flew just as fast as the words born from the depths of the heart of a grieving mother. She pummeled his face, scratched his arms, and, in a final act of rage before being yanked away by her husband and Pastor Riley, balled up her fist and slammed it into his ribs, knowing they were broken.
She wanted him to hurt as much as she did, but no amount of physical pain she was capable of inflicting would even scratch the surface of her mental anguish.
The next three weeks were a blur of mishmash images after Dr. Durbin gave her a shot of something. There were vague memories of Beau at her bedside, water and pills in hand, encouraging her to take them and sleep, cooing soft words. “Rest, my love. I need you. We need each other.”
As the days stretched into weeks and months, the fissure eased back to a small break, only belching and spewing disturbing thoughts and emotions at night when her husband drifted off to sleep, clutching her hand in his own.
She thought progress was on the horizon toward acceptance her son was gone. The overwhelming yearning to hold him in her arms as though still a small boy consumed her for weeks. Eventually, she resigned herself to the fact she’d never watch her son marry, become a father, or see her husband play peek-a-boo with a new generation bearing the last name of Quast.
The hope of acceptance disappeared. The fissure exploded into a gaping crater eight months later after becoming a widow. Beau’s death obliterated any semblance of the proper southern woman, wife, mother, or friend she’d been before.
She wasn’t even close to the woman she’d been for sixty-two years.
Stevie’s suicide rained down unwanted attention, painful gossiping behind her back, pitiful stares, and awkward silence from lifelong friends. Shame and humiliation, grief and loss, coated the once lily-white interior walls of her soul with a somber gray. The only thing providing any sort of tranquility or stability in the upside-down world had been the stoic, calming presence of the man she married thirty years ago. Not even the Psalms of King David brought her any relief.
Peace and comfort evaporated like droplets of a pop-up rainstorm on the hot blacktop in the middle of summer when Beau’s bum ticker thumped for the last time. Now, the walls inside her mind were coated in ebony nothingness—a dark, ugly, unfillable void. The mental black hole sucked the remainder of light from her life.
She took another long swig from the half-empty bottle, hoping the amber liquid would help ease the stabbing pangs of grief gripping her heart.
It didn’t.
Time and many, many nights of reliving every single detail of the last twenty-nine years since she’d become a mother erased the blame she’d unfairly placed on Clyde’s shoulders. He didn’t force or encourage her boy to commit adultery with a married woman.
Or kill his co-worker.
Or pull the trigger of his own weapon directed at his temple.
“Damnit, Stevie! You ruined everything!”
Elizabeth Rachel and Beauregard Baxter Quast, III, better known throughout the community as Raye and BBQ, wouldn’t be remembered as friendly, kind-hearted folks. Nope. The couple blessed with financial success in the timber and oil field industries and keepers of the vast empire so generously passed down into BBQ’s lap from his predecessors, fell from grace.
The minimal attendance of mourners at her beloved Beau’s funeral was proof. Ever since the news broke of the horrific murders and Stevie’s confessional report hit the paper, the entire town didn’t exactly shun them, yet they certainly didn’t offer comfort or compassion either.
Her precious Stevie had ruined his reputation—the one she worked diligently to cultivate since he burst from her womb. Former Deputy Stephen Quast was famous now, his name bandied about the entire community—nay, the entire state—in whispered, hushed tones behind her back. His life story burgeoned into a legend—a tale to be spoken of by parents and pastors to remind unruly children and parishioners what happens when straying from God’s word to indulge in the lusts of the flesh.
My, so judgmental, daughter! The drunkard’s pointing fingers at other sinners. Tsk. Tsk.
Raye gritted her teeth, muttering to herself. “I said leave me alone, Mother!”
Rather than being famous as you craved, Stevie’s actions will live on in infamy. Like I always told you, be careful what you ask for because he’ll be remembered as a coward, not as the young man eager to serve his county as a respectful lawman.
“Shut up, Mother! Shut up!” Raye clamped her trembling hands over her ears.
Your one and only child—the one you said was your reason for living—is dead. I told you to have more in case one died! I told you! But no, you didn’t listen. You’ve always been such a stubborn girl. So headstrong. So insistent on your way or the highway, just like when you lobbied hard against Beau and his family to name the little twerp Stephen James Quast rather than BBQ the fourth. Stevie’s gone but certainly not forgotten. What promise the strapping boy had before you coddled him to death. Was he really worth the thirty-six hours of grueling labor so difficult you couldn’t have any other children? That boy destroyed all the contributions of past Quast and Dalton generations in one night!
Raye’s head spun. Tears raced down her cheeks. Even in death, her mother’s bitterness crossed time and space to torment her with the sharp barbs.
All because of some two-bit trollop unable to keep her legs together or know her place as a married woman. A dirty Jezebel whose sultry charms lured naïve Stevie into a wicked game, culminating into a violent volcano the night she killed her own children in cold blood. If you’d been a better mother, none of this would have happened.
A few warm tears escaped her eyes, racing down hot cheeks onto her gnarled fingers. Ignoring the imaginary conversation with her long-deceased mother, she fumbled for the key from her purse. She sniffed hard while biting her lower lip until drawing blood. The spark of pain cleansed the crazy ramblings inside her mind.
The bird squawked again. She ignored it.
Upon entering the filthy, rundown interior, she gasped. The stench of decay overwhelmed her senses. “I’m glad you accepted my offer, Clyde, and got the boy away from this evil.”
Glancing at the Omega watch on her wrist, she sighed. Long gone were the times she’d admire the sparkling pavé diamonds surrounding the edges, letting a hint of pride seep into her thoughts at the extravagant gift purchased by her beloved Beauregard for their twenty-fifth anniversary.
Material possessions were never really what drove her, though they were nice. Now, they simply seemed frivolous and a waste of good money.
“No more anniversary or birthday celebrations ever again. Ever again. Lord, how am I supposed to process that? I’d give every penny away and live in poverty dressed in rags and living down by the river in a hut to have them back. I would! Please—I’ve been faithful to you my whole life. Please, grant me this one prayer? Bring them back to me? I can’t…I just can’t…take this pain.”
Closing her eyes, she collapsed onto the dirty floor, mumbling the crazy words over and over. She willed her prayers to make it to the Lord’s throne and be granted yet knew He wouldn’t. One of her father’s favorite Bible instructions to bring up when discussing why bad things happen in the world filled her mind: Just remember, daughter, the good book says we are blessed because we are God’s children, yet while still in this world, the sun rises on the evil and the good, and the rain falls on the just and unjust.
And by God, a deluge of water had flooded her soul, washing away all traces of everything she’d ever loved in one, enormous tidal wave of pain when she read Stevie’s letter, sending her straight into madness.


