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The Dirty Difference Between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy by Rachel Hailey

February 8, 2021 by in category Apples & Oranges by Marianne H. Donley, Guest Posts, Rabt Book Tours tagged as , , , , ,

Today we have a guest post from Rachel Hailey. Rachel was born and raised in the South. She’s all about that nerd life and in between writing she’s dedicated herself to raising the next generation of nerds. If she’s not online or staring at a book she can usually be found at the local game store rolling dice, shuffling cards, or planning her next cosplay.

Her childhood was most prominently shaped by the works of R.L. Stine, Stephen King, Anne Rice and the Brothers Grimm.

The Dirty Difference Between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy

Rachel Hailey

I’ve been in love with monsters since I was a little and got angry when Belle turned the Beast into a boring old prince. As I grew older and more obsessed with fairy tales, I found two genres that truly spoke to my black heart. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.

These powerhouses rose to popularity fast during the late ’90s, and early 2000s. Those years exploded with amazing stories of dazzling monsters. Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton were among the first and are still synonymous with Urban Fantasy. But around the time Anita was toying with the notion of staking Jean-Claude, Sherrilyn McQueen (Kenyon) introduced us to Acheron and his band of tortured but scorching hot daimon slayers. While Harry rides an undead dino, J.R. Ward first showed us the wicked streets of Caldwell where the Black Dagger Brotherhood protects their race against the Lessening Society.

Anyone who has read a good Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy will agree that there is magic in the ink. But what is the difference between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy? Both include the same elements: mystery, action, adventure, supernatural, and yes, sexy times.

So what are the differences?

All four of these series feature creatures that don’t just lurk in the shadows – they’re at home in the dark. The stories bleed tension, and the only thing higher than the number of pages are the body counts.

With so many similarities, it’s the technical details that define which side of the aisle a book gets shelved.

One of the easiest difference to spot is Point of View. Black Dagger Brotherhood and other Paranormal Romance stories are usually told in third-person, giving readers the full experience by switching perspectives among many characters. Urban Fantasy authors, such as Hamilton and Butcher, rely on first-person, fully immersing readers in the heads and hearts of their protagonists.

As Paranormal Romance series unfolds, they often maintain this same energy with each book centering on a new couple, while in Urban Fantasy a single protagonist continues to shine center stage, no matter how many books follow.

The next difference can be a little tricky to identify. Paranormal Romance are more character-driven. It’s the emotions, the development of the characters, and their relationships that keep us turning pages. The relationships are the main focus. The tension comes from the need to see a couple (or more!) handle their issues and find their happily ever after.

Urban Fantasy, on the other hand, are plot-driven. Investigating the murder, solving the case, saving the world are the defining moments for these tales. That’s not to say relationships aren’t important in Urban Fantasy. Usually, they provide much-needed motivation for the protagonist to get off their ass and do their job or save the world, pushing them to be better, stronger, harder.

This brings us to my next point. Sex. The pages of Paranormal Romance blister fingers and leave readers dry-mouthed, but so too can Urban Fantasy. Usually, the scenes are shorter, less descriptive. The relationships form slowly over books and culminate in a scene that begins scorching and ends with a closed door. (Damn you doors.)

But these rules are often shattered with impunity which continues to leave readers a little confused. Anita arguably has more sex in one book than the entire cast of the Dark Hunter universe, and it’s twice as graphic. There’s also the matter of POV. Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series is told in first person and focuses on the same characters through all seven (wonderful) books. The Night Huntress series is also heavily plot-centric but undeniably falls into the realm of Paranormal Romance.

So what is the difference?

My answer?

Marketing.

I’ve heard Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy referred to as cousins, but I disagree. I think they’re much closer than that, and deciding where they are listed comes down to opinion.

There’s an ugly side to this – The great disdain the Romance genres garner even within the publishing community. (Which makes no sense as it is the highest-grossing genre. Don’t believe me? Google is free.) Often this contempt leaves agents and authors slapping Fantasy on a book instead of Romance to appeal to a wider audience.

It starts with the cover. They replace the image of the muscled hero with a detailed, gritty image of the heroine holding a blade as she scowls fiercely into the night. I was told recently this was because Urban Fantasy readers are so much choosier about art. But are they really, or is this just another stereotype rooted in the belief that romance readers and authors are somehow less than?

