Category Archives: Karen’s Killer BOOK BENCH

Karen’s Killer Book Bench: Dead Reckoning by CJ Snyder

  KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH

Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where, every Wednesday, readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!

 

 

Dead Reckoning

Back Cover Blurb

Falling in love can be deadly…
Maria Lucano didn’t want to be a vigilante, but when she lost her sister to a vicious crime family and then her husband to an assassin, she vowed that no innocent would ever suffer as she has. Seven years later she is close to her goal and has tracked down the final link to the sniper who murdered her beloved husband in cold blood, a dangerously sexy man code-named Ghost.
When a traitor cost the Black Fire team the lives of four good men, Greg Lassiter reluctantly agreed to put his gift for Intel to work and to take over the unit. His primary job is to hunt and eliminate further threats. The beautiful Maria is definitely a threat; she knows too much, has too many secrets, and instantly wakens his long dead heart. He knows two things for sure: the bad guys desperately want her dead, and he’ll risk anything to untangle the complex web of lies, deceit and murder surrounding them. He must, because somewhere in-between the mind-blowing kiss that saved his life and when they blew up her truck, he took the ultimate risk…he fell in love. Now nothing will stop him from keeping the seductive beauty by his side forever.
Dead Reckoning
EXCERPT

Prologue

Seven Years Ago

“He’s here.”

Maria  lifted her head, Peter’s words echoed in an icy shiver along her spine.  “How do you know?”  Useless question, but she needed more time—something to put off this inevitable moment.

“I know.”

“Where?”

Peter glanced at the only entrance to their shelter.  “There.  He’ll wait for me to come out.”  She knew he saw the terror in her eyes when he looked back, saw him try to take back the words.  “Maybe I’m wrong, Maria.”

“You aren’t wrong.”

“He’ll listen to me. We were friends.  It’ll be okay.” He cast the words like a blanket, hoping to shield her.  She shook her head, too frantic now for the denial.

“He won’t listen.  Even I can feel him, Peter!”

The man she loved more than life could only shrug.  He didn’t know why his team branded him a traitor, but he did know they had.  A traitor had only one option.  For this team, that option didn’t include life. “I’ll go out the window,” she offered. “You try and talk to him.  If you can, get him to answer you, I can find him—“

Peter stopped her with a hand to her cheek.  “You won’t find him.”

She shook her head and retreated, refused to believe the inevitable truth.  “I will.”

“No one finds Ice.  Ever.  Not until he’s ready to be found.”

“I’ve got to try.”  She faced him across the room, this man who had become her world.  Her lover, her husband, the father of their unborn son.  “He’s got to listen—to understand—“

“Maria.”  The whisper said everything he wouldn’t.  He loved her.  He didn’t understand why it had come to this, only that it had.  When he walked out that door, he would die.

“Peter, please?” she whispered back, helpless to stop the tears that raced down her cheeks.  “At least, try.  For me.”  She went to him then, pulled his head down for a kiss, a quick imprint of his lips on hers, his hand on her belly, his very being on her heart for all eternity.

“For you,” he agreed.  She tried to squelch a sob.  “Maybe he’ll want to explain why I’m suddenly the enemy.”  She let him lift her to the room’s only window, away from the door, and she jumped out, landed on her feet, facing him.  “You won’t have long,” he warned.

“I won’t need long,” she  promised.  “Don’t rush.”

“He’ll see you in ten feet.  I won’t let him take you.”

“He won’t have a chance.  I love you, Peter.”

“I love you, Maria.”   For a second more, his eyes were fixed on hers, and then he turned, caught up his rifle, heading for the door, while she shut him out of her heart and became what he’d taught her to be.  A trained assassin.   She got a tighter grip on her own rifle, stifled an urge to dust the hillside with preemptive gunfire.  Maria was no more.  She called her other name firmly to mind, the name of the stronger version of herself, the name of a woman who could lose her lover and survive the pain.

Mykael, female assassin trained by one of the best in the business, silently scrambled for high ground behind the hut and started a search of the forest for her enemy.

“Ice!  I didn’t set them up.  I wouldn’t betray the team.  You know that.”  Peter’s voice echoed in the small canyon.  Outside the miserable hut they’d called home for the past four months, her husband continued his bargain with the devil.  “I’m puttin’ it down, Ice.”

