Our Summer Adventure ~ Week Seven: The Gamble

Image credit: outsiderzone / 123RF Stock Photo

Image credit: outsiderzone / 123RF Stock Photo

This week’s installment gives us Rori’s point of view. Thank you to Kristy K James for the fabulous idea! Also, thanks for suggesting Ethan take both women to the party. I’m loving all of your suggestions, and even if I don’t use them the next week, I keep them percolating in my mind. Shapeshifter, anyone? Yeah, that was Gayle’s idea and I think it’s a good one. If you need to catch up on the past weeks, click on the page above under Our Summer Adventure. And be sure to leave a comment where you think the story should go next.

Our Summer Adventure ~ Week Seven: The Gamble

Rori sauntered into the expansive foyer of Governor Roarke’s Bel Air home on the arm of her brother. He looked devastatingly handsome in his tuxedo and midnight bow tie. Of all the arguments they had the previous night, his clothing choice had lasted the longest.

Rori glanced over to Hannah, who looked equally stunning on Ethan’s right. Ethan had argued for her to remain at the hotel with Lilliana, but Hannah refused to let him and Rori go to the governor’s party without her.

“Ready?” Hannah asked, looking past Ethan to her.

Rori gave a quick nod. She was to be the bait that evening. While she distracted Roarke, Hannah and Ethan would search his office for something Hannah called ‘the device’. It was the key to Roarke’s operation and they needed it to bring him down.

Ethan flexed his arm, tightening his grip on her. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes, I do.” For more reasons than Ethan would ever understand.

“Be careful.” He stiffened suddenly and Rori glanced up to find a man and woman, both stunning in black, turning to regard them.

“Hannah?” The man said, ignoring Rori and Ethan. “I didn’t think you’d come.” He took Hannah’s hands into his and kissed her fingertips. “I’m glad to be proven wrong.”

“Governor Roarke, I’d like to introduce you to Ethan Donovan. He works for my father, and this is Rori, his companion.”

Roarke’s eyes skimmed past Ethan to Rori, “It’s my pleasure.” He took her hands and kissed them much as he did Hannah’s, but lingered long enough she felt his breath against her skin. He inhaled then rubbed her fingers against his cheek. “You smell divine.”

The smile Roarke gave her made her insides recoil, but she giggled, playing the part.

“I see you’ve found a new playmate.” Hannah said, indicating the woman behind Roarke.

He cut her a glance then snorted. “Not here, Hannah. Not tonight. Why don’t you and your friend go get a drink. I’d like to get to know Rori a bit better.”

Hannah shrugged and pulled Ethan away from them. They disappeared into the crowd, but Rori felt Ethan’s presence, could look up at any moment and find him. He would never truly be far from her, even if they were a continent apart, she could sense his feelings. Right then they were conflicted. Not just about her, but Hannah as well.

His original plan was to use Hannah to gain access to Maxim’s vaults, but something had happened. If she wasn’t mistaken, Ethan cared for the girl, which caused Rori no small amount of concern. He’d never let his feelings get in the way of his job. Ever.

“Rori?” Roarke was staring at her and she pulled her thoughts away from her brother.

He led her through the room, making introductions to people whose names she recognized. Some were in politics, others the film industry. The gorgeous woman in black followed them everywhere, but never spoke to Roarke. Only once did he acknowledge her, and only then to send her to fetch them drinks.

“Who is she?” Rori asked once the woman left.

“No one of consequence.” His gaze flicked around the room and then back to her. “Hannah seems to have disappeared.”

“Would you like me to find her?” Rori kept her tone neutral. Ethan and Hannah were, at that moment, in Roarke’s office.

“In a minute. Tell me, beautiful Rori, how did you become Donavan’s companion?”

It took Rori a second to realize he meant Ethan. “He won me in a game of cards.”

Roarke chuckled and the sound grated down her spine. In the hour she’d spent with him, she saw every possible contrivance of hospitality, but no genuine humanity. The tales Hannah had told them were taking on new meaning the longer she spent with Roarke. Silently she willed Ethan to find what they were looking for so they could leave. The less time she spent with Roarke, the better.

