Want to bake a great cake? 8 Things that can go wrong—and how to fix them.

I just found this GREAT article on the Beebs (BBC) that answers these eight common problems with baking a cake.

1: Thick as a brick, and tastes like one too.

2: Flatter than a pancake.

3: Sinks deeper than the Titanic.

4: Cracked open on top.

5: Dry and over-baked.

6: Raw and tastes doughy.

7: I can't seem to time it best for pulling it out of the oven.

8: It always breaks when I take it out of the tin.

If you have any of these problems, click here, or onto the photo above.

And while you're waiting for your cake to cool, you can read this excerpt below,  of Book 6 of The Housewife Assassin series, “Recipes for Disaster.”

Enjoy both!

—Josie

 

 

HAH Book 6 KBL

THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S RECIPES FOR DISASTER (Book 6)
Signal Press
eBook: 9780989558839 ($4.99 US) / Trade Paperback: 9781942052159
amazon-2-iconimgres copyunnamedkobo-blueIndieBoundBlue
Donna must stop the assassinations of both US political parties' presidential candidates. But when she discovers she has a long-term vendetta with one of the targets, can she put aside her animosity long enough to save the candidate's life?

 

 

 

EXCERPT

It is a truth universally acknowledged that politics is the second oldest profession—and that, sadly, it resembles the oldest profession in too many ways to count on a gentlewoman’s properly sheathed pinkies and toes.

Being the epitome of reticence and decorum, she must strive to stay out of politics at all costs—

Unless, heaven forbid, it is necessary to sully herself in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

But before trotting out onto the campaign trail, she must remind herself about the difference between a lady, a whore, and a politician: whereas both the whore and the politician will perform unseemly acts with the strangest of bedfellows for money (in the case of the politician, this is euphemistically called “campaign donations”), neither the lady nor the whore equates money with power because she holds all the power she needs in her dainty (if not always properly sheathed) pinky.

Speaking of strange bedfellows, the culinary combination of chocolate and peanut butter was popularized with the invention of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup back in 1928. This take on a pie version will have you crossing party lines to get a slice:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie (From Courtney Wade, Gillett Pennsylvania)

Ingredients

• 1 crust made from chocolate graham crackers

• 1 1/2 pints vanilla ice cream, softened

• 2 cups creamy peanut butter

• 1 jar of hot fudge

• 1 container of whipped cream

Directions

1. Mix ice cream and peanut butter with mixer on low speed.

2. Pour into pie crust.

3. Freeze 3 hours.

4. Add hot fudge topping. Return to freezer.

5. Serve each piece with whipped cream.

* * *

I lay on a large table, naked except for the sushi that has been placed strategically on and around my body.

It’s not a great look, but this doesn’t stop three Chinese diplomats (I use the term lightly; in truth, they are spies) from plucking raw fish wrapped in seaweed and rice, while staring at my naughty bits.

One of the city’s premiere sushi chefs slices and dices away at his workstation. Because his chef’s jacket and hat are insulated, he is oblivious to the cold air blowing in from a block of dry ice below the floorboards, which flows into a tube on the tabletop beneath me.

This is supposed to keep the sushi fresh. Unfortunately, it has also turned my lips blue and numbed my bum. Beneath parsley pasties, my nipples stand at attention, whetting the diners’ appetites for hanky-panky, if not nigiri-maki.

I’m in a private penthouse which crowns a sixty-story building on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, its stunningly romantic waterfront district. It is owned by one of the diners—Professor Hong Li, whose status as a world-renowned mathematician gives him the prestige he needs to hide in plain sight. My mission has me working undercover as a nyotaimori. In Japanese, the term means “female body platter,” but it is universally interpreted as “go ahead and cop a feel between bites of your dragon roll.”

The dining room’s other major attraction is its well-appointed vodka room—a large glass freezer in which hundreds of premium, obscure vodka bottles are stored at 28° Fahrenheit. Forget sake. If the way these guys have been blitzing themselves on the fermented potato juice enjoyed by their comrades to the near west is any indication, international relations with Russia are thawing at North Pole speed.

My geisha-like role demands that I lay here stock-still. I mustn’t shiver or move a muscle. This is particularly difficult whenever Li’s chopstick grazes a breast on its way to pick up yet another piece of gunkan-maki.

Either he needs lessons on how to hold his utensils, or he presumes I’m on the menu, too.

How do you say, “Be careful what you wish for” in Chinese? Will a jab in the jugular with a chopstick get my point across?

My mission’s team leader, Jack Craig, is located in the apartment directly below this suite, where he listens and watches the video bugs smuggled into the suite’s various air vents by tiny drones, just last night by our tech operative, Arnie Locklear. Jack must have guessed how annoyed I am with Li because he whispers through my concealed ear bud: “I guess it’s a bad pun to warn you to keep your cool.”

He’s right, of course. My reason for being here has nothing to do with the fantasies of these slobbering men, and everything to do with our country’s national security. Through its encryption circumvention project, Bullrun, the NSA learned that Chinese cyber-hackers have somehow pirated the Department of Defense’s secure satellite feed for its Middle Eastern battlefield data networks—the heart and soul of its network-centric warfare.

Experts predict the Chinese economy will reach one-hundred-twenty-three trillion dollars by the year 2040—or almost three times that of the entire world’s economy a mere decade ago. Now that China is building itself into a consumer nation, it is looking to curry favor with those who can help it with its skyrocketing oil demands—including the Iranians, with whom the old saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” is doubly true when it comes to the United States.

The mandate of my employer—a CIA-sanctioned black ops organization that goes by the name of Acme Industries—is to stop the hand-off of this very valuable intel before it leaves the country. But the Chinese are smart enough to go old school in the delivery process: hand-to-hand, as opposed to e-mail or texting.