She heard the clatter of his rifle on the rocks, but wouldn’t look.  The man about to die was Blade.  An agent of the government’s elite Black Fire team.  He just happened to be her husband.  Her friend.  Her partner.  The father of the child that would come in three months’ time.

“Take me in, buddy.  Let’s have a trial.”

She heard his knife clatter atop the gun, knew he was defenseless.

The rugged mountainside ringing their valley held only evil and death.  Now she could feel Ice as well.  Feel his determination and knew the futility of Peter’s attempt at a conversation.

A single gunshot rang out.

That fast, her life was over.

Ice.

Her unblinking gaze roamed the mountainside.  Side to side, higher and higher with each scan.  There, 500 feet away, he stood in the shadows in a gilley suit.  She lifted her rifle to sight, found him gone, sprayed the area anyway.

She was at the spot in less than three minutes, verified no signs of life anywhere, no trace of the man.  No sound in the forest, no footsteps to follow.  Ice was gone.

She’d never met him, but she knew his rep–knew his work. Ice, the only name she had for her lover’s killer.  But Mykael knew the man who had the answers she’d need.  Only one man knew the names of all the team members.  Viper.  She would find him. He would help her.  Whether he wanted to or not.

Ice would die.  Not today.  But he would die.  Along with the others.

Chapter One

Present Day

Blood.  So much blood.  Red tendrils spilled in lacy patterns, meandered to join other streams, danced over flesh, over exposed bone, the flow faster, redder, as it leapt from the dying man to splash on the ground, spattering the vivid green vegetation with dots and drips and swirls.  Too much blood.  Too many bodies.

Enough.

Her subconscious agreed and she woke, opening her eyes, whispered her own name.  The ritual grounded her, reminded her that while her mission was to kill, her identity, her very self, was more.  Her lover was gone.  Her poor innocent baby, stillborn.  Ice still lived.

Not enough blood after all.  Not yet.

Mykael swung her legs over the side of the cot and stood.  After seven years of searching, she would have answers today.  Then the dreams would end.

Clear, cool droplets rinsed the dream’s perspiration from her body in the shower but she didn’t look in the clouded mirror as she toweled the shower’s spray from her body.  She never looked in the mirror. Her eyes scared even her.

Exotic, people thought her.  Men were fascinated, charmed by the tumble of dark curls framing emerald eyes they labeled exquisite.  For some, those exquisite eyes were the last thing they ever saw.

Now her eyes turned toward a wall of photos.  He stood out in each one.  Four long years she’d placed cautious ads on bulletin boards all over the internet, requesting a meeting with someone who could give her information on the man she sought.  She’d gathered images of those who may have come in response to those ads, their faces captured by the small digital cameras she’d pressed into booths at coffee houses, bus stations, even hotel lobbies. Actions careful and deliberate, as Blade had taught her, she planted the cameras and then, days later, ran ads to trap her prey.

One man had answered all her inquiries.  To the casual observer, he didn’t look like one man.  A biker, a construction worker, a businessman, even an old man with a walker.  Until she’d developed her own facial recognition software, even she hadn’t been sure.  Now she was positive.  A chance face-to-face meeting when he’d arrived early—the same day she’d posted the ad.  He hadn’t recognized her, no way he could, but she’d been able to eavesdrop on his phone conversation.

“Tron.  Yeah, it’s Ghost.  Bad reception.  Another miss.  This guy’s pissing me off.”

She couldn’t hear the answer, didn’t dare stay to hear anything else, as she slid behind the restaurant into the hot alleyway.  After four years of searching, the addition of two names to her info was absolutely huge.  His name was Ghost.  He would give her Ice.  Ice’s death would give her husband justice.

The fact that Black Fire answered every one of her queries meant they were looking for her.  Just as hard as she searched for them?  Maybe.  Either way, she’d meet the mystery man called Ghost today.  Have her answers today.

She’d set up the meet the same way she’d baited her traps, with the precise placement of ads on the local bulletin boards.

“Looking for a mole, Black Fire?  Let’s meet.” 

That first one netted her the picture of the biker.

“Black Fire, mole hunting?  A Decoy can help.” brought the businessman.