In the end, it doesn’t matter where a book is shelved, or whether the cover has a half-naked man. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance stories speak to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. Whether you read for the action or the action, remember, genres are labels, and like all labels, they can help or hinder. Don’t be afraid to cross the aisle and reach for a new author. What you find may surprise you.


Rachel Hailey’s Dark Paranormal Romance



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Disabled Author Still Finding Himself by Justin Murphy

January 27, 2021 by in category Guest Posts tagged as , , ,

I have a mild case of Cerebral Palsy, and I help care for an Autistic brother. Yet, I have spent years concealing my disability for fear it might hamper my writing career. I’ve written and self-published many works, including articles and columns for content sites. My best-known release, so far, is Gene L. Coon: The Unsung Hero of Star Trek.

My work spans quite a few genres: Southern Crime Fiction, Non-Fiction Entertainment, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Autism related fiction. The former two are the ones I’ve had the most success with. Alongside the Coon title, I penned the book Jack Kirby: The Unsung Hero of Marvel and a couple books about serial killer Joseph James DeAngelo.

My attempts at Sci-Fi/Fantasy have not been as successful, so I built on my achievements by writing more Non-Fiction Entertainment books about sci-fi creators. I have inked one on Steven Spielberg, culled from earlier articles I wrote about him. I, also, wrote books on such figures as Alfred Hitchcock, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. In addition, I did a couple short books on the Star Wars saga. With Disney and Marvel’s success at the box office, the Jack Kirby book might be the farthest I go in that genre for now.

Over the last decade, I was told to write more about my struggles with Cerebral Palsy and my brother’s Autism. Yet there’s a Catch 22, as with any endeavor. Despite improving my craft through writing from life experiences, this is also a business designed to make money. I also have heard: Well, this doesn’t sell, or You need to write something more marketable.

For a time, I got flack for writing serial killer stories and Autistic characters placed in science fiction or crime tales, instead of drawing from something more authentic.

Though still writing stories on the above figures, I wrote a manuscript based on an event that happened to me when I was ten years old, due to Cerebral Palsy. Another about our ordeals with my brother’s Autism, anger with discovery and acceptance of what went on, and how we learned to love him.

But my writing still didn’t feel complete, so I wrote a supernatural horror story about an Autistic child and her family being stalked. Despite many autobiographies and memoirs being successful, these more authentic stories of mine used fictional names, and either combined or deleted certain incidents that didn’t fit the main narrative. Plus, many authors have written from their life and had a great deal of success placing them in fictional contexts.

Remembering my small success with Southern Crime Fiction, I’ve spent this year (2020) weaving these Cerebral Palsy and Autism elements into a few detective stories, based on a short story I wrote and submitted for a Boucheron Crime Writers contest with Florida as a setting. Also, I worked on a couple disability themed heist caper tales set in the 1940s and 1950s.

None of these more recent stories, pertaining to Cerebral Palsy, Autism, or disability, have been published, yet. I am still deciding on when and how to release them, along with other ideas I still want to pursue.

Recently, I heard a quote from another writer who said, “Write from your life, not about your life.” More and more, I’m wondering if that’s at least partially true.

About Justin Murphy

Born November 26, 1985 in Dothan, Alabama.

Whether it be Fiction or Non-Fiction, Justin Murphy has always tried to explore many themes in his work. One is probing into the darkness of pure evil with The Original Night Stalker: Portrait of A Killer, a fictional story based on a real-life murderer Joseph James DeAngelo. He also enjoys exploring obscure figures often forgotten in entertainment. Such as with his most recent success, Gene L. Coon: The Unsung Hero of Star Trek. It profiles the ex-Marine, pharmacist, and journalist who did the actual heavy lifting on The Original Series.