I am currently working on the third novella in the series, Mayhem. Below is the cover:

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

2019 Independent Audio Award Winner - Best Female Narrator, Andrea Emmes

2019 has been an incredibly busy year for me and I can't believe I haven't posted on my blog since February!

The biggest news is that Andrea Emmes won the 2019 Independent Audio Award for Best Female Narrator for Fatal Agreements! It was such an honor to sit by her side and walk up to the podium when she accepted the award at the HearNow Festival in Kansas City.

To commemorate this wonderful achievement, I updated the cover. Isn't it grand?

My heartfelt thanks to all the judges for recognizing Andrea's amazing talent!

My current WIP will be several novellas, each tying to the other, in the Legion series. After reading The Days of Noah and The Days of Elijah by the incredibly gifted writer, Mark Goodwin, I felt the pull to get back to my Christian roots and write about the spirits and principalities all around us and how they intertwine in our lives.

The first book, Many, will be available before September in both ebook and audio only, narrated by the uber-talented D.H. Jones for Atlantis Audio.

Want a sneak peek at the second book, Madness? Sure thing!

I can't WAIT for you to read/listen to these books!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Book Launch Party + MAJOR Giveaways!

To celebrate the upcoming release of Surviving Doodahville, I am hosting an event here on my blog and on Facebook - click here to join! The contest officially begins February 27, 2019 and ends May 4, 2019. Surviving Doodahville releases May 10, 2019.

Several amazing authors graciously agreed to take part, offering a wide variety of gifts. A special thanks to each and every one of them for helping me out! The list of prizes available for individual winners include:

  • A new Kindle Fire 8 HD 
  • DVD of Foreseen, based off my novel The Lie 
  • Signed paperback copy of Moondust and Madness by NY Times bestselling author Janelle Taylor 
  • Signed paperback copy of Embers at Galdrilene by USA Today bestselling author A.D. Trosper 
  • Ebook copy of Suddenly Susan, Caught Up In Me, and Back Where I Belong by Virginia Gray
  • Signed paperback of Scream for the Camera by Colleen Connally 
  • Ebook copy of Dare the Devil, Dangerous Places and Dark Corners by Elaine Raco Chase
  • Signed paperback copy of The Healer of Guildenwood by Mary E. Calvert 
  • Signed copy of Lost and Found by Jeff LaFerney 
  • Signed copy of Compelled by USA Today bestselling author Inge-Lise Goss 
  • 3 signed print copies of Surviving Doodahville by yours truly 
  • 10 ebooks of Surviving Doodahville 
  • Ebook copy of Grade-A Stupid by A.J. Lape
  • Ebook copy of Murder and Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction by Amy Metz 
  • Signed print copy of Tails of Jaxx at the Metropolitan Opera by Joanna Lee Doster and one ebook copy 
  • Ebook copy of Fooling Around with Cinderella by Stacy Juba
  • Ebook copy of Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika
  • Ebook copy of Sideshow: A Love Story by Kris Johnston
ONE GRAND-PRIZE WINNER WILL RECEIVE A SIGNED COPY OF ALL NOVELS by me - which is a lot! (Entry requirements for Grand Prize Drawing: Preorder a copy of Surviving Doodahville and email me your receipt from Amazon to - each purchase gains 5 entries)

Please note all prizes requiring shipping are available for U.S. Residents only. Ebook prizes are open to all.

The Rafflecopter link to enter is after the last picture below and will go live on February 27, 2019.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Goodbye and Hello!

The end of 2018 (goodbye!) and beginning of 2019 (hello!) has been overwhelming for a lot of people, myself included. The daily, sometimes hourly, changes in our world make heads spin and hearts seize with fear or sorrow. Wars. Rumors of wars. Famine. Pestilence. Natural and man-made disasters. Drug addiction. Human trafficking. Political battles. Government shutdowns. Mudslinging and immoral, illegal, reprehensible behavior on both sides of the political arena. Copious amounts of information bombard us from every type of media platform. The over-stimulation is enough to turn hair gray and brains to mush.

In my case, the above pushed me away from social media. The new name should be UN-social media. Some platforms have digressed into nothing but a constant barrage of negativity. Far left or extreme right, it doesn't matter. Mud is mud and hate is hate.

The ugliness and rhetoric gave me pause when contemplating penning another book. Or another blog post. Or another tweet or comment online. A person's life is on public display now and all it takes is one wrong word or move to destroy it.

Today, I decided to push past the concern about how others perceive me or my works. Today, I embrace and celebrate the blessings from the Lord and thank Him for every milestone.

2018 ended with the completion of the film Ruined Wings. The book and movie mean so much to me. I know there are millions suffering from addiction or have a loved one who's an addict. Addiction is one of the most pressing issues we face as a society. It affects every single sector of our world. It is my fervent hope the movie touches the lives of those who watch and precipitates change. Watch it for free here and remember to share!

The other exciting news is Foreseen, based on my novel The Lie, is now available to stream on demand on Amazon for $2.99. Click here to watch.

I enjoyed helping out with the screenplays for both movies. Hearing words I wrote spoken by the talented cast members is something I will never forget.

My current work-in-progress takes us back to 1983. Surviving Doodahville is a fun romp into the past. My, how we've grown as a society from those days! Rebecca Roberts of Atlantis Audio agreed to narrate and I can't wait to hear her version of a Valley Girl!

Enjoy the first chapter of Surviving Doodahville and remember, it is:

1. An unedited draft;
2. Fiction!

“OH MY GOD, Kee! Gnarly guy was totally crushing on me! Did you see what he had on? Like, seriously, who dresses so ratched? How did he even get a job at L.A. Confidential? It’s the place to shop! He should dress to impress! His clothes looked like something my grandpa wears on the golf course. Gag me with a spoon!”

Kee Lawson rolled her eyes while taking a long slurp of her Orange Julius as the duo walked across the parking lot. The cute guy working the register had been staring at her, not Liz. There was no way she would mention the mistake to her best friend. Liz Hendricks had to be the center of attention everywhere she went, most of the time at the expense of others.

Kee thought the clothes the clerk had on were fine. Simple. Trendy. The stonewashed jeans and green Polo shirt with the collar standing up made him look preppy. Just Liz’s type. The look didn’t do a thing for Kee. She was in to bad boys clad in leather and biker boots. A dark, brooding soul with a past and anger issues, like Ken Gomez, made her knees weak and heart thump. Last year, every time he came to English or PE class, she’d turned into a tongue-tied, googly-eyed fool. The guy’s ass and abs were so muscular she dreamed about them.

She considered pointing out the similarities of store-clerk guy and Liz’s latest prey yet decided not to start a war of words. Instead, Kee pointed to the large shopping bags emblazoned with the names of every expensive store in the mall dangling from Liz’s thin. “Your parents will freak at the pool party when you strut out in such a skimpy bikini. They might kill the fun, afraid you’ll get knocked up from sperm shooting out of all the male guests’ boners.”