For the past week, we’ve been trying to infiltrate Li’s sumptuous penthouse suite, to no avail. He has stayed holed up here the whole time. Body guards are posted outside the steel-enforced, double-door entry. Even the maid who cleans the suite has been vetted by the Chinese embassy employees, as are the well-paid escorts who sleep with Professor Li.

The word sleep doesn’t begin to describe what he does with these unlucky ladies. And the way he eyes me, I’ve no doubt he wants me to experience his bedside manner first-hand.

Should I be worried? Nah. I don’t have time. This dinner was our one and only chance to stop Li’s plot. And from the chatter we’re hearing in our targets’ native language, we realize time is running out. The handoff is supposed to take place at this meeting, but the guest of honor—the person who will be taking it out of the country—has yet to arrive.

I hope he shows up soon. Otherwise, I may be too frozen to stop him.

My only way to answer Jack’s warning is to sigh, ever so slightly. When I do, a slice of fatty tuna roll slides off my midriff and onto the table. Professor Li smirks and mutters, “Zuòwéi tā de dàtuǐ, tā de rǔfáng fēngmǎn. Hǎo yīgè biǎo, dàn wěidà de, dàng zuò'ài. Wǒ jiù zhīdào jīn wǎn shāo hòu, shì ma?”

The sushi chef in the corner must get the gist of Hong’s remark because his eyebrows roll to the ceiling. Abu Nagashahi, Acme’s translator on this mission, snickers.

“Don’t tell her,” Jack and our tech op, Arnie Locklear, warn him in unison.

After a long pause, Abu mumbles, “No kidding.”

Oh, really? And what nasty little aside could our supposedly diplomatic friend here have said to earn my desire to wring his neck with my frigid fingers?

Whatever it is, he is saved by the gong announcing the visitor we’ve all been waiting for.

The men leave the table for the private dining suite’s reception room. The rooms are separated by a solid glass wall. Despite closing the glass door behind them, the mirrored ceiling and walls allow me to watch along with my mission team as two workmen roll in a large, beautiful black lacquer box. It stands vertically, and has beautiful Chinese characters on the door.

Hong Li snaps his finger at the sushi chef—the universal language for “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get the hell out of here.”

The man is no fool. He bows slightly and hurries out after the delivery men. The click of the door closing behind him sends a shiver up my spine.

“Stay perfectly still, Donna,” Jack murmurs. “It seems they’ve forgotten you’re there.

Easier said than done. The cold is tickling my nose. I hold my breath in the hope that I can keep from sneezing.

A man enters the room. He’s in his late thirties, with a full head of long, blond shoulder-length hair. He wears wire-framed glasses over his large brown eyes.

“Arnie, tilt the living room camera down and left, so that our facial recognition software gets a better look at him,” Jack whispers. “Donna, you’ve also got him in your line of sight. Can you turn your head, just a bit to the right?”

I do so, ever so slightly. Thank goodness all eyes are on the stranger, even those of the professor’s personal body guard, a hulk I’ve nicknamed King Kong. At six-foot-three-inches tall and over two-hundred pounds, should the occasion arise, it’ll be a challenge for me to take him. I mean, let’s face it—it’s not like I can hide my Glock under the pickled ginger garnish in my belly button.

If that time comes, failure is not an option—not if I want to walk my children into their new classrooms on the first day of school tomorrow.

Hong Li smiles at the man and gives him a slight bow. His two associates follow suit.

The Chinese spies smirk at the man’s hesitant, unsmiling nod in return.

I don’t like the feel of this.

“I presume you want to inspect my handiwork?” The man’s hushed question comes out in a stutter.

Li tempers his curiosity with a shrug. “Please, do us the honors.” His English mimics his guest’s Southern inflections.

The stranger purses his lips as he twists the latch on the door of the exquisitely painted box. Inside is a clay figure—an ancient Chinese warrior. With the push of a lever, the platform on which the statue sits rolls out.

His hosts are awed enough to murmur and clap.

“Wow! What exactly is that?” Arnie asks.

“It looks like one of China’s ancient terra-cotta warriors of X’ian,” Abu answers. “Back in the 1970s, while digging a well, a couple of farmers in the Shaanxi province unearthed a similar clay figurine. When all was said and done, eight-thousand of them were uncovered. They’d been buried in the necropolis of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. In fact, there’s an exhibit of them here, at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.”

“So, how old do you think it is?” Jack wonders.

“Qin ruled around 209 BC, so it’s at least that old,” Abu responds. “But this one is a replica.”

“How do you know?” Jack asks.

“Because it’s the spitting image of Xi Jinping, China’s current president.”

Darned if he’s not right.

“Nailed him!” Arnie yells in my ear. “The dude who brought the box is the sculptor, Carolus Duran.”

I recognize that name, too. Known as “the Twenty-First Century’s Rodin,” Duran’s works can be seen in many great art institutions, including the National Gallery in Washington, London’s National Gallery, and the Met in New York.

“Your president should be quite pleased with the resemblance,” Duran declares.

“When will it be delivered?”

Duran glances down at his watch. “In half an hour, it is to be transported via train to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, along with the rest of the soldiers in the exhibit now at the Asian Art Museum, just in time for the presidential reception tomorrow evening.”

“President Xi will be honored to receive such a unique gift from your president.” Li’s smile is too wide to be genuine. “I presume you’ve done as I asked?”

Duran nods. “Yes, of course! I’ve hidden the secret compartment, here.” He points under the left arm of the soldier, which is raised slightly from the torso, as if it’s holding something. “There is an indentation, here. Press slightly, and it opens, like so.”

To prove his point, Duran presses a panel in the armor directly under the soldier’s armpit. Apparently he has pushed a spring lock because it appears to fall into the opening that has magically appeared. Duran’s hand disappears into the statue as far as his wrist. He shifts it slightly, and then pulls it out. The panel drops back into place, as if the clay has never moved.

“Excellent,” Li murmurs. “Now, we shall toast your masterpiece—and the release of your parents from our hospitality in Chengdu.”

Duran winces at Li’s joke at his expense.

“Arnie, what’s he referring to?” Jack asks.

Arnie’s research is fast and furious. “Apparently Duran’s folks disappeared about a month ago, while on a group tour of China. Chengdu is one of China’s largest cities inland—much too rainy and overcast to be a major tourist stop.”

“In other words, they were kidnapped as a way to coerce Duran to alter the statue for their needs,” Abu surmises.

“I have a bottle of Russo-Baltique, for just this occasion.” Li nods at one of his associates, whom I’ve nicknamed Snapped Fingers because that is exactly what will happen to him the next time his chubby paws grab at anything on me that isn’t wrapped in seaweed or rice. I call Li’s other toady Poked Eyes, because he seemed mesmerized by my Telly Savalas, and I’d like to alleviate him of that fixation.

“Donna, don’t move,” Jack warns me.

He’s preaching to the choir. I shut my eyes tightly before Snapped Fingers passes me on the way to the vodka room, knowing full well that Jack will warn me if I need to open them again.

“He’s found the bottle,” Jack whispers. “Okay, he’s walking out now … He’s gone. You can open your eyes.”

Arnie whistles. “That vodka is worth a million and a half dollars. The flask is solid gold, made from old coins from the turn of the last century!”

I watch as Duran adamantly shakes his head at his host’s offer. “No, really, I must be getting back. The museum’s curator and transportation director are expecting me to deliver the piece as soon as possible.”

Li’s smile hardens. “We will take care of its delivery.”

Duran’s eyes open wide. “But—but that would be considered most unconventional! The artist must always be present when our president commissions a welcoming gift, specifically for another head of state—”

Snapped Fingers pours the vodka into two glasses on the sideboard, and then places them on a tray. In no time, he is standing in front of the sculptor.

“They will understand that you’ve been called away early, to Los Angeles, to meet with your president,” Li’s tone is gentle, as if he’s talking to a child. “No one keeps great men waiting, am I right? Now, let us drink up.”

The fear doesn’t leave Duran’s face, even as he watches Li take one of the glasses. Finally, he takes the other glass from the tray; he raises it to his lips.

I would wager it’s a cocktail of succinylcholine—a paralytic agent—and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. As he falls backward, Snapped Fingers is ready to catch him, and ease him onto the floor.

Li takes something from his inside jacket pocket and places it into the statue’s hidden compartment.

“That’s it—the intel!” Jack declares. “The president won’t even know that he’s handing it over to President Xi, along with the statue.”

“And should word leak out, he’ll be disgraced,” Abu adds. “His detractors can use it to call for his impeachment, maybe even his resignation—or worse, call him a traitor, and ask that he be tried as such.”

Just as Poked Eyes wheels the box out the door, I let loose with a squeak of a sneeze.

“Oh … hell.” The dread in Jack’s voice tells me all I need to know: That slight movement caught the attention of Hong Li.

He waves at his bodyguard. “Take care of her.”

He’s out the door, too, with Snapped Fingers on his heels.

I am left with King Kong.

Jack shouts, “Hang on, Donna, I’m on my way.”

I’m hanging on, alright—to the far side of the table, which is now the only thing between King Kong and me. It’s too wide for him to reach over it, but the platters I throw at him bounce off, like beer caps in a pong game between two drunks.

He tilts the table on its side and rushes towards me, swatting off my kicks as if they’re raindrops until he’s got me backed up against the wall—really, against the chef’s workstation. He grabs one of my legs and jerks it up, so that I’m now flat on the countertop. He has one hand on my throat. He smiles when he sees my eyes grow big at the realization that he’s cutting off my oxygen with his broad thumb.

Gasping, I grasp at anything, and come up with a chopstick.

When I jab his eye, he howls and backs off. He hesitates only a second before yanking it out. A torrent of blood pours forth. I’m a mother of two tweens who play sports like kamikazes and their little sister does anything they say on a dare, so granted, I’m no stranger to blood, but this has my lunch climbing into my throat.

King Kong has me cornered in front of the door to the vodka freezer. He’s only six feet away and rushing right at me when I throw my last weapon—the chef’s Blue Steel Ao-ko Mioroshi Namiuchi knife.

The good news: as it hits his chest, it stops his forward momentum.

The bad news: when he falls over, it’s forward—and on top of me.

Even worse news: As I fall backward with him on top of me, the force of our weight pushes open the door to the freezer and propels me into it—

And clicks shut behind me.

I try shoving the door, but it won’t open. King Kong’s body is, quite literally, a dead weight blocking my only way out.

My situation is dire. I’m naked, I’m freezing, and for once I’m in no mood for a vodka martini.

Despite the fact that the glass wall between me and the dining suite is tempered and thick, I pray I can penetrate it somehow. Shivering, I stalk the room, looking for a way out of my predicament.

My eyes scan the backlit vodka case. Like the antique gold Russo-Baltique, all of the bottles in Hong Li’s personal stash are works of art. Belvedere’s bottle is encased in a glass bear. The Diva bottle is especially stunning: a clear cylinder with a tube of precious gems in the center.

But neither of those will give me what I need: freedom.

However, a bottle encrusted with diamonds may just do the trick.

There are several here. Oval Vodka’s bottle is covered in them, but unfortunately its shape plays off its name. The cask-like Alizé Vodka bottle is studded with pink crystals. I slam it against the edge of the table, and most of the crystals fall to the floor, so that’s of no help.

The next bottle I grab—a brand called Iordanov—is so embellished with diamonds that it glistens in the light. Holding it by its long neck, I once again whack the center table with all my might.

I’m left holding a piece of very expensive glass still encrusted with diamond crystals, where it counts most: around its jagged end.

