Author Provocateur: Brad Thor Interview

BradThorBacklash

I had the great honor of interviewing thriller master Brad Thor about his latest novel, BACKLASH, his nineteenth novel whose protagonist, former Navy SEAL Scot Harvath, is the iconic Covert Ops bad-ass fixer.

This particular book is a perfect storm of loss, grief, spy games, and epic journey home.

Not to mention a pack of hungry wolves. (I kid you not!)

Feel free to click this link to read it in International Thriller Writers Organization's The Big Thrill

—Josie

—Josie

Extracurricular-Kindle

Extracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.

Extracurricular Excerpt: The Sting

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I started writing Extracurricular eight years ago. As luck would have it, the recent college admissions cheating scandal made it a timely book to be launch this summer.

The scandal also gave me the impetus to expand the story into a three-book series. Whereas it was always going to be about about the consequence of a young lust that morphed into a three-year obsession and a twenty-two year-old secret, what sets its revelation in motion is a private school's involvement with the same illegal activities we're reading about now. 

As in real life, in this novel series, a few over-anxious parents will ruin not only their own lives, but that of the ones the loves they love most: their almost-adult children whose lives they feel they most micromanage as opposed to letting their children grow and mature through their own life experiences.

In the meantime, the reputations of school are also tarnished.

The excerpt above takes place during the middle of an FBI sting operation. In order to lessen her own jail sentence, a cooperating witness, nicknamed “Maleficent” by the agents because of imperious attitude, is recording two clients who interested in her “special attention” college counseling services.

Does it make it more palatable to readers that they are just as despicable as her? Throughout the book, that won't always be the case.

In Extracurricular, ego, desperation, insecurity, shame, lies, and lust play equal parts in 

Read the excerpt here, and then enter my contest, which has LOTS of goodies to win…

Extracurricular-Kindle

Extracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.

The Odd Couple

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One of the joys of writing a book is not only creating a backstory for your protagonists but also fully outlining your secondary characters. When I starting writing ExtracurricularI realized immediately that I could have fun with the FBI agents who are leading the investigation for the college admissions scandal: Lionel Polk and SallyAnne Jagger.

We meet them at the very beginning of the novel. Their interactions there show how such a seemingly Mutt-and-Jeff team can work in tandem by playing to each other's strengths. At the same time, this dynamic duo isn't immune to each other's weaknesses.

And, as you'll read in this excerpt, an chance exchange with one of the book's protagonists is the catalyst for acting on their mutual attraction.

But, before that can happen, they have to agree on one thing: that their key witness, a.k.a., Cooperating Witness 1, is a despicable character.

SallyAnne has already given her a nickname: Maleficent. Read the excerpt here and find out why…

Extracurricular-Kindle

Extracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1

Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.

A twist of fate.

Extra1VirginInstBESTEVAH

Throughout the process of plotting Extracurricular, I wanted each scene to be a bittersweet twist of fate.

If it were put on a timeline, the first twist occurs in Chapter Two, during an SAT test. Appropriate, wouldn't you say, since the plot involves a college admissions cheating scandal?

If you're wondering if there is also a plot twist in Chapter One, rest assured there are several. One involves a set of parents who have the opportunity to walk away from being indicted in the scandal. Do they take it?

Another, involving the teacher and novelist whose life is chronicled in Extracurricular, shows how anger, fear, and too much of a good thing (in this case, liquor) can influence a decision with  severe consequences.

A third fateful twist engages the two FBI operatives in charge of the investigation. When one of the partners sees the other through the eyes of a new Person of Interest, it shades their relationship.

Read the excerpt here. Then be sure to enter the contest for some fun goodies.

EC Book1Extracurricular / Book 1
Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

Extracurricular: Why it’s timely.

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My next 3-book women's fiction series, Extracurricular, is being launched just as one of its plot points has caught national headlines: the college admissions scandal.

In my plot, we see it happen in real time when a private high school is caught up in the same exact scheme.

But, like everything in life that never makes it into an attention-grabbing headline, there is a real backstory to the who, what, where, how, and why parents, students, school administrators, and admissions consultants may have gotten caught up in these illegal shenanigans. In Extracurricular, the story begins twenty-two years ago, and envelops two generations of a family in the trauma.

As with most of my books, Extracurricular is sprinkled liberally with satire. Not to worry, there is enough trauma and drama to go around. But, as in all sensational stories, there is a farcical element to the way we live now. I hope I captured it aptly in this three-book episodic series. The first book launches Friday, June 28, 2019. To read an excerpt, click here. You'll also be able to partake in my fun contest celebrating its release.

Enjoy,

—JosieExtra1 Ad TWExtra1NewLustOldLoveBest copy

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Lee Child – PAST TENSE

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The iconic loner anti-hero, Jack Reacher, has made thriller writer Lee Child an internationally renowned author.

Child’s debut novel, Killing Floor—the first of 23 Reach books—won both the Anthony and the Barry awards for Best First Mystery.

The 9th novel, THE ENEMY, won both the Barry and the Nero awards for Best Novel and became a film starring Tom Cruise.

I interviewed Lee about the latest book in the series, PAST TENSE, in which a turn in the road takes Jack to his long-deceased father’s hometown, where the ghosts of his past aren’t necessarily dead and buried.

To read my print interview with Lee, click here to go to TheBigThrill.org

Why Authors Choose to Self-Publish

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Most authors walk a financial tightrope. 

Hey, don't take my word for it. In a September 2015 an article on a recent Authors Guild survey of its members' incomes,  Publishers Weekly put it this way:

 

Authors Guild Survey quote

Yikes.

Thank goodness for self-publishing. It saved my career, and those of many other authors I know.

Even with four novels (one optioned for television) and two-nonfiction books published traditionally, as early as 2010 I'd dipped my toe into the choppy waves of self-publishing. My subsequent success with it is why I now self-publish exclusively.

Whereas self-publishing has grown by leaps and bounds in the past ten years, ours wasn't the first generation to discover its financial rewards. Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Walt Whitman self-published their books. Misery loves great company indeed.

But before self-publishing became a financially viable option for the current generation of writers, traditional publishing—that is to say, print books, primarily by one of the Big Five New York publishing houses—was the only venue for the sale and distribution of books. Even ten years ago, the thing authors love to do most—write novels—was not possible without running an unwieldy gauntlet that put their manuscripts in front of any literary agency that might deem the book sellable to a publisher, and any publishing house editor who might actually like it enough to purchase it. 

Besides editing, printing, and distributing a book, part of the publisher's job is also to promote it. For doing so  the publisher holds on to anywhere from 80-92 percent of the book's retail price.

(Yep, some authors get only an 8 percent royalty. Worse yet, royalties are paid twice yearly, and they are only paid if their books "earn out"—that is, return any advance paid, which may not happen for years if at all, what with the other variables tied to this equation, including book returns, of which there are no cut-offs; and perhaps the payback of advances of other books as well.)

Sadly, in traditional publishing, marketing is the last consideration—never the first—when purchasing a book from an author. Compared to other products as a whole—and entertainment products in particular, including films, music, magazines, and video games—it gets a negligible budget, if any at all.

Steve Hamilton Publishers WeeklyDon't take my word for it.  In this article regarding the breakup between bestselling thriller writer Steve Hamilton and his former publishing house, St. Martin's Press, Publishers Weekly outs its industry's dirty little secret: there is no there, there:

 A book can be beautifully written, have scintillating dialogue and a page-turning plot. But without the adequate marketing and promotion that puts it in front of a targeted audience, a book is as dead as a beached whale. 

At this point in time, most Authors Guild members are traditionally published. Coupled with the Hamilton/SMP breakup, the Authors Guild survey certainly makes an excellent case for the guild to reconsider what it must do to protect its members. For example, the guild—along with literary agents and intellectual property attorneys—should insist that any publishing contract contain clauses that:

(a) Succinctly spell out a yearly quantitative financial base for the book, with instant reversion to the author if not met. Right now, most publishing contracts hold onto rights forever, under the assumption that digital distribution means that a book never goes out of print.

(b) Outline an advertising budget, tied to an actual, very specific media plan for the marketing of the book—at least for the first full year in print—and allow for immediate reversion of rights if there is no follow-through.

Is it any wonder that hybrid authors—that is to say, those authors who have been published traditionally, but then, like me, elected to publish their books independently of a publishing house—are a growing breed? Of course not. Like everyone else, authors have to eat. They have to pay rents and mortgages. They raise children, and pay for health insurance, taxes, and all the other expenses that come with being self-employed.

I personally know many hybrid authors. Under the traditional publishing model, their advances and sales shrunk along with the demise of both chain bookstores, and the winnowing of independent brick-and-mortar bookstores in the most recent recession. Several of these authors were at the brink of financial disaster (homes soon to be repossessed, couch-surfing, near bankruptcy) when they made the decision to walk away from traditional publishing contracts. After doing so, they rolled up their shirtsleeves and did what they had to do to self-publish: write good books; have their books professionally edited and digitally converted; distribute their books—primarily as eBooks.

The successful one know they must also promote their books.

The good news for their readers: the books are priced lower than their offerings still distributed by their traditional publishers. 

The great news for these authors: now that they retain 70 percent of the book's retail price, they are making a sustainable living for themselves and their families.

Some are doing better than that, having already sold millions of books since starting this journey. Sylvia DayBarbara Freethy, Stephanie Bond,  Bella Andre, and Kate Perry are perfect examples of hybrid authors who took advantage of the changing bookselling marketplace to not just survive, but to thrive. And whereas Ms. Day, Ms. Andre and Ms. Bond still have one foot in traditional publishing, Ms. Freethy and Ms. Perry are in total control of every facet of their books' design, distribution and promotion. 

Another hybrid author who made the leap to indie publishing and never looked back was thriller novelist Barry Eisler. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview him for the International Thriller Writers Organization's e-zine, "The Big Thrill." Some of what Barry says regarding the advantages of self-publishing versus traditional publishing can be found in the article linked here.

However, some of our Q&A was cut. Since the questions are relevant to this post's topic, I've included them here:

JB: If there were one (or two, or three) things you could change about the publishing industry and the novelist’s role within it, what would it be?

BE: The first thing I’d like to change is the popular perception that organizations like the Authors Guild and Authors United primarily represent authors rather than establishment publishers. I have no problem with organizations advocating for publisher interests, but the dishonest way in which the AG and AU go about their publishing industry advocacy misleads a lot of authors. I could go on at length about this topic and in fact I have—so for anyone who wants to better understand the real agenda and function of these “author” organizations, I’d recommend starting with this article I wrote for Techdirt, Authors Guilded, United, and Representing…Not Authors.

JB: But isn’t it true that the AG speaks out on various topics of concern to authors, like unconscionable contract terms?

BE: Hah, the AG going after publishers is like Hillary Clinton going after Wall Street. I’ve had a lot to say about this, including thecomments I wrote in response to this post at The Passive Voice.For anyone who’s curious, just search for my name and you’ll find the comments, the gist of which is, when the AG wants to accomplish something, it names names and litigates; when it wants authors to think it’s trying to accomplish something but in fact isn’t (or, more accurately, when what it’s trying to accomplish is maintenance of the publishing status quo), it talks.

When the AG talks, it’s a head fake. The body language is what to look for in determining the organization’s actual allegiances and priorities.

Another thing I’d like to change is the generally abysmal level of legacy publisher performance in what at least in theory are legacy publisher core competencies. Whether it’s cover design, the bio, or fundamental principles of marketing, legacy publishers are content with a level of mediocrity that would be an embarrassment in any other industry. I’ve seen little ability within legacy publishing companies to distill principles from fact patterns (particularly patterns involving failures) and then apply those principles in new circumstances. Institutional memory and the transmission of institutional knowledge and experience are notably weak in the culture of the Big Five. My guess is that the weakness is a byproduct of insularity and complacency brought on by a lack of competition.

JB: Agreed. Having spent fifteen years in advertising before becoming a novelist, I was abhorred as to what passed for “marketing and promotion.

