Beau could hardly believe it. His father was sixty years old! The girl sitting across from him in a booth at the Pleasant Hill Café looked like a teenager. A very pregnant teenager.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Missy,” Beau Reese said. “You don’t have to worry about anything from now on. I’ll make sure everything is taken care of from here on out.”
“He bought me presents,” the girl said, dabbing a Kleenex against the tears in her blue eyes. “He told me how pretty I was, how much he liked being with me. I thought he loved me.”
Fat chance of that, Beau thought. His dad had never loved anyone but himself. True, his father, a former Texas state senator, was still a handsome man, one who stayed in shape and looked twenty years younger. Didn’t make the situation any better.
“How old are you, Missy?”
At least she was over the age of consent. That was something, not much.
Beau shoved a hand through his wavy black hair and took a steadying breath. He thought of the DNA test folded up and tucked into the pocket of his shirt. He had always wanted a baby brother or sister. Now at the age of thirty five, he was finally going to have one.
Beau felt a surge of protectiveness toward the young woman carrying his father’s child.
He looked over to where she sat hunched over next to her mother on the opposite side of the pink vinyl booth. “Everybody makes mistakes, Missy. You picked the wrong guy, that’s all. Doesn’t mean you won’t have a great kid.”
For the first time since he’d arrived, Missy managed a tentative smile. “Thank you for saying that.”
Beau returned the smile. “I’m going to have a baby sister. I promise she won’t have to worry about a thing from the day she’s born into this world.” Hell, he was worth more than half a billion dollars. He would see the child had everything she ever wanted.
When Missy’s lips trembled, her mother scooted out of the booth. “I think she’s had enough for today. This is all very hard on her and I don’t want her getting overly tired.” Josie reached for her daughter’s hand. “Let’s go home, honey. You’ll feel better after a nap.”
Beau got up, too, leaned over and brushed a kiss on Missy’s cheek. “You both have my number. If you need anything, call me. Okay?”
Missy swallowed. “Okay.”
“Thank you, Beau,” Josie said. “I should have called you sooner. I should have known you’d help us.”
“I’ll have my assistant send you a check right away. You’ll have money to take care of expenses and buy the things you need. After that, I’ll have a draft sent to Missy every month.”
Josie’s eyes teared up. “I didn’t know how I was going to manage the bills all by myself. Thank you again, Beau.”
He just nodded. “Keep me up to date on her condition.”
“I will,” Josie said.
Beau watched the women head for the door, the bell ringing as Josie shoved it open and she and Missy walked out of the café.
Leaving money on the table for his coffee, he followed the women out the door, his temper slowing climbing toward the boiling point, as it had been after he’d first received Josie’s call.
His father should be the one handling Missy’s pregnancy. He’d had months to step up and do the right thing. Beau figured he never would.
As he crossed the sidewalk and opened the door of his dark blue Ferrari, his temper cranked up another notch. By the time the car was roaring along the road to his father’s house, his fury was simmering, bubbling just below the surface.
Unconsciously his foot pressed harder on the gas, urging the car down the two-lane road at well over eighty miles an hour. With too many tickets in Howler County already, he forced himself to slow down.
Making the turn into Country Club Estates, he jammed on the brakes and the car slid to a stop in front of the house. The white, two-story home he’d been raised in oozed Southern charm, the row of columns out front mimicking an old-style plantation.
Climbing out of the Ferrari, one of his favorite vehicles, he pounded up the front steps and crossed the porch. The housekeeper had Mondays and Tuesdays off so he used his key to let himself into the entry.
On this chilly, end-of-January day, the ceiling fans, usually rotating throughout the five-thousand square-foot residence, hadn’t been turned on, leaving the interior strangely silent, the air oddly dense. The ticking of the ornate grandfather clock in the living room seemed louder than it usually did.
“Dad! It’s Beau! Where are you?” When he didn’t get an answer, he strode down the hall toward the study. He had phoned his father on the way over. Though he’d done his best to keep the anger out of his voice, he wasn’t sure he had succeeded. Maybe his father had left to avoid him.
“Dad!” Still no answer. Beau continued down the hall, his footsteps echoing in the quiet. As he reached the study, he noticed the door standing slightly ajar. Steeling himself for the confrontation ahead, he clamped down on his temper, rapped firmly, then shoved the door open.
His father wasn’t sitting at the big rosewood desk or in his favorite overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. Beau started to turn away when an odd gurgling sound sent the hairs up on the back of his neck.
“Dad!” At the opposite end of the desk, Beau spotted a prone figure lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. “Dad!” His father’s eyes were closed, his face as gray as ash. The handle of a letter opener protruded from the middle of his chest.
Beau raced to his father’s side. “Dad!” Blood oozed from the wound in his chest and streamed onto the hardwood floor. He had to stop the bleeding and he had to do it now!
He hesitated, praying he wouldn’t make it worse, then with no other option, grabbed the handle of the letter opener, jerked it out, gripped the front of his dad’s white shirt and ripped it open.
“Oh, my God! What are you–”
Beau glanced up. “Call 9-1-1! Hurry, he’s been stabbed! Hurry!”
The woman, a shapely brunette named Cassidy Jones, his father’s recently hired personal assistant, didn’t pause, just pulled her cell out of her pocket and hurriedly punched in the number. He heard her rattle off the address, give the dispatcher the name of the victim and said he had been stabbed.
Beau’s hand shook as he checked for a pulse, found none. The wound was catastrophic, a stab wound straight to the heart. No way could his father survive it.
Cassidy ended the call, ran over and knelt on the floor beside him.
“Here, use this to seal the hole.” She seemed amazingly in control as she handed him a credit card then ran to the wet bar and grabbed a towel, folded it into a pad, rushed back and handed it over. Beau pressed the towel over the credit card on top of the hole, all the while knowing his father was already dead or within moments of dying.
He checked again for a pulse. Shook his head, feeling an unexpected rush of grief. “His heart isn’t beating. Whoever stabbed him knew exactly where to bury the blade.” And compressions would only make it worse.
Cassidy reached down to check for herself, pressing her fingers in exactly the right spot on the side of his father’s neck. She had to know it was hopeless, just as he did, must have known Stewart Reese was dead.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Beau studied his father’s face. Pain had turned his usually handsome features haggard and slack, nothing like the athletic older man who kept himself so fit and trim.
Sorrow slid through him, making his chest clamp down. Or maybe it was sadness for the kind of man his father was, the kind who had wound up the victim of a killer.
“Just hold on,” Cassidy said to him. “The ambulance should be here any minute.”
His mind went blank until the sound of a siren sliced into his conscious. Cassidy hurried off to let the EMTs into the house and a few moments later they appeared in the study.
“You need to give us some room, Mr. Reese,” one of them said gently, a skinny kid who looked like he knew what he was doing.
Beau backed away and Cassidy followed. He felt her eyes on him, assessing him with speculation–or was it suspicion?
It didn’t take long for the EMTs to have his father loaded onto a gurney and rolling down the hall, back outside to the ambulance. Beau strode along behind them, Cassidy trailing in his wake.
It occurred to him that she could be the killer. But somehow the timing seemed wrong and her reaction seemed genuine. The thought slid away.
As he climbed into the ambulance and sat down beside his dad, he flicked a last glance at the house. If Cassidy Jones hadn’t done it, who had? Had the killer still been inside when Beau arrived? How had he escaped? What was his motive?
The ambulance roared down the road, sirens wailing, blowing through intersections, weaving in and out between cars, careening around corners. All the way to the hospital Beau held his father’s hand. It was the closest he had ever felt to his dad.
The ambulance turned again and Pleasant Hill Memorial loomed ahead. The vehicle slammed to a stop in front of the emergency entrance and the back doors banged open.
After what seemed an eternity but was only a very few minutes, Beau’s father, Stewart Beaumont Reese, was pronounced Dead On Arrival.
Beau’s throat closed up. There were times as a boy he had wished his father dead, but that had been years ago.
Now his dad was gone and Beau wanted answers. He vowed whatever it took, for no matter how long, he wouldn’t stop until he found the man who had murdered his father.
As a writer, I’m always looking for new story ideas. I often find that past experiences can be a great help. Have you ever survived a dangerous situation? How did you do it?
When I was first learning to snow ski, I got caught after dark on top of Stowe Mountain in Vermont. It’s a huge ski area. It was my first day on skis and, somehow I got separated from my friends. I wound up on a black diamond run and of course I started falling—throwing myself down in the snow was the only way I knew how to stop!
By the time I got half way down the mountain, the ski lifts had all stopped running and it was dark and freezing cold. I tried taking off my skis and walking, but the snow was deep, and it was even harder than trying to ski. I knew I was in big trouble.
Maybe the reason I started writing Romantic Suspense had something to do with that day. Just when I was ready to give up and just wait for whatever was going to happen to happen, a guy came skiing down the hill out of nowhere.
Instead of skiing on by, he swished to a stop right next to me. He must have realized I was in trouble and if I didn’t get down the mountain, I could die in the subzero weather that night. The guy—my hero—helped me get up and start “skiing” back down the mountain. He showed me how to snow plow, helped me turn and never left me, no matter how many times I fell.
