Western Wednesdays—DEATH MASK

Lawmen are a popular archetype in almost any medium—film, television, literature—regardless of genre, setting, or time period. They tend to be hard men who’ve led hard lives and find themselves constantly having to walk a very fine line between working within the limits of the law and catching the bad guy. In Death Mask, Cotton Smith explores that dynamic. Not only is the hero a lawman, but the villain as well.  What happens when a good man crosses that line? You’re about to find out…

Happy Reading,
Allison Carroll
Editorial and Web Coordinator


Texas Ranger Aaron “Thunder” Kileen rose in one smooth motion, belying his huge size. “Here they be comin’. Beards they be wearin’ to mask their treacherous souls. Aye, an’ fine hosses they be ridin’. Like always.”

He pointed from the second-story window of the San Antonio hotel where he and his Ranger nephew had been waiting.

“Where?” Ranger Time Carlow scrambled to his feet, pushing aside the fuzziness of rereading his last letter from Ellie Beckham. He’d read it at least ten times.

He had met the young widow three years ago in his hometown. The rest of her letters were carefully folded in his saddlebags. He hadn’t written as often; the last had been six months ago, he thought. Another unsent letter was still in his gear. Somewhere.

“Pulling up in front of the bank, they be. Do ye see?”

“Yeah, I see them. Let’s get the bastards.”

Sweet thoughts of Ellie were pushed into the corner of Carlow’s mind for later. He shoved his chair away and yanked on the permanently pushed-up brim of his Stetson in the same motion. Long dark hair danced along his shoulders. A trim mustache and expressive eyebrows reinforced his combative appearance—and nature. Smaller than his uncle, the young Ranger was deceptively strong, with a solidly built chest, arms heavy with hard-earned muscle, and a natural inclination to fight.

The superstitious Kileen grabbed his Henry rifle and headed for the door. He glanced at the lone candle on the dresser. It had gone out. That meant someone would die.

Shaking off his shiver, he said, “Be rememberin’, me son. Captain wants them alive. ’Tis the best chance of gettin’ back the money they be stealin’.”

“Let’s hope they got the same report.” Carlow grinned, a step behind him. “Shall we put on our badges?”

“Aye. There might be more, so be keepin’ your attention. Some be sayin’ there be a gang.” The big Irish Ranger waved his huge paw of a right hand, scarred from many past fistfights.

His ruddy face was weary from waiting. A former bare-knuckle prizefighter, the highly superstitious lawman was dressed, as usual, in a well-worn three-piece tweed suit. He thought it made him look like a gentleman; no Ranger dared comment otherwise. The material and buttons had fought a long and losing battle with his thick chest and arms. He looked even bigger in his dust-laden, high-crowned black hat. An old bullet hole in the upper crease had long since been forgotten. Across his coat was a heavy bullet belt with holstered Colt and sheathed Bowie knife.

As he moved, the big Irishman felt in his coat pocket for his own badge, reaching past an acorn and a tiny pouch of dirt from Ireland itself, a small token of the green isle that his late sister—Carlow’s mother—had brought with her to the new land. It, too, held great powers, he had decided. Carlow had a smilar pouch, but he kept it in his saddlebags. At least, it had been there the last time Kileen had looked.

Stopping, Kileen yanked free his badge and pushed it onto his coat lapel as he moved.

Hurrying from the room, Carlow reached into one vest pocket, then the other, to find the star placed there among extra cartridges, pieces of hard candy, a silver watch and chain, an acorn given to him by Kileen for luck, and two tiny flat stones, darkly stained with long-ago blood, a memory possession. He pinned the badge on his coat lapel without slowing down.

His hand dropped to the guns at his waist. From his right hip, he drew a special cut-downWinchester, shortened in stock and barrel, and cocked it easily with the enlarged circular lever. It was worn as a handgun in an unusual holster of rawhide bands and thick leather backing tied to his leg. The weapon provided the quick handling of a revolver with the impact of a rifle. On the shortened walnut stock was carved a Celtic marking, an ancient war symbol for victory.

He carried a short-barreled Colt on the left side of his gunbelt; its walnut handle tilted forward for a right-handed draw.

At the doorway, Kileen tapped the wood frame three times with his rifle. For luck. Carlow smiled; he didn’t agree with his uncle’s superstitions. Carlow turned toward the far wall where his wolf-dog companion, Chance, waited for direction. Carlow had sneaked him in and out of the hotel.

“Come on, Chance, we’ve got work to do.”

The great beast barked and was beside him in an instant.

Together, the threesome charged down the stairs of the Gleason Hotel, across the street from the First National Bank. In the restaurant next to the bank waited two more Rangers, Julian Mirabile and Pig Deconer. The younger of the two lawmen, Pig Deconer had insisted on eating while they waited. Food was his great passion.