“Made a mistake, didn’t you, Black Fire?  Let Decoy help you.” the old man, and “Decoy can fix it for you, Black Fire,” had her staring at a grainy picture of a construction worker, complete with hard hat.  The hat hadn’t blocked his hard eyes though.  Dangerous and cold.  She’d felt his physical presence as his eyes skimmed over her without even seeing her in the Reno coffee house.

The local tag was relative.  Not one of the “meeting” places she’d chosen was within two hundred miles of her home north of Las Vegas.  Until today.  Today she’d baited him closer because she wanted him to trust her—needed him to be off guard.

Mykael slithered into a second skin which consisted of eight inches of denim and zipped it up.  Her little red tank top had her belly button ring winking peek-a-boo and her fuck-me boots sported four inch heels and came up past her knees.  Just another American working girl. Smoky eyes and lips that begged for a kiss completed the look.

She didn’t know much about the man she was to meet, but he was male, and that was usually all she needed to know.  Best of all, she was damn sure he thought he was meeting a man.  The vision in the mirror would blow his mind.

She rolled her sheets and blanket into her pillowcase.  She loved the Nevada desert, had felt safe here in the sweet little cabin she’d called home for the last five years, but she wasn’t sorry to leave.  Leaving for the second to last time was one step closer to her final goal.  Before she wiped her cabin free of prints, she logged into Black Fire’s server, she used Peter’s backdoor code through the custom BIOS system.  Her footsteps through cyberspace were untraceable, destroyed behind her as she searched.  Ghost would never know she searched at all, let alone why or for whom.

Once she’d found his name, she worked to access his schedule, and that of the other operative named Tron.  Ice and Viper’s files were wiped clean, like they’d never existed.  Just last night she’d managed to find the schedule for the man called Ghost.  She logged on now hoping for an early morning update, but the calendar hadn’t changed.

Decoy.  Noon.  Dallas Station, LVN.

Mykael smiled.  Decoy would indeed meet Ghost at noon at Dallas station.  She exited Ghost’s file with a quick glance at her watch.  She’d have to hurry.

She ran a quick search for any recent references to “Ice” and was surprised when the computer flashed a wait bar.  Excitement built in her chest.  She’d used the same code the night before with no results.  What was different this morning?

Ice.  Ref: GL agenda.

“GL agenda?”  Mykael stared at the screen as if wishing would make the code reassemble itself into something she could understand.  GL Agenda.  What? Who?.was GL?

Her wristwatch’s timer chimed and Mykael shut down the computer automatically, still puzzled as she began to wipe the cabin down for prints.

When she was halfway done, the computer beeped and shut down.  The hard drive was wiped clean and rewritten with gibberish.  The files she’d need should she want to reboot were written on a flashdrive, which she removed from the USB port and slid into a backpack, along with most of her personal effects.  Ten minutes later, the cabin was bare.

Mykael returned to the main room and cast one more quick glance around.  A single hair lay behind her chair.  She retrieved it with a smile.  Her eyes hadn’t failed her yet.

Two minutes later, she climbed up into the seat of a noisy, kick-ass pick-up truck.  Mule, her one indulgence.  A thin layer of dust lay innocently over the metallic green of the hood.  Mykael turned the ignition, jolted by a surge of raw power as four hundred and fifty horses stampeded to life.  The dust, a tribute to last night’s thunderstorm, jitterbugged its way off the hood.  Mykael fought the urge to rev up the engine.

Tomorrow.  A ten-year-old promise to keep and then she’d point her little Mule south, give him the reins and disappear in Mexico.

Ice.  The man was as much a mystery now as he’d been ten years ago.  With her mule headed through the shimmery heat waves rising off the highway toward Vegas, Mykael reached for her personal cell phone.  If she checked in with her brother now, she’d have a week free.  Long enough?  She smiled at her optimism, then felt it fade.  The when didn’t matter.  Only the doing.  Peter, Edward and her sister would be avenged and the hole in her heart, that aching, greedy monster that ate more of her each day, would ease.  The abyss had to let up.  Mykael had taken over completely and the memory of Maria, of who she’d once been, of the woman who knew how to love and how to laugh, grew more faint every day.

She gave little thought to after.  Maybe there wouldn’t be an after.  Maybe vengeance would be enough and in the doing, she’d die herself.  Even that didn’t matter.  She simply couldn’t live with the pain any longer.  Ghost’s cooperation–or lack of it–didn’t matter either.  She didn’t need Ghost, or his cooperation.  Just his communicator, the only off-site access to his files.  The files would tell her all she needed to know.

  Meet CJ Snyder, Author….

CJ received her first Nancy Drew book for Christmas the year she turned six.  Before the next Christmas, she’d finished every Nancy Drew book written.  At 11, she discovered Daphne du Maurier and the die was stamped in titanium.  At 13, she penned plays starring her friends and their favorite Tiger Beat magazine crushes, a 500 page (unfinished) blatantly graphic novel (blush!) and countless story starts and stops.  Her parents (pastors) were thrilled when she settled into suspense salted with romance and left the all-sex-all-the-time behind.
She’s won numerous awards, finalled in dozens of contests and before her husband passed away was very involved with Colorado Romance Writers, Kiss of Death Mystery Chapter and RWfA.  She lost the love of her life to an aggressive prostate cancer and avidly supports cancer prevention research and men who take saw palmetto every day.
When she’s not writing, she dotes on (and loves to embarrass) her eight wonderful grandchildren: Nick, Josiah, Joshua, Naomi, Nathaniel, Rebekah, Samuel, and Timothy.  She lives in a four-generation household, which gives her much insight into familial relationships.
She’s a member of We Are Scripsi, where she blogs with members of her awesome and amazing critique group.
FMI about CJ & her books:
Now Available! DEAD RECKONING by CJ Snyder
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**SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:  CJ will give away a PDF copy  of THE RECKONING to one lucky reader who comments!  Winner will be randomly selected and announced on Friday!  Thanks, CJ, for sharing your story with us!

Karen’s Killer Book Bench…Centauri Dawn by Cynthia Woolf

   KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH

Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where, every Wednesday, readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!

Centauri Dawn by Cynthia Woolf

Back Cover Blurb….

Audra is a normal grad student in law school in Boulder, Colorado. Until the day she finds out she isn’t. She’s a princess from the planet Centauri. Her mission, whether or not she chooses to accept it, is to marry an alien and save the world, in order to save her family.

Darius is charged with delivering his brother’s bride home to Centauri, ready to be queen. Falling in love isn’t just forbidden, it’s a death sentence for him and for his world.

EXCERPT…Centauri Dawn

CHAPTER 1

Always the same dream.  He called to her. “Princess Dayanara.”  His voice was like rich, silky caramel, floating down her mound of ice cream.  It did strange things to her insides.  She yearned to hear him say her name again and again.

It was so hot and he was so sexy.  Hot.  God, she was hot.  She kicked the blanket off her leg.  But he was just a dream.  A fantasy.

Something…someone…touched her leg.  This wasn’t a dream!  The hand she felt hot against her skin was real.  She jolted awake.  The warmth she felt in her dream turned to a cold sweat.

A man stood beside her bed.  Not just any man, but the man from her dreams.  Tall, dark, with chiseled features.  Handsome with broad shoulders and abs to die for.  His face came into focus and his gaze captured hers.  Color of the deepest ocean, so blue as to seem almost black in the faint light that surrounded him, she struggled to look away.

Sitting bolt upright, she screamed, then scrambled backward over and off the bed, landing with a thump. She hit her back and shoulder.

The man leaned over the bed, his large size looming down over her, blocking the light from the window.

She scrambled backward, struggling to get to her feet.

“Are you injured?”  His voice washed over her.  He sounded familiar, like she should know him, but she didn’t.

He came around the bed and she bounded over it to the other side.  As he closed on her she glanced quickly around and looked for a weapon, any weapon.  Her hand landed on a small pink lamp.  It had sat next to her bed since she was five, keeping her safe from the boogeyman.  She grabbed it, pulling the cord from the wall and held it in front of her like a sword.  “Who the hell are you?  Get out of here before I call the police.”  Her voice was rough from sleep, edgy from fear

He moved closer to her, reaching out a hand.  Not with malice, but with something else.  Concern?  “Princess you’re going to hurt someone.  May I assist you?” he asked, chivalrous.

Princess.  He must be a nutcase.

She yanked at the straps of her gown, resettling them on her shoulders and pulling the bottom down as far as it would go but it was too short to cover much.

“Stop.”  Her voice shook, though she tried to steady it.  “Don’t come any closer.”

“You must listen.  You must come with me.”

She screamed at the top of her lungs.  “Help!  Help!  Help!”  What was wrong with the people in this building?  Were they all deaf?

“Princess.”  His voice washed over her like warm chocolate, comforting her.  That wasn’t right.  Why wasn’t he attacking her?  The soothing voice didn’t stop her.  He was a stranger.  In her bedroom.  “Help!  Help!” she screamed, keeping the pink lamp aimed at him.

She lunged across the bed, reaching for the telephone.

“Now, Princess, please calm down.”  He reached for the phone, and ripped it from the wall.  “I mean you no harm, but we must talk and there is little time.”  He fell to one knee, bowing in front of her.

Her eyes wide, she swung the pink lamp at him at him.  He deflected the blow with his forearm as he stood, denting the lampshade in the process.

“Princess.  Someone is going to get hurt if you do not allow me to speak.”  He wrestled the mangled lamp from her.  “Hear what I have to say.  Please,” he implored.  “You must return home.  Immediately.”

“Help!  Somebody help me!”  Screaming, she kicked out at him with her foot, tried to take his head off but her skills were no match for his.  He blocked her kick with one arm, grabbed her leg with both his hands, flipped her completely around and back on to the bed.

“No one can hear you.  Stop screaming.”   His voice never rose.  He sounded…exasperated.

Somewhat reassured that he didn’t attack, Audra stopped to catch her breath.  Breathing hard, she rolled to her back, the sheet cool beneath her and eyed him from top to bottom. “You look like you just came from a Star Trek convention.”  And just like the man in my dream.

Could it be?

“Yes, I have trekked across the stars in search of you, Princess.”  His words were odd, clipped, very formal, as though learned from a book.

“What are you talking about?”  This man, dream or not, was in her bedroom and she couldn’t imagine how in the world he got in there.

He held out his hand to help her up but she swatted it away.

“Who are you?  Really?  How did you get in here and…and who are you?”  She lunged for the lamp in his hands.

Placing the lamp out of her reach, he said.  “I am Coridian, brother of your betrothed. I am here to escort you home.”

“Betrothed?  You’ve escaped from the asylum, haven’t you?    You’re some kind of nut and…”

“My lady, I am not an escapee from an asylum, and I am not a pecan.”

“Then, why do you keep spouting nonsense?  I’m not a princess!”

“May I rise? I’ll explain–.”

She shook her head and backed up a step.  “You–”

He held up his hand to stop her.  “Then you can ask your questions.”

“You–you stay right where you are.”

In the next instant, she grabbed the hairspray can from her dressing table, threw it at his head and bolted for the door.  He leapt forward and caught her before she’d taken two steps, slamming her up against his chest, trapping her there within his arms.  The lamp crashed to the floor, shattered.

Kicking wildly, Audra connected with his groin.  His knees buckled, but he was quick to recover and never loosened his hold on her.  Her heart raced as she twisted, freed an arm, and slammed the heel of her hand into his face.  If he hadn’t turned, she would have broken his nose.  Her strike was solid enough though, she heard him groan in pain before he released her.

Triumphant, she spun around, connecting her right foot with his solar plexus, knocking the wind from him.  Now on the attack she switched feet and with her left foot, launched him backward, sending him landing on his back.  Regaining her balance before he did, she straddled his chest, her knees and feet trapping his arms.  “Now.  Tell me what I want to know or I’ll make sure you don’t see another day.”

  Meet Cynthia Woolf, /Author….

Cynthia Woolf was born in Denver, Colorado and raised in the mountains west of Golden.  She spent her early years running wild around the mountain side with her friends.

Their closest neighbor was one quarter of a mile away, so her little brother was her playmate and her best friend.  That fierce friendship lasted until his death in 2006.

Cynthia was and is an avid reader.  Her mother was a librarian and brought new books home each week.  This is where young Cynthia first got the storytelling bug.  She wrote her first story at the age of ten.  A romance about a little boy she liked at the time.

She worked her way through college and went to work full time straight after graduation and there was little time to write.  Then in 1990 she and two friends started a round robin writing a story about pirates.  She found that she missed the writing and kept on with other stories.  In 1992 she joined Colorado Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America.  Unfortunately, the loss of her job demanded the she not renew her memberships and her writing stagnated for many years.