The woman in black returned without drinks and whispered in Roarke’s ear. He scratched at his chin before turning his dead grey eyes on her.

“Your companion is a gambler then? I think I’d like to wager a bet with him. Perhaps I can be as lucky. Come with me.” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her along behind him until they reached a closed door. Deep inscriptions etched across the surface shifted at Roarke’s touch.

Rori gasped despite herself. The door was carved from a living tree, one from a sacred grove found only in Wales.

“Have no fear, my darling. The door won’t bite. Unless you try to harm me.” His voice cut through her marrow, chilling her.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Roarke ignored her lie. “Stay close. I wouldn’t want you to wander off without me.” They moved through several darkened rooms with Roarke leading the way. The woman in black stayed behind and with each new room, Rori’s apprehension grew.

“Where are we going?”

“Shhh, not a sound. We’re nearly there.”

His grip tightened to the point of pain, but she kept quiet. A light in the next room lit up Roarke’s silhouette and she saw the grim set of his jaw. As they got nearer, Rori heard Ethan’s deep voice. She willed Ethan to feel her presence, to leave before she and Roarke got there. Cold metal pressed against her lips. “Shhh.” He raised the gun for Rori to see and she nodded.

Roarke pushed opened the door with cat-like grace. Neither Hannah nor Ethan noticed until it was too late.

Roarke’s tsk pulled their attention away from the search. “Hannah. I expected more from you, my kitten. You of all people should know I don’t keep anything important here.”

Hannah glared at him. “Let her go. She has nothing to do with this.”

Ethan stepped in front of Hannah, shielding her from the gun in Roarke’s hand. Rori heard a thundering sound in her ears, like the rush of blood, but it wasn’t her own. It was Ethan’s adrenaline. Cool, calm Ethan was frightened. For her. For Hannah. She swayed against the intensity of his feelings.

Roarke pulled her roughly up to stand in front of him. “I seriously doubt that. I think I’ll keep her, she can be your gift to me.”

“No, please. Take me and let her go.” Hannah stepped around Ethan’s bulk. A wild fear hid in the depths of Hannah’s eyes. Rori understood the sacrifice she was bartering on her behalf.

“Roarke,” Ethan said quietly, “let the women go. I’m worth ten times what you could get for them.”

“I hear you’re a gambling man, Donovan. All or nothing. What do you say?”

“What do you have in mind?” Ethan asked.

Roarke emptied the gun of all but one bullet. “If you live, I’ll let the three of you leave unscathed. If you die, I take Hannah and Rori for my own pleasures.”

“You’re mad! Ethan, don’t. You can’t risk your life for us. Please, Roarke, let them go. I’ll stay with you as long as you want. I promise not to leave. Just don’t hurt them.”

Roarke glared at Hannah. “Begging? I thought I raised you better than that. What do you care for this human trash?” He stepped beside Ethan and held the gun to the side of his head. “You disappoint me, Hannah.”

The room grew heavy as his finger pulled back on the trigger. Ethan stared calmly into her eyes, an unspoken command passed between them.

Just before the gun fired she closed her eyes.

Did Roarke kill Ethan?

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Our Summer Adventure ~ Week Two: The Passenger

Image credit: outsiderzone / 123RF Stock Photo

Image credit: outsiderzone / 123RF Stock Photo

You all had some fabulous ideas last week! I sort of took bits from all of you and incorporated them into this week’s story. Some of them will come out later in the story… they were too good not to use! Click here if you missed Week One: The Arrival. Here we go ~

Week Two: The Passenger

Hannah slammed the car into low, wincing at the grind the engine made. It sputtered, but kept running. At least that was a good sign.

The motorcyclist slowed to keep pace with her, but had to swerve around a mini-van. Hannah punched the gas and slipped the car into drive, feeling the rev of the engine beneath her feet. With barely a glance she sliced against two lanes of traffic. Horns blared, but she ignored them. Just one more lane and she could exit the freeway. Another quick look at the cyclist and she breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t expected evasive maneuvers on her part.