Carlow took the lead, bounding down two steps at a time. Two eagle pinfeathers, dangling from the top of his Kiowa leggings, responded to the movement and fluttered their understanding. Large-roweled Mexican spurs sang their own reaction. Jiggling in rhythm was the bone handle of a Comanche war knife, barely visible above the right legging.

 At the base of the stairway, a startled businessman watched them advance, unsure of what he should do.

“Step aside, like a good fellow. ’Tis Ranger business ye be watchin’,” Kileen bellowed. His thick mustache was graying, but the rest of him spoke of a massive fighting man. His nose had been broken twice and his ears were definitely cauliflowered.

The businessman gladly moved away, bringing his hand to his mouth in fascination.

The Rangers had been in town for two days, posing as cattlemen so no townsman would inadvertently warn the bank robbers or do something foolish. It was an unusual assignment and an unusually high number of Rangers were involved. Fellow Rangers—Tanneman Rose and his younger brother, Hillis—were expected to make an attempt to rob the bank, as they had apparently held up five others over the past two years.

Kileen had been reluctant to accept the responsibility. Tanneman was certain he had lived a previous life as a gifted shaman inPersiamany centuries ago. That made the superstitious Irishman uneasy.

“Come on, Chance. We’ve got a Persian shaman to arrest,” Carlow called over his shoulder and grinned again. It was an easy, confident smile that said everything was going to be all right. It was a smile Kileen loved to see, even when he knew it wasn’t always so.

“Be ye rememberin’ Tanneman Rose be a dreamer,” Kileen cautioned as he stutter-stepped and almost lost his balance. “He be seein’ the future, he be.” Kileen steadied himself with his outstretched left arm against the wall. His rifle remained in his right fist at his side. To himself, he muttered, “’Tis the comin’ again to this earth that does it. Friend of the black spider he be.” The grizzly bear of a man who was Kileen growled to the young man he had raised into a fine Ranger.

The discovery of criminals in their special ranks had the four state lawmen on edge. Especially Kileen. Reincarnation was something mystical, something beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend. He wished this confrontation could be avoided. Still, an order was an order and he intended to follow out the captain’s wishes.

Carlow had no problem with the task. First, he didn’t believe in reincarnation. Second, he had never liked the Rose brothers. Never trusted them. He couldn’t tell why he felt that way, only that he did. Now his feelings were about to be proven correct. He was also worried about how the brothers would react to being arrested. Tanneman Rose was cruel as well as accurate with any weapon. Carlow had seen him shoot down surrendered outlaws, simply because he didn’t want to be troubled with taking them to the nearest settlement. His younger brother tried too hard to make Tanneman proud of him. That, too often, meant similar violence.

The Rangers and the wolf-dog hit the lobby floor and became aware, for the first time, that a handful of people in the lobby were watching them. The customers’ faces were a mixture of fascination and fear.

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Pardon the Interruption—THE LONG LAST CALL

“…a purchase is in order, horror fans.” —Bookgasm

“John Skipp is a badass…nothing’s come anywhere near the badassness that is The Long Last Call, one of the most kinetic, fist-to-the jaw reads I’ve experienced in a long, long while.” —Dread Central

“You’d expect someone back from a genre hiatus to enter quietly, test the water, what have you. But with this one-two punch of a book John kicks in the door and saunters in like he owns the place. And after reading it I must say I’d be hard pressed to argue. In conclusion, just buy it. There is no excuse, as a discerning horror fan, to not treat yourself to this one.” —Skullring

“The story works very well and is a quick and entertaining read. Fans of Skipp’s earlier work, Edward Lee, or Richard Laymon will enjoy The Long Last Call…Skipp is a solid and talented writer.”
—Monster Librarian

Watch the book trailer after the jump. Warning: adult content.

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Ye Olde Love Story: 3 Reasons Medievals Never Go Out of Style + $30 Giveaway

Ye Olde Love Story:
3 Reasons Medievals Never Go Out of Style
by Laura Navarre

You’ve heard it before:  the lament by historical lovers that the medieval romance—those splendid tales of chivalry and knights in shining armor, tournaments and troubadours, blown trumpets and flying banners—in short, ye olde love story—is viewed in the twenty-first century as a bit passé.  Undoubtedly it’s getting harder to find those sparkling jewels and antique settings in the treasure trove of your local bookstore, unless you embark upon a quest for those gallant lays in the used book section.   But no matter what the luminaries of the literary world may say about the genre’s wane, lovers of medieval romance—from the Anglo Saxon epic to the Viking tale of vengeance, from the Court of Love in Aquitaine to England’s Wars of the Roses—will tell you these sweeping romantic adventures never truly go out of style.

Like many other lovers of romance, I’m obviously a devotee of the period.  My new release, a dark Crusader romance called The Devil’s Temptress about a disgraced Muslim knight and an ardent Christian at Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court, was pretty much my favorite to research and write.  And the reasons I loved doing it are the same reasons you, my good reader, love finding these medieval gems with their stern-faced knights and witch’s cap castles on your bookstore shelves:

  • The Romance of the Age:  The medieval period was the age of chivalry and the era of courtly love.  Castles and courtesy, kings and queens, lords and ladies, troubadours plucking sprightly lays while flocks of blackbirds exploded from pies the size of wagon wheels, applauded by pre-Raphaelite beauties with trailing sleeves and flowing hair, and of course those soulful knights clanking with swords and armor as they bestrode the great hall (more on them later) make the medieval world an enchanted realm where we love to escape.  Not only do we revel in the sweeping battles, the color and pageantry of the joust and the jester—the sense of escape and adventure you find in the medieval world makes the perfect setting for a passionate romance.
  • The Knight in Shining Armor, and Other Alpha Heroes:  No doubt about it, the medieval period was made for the alpha male.  The arranged marriage, the kidnapped bride, the king whose word was law in his demesne, the jousts and duels for a lady’s honor (her ribbon or handkerchief bravely fluttering from the hero’s lance)…never did man rule the roost (or fancy he did) with quite the same boldness and panache.  Although the real-life challenges of the medieval era may have been difficult for many modern women, in the world of romance the lamb lies down with the lion and beauty always tames the beast.   Thus, every medieval romance ends with that fierce killing machine, the medieval knight, gentled by love—on his knees at the heroine’s feet.
  • The Virgin or Awakened Heroine:  As a romance author, I must say the heroine who first awakens to passion in the hero’s arms can be one of the most enjoyable to write.  Whether she’s a wide-eyed virgin, a convent rebel or the wealthy widow of a man who failed to move her, a medieval lady was unlikely to come to her bridal bed equipped with the formidable sexual acumen of the modern bride.  After all, there was no helpful Cosmo magazine in medieval times that described 40 ways to drive your lover wild and ensure the best orgasms of your life in the process!  The Knight in Shining Armor (see above) is usually either the heroine’s only lover, or the only lover who’s ever mattered.  We savor the potent chemistry of the spirited heroine’s hidden vulnerability, the hero’s cocky king-of-the-mountain swagger, and the way the innocent heroine inevitably makes her self-assured hero trip over his own feet.

Given all the above, I think it’s safe to say many of us romance readers will always have the longing to immerse ourselves in the sweeping and sensual adventure of a good medieval romance.  And the good news is this:  as long as we keep reading them, loving them, talking and dreaming about them, the lovely book-people at Dorchester are going to keep making more of them. 🙂

Giveaway:  To win a copy of the beautiful trade edition of The Devil’s Temptress plus an assortment of Dorchester historicals worth over $30, leave a comment in the discussion thread  below. Laura wants to know: If you were suddenly transported back through time to medieval Europe, what would be the best and/or worst part of your new life? 

E-books Episode V: The Backlist Strikes Back

As a house with 40+ years behind it, you can imagine Dorchester has acquired a good number of titles over the past few decades. During that time, some of these titles have become less accessible as printings dwindled, formats changed, authors moved on, etc. No longer; the backlist has spoken, and it wants to be read once again!

In an effort to bring you all your favorite Dorchester titles from the best authors in the genre, we’ve begun a large-scale e-book conversion project that aims to bring the majority of our titles out into the marketplace. We’ll be highlighting these on our Web site as they become available, so be sure to check in periodically to see what’s new in backlist! For now, I’m highlighting an array of what’s been released this month. Click on the covers for more!

Thriller Thursdays: Guest Author James L. Thane

Today I have the honor of welcoming author James L. Thane to Thriller Thursdays! Last week I previewed the first chapters of his debut thriller, No Place to Die. This week, he’ll be answering your questions about his book, the sequels, and what it means to write a thriller.

Welcome, James!

In one sentence, how would you summarize No Place to Die?

Phoenix detective Shane Richardson must stop a clever, elusive and sadistic killer who has kidnapped and brutalized an innocent woman while seeking revenge against a number of people he blames for an injustice committed against him.

What was the first crime novel you ever read?

Sadly, I can’t remember, but I’m certain that it would have been an old paperback reprint of one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason mysteries—probably something like The Case of the Restless Redhead. My father was a huge fan of these books and he kept a stack of them at our summer cabin on the lake. I discovered them when I was around ten years old and from that point on, I was hooked on crime fiction.

This question is from commenter Ila from Maine: “I’d like to know how your reading habits have changed now that you are writing for a living? Do you still troll used bookstores to discover gems of paperback books or do you now only read what others recommend to you and authors you trust because you have read them before due to time constraints?”

An excellent question, Ila. I suppose that the principal change is that I now find myself noticing much more the mechanics that lie beneath a story, rather than simply being caught up in the story and letting it sweep over me. I find myself watching how the author constructs the story and how he or she maintains the level of suspense required to keep the reader turning the pages. In a book I’m enjoying, I now appreciate not only a riveting story, but the skill with which the author has constructed it. In a book that doesn’t appeal to me, rather than just tossing it aside, I find myself reading on in an effort to discover where the author went wrong and what he or she might have done differently.

As to the second part of your question, yes, I do still troll through used bookstores looking for those hidden gems. Sometimes I’m looking for books that are now out of print in series that I enjoy and where I want to own a complete set. Otherwise, in recent years I’ve developed a fondness for some of the old pulp paperback originals that used to be published in the 1950s, and it’s always a lot of fun to find some cheap, trashy novel with a great story. The problem though, as with almost any other reader, is that I’m always discovering new authors that I like both in new and used bookstores, which means that I just have that many more books that I have to track down.

If there was an equation for the perfect thriller novel, what would it be?

I’m not sure that there is a single equation for the perfect thriller. Authors have taken a variety of widely differing approaches to the genre and have still produced excellent books. At a minimum, though, I think that a good thriller basically has to grab you by the throat on the first page and not let go until the last. It also has to have an appealing protagonist that the reader will want to root for and a problem sufficient to challenge the protagonist and demand his or her very best efforts. It needs to have sympathetic victims whose well-being and very survival depend on the protagonist, and it almost always needs a truly despicable villain who is nearly the equal of the protagonist. I’ve heard it often said that a thriller succeeds or fails more often because of the villain rather than because of the hero, and I think there’s a great deal of truth to that.

You hold a Ph.D. in History; how does your expertise in history and (specifically) the American West translate to your writing?

Another good question. Obviously, that expertise is critically important to the non-fiction that I’ve written. I’m not sure that my knowledge of the West is especially important to the crime novels that I’m writing now, but what has been critically important is the training I received, especially as a graduate student, in the art of writing itself. I was fortunate to work with a number of professors who had published a fair number of non-fiction books, and their supervision of my M.A. thesis and doctoral dissertation made me a much better writer than I otherwise would have been.

This question is from commenter Linda B: “How many books will there be in the series and where do your ideas come from?”

I’m not sure how many books there might be in the series, Linda. I really enjoy working with these characters and would like to continue doing so for a while, if for no other reason so that I can discover for myself what life might have in store for them. I have ideas for three or four books that would follow Until Death, but I have no set goal in terms of the number of books I might write in this series.

As for the second part of your question, the ideas for these books come from a variety of sources. Usually some stray thought will cross my mind and strike me as a potential idea for a book. As an example, the idea for No Place To Die was occasioned by a chance remark that someone made at an author’s event at a bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. It got me thinking about a specific neighborhood in Phoenix which I thought would make an excellent setting for a crime novel, and the story evolved from that little kernel of thought. A lot of times, though, these ideas don’t work out and I have any number of stories archived on my computer that ran out of gas after only a few pages.

No Place to Die is a highly visual book. If it were optioned for film, who would you cast as Sean and Maggie?

This is a question I always dread when I’m attending an event by another author and someone in the audience asks him or her what actors they think would best portray their characters. And whenever an author ventures to answer the question, I always cover my ears because I don’t want to know the answer. As a reader, I like to formulate my own impressions of what a character might look like, especially if it’s a long-running series character that I really enjoy. My impressions may vary widely from someone else’s, but they’re my own and whenever I think of a favorite character, the image I’ve constructed for myself is the one that comes to mind.

I think this is part of the magic of reading a book. The author may give you some details about a character or a particular setting in the book, but you’re left to fill in the remaining blanks yourself. Your imagination has much more free reign in this regard when reading a book than when watching a movie or a television program, and in that sense, I think that reading is a much more collaborative effort between the author and the reader than you get with movies and television.

In writing my own books, I’ve been very careful to give the readers some specifics about the way the characters look, but I haven’t described them down to the last detail. I’ve left room for the reader’s imagination to come into play, and I hope that most readers will appreciate that. Which, I suppose, is a long and involved way of saying that I’d really rather not answer this question!

Can you tell your fans a little bit about Until Death?

Until Death takes place three months after the conclusion of No Place To Die and features the same principal characters, Sean Richardson and Maggie McClinton. As those who read No Place To Die will know, the course of the life of the main protagonist, Sean Richardson, changed dramatically at the end of the book. I was interested in seeing how Sean would react to that change and the principal sub-plot of Until Death involves the way in which he’s adjusting.

The book opens with the brutal murder of a prominent Phoenix businessman, and Sean and Maggie are assigned to the case. But they are soon at a dead end. They can find no motive for the killing; they have no real evidence to pursue, and they have no viable suspects. Within the few weeks following the murder, two other men are killed. The cases appear unrelated until one afternoon an extremely attractive young woman comes into Sean’s office and provides him with the connection that links the three crimes. And I think that’s all I want to say about it at this point!

For more on James, visit his Web site.

No Place to Die is currently available in e-book, with the trade edition following this December. Until Death will also be released in trade and e-book this December.

Leave a comment for James and be entered to win a free e-book download of No Place to Die!

Western Wednesdays—FORGOTTEN RANGE

I’m particularly excited about today’s preview—a true fish-out-of-water tale where city slicker meets the wild west.  Get introduced to Roger Hartland, a New Yorker who knows nothing about mining but is looking for some adventure, so he heads out to Montana to check on the family’s investment in the Yellow Jacket mine. But the Silver City locals aren’t about to let some greenhorn tell them what to do. To make it worse, his old girlfriend from back East shows up just as a new romance is beginning to bloom with Margaret Cram. With two jealous ex-lovers—his own and Margaret’s—wanting to pound him to a pulp and rival mine owners eager to shoot him dead, all the money in the world can’t save Roger now.

A fish-out-of-water myself (although in my case I’m a Montanan in the Big Apple), I’ve met my share of New Yorkers who could benefit from just the sort of adventure Roger has in Forgotten Range, if only experienced on the printed page.

Check out the first two chapters below!

Happy reading everyone,
Allison Carroll
Editorial and Web Coordinator

Chapter One

At the Rameses night club 2:30 a.m. meant that the morning had just begun. Colored lights played upon white shirt fronts, bare shoulders, white tablecloths littered with glasses in which gleamed liquid rubies, beryl, topaz, the emerald of creme-dementhe, and the soft, saffron sapphire of champagne. The booming of drums, clash of cymbals, squawking of saxophones—jazz. Smoke pencils from 300 cigarettes. A dancing team, scantily attired, winning yawns. A tumult of voices, laughter, hand clapping, calls for waiters—bedlam. Dancing in a space the size of a rug.

Roger Hartland looked out upon all this with a stupid, bored expression. He was drinking martini cocktails this night, and now, as he raised his glass, he dropped it on the table. He didn’t bother to pick it up. Merely held up a finger to a waiter. The signal was instantly answered. Hartland had a way of winning respect and ser vice from waiters. And he was a good tipper.

He looked across at the woman who sat on the other side of his table. A brunette, tall, dark- eyed with a certain mysterious beauty and an expression usually unfathomable. Her white shoulders were shapely. None could have told her age. Even Hartland didn’t know.

As the waiter left, Hartland waved an arm taking in the scene about them. “Sucker stuff,” he said disgustedly, “and I’m the biggest sucker of them all.”

“Why, you don’t spend as much as any of the butter-and-egg men who come here,” said the woman languidly.

“I don’t mean that,” said Hartland with a frown. “I mean I’m a sucker to come here at all. I’m a fool, Rose.”

“You mean you’re drunk,” she returned, fitting a scented cigarette into a long, ivory holder. “What kind of a mood are you in to night, Roger? You know I’m the victim of them all.”

He looked at her with new interest. “Yes, Rose, I guess that’s so. Well, you’re a pretty good sport, and I’m willing to pay for it.”

Rose Raymond arched her brows. “You consider me an employee, then?”

“Oh, don’t talk drivel,” he retorted irritably. “Don’t you see that I’m sick of all this sort of thing? What do we get out of it?”

“Well,” she answered with a wry smile, “you get a good souse out of it every night.”

“That’s just it!” exclaimed Hartland, slapping the table with the palm of his hand. “That’s just what I get. My life at present is one round of night clubs. I end up at home with the sunrise, soused to the gills, as you say. Along about two o’clock, Fredricks comes in with whiskey and absinthe. I have a bath and another bracer. A bit of breakfast and I’m off for cards at some fool club. The theater, maybe, supper, and . . . you know the rest. Every day the same. Now isn’t that a fine life?”

“It might be worse,” Rose observed with a shrug.

“Yes . . . it would be worse working on the docks, I suppose,” said Hartland moodily.

“Why don’t you go into business?” Rose suggested, knowing full well the mockery of the idea.

“Business!” he snorted. “What business could I go into? Father left everything in stocks and bonds. I know of no business I control. And I wouldn’t know where to start if I had one. Rose, I’m bored to death. I’m all fed up with life. It seems as though I’ve been everywhere, seen everything, done about everything I want to do. Damn!”

“Well, why don’t you. . . .” She bit off her words. She had been about to ask him why he didn’t get married. But that would be fatal for her. Hartland was her meal ticket.

But he anticipated what she had meant to say. “Get married?” he said with a cynical ring to his voice. “And where would I find the woman? I believe most of them can be bought. The ones that can’t are undesirable, married, or not in my set. I’m fed up on the woman question, too.”

“Well, you’re in bad shape, Roger,” Rose commented. “Why don’t you get yourself a fine big boat and jump off in the middle of the ocean?”