Liz’s dazzling grin, full of a set of blinding white, perfectly aligned teeth, made her entire face light up as she laughed.

“Wicked humor. Wicked! It’s why I hang out with you!”

“I thought we’re still friends because you like copying my homework?”

“Funny. Every popular girl needs a Brainiac sidekick and a bodyguard. I get both with you!” With practiced ease, Liz tossed a lock of thick, ebony-silk hair over her shoulder. Her sable brown eyes danced with mischief.

Liz said the words as though joking yet Kee knew the truth skimmed below the surface. She slipped on her sunglasses, watching the action from the corner of her eye. Liz was one of those girls born with the ability to make every move seem like a choreographed, sexy motion. Moves designed to turn males into pliable jellyfish. The exotic combination of a mother from El Salvador and black father created a stunning individual. Liz was drop-dead gorgeous in every way possible. Her brothers were so hot they could melt glaciers. When younger, Kee had an enormous crush on both Hendrick boys. Though they were tall and good looking, her obsession with them disappeared after she hit puberty. Both Hendricks boys were preppy types—no longer her preference. 

Whenever Kee tried to mimic Liz’s sexy movements in front of the mirror at home, she looked like she was having an arm spasm before poking herself in the eye with her thumb or pinky. The only time she had complete control over her limbs was when on the track or volleyball court or dancing alone inside her bedroom.

Unlocking the car door, Liz tossed the packages into the backseat. They slid across the slick leather, landing on the floorboard. She motioned for Kee to help her lower the top so they could soak up some sun on the way home. “My parental units appreciate the fact I take care of myself, unlike yours. I work hard to look like this. Those Jane Fonda tapes are hard! My mother spotted the suit in L.A. Confidential’s catalog. It was her idea to buy it, not mine. It’s an exact replica of the one Phoebe Cates wore in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Kee flopped into the passenger seat and laughed. Liz and her mom were so shallow. Their relationship was the polar opposite of the one Kee had with her own mother. “She’s moonlighting as your pimp now? Should I start calling her Madame Hendricks? If her next nugget of dating advice is to wrap your body around a pole, I’m going to smack you in the head until her crazy words leave your brain. You aren’t Jennifer Beales you know.”

Scowling, Liz started the black Mustang. The dual exhaust rumbled underneath them. Shooting a sideways glance at Kee, taking in her long, muscular legs, wild auburn hair and bland face devoid of makeup, she let the nasty jab slide. Kee was jealous over her looks, money, and lifestyle, and the senior year present of the convertible was green icing on the cake. “Mom knows what she’s doing. How else am I supposed to snag a rich husband? How do you think she landed my dad? She pranced her hot self in front of him at a college frat party wearing the same white bikini the blonde chick wore in that Bond movie in the Sixties. She still can fit into it, which is why Dad’s eyes wander yet he always comes home.”

Kee sucked the final traces of her drink through the straw, lips curved into a wry smile. Liz crinkled her face in disgust at the slurping noise. “Silly me. I thought love might have something to do with finding someone special to spend the rest of your life with, not lust.”

“Girl, you’re so naïve! Only the fashion styles of the Fifties made a comeback—not the lofty ideals of true love and soulmates! Those concepts only exist in those sappy books you read. This is the Eighties—money, sex, and power reign. This body is my weapon, and I intend on using it to my advantage to live the way I want.”

“Oh, ouch. Figures you can’t see the irony.”

Liz hated it when Kee acted superior. She would never admit it to anyone, yet the truth was Kee was smarter when it came to the books. Liz secretly envied her, which made her angry. The girl was a sports freak with bad eyesight. She read books for pleasure rather than skimming through CliffsNotes the night before a test like everyone else. Since she didn’t understand what Kee meant by the comment, she ignored her while backing out of the parking lot. The tires barked as she tromped on the gas pedal.

“It was a joke, girl. Get your panties out of a wad.” Kee fidgeted in the seat, wishing she’d worn jeans rather than shorts. The hot leather made her thighs burn. The car was gorgeous and sleek, yet she preferred Liz’s previous one since it had cloth seats and a non-removable top. All the wind made her worry she might pop a hard contact lens out. “You gave me shit for old-school thinking yet you’re doing the same thing! Marrying for money and relying on a man to take care of your every need. I’m not the one stuck in the past.”

Liz shrugged her shoulders as she turned onto the street. “It worked for my mother so why not for me?”