In 2000, she saw an ad in the paper for a writers conference being put on by CRW and decided she’d attend.  One of her favorite authors, Catherine Coulter, was the keynote speaker.  Cynthia was lucky enough to have a seat at Ms. Coulter’s table at the luncheon and after talking with her, decided she needed to get back to her writing.  She rejoined both CRW and RWA that day and hasn’t looked back.

Cynthia credits her wonderfully supportive husband Jim and the great friends she’s made at CRW for saving her sanity and allowing her to explore her creativity.,

FMI about Cynthia Woolf & her books: http://www.cynthiawoolf.com/

~~~~

Now Available! CENTAURI DAWN by Cynthia Woolf

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Centauri-Dawn-Series-ebook/dp/B005DUB1X2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311333939&sr=8-1

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/centauri-dawn-a-science-fiction-romance-cynthia-woolf/1105733859?ean=2940013204416&itm=1&usri=centauri%2bdawn

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/75375

Karen’s Killer Book Bench….While You Were Dead by CJ Snyder

    KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH

Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench where, every Wednesday, readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site so all book peeks are PG-13 or better.  Come back and visit often.  Happy reading!

While You Were Dead by CJ Snyder

Back Cover Blurb….

Lies have consequences…

Twelve years ago, Max Clayton had no choices.  Honor bound to hunt a traitor, the government declared him dead to the outside world.  He completed his mission, but lost the only woman he ever loved and a child he never knew existed.

And so does breaking a woman’s heart…

Max was her life, her very heartbeat.  After his death, alone and haunted by a dangerous past, Kat Jannsen made the ultimate sacrifice to keep their daughter safe.

When Kat discovers Max is alive her carefully constructed jigsaw puzzle life is torn to pieces.  But an old enemy has been watching…waiting to strike.  As the danger mounts, she has nowhere to turn but to Max.   She can trust him with her life, but does she dare trust him with her heart?

EXCERPT….While You Were Dead

Prologue

Twelve years ago

Kat Jannsen didn’t cry the day they buried Maxwell Crayton.

Plenty of others did.  Mourners gathered four and five deep around the long, flag-draped coffin.  Even more had packed the church, but Kat skipped the God part.

She stayed back by a tree, feeling out of place, uninvited, unwelcome and wondering about the flag.  Military?  What other secrets had he kept?

Kat couldn’t say why she’d come.  Except she’d loved him, as she’d never loved another human being in her life.  So much hope about to be buried in that coffin.  So many dreams.  So much despair left behind.

His actual death shouldn’t have made a difference.  He’d been missing for two months before he died.  He’d tossed her away like a used Sunday paper three months before that.

Now Kat shivered in the cold, sleeting rain.  She gave her head a vicious shake, warding off the tears that threatened for the first time in days.  She straightened her shoulders.  You will not cry.  She had no right to attend the family’s service, but she represented someone who did.    Her gaze darted over the ring of mourners.  They were folding the flag.  In just moments she’d know.  They’d give the flag to Miriam, the sister who’d raised him.  Miriam.  Kat’s baby’s one chance at a sane life.  Anguish wrenched her heart.  Sorrow for Max, sorrow for this baby she already loved too much to keep.  Kat fought her tears so she could see the woman who held her future—her child’s very life—in her hands.

The soldier stopped in front of an older woman and Kat frowned.  Miriam was forty-three, fifteen years older than Max.  This woman looked a decade older than that.  Too old?  No.  She couldn’t be too old.  Women had babies in their forties all the time.  Bereavement might make her look older.   An even older man supported Miriam, his arm strong and sturdy around her shoulders.  Five others surrounded them, forming a protective half-circle around the couple.  Two nephews, Max’d said.  Nephews with wives, or at least girlfriends?  Grown nephews?  The woman turned her head in response to something her husband said and Kat caught her breath, nearly undone by the naked pain on the face that so closely resembled Max’s own.  The resemblance was nearly as close as that between her own mother and herself.

So this was Miriam.  So much grief.  She must have loved her brother very much.  But Kat hadn’t expected her to be so old.  She’d pictured a warm, loving younger couple.  For just a moment, she sagged back against the tree.

It’s never easy, Kat.  Max’s words, and before that her mother’s.  Words to live by.  Why would she expect this to be any different?