It took hours to get off that mountain. We wound up in an empty parking lot, where I his car was parked, and he drove me back to the main lodge where my friends were waiting. I never saw him again, but I’ve never forgotten him. There is a chance he might have saved my life that night.
So, I guess there really are heroes out there in the real world. At least I believe that. Beau Reese, the hero in BEYOND DANGER, is that kind of guy.
Mega-rich, black-haired, and blue-eyed, Beau was a highly successful race car driver before he left the circuit, sort of a Texas Paul Newman. Beau loves fast cars and fast women, but under it all he’s a one-woman man and Cassidy Jones is just the right woman for him.
Unfortunately, Beau is wanted for murder.
The good news is, Cassidy is a detective. She’s convinced of Beau’s innocence and determined to prove it.
I hope you’ll watch for BEYOND DANGER, and in June, you’ll look for BEYOND CONTROL, Josh Cain’s story. If you haven’t read BEYOND REASON, I hope you’ll give it a try.
Till next time, all best and happy reading, Kat
Sometimes I wish for a fleshy toggle switch just to concentrate. A switch to turn on the, “What ifs,” or off to allow me to listen to a conversation without having a character make a sidebar comment, with a dimmer to shut out the annoying static from everyday life. On the other hand, where would a writer be without those voices banging around, attempting to push a story out of them?
Most writers I know have characters talking to them. Not just giving an occasional shout, but full arguments that can shove a manuscript into unplotted waters. What would happen if they went silent? I shudder the thought.
My characters made themselves present in those geeky years attending a new high school, trying to fit into any group, but not. Of course, telling anyone about them could have brought dire consequences. Someone would have had me committed to a padded cell on the sunny side of a psych ward, so the thoughts went into a journal. The voices got louder, I listened, my writing voice strengthened, and those ideas became plots.
From where did these constant distractions come, and why me? Isn’t there enough going on in my life for one of me knocking around in my mind? Oh my gosh…my characters just gasped collectively.
I smile before giving a mental nudge. “Hey, just kidding guys.”
Although I still wish for a fleshy toggle switch, I cannot imagine a life without writing or my constant companions pushing my boundaries by asking, “What if.”
Have a creative New Year, and as always, Happy Writing,
It’s a saying we learn as children: Don’t judge a book by its cover. It means, of course, that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, and we should look within to discover the true meaning and worth of an object or a person. It’s an excellent lesson, made more memorable because of the catchy phrase we associate with it.
As we apply that to sage advice to many things, though, do we follow it literally? Most of us do exactly the opposite when it comes to actual books.
A book’s cover can tell us many things: the genre, the age group that is the target audience, and even how professionally the book has been produced. Take these two anthologies for example: Once Upon a Time: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for All Ages, and Day of the Dark: Stories of Eclipse.
Certainly the titles and subtitles give us some clue as to genre and target audience, which is good since not every communication about a book comes with a cover image. But, as another old adage reminds us, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so the cover design has a greater impact than the title on our first impressions of a book. The two book covers for these anthologies are:
These two covers elicit very different first impressions. The former (Once Upon a Time) is colorful, magical, and a bit whimsical. The font has a fairy tale feel. One would not have any qualms about picking it up and handing it to a child to leaf through. It invites children and adults into a world of imagination.
The latter cover (Day of the Dark) is mysterious, and bit foreboding. Looking at this cover, you would not expect it to be the reminiscences of people who have viewed an actual eclipse, despite its title. No—this cover tells us these stories are apt to be a bit darker. The color and font used for the subtitle, Stories of Eclipse, reinforces that impression. This book doesn’t reach out to a children’s audience the way the castle and happy dragon do on Once Upon a Time.
The same is true for books within the same genre. My new mystery, Death in Glenville Falls, has a cover that should tell you something about what might lie behind it:
The colors are warm and inviting, and the scene charming. There’s even a cat. This idyllic scene might make you think of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. But there is clearly a sinister element afoot, for what foul force would result in the stabbed book in the foreground? This cover tells you that there is a mystery inside, but it falls within the traditional/cozy side of the genre. It might keep you up at night because you want to keep reading, but it probably won’t give you nightmares.
On the other hand, my friend Geoffrey Mehl has a book, Nine Lives, that also falls within the mystery genre. With a title like that, it could be the story of the cat on the cover of my mystery, but his cover looks like this:
The sinister element is certainly there—silhouettes of people holding guns—but none of the reassuring, small-town charm balances it. Instead, we see computer code streaming behind them. This is clearly an edgier, suspense novel—and probably one having to do with computer data.