By now the cold is getting to me. I can barely feel my fingers or toes, and my muscles ache. I drop to my knees against the wall with my homemade glasscutter, which I hold tightly as I etch a square in the glass. Here’s hoping it’s large enough for me to fit through, and that it’s not just the size I wish I were. (Note to self: pinch that inch, then get rid of it for good.)

I don’t have much strength, but still, I kick at the etched square. I hear it give way—

Then I pass out.

Goodwill toward all customers, for sure. WestJet airline does it right.

Westjet-holiday-promotion

 

I think this is possibly the best public relations campaign I've ever seen an airline come up with. When you get to the end of the video and see the tears of joy and gratitude in the customers' eyes, you'll know what I mean.

 

Way to go, WestJet!

–Josie

 

 

 

HAH 1 - size 200 X 300

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


FREE! Now in

Amazon.com (US)  / Amazon.UK 

BN.com (99 cents)

Apple iTBooks  / Apple iBooks(UK) 

KoboBooks.com

Hump Day Haiku: “Kiss Bliss”

Lovers-kiss-park

The urge to kiss her /
Comes in the oddest places/
He always gives in.


The-Candidate-Final4
THE CANDIDATE

Signal Press – eBook

Buy it NOW, on 
Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

BN.com (US)

Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil…

SYNOPSIS

Democratic political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator is caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.

As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina  and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.

Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country–

Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.

Read an excerpt here…

Enter THE CANDIDATE'S Contest for a $100 Gift Card!


I want to whet your appetite for THE CANDIDATE. Here’s the opening scene.


The-Candidate-Final4
THE CANDIDATE

Signal Press – eBook

Buy it NOW, on 
Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

BN.com (US)

 

Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil…

SYNOPSIS

Democratic political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator is caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.

As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina  and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.

Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country–

Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.

Read another excerpt here…

Enter THE CANDIDATE'S Contest for a $100 Gift Card!

 

EXCERPT

December 31st

It was an
unseasonably warm New Year’s Eve, and the throbbing mass of partygoers centered
around the fountain at the Bellagio was for the most part feeling no pain.

One
in particular was especially numb. His captors had made sure of it, doping him
up with a cocktail of drugs—a potent mix of zombie cucumber, scopolamine, and
some botulism thrown in for good measure—that left him too paralyzed to move,
to speak, to cry, let alone to shout out to the crowd that he was, quite
literally, a ticking time bomb.

As
the Bellagio’s famous fountain pulsated to the sensual sounds of Sinatra,
Carlos Rodriguez glared hard at those around him in the hope that someone—anyone—might be able to read the fear in
his eyes, if not for his sake, then for the rest of them. Illuminated in the
hotel’s many roving spotlights, their faces melded into a living collage:
flirting, blowing horns, laughing, and screaming. He tried to scream, too, but
nothing came out. Not a whisper. The drugs ensured that.

Then
there it was:  The countdown.

58…57…56…

The last three
months passed before his eyes, starting with the moment when that emotionless
U.S. Customs official pulled him out of the employee line crawling down the
gangplank of the Carnival Cruise ship on his one night of shore leave in Miami.
If he had assumed that his Venezuelan passport wouldn’t raise any flags with
her, he was wrong. She asked him some seemingly innocuous questions about his purpose
for coming into the country.

His answers,
innocent enough, still landed him in some hot, dusty hellhole.

There, Carlos was
stripped naked, shackled in a fetal position, or made to squat in his own
waste. During the scalding heat of the day, he was given little water to quench
his thirst, and no blanket when the night temperatures dropped to freezing. As
bad as the daily beatings were, the threat of being drowned, tortured, or
bitten by his captors’ hounds of Hell was even worse.

He was no longer
a man, only a number. They called him Catorce—the
number, fourteen, in Spanish.

From the scared
whispers and coded taps he heard from the other young Venezuelaños also isolated in the prison’s catacomb of cells,
Carlos learned that, like him, they had all come from poor remote villages.
None were married or had any immediate family, either back home or here in the
United States.

In time, the capitano of their captors, the human
devil named “Smith,” told them that they were to play very important roles in
the freedom and prosperity of both their old and new countries.

And that was how
they were told that they were to be suicide bombers.

When that
day—today—finally came, the men were taped down front and back with the bombs,
then dressed in nice slacks, collared sweaters and beige cashmere jackets,
their hair lightened and spiked. Yes, now they could easily pass as well-to-do
gringos. Then they were drugged.

Two hours later,
seven vans carrying the human bombs pulled up in front of the seven hotels
hosting Las Vegas’ world famous fireworks: the Flamingo, the MGM Grand, Circus
Circus, Treasure Island, the Venetian and the Bellagio, all the way north to
the Stratosphere.

Only Carlos had
been paired with another bomber: some kid, maybe seventeen or so, who had
entered their hellhole only the day before. His captors called him Trece, the Spanish word for the number
thirteen. Although muscle paralysis had set in quickly, Carlos’s mind was still
alert. He could tell that the boy, Trece, was also trying to fight the effects
of the drugs. The look in his eyes wasn’t terror, but determination.

Señor Smith had
ridden shotgun in their van. When the van reached the Bellagio, Smith roughly
yanked Carlos out the back. After positioning him in the heart of the teeming,
screaming mass of humanity in front of the fountain, he slapped Carlos on his
back and whispered in his ear: “Look at it this way—at least you and the others
will die heroes’ deaths for your new country…” before casually strolling away.

Out of the corner
of his eye, Carlos watched as Smith reappeared with Trece the boy. They moved
in the opposite direction though; deep into Bellagio’s thickening crowd.

What had Smith
called him, a hero? No, Carlos was more like a fantasma…

A ghost who would haunt the United States for years to come.

45…44…43…

At
the thought of that, the tears that could not fall glistened in his eyes.