BE: I'd also like to increase awareness of the danger a publishing monopoly represents to the interests of authors and readers. No, I’m not talking about Amazon; “Amazon is a Monopoly!” is a canard and a bogeyman. I’m talking about the real, longstanding monopoly in publishing (or call is a quasi-monopoly, or a cartel), which is the insular, incestuous New York Big Five. An important clue about the nature of the organization is right there in the name, no? See also the Seven Sisters

Okay, another thing (and then I’ll stop because I could go on about this stuff forever): I’d like to see more choices for authors; new means by which authors can reach a mass market of readers; and greater diversity in titles and lower prices for readers.

Wait, that last set of wishes is already happening, courtesy of self-publishing and Amazon publishing—the first real competition the Big Five has ever seen, and a boon to the health of the whole publishing ecosystem.

Hybrid author success stories are now numerous. As author advocate Jane Friedman's wonderful blog points out,  Claire Cook, Harry Bingham, and William Kowalski are just a few other examples of hybrid authors who made the leap and never looked back.

Products are created from a perceived need. Industries are created by providing sales and distribution venues for products.

But sometimes how the product is distributed changes also how the product is purchased by its consumers. 

Books—in whatever form they take—will always be needed. They entertain, they provoke thought, they provide knowledge.

In publishing, books are the products. Still, how books are distributed and sold doesn't change how they are made: by authors with the perseverance to write a good story, and then do what they can to find readers who will fall in love with it. 

 

Like Mr. Kowalski, Ms. Cook, and Mr. Bingham, I love what I do. Now that 2015 has come to an end, I now know that all my hard work toward creation and release of the my latest four books and a novella (The Housewife Assassin's Garden of Deadly Delights, The Housewife Assassin's Tips for Weddings, Weapons, and Warfare, The Housewife Assassin's Husband Hunting Hints, Totlandia Book 5, and Gone with the Body) was worth it.

It is confirmed by my bookstore royalties. More importantly, it is substantiated by the many kind comments received from my supportive readers. 

Thank you, readers, for taking a chance on me, loving my characters, and chatting up my books with others who they felt might enjoy them, too. 

Here's to a wonderful new year filled with more great stories from your favorite authors.

—Josie

 

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Novelist

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(c) 2005 Alex Steuart Williams  (FLIP) and Erica Rothschild

 

I'm being serious.

Okay, here goes:


1. "I'd write, too, but I can't stand the thought of all the trees I'd be killing." 

Yes, I've heard this one. My response back then was, "Don't worry. You won't sell enough books to raze a sapling, because your pub house won't push you that hard to begin with."

Today, I'd add, "And besides, most books are digital, so you can't use the tree-killer bullshit as an excuse not to write anymore."

 

2. "I'd write, too, but I just can't make the time."

Good. Stay busy. The world doesn't need anothor author. Here's a hint: It's not a hobby. It's a profession.

3. "Why don't you kill off your series' villian?" Because then I wouldn't have a series. And if I don't have a series, I don't have the rent money. I'll make you a promise: when and if he quits paying the rent, I'll quit writing about him.

 

4. "Honestly, what do you really do to pay the bills?"

 
I write novels and I'm proof that not all writers live a life of poverty.

Then again, I'm not JK Rowling, either.

If a writer is persistent and lucky, he or she will find that their income is somewhere in between minimum wage and unimagined wealth.

I'm not saying it's an easy way to make a living. It took years to crawl my way up beyond the government set poverty line. To make the rent, I wrote other things: game questions, greeting cards. magazine articles, even horoscopes. (No, I was not a licensed astrologist, just a mom with two growing kids who could go through money like the Pentagon).
 

 5. "The best authors–like JD Salinger, or, say Margaret Mitchell– only wrote one, or maybe a just few, books in their lifetime."

Oh, really? I guess that leaves out Dickens, Twain, Wharton, LeCarre, Dreisher, Trollope, James, Chandler, Christie, and Doyle, to name a few–all of whom are on my favorite authors list–along wtih Salinger and Mitchell.  

And by the way, some of the worst writers only wrote one book as well.

I'd say the odds are with those who get the most chances at the plate. Don't forget, Babe Ruth broke records for hitting home runs and for striking out. 

Not to mention, a writer's skill level rises each time up to bat. 
  

6. "When am I going to see you on the New York Times Bestsellers list?"

Maybe never–and that's okay with me. A Times review won't necessarily pay the bills. 

For that matter, a Times review won't necessarily be a good one. Just ask any author who has been scorched, panned, or ridiculed by one.
 

 7. "When will I see your book reviewed in the New York Times?"

Again, maybe never–and that too is okay with me. I write commercial literature–romantic suspense, funny mysteries, contemporary women's fiction–and those books usually don't get a NYT review unless they're deemed such a cultural phenomenon that even the Times can't ignore them. 

As for those authors who are waiting for some news outlet to review their books, all I can say is, good luck. Even the best New York publishing house publicist rarely scores a major newspaper review for a mid-list or debut author, let alone a segment on the Today Show.  Now, if you're willing to change your first name to Snooki, or your last name to Kardashian, you may actually get that review, or some air time.

It's just the way of the world: a ghosted celebrity can garner more air time for a mediocre book than a gifted author will receive for a notable work. 

So suck it up. 

Better yet, don't reach for the stars when that is not the lasting definition of success. You're better off working the crowd instead of waiting for the crowd to come to you. In fact, I know many authors whose books have gotten better–and substantially more reviews–than those I see in the Times–

From readers.

Rude awakening: many major newspapers have done away with book reviews–and book reviewers–altogether. That being said, the voices that are ever more important to authors are avid readers, especially those readers who are willing to write a review on the websites of the bookstores (both online, and brick-and-mortar) where they buy their books. Even better is when they chat up your books to friends.

In today's book market, a four-plus star reviews by hundreds of readers on an online bookseller's site can generate more sales than a few kind words in a Times review on any given Sunday.

Bottom line: word of mouth means everything.
 
 

8. "You can write more than one book a year? Hmmm. You're not an artist. You're not even a craftsman. You're…a hack!"

Here's the scoop. Even painters have to produce more than one painting in a lifetime–let alone a year–in order to eat, pay rent, and pay for their kids' braces.

The same goes for musicians. They have to play more than one gig. And songwriters have to write more than one song.

No one wants to be a one-hit wonder.

In fact, even one hit is akin to winning the lottery.

As for being a craftsperson: the proof is in the satisfaction of the buyer.

I'm very proud of my body of work. Every book has received an average of four or more stars. And every day, I get  letters from readers who were kind enough to take the time to tell me how much fun they had with my books, or how much they love my characters. I love to hear that it kept them up at night (it certainly did for me when I was writing any one of them!) or that they laughed so loud that it woke their spouses. 

That, my dear friends, is satisfaction.
 

9. "It must be nice to be able to set your own hours."

I write at least ten hours a day.

Believe it or not, some chapters are written in my sleep. 

When I'm not writing, I'm plotting. Or researching.

The creative process is the most important aspect of my profession. But the marketing of my books are just as important. That being said, when I'm not writing, plotting or researching, I'm concepting covers, going over edits from my proofers and editors–

And promoting, promoting, promoting.

In any regard, I'm thinking about my books twenty-four/seven.

None of it is easy. But it can certainly be rewarding. I guess that's what makes it a "job," and not a hobby.

10. "It must be great to have such a fun job."

I wouldn't be doing anything else. And I'll do it, as long as I please my readers–and myself.

But like any job, it's not always fun. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes I disappoint myself with how slow I am at it. It takes time to craft a sentence, let alone a paragraph, a scene or a chapter.

Then you have to do it time and again, until you have a cohesive story. Creating a work that even you enjoy, despite having read it so many times, you want to scream.

I remember the reaction my sister had when I told her I'd sold my very first novel. "In fact, the contract is for two books," I proclaimed proudly.

This was met with a look of horror. "You mean, they can make you write another?" 

"God, I hope so," I declared.

 Eight years and seventeen novels later, I still feel that way. 

And, now a bonus comment…

11. "I've got a great idea for a book! Why don't I give it to you, and we can split what you make, 50/50?"

Ha ha! I get this one a lot! I've even gotten it from my sister.

Thank you, but I respectfully decline your offer. You see, I have so many ideas already, that I wonder if I'll have the lifespan in which to write them all.

And besides, at best, a concept is a one-liner (at the most ten words). Even if it's the best book concept in the world, but then you're leaving me with the heavy lifting–that is, coming up with the other eighty thousand words that makes it a book.

You see, a book may start out as a high concept, but it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. That's a lot of sweat equity–especially if the concept doesn't resonate enough with you to (a) spend the time to research the era or topic, or (b) create characters who go through the motions to bring it to life–and make readers laugh, cry, or write you to tell you how much your words meant to them.

That being said, go ahead and write it, as only you could do.

And let me know when it's published. I look forward to reading it, and supporting you, just like you read and support me.

 

HA Prequel The-Housewife-Assassin's-Deadly-Dossier-FinalJosie Brown is the author of The Housewife Assassin's Handbook series, as well as the Totlandia series. Her next book, The Housewife Assassin's Deadly Dossier, will be released in June 2014.

Hump Day Haiku: “Verbal Smackdown”

Crying

 

His words hit, like stones.

I pummel him with my tears.

 Yes, it's true. Love hurts

– Josie

 

 


HA-RSG-Final-V2
To celebrate the launch of 
The Housewife Assassin's Relationship Survival Guide
I'm giving away a $100 gift card
 to the bookstore of your choice!

Click here for details…

 

 

 


Excerpt from Book 3 of the HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN Series: First Kiss

Pacific_coast_highway
As we head into summer, I'm both surprised and proud of the fact that the third book in the Housewife Assassin series, Killer Christmas Tips, is still selling strong.

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.

Enjoy,

— Josie

EXCERPT

“So, how old
were you when you had your first kiss?”

Jack’s
question almost has me swerving off the road.

The decision
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.

His decision
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.

“Let’s just
say I was old enough.”

“Come on,
answer the question honestly.”

“Will you do
the same?”

“Absolutely.
Cross my heart.”

I sigh.
“Okay. I was fifteen. And yes, the boy broke my heart.”

He laughs.

“What’s so
funny?”

“I was
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.”

“So Carl
wasn’t your first either?” He’s trying so hard to act nonchalant.

“To be
perfectly honest, not only wasn’t he my first, he wasn’t my even ‘best’.”

Jack’s sly
smile presumes soooo much. But in a
flash, his smile is gone.

“At this
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.”

“Well, guess
what? You won’t know if you don’t tell me, so spit it out.”

“I love you.”

I take a deep
breath. “Ditto.”

He laughs.
“Well, that’s romantic.”

“Let’s save
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.

“I’m asking
if you’ll marry me.” He picks up my hand. When his fingers wrap around mine, I
wonder why I’d ever let go.

Then the
answer hits me—to get to our final destination in one piece.

“Why now,
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.

Some
deserting spouse to confront.

Which reminds
me, “We’re both still married.”

He shrugs.
“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.”

He doesn’t
nod. He just looks straight ahead.

His silence
speaks volumes.

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.

His mouth
tightens. “Do you believe her?”

“What, about
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.”

“Then, why
won’t he leave you alone?”

“Because he
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—

“We’re here,”
he murmurs.

So we are, I think coming out of my fog.

Saved by the
bomb.

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.

“Break a
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.”

Maybe it’s
for the best. Let’s face it. My answer doesn’t count if he’s already changed
his mind.

 ****

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.

If Acme
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
belt.

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
hour.

“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.

People hold
onto too much crap.

If something
is important in your life, you’ll make room for it.

I hear
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
end.

(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 (info@signaleditorial.com).

 


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TGIF Excerpt: The Housewife Assassin’s Handbook: Granny Panties, or Ass Floss?



BlueDress2Here's my Friday treat for you: a fun excerpt from The Housewife Assassin's Handbook. Donna is still annoyed with having been paired with Jack on this latest mission. It doesn't help that he has an opinion on her sex appeal.   

