Despite the title, this book less to do with the season it was set in, and more to do with the fact that readers who love the series don't want to miss any of the consecutive plot points that deal with the series' overriding story arc:
– Will Acme operatives, Donna Stone and Jack Craig, finally take down the world's best financed international terrorist group known as the Quorum?
– Will Donna ever be able to love and trust again, despite the betrayal she felt over Carl's lies and deception?
– And will she and Jadk find the missing intel on its agents and assets before the Quorum gets it?
As these two scenes in particular demonstrate, setting Book 3 during the holiday season allowed me to test Donna's faith: in herself, in her core values, and in her fellow beings.
“So, how old
were you when you had your first kiss?”
question almost has me swerving off the road.
to take his car was probably a smart one because we may need a quick getaway,
and my mommy-mobile doesn’t have the same zero-to-sixty pick-up as Jack’s
Lamborghini. The decision for me to drive also makes sense, since he may have
to be running like hell carrying a shoulder-launched missile, and won’t have
time to fumble for his keys.
to play Twenty-one Questions may be one he regrets, should we crash.
To ensure we
don’t, I hold tight to the steering wheel and keep my eyes straight ahead. Not
because he’s shocked me, but because I’d hate for him to see that my face has
turned candy apple red.
say I was old enough.”
answer the question honestly.”
“Will you do
Cross my heart.”
“Okay. I was fifteen. And yes, the boy broke my heart.”
worried you hadn’t been kissed until college.”
“You take too
much stock in what Aunt Phyllis says. She’s under the impression I was as pure
as driven snow until Carl and I… well, until I was married.”
wasn’t your first either?” He’s trying so hard to act nonchalant.
perfectly honest, not only wasn’t he my first, he wasn’t my even ‘best’.”
smile presumes soooo much. But in a
flash, his smile is gone.
juncture in our relationship, I think I need to tell you… Oh never mind.”
I guess this
is where I hear some soul-searching blather about Valentina. I brace myself for
the worst. “Don’t be such a tease. Just come out and say it.”
“I don’t know
if you want to hear this.”
what? You won’t know if you don’t tell me, so spit it out.”
“I love you.”
I take a deep
“Well, that’s romantic.”
the romance until after we save the world, shall we?”
“I’m glad one
of us has our priorities in order.” He stares out the window. It’s already
dark, so there is not much to look at. “Then I guess this is also a bad time to
ask you to marry me.”
I screech off
onto the shoulder of the road, and turn off the engine. As much as I like
having a thousand horsepower engine at my fingertips, I’d be disappointed if a
knee-jerk reaction came between me and my happily ever after.
“You now have
my complete attention,” I murmur sweetly.
if you’ll marry me.” He picks up my hand. When his fingers wrap around mine, I
wonder why I’d ever let go.
answer hits me—to get to our final destination in one piece.
Jack? And why here?”
“Why not?” He
turns to face me, but his features are hidden in shadows, only revealing
themselves in the fleeting headlights of passing cars. “There will always be
some crisis to overcome. Some more… bullshit,
somewhere in the world.”
Some bad guys
to kill. Some long-buried secret to rear its ugly head.
deserting spouse to confront.
me, “We’re both still married.”
“So let’s go to Vegas and set things straight.”
He makes me
laugh. “I like the Bellagio.” I look down into my lap. “I guess you’re over
Valentina in a big way.”
nod. He just looks straight ahead.
If only he’d
lied and said, “Yes, of course I am! What do you take me for, a fool?”
But no, I’m
the fool. For presuming he’s over her, just because she’s over him.
“When she saw
me, she told me Carl wasn’t in love with her. That he was still in love with
me.” I can’t help myself. I have to say it to him, to see if it makes a
difference to him.
tightens. “Do you believe her?”
Carl? Ha! You said it best. The only one Carl truly loves is himself, and the
power he’s able to grab from who knows where.”
won’t he leave you alone?”
can’t have me. Because I love you instead.”
There. I’ve said it.
I restart the
engine and it roars back to life. “We’ve got a date with a stolen missile.
Let’s do this,” I say as Jack’s Lamborghini leaps back onto the road.
We drive the
remaining few miles in silence.
Is enough for
him to truly love me back? Or now, having been told Valentina never really had
Carl’s affections, will he try to win her back?
I know I’ll
have to wait for his answer—
So we are, I think coming out of my fog.
Saved by the
I pull into
the far side of the parking lot, out of view from the reception area, where the
security guard is parked in front of an old big screen TV that must have been
confiscated from an abandoned storage unit.
leg,” I say as he climbs out of the car.
He shuts the
car door before he hears me whisper, “And yes, I’ll marry you.”
for the best. Let’s face it. My answer doesn’t count if he’s already changed
In life, just
about everything is timing.
If I hadn’t
been at a certain shooting range on a certain Spring break during college, I
would have never met Carl.
If I hadn’t
been in the bedroom to answer his cell while he was in the shower one day, I
would not have set into motion the chain of events that would have made him realize
he needed to disappear from the life we’d created together.
hadn’t been looking for a few honeypots right about the time they yanked Carl’s
pension from me, I would’ve taken a job as an assistant at a bank, or made time
to be a class mom, instead of collecting a rogue’s gallery of scalps on my
And if Jack
hadn’t brought Carl home with him after one mission went awry, Valentina would
never have fallen in love with Carl, and left Jack for him.
None of this
I regret. Because if none of it had happened, I would have never have met Jack.
What I do
regret, however, as Safe & Sound’s Storage Unit Number 121 blows off the
back wing of the building, is that Jack never heard me say “Yes” when he asked
me to marry him.
I run past
the security guard, who stumbles out of the building in a total state of shock
and denial. Deadly blasts are way above his pay scale of fourteen dollars an
“Where is the
man who just went in there?” I shout at him “Did he make it out?”
He shakes his
head and cups his ear, to indicate he hasn’t heard a word I’ve said.
I pull him
far away from the debris field, which is scattered far and wide. Coats and
dresses and pants float through the air like cloth clouds, while bed frames
pinwheel through the parking lot. Family photos float down from the night sky
in a storm of confetti.
onto too much crap.
is important in your life, you’ll make room for it.
ambulances in the distance, heading this way. I don’t have much time if I’m
going to find Jack. What if he’s injured and can’t get out by himself?
I run into
the building and down the main hall, but I can’t see which way to turn because
the smoke pouring out is too thick, and worse, smells like melted plastic. I
can’t breathe. My lungs are on fire.
I’m crazy to
think Jack has survived the explosion.
As I pass
out, the only thing I can think of is how I wish I’d been with Jack at the very
(c) 2012 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This excerpt may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission from Josie Brown or Signal Press Books (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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