A jag of pain shot down her right arm. Another honk and she was hurtling off the freeway, the motorcyclist too far ahead to follow.

“You’re hurt.” Ethan’s words came close beside her. His thick brogue made something soft curl in her belly. “Hold still.”

“Mr. Carmichael, please. I need you to stay in your seat, safely belted in.” She yanked the car into a hard right, suppressing a grin when Ethan braced against the seat. Another right followed by a left and she eased into the flow of traffic.

He placed a hand on her shoulder, steadying her. A thrumming warmth spread over and down her arm, culminating in a sharp prick. She sucked in her breath to keep from swearing. It wouldn’t do to get written up. Again.

“That’s better.” Ethan held a jagged piece of mirror, it’s tip a watery shade of crimson. “Do you have a first aid kit? I could stitch this while you drive.”

“I’m sure you could, but really I’d prefer it if you’d sit back and buckle up. I’m sure our friend is looking for us.” She eyed him in the broken mirror. Tiny frown lines pinched his forehead. Dark brows framed his hazel eyes. “Can you think of any reason why someone would want you dead?”

“Several, actually.”

She didn’t doubt it. She had read the dossier, knew that Ethan Carmichael was brought in on special assignment for The Company. Something to do with the governor, but Hannah wasn’t cleared for that knowledge.

Ethan settled against the seat, once more buckling his belt. He placed a hand possessively atop the garment bag. For the second time that morning, Hannah felt a strange burning deep in her sternum. Not a pleasant feeling.

A moment before she saw the motorcyclist she heard him. Ethan glanced out the window at the same time Hannah jerked the car to the left into a narrow side street. She gunned the engine and raced toward a dead end.

“Miss James? You’re running out of road.”

“Hold onto something, and whatever you do, don’t get out of this car.” Hannah looked pointedly at the garment bag beside him. “Understood?”

His features set into a grim line, but he nodded. “What are you going to do?”

“End this.” The rev of engine behind them alerted her to the motorcyclist’s proximity. “Get down, Mr. Carmichael.”

Ethan bent low over the bundle on the seat. The cyclist raised his gun and Hannah counted to three before she slammed on the brakes. A whimper came from the back seat and Hannah cast a quick glance over her shoulder making sure Ethan was secure before she yanked on the steering wheel.

The car spun around and clipped the front wheel of the motorcycle, sending bike and rider sliding. Hannah was halfway out the door before the car stopped its spin. She caught the cyclist mid-crouch, landing a kick to his ribs. A decidedly feminine grunt came from behind the dark helmet, followed by several swear words in as many languages.

The leather-clad biker sprang up, fists a haze of motion. Hannah was ready for the attack. A quick block, several jabs, and a knee to the groin followed by a roundhouse kick brought the biker down.

In an instant Ethan was there, kneeling on the biker’s back, limp hands held in his own. “Well done, Miss James.” There was a hint of humor behind his accent.

“I thought I told you to stay in the car.”

Ethan’s look made her knees feel as creamy as honey on toast. “I rarely do as told.”

He pushed the helmet off their mysterious biker, revealing a shock of red hair. Hannah knelt in front of the woman, studying her features. “I don’t recognize her, do you?”

After securing her ankles with the same plastic binders he used on her wrists, Ethan lifted the biker over his shoulder. “When she comes to, we’ll get our answers.” Without waiting for a reply, he took the biker to the car and placed her in the front seat.

Suspicious thoughts tickled Hannah’s mind. Traitorous, even. She grabbed the helmet and strode to the motorcycle, looking for anything that might give her an idea of who the woman was. She tugged the keys from the ignition, two keys and a fob with an elaborate design, Celitc maybe. She pocketed the keys and picked a small piece of paper out from beneath the seat. There was gibberish scrawled over the paper. Letters and numbers that made no sense to her. She added the paper to her pocket before joining Ethan at the car.

Despite the large dent in the front bumper, the engine started up on the first try.

Ethan leaned back against the seat, looking relaxed in his grey suit. Once again she wondered what the dossier had failed to mention about her passenger. Her glance went to the bag at his side.

“This might be a good time for you to tell me who you really are, and about our other passenger.”

Now it’s your turn! We had some great ideas of who you thought the passenger was last week (a space alien, a child with special powers), are there any other ideas for who he/she/it is? What about the assassin? Who sent her and why? Is Hannah good or bad? What about Ethan? Is he a rogue operative or someone caught in a bad situation? Let’s have more fun next week!

Today’s Gift ~ Amber West’s The Ruth Valley Missing

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It’s Tuesday and that means it’s time for another gift from me to you. Today I’m excited to bring you Amber West with her debut novel, The Ruth Valley Missing.

Amber is one of those people that I only know online, but someday we’ll meet in person and it’ll be like we always knew one another. She’s super sweet, very funny, and crazy smart. I’m going to have a full-length interview with her in January, but for today I wanted to introduce you to her so I came up with a little Q&A. If you absolutely must know more about Amber, hop on over to Tiffany White’s Ooo Factor and check out the cool video of the girls!

Right. Onto the questions…

ME: Where did the idea for The Ruth Valley Missing come from?

AMBER: Ok, first off, I’m not crazy. I just felt the need to get that out of the way before I say this.

It came to me in a dream.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I kill me.

Seriously though, I’m not going to get all Stephanie Meyer on ya’ll, but I did have a dream, involving some very creepy things happening in a small town, creepiness that seemed to involve the local convent. In the dream, I was trying to figure out what was going on and was investigating with the help of a local cop, who for whatever reason in the dream was played by Vince Vaughn.

I’d like to take a moment out to remind you, once again, that I am not crazy. Promise.

Anyhoo, the convent and the church were on a cliff, and the nuns were after me, and I woke up thinking, “uh, perhaps I need to cut back on the spicy foods before bed and never watch Dodgeball again”.

For those of you who haven’t read The Ruth Valley Missing, there is no Vince Vaughn or cliffs, but that dream IS what turned into this whole book.

ME:  Jameson has a keen interest in photography, was this born from your love of photography?

AMBER: Yes, at first out of practicality.

The Ruth Valley Missing was actually a NaNo attempt from last year. After having that crazy dream I figured that NaNo would be a fun way to work out a story for what happened in my head, and if it was lousy, who cares?

Since NaNo means a lot less time for research, I figured giving the lead character a hobby I was familiar with would cut back on the need for making sure anything felt accurate. Plus, it allowed for some plot elements to work out great.

Although that was mostly by accident, since I am totally a “pantseur”.

ME: – If your book were made into a movie, who would play Jameson?

I’m undecided on this one. I’m still working out what redhead is worthy. If Molly Quinn were about 10 years older, she would probably be lovely. I have a few other non-American actresses in mind, but am still searching.

Father Mike and Sheriff Jack, on the other hand, are totally cast.

ME: What made you decide to self publish and how has your journey been so far?

AMBER: A couple of things. One, control. I’d done a lot of research, and I felt that after all the work I put into this story, I didn’t want to relinquish what would happen next.

And in the spirit of being completely honest (which will probably get me some nasty remarks, but oh well), I didn’t want to wait. Even if the first agent or publisher who saw the manuscript said “we love it!” it still would have been quite a bit of time before I could get the book out to readers. And I didn’t expect the first (or second, or third) person I queried to say “let’s do this” because honestly, given a lot of what does get published today, quality doesn’t always seem to be the winning factor.

I know. That sounds sort of rude, but when Snooki is getting book deals, I tend to worry that I’m not exactly what the market is demanding.

The journey has been lovely so far. I didn’t do this to get rich or famous. I wrote because I love to, and I published in hopes that someone would enjoy reading what I wrote. It’s really that simple. And so far, I’ve had amazing feedback from my readers.

Can’t really ask for too much more than that.

Except maybe an interview with Colbert, and a movie deal with the actors I’ve already cast. 🙂

ME: Tell us a little more about Jameson.

AMBER: Jameson is smart, quick-witted, but far from perfect. She can be a bit klutzy, and as observant as she is, she tends to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to guys.

She’s more concerned with comfort than fashion. She loves food, but she enjoys the solitude of a good run, so she manages to eat bacon without terrible consequences.

She makes a great friend, but doesn’t seem to have many close ones. We may have to investigate that further, which leads to your next question!

Nailed it.

ME: Will there be more books starring Jameson?

AMBER: I planned on this being a standalone novel. But, the overwhelming feedback I’ve had from readers is that they want this to be a series. I thought about it, and I’ve already begun to work out a general sketch of the next book. In my head, of course, not on paper. I think I have at least two more books featuring Jameson in me, but we shall see.

ME: Ruth Valley is a small town. We’re talking super small. Have you ever lived somewhere like that?

AMBER: Visited, yes. Lived, no.

The tiny towns I have visited that are strongest in my memory are in North Carolina, ergo the choice for Ruth Valley to exist there.

That’s enough of Amber (for the time being!), now for the book.

The Ruth Valley Missing:

Jameson Quinn is sick of trying to find herself in the big city. After a gallery opening ends in a trip to the ER and an argument with her self-involved boyfriend, she decides to take off for the peace and quiet of a small town — Ruth Valley.

The small town has everything Brooklyn lacked: simple people, peaceful surroundings, and a feeling of safety. Jameson even finds the perfect house to rent from the town’s most eligible bachelor, Sheriff Jack. Life is finally headed in a promising direction.

But something isn’t right. A young man is mysteriously injured, then disappears — and Jameson finds he isn’t the only person to suddenly vanish. The suspicious behavior of an abrasive nun and a creepy priest set her off on an investigation of what’s really happening. Will she figure out the secrets of Ruth Valley before she’s the next to go missing?

~~~oooOOooo~~~

And since you’ve all been so good, here’s an excerpt from the book!

“You know, wandering around on someone’s property unannounced around here can get a person in a heap a’ trouble.”

I leapt away from the window, tripping awkwardly across my own feet. I regained my balance and looked up to see the same man from outside the diner standing behind me. He towered over me, one hand on his hip, his other hand resting on an unhooked holster, complete with gun.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t think anyone was home.”

He raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t make you sound less suspicious you know.”

“Right. Sorry, sorry. I was looking for the house for rent and didn’t think it would hurt to sneak a peek through the windows. I would have knocked, but it didn’t look like anyone was home and I didn’t even know if I had the right house and it’s so early…”

Between being startled and neglecting a jacket for the run, I could feel myself starting to tremble, and knew I was rambling. I took a deep breath. The man with the gun grinned.

“It’s ok. Why don’t we walk up to the house and grab a cup of coffee. Then I’ll show you around the house.” He held out his hand, “I’m Jack.”

I grabbed his hand and shook it, squeezing tighter than normal to control the shaking. “I’m Jameson.”

He paused before grinning again. “Nice grip, Jameson.”

I followed him as he walked up through the yard to the big house, glancing at the gun in its holster and wondering if following this guy was such a good idea. If I was still in the city I’d have mace on my keychain, but out here all I had was my phone. Somehow I couldn’t picture beating someone down with the butt of a smartphone.

Coffee did sound awfully good, though.

~~~oooOO~~~

Doesn’t that sound great? I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one in the series!

Me and Eden Mexico (2)Amber West is a Northeastern transplant dodging rodent sized bugs and sweltering heat in the jungles of Central Florida. When she isn’t battling the urge to pass out, she’s busy being a wife, mother, geek, photographer, and writer, in no particular order. You can read her ramblings at http://www.withoutsushi.com or find her on Twitter (@amberwest) where she abuses hashtags and makes people laugh. Or at least, makes herself laugh.

I hope you enjoyed today’s gift! Amber’s book is available in print and ebook, so you have no excuse not to get it.

Have you ever had a dream influence you the way Amber’s did? Many a novel starts out as nothing more than an image flitting through our mind. What’s the strangest one you’ve ever had that influenced something you did?

Next week I’m going to have a double gift for you in the form of two novellas. I love this way of giving, don’t you?