Chapter
7


Be the Life of the Party

Socializing
is a big part of a housewife’s life. Lots of friends mean lots of invitations!
To keep abreast of all the activity, be sure to post a calendar
prominently—perhaps on the refrigerator. That way, your hubby has no excuse to
“forget” your social obligations. (Hint: Another gentle reminder that works
very well is a cattle prod. Don’t worry, the burn marks heal quickly…)

 ***

“We’ve got the Crichtons’ shindig tonight. Then
the Simpsons’ on Friday. And from the look of the calendar next week, another
three lined up… Jeez, you folks sure know how to party! How many bugs do we
have left?” Jack sounds grumpy.

Can’t say that I blame him. It’s the third night
this week that we’ve had a social engagement. Since his quote-unquote return,
we’ve been inundated with cocktail and cookout invitations.

My neighbors are nosy about “the mysterious Carl
Stone.”

It’s hard for me to forget all those years in
which they ignored me while Carl was supposedly on the road.

But I’ll save my pity for later. Considering our
mission, I guess this sudden burst of popularity is a blessing in disguise
since it allows us into their homes in order to plant bugs that sweep the
neighbor’s computers and their phones for any evidence that they are fronting
for the Quorum.

Unfortunately, the bugs we’ve planted have
yielded nothing.

We’re having a mission update in the one place I
know we won’t be interrupted by the children: my bedroom. I pull open my
underwear drawer, where I keep all the tracking devices. It gives new meaning
to the brand Agent Provocateur.

I do a quick count. “We’ve got enough for the
next six parties. I’ll ask Abu for refills.”

Before I can shut the drawer, Jack grabs a red
lace thong and holds it up to the light. “You mean to tell me that you actually
fit into this tiny thing?”

How dare
he!

I’ve learn to ignore his teasing. This time,
though, it’s a little too close for comfort.

I plant a supreme smile on my face. “But of
course. In fact, I’m wearing one now.”

“Really?” His tone is a dare.

What does he expect me to do, strip down to
prove a point?

As if.

Besides, I’d lose. The briefs I have on aren’t
exactly granny panties, but still, they aren’t the come-and-get-me ass floss
he’s holding, either.

As if reading my mind, he looks pointedly at the
mirror behind me:

It shows my backside very clearly.

I feel my face heating up. “Just what in hell do
you think you’re looking at?”

He cocks his head to one side. “Well, from this
angle, it looks like a VPL.”

“Huh…? What does that mean?”

“Code word for ‘visible panty line.’ But it’s
not in the official Acme manual, so don’t bother to check.”

I snatch the thong out of his hands. “Okay, so I
lied. Those aren’t everyday wear. Only when I have to go… you know,
undercover.” Enough of this crap. I shove him toward the door. “Go get dressed,
‘dear,’ or we’ll be late. Remember, we’re looking for any newbies: some single
woman named Vivian Norman, a retired couple with the last name of Neufeld, and
the Kelseys, that couple who moved in beside Hayley.”

He stops short of the threshold. “What are you
wearing tonight?”

“What’s it to you?”

“My interest is purely professional. Think of
yourself as the bait. When they bite, we get our man. Or woman.”

“Yeah, I’ll just bet you like it when they
bite.” It’s my turn to smirk. “I’ve got a little black number that will do the
trick—”

“Nah. Go for that electric blue one. Skin tight,
strapless—”

“Wait! How do you know about that one? Have you
been rummaging through my closet?”

“Don’t act so shocked. I had to see what you had
in the costume department—”

“My clothes are not costumes!”

“You don’t say?” I’d like to slap the grin off
his face. “I’ll keep that in mind. Oh, and by the way, I noticed a Singapore
Air flight attendant uniform, a nun’s habit, and a nurse’s uniform in there. I
presume none of those are typical carpool attire?”

“No—of course not!”

Okay, he’s made his point. I slam the door after
him.

Then I yank the clingy blue cocktail dress from
my closet.

And the red thong.

Neither gives me any place to hide the bug.

Here’s hoping he’s right. Otherwise I’ll be
giving the neighbors something to talk about for nothing.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This excerpt may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission from Josie Brown or Signal Press Books (info@signaleditorial.com).

 


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The Housewife Assassin's Handbook
(Book 1) 
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A great scene in THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN’S HANDBOOK: Donna and Jack’s first date.

RomanticDinner2

Having your characters grow — and fall in love — is a delicate choreography for an novelist. I enjoyed putting Donna Stone, the heroine of The Housewife Assassin's Handbook, into the arms of Jack Craig, her black ops mission partner.

He truly is the spy who loves her. 

A lot that happens in this scene hints as to what is to come in the other books in the series.

Right now, it's also #7 on Amazon Kindle's Romantic Suspense/Mystery list, as well as #15 under Mysteries & Thrillers/Women Sleuths. To see why, go ahead and download it. The book is free right now, in the online bookstores listed below.

— Josie

EXCERPT

No, not that table…

But yes, the hostess at the Sand Dollar seats
Jack and me at the last table on the deck: the one closest to the surf.

The one that was Carl’s favorite.

To cover up my jitters, I order a mojito along
with the seared ahi.

“Double that order,” Jack tells our waitress.

We are silent as we stare out at the ocean. Our
drinks don’t come until the sun is melting into the horizon. As the last rays
of the day splay across the waves, the rum warms me and loosens my tongue.
Still, I’m lucid enough to keep the topic on him. “You have no accent. Where
are you from?”

“I grew up in Washington state.” He crushes the
mint in the bottom of his drink with a swizzle stick. “The Orcas Islands.”

“I hear it’s beautiful there.”

“It is. But I don’t see myself going back.”

“Why not?”

He stares out at the ocean. “There is no one to
go home to.”

Ah.

For some reason I’m glad to hear it. That makes
me a bitch, I guess. And yet, I’ve got to ask, “You never married?”

“What is this, an interrogation? Am I about to
be snatched?” To mock me, he glances over his shoulder.

“We’re getting to know each other, remember?
Besides, if I wanted to make you talk, there are easier ways than extraordinary
rendition.” This mojito is strong. I can’t tell if I’m charming him with a Mona
Lisa smile or leering like some sort of mad clown.

He leans back. “Okay, yeah, sure. You get a
question, and then I get one.”

“Fair enough.”

“So, you want to know about any attachments,
right?” He chews on his swizzle stick. “Only one that was ever serious. But
it’s over now.”

“So you’re divorced.”

His wince is quickly covered over by a shrug.
“Things… just didn’t work out. Our lives are too complicated.”

“You’re telling me.” Whatever is left in my
drink is gone in one quick swallow. “Like Carl, were you recruited out of the
military?”

He nods. “Marine Corps. I served in Somalia,
then Iraq.” His lips curdle into a grimace. “Now I’m an international man of
mystery.”

“So you enjoy this gig.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” As he reaches for his
napkin, his hand grazes mine. It sends a shiver up my spine. “But others tell
me I’m good at it.”

“Yeah, you’ve got great buzz, that’s for sure.”
I don’t have to tell him that the dish on his bedroom technique is just as
notable. The telltale sign is that all the female double agents beg to be
interrogated by him.

“Your rep is quite impressive, too.”

“I do what’s needed to get the bad guys.”

“That’s why you’re on this mission, Donna.” He
pauses, but his eyes don’t waver away from mine. “Okay, it’s my turn now. Do
you still love him?”

His question takes me by surprise. I’m choking
down my drink.

He gets up to slap me on the back. (Seriously,
does that really work?)

I shoo him away. I don’t want to be touched.

At least, not when I’m thinking about Carl. I
have too much respect for him.

But I can’t say that to him. So instead I
murmur, “Yes. I still love him.”

Jack says nothing, but his eyes deepen with
sadness. I can only presume that this is out of respect for Carl. I would never
assume that he is attracted to me.

Okay, I’ll admit it: he’s hot. Maybe that’s
because he’s the first man who has reminded me of Carl.

But no man will ever make me forget Carl.

That’s why I feel comfortable saying “Yeah,
sure…” when he asks me if I want to dance.

The live band is playing a very sultry version of
“At Last.” The lead singer, a woman named Andree Belle, has a husky murmur,
perfect for lyrics oozing with lust and innuendo.

Jack holds me lightly but firmly in his arms. We
move as if we’re floating. I could attribute this to a mojito high, but why not
give credit where it’s due? What I saw him doing with Penelope at the
father-daughter dance was just a warm-up. His hands and hips maneuver me slyly,
cajoling me into a wanton frenzy, willing me to mirror his moves.

Our bodies fit together snugly.

Maybe a bit too snugly, if in fact he isn’t
packing heat.

I’m used to seducing and then killing men when
they are at their most vulnerable. Tonight, though, it is me who is fighting
the urge to surrender.

I thank God he’s not a mark.

Even as I think that, even as he holds me near—

He ruins everything when he whispers in my ear,
“Didn’t you hate him for lying to you?”

The love tango reeling in my heart goes flat
before breaking off. I should be breathing, but I can’t.

Hate? Did I hate Carl?

Yes, of course I hated him.

For lying to me.

For leaving me.

For not loving me enough to quit Acme.

When, finally, I find my voice, what comes out
is barely a whisper. “Why would you ask such a thing?”

“Because I would, too, if I’d been betrayed like
that.”

I stumble to our chairs, grab my sweater, and
head for the car.

He stays long enough to pay the bill for the ahi
we never got to eat.

(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This excerpt may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission from Josie Brown or Signal Press Books (info@signaleditorial.com).

 


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The Housewife Assassin's Handbook
(Book 1) 
Signal Press  

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TGIF Excerpt: What do you do when your car goes into a lake?

Woman-floating
I've had three near-death experiences in water. The third one occurred when I was fifteen. I drove my boyfriend's car into a lake.

To top it off, I can't really swim.

Thank God for the dog paddle.

The lake was deep, but small enough that I could make it to the side–with the help of my boyfriend. Thank God he was smart enough to jump in the back seat and kick out a door before the water pressure made it impossible. I was an idiot. I thought the damn car would float, like the ones in the Volkswagen ads.

He had a Chevy Impala.

I guess I channeled that experience in this excerpt. It's one of my favorites from The Housewife Assassin's Killer Christmas Tips.  'Tis not the season. Then again, Death never takes a holiday.

— Josie

EXCERPT

Zoran is a chatterbox. He hasn’t quit talking
since we pulled out of the garage. Having dropped his fake British accent, his
sentences slip and slide over Slavic pronouns and badass claims.

I make it easy for him. I can’t talk, let alone
move. In other words, I’m a captive audience, both literally and figuratively.

Lucky me.

“I would have liked to have given you a truth
serum first, to find out who sent you. The Muslims? The Croats? Surely it
wasn’t my old friends, the Serbs? And it can’t be the Mexican government. They
have bigger worries than the disappearance of a few grape pickers. If only the
injection I gave you allowed you to nod at my questions, but it won’t wear off
for a couple of hours.”

Nod? I wish I could reach up and pull the tongue
out of his head. We’ve been in the car for at least an hour now, and he’s been
giving me a science lesson on what to expect while on his operating table.

He describes his favorite instrument: a Blue Max
eighteen-inch 45 cc Heavy Duty gas chainsaw. He uses it to chop up the bodies
after cutting open his victims and removing vital organs, while they’re still
alive of course. He explains that, like me, they were first given a
neuromuscular block to paralyze them. But he’s such a sicko that he skips the
anesthesia that would block their pain.

“We should be at my ranch in another hour.” As
if reading my mind, he adds, “The drug won’t wear off before we get there. And
by the way, any friends who may come looking for you will be disappointed. You
see, the cabin is not in my name. It belonged to a now-deceased fellow whom I
met while fishing on Big Bear Lake. The lonely old hermit died of a sudden
heart attack while feeding his hogs! They ate him too. Can you imagine that?
You see, to those animals, human flesh is a delicacy, compared to the garbage
they ate before I came along. As you can imagine, I keep them well fed. Tonight
they will be feasting, ecstatically I might add, on your leftovers.”

Not if I can help it.

Seems I’ll have some help with Los Angeles’
typical late Friday afternoon traffic. As the I-10 crawls east toward San
Bernardino Valley, every now and again Zoran looks back at me in the rear-view
mirror. I keep my face totally still. The whole drive I’ve been memorizing
turns, and looking out the window for glimpses of expressway signs.

I vow to get back to my children. My
twelve-year-old daughter, Mary, and my ten-year-old son, Jeff, need to be picked
up from basketball practice. And before after-school pickup, I was going to
stop at a toy store in East South Central, which, I’ve been told, still has a
few Furbys on the shelf. I have every intention on watching five-year-old
Trisha squeal with delight when she opens one on Christmas morning.

And of course, Jack knows Ratko was on my to-do
list today. If I don’t show up, he’ll be frantic. From the day of Trisha’s
birth and until before Jack came into their lives, I’d lied to my children and
told them their father had gone away, “on business.”

Did it stop them from feeling deserted? No.

If Ratko has his way and I disappear into the
gullets of some hogs in the middle of nowhere, once again they’ll be
devastated.

This resolve drives my desire to move any
appendage. By the time we turn onto State Road 330 going north, I’m able to
bend a random finger, to curl a single toe. Twenty minutes later, by the time
he has veered left onto State Road 18, I can finally flex my ankle, and then my
wrist. Now, if only I could move my arms…

I can, just barely.

“Almost there,” he chortles gaily. “By the way,
the hogs love the sound of the saw. To them, it’s the dinner bell. When I turn
it on, you’ll hear them squealing with delight. Then again, maybe not, since
you’ll be screaming even louder.” He pauses, as if a new thought has just
struck him. Too bad it isn’t a hammer instead. “Tell me, Mrs. Pitt or whatever
your name is, are you a drinker? No problem if you can’t nod. I guess I’ll know
soon enough. The telltale sign is any swelling of the liver. If so, I won’t be
able to sell it. That’s okay. I’ll enjoy it myself, with grilled onions, and a
hint of dill—”

The thought of being the main course in Ratko
Zoran’s dinner propels me upward.

Between the crux of my elbow and the driver-side
headrest, Ratko is in a headlock from which he cannot move. He chokes and
flails, but I refuse to let go. Although the car swerves all over the road at
sixty-miles an hour, I hold tight. Then, on the count of three I wrench his
head fast, to the right, until I hear the snap that tells me I’ve broken his
neck.

Only after he chortles his last gasp do I look
up. Before my death grip, Zoran had steered the car onto the Stanfield Cutoff,
a sliver of a road that unites both sides of Bear Lake at its narrowest
juncture. The car sidles off the unprotected shoulder and into the lake.

There is no time to jump out before it nose-dives
into the lake.

The BMW sinks below the lake’s cold, choppy
waves. The water pressure against the doors keep it sealed, like a tomb. With
the electrical system dead, I can’t open a window, either. Soon the oxygen will
be exhausted. I can hold my breath for three minutes, tops.

Still, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be found
in the bottom of this lake with this war criminal. Not with Christmas just
around the corner.

I’m pounding on the window when it hits me. My diamond.

Immediately, I etch around the back window with
my ring. Then I brace myself on the back of the front seat before kicking it
out with both feet.

The force of the kick pushes out the glass, and
me with it. As the water flows into the vacuum of dead air I leave behind, I
feel myself being sucked into the dark, frigid abyss. I force myself to open my
eyes, to look for light, anywhere.

Finally, over my head, I see something. My lungs
burn as I kick with all my strength, toward the brightness.

I burst up out of the water like a buoy submerged
too deep, for too long. I cough out water and fear while bobbing in the gentle
waves of the lake.

My teeth chatter as I swim to shore. I don’t
care that I look like a drowned rat. I’m still alive.

When I reach the road, I head west, the way we
came. I’ll keep running until I come across a store, or someone with a cell
phone, so that I can let Jack and the kids know I may be late, but that I’ll be
home, soon.

They must be worried sick about me.

*

“Mom! Where have you been? We’ve been waiting
here since basketball practice ended two hours ago!”

Jeff’s way of saying Thanks, Mom for picking me up, and boy do I miss you and love you and
can’t live without you
leaves a lot to be desired.

Yes, admittedly, I’m late for my turn at
carpooling Jeff and his two pals, Morton Smith and Cheever Bing, from
basketball practice.

Hey, that’s what happens when a hit doesn’t go
according to plan.

I would have been much later, too, if a trucker
hauling artichokes and Roma tomatoes from the Central Valley hadn’t been kind
enough to give me a lift off the side of a lonely two-lane blacktop.

But just my luck, I hitched a ride with the only
trucker in the world who sees no need to have a cell phone when he's got his
trusty old Cobra CB radio, so I had no way to call Jack and let him know the
mission was accomplished, sort of.

When I hopped in the trucker’s cab, he warned me
he could take me only as far as downtown Los Angeles. But he changed his mind
and dropped me across the street from Ratko’s office in Beverly Hills when he
realized I knew every song on his Best of
Bonnie Raitt
CD.

He sighed and wiped away a tear as I finished
the last mournful stanza of “Not the Only One.”

“It’s as if Bonnie is sitting right here beside
me.”

“Thanks for the compliment,” I said, nodding
shyly. I may not be a redhead (at least, not today) but the raspy voice was
natural enough after that frigid dip in Big Bear Lake.

Little did the trucker know how much that
particular song means to me. Only recently I found out about Jack’s unresolved
feelings for Valentina.

To put it bluntly, I’m not his “only one.”

No doubt he’d claim the same about me. Not only
did my ex, Carl, let me in on Jack’s little secret in the hope of breaking us
up, he’s also made it clear that he plans on staying in my life, despite my
telling him to get lost.

Even his position as number three on every
terrorist watch list hasn’t kept him from wooing me, threatening me, and
shooting me.

I know he’s a crack shot, so it must be true
that love is blind.

Considering how many of my bullets have just
grazed him, I guess I have a few unresolved issues as well.

Now that I’m on dry land and within arms reach,
does my son even notice that I’m sopping wet from head to toe?

Nah. That would mean he’d have to look up from
the video game he’s playing on his cell phone.

Okay, I can play a game as well. “So sorry! I
was out Christmas shopping.”

His anger dissipates when he hears this. I can
tell by the silent shrug that accompanies his quick glance into the back of my Honda
SUV.

To dodge the fact that there are no store bags
anywhere in sight, I ask, “Why didn’t you call you father?”

“I did! But when I told him you weren’t picking
up your phone, he sounded sort of worried and hung up fast."

"Call him back and tell him I'm here."
The last thing I need is for Jack to worry about me, now that I'm safe and sound.

As he hits Jack's digits, Cheever pipes up. “And
my mom should be here any minute." Then he adds with a smirk, “But she
sounded pissed. You know, she schedules her mani-pedi when it’s your turn to
drive, so she can gossip with Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Cockhead… um, I mean Mrs. Coxhead.”

Cheever’s deliberate faux pas gets the desired effect. Morton snorts the last of his Red
Bull through his nose and almost chokes on it.

I wince when I hear this. Not because Morton
might suffocate on my watch (frankly, a loss of oxygen to his brain may calm
down the kid’s libidinous fantasies), but because it means I’ll get yet another
tongue lashing from Penelope Bing for showing up late to carpool.

There’s still time to beat her fair and square.
If he’s already at our house, and I fill his belly with a nourishing bowl of
Campbell’s tomato soup and Kraft grilled cheese sandwiches, she’ll have nothing
to bitch about.

I drill the boys with my best do as I say look. “Jump in! Now! I’ve
got a pot of hot soup and sandwiches waiting—”

“What about Mary?”

“Oh!” How could I forget my eldest daughter?
Thank goodness Trisha, my youngest, had an after-school play date with her pal
Janie Breck, whose mother owns the largest McMansion in Hilldale. “Well, where
is Mary? I asked her to wait here, with you.”

Cheever chortles like a hyena. “Making out under
the bleachers with Trevor Smith—”

Both Jeff and Morton slap their hands over his
mouth. “Shut your piehole, Cheever! They paid us a buck each to keep quiet,
remember?”

His bites to their palms have them yelping.
“Yeah, well, I warned them. Anything under a fiver, I have a selective memory.”

Mary’s crush on Trevor Smith, Morton’s brother
and the lead forward on Hilldale Middle School’s Varsity Wildcats basketball
team, grows exponentially with every three-pointer he makes. The last thing I
need to hear is that Mary and Trevor’s ongoing attraction for each other has
gone from shyly flirtatious wordplay to outright foreplay.

I jump out of the car and run into the gym. It’s
empty, but I hear moaning, and pain has nothing to do with it. I move quickly
but silently under the bleachers until I spot them huddled together on the
floor, eyes closed and lips pressed together.

By her fierce concentration, my guess is that
it’s not the first time she’s been kissed.

This realization is both sweet and bitter for
me. While your first kiss is a rite of passage that every girl dreams of, every
parent contemplates it with both angst and pride. Yes, we are proud that
someone sees the beauty in our child. But we dread the thought of her
experiencing heartbreak, or that she may grow up much too fast, and much too
soon.

When Mary fell for this guy, where was I? Doing
laundry? Watching Trisha attempt pirouettes in ballet class? Saving the world
from terrorists?

Wherever I was, it certainly doesn’t matter now.
Neither do my feelings about it. She has a right to grow up, fall in love, and
make her own mistakes.

Within reason! My goodness, she’s still twelve
years old.

And in time, she’ll understand she has nothing
to hide from me, that she can always share her celebrations with the one who
loves her as no one else can. She will realize I welcome every rite of passage
on her life journey.

Had my mother felt the same way about me? I’ll
never know. She died of cancer when I was only eleven. I guess that’s why I see
no reason for chastising Mary for keeping this very special memory a secret.

But I’ll break every finger on Trevor’s hand if
it reaches its final destination, her breast.

“Ouch!” Trevor cries, as I yank his pinky finger
as far back as it will go. “Mrs. Stone?
What are you doing here?”

At the sound of my name, Mary’s eyes pop open.
When she sees me, she practically leaps straight up in the air.

“Mom! I didn’t expect you—”

“Obviously not.” I give Trevor’s hand one more
hard twist, behind his back, and point him toward the exit. “Get in the car,
now. Both of you. Trevor, I’m dropping you and Morton at your house.”

“No, Mom! Trevor was going to help me with my
math homework!”

“I think Trevor has taught you enough for one
day. Let’s get moving.”

Mary glowers, but she follows Trevor out the
door.

We’re too late. By the time we’re back outside,
Penelope Bing is already there. With her is her usual momtourage, Tiffy Swift
and the unfortunately named Hayley Coxhead.

“So you finally remembered you’d left the
children out here in the cold to fend for themselves.” Penelope’s glare could
melt ice.

Tiffy’s laser-sharp gaze sweeps over me. “My
God, Donna, you’re a mess! You look as if you took a swim in some lake!”

I’m envisioning what it would have been like,
had she been down in the icy depths of Big Bear, as opposed to me.

Or worse yet for her, with me.

The thought puts a smile on my face. “Sorry I’m
so late. I got caught in a flash flood, east of the city. Christmas shopping.
But now that I’m here, you ladies are welcomed to go back to your spa
treatments.”

“As if,” Hayley mutters. “Our pedicures are
ruined! See?” She arches a foot in my direction.

Her paint job looks fine to me. It’s even got
some jewel inlays. A whiff of Hayley’s breath confirms my suspicions. Not only
were they done with their mani-pedi’s, they had time to hit a happy hour as
well.

They’re lucky I’m in a holiday mood. “Yeah, your
foot is quite a mess. Let me make it up to you. Why don’t you ladies finish up
with your appointment? Penelope, I don’t mind Cheever hanging with us for
another hour or so. He can stay for dinner, too.”