In
front of him a cluster of unattached women unraveled quickly in order to sidle
up to whatever single men were still around. Any moment now they would bestow
the first kiss of the year on some lucky stranger, one of the joys of being
young and single on this special night—

37…36…35…

One
girl, pretty in pink, her blond hair grazing her bare shoulders, glanced over
at him. By her quizzical look he could tell she’d noticed his tears. She waved
at him. Of course he couldn’t wave back. No matter. Undeterred, she swam
against the deep wave of humanity between them, to his side.

A
burly red-haired man, watching the exchange, glared hard at Carlos. The fact
that he didn’t respond irritated the man, like a red flag waved at a moody
bull. He grabbed the women’s arm, she tried to shake him off, but he shoved
passed her, hell bent on reaching Carlos first.

Her
boyfriend perhaps, determined to win her back? Que lastima! Perhaps the lovers could
make amends in heaven, because in a mere twenty-two seconds, the bomb strapped
to Carlos’ chest would blow all of them to pieces…

 

(c) 2013 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).

 

Read another excerpt here…

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Just launched on Amazon! THE CANDIDATE. Read an excerpt here, enter the contest…

The-Candidate-Final4

THE CANDIDATE

Signal Press – eBook

In Amazon.com Now!
In all online bookstores June 15, 2013 

ENTER MY CONTEST FOR A $100 GIFT CARD 
FROM YOUR FAVORITE BOOKSTORE!

Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil…

SYNOPSIS

Democratic political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.

As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina  and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.

Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country–

Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.

EXCERPT

The care and feeding of Andrew Mansfield’s most generous campaign donors was well underway by the time Ben got to the Fairmont on that drizzly New Year’s Eve. Dinner was served promptly, the Tattingers flowed freely, and the up-tempo tunes emanating from the ten-piece orchestra on the Colonnade Room’s center stage lured a constant wave of the senator’s well-heeled guests onto the dance floor, so few if any of them minded the long wait to be endured prior to partaking in their prime objective: a few fleeting but memorable moments with Mansfield, in which he shook their hands and intoned a heartfelt thanks to them for ponying up $2,500-per-person for a plate of the Fairmont’s renowned Shenandoah Valley grilled rib eye of bison, the proceeds of which would go to the Mansfield Presidential Exploratory Committee fund.

As requested, Ben, tuxedoed and manure-free, arrived punctually at eleven o’clock. Waiting for him at the ballroom’s double-door entry was Sukie Carmichael, Mansfield’s aide-de-camp, a slight spinsterish woman with an unruly red mane. He followed her lead as she wove around banquet tables and partying revelers.

ElegantThey ended up in front of a door that was hidden behind a few potted ferns. In the small anteroom on the other side of it were two men. Immediately Ben recognized the eldest as Preston Alcott III– the managing partner at Corcoran Adams Webster and Alcott, the oldest, most revered law firm in Washington. Besides being a celebrated lawyer, Alcott served as gatekeeper to the country’s aristocracy. The sway he held over statesmen, monarchs, even dictators the world over was legendary.

The esteemed attorney was in his mid-seventies but could easily pass for a much younger man–ramrod straight and broad shouldered as he was. Even seated, Ben could tell he was a tall man. His eyes were piercingly bright, and befitting his role of patrician, his hair was full and white.

Ben had done his research. He knew that Alcott was also the executor of Abigail Vandergalen Mansfield’s trust, not to mention the blind trusts of the current POTUS and his wife, Edward and Elinor Barksdale, and the estates of an impressive percentage of the Forbes 400. No doubt Alcott was there to ensure that Abby’s very expensive investment in her husband’s political career would pay off in the largest and most important dividend of all: executive power. 

Alcott’s presence there was proof that Ben wouldn’t be handed the job carte blanche.

Fuck it. I need to score this gig—and a win—to prove I’m back in the game, thought Ben. Even if that means kissing Alcott’s ass.

So it’s show time. . . .

As Sukie made the introductions all around, Ben shook Alcott’s hand and gave a reverential bow. “It’s an honor, Mr. Alcott.”

“Ah, the kingmaker.” As Alcott’s eyes cursorily swept over him, Ben held his gaze.

“No sir. That would be your title, not mine.”

Alcott’s slight nod indicated his grudging approval at the response, but Ben was fully aware that the real grilling hadn’t even started.

The man standing with Alcott chuckled nervously. Still his handshake, two-handed and firm, made up for his obvious apprehension in the presence of Alcott. “Paul Twist. I’m Andy’s finance chair.”

Ben recognized the name. “Also a partner at Cochran Adams. And Andy’s best friend. You guys roomed together in law school, right? It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”

Andy’s buddy’s nodded genially. “Your track record is a thing of wonder, Mr. Brinker. But you’ve yet to manage a presidential campaign, am I right?” 

“Yes. That is, not until now. In that regard, the senator and I are both underdogs going into this thing.”What, did you think I wasn’t going to point out that your boy doesn’t have his own party’s blessing? Fat chance. “We both know the deciding factors differ every four years. But one thing doesn’t change: The candidate who wins is the one who has the ability to embody the message the public wants to hear, to get that message out to the media, and to respond immediately to any bullshit that the other side might toss our way.  As my track record shows, it’s what I bring to the table.”

 “That’s all well and good. It’s too bad it didn’t work for Calder.” Alcott’s smile said it all: You lose

Upon hearing the congressman’s name, Ben gave an involuntary wince. “As long as you can assure me that Senator Mansfield’s, er, skeletons aren’t anywhere near as fertile, I’ll take your candidate all the way to the White House—”

Andy Mansfield’s hearty laugh roared through the anteroom. Ben looked up to find the senator standing in the doorway. He had his arm around a woman of slight build and medium height, with long pale hair, pulled back severely from her anxious face and twisted into a chignon. Ben recognized her immediately: Abigail Vandergalen. She was, perhaps, eight years younger than her husband. Her black gown, a sequined sheath that she wore under a cropped lace jacket, was obviously expensive, but its elegance was undermined by the slump of her shoulders and her pensive grimace. Her squared-off pumps didn’t help, either.