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Spotlight on GENE L. COON: The Unsung Hero of Star Trek

GENE L. COON

GENE L. COON

$2.99Audiobook: $6.08
Author:
Series: Unsung Heroes, Book 1
Genre: Non-fiction
Tags: 2017, Biography
Publication Year: 2017
ASIN: B074DX1CL3

The Unsung Hero of Star Trek

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About the Book
Gene Roddenberry has long been painted as the visionary who made Star Trek possible. Yet not much has been written on Gene L. Coon. The real workhorse behind The Original Series. This man built the universe around Roddenberry’s initial concept we all know today. He almost single handed created The Klingons. Had a hand in creating the franchise’s greatest villain…KHAN! Any notion of Starfleet Command, The United Federation of Planets, Warp Technology, and its fictional creator Zefram Cochrane all belong to him. Only to die from cancer at age 49 just as Star Trek got popular with reruns and conventions.

Look Inside
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the page above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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The Ultimate Betrayal

August 16, 2020 by in category Spotlight tagged as , , , ,

Excerpt

by
Kat Martin

“Who hired you and Digger to kill Jessie Kegan?”

Petrov shook his head. “We didn’t have to kill her. We just had to convince her to quit sticking her nose into other people’s business.”

“And if you couldn’t convince her?”

Petrov shrugged his thick shoulders. “Then we’d have to do something that would.” He was built like a bull, and with that pale, scraggly beard, he was ugly.

“What? Like make her dead?” Bran pressed.

Petrov didn’t answer, just gave another shrug as if killing her was no big deal. Jessie shivered. She gasped when Bran drew back his fist and punched Petrov hard in the face, sending a spray of blood into the air and his body flying backward into the dirt.

“Bran, stop!” Jessie grabbed his bicep, which was bunched hard as steel, ready to deliver another brutal blow.

He shook his head, fighting for control. “He’s lucky I don’t kill him.” Instead, he jerked Petrov upright. “I need a name. Who hired you?


Petrov spit out a wad of blood. “Weaver. That’s his name. Just Weaver.”

“How do I find him?”

More blood trickled from Petrov’s nose. The way it was swelling, by tomorrow, both eyes would be black.

“I don’t know. He phones us on a burner, tells us what he needs, we call him back after the job’s done. Weaver tells us where to pick up our money. That’s the way it works.”

Bran swore foully. “What’s going to happen when Weaver finds out you didn’t finish the job?”

Petrov grimaced. “He ain’t gonna like it, that’s for sure.”

“Then I’d strongly suggest the first chance you get, you and your buddy leave town. I’ve got friends on the base. I’ll be texting them your photos. You don’t leave, I’ll know and you’ll be dealing with me instead of your buddy, Weaver. You won’t have a second chance to walk away.”

Petrov stared up at him. Jessie knew Bran was talking about soldiers in the 10th Special Forces stationed at Fort Carson, where he had friends.

“You understand what I’m saying?”

Petrov swallowed and nodded.

Bran turned to Jessie. “Time to go.”

“What about them? We can’t just leave them out here. They could die of exposure.”

“We’ll call the sheriff once we’re on the road.”

“I thought you were letting us go,” Petrov complained.

“You’re lucky your still alive.” Bran closed Jessie’s car door, rounded the hood, and slid in behind the wheel.

“Maybe we should call the MPs instead of the sheriff,” she suggested as the engine roared to life. “Since it involves a CID investigation.”

Bran shook his head. “These guys aren’t active duty, plus we don’t know who we can trust on the base.”

Unfortunately, that was true. Her dad had been murdered on the base. The military was somehow involved.

As soon as the SUV reached the highway, Bran called 9-1-1 and anonymously reported that two men had assaulted him and were now tied up in an empty field. He gave the location using GPS coordinates.

“Sheriff will be there in ten,” he said, ending the call. “We need to be long gone by then.” He punched the gas and the Expedition picked up speed, heading back to Colorado Springs, forty miles away, and their motel.

“What will the sheriff do to them?” Jessie asked.

“For starters, they’re probably driving with a stolen license plate. There’s also a good chance there’ll be warrants out for them. Guys like that…could be anything from a speeding ticket to a felony. Might get them locked up for a while.”

There were few cars on the back road Bran was driving toward town. The wind had picked up, blowing dust and dry leaves into the air. The night was dead black, no moon no stars. Jessie shivered, though it was warm in the SUV.

She thought of the men who’d come after them. “Once they’re released, do you think they’ll actually leave town?”