“Why the middle?” He smiled grimly. “Sandy Hookwould do and it wouldn’t be so expensive. No, none of that, Rose. You may do it someday, though.” He looked at her and was startled to see that her face had gone deathly white. “Oh, I didn’t mean it, Rose. Come, don’t look at me that way. Let’s order champagne.”

“What you say might come true, Roger,” she said in a low voice. Then with more spirit: “Roger, it’s spring.Parisis wonderful in spring, as you know. Let’s take a trip over toParis.” She gazed at him out of shrewd eyes.

“Not me.” He laughed. “But I’ll stand the gaff if you want to go.”

“I may take you up,” she said. Roger was a good sport.

He was looking about and frowning again. A waiter passed and accidentally tipped a silver tray. Several bills fl uttered down on Roger’s table. The waiter gathered them up with profuse apologies.

“There it is again,” said Hartland. “Money. Get the money anyway you can. That’s the code here.”

“Well, you shouldn’t worry,” said Rose sarcastically. “You’ve got plenty of it.”

The waiter served champagne.

“If there was only something new,” Hartland complained.

“There’s a new revue up at the Cortez they say is very good,” said Rose.

“Oh, the devil. New revue. If I could only get into a fight, or something. If I had the slightest fancy for it, I’d go big- game hunting inAfrica.”

Rose laughed softly. “Your moods change with the drinks,” she said, and asked him to dance.

At dawn they left the club. As Hartland’s car pulled up, a laborer on the way to his work passed so closely in front of them that he jostled Rose.

“What’re you doing?” Hartland snapped. He took the man by the arm and jerked him around with such force that his lunch pail was knocked from his hand.

The man pulled free and struck Hartland in the face. Next instant Hartland’s right flashed and the blow caught the man flushly on the jaw. He went down in a heap.

A policeman came on the run.

“Don’ get ’cited, officer,” said Hartland unsteadily. “Man jostled the . . . lady, here.” He was groping for a card, found it, and handed it over.

The policeman looked at the name and address.

“Well, you better get along home,” he said, and went on down the street.

Hartland took a bill from a pocket and gave it to the man who was recovering his lunch pail, thoroughly beaten. Then he handed Rose into the car.

It was Fredricks, Hartland’s man, who let them into the apartment, looking with surprise and haughtiness at Rose.

Hartland led the way into his sitting room. “Whiskey an’ soda, Fredricks!” he called back.

Rose Raymond stared in wonder at the luxury surrounding her. Rare paintings and etchings, tapestries, bronzes, knickknacks picked up in many lands, soft divans, deep rugs, antique furniture, weapons, a gold figured Japanese screen.

Hartland was lighting a cigarette. “Sit down, Rose,” he said. And when the drinks had been served: “Rose, I brought you up here to night for a certain reason.” He paused. He was drunk, yet his mind seemed clear—if such a thing could be possible—and his articulation was slow but perfect.

She eyed him askance.

“Rose,” he said, “without meaning to offend you in any way, you are a woman of the world. You have been somewhat of a comfort to me because I have been able to take my . . . my spite, you might say, out on you. But you’ve got brains. Now I want you to try and think up something I can do to break this fearful monotony that is eating me alive. But remember . . .”—he held up a wavering, warning finger—“it must be original.”

Behind the curtains the man Fredricks was listening intently.

“Is that all?” asked Rose, rather astonished.

“That’s the order,” Hartland replied.

“And it’s a big order,” said Rose with spirit. “But I’ll try it. And there might be some expense attached to my investigations and researches.”

Hartland tossed her a roll of bills. “Good night, Rose,” he said drowsily.

Fredricks showed her out, and she looked at him twice because of the curious expression he wore. Then Fredricks proceeded to put his master to bed.

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Pardon the Interruption—Bodice Rippin’

One of the many nicknames for a romance novel is bodice ripper. But have you ever wondered just how tricky it would be to rip a bodice? Thanks to romance novelist Deanne Gist, we now know. Turn your attention to this fantastic WSJ vid (mormally, we’d embed the video right on the blog, but for some reason, wordpress was not playing nice with this video. But it’s too good not to share, and luckily, Richard Curtis over at [e-reads] has figured it out!). Doesn’t it just make you appreciate how well-crafted those steamy historical romance scenes are?


Take a listen to the action-packed first chapter of Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear by Gabriel Hunt.

“Indiana Jones is dead. Long live Gabriel Hunt.”
—Lev Grossman on the Gabriel Hunt series

“The opening pages entice the reader into a world of intrigue, fast perilous adventure and charming heroic wit. If you enjoy an “Indiana Jones” style of action and a ruggedly handsome hero with many well-earned scars, then the Gabriel Hunt series is for you.”
— Fresh Fiction

“…packs plenty of action and a nice-sized body count into this story.”

Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear packs a wallop of an ending that will leave you breathless. This is exactly what pulp adventures are supposed to do. ”
—Book Reporter

“…wonderful job of re-creating the look and feel of classic pulp fiction…”

The Man in your Heart vs. the Man in your Head

My boyfriend does not have bulging muscles. He does not have luscious, flowing hair. He is not a prince, or a viking, or a vampire.

Yet, those are some of the qualities romance novel heroes have that make my heart flutter.

What, then, am I doing with my boyfriend?

Or, better yet: why do I still find pleasure in reading romance novels if I have my own, real-life leading man?


I enjoy romance novels for more than just their sexy male protagonists.

I like the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes over me as I watch the hero and heroine fall in love. After all, that’s kind-of the whole point of a romance novel. No hero or heroine is ever the same as the last, though. I truly enjoy getting to know each individual’s histories, motivations, and quirks. Over the course of the story they begin to feel like real people to me. Suddenly, it’s as if I’m watching two of my good friends fall in love rather than two strangers. How could I possibly lust after my friend’s guy, especially when he is such a perfect match for her? The happiness that comes from their being together makes for my happiness.

Believe it or not, I also enjoy reading romance novels for their plots. Sure, the primary goal of a romance novel is to convey the budding relationship between a hero and heroine; however, that relationship must be embedded within a particular series of events, otherwise there won’t be a story. And a work of fiction simply couldn’t exist without a story. Battle Sylph, by L. J. McDonald, is a great example of a romance novel that has a substantial plot. It is equal parts romance and fantasy, complete with an epic final battle. I was so engrossed in the action that I didn’t even consider Heyou a love-interest for my imagination. Besides, Solie literally shapes him into her ideal man; how could I compete with that?


All right, I’ll admit it: a lot of the time, I do enjoy reading romance novels because of their sexy male protagonists. (Sorry, Alex!) No matter how initially flawed or unique, every romance hero is fundamentally perfect. They say all the right things. They know exactly what to do in the bedroom. They openly share their feelings. They are self-assured, masculine, and vulnerable all at once. Plus, they tend to be ridiculously good-looking. Also, they make grand, unforgettable gestures.

But, you see, I don’t wish for any particular hero to turn his affections toward me. Instead, I wish for what romance heroes collectively represent: predictability. No matter how impossible the coming together of a hero and heroine may seem – no matter how awkward they are around each other or how little they have in common – I can rest assured knowing they will, without fail, come together by the end. The same cannot be said of real-life men and women. As the old adage goes, sometimes you have to kiss a lot of toads to find Prince Charming. Even then, no one is guaranteed his or her happily ever after. Bottom line: to expect romance hero-grandeur from my real-life boyfriend and predictability from our relationship would be completely impractical and unfair.

Ultimately, romance heroes – and the certainty they offer – are just a fun, harmless, idealistic fantasy. They say all the right things…because their lines are scripted for them. They know exactly what to do in the bedroom…because they come programmed knowing. They openly share their feelings…because, if they don’t, they won’t earn their happily ever afters.  They are confident, masculine, and vulnerable…because their authors made them so. And they tend to be ridiculously good-looking…because, let’s face it, hardly anyone wants to fantasize about someone ordinary when she could about someone extraordinary. They make grand, unforgettable gestures…because they have nothing to lose when they make them.


If you have found and secured yourself a man who looks and acts like he just stepped off the pages of a good romance novel – particularly on your first try – then I salute you.

For everyone else (I assume that’s most of you) please don’t misunderstand me. Just because chances aren’t good your man will look and act like the quintessential romance hero, it doesn’t mean he can’t be that figure in your eyes.

When I interviewed The Devil’s Temptress author Laura Navarre for my last blog entry, she said, “the inspiration for all my heroes comes from my real-life alpha male—my brilliant and gorgeous and fantastically creative fiancé Steven.  He’s a screenwriter and English professor and was my first writing mentor.  He’ll always be my knight in shining armor, and a little bit of him shows up in all my heroes.”

To answer the original question: I am with my boyfriend because he’s smart, passionate, and incredibly sweet. He’s tall and has bright green eyes that make me melt. Plus, he knows that I read romance novels and doesn’t seem to mind it in the slightest.


I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite aspect of a romance novel? Has your guy ever done something for you that could have come straight out of a romance novel? Tell us in a comment (or on Facebook or Twitter) and you could win a free copy of The Battle Sylph!

— Jennifer

Thriller Thursdays: NO PLACE TO DIE

No Place to Die is the first novel in (what will be) a series of thrillers to feature homicide detectives Sean Richardson and Maggie Clinton. Compelling detectives and a strong victim who refuses to surrender makes this one impressive police procedural that any thriller fan should know about.