In fact, if Ben had to choose one thing that stood out about Abigail Vandergalen Mansfield, he’d say not a thing–except for her eyes, which were deep set, and as blue and sparkling as rough-cut sapphires. At least, from what he could tell in the few seconds in which they actually met his before her innate shyness forced her to turn away again.

Unfortunately her small thick-framed glasses did nothing to enhance them. Damn shame she has so little charisma. We’ll have to get her into media training yesterday to keep that from hurting Mansfield on the campaign trail—

Andy nodded at all three men, but it was Ben whom he slapped on the back. “These two will swear up one side and down the other that I’m holier than a saint.”

“And they should know, I presume.”

 “There is only one person who knows me better. I’d like to introduce you to Abby.”

Ben gave her his patented thousand-watt smile. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Mansfield.”

“Call me Abby, please. And I hope you’ll allow me to call you Ben.” This time when she looked up at him, her eyes didn’t waiver. In fact they seemed to look right through him. “You’ll have to excuse us for being tardy, Mr. Brinker. I was still on the dance floor when you arrived.”

“And giving an earful to some very earnest young man from the Auto Alliance. He was naive enough to insist that Detroit is doing all it can to cut emissions.” Andy gave his wife’s arm a squeeze. “You see, reducing our country’s petroleum consumption is a pet peeve of my wife’s.”

“To the point where she insisted that I divest her portfolio of any and all oil company stocks, and buy into clean energy start-ups instead.” Alcott’s disapproval was evidenced by the disdain in his voice. “One’s personal ideology shouldn’t impinge on one’s investment strategy.”

“I’ve always appreciated your concern over my financial matters, Preston. You know that.” Abby’s tone was soft, but firm. “But I refuse to support industries that are the problem, not the solution. Don’t you agree, Mr. Brinker?”

“Personally, my philosophy is ‘whatever floats your boat.’ Heck, I know people who choose their stocks the way others pick horses at the racetrack: because they like the name. It’s all a game of chance, right?” He shrugged. “Now if you’re asking my professional opinion, I’d say your instincts—be those personal or political—are ingenious. In fact, if a list of your green investments were to be ‘accidentally’ leaked to a few of the right reporters, they’d be duly impressed that you put your money where your mouth is. And what they’d write would sway a lot of independents and undecideds, not to mention any Dems looking to come our way.”

“But we don’t just ‘dabble in stocks.’ For the past six years in a row, my husband has been voted the greenest Republican in the Senate. We’re making inroads in convincing our party that being green isn’t just environmentally smart–it’s also fiscally responsible. Some of the country’s greenest business visionaries have stepped up and offered their support. They’re excited that Andy is making the greening of America a national mandate. If we’re going to—well, to put it somewhat indelicately, quit sucking on the ‘tit’ of foreign oil–we have stop cold turkey.”

Ben nodded, impressed. “You’re right, Abby. That message coming from a Republican candidate is big news.”

 Andy smiled. “You now see, Brinker, why I’ve come to realize that Abby’s instincts are always right on the mark. In fact, it’s why you’re here tonight.”

“How so?”

“It was Abby who suggested that I approach you to run my campaign in the first place.”

Noting the quizzical look on Ben’s face, Abby turned away shyly. Andy, on the other hand, smiled at Ben’s obvious disbelief. “Even before we ran into each other, she said—and she’s correct—that crossing Talbot would be political suicide for any of our party’s favored campaign advisors, so we should find the best Democratic consultant; someone who knows how that party thinks—and how to strategize against our frontrunner. And someone who wouldn’t be afraid to take the gloves off, when the time came. As always, she called it. So I guess Calder’s implosion was my good fortune. And yours.” He gave Ben a knowing grin. “Which is why I’m hoping you’ve passed Preston’s inquisition.”

 “Times will be a lot tougher, Andrew, if this boondoggle of yours doesn’t pay off.” Alcott took a sip of his drink. “Six hundred million is a lot of money to bet on a longshot. And if you lose, so does Abby, since it’s her money that will be the initial seed capital for your campaign. As you can imagine, the thought of that makes me very uncomfortable.”

“But he won’t lose.” By the way Abby said it Ben could tell that she wasn’t being naive, but just stating the facts as she saw them. “Certainly Vice President Talbot has his supporters. In the past, they’ve funded him fully—and have prospered, along with him, based on a failing energy policy. However the rest of us are ready for new leadership, both in the party and in the White House. With your help, Ben, that will be Andy.”

 So the mouse isn’t afraid to roar. Interesting.

 “As you can see, Preston, Abby is one hundred percent behind backing my campaign—and behind Ben, too. And as always, she has the last word.” Andy’s point was made: Game over.

At that, Alcott gave a resigned shrug. Paul, on the other hand, tried to hide his smirk.

Knowing he’d trumped any argument to the contrary, Andy turned to Ben. “So what do you say? Are you in?”

Hmmm, thought Ben, Now let me get this straight: I get to redeem myself with a candidate who is a seasoned politician from a large swing state, and whose wife has a trust fund that rivals Iceland’s gross domestic product. To top it off, he’s as pure as driven snow . . .

Hell yeah, where else would I be?

Not that he had to say that out loud. His smile said it all.

Andy shook his hand. “Great! You’ll make a great wingman. We have a few minutes before I jump onstage to ring in the New Year. Let’s compare notes on New Hampshire —”

*** 

She was nicely naughty, a raven-haired sylph with a sleek chin-length bob and a come-hither beauty mark on the left side of her luscious lips. One dainty foot, encased in a high-heeled diamond studded ruby slipper, was propped high on the rung of the bar stool next to her, unleashing her leg—long, strong, lean, and slim at the ankle—from the skin-tight red velvet gown sliced high on her thigh.