“I’d say chances are better than good. Men like that go after the easy money.” He cast her glance that held a trace of arrogance. “Turned out getting to you wasn’t as easy as they thought.”

She almost smiled. No, not nearly as easy with Bran Garrett acting as her bodyguard.

“I’ll text those photos to a couple of SF guys I know, have them spread the word to their buddies, keep a lookout, give me a heads-up if anyone spots them.”

She nodded. At least they might get some kind of warning if the two men stayed in the area.

Silence began to stretch between them. Neither of them spoke until town drew near and Bran’s gaze slid back to her.

“You okay?”

Was she okay? Men had been hired to stop her–one way or another–from finding out what had happened to the stolen munitions and clearing her father’s name. Since she had no intention of quitting, no, she wasn’t okay. But she didn’t say that.

“I will be. Once we clear my father’s name.”

“Be smarter to quit before things get worse.”

“You think they will?”

“Good chance they will.”

She fixed him with a stare. “You sticking?”

His mouth faintly curved. “If you are.”

As Jessie settled back in the seat, she found herself smiling. “Glad that’s settled.”

Bran just shook his head. “Well, you sure as hell aren’t boring.” He flashed one of his devastating grins. “Can’t remember when I’ve had a better time with a lady.”

Jessie scoffed. “Not counting sex,” she said dryly.

His look turned scorching the instant before he glanced away. “Yeah,” he said. “Not counting sex.”

Jessie’s whole body went warm, and in that moment she made a decision.
She decided she was going to seduce him.



THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL
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Other Books by Kat Martin

Kat Martin

Bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, in Missoula, Montana, Kat has written sixty eight Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels.  More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Her last novel, INTO THE FIRESTORM, took the #7 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list.  This will be the 15th novel in a row to be included on that prestigious list.  Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.

BEYOND CONTROL

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BEYOND CONTROL

BEYOND DANGER

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BEYOND DANGER

BEYOND REASON

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BEYOND REASON

COME MIDNIGHT

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COME MIDNIGHT

PIVOT

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PIVOT

SHADOWS AT DAWN

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SHADOWS AT DAWN

THE PERFECT MURDER

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THE PERFECT MURDER

THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL

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THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL

THE CONSPIRACY

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THE CONSPIRACY

THE DECEPTION

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WAIT UNTIL DARK

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THE LAST GOODNIGHT

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THE LAST GOODNIGHT
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Rewrites by Larry Deibert

August 8, 2020 by in category Guest Posts, Writing tagged as , , ,

Today’s guest author is Larry Deibert. Larry is a Vietnam veteran and is the past president of the Lehigh Northampton Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Macungie, PA. Larry retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2008 after working as a letter carrier for over 21 years. He and his wife, Peggy, live in Hellertown, PA., where he enjoys reading and writing. Larry’s website is, www.larryldeibert.com. You can contact Larry at larrydeibert@rcn.com.

In 1999, I wrote two books, 95 Bravo and Requiem For A Vampire. Eventually, both were published; Bravo in 2004 and Requiem in 2007.

95 Bravo

In 1974, after finding out that I was going to become a father, I thought it would be a good idea to write a book about my military service. Many concerns about the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used in Vietnam, were coming out, and the end results were devastating, including death.

The prospect of dying before my child was old enough to understand what I went through in the service, prompted me to write this story. Back in those days, there were no computers, so I had to type my story on an old-fashioned typewriter, and because errors were apt to occur, I typed several drafts before I had a copy that really shone, one that publishers would not immediately dismiss for errors, I thought.

My book was quite short at about forty-thousand words, but, then again, my experiences were limited. I had never been in combat, so what kind of war story would this be. After placing my manuscript in a plastic folder, where nothing could happen to it, I began seeking a publisher. Over the course of several months, I submitted my book to twenty-three publishers, utilizing hard copies and snail mail. Fortunately, I had a friend who worked in a printing office, and he was able to make all the copies I needed.

After sending them to the publishers, I waited various lengths of time for responses, receiving twenty-three rejection letters, finally giving up, thinking I had no talent for writing.

Fast forward to 1999. I had been involved in Vietnam Veteran groