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EXCERPT FROM WILD FOR YOU
Georgie wasn't lost, technically speaking. At least not completely. According to her protractor or compass or whatever it was, she was three miles north and maybe a little west of their camp with just a few fifty foot cliffs, rapidly rushing creeks, and thundering waterfalls between her and civilization and ultimate safety. She gave a little snort.
Hardly either. No more did she want to return to that malaria infested scorching patch of dirt that the professor called a village than she wanted to be hiking circles in this steaming overgrowth of vegetation that sported banana leaves longer than her body. Course, she could use them for clothes should she be stranded into the next millennium.
She cursed the professor. If he hadn't tried to hunt her down she never would have slipped away. But she refused to haul another water jug up that steep hill just so the village women could cook gluey stew they'd all have to choke down. What else could she do but hide out?
And she doubled-cursed him for earlier insisting she wear this Salvation Army scrap of a sundress that the chief had presented to her with such pridea threadbare cotton floral too short, even for her small frame, to keep her legs from getting scratched up as she hacked her way through brush and tangled vines. Its spaghetti straps bared her shoulders and much of her breasts to the unrelenting heat of the sun and overgrown jungle so that now she burned and itched all over her fair skin. She could only imagine the multitude of parasites that lived in the oozing bark and wet moss.
But she wasn't desperate. Not yet. She kicked aside a rotting log and watched a swarm of insects cloud the air.True desperation was twelve lousy credits away from graduating and parents who threatened to cut you off and take away your red metallic Miata until you do. This nightmare she could handle, if this little internship gained her the promised credits and freedom.
A college degree by her 21st birthday had meant access to her two million dollar trust find and independence from her fire-breathing parents. She was 26 now and still working on it. Her parents thought they'd lost patience? What about her? Imprisoned in academia during her prime was not exactly her dream either. She should have been honing her underdeveloped sailing skills and nurturing her love of natureat least the nature that included a smooth Grenade on a hot sandy beach.
The darkness hovered lower, whether from the sun setting or from traveling deeper into the jungle, she couldn't be sure, but either way, it wasn't a good sign.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled. She glanced up at the canopy of trees above, aware that the tiny dots of light peeking through the ceiling of vegetation were growing dimmer. She wasn't frightened. Just concerned. She'd find a cave to sleep in, hopefully a nice studio whose lone tiger had taken off on a little jaunt.
EXCERPT FROM FLIGHTS OF FANTASY
Chloe Atkinson dropped her duffel bag on the dock and stared. She'd been wondering what to expect, but never in her wildest fantasies did she dream of a sea-going Taj Mahal. It was too late to catch it on film now, but maybe she'd have another chance to capture the sunset tones of russet, peach and rose washing over the sleek silhouette of the yacht anchored in Monterey Harbor.
She glanced behind her. A young man dressed neatly in dark pants, dark tie and a white shirt with nautical insignia on shoulder epaulets, looked expectantly at her. "Ms. Atkinson? Mr. Yancy is expecting you. You're the last guest to arrive."
Guest wouldn't exactly be the right word. Hostage? Blackmailee? What word would explain her being here or else, as her boss at the news service put it. "Chloe, you're falling apart at the seams. Your photos aren't worth a shit, your writing sucks."
"Sheesh," she'd protested. "Don't they teach you anything in those touchy feelie seminars you go to?"
"Touchy feelie is what you need. Go swim with the dolphins, commune with a seagull. Come back at the end of the week like your old self, or get a job somewhere else."
"You want me to interview this guy?"
"Nope. He doesn't do interviews."
"Then why me? Why ask a journalist if he's not going to talk to me?" Her boss had just shrugged.
"Ma'am?" the young man prompted.
"Yes," Chloe sighed. "Lead the way."
He helped her into a glossy launch, then stowed her camera cases and duffel bag aboard, treating her well-traveled luggage as though it were Vuitton's finest. She'd brought her cameras, her laptop and some books she hadn't gotten around to reading. She planned to hole up in her cabin, sleep, read, and shoot a few pictures. That should satisfy her boss and get him off her back.
Pleased with her plan, Chloe sank back against a banquette bench as the young man smoothly edged the launch away from the dock and headed across the bay. A few drops of salty spray flicked across her face. She looked behind her, watching the sailboats in the marina, Cannery Row, Fisherman's Wharf, and the green forested hills of the Monterey Peninsula recede, severing the connection to her everyday world.
The launch slowed as it approached the boat. Chloe swept her gaze from one end to the other, noting the three decks, shadowy now in the dusk, water frothing from an idling propeller, windows showing lots of light. The word Fantasy was written in fanciful lettering across the stern. For sure a rich man's plaything, but maybe it wouldn't be too much of a hardship. Excitement bubbled within her. "That's some boat!"
The young man grinned. "We call it a yacht."
"Oops. Yacht it is."
A few minutes later, after welcoming her aboard, a crewman led her across the main deck into an elegantly furnished salon, down a short, narrow hallway, and opened a door. "Your stateroom, ma'am."
EXCERPT FROM WANTED
The blue sedan was still there.
Danielle glanced nervously at the lights in her rearview mirror. It was two car lengths back, seemingly inconspicuous, but still...
"Damn it, Reno," she whispered. Her hunger disappeared, and she stuffed her Twix bar into its wrapper. Without looking, she tossed the chocolate bar onto the passenger seat.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to settle her nerves. If he wanted to get caught up in a high-speed chase, she'd be happy to oblige him. Of course, the rattletrap she was driving couldn't do more than sixty. No doubt, he had a high-powered engine concealed under the modest exterior of that car. Still, she wouldn't give up easily. He should know that by now.
Her gaze flicked again towards the mirror. The car had moved over one lane.
"Clever," she muttered. "You're trying to confuse me, make me doubt myself. Well, it's not working, Bub."
She knew that most of the world would consider her paranoid, but it wasn't paranoia if somebody really was chasing you. Over the past months, she'd learned to trust her instincts. And right now, they were screaming that it was no coincidence that the blue sedan had kept pace with her for the past ten miles.
"You're smart, Reno. I'll give you that."
He'd kept her on her toes for months now. He was always out there, somewhere, watching in the shadows, waiting to make his move.
The blue car suddenly signaled and took the off-ramp. Danielle was so surprised, she blinked twice to make sure she wasn't seeing things. Finally, she gave a sigh of relief.
"You are paranoid, you twit." Shaking her head, she reached for her candy bar. She bit off a piece of chocolate and tried to slow her racing heart. "You're paranoid, and you're tired."
She eased up on the accelerator and glanced down at the dash.
"Oh, good heavens. Some high-speed chase that would have been." She was nearly out of gas. With luck, she might have barely enough fumes to get to the next town.
"Dani, Dani, Dani. You know better than that. Always keep your tank full of gas. Always." Tiredly, she rubbed a hand across her forehead. A stupid mistake like that could cost her everything.
Shaking her head, she began to watch the passing highway signs. It was getting late, and it was time to find someplace to hole up for the night. Suddenly overwhelmed by exhaustion, she leaned her head back against the headrest.
"Well, you've made it through another day on the FBI Most Wanted list without getting caught," she congratulated herself.
A grim smile pulled at her lips. So far, she'd managed to elude Special Agent Jeff Reno. For half a year, he'd been on her trail and, for half a year, she'd been able to slip out of his reach just when he thought he had her.
That had to piss him off to no end.
"Serves him right," she said.
EXCERPT FROM SECLUDED
"I want your daughter."
Nicholas Lee kept his voice low but the man sitting across from him heard and turned pale.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Four heartbeats later, a blinding bolt of lightning lit the darkened study with a violent phosphorescent glare. Richard Summerby IV started. "II beg your pardon?" he stammered.
Ah, Nicholas thought. The perfect manners of the upper crust. Good thing he himself didn't have any manners at all.
Summerby had the pale refined looks only generations of wealth and privilege could bestow, and the dissipated features of the soft and the weak. For all that he'd been born rich, he'd managed to whore and gamble it all away. He was a whisper from total ruin and Nicholas would have been happy to push him over the edge if it weren't for the fact that Summerby had something he wanted very, very badly.
Nicholas studied the storm raging outside the big beveled window panes then brought his gaze back to Summerby. He smiled and the man paled further. Good. Nicholas needed for him to be afraid.
"I said I want your daughter," Nicholas repeated, his voice hard. "For a few weeks. And you will make sure I get her."
"This isthis is crazy." Summerby gave a half laugh. It strangled when Nicholas remained silent. "You can't have my daughter. Why, you're nothing more than aa gangster."
"No, I'm not." Nicholas lifted his eyebrows. "Not any more, anyway."
He let his eyes roam thoughtfully around Summerby's elegant study. Original Chubb watercolors, Georgian furniture, an Aubusson carpet. And the paler spots on the dirty off-white walls where paintings had been taken down and sold, the Chippendale desk which needed restoring, the empty shelves where first editions had been auctioned off. The house itself would be the next to go. "Though I do keep my hand in some...ventures. For example, I just bought Morris Caneman's business."
Nicholas smiled as Summerby jerked in shock and made a choking sound in his throat. Now the man was beginning to understand just what kind of trouble he was in. "Caneman's creditors are mine now, Summerby. You owe Caneman three million dollars you don't have. Owing Caneman three million dollars is bad. Owing me three million dollars is much, much worse."
Summerby had broken out in a sweat. Lightning flashed again, followed a second later by a clap of thunder so loud its echo boomed in the room. Outside the study windows, the branches of the massive oak on the front lawn dipped and swayed, whipped into a frenzy by the rising wind.
"I'll be very clear." Nicholas speared Summerby with his gaze. "I might be persuaded to forgive the debt and save you from ruin. You might even get to keep the house. I understand it's been in your family for four generations. But you have to do something for me."