“Whatever floats your boats, I guess. Me? Well, there’s no way I’m going to find myself at the mercy of a man. I’ll have my own money; make my own way in this world. Look at Elizabeth Dole! She’s the freaking U.S. Secretary of Transportation! Sandra Day O’Conner is a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Margaret Thatcher is the leader of Britain. Sally Ride is an astronaut who went to freaking outer space! Amazing female role models abound, capable of doing the exact same things as men. We don’t have to rely on them for survival. Women can do anything now. We aren’t tethered to roles of the past anymore! The sky’s the limit!”

“I want a man with no limits—especially in the credit card department—and the bedroom.”

Kee rolled her eyes. “Bad idea, Liz. If a relationship falls apart, I’ll still be standing because I’ll have an education and job to fall back on. Will you?”

Turning on the air to full blast, Liz’s cherry-red lips curved into a seductive grin as she slid on the new pair of RayBans. “You bet. Remember, my dad’s the best damned divorce attorney in Orange County. He hasn’t lost a case yet, and his clients are strangers. Imagine what he could do for his one and only daughter! You know, if your parents end up calling it quits, your mom needs to hire him. If she does, she won’t be slaving away as a secretary at the cop shop any longer and you wouldn’t have to work at a library. I mean, come on! Today’s the first day in what—since our trip to Carpenteria on the Fourth of July weekend?—you’ve had any time off to play.”

Kee sulked in the seat, mentally chiding herself for getting roped into yet another shopping excursion with Liz. The girl never worried about money to buy all the extravagant purchases. She whipped out Daddy’s credit card and signed her name without a thought or care to the amount purchased. Kee spent the last few dollars of her meager allowance and paltry paycheck on a sugary drink her track coach would freak if he caught her guzzling. She’d be forced to run the bleachers for hours if he spotted her deviating from the strict diet he insisted the entire team follow. She made a mental note to run an additional mile later.

Turning down the radio even though her favorite song, Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, blared from the speakers, Liz snapped her fingers. “Earth to Kee.”


“Don’t be mad at me for pointing out the obvious.”

“I’m not mad. I’m offended, but I’m glad you turned down the radio. You know I like funk and heavy metal, not pop.”

“You’re always offended for one silly reason or another. Anyway, let’s talk about things that are actually happening not what-ifs. This party is the last one before our senior year starts. Harlan RSVP’d to my invitation. There’s no way I’m letting Shay sink her claws into him again. He got into Stanford on a full ride you know. Premed—or prelaw?—hell, I can’t remember. Pre-something-or-other.”

Kee groaned while thinking Like mother like daughter.

Liz wanted to get engaged straight out of high school. Harlan Kincaid, valedictorian of Los Altos High and former star point guard of the Raging Lions, was in her crosshairs. The self-appointed “Dungeon Master Extraordinaire” and former boyfriend of Shay Foster, Liz’s sworn enemy, didn’t have a clue he was being stalked. It was so strange since the boy was a lanky nerd. The duo made an odd pair.

Kee knew the thought of lifting a manicured finger made Liz cringe. The girl’s plan was to move from one mansion to another, full of enough staff members to care for her every whim, bypassing college and heading straight into wifedom. “Liz, you’re seventeen, not twenty-seven. You’re too smart to get married so young! What about college? A career? Dating a guy because you like him, not for what he can do for you and your bank account?”

“Why change the ways of the past when they’ve worked out so well for centuries?”

“Uh, because this isn’t the eighteen-hundreds?”

“Whatevs.” Liz grinned. “The concepts from back then are still true. There are only two men in this world: the ones with big brains or bulging biceps. The days of being ruled by knuckle-dragging Neanderthals are over. Jocks are fun to look at, yet they are such prima donnas! Remember when I dated Stefan?”

“Well duh! He was so hot ice melted in his presence. You were the envy of the entire school.”

“No doubt! I still get worked up when thinking about his body! The first time we did it, I creamed before he ever got inside me. The male body is hot! Well, one’s like his are. The rest, meh, not so much.”

“Please spare me the details. I’ve heard them a million times before, remember? Every. Single. Detail. Real gag me with a spoon stuff. No, with a shovel.

“Oh please, you loved every juicy morsel. I know you did.” Liz giggled, flashing a seductive grin at the cluster of cute guys standing on the corner waiting for the light to change. One guy grabbed his crotch while licking his lips. She mouthed, As if! before turning her attention back to Kee. “You know what I didn’t tell you?”

“Seriously, I can’t handle any more intimate details.”