You don’t have a choice.  Unless you damn your sweet baby before it even draws a breath.

All true.  No choices, no options, except to entrust her innocent child into the hands of fate.  No.  Better to trust Miriam.

More movement at the graveside.  Mourners began to greet Miriam and her husband.  Time to go.  Kat wouldn’t intrude today.  But soon.  There wasn’t much time.

Chapter One

Five Years Later

Max Crayton eased his car over to the side of the road and shut off the engine.  His hands were shaking.  His heart pounded hard in his chest and loud in his ears.  Too loud.  Too hard.  He focused on the Dairy Queen, on the trees waving gently in the sweet spring breeze.  Home.  After too many long years, it was over.  He was finally free to pick up his life nearly where he’d left it.

You can’t have Kat back.

Regret stung, so sharp and strong he winced.  He should go—just start the engine, drive to his sister’s house and get it over with.  That’s what he was here to do.  But he wasn’t ready.  Arrival at Miriam’s heralded a new start.  The first day of the rest of your life.  His fist connected with the steering wheel.  It just wasn’t that damn easy.

Because arrival at Miriam’s also firmly closed the door on his past.  That’s why he was here, sitting above Bluff River Falls, Wyoming, watching life go on in the valley below.  He’d survived the long years because the past was waiting for him.  The ultimate reason for what he’d done.  His life.  Intact.  Complete with Kat.  Finishing the simple drive to Miriam’s would end that fantasy forever.

He closed his eyes, fighting the inevitable moment when the door—that door to her—would latch so resolutely behind him.  “Kat,” he whispered.  “Ah, baby, I’d do it so differently….”

Would he?

Faster than a single heartbeat.

Could he?

No.

He’d taken the only path he could.  Kat was the most valuable thing he’d lost, but not the only thing.

You knew it going in.

“Not when I agreed,” he argued.

Yeah, well, that ship sailed.

Frowning now, he restarted his car.  Miriam would help.  His sister always had a knack for making him feel better.  She’d mothered him when his elderly parents died.   Miriam’s husband, Doug, died during his “absence” and he wondered how his sister was coping.  Most importantly, how would she react to her “dead” baby brother?

He wound through streets as familiar as his childhood, pulling to a stop once again, this time in front of her modest, yellow tri-level.  For a long minute he sat, staring at the house, surprised by the pink Big Wheel parked defiantly in front of the porch.  A neighbor’s kid, probably, as Miriam’s two boys were grown and gone now.  Thirty seconds later, he sidestepped the trike, and stood in front of the door.  He lifted his hand to knock, and let it fall back to his side.

What would he say?  “Hi, sis.  Surprise!  I’m not dead after all.”  Would she understand that he still couldn’t discuss his manufactured death?  Would she accept him back into her life?  Forgive him?

He lifted his hand again, but the door suddenly flew open, revealing an enchanting pixie of three or four.  Perfect little teeth flashed as she grinned at him.  “Hiya, Max.”  He bit back a frown. She knew him?   Long, blond braids swung as she turned her head.  “Mommie, Max is home from Heaven.”

 Meet CJ Snyder, Author….  

 CJ received her first Nancy Drew book for Christmas the year she turned six.  Before the next Christmas, she’d finished every Nancy Drew book written.  At 11, she discovered Daphne du Maurier and the die was stamped in titanium.  At 13, she penned plays starring her friends and their favorite Tiger Beat magazine crushes, a 500 page (unfinished) blatantly graphic novel (blush!) and countless story starts and stops.  Her parents (pastors) were thrilled when she settled into suspense salted with romance and left the all-sex-all-the-time behind.

She’s won numerous awards, finalled in dozens of contests and before her husband passed away was very involved with Colorado Romance Writers, Kiss of Death Mystery Chapter and RWfA.  She lost the love of her life to an aggressive prostate cancer and avidly supports cancer prevention research and men who take saw palmetto every day.

When she’s not writing, she dotes on (and loves to embarrass) her eight wonderful grandchildren:  Nick, Josiah, Joshua, Naomi, Nathaniel, Rebekah, Samuel, and Timothy.  She lives in a four-generation household, which gives her much insight into familial relationships.

She’s a member of We Are Scripsi, where she blogs with members of her awesome and amazing critique group.

FMI about CJ Snyder & her books: http://www.cjsnyderbooks.com/

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Now Available!  WHILE YOU WERE DEAD by CJ Snyder

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/While-Were-Dead-Black-ebook/dp/B006PTW9WW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330487945&sr=8-1