Penelope purses her lips as she considers my
generous offer. The tilt of her head brings the others into a huddle with her.
If it were a full moon, I’d be convinced that I was watching the first scene in
Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Granted, I
don’t hear any chanting of Double,
double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Instead, they’re
debating the cons of leaving Penelope’s precious cargo in my obviously
not-so-capable hands with the pros of downing yet another pitcher of mojitos,
possibly delivered by a bow-tied but bare-chested waiter at their favorite
watering hole, the Hilldale Chippendales Club.

The waiter has nothing on Jack. This is
blatantly obvious when his Lamborghini comes roaring into the parking lot.

His deep green eyes scan every face, but his
boyish grin breaks out only when, finally, he catches sight of me behind the
children.

In a flash, he’s out of the car. His long,
muscular legs moves like pistons as he runs to me. Tall and broad-shouldered,
he arches down over me as he takes me into his large, strong arms. His deep, hot
kiss leaves me limp with the longing that comes with the realization that life
is too fleeting, and passion is its most precious reward.

Our love spell is broken by Morton’s hiccup.

When I open my eyes, I find Jeff and his friends
staring at me, as if I’m some sort of exotic creature. My son is still
fascinated that there is actually someone in this world who sees his mother as
an object of desire.

Mary’s look doesn’t waver either. It’s not the
wide-eyed grin of her brother’s, but a scowl. “Maybe you two should get a room,”
she mutters under her breath.

I know what she’s thinking. At least her display
of affection wasn’t quite so public.

She’s right. The sooner we get a hold of
ourselves, the better. Reluctantly, Jack and I resume the sort of practiced
nonchalance that comes as second nature to parents of tweens who are
embarrassed by every move we make.

It takes a moment for Penelope, Tiffy and Hayley
to pick their jaws up off the pavement. They still find it hard to believe the
neighborhood wet dream is married to me, the one woman who refuses to
acknowledge their superiority, let alone kowtow to the petty demands they make
through their fiefdom, the Hilldale Women’s Club. 

“Well… I guess it’s okay, now that Jack’s home,
too.” Penelope’s shrug is her way of showing me she’s doing me a favor. “Just
remember my rules, Donna. Only vegan! And it’s got to be all natural. No
preservatives and nothing genetically engineered or modified! And I presume
you’ve already forgotten that Cheever is allergic to thin-skinned fruit, dairy,
peanuts, and gluten. It’s okay, since I’ve got it all written down, somewhere.”
She rummages through her purse until she finds what she’s looking for. One of
the laminated cards she carries with her at all times and thrusts into the
hands of teachers and play date parents, per her attorney’s instructions.

With threats of a lawsuit hanging over one’s
head, is it any wonder the only thing Cheever’s hosts will offer him is a glass
of filtered water?

“That’s okay, Penelope. Cheever plays at our
home a lot. I’ve got several of those cards, remember?”

What I really mean is had. After the fifth one, I’ve gotten into the habit of tossing
them in the trash. Besides, if Penelope saw what Cheever gobbled down when he’s
out of her sight, she’d faint. But hey, she’s a mom, so short of tackling her
husky little guy, I’ll gladly follow her rules.

Besides, stating the menu up front covers my
ass. “I was planning on serving tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“No to the sandwiches, since they contain dairy
and gluten. But he can have the soup. Feel free to double his portion.”

As portly as Cheever is, I’m guessing he’ll ask
for seconds, no problem.

Despite recent Collagen injections, Tiffy
attempts a frown. “Can he, really? Aren’t tomatoes a fruit? And if so, aren’t they
thin-skinned?”

“Oh my God! Great point, Tiff!” Penelope tears
up at the thought that she may have colluded in the demise of her own son, in
front of witnesses no less. “Do you have vegetable broth, with no noodles?”

I nod solemnly.

All three of the women give sighs of relief.
Tiffy’s empathy certainly wins her Brownie points with Queen Bee Bing, whereas
no one doubts Hayley’s loud heave has more to do with her desire to quench her
thirst and flirt with the waiter.

As they peel out of the parking lot, I glance
over at Jack. “I’m so glad you showed up! I’ve got one more stop to make before
the store closes. Would you mind taking the kids home?”

Even as he chastely kisses my forehead, his
smile twists into a grimace. “No can do, Now that you’re back on the radar
with, I presume, mission accomplished.”

I toss out a thumbs-up.

“There’s another major fire to put out, Donna.
Ryan wants everyone in Acme’s offices as soon as we can get there.”

“But what about the kids? And Trisha needs a
pick-up, too.”

“Tell you what, I’ll get Ryan and the others to
meet us at our place in, say, half an hour. In the meantime, go run your errand
with this bunch, and I’ll grab Trisha from Janie’s house.”

“That works for me. The store with the only
Furby left in all of Los Angeles closes in twenty minutes. If we leave now, we
still have time to make it.” I turn to the kids. “Okay, gang, climb onboard.
We’ve got to make one stop before we go home.”

As they scurry into the car, I grab Mary’s arm
before she has a chance to climb into the back row of the SUV, next to Trevor.
“You’re riding shotgun. The Smith brothers can sit all the way in the back.
Jeff and Cheever, take the middle row.”

“Not fair!” Jeffrey protests. “Cheever farts all
the time, and it smells like tofu!”

Mary also opens her mouth to argue, but closes
it just as quickly when she sees the look on my face and realizes I mean
business.

I wonder if the store sells gas masks and
chastity belts, too.

 (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 (info@signaleditorial.com).

 


HAKCTv2

The Housewife Assassin's
Killer Christmas Tips
(Book 3) 

(In online bookstores now!)

Tis the season for murder, mayhem and mistletoe! There will be no peace on Earth if Donna and Jack don’t find a shipping container filled with heat-seeking missiles.

Read an excerpt here, then by it on…

    Buy it on Amazon! Nook-button 

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Apple iTunes Bookstore Ibooks

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Housewife Assassin’s Relationship Survival Guide is now on sale!

HA-RSG-Final-V2

 

                                                       Buy it on Amazon!  Nook-button

(Soon on Kobo and Apple iTunes Bookstore, too)

 

Worth the wait? I think so! Hopefully, you will too. Here are the deets:

London. Paris. Guantanamo Bay. Donna Stone is looking for love — and terrorists — in all the wrong places.

In this fourth full-length novel of  The Housewife Assassin series, Donna Stone finds out that breaking up is hard to do.  Then again, so is dating a terrorist,  let alone eleven of them! 

Does this make Donna a serial dater,  or a serial killer?

Worse yet, an old flame gets in the way of Donna's chance for true love. But she doesn't cry…She gets even.

 Read an excerpt..
 

Then enter My Contest to win a $100 Gift Card!


(A small portion of this book appeared as a novella in "Guns and Roses: A Murder She Writes Anthology".)

 

Love this version of Andree Belle singing “Go Go Gadget Heart”…

 

Soft Glow of Electric Sex
Here's one of my fave songtresses and her band, Andree Belle,  doing their thing!  

The song is "Go Go Gadget Heart, which you'll find on her digital album, "The Soft Glow of Electric Sex." Obviously the little techie had his effect on her! Only $7? Such a steal!

In fact, I featured this song in my novel,The Housewife Assassin's Guide to Gracious Killing. 

You can read the excerpt, below.

Josie


 

 

Book 2: The Housewife Assassin's Guide To Gracious Killing – Excerpt


Guide-to-Gracious-Killing-Final
Only $3.99

 Signal Press / In bookstores now!

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Donna and Jack are in the kind of hot mess that can cause an  international incident:

A nuclear arms summit, hosted by a politically-connected American billionaire industrialist, provides the perfect opportunity for a rogue operative to assassinate of the newly-elected Russian president on US soil. Acme operative Donna Stone's mission:

Seek and exterminate the shooter, before all hell–and World War III–break loose.

Not to mention what happens when Donna files for divorce.

Throw in a couple killer play dates and a few naughty neighbors, you've got a whole lot of fun.

 

Chapter 1: Breaking Bad Hostessing Habits

Every woman wants to be the perfect hostess, and frets over her inadequacies when it comes to the gracious art of entertaining.  Pshaw! A little forethought and a few hours of  planning makes it easy as cherry pie!

There is, however, one ironclad rule that every hostess must follow: make all your guests wish they’d never have to leave.

Especially in a coffin. With a bullet lodged in their heads.

 

Harry Happy Hour“You’re quite a saucy minx!” Prince Harry’s  ale-slurred come-on can barely be heard over the techno-vibe emanating from a starship-worthy console of  the Ivy Lounge rooftop’s head-bobbing deejay.  “What say you give me a peek as to where that tattoo ends?”

His head is cocked downward, as if it might give him the ex-ray vision he’ll need in order to see the rattle on the faux-tatt’ed snake drawn from my belly, which ends somewhere  in the nether regions that lay under my thong bikini.

“You’re a cheeky sod. I do have a face, you know.” I snap my fingers in front of his nose in order to draw his eyes northward.

I’ve succeeded, sort of.  But come on, already: the diplomacy born and bred into the Prince of Wales can’t beat two millennia of innate urges and four pints of Guinness.

His eyes linger below my neck, albeit above my abdomen.

When, finally, our eyes meet, I lean in and whisper, “You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.”

I’m lying, even if he doesn’t know it—yet.

His outright laugh is accompanied with a shake of his head, and a tug at the waistline of his briefs. “Nothing under these trollies, I’m afraid. Sorry to disappoint.”

I finger his briefs longingly, then sigh. “I’m sure you’ll make it up to me somehow.”

His smile is his vow not to disappoint.

God save the queen…

It’s no secret the prince has been stateside with his Royal Air Force unit, learning the latest tricks and treats of the AH-64D Apache helicopter: his vehicle of choice for his upcoming tour of duty in Afghanistan. Tomorrow the soldiers complete their training and head home. To celebrate, the soldiers are here, in San Diego, which is just a couple of hours west of their training base, the Naval Air Facility at El Centro.

Seems some chatter, intercepted by MI-6, has led the Cousins to deduce that the prince is the latest target of “the Leprechaun,” a notorious assassin affiliated with the Irish terrorist cell known as 32CSM. If the Leprechaun succeeds in picking off the spare to the throne, then once again the always thin strand of peace between Ireland and Great Britain will be ripped to shreds.

If it happens on our side of the pond, the U.S. will have mud on its face, not to mention the bluest of blood on its hands.

So yep, I have to stop the Leprechaun before he gets lucky.

My employer, the freelance black ops agency known in the field as Acme Corporation, paid big bucks to the club owners so that I could be up close and personal with the prince. My goal is not to shag, let alone snag, Harry the Hottie. It’s to save his adorable hide from a possible assassination attempt.

The prince leans in, close enough to ask in a seductive albeit ale-sodden growl, “Want me to sign your bikini?”

I look down between my breasts. “Oops, forgot my pen. But you seem to be carrying one, in your pants pocket. Or maybe you’re just happy to see me.”

He’s laughing so hard his last gulp of Guinness goes down the wrong way.

“Prince Charming has a one-track mind.” Jack Craig’s snarl comes in loud and clear through the tiny microphone in my ear. As the team leader for this Acme Industries mission, he is close by, but far enough away that no potential assassin can spot him.

Trust me, there is an assassin lurking nearby.

Jack is also my main squeeze, which is why he’s growling about my having to play the coquette while under deep cover (in this bikini, I’m talking figuratively if not literally) as one of the nightclub’s VIP bottle girls, and more specifically, the world’s most eligible prince ’s pick-up du jour.

Needless to say, the club’s real bottle girls are pea green with envy. They can’t figure out how this newbie became Cinderella of this Century.

If I told them that my aim and my 1st degree black belt status had something to do with it, would they believe me? Probably not. All they see is that I’m just this side of Cougarville, which means Harry is less discriminating than they had hoped.

For once I’m glad Jack is not here with us, in the cordoned-off VIP section. One involuntary muscle flex and prince’s all too obvious brawny goon squad—three of his Royal Air Force mates—would be on top of him, like suds on ale. 