“Stefan was so obsessed with keeping those damn muscles he never paid any attention to me! You think I’m vain? Pft. I’m an amateur compared to him. He couldn’t pass a mirror or glass surface without checking out his reflection. He was late every single time we went out. Not me, and you know how long I take to primp and preen! Dating him was like dating myself. If I wanted to do that, I’d buy a vibrator! There’s only room in a relationship for one narcissist.”

“True. You are a handful.”

Liz rolled her eyes. “Nerds, on the other hand, appreciate any attention. Though some lack in the looks and muscle departments, they make up for it in very interesting ways! They will do anything to please a woman. Anything. Oh, and they are so creative!”

“Ewww. I can’t believe you want to marry a man just because he enslaved you with his talents in the sack. What happens when you’re older and can’t chase each other around the bedroom? Sex isn’t the key to a long-standing relationship. Connection between two minds is what seals a bond. When boinking isn’t an option, what holds the relationship together?”

“Relationship advice from a virgin. Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Liz burst out laughing. “My parents will celebrate year number twenty-five next spring. I guarantee you it isn’t because they ‘connect’ in any way except between the sheets. When they aren’t doing the nasty they fight like cats and dogs. You know. You’ve heard them on more than one occasion.”

“Please stop. I’m going to yak. I don’t want to hear about your parents’ nocturnal activities. Yours are bad enough.”

“Wimp. I’m the one scarred for life from all the times I’ve caught them in mid-bop in every room in the house. Scarred!”

“Okay, topic switch before I retch. You need to rethink your devious little plans for Harlan. He’s a nice guy, Liz. Don’t hurt him because you think he might be the golden ticket waiting to be cashed. Have you considered the fact he might be more interested in college girls?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I got my acceptance letter to Stanford last week. Liberal Arts degree here I come. It will be perfect, Kee! I’ll learn all I need to be the best party planner, decorator, and hostess—ever! Better than my mom. Mrs. Harlan Kincaid will be the envy of—”

“You got in to Stanford?” Kee gasped. “Already? How? Your GPA is like 2.35!”

“Daddy’s got connections and a truckload of money.” Liz patted the sleek dashboard. “Plus, Elton’s been out of school for two years and this is Eddie’s final year. Unless they take me, it means no more tuition from the Hendricks household after Eddie graduates. I didn’t even fill out the forms! Totally tubular, right?”

“Totally,” Kee whispered, shocked by the news. She would cut off a leg or arm to go to Stanford. She wanted to be a veterinarian, which meant a lot of years in college and a boatload of tuition. Since her parents weren’t rolling in cash, her only hope of attending college came from winning one of the hundreds of scholarships she’d applied for plus Pell Grants. She was a good athlete, yet not a strong enough candidate for an athletic scholarship. Though she made good grades, her mind went blank when taking the ACTs.

“Don’t be jealous, girl. I’ve got plans for you, too. Totally rad plans. You may be the book Brainiac yet I’m full of real-world smarts. Like, totally!”

“Will you please stop talking like that? We live in San Gabriel’s valley, not San Fernando’s.”

“Guys think it’s bitchen. Harlan told me so himself.”

“No, they don’t, and he did not.”

“Stop changing the subject. Back to my plans for you.”

“I don’t want to hear them unless they include adopting me into your family’s tree so your dad can pay for my tuition.”

“I’ve got it all arranged, so stop interrupting me. The party’s theme is Seventies disco night—”

“Disco is dead. Haven’t you heard the news?”

“I’m aware, but it was the only way we could convince Dad to let me have a blowout. We agreed to put him in charge of decorations and music.”


“Yes, we. Mom’s going to spike his first drink with Valium. We’ll only have to listen to maybe an hour of his boring tunes before he’s out for the night.”

Kee’s mouth gaped open. “Welcome to this evening’s episode of Wild Kingdom, featuring the hunting techniques of two wily females. Their quarry is the elusive nerd, though we’ve yet to understand their reasoning for pursuing the timid creature.”

Liz laughed. “Mom knows this party is the starting point for my plan to snag Harlan.”

“You two are ruthless.”

“No, we are planners. Now, Ken’s going to be at the party Saturday, so tonight, I’m overhauling your look and you won’t argue. I’ve got to figure out which direction to take—hot and available or seductive and standoffish. A prize to be won! Since you’re wearing contacts rather than those coke bottle glasses, I’ve got a decent palette to work with while I pick the right direction.”

Kee yanked off her sunglasses, glaring at Liz. She ignored the wind and drying effects on her contacts. The smug look on Liz’s face made her even angrier. If her friend wasn’t behind the wheel, she’d punch her in the face. “You invited Ken? Are you crazy?”

