It’s March 2020, no denying that, but is it really spring? Hard to tell. Mild days, cold days, snow alerts. It’s a vicious circle.
For this month’s Book of the Month, I’ve chosen Desert Deception, something to bring the heat into your lives.
This novel has an interesting background. Parts of the beginning were published as Coming Home when I wrote in partnership as Misty Matthews. When the partnership was dissolved, I acquired the rights to it. When we’d written the book, we’d intended for it to be a series, but we ended the partnership before that could happen. So, knowing where I wanted the story to go, I took what I needed from Coming Home a contemporary romance, and added the new material and the suspense need to turn it into a Romance Suspense novel. The end product also gave me a chance for some unique research on Arizona’s Superstition Mountains.
This month, Desert Deception is only 99 cents or free to read in KU.
Seeing is believing, or is it?
When high-powered Santa Fe attorney Casey Stevens reluctantly returns to Fortune for Gold Rush Days, she is drawn to Cole Walker Junior, but he is no longer the shy, quiet boy she recalls. Then again, Cole isn’t the only one who has changed. The town may be celebrating its past, but someone is trying to destroy its future. A hit and run accident leaves Fortune’s only lawyer in a coma, forcing Casey to choose between helping innocent people and running away once more. Can she face the demons of her past or will they destroy her this time?
Cole Warner has a secret identity, one he’s determined to protect at all costs. The police officer, volunteer firefighter, and part-time store owner, is also popular western novelist, CJ Coleson, who uses Fortune and its people as the inspiration for his books. Having Casey walk into his life turns it upside down. When someone starts using the murders in Cole’s books to stage a killing spree of their own, keeping his secret may be too costly, but admitting the truth could ruin any chance they have for a happily ever after.
As the bodies pile up and the buildings burn down, Casey and Cole have to work together to stop a madman with gold fever before more people die. The answer lies on Superstition Mountain or is it all a desert deception?
Cole shook Casey gently, hoping he could mask his concern. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. If I let you rest any longer, you’ll miss curfew.”
She opened her eyes, blinked sleepily and then sat up quickly, her teeth gripping her lower lip in horror, her eyes wide open.
“I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did that,” she stammered, her cheeks red in the LED light spilling from the flashlight. “Please don’t say anything to CJ. It wasn’t the story. I haven’t been getting much sleep lately. I had to burn the midnight oil at work to get this time off, and I guess I was just so relaxed and…”
“Hey, don’t sweat it. I was dozing, too. Besides, if you were comfortable enough to nod off in my presence here, knowing how you feel about the area’s residents, then that’s a compliment. Let’s get this picked up and head back into town.”
The loud, unexpected crack of a rifle made them both jump, reminding Cole of their immediate danger.
“What the hell was that?” she asked, her voice filled with fear.
“Probably a poacher out after deer,” he lied, hoping to reassure her and knowing they needed to get the hell out of here a.s.a.p. That shot most likely came from a rancher or a Bureau of Land Management ranger hunting for the mountain lion he’d heard. Having the big cats this close to civilization didn’t happen often, but when it did, it wasn’t usually a good thing. Last spring, a rabid cougar had wandered into the campground and attacked a camper. The rangers had caught the animal and destroyed it, but the man had lost his leg. The other possibility, the one where that shot had come from whoever was responsible for the lights he’d seen earlier, wasn’t one he wanted to think about.
“Is he near us?” the nervous tremor in her voice convinced him she didn’t need the truth.
“No, that shot was miles away. Sound really carries at night.”
“Well, it sounded really close. It’s getting cold.” She shivered and reached for her leathers.
“Let’s pack it up. As much as I would love to spend more time with you, I don’t want you to catch your death out here.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them, but Casey laughed.
“You don’t have to worry about that. I rarely get sick. Mom claims I have the constitution of an ox.”
He chuckled, some of his disquiet vanquished by her innocuous comment. “I guess that animal can be considered red, but it’s the last one I’d have compared you to. I’d envision a fox, a red panda, or some exotic red-haired rabbit—small, and adorable.
She laughed. “You are so full of it. No wonder your eyes are brown.”
Stopping what he was doing, he reached for her.