At MI-6’s behest, we’ve kept that a secret from Harry, for now anyway. Which, I’m sure, is why he feels so cocksure. This mission wouldn’t have been so hard if the prince weren’t so insistent about partying “like an ordinary surfer bloke,” is how he so preciously puts it. 

Thus far the natives have been awed as much by his title as his regular dude  personality.

Just as the deejay ratchets up the hip hop club mix, six drunken sorority sisters stroll our way. One of the girls, a Kate Middleton lookalike, pierces me with a jealous glare.

I stare back and smile, as if to say Take the hint. Get lost.

Her eyes shift from me to one of Harry’s RAF buds. She waves coyly at him, and he’s smitten. Smirking back, he nods her over. She squeals and grabs the hand of one of her girlfriends.

Harry's haremIn no time at all, she and her besties have jumped the red velvet rope. They toss themselves onto the prince’s entourage, who don’t seem to be fighting them off too hard.

In fact, they’re snapping their fingers at me with drink orders for their new arm charms.

“Not good.” Jack’s warning in my ear is just loud enough for me to here.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I mutter back.

“How about this?” Jack is now shouting into my earpiece. “You’ve lost Prince Harry.”

He’s right.

The prince seems captivated by a petite, busty blond beauty. Even in heels, she barely reaches his chest. She had pulled him out onto the dance floor for a throbbing sex-drenched hip grinder, Andree Belle’s Go Go Gadget Heart.

The strobe lights and smoke machine make it hard to follow them in the crowd. Then I see them, against one wall. The buxom little tart has draped her arms around his shoulders and hugs him close, as if she’ll never let him go.

Apparently too close. I shove my way through the crowd until I’m close enough to I hear Harry’s woozy cry: “Blimey, you’re no bird! You’ve got a wanker!”

Before I can pull him away, the prince is pricked on the neck with something  his partner has pulled from her cleavage. Harry’s groan is loud—

Then the smell of smoke, and the lights go out—

But not before the last strobe catches the triumphant look on his partner’s face.

 “Oh my God, Jack! The woman with Harry—she’s—not a she! She’s—”

“I know, I saw it, too! The Leprechaun!”

Proof it pays to hit the M.A.C. counter before a night on the town.

 And to hang out where the lights are always low.

Everyone is screaming and shoving their way to the exits, leaving me room to follow the Leprechaun, who was shoving Harry in the opposite direction, up against a wall.

“It’s too dark to see where they went. Does anything show up on the club’s security cams?”

“I’m looking now. In the meantime, check the wall for a hidden pocket door. The schematic of this club shows a few of them on every level. I’m sure the Leprechaun had his exit scoped out in advance.”

While he scans the feeds from the security cameras, I skim the walls with my hands. Finally I find it: a tiny catch, waist high.

I pull it open it just in time to see the Leprechaun heaving Harry down a long corridor.

He may not be used to running in heels, but I am. If only I wasn’t running in a bikini, too.

“Too many wobbly bits,” I mutter under my breath.

It is inappropriate for Jack to be laughing now, but he can’t help it. “Just two. And they’re a sight to behold. Prince Charming will be upset he slept through it.”

The thought of Harry in the French-manicured hands of an assassin who can start the United Kingdom and Ireland down another bloody path of un-neighborly relations has me picking up my pace. Unlike the Leprechaun, I’m smart enough to ditch my high heels—

But I’m still not fast enough to reach them before the Leprechaun rolls him into the backseat of a dark BMW and screeches off.

I can hear Jack slapping the wall with his fist. “Aw, damn! We lost them!”

“Nope, I slipped a GPS tracker in the prince’s trollies.”

“You did what?…In his—what?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I didn’t peek. I’ll meet you around the corner.”

What’s a little white lie between fake husband and wife?

Before he can say another word, I snap off my earpiece and run down the block.

(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 (info@signaleditorial.com).

_______________________

Guide-to-Gracious-Killing-Final

In Amazon Now!

Signal Press / 978-0-9740214-4-7 
Digital eBook 

 

 

Free, I tellz ya! Free! FREE!

HAH-Hanging-Man-Oct-5-2012
Yep, The Housewife Assassin's Handbook just went free on Amazon, and already it's #18 in the Amazon Kindle eBook Store under "Women Sleuths," and #39 under "Romantic Suspense."

You can read an excerpt, here below.

Enjoy, 

— Josie

 

THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK

Murder. Suspense. Sex. 
And some handy household tips.

Signal Press – Digital eBook 

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CHAPTER 1: Please Read and Follow Directions Carefully….

Any woman can be both the perfect housewife and an accomplished assassin, because both functions require the same qualities: creativity; a never-say-die attitude; and an attention to details, no matter how small . . .

***

All I really needed to know about being a freelance assassin I learned before my youngest daughter, Trisha, started kindergarten.

I’ve come to that realization as I lay naked and handcuffed to the bed of my target du jour, a sleazebag by the name of Yuri Petrovich.

 Yuri has just downed a couple of Viagra with the last of his Starbucks venti-sized non-fat decaf caramel macchiato. This is to ensure us both that his attempt to mount me will have all the gusto of a broncobuster breaking in the wildest filly in the corral before heading on into the sunset. (In truth, we are in a hillside suite at the Chateau Marmont. But considering Yuri’s attitude toward women, the cowboyspeak sums things up quite nicely.)

Believe it or not, everything is going just as I planned, and right on schedule.

ChateauMarmont.JPGAt least, that is what I tell myself as I watch him unzip his rock star-tight leather pants and squeeze out of them as quickly as he can because his erection, which seems to be growing by the nanosecond, has him wincing in pain. (And in Yuri’s fantasy if anyone is going to get hurt, it’s going to be me. The handcuffs are proof of that.)

Like, say, eighty-eight percent of all my targets, this Russian mafia boss, who came here to unload a cache of AK-103s on some Idaho Neo-Nazis, has an obsessive-compulsive personality. In Yuri’s case that means staying in the same suite at the Marmont every time he hits Los Angeles (although his Slavic accent and pockmarked greaser looks has hardly earned him an iota of the ass-kissing accorded aging rock stars, budding celebutantes, or out-of-town British actors); doing the down-and-dirty with some rent-a-whore, both before and after the arms sale; and drinking macchiatos nonstop, even during his favorite sex act, that Kama Sutra position euphemistically called “the ostrich’s tail.” (Don’t ask, because you really don’t want to know.)

Acme Industries, one of the many new post-9/11 CIA-sanctioned subcontractors that handles any and all dirty tricks that won’t pass a Congressional panel sniff test, contracted me to be the honeypot who takes Yuri down. My assignment is as follows: First, I was to stall on the sex until the skinheads showed up. Next, I was to plant a GPS system on one of them, so that ATF can track and apprehend them during the pick-up. And finally, as a show of tit-for-tat diplomacy with Uncle Sam’s publicly acknowledged new best friend Russia, I was to see to it that Yuri never left his hotel room alive.

Oh yeah, and one more very important point: All of this is supposed to be accomplished before three o’clock, the time in which I have to pick up my ten-year-old, Jeff, and a carload of his teammates for an after-school baseball game. Otherwise I’d have to face the wrath of two other mothers for having blown the team’s shot at taking the state title without a play-off game—

This is why I pray that the 405 isn’t a nightmarish backup by the time I head home.

From the moment he landed stateside, Yuri’s cell phone calls were monitored. The one to his favorite LA escort service was rerouted to an Acme phone operative, who scheduled Yuri a date with “Precious” (a suitable alias, seeing how I’m trussed up in a push-up bra, a low-cut tank top, and the tight denim micro miniskirt I’d raided from my twelve-year-old daughter Mary’s closet. My gut told me that Yuri would not have appreciated my own Lily Pulitzer twill.)

The fact that I showed up an hour after the appointed time put me just a few minutes ahead of the Neo-Nazis: perfect timing in my book, since it foiled his plan for a little pre-sale foreplay.

Needless to say, Yuri was miffed at me for ruining his timetable. To make that point, he pushed me up against the wall, kicked my legs apart, and frisked me roughly. Really, it was more of a test-the-merchandise fondle. Anticipating that maneuver, I’d left my trusty 9mm at home. That’s okay. In my hooker get-up there was no place to hide it anyway, which is why these kinds of close range hits are always tricky. But then again, that’s why I get paid the big bucks. For this job, my weapon of choice was a tiny, serrated dagger that is appropriately called the “street assassin.” However, I was willing to bet that Yuri and I wouldn’t be anywhere near asphalt when I struck, but between some very expensive 700-count Egyptian cotton sheets.

What a waste. I wonder if the hotel knows that little trick about using meat tenderizer on bloodstains . . .

Not that I planned on sticking around to find out.

I shrugged off his grope with a giggle. “Yeah, the service warned me how much youlove a little foreplay, so I brought these along.” Still spread-eagled, I unhooked pair of handcuffs from the metal belt slung low over my skirt, and jangled them tantalizingly in front of him, in case he needed additional proof that I was his fantasy fuck. That shut him up. It also kept him from noticing my dagger, which hangs as innocuously as any of the buckles on my belt: a great way to fool metal detectors, which, believe it or not, are sometimes used by the bad guys, too.

Then to make sure I had his undivided attention, I rubbed the all too obvious bulge in his jeans with one hand and nodded approvingly, while relieving him of his Starbucks cup with the other. As I took a swig from it, one of his two goons snickered out loud. Yuri’s eyes blazed at my impudence. He lifted his hand to slap me, but was stopped by a sharp knock on the door.

InterestingThe skinheads. Perfect timing. “Jeez, nobody said it was going to be a party! But hey, I’m open to anything – as long as you cleared it with the service.” I handed the cup back to him, sauntered over to the couch and flopped down as if I owned the place. While Yuri’s goons frisked the two Neo-Nazis, I crossed my legs seductively and leaned over so that my cleavage runneth over in plain view for all to enjoy. No doubt about it, the skinheads were appreciative. The fatter, uglier one even had the balls to ask me if my boobs were real.

“Wanna come over here and find out?” I crooked a finger at Ugly. As he slid me onto his lap, I copped my own feel: under the collar of his military fatigue jacket, where I planted a tiny GPS bug.

Seeing me all over Ugly made Yuri even hotter to be done with the business portion of his trip. He yanked me off his guest and shoved me in the direction of the bedroom. “No party. You wait in there,” he growled.

I pulled him in close for a deep kiss. Then, as a reminder of all the fun and games I had in store for us, I handed him the key to the handcuffs. That was all the incentive he needed to get rid of the skinheads tout sweet. He closed the door fast, which was fine with me. The tranquilizer I’d slipped into his macchiato before giving it back to him – a time-release version of Rohypnol – was to kick in sometime within fifteen minutes. I was estimating that he’d need about ten to get rid of the boys, which would leave me five to stall before he fell on his face, making it easy to slit his throat before hightailing it out of there.

The minute he shut the door, I set up for the kill. First I snapped on a pair of gloves – black lace from fingertips to the elbows. Sexy, for sure (in fact, they match my G-string) but because they are lined in a micro-thin flesh-toned latex, I won’t be leaving any telltale prints. As I expected, the sliding door to the terrace outside the bungalow was locked and the curtains were pulled, which allowed for complete privacy from the outside. After disabling the alarm with the tiny decoder I keep on my key ring, I went ahead and unlocked the sliding door so that when the time was right I could make a quick getaway.

I wasn’t worried about the handcuffs, since they were the kind used by magicians and I’d only need a strategic jerk of the wrist to break free. Even if the Roofie didn’t kick in before Yuri snapped them onto my wrists, I’d be able to get out of them in only a few seconds.

And finally, I slipped the knife under the mattress, near the right side of the headboard. I’d retrieve it when the time was right.

As minute eight slipped by, I heard a door close on the other side and guessed rightly that Yuri had said bye-bye to his new skinhead pals. During Minute Nine, Yuri instructed his homeboys not to disturb us no matter how much moaning I was doing – and he planned for me to be doing a lot of it.

Then, as predicted, Yuri opened the door ten minutes after he’d left me. Locking it behind him, he smilingly approvingly at my state of total undress: my only attire was my G-string, stilettos, and the lace gloves. 

I was somewhat surprised that he wasn’t at least yawning by now. Apparently he has the constitution of a rhino. I was hoping that I wouldn’t find out if he had the staying power of one as well. It was then that I noticed that the Starbucks cup was still in his hand….

Damn! Hadn’t he finished that thing yet? Okay, no big deal. So I’d have to stall for another minute or two…

To put that thought out of my mind, I envisioned the kill instead: watching his eyes grow drowsy from the drug – or if necessary, closed in the ecstatic throes of passion; yanking my hands free, then reaching under the mattress for the knife….

Yuri wrongly assumed that my sigh was in anticipation of what he pulled from his leather jacket’s pocket: my handcuffs. “Okay, bitch. On the bed.”

HandcuffedObediently I dropped onto it and grasped the middle finials on the vine-patterned headboard. As he slapped on the cuffs, he stifled a yawn. (Yes! Yes! Finally!) To keep alert, he took a long sip of his macchiato. Then, as if remembering something, Yuri pulled something out of an inner pocket of his jacket…

Ah, yes: the perfect pre-sex appetizer: Viagra.

Humph. I wondered what effect that might have on the Roofie . . . 

And now that Yuri’s striptease is over, it seems I have my answer: not only does the Rohypnol appear to have been neutralized by his little blue devil, it seems to have accelerated his hard-on –

 And from the look of things, acted as a growth hormone to boot.

Not good. At least, not while I’m in my current position – by that I mean naked, chained to his bed, and about to be mounted like a prize rodeo steer.

Not that Yuri seems in any hurry. Nonchalantly he ambles over to the built-in armoire and takes a two-foot-long velvet box from the top drawer, which he lays down beside me with a smirk. Then, opening it slowly, he pulls out –

 – A riding crop.

Ouch. Seems that the cowboy metaphor is becoming more appropriate by the moment.

Damn it! Acme had implied that Yuri was into bondage, not sadism. There had better be a bonus in this for me . . .

He runs the whip up my left leg until it catches on the thin silky thread that is my G-string. With one quick twitch of his wrist, it snaps right off.

Dammit, that hurt!

Very slowly he slaps precise little welts onto my belly as he works the whip over to my other thigh, but pauses when it reaches what is left of the G-string, so that I might agonize over the pain yet to come. My wince brings a sick smile to his face. Now I’m feeling a bit queasy, even if he isn’t.

Stall! Say anything . . . Do anything . . .

“What, you want the dessert before the main course?’ I taunt him. “Naughty boy…”

That only provokes him into slapping me all the harder. What is left of the G-string shreds into thin air. With a guffaw, he takes its little lace patch and holds it up like a trophy before flinging it across the room. It lands near the door with a skip.

Suddenly I notice that his eyes are crossing. He sits down on the bed – falls down, really –

 – Onto me. All 174 pounds of him.

And I don’t think he’s breathing. So, the combination of Rohypnol and Viagra was a toxic Trail Mix after all.

More like fatal. Still, a hit is a hit is a hit…

I jerk at the trick cuffs, but they won’t open. With Yuri on top of me, I’m angled all wrong to break their hold. With my chest, I shove him as hard as I can, but for some strange reason, he’s not budging. Then I realize why:

The only thing left standing is his erection, and it has him staked between my legs.

Great. Just great.

As I struggle under his limp-but-where-it-counts-most carcass, I hear muffled noises from the other side of the door. It sounds like a skirmish.

The two faint thumps I hear next tell me that something is terribly wrong.

Someone is trying to break down the door. It gives way, and I see Ugly the Skinhead standing there. As Ugly whips out a 9mm, I realize that the thumps were Yuri’s posse being taken out . . .

And now it is our turn.


Even from the doorway, Ugly’s aim is dead on. As the bullet enters the back of Yuri’s skull, the Russian jerks forward and we butt heads. As much as that hurts, it has also saves my life: as my head snaps back, the bullet that just left his frontal lobe whizzes by mine by mere millimeters. Still, that doesn’t stop a geyser of Yuri’s blood and gray matter from spurting onto my face. I freeze in horror.

“Fuckin’ Commie. And fuckin’ Commie fucker.”

Between my temporary paralysis and my Yuri-spattered countenance, Ugly assumes that I’m dead, too, and turns to leave –


Black-g-string-thongBut pauses at the sight of my G-string.

He lumbers over to where it’s fallen and squats down to pick it up. After sniffing it, he stuffs it into his pocket. Obviously he feels that is a fitting trophy for his kill – or, in his mind, two kills.

He stalks out, slamming the door behind him.

Silence.

Shit, I have to get out of here. Now.

But that’s almost impossible to do, what with Yuri still on top.

Granted, the Marmont is used to strange noises from behind its many closed doors. Still, it’s been a while since a dead body was found in one of its suites, let alone three. Of course, I imagine the worst:

That someone heard something, or maybe even saw Ugly the Skinhead leaving Yuri’s bungalow, and has called the hotel’s staff, which will soon come to investigate;

That, after tapping on the door and getting no response, they will burst in, see Yuri’s dead bodyguards and find Yuri on top of me, then call the police;    

That, to my children’s horror, I get arrested for prostitution;

That, to Acme’s dismay, I will be called as a witness at Yuri’s murder trial, which will force them to contract with another assassin to finish the job Ugly started on me.

Worse yet, I imagine my son Jeff’s face when he realizes that he’ll miss his chance to pitch in today’s County title game, which will move his baseball team, the Hilldale Wildcats, one step closer to being the Major League state champs –

And that once again it’s all my fault.

It’s that last vision that does the trick for me.

It has been documented that mothers involuntarily demonstrate incredible feats of strength when their children’s safety is threatened. I am living proof that this phenomenon also occurs when their kids’ championship games are at stake. Defying Yuri’s gravitational pull, I heave myself to a forty-five-degree angle, which finally gives me the leverage I need in order to jerk my wrists free from the cuffs. With my hands now free, I can shove Yuri to one side. 

At least, what is left of him.

I stumble to the bathroom. Leaving on my gloves, I shove my face under the faucet and wash Yuri’s brains and skull off my face and out of my hair before staggering back out into the bedroom, where I retrieve my handcuffs and my dagger from under the mattress. Then I jump back into my hooker attire, which I had dropped onto the plush chair by the bed. As planned, I leave from the terrace door, grabbing Yuri’s cuppa joe with me as I go.

In my now ruined spiked heels, I totter up Monteel, the road that meanders high above the hotel, sprinkling what’s left in Yuri’s coffee onto a thirsty bougainvillea and burying the cup deep inside a garbage can of a neighbor who has left it curbside for pickup. Besides the fact that a mommy mobile like my Toyota Highlander Hybrid minivan would surely stand out in that sea of Jags, Rolls, and Lamborghinis in the Marmont’s lot, in my line of work I can’t allow the hotel’s valet the opportunity to ID me.

Just my luck: my van is sporting a ticket that is not even ten minutes old. I do that math: that means that the job took a half-hour longer than I anticipated. Ah, hell, I’m going to be late picking up the boys for the ball game. The Highlander would have to be the only car on the road (a fantasy in mid-day, mid-week Los Angeles), run every traffic light, and break every speed record known to man in order for me to get to the boys the game in time . . .

I do have another option: call my carpool partner, Penelope Bing, and ask her to cover for me –

Hell no. That would hurt even more than Yuri’s whip. She’s bailed me out twice in less than a month: the time I was late getting back after taking out some hothead set on assassinating the Pope while he was here in LA.; then there was that hit I had in Seattle, when I’d booked United on the return flight. (On that one, I should have known better and flown Southwest.)

If I have to hear Penelope’s smug barbs again, I’ll cry. “Really, Donna, what is it this time? Another tennis lesson? My God, you’d think, after all that time on the court, you’dfinally find your backhand. Maybe you’re using from the wrong pro. It’s Fernando, right? . . .”

The inference being that I’m lying. Again.

And for the wrong reason: that reason perhaps being that I’m two-timing my husband, Carl, with the local country club’s tennis pro. Fernando, with his bulging biceps and swarthy grin, leaves many of the club’s female members panting, both on the court and in the bedroom.

GossipConsidering the number of times I’ve disappeared in the middle of the day, the assumption has merit to Penelope and her gossip-mongering clique. As if I would! As if I even could be unfaithful to Carl . . . 

To hell with her. I hit the road, tossing on a sweatshirt as I drive. At the longest turn-light on Sunset – the one at Beverly – I wrangle on my jeans under Mary’s miniskirt before yanking it off. The trucker to my left hoots his horn loudly to show his sincere appreciation.

Miracle of miracles, I pull up only four minutes late! Relief floods Jeff’s face. The Terrible Two – his buddies Morton Smith and Cheever Bing, Penelope’s little angel – have already had been giving him a rough time. My tardiness is infamous. But now it’s my turn to be smug.

Mary is standing there with them. Usually you would not catch her anywhere near her little brother and his friends, but Morton’s older brother, Scotty, is also hitching a ride to the game, and he’s a hottie, what with all that blond curly hair and those soulful eyes. To keep them peeled on her, Mary tosses her long flowing main whenever he glances in her direction. Watching her, my heart leaps into my throat. At twelve, she’s already a first-class flirt.

 Just like her mother.

The kids clamor into the back of the van and we’re off. Mary, who, on any given day would have taken the passenger seat up front, chooses the two-seat row in the middle instead, with Scotty.

I maneuver around a Porsche going too slow for my taste, and in the process get honked by a bus. The driver is miffed because we’ve killed any chance he has of making the light. “Cool driving, Mrs. Stone,” Scotty’s approval wins me a temporary reprieve.

Then he smiles shyly at Mary. “So, you and your dad will be at the Parent-Student dance this Friday, right?” This eighth grade rite of passage is one of the highlights of the school year. Two years from now, it will be my turn to go with Jeff. Although it’s Mary’s turn, without Carl there to take her, she will miss out.

But Jeff and Mary’s father is never there for them, no matter what the occasion.

 “No way! I wouldn’t be caught dead there! It’s for dorks! ” And certainly not for a girl who hasn’t seen her father in years.

But Scotty doesn’t know this. Seeing his crestfallen face, Mary falls silent. She is angry at herself.

No really, at Carl.

Kid2I run the last light between the baseball field and us. Yes! Yes! We’re only nine minutes late! I’ve won Jeff’s approval. I know this because he stops to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. Then he asks: “So Mom, you brought my athletic cup, like I asked, right?”

What? But I – I don’t remember–” I rummage through the athletic bag that was packed this morning: uniform, hat, glove, cleats . . . but no athletic cup.

 “I – I called and asked you to get it from my underwear drawer! Like, four times!” The caller ID on my cell confirms this.

Aw, heck.

League rules: no one plays without a cup. Not even if you’re the team’s star pitcher.Because of me, Jeff will be benched for this very important game which will decide the champions of the Orange County Major League division title.

 And there is no way I can make it to the house and back in time. We both know that.

Cheever pumps his fist in the air. He is the team’s  back-up pitcher.

A tear rolls down Jeff cheek as he staggers to the back of the van.

“Jeff, I’m so sorry—” I yell after him. But I know he can’t stand to hear my lame excuse.

Why should he? He’s heard them all before.

“Hey, Mom, what’s my denim skirt doing back here?” Mary holds it up to me, accusingly, before shrieking “Ewwwyuck!” I glance over and notice that it is sprayed with some sort of white goo. One of the larger chunks is covered in hair follicles.

Yuri’s.

But that doesn’t seem to bother the Terrible Two. Otherwise they wouldn’t be mimicking Mary’s high-pitched squeal as they toss her skirt back and forth like a hot potato.

Once again, I’m back in the doghouse with my kids.

At least, until I outrun a Ferrari or something.