“Someone’s got to take control over your love life. You need to pop your cherry before college. Men aren’t interested in girls with no skills in the bedroom! Besides, rumor has it Ken’s dad is hiring him on fulltime at the body shop after graduation and opening another location in Escondido, bringing the total stores to eight. Business is booming, which means money will flow like hot lava. Have you seen the upgrades they made on their house on Del Vista? Or the new Jag his dad’s driving?”

“No. I’m not a gold-digging stalker like you and your mom.”

Ignoring the jab, Liz pressed on. “Give Ken the time of his life and a great blow job to boot and you’ll be at the top of the list to become his better half. If you’re worried about certain things, stop. You’re on the pill and I’ll ply you full of cock tails beforehand, so—”

“I’m on the pill because I have cramps from Hell!”

“And a side effect is it keeps your uterus from housing a kid until you’re ready.”

“I…oh, God…this isn’t happening! You…you’re supposed to be my best friend! Ken…I…never told you…wait! You read my diary!”

“Why am I not surprised you still have one?” Liz winked. “Don’t freak, girl. I didn’t read a thing. There was no need. You talk in your sleep. On our trip to Carpenteria, you wiggled and writhed all over the bed, cooing words of lust while dry-humping my leg. Why do you think I moved to the couch?”

Kee wanted to cry. Heat flushed her cheeks. She bit her bottom lip so hard blood filled her mouth.

“Oh, stop worrying, will you? It’s just sex for God’s sake. One little strip of flesh missing in your v-jay won’t matter to anyone except you. It’s not like you’re Princess Di and a horde of doctors will check to make sure you’re still intact prior to marriage.”

“Liz, you can’t say a thing to anyone! I don’t want Ken to find—”

“Your head is too overfilled with school, books and sports to think straight, so what you think no longer counts. It’s all in my hands, girl. Trust me. I’m going to create a masterpiece. You’ll thank me for it later when sipping cool drinks by an inground pool without a care in the world while your husband brings home the bacon and the staff prepares dinner and takes care of the rugrats.”

“I hate you.”

Liz laughed while turning onto the cul-de-sac where Kee lived. It was a nice, older neighborhood yet she knew her best friend could do better if she just put some effort into her appearance. “No you don’t. You envy me. Big difference. I’m putting an end to that today. I see past the cheap clothes and lack of personal style, though how my tastes haven’t rubbed off on you I don’t get. No matter. There’s a caged, sexual beast lurking under all the boring bullshit. Three hours, that’s all I ask. Three hours and I’ll turn you into a real, live Barbie doll, just one with auburn hair. You know, a sexed-up, taller, bigger chested, not-as-many-freckles version of Molly Ringwald. One guaranteed to make your real, live Ken doll jizz his pants while watching you saunter in to the party.”

Kee scowled. “I don’t know, Liz. It’s not me.”

“Right, but it will be. Trust me.”

“Trust you? Why? You don’t even understand my hidden identity is clad in black and leather, like Joan Jett. Some best friend you are.”

“Oh stop. Leave the ’rents a note, pack a bag, and hurry back. I can’t wait to get at those eyebrows. We’re supposed to have two, you know.”

“You’re so mean. I don’t know why we’re still friends.”

“You love me and know I’ve got your best interests at heart, that’s why. I told you the day in fourth grade when you stopped Tim Bates when he had me cornered in the lunchroom—”

“What in the world?” Kee interrupted, shocked to see her father’s car in the driveway. It was only three o’clock and on a weekday which never happened. Her accountant father was always at work, and when he was home, he locked himself in his study while hunched over the desk, crunching numbers.

Before she had a chance to exit the car, he appeared on the front porch. Normally dapper and calm, hair always in place and expression inviting, his current appearance was a mess. Sweat stains under his armpits, mussed hair sticking up in all directions, and patches of red on his cheeks, made Kee’s stomach tighten up. She noticed he was smoking. Instead of saying something embarrassing like “Hey, sweet pea,” or similar as he usually did, he just nodded once, motioning for Kee to come inside.

“Something’s wrong. I’ll call you later,” Kee muttered while opening the door.

“Excuses, excuses. I’ve waited for years to transform you into a hot dish. One more day won’t hurt. Tomorrow night you’re all mine. I won’t take no for an answer.”

Kee flipped her friend the bird before slamming the door shut. She let out a sigh of relief as the Mustang disappeared down the street. The thought of letting Liz loose with implements of torture masquerading as beauty aids made her cringe.

“I’m glad you’re home, Kass. Come inside. We need to talk.”