This week we’re previewing the first 2 chapters to give you a taste of James L. Thane’s style. Next Thursday, Thane himself will be stopping by the blog to answer your questions about No Place to Die and his new series! This is his first novel so we’re giving you a prime opportunity to get to know this exciting debut author! Leave a question in this preview’s comment thread and James will gladly answer as many as he can for next week’s Thriller Thursday post.

Here’s even more exciting news: No Place to Die is currently a $3.99 e-book download! The sale runs through Monday 08/22 so get it while you can!

Thrill on.


Dinner was almost ready when Beverly Thompson was snatched from her garage on a beautiful Wednesday evening early in February.

At forty-three, Beverly was still an extremely attractive woman with thick auburn hair that spilled down to her shoulders, framing an oval face highlighted by deep green eyes and a pair of medium-full lips. She watched her diet carefully and worked out as regularly as she could, and thus remained fit and trim at five feet five inches tall and a hundred and twenty-one pounds.

On that Wednesday evening, Beverly was twenty-seven months into her second marriage. Her first—to a fellow law student—had gradually run out of gas and finally sputtered to an end seven years earlier. Thankfully, it had produced no children.

Through the first four years that followed the divorce, Beverly had dated gingerly, dedicating the bulk of her time and energy to her career as a medical-malpractice attorney in a large firm in downtown Phoenix. But then she met David, a cardiologist who’d testified as an expert witness in a case that she won largely on the strength of his testimony. Following the trial, they had dated for four months and then lived together for another five before formally tying the knot.

At six thirty that evening, Beverly called David and told him that she was finally leaving the office after finishing a particularly grueling deposition. He promised to chill some Bombay Sapphire gin and two martini glasses while he started dinner.

Forty-five minutes later, eagerly anticipating the first sip of the promised martini, Beverly punched the button on the remote to open her garage door. She waited for a moment as the door rolled up, then pulled her Lexus SUV into the garage. She parked, as she always did, to the left of her husband’s Mercedes and then pressed the button on the remote to close the garage door behind her.

She was just stepping out of the car when she saw the man, dressed all in black, slip under the garage door as it rolled back down. Instinctively, she jumped back into the Lexus. With her left hand, she hit the button to lock all the doors; with her right, she laid on the horn.

In a heartbeat the intruder was at the door of the SUV, pounding on Beverly’s window with the butt of a pistol and yelling, “Lay off the goddamn horn!” Then he stepped back, pointed the gun at Thompson’s head and shouted, “Get out of the car, lady. now!”

Beverly threw her hands up and the garage went suddenly quiet. Her right hand still in the air, she reluctantly opened the car door with her left. As she did, the kitchen door opened and her husband stepped out into the garage. But before David could even begin to comprehend what was happening, let alone react to the situation, the man spun and fired, hitting David twice in the chest.

David slumped to the floor and Beverly let out a piercing scream. The commotion attracted the attention of Chester, the German shepherd that she and David had rescued from a shelter, who now came bounding out from the kitchen. Again the gunman fired twice, and the dog dropped to the floor, whimpering softly.

As Beverly continued to scream, the gunman jerked her out of the car, slapped her hard across the face, and shouted, “Shut the hell up!”

The man spun her around so that she was facing away from him and wrapped his left arm around her chest, pinning her arms to her sides and effectively immobilizing her. With his right hand he set the pistol on the roof of the car. Then he pulled a rag from his back pocket and clamped it over her mouth and nose.

Beverly struggled, the panic coursing through her body as she tried desperately to stomp on her assailant’s foot with her right heel. Unfazed, he simply squeezed tighter and lifted her up off the ground, her legs flailing ineffectively as she tried to kick back at him.

The rag was damp with something that tasted slightly sweet, and she shook her head in a frantic effort to avoid breathing the chemical into her system. But it was futile. Within a matter of seconds she felt herself slipping away. And as she faded into an unconscious state, the last thing she heard was the gunman whispering softly into her right ear, “Hello, Beverly. It’s very nice to see you again.”


I was headed from my office to the nursing home a little after eight p.m., when my cell phone began vibrating on the passenger’s seat next to me. I flipped open the phone and took a quick look at the caller ID, which indicated that the person so rudely intruding into the rest of my evening was my sergeant. Sighing heavily, I slowed from eighty to sixty-five and connected to the call.

The sergeant was a veteran named Hanneman who’d been with the Phoenix PD since the days of Wyatt Earp. Dispensing with any opening pleasantries, he said, “Richardson? We’ve got a guy and his dog who’ve been shot to death in a garage. It belongs to you and McClinton. I’m on the horn to her next.”

He gave me the address, which was in an upscale neighborhood on the city’s east side, and then disconnected.

Cursing both my luck and the Valley’s evening traffic, I took the Shea Boulevard exit off the Piestewa Freeway and headed east. Ten minutes after getting the call, I turned south onto Forty-fourth Street and then east again onto Mountain View.

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