There was nothing Ben wanted more than to play her Prince Charming.

Hell, why not? It was just a few minutes before midnight. His timing was perfect.

He had zoned out somewhere in the middle of Andy’s speech. There were only so many ways a politician can inspire his constituency, and Ben had heard them all before. In a long career he would hear them all again.

 So instead he searched out the nearest bar. Time to celebrate his resurrection.

There was one in the back of the ballroom, but the line was too long. The second one, in the hotel lobby, right outside the ballroom’s open door, was empty—

Except for Little Red Ride Me Hard.

Of course at that point he just presumed she’d live up to that fantasy. Still, he’d be willing to bet on it. The giveaway was what he saw on the spot where her backless gown came to a vee at the base of her spine:

A tattoo of a broken heart.

 Perfect. He liked his women heartbroken. That keeps it simple. She wouldn’t expect it to go  beyond tonight. 

Particularly on New Year’s Eve, when no one wants to go home alone.

He wondered if he’d still be able to make out his candidate’s punch lines from the barstool beside Red Velvet. The senator’s jokes seemed to be going over big with the crowd, if the waves of laughter emanating from the room were any indication.

Yeah, no problem, he thought. Mansfield was coming in loud and clear . . .

If Ben cared to listen at all.

A sleek blade of her hair sliced her milky shoulders as she threw back her head and nudged a last lethargic drop from her martini glass.

 “The lady will have another. And a scotch, neat, for me.” He skirted a twenty toward the bartender.

“Do I look that easy?” Red Velvet pretended to pout but couldn’t hold it together. Her full-throated laugh was an outright dare.

Easy? Heck, yeah.

And for some reason, she looked familiar, too. But he couldn’t quite place it. Something about the slant of her cheek. Or maybe he had once lost himself in the deep mossy depths of those luminous eyes peeking out under those brow-grazing bangs . . .

No, if he had met Red Velvet before, he would have certainly remembered. He shook his head. “If you want my opinion, I’d say you look thirsty.” He slid onto the bar chair next to her. “Besides, who wants to drink alone on New Year’s Eve?”

“Who says I’m alone?”

Ben made the grand gesture of craning his neck around her then shrugged. “Unless you’re dating the Invisible Man, I’m your best bet.”
Couple-kissing-w352

This time her smile was a bit forced. “Yeah, that’s my guy. Invisible. But you’ll still have to convince me that you’re the better man.”

“Don’t doubt that I can.”

“I won’t. Not in a million years——” she murmured, drinking him in. As she casually took the object of his affection—that beautiful leg—and crossed it over its perfect match, he felt his cock harden—“but you’ll have to try hard, just the same.”

That was when he kissed her.

It stunned her. He could tell by the tiny gasp she gave. He barely heard it though, because just then the crowd began the countdown to midnight—

58 . . .57 . . .56 . . .

He could hear Mansfield’s voice booming above it all: “Ah, here we go! And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve lost my wife! Abigail? Abby? Come on up here, honey, don’t be shy—”

That was when Ben’s red velvet dream bit his lip then licked the wound so lovingly, so passionately.

That for a moment there, he almost forgot to breathe. . . .

 

© 2013 Josie Brown. 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.

 

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Hump Day Haiku: “A Day Late”

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Day late, dollar short/

Join me in slowing things down/

Now, look around. BREATHE.

— Josie

 

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TGIF Excerpt: Scotty is dying. Time for Martin to cross the bridge into the 21st Century.

KirkWithPhaser
My husband, Martin, isn't one of those men who must have the latest/greatest in technology. Nor must he demonstrate his manliness with boy toys that are always the biggest, and therefore presumed the best (phallically speaking).

Which brings me to the death of Scotty–an appropriate topic, now that the latest Star Trek Movie ("Into Darkness") is in movie theaters.

No, I don't mean Scotty, the good ship Enterprise's engineer (thank goodness, because I really really love love love Simon Pegg in the role). 

I mean Martin's cell phone, a relic he calls "Scotty," as a quaint reference to the phasers carried by the Star Trek crew. You see, his phone is that tiny.

And it ispossibly as old as the original TV show itself.

Okay, certainly it's not THAT old. Besides, back then there were no cell phones, not to mention the first ones were attached to suitcases, so that would defeat his purpose of carrying the tiniest phone he could find.

In fact, his current cell is so tiny that texting on it (yes, at least it allows him to text, but only predictively) is a tribulation, despite his opposable-thumb dexterity. (He's right up there with the apes and chimps, so my mother was wrong about him.)

And the darn thing certainly ain't "smart." He can't get The Internets, and the pictures it takes look like they were pulled out of an elephant's ass.

Bottom line: Scotty is dying.

It's showing its wonkiness by asking to "Please Insert Sim Card" when it already has one. Or sometimes the screen goes white (yes, at least, originally it was in color). Other times, the message shows appears upside down.

"Honey, Scotty is dying," I tell him in a soothing tone.

"But I hate the new phones! They're too big," he whines "Much too bulky for a man to carry in his pocket."

"Too bad," I respond. "It's dying. That's okay. It lived long and prospered. But if you're waiting for another cell the size of a Star Trek phaser gun, youve got another thing coming. If you need something to carry it in, I'll lend you one of my purses."

Needless to say, this is not the answer he's looking for. 

If he could, he'd wait it out, until cells got small again. Until then, he's still got to reach out and touch someone with something that receives messages that aren't smoke signals, so down to the Verizon store we go.

Speaking of dying, I've got a great excerpt for you today. It comes from Book 2 of The Housewife Assassin series, Guide to Gracious Killing. In it, my heroine, Donna Stone, is charged with protecting  the Russian president from assassins while he's the guest of an American billionaire. Of course, both an assassin and the billionaire make their appearance at exactly the wrong time: while Donna is trying to take a shower.

Awkward.