“You’re without a doubt the most beautiful, puzzling woman I have ever met. One of these days, I’ll convince you of that, and believe me, I have outstanding powers of persuasion, but it’s getting late. I don’t want to ruin my chances at a second date.”
Shaking her head, she smiled sheepishly. “You’re good, but you might need to have your eyes checked.”
She stood on tiptoes and kissed him quickly, a mere brush of her lips on his, and while he might want to take it deeper, the faint sounds of those engines floated over to them.
“I didn’t realize we were so close to the highway,” she said as they moved apart.
Shrugging, he picked up the backpack, and lied again. “Maybe we aren’t, and it’s the Apache Thunder Gods moving around.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
Cole jumped down from the rock and held out his hand to her. “Come on, Cinderella. We’ve got to get back before the witching hour.”
“Very well, my prince. I found you quite charming tonight.” She held out her hand.
Reaching for it, he brought it to his lips and kissed it before helping her down from the rock.
“I try. I’m looking forward to my next chance to show you how appealing I can be,” he whispered, wanting to keep their voices down just in case. “Maybe someplace with candles and silk sheets. I know one only thirty minutes away. I’ve got more coffee, too.”
“Coffee’s good,” she answered, biting her lip once more.
Cole took her hand in his and, using the flashlight to illuminate the ground before them, led her back through the cacti to the trail. As soon as they reached their Harleys, he did his best to hurry her without making her notice the furtiveness of his actions. The sooner they were back in town, the better he would like it. He worried the entire ten minutes it took to follow the path, get to the campground road, and then back onto Highway 88. Watching for signs they were being followed, he saw no one, but he was glad they’d agreed earlier to go to his place. The problem would come later when he would try to convince her to let him escort her home without revealing the possible danger.
It was shortly after eleven when they pulled into his driveway and got off the bikes. Casey removed her helmet and stepped into his open arms.
“You bought your parents’ home. That’s great. I always loved this place,” she said, putting her arms around his waist and resting her head on his chest.
He blinked. “What? No. They still live here, but they aren’t around much, so it doesn’t make sense for me to have a place of my own when this one’s empty most of the time.”
She released her arms from around his waist, and moved away.
“I guess. I’d better get going. Thanks for a wonderful evening,” she said, but the words sounded off somehow. “I enjoyed every minute. It’s definitely been a night I won’t forget, and the most romantic date I’ve ever had—tarantulas and bats notwithstanding.”
He chuckled, trying to figure out what had her shying away. “I thought you were coming in for coffee,” he said, unable to mask his confusion.
“Not tonight. I need to get home.”
“You don’t have to go. My parents aren’t here right now, if that’s what’s bothering you.”
He pulled her tightly against him, but something had changed between them. She was stiff in his arms, and damned if he understood why.
“Nothing’s bothering me,” she answered, a touch too quickly. “It’s getting late. You made me forget about all the things I have to do tomorrow. Randy’s waitress is off, and I promised to help out at the shop. I haven’t worked as a waitress since I got my degree. I’m sure I’ll be dead on my feet by noon. As you saw earlier, I really need to get some rest, and the last thing I want to do is let her down.”
But she could crush his hopes. He released her. She gave him a quick kiss, and mounted her bike.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” he asked, worried she might be followed. Just because he hadn’t noticed a tail didn’t mean they didn’t have one.
“Absolutely. What could possibly happen to me in Fortune? Besides, two motorcycles pulling into the driveway might wake Jaxon, and he’s really hard to get back to sleep if he wakes up during the night. He’s going through that monster phase.”
Since he didn’t know enough about the sleeping habits of four year old, and vaguely remembered Fallon’s fear of the dark when she was a child, it was hard to disagree.
“I’ll call you. You were right. It was a date that I’ll never forget.” Donning her helmet, she dropped the visor in place, and started the bike. Within seconds, all he could see were her taillights.
Despite his desire to follow her, Cole moved his bike to the garage and locked it up, reminded once more that Fortune wasn’t the town it had been when he’d grown up here. Climbing the steps, he unlocked the door and punched in the alarm code. Too wound up to sleep, he poured himself a drink and turned on the television to catch the late night news, hoping to hear that Skansen Mining had reopened those old mines, but the redhead who’d kept him enthralled ever since her arrival wouldn’t release her grip.
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