The same can be true, even for books with similar titles—only the cover tells us whether it’s one we’ll want to pick up and read more about or not. Take, for example, the books The Vampire’s Prisoner and Vampire King. Both titles suggest a powerful vampire is at work within the pages of the novel, but the covers give very different impressions. Look at:
The two offer very different kinds of chills.
Selecting a cover is often solely left to the discretion of the publisher, but for independent or hybrid publishers, authors have more control over how their books will look. It’s important to bear in mind that the cover image and cover design are truly the potential reader’s first impression of your work. If the cover looks amateurish, the assumption will be that the contents are, too. If, however, your cover grabs the readers’ curiosity, they are more apt to pick up the book, turn it over, and read more about it. If the back cover copy confirms what the cover promises, they might then turn to read the first page. And if they like what they see there, you might well have made a sale.
And all because they have judged your book by its cover.
Carol L. Wright is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and adjunct professor. She is the author of articles and one book on law-related subjects. Now focused on fiction, she has several short stories in literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Death in Glenville Falls is her first novel.
She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC, is a life member of both Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of SinC Guppies, PennWriters, and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.
Raised in Massachusetts, she is married to her college sweetheart. They now live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats—including one named Dickens.
A week before Thanksgiving, a sudden virulent pneumonia sent my husband, Ron, into heart failure. Fifteen days later, his life ended in an ICU when I asked the staff to turn off life support. Knowing this was what he would have wanted was the only comfort my sons and I felt.
In the quiet hush of the nursing unit, our youngest son and I waited for the end, touching and talking to Ron, knowing he could hear us even though he couldn’t open his eyes or respond. Seven hours later, we watched the monitor blip red for the last time as his valiant athlete’s heart gave out. Only a straight red line remained, releasing us from our sad vigil.
My shattered heart said goodbye to the man who had been my college sweetheart and best friend. We had celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary months earlier, and his passing stunned me. My family went into shock. He’d played golf with a friend just ten days before illness struck, and now he was gone?
I was plunged into the post traumatic stress reaction we call grief, but life went on, demanding I take on everything Ron had done for us as well as my responsibilities. The daily rhythm to our marriage vanished and my brain fragmented. Forgetting came easy, focusing was almost impossible. By early afternoon my tears and the emotional drain of losing him had exhausted me. I slept a lot.
People urged me to take time for myself, do something fun. You’ve got to be kidding! I’m drowning under everything that must be done.
Because his mother died at 99, Ron wasn’t prepared to pass at 85. He hadn’t told me how to get into the online stock or bank accounts, what to do with his life insurance or how to prepare our taxes. I didn’t know even little things—like how to set the controller for our lawn sprinklers when to pay the gardener or get the car serviced. My husband had not only taken care of all the usual “man” things around the house—fixing a running toilet or taking out the trash—he’d managed our finances because he had an accounting background. I was a retired RN.
I could have sworn I was the object of some witch’s spell when things began to fall apart—printers and TVs, the electric garage door opener, the cords connecting the wooden blinds in the family room shredded due to age, and the vertical blinds in the living room windows that faced the street stopped closing tightly, and people could see in—see a woman alone—at night.
Chaos. There was no other word for it. How was I going to survive?
My WIP, a novella, had lacked only a thousand words to completion when my old life ended so abruptly. Even had I been able to get my mind in gear, I had no time to write. So I didn’t.
After a couple months, the one pleasure I allowed myself was to let friends drive me to a meeting of our RWA chapter in Orange County, California. I let chatting about writing on the drive in and back, the warm chapter friendships, and discussions about craft and marketing flow around and nurture me.
After one meeting, I came home inspired, opened my computer and reread my novella. Oh, I had no time for this but, when I realized this was a world I could control, I wrote for fifteen minutes.
Deepening my characters as they moved toward their goals in the world I’d created brought surcease from the real one I struggled with every day. Little by little, I finished that thousand words, then it struck home that I’d written myself into a hole: I was rushing the ending.
And so I wrote on. Then, as smooth as silk, I had over 40,000 words and the work was done. Without even thinking about it, I had finished a Book in a Year.
I will never forget Ron or the life we shared. He had a gift for numbers, mine was wrangling words onto paper. I loved him because he encouraged that part of me, love him more deeply now because through the chaos words on paper were what centered me, gave me the courage to figure out my “new life”—as my artist/writer friend, Sheila Hansberger, describes widowhood.
Artists paint, sketch and sculpt, composers compose, and writers write because that is what we do.
It is who we are.
Dee Ann Palmer is a multi-published, award-winning author who writes sensual romance under this name. As Carolina Valdez, she writes explicit gay and m/f romances in several subgenres. She lives in southern California, is a PAN member of RWA, and belongs to Sisters in Crime.
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