 
HAH-2-Book-Set (4)Enjoy it. And if you do, feel free to buy it. 

In fact, if you haven't yet read Book 1, The Housewife Assassin's Handbook you can get it free right now, either by itself, or along with Book 2, in The Housewife Assassin's Killer 2-Book Set.

 

EXCERPT

I’ve just clicked on the dryer again, when
there’s another knock on the door. I crack it open to find a maid standing
there, with an armful of towels. “Shall I take them into the bathroom, Madame?”
Her accent is slightly British, which is par for the course around here.

“No, that’s okay. I’ll take them.”

She smiles and hands them to me.

That’s when I see it—a small tattoo of a wolf on
her left arm.

Her eyes follow mine. She senses I know who she
is.

Her arm comes up toward my face. I block it with
my forearm, then kick her in the gut. She falls back, slamming into the
dresser. This stuns her, but just for a second. She reaches behind her and
yanks the dryer from the electrical socket. In no time at all, she’s got the
cord wrapped around both her wrists and arms.

“You won’t stop me from killing him.” Her vow is
soft, but deadly. “With what he’s done to others like me? That pig does not
deserve to live!”

“Trust me I get it. But it’s not happening here,
or now.”

We both know I can’t talk her out of her mission
anymore than she can talk me out of mine: to save Asimov’s sorry ass.

We circle each other warily, assessing each
other’s weaknesses: She’s got more bulk than me, but she’s also slower. I’m
taller, too. Best yet, I’m now up against the dresser. Obviously, she considers
this a weakness because she charges me.

Even with the cord wrapped around my neck, all
it takes is one squirt of my spray cologne in her eyes to blind her.

She stumbles into the bathroom, dragging me with
her into the shower, where she turns on the water, full force. She’s hoping to
wash the sting out of her eyes.

What she doesn’t count on is my ability to kick
her into the shower.

She bangs her head against the marble wall.
Before she comes to her senses, I untangle myself from the cord, plug the dryer
into an electrical socket, and throw it into the tub.

Wolverine’s death mask stare and the smell of
her frying skin sends me gagging from the room followed by a shower of sparks
as the electrical system shorts out.

I shut the bathroom door, then lay down on the
bed to catch my breath.

This time when there’s a tap on the door, I
throw it open, to let Jack in.

But no. It’s Jonah Breck.

I pull my robe tightly around me. “My husband is
out right now.”

He smirks. “I know, dear. That’s why I’m here.
Don’t worry, we’ve got all the time in the world. He’s with the Japanese
defense minister, who is somewhat long-winded.” From behind him, he pulls a
bottle of Tattinger’s and two champagne glasses. “I presume you’re finding your
accommodations to your liking.”

“In all honesty, there’s a short in the
bathroom’s electrical system—”

Before I can say another word, he has backed me
onto the bed. When my robe falls open, he whips the sash out from around me.
Before I know it, he’s flipped me onto my stomach.

“I could use that drink right now,” I gasp, as
he binds my wrists with the sash.

“We’ll celebrate afterward.” I hear him fumbling
with his zipper. “You will, anyway. Trust me, I’ll have you begging for more.”

Promises, promises.

I struggle and try to sweet talk him some sense
into him, but no use. He’s got me pinned. I’ve just about given up any hope of
the Calvary coming when there is a sharp knock on the door.

“Mrs. Stone?” Both Breck and I recognize
Edwina’s voice. “Mrs. Stone, your daughter requests you come immediately.”

“Answer her.” Breck’s hot breath sears my ear.

I shout, “I’ll—I’ll be right there.”

“I’ll have to escort you. The girls are eating
in the south wing media room tonight, and with security as tight as it is… Well,
you can just imagine.”

Breck mutters a curse as he rolls off me. Even
as he unties me with one hand, the other gently follows the curve of my ass—

When he smacks it hard, I swallow the urge to
cry out.

“A love tap. There’s more where that came from.
You’ll love the tour of my dungeon.”

He’s got a dungeon? His corporate bio doesn’t
mention a sadistic streak, but yeah, okay, makes sense. 

I leap up and grab my dress, which is hanging
over the chair.

Breck smiles as I struggle into it. “Allow me to
zip you up.”

I suppress a shudder at the thought of his hands
anywhere on me. Instead, I nod.

He presses the zipper into my skin as he inches
it up, ever so slowly. When he’s done, I feel his lips grazing my neck. They
linger there as he breathes in the scent of my skin, sweat, and disgust.

How I long to smash that champagne bottle over
my host’s head, but seriously, what kind of guest would that make me?

And besides, I can’t deal with the disposal of
two dead bodies tonight.

Before I leave, I flip off Elvis Costello.

I can just imagine Ryan and Arnie’s shock and
awe at seeing Breck slithering out of the room.

I don’t even want to think about Jack’s
reaction.

Let alone what he’ll say about the fried maid in
the shower. I guess I have a lot of explaining to do.

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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Guide to Gracious Killing 
(Book 2) Only $3.99! 

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Hump Day Haiku: “Verbal Smackdown”

Crying

 

His words hit, like stones.

I pummel him with my tears.

 Yes, it's true. Love hurts

– Josie

 

 


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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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Mad Housewife Monday: Kelly Reemtsen’s Flower Power

ReemtsenFlower_Power
One of my all-time favorite artists is Kelly Reemtsen. She so aptly captures the desperation of the ladies who lunch — especially when they get a bee under their bonnet about something.

Take this painting, called "Flower Power."  The way this wifey in the retro shift holds her hedge clippers implies self-emmolation. And yet, her cocked knee implies a dark streak for dangerous flirtation. Perhaps she's saying, "Approach at your own risk."

Truly a thorny situation.

Ms. Reemtsen's paintings can be found in the Skidmore ContemporaryArt (Los Angeles) and the David Klein Gallery (Birmingham, MI). If you're close by, they are worth the visit.

— Josie

 


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