————————————————-

HAH-Hanging-Man-Oct-5-2012Copyright © 2011 by Josie Brown. Published in May 2011 by Signal Press. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Author.

THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK
Murder. Suspense. Sex. And some handy household tips.

Signal Press – Digital eBook 

ORDER NOW,  from

Amazon.com


This is how I feel when a reader writes me to tell me how much she loves my books…

Happy-woman
I'm always in awe of those readers who take the time out of their busy days to write me a little note, telling me how much they've enjoyed one of my books. Here's and excerpt of one I got just this morning, for the Totlandia series:

"Hi!  I can't get enough of your books!  Please tell me Totlandia 4 is coming out soon. LOL. I hope you will continue the series after 4, your books are so fun to read, that I can't put them down. It so nice to have something to escape too, when you are a working mom with children!   Love your work!"  – D.H.

Thank you, D.H., for appreciating my characters, and for validating all the hard work I put into my novels. Letters such as this one are why we authors write. You are exactly who I wish to write for, to share time with, and to entertain. 

Truly, it made my day! I feel just like the woman, above,

xoxo

Josie



Totlandia5_2

TOTLANDIA
Book 1: The Onesies/Fall

Coliloquy Books / 978-0-9740214-0-9 / eBook

Buy it now…

Amazon.com (eBook)

Amazon.com (App)

BN.com (eBook)

 BN.com (App)


Friendship. Lies. Seduction. Betrayal. 
Welcome to Totlandia.

The salacious secrets of Desperate Housewives meet the aspirational lifestyles of Sex and the Cityin San Francisco’s most elite mommies group

In this sometimes bittersweet (and always humorous) novel, the friendships among four women who meet in a moms-and-tots playgroup are tested as they address their presumptions, family traumas, love, passion, and the hard realities of parenting their children.

READ AN EXCERPT HERE…

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE…

 

From the bottom of my heart, thanks for all the praise.


IHEARTU

Every now and again, I'll run across a reader review that makes me proud of the fact that I've stuck it out as a novelist. Here are a few examples.

I just want to say to those of you who have read me and passed along a few kind words about my book: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I try to write books I would love to read myself, with characters who grab at my heartstrings, too. Knowing that you're along for the right makes it just that much sweeter.

 

— Josie

 

Baby Planner Low ResAbout The Baby Planner:

"Such a great book, found myself not wanting to put it down. I wasn't me anymore, i became the character. I felt what she felt. her pain, her heartache,her longing and her success. I look forward to seeing what else Josie Brown has written." –M,  New Zealand.

 

 

 


Totlandia5_2About Totlandia, The Onesies, Fall (Book 1)

"I first discovered Josie when I read "True Hollywood Lies" (which I could not put down). I'm not a mom but I picked up the Totlandia series because I love Josie's writing and Totlandia definitely does NOT disappoint. It's a good, fun read – the dialogue is entertaining and funny and the characters are relatable, most are likable, and all have a depth to them that is hard to accomplish in a page turner. I definitely find myself having favorites. For anyone worried about the reviews saying that the book ends without resolution, I completely disagree. There is resolution – as one mom does get cut. And there's a little teaser at the end of Book One which only makes me want to read Book Two that much more." — J.K.

and

"I read the first book which was gifted to me…then immediately bought the other 2 books. I couldn't put them down! One review I read said these are better than crack and she was right! I am completely frustrated that I have to wait 3 months for the next one to come out….but that is part of the allure, I guess. Josie has a way of leaving you hanging so you just HAVE TO KNOW what happens next to the characters. Josie Brown has quickly become one of my favorite authors so I am devouring everything she has written. Highly recommend this series, whether you are a mom or not." — A.Z.

 


Guide-to-Gracious-Killing-FinalThe Housewife Assassin's Guide to Gracious Killing
(The Housewife Assassin Series, Book 2)

"I truly enjoyed reading this book. I didn't want to put it down. I found myself thinking about the story when I wasn't reading it, anticipating the next time I'd get back to it. It was funny and engaging." — V

and

"A good writer makes for ease of reading. Fast paced action breaks the mundane day to day life to a whole new level. I laughed, cried and laughed some more. Great read to bring a lighter mood into our hurried world." — D.M., TN

 

 


ITT 200About Impossibly Tongue-Tied

"About a half hour after finishing this book (10 min ago), I came to the realization that this wonderful book took another layer of shine off of movies and Hollywood. People will do some pretty nasty things for fame and the public will still give it to them. Now, it will be hard not to look at acclaimed actresses and wonder if their sweet personalities aren't also an act. Or if my favorite Hollywood heart-throb is cheating on his girlfriend/wife. I would have given this book 6 stars if the author had just provided one or two actors/actresses with sweet and loyal this in the book. Because, like many of my generation, I may not be ready to face what Hollywood has become.
3) The ending was really romantic but I still wish that the author had given us more of a peek into what Nina's future life holds professionally speaking.

I'm sorry for the rant but if you're still reading, this book was worth the disillusionment about Hollywood."  - Z., Florida

 

 

It’s not a party unless you show up…

Tot3 launch party poster

TOTLANDIA
Book 3: The Onesies/Spring

In Bookstores Now!

Coliloquy Books
978-1-937804-16-9 / 
eBook

Buy it on Amazon.com

Buy it on BN.com

 

To celebrate the launch of Totlandia: The Onesies, Book 3 (Spring),
join me for a fantabulous Twitter party, and a chance to win a free copy of Book 3!

Now is the time to ask me all your must-know questions about
Jade, Brady, Ally, Lorna, Jillian….and of course, Bettina!
I'll also be tweeting some trivia on all the Onesies moms,
and asking your opinion about some of the characters you love…and love to hate!

Looking forward to having you join me!

– Josie

@JosieBrownCA

 

____________________________

 

Spring comes in like a lamb as the exclusive
Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club welcomes its newest members.
But that tranquility belies a storm brewing,
as new tensions and old rivalries come to a head.

The surviving moms are ready to reap the rewards of membership,
but none of them counted on club founder, Bettina Connaught Cross,
needing a pick-me-up from a bitter betrayal.
While lesser women might cry into their pillows,
Bettina finds comfort in exerting control over her domain.

With Bettina on a rampage, the new Onesies are trying to stay out of sight
long enough to deal with their own issues:
Lorna wants to tell her family about Dante’s autism,
but keeping it on her own terms could be difficult
when her hippie mom and socialite mother-in-law meet for the first time.
Jillian fights to regain her financial footing and confront her own insecurities,
finding comfort in an unexpected place.
And Ally can’t bear the thought of hurting Jade,
so she continues to bury her feelings for Brady.

But when another desperate housewife stirs the mix,
Jade could become a pawn in an even more devious game.
It’s no ordinary spring in Totlandia, as emotions build to a fury and end with a roar.

________________________________

EXCERPT

Friday, 4 January

8:14 a.m.

“What do you mean I don’t qualify for unemployment benefits?” Jillian Frederick’s hand was shaking so hard she could barely hold the phone to her ear.

It had taken her almost an hour to get more than an automated voice on the line, someone who could actually answer her questions about how to file a claim. Within that hour, her cell phone beeped because its battery was low. To top it off, someone had just texted her. No doubt the waiting text was zapping her juice as well.

“Sorry, my dear, but them’s the breaks.” The Unemployment Office clerk practically yawned in Jillian’s ear. “You worked for, like what… two months? And for minimum wage at that. What did you expect?”

“My husband left me and our two babies a few months ago. It was the only job I could find!”

“Seriously, hon, I feel for you. But I’m not Dear Abby, and the Unemployment Office isn’t your parents’ ATM.”

“This is an emergency! I may lose my house! I supported my ex-husband through college, so I’m sure my benefits from back then still count, don’t they? Listen, can you check and see how far back you can go?” 

Just then one-year-old Amelia yanked a branch of the Christmas tree so hard that three glass ornaments fell and cracked. Both she and her twin sister, Addison, wailed in union.

As Jillian scooped both girls up into her arms to cuddle them before they grabbed at the glass shards, the cell phone fell out of her hand, hitting the cold marble floor with a loud crack.

“Oh my God! Are you—are you okay?” Jillian could barely hear her own voice over her daughters’ wails.

 “I think you broke my eardrum,” the clerk finally retorted.

“I’m so sorry! One of my daughters almost pulled down our Christmas tree.” Jillian was trying with all her might to keep the tears out of her voice. “Listen, isn’t there any way to find out if those benefits are still good?”

“Yeah sure. What’s your maiden name?”

“McKeever.”

“I’ll check. Let me put you on hold again.”

Hold? Oh my God, no! My phone battery is dying, and I was on hold for forty minutes before I reached you! Can’t you just all me back? Wait!”

But it was too late. She was being serenaded by a symphonic version of the Black-Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.”

Frustrated, Jillian fell back onto the couch. The drop in altitude left the toddlers giggling. They smacked Jillian’s face as if that would relieve her too-early-in-the-morning exhaustion. She sighed, forced her lips into a smile and wiped the tears from her eyes before opening them.

Truth be told, even if she hadn’t been canned, Jillian’s credit card bills were mounting so fast that no amount of generous tips could’ve saved her. She was now four months behind on her SUV’s payments. She hid the car in the alley behind her house so she could dodge the repo man who kept knocking on the door. As it was, she barely used the damn thing, except for Costco and Wal-Mart runs. Having rammed it repeatedly into the Porsche of her philandering soon-to-be ex, Scott, her car’s bumper now scraped her front wheels on tight turns.

Last week she had just managed to scrape together the money to pay the gas and electric bill. To keep them under fifty dollars a month, she closed off the vents in every room of her rambling mansion on Pacific Street except for the kitchen and the nursery, where for the most part Addison and Amelia slept and played, or burned used paperbacks in the old home’s fireplaces.

 She had traded the convenience of her pricey local Whole Foods and the neighborhood grocery markets on Union, Polk, and Chestnut streets for Chinatown’s vegetable markets, where produce could be purchased for less than half the price.

The thought of collecting unemployment benefits shamed her. But it was going on three weeks since she lost her job, and she had to do something, anything.

She was too proud to give up the home she had so lovingly restored. Further, it would have been one more intolerable defeat at the hands of her two-timing husband.

A commotion coming from the alley behind her house roused her from where she sat prostrate on the couch. She picked up both girls before walking to the window, just in time to see her SUV being hoisted onto a flatbed truck.

She set the girls down in their playpen and ran down the stairs and out the side door. The tow operator, a large bear of a man sporting tattoos on every inch of skin not covered by his jeans or the jacket emblazoned with Bay Area Repo, had already chained down her vehicle.

Jillian grabbed his arm. “Wait! That’s my car! Where do you think you’re taking it?”

The man shrugged. “Back to the dealership. Sorry, lady, three missed payments means they own it again.”

“How will I get around without it? It’s the only transportation I’ve got, and I have two toddlers! Please—”

He looked down at her. “Nothing I can do about it. Here’s a tip, though. Next time, disengage the GPS so we can’t find it so easily. Just sayin’.”

If only she’d known that earlier.

She watched as he backed the truck through the alleyway before gunning it down Pacific Street. Then it occurred to her that she’d left the kids alone inside. Both were now adept at catapulting themselves over the playpen’s side with a kamikaze flip they’d learned from their little gal pal, Zoe Thornton. She ran back into the house.

Too late. The girls were toddling toward the Christmas tree.

She grabbed them just before they hit the field of broken glass.

Now, for her cell phone. Where had she put it?

It took her a full five minutes before she realized she’d tossed it into the playpen with the girls. By the time she did, it was too late. The damn battery had gone dead.

She threw it back down into the playpen.

Big mistake. The girls climbed down out of her arms and into the playpen after it. She was just about to fish out all three one more time when the doorbell rang.

Who the hell could it be now? Jillian wondered. Before she opened the door, she looked through the peephole.

Scott.

She slumped up against the wall. What the hell was he doing there?

© 2013 Josie Brown. Published in 2012 by Coliloquy Books. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.