Kee stopped at the foot of the concrete steps. Her father only used her full name when she was in trouble. She tried yet couldn’t come up with anything she’d done wrong in recent weeks. A chill ran up her spine—had he found her journal and read it? “Mom’s going to flip if she catches you smoking. What’s going on, Dad? I thought you quit?”

Stubbing out the butt, Kevin Lawson noticed the slight tremor in his hand. He quickly shoved the trembling limb into his pocket instead of caressing his daughter’s shoulder. “It’s Aunt Lurlene. Come help me get things packed before your mother arrives home from work. We don’t have much time to spare.”

“Pack? Why?” Kee’s eyes widened. “What’s wrong with Aunt Lurlene? Did she die or something?”

“No, but she’s very ill. Skeeter called me at work and said she’s on her death bed and the doctors are asking all relatives to gather before it’s too late to say goodbye. We’re leaving for Arkansas tonight.”

Kee almost laughed. Having a cousin named Skeeter was something straight out of a Mark Twain novel. “I…I can’t go! I’ve got work tomorrow and Liz is hosting a back to school party on Saturday.”

“You’ll call your boss and request time off for a family emergency, just like I did and your mother will do once I have a chance to break the news, and I’m afraid you’ll have to miss the party.”

“Dad, I need the money! School starts in less than a month and I’ve got to buy new clothes. I’ve only saved up two-hundred which won’t buy hardly a thing. It’s my senior year!”

“Don’t start with me, Kassandra. I’ve had a very stressful day and it’s not going to get any better as night falls while we travel. Aunt Lurlene didn’t fall ill just to inconvenience your active social life so stop acting as though she did. Besides, she’s kin, and when a family member is in crisis, no matter where they are, we rally together. End of story.”

Kee noticed the pain and anger behind her father’s bright blue eyes. The lines on his forehead seemed more pronounced than before. He did his best to hide his southern drawl most of the time, yet it snuck out when angry or stressed. Aunt Lurlene was the closest thing he had to a mother or father. Her mother once mentioned both his parents were dead and his aunt Lurlene raised him, alone, in the backwoods of Daltville, Arkansas. Despite her misgivings about the situation, she felt bad for giving him a hard time.

Kee sighed. “What time does our flight leave?”

“We’re taking the red-eye to Dallas then we’ll rent a car and drive the rest of the way. It was too expensive to fly to Little Rock on such short notice. I’ve already made reservations. We’ll leave for the airport right after dinner.”

Following her nervous-looking father inside, Kee felt relieved she would miss Liz’s party, which was immediately followed by shame for using a relative’s impending death as a way to escape the possibility of losing her virginity to Ken Gomez. “I’ll pack my stuff and Mom’s if you make dinner, then I’ll go ask Ms. Davis next door to feed Tinker, okay?”

Sliding an arm around his daughter’s strong shoulders, Kevin gave her a grateful smile then tousled her red curls. “I forgot all about your cat! Good thinking. You’re something else, sugar. At least you’ve got a good head on your shoulders in a time of crisis. Thank you. Here.”

Kee’s eyebrows raised in shock while watching her father extract a wad of cash from his wallet before cramming it into her purse. “Is this a bribe so I won’t tell Mom I caught you smoking?”

“Let’s pretend it isn’t and is really for some new clothes when we get back from our trip. Can’t have my girl wearing styles from last year, right?”

“Sure, Daddy. Thanks. Our little secret.”

Kevin cleared his throat several times, forcing the lump of tears away. “I knew you’d be here for me. For the family. You may be a California girl, but your roots are true southern, just like mine.”

If you knew why I’m caving, Daddy, you’d flip your lid. Promise. Oh, I can’t wait to write in my journal about how you saved me from making a big mistake because I don’t think I could keep my cool—and my virginity—if alone with Ken for too long.

Kee slipped away from her father’s embrace then disappeared down the hall to her bedroom to pack. Spotting Tinker curled into a tight ball on the middle of her bed, she flopped next to him, burying her face in his soft fur. “I’m going to miss you, buddy. You keep watch while we’re gone. Okay?”

Giving a final smooch on the cat’s fluffy white head, Kee slipped on her headphones, turning the volume almost to ten. Golden Earring’s Twilight Zone blared in her ears as Kee went about the task of packing. Though she’d only been a young child on the one, previous trip down south, she remembered enough. Visiting Daltville, Arkansas was like stepping into another dimension.

Kee sang along while tossing clothes onto the bed, thinking the words to the song were beyond appropriate.

Upcoming release of Operation S&D

I am so excited to announce the upcoming release of Operation S&D . This book starts where Operation DFC ended and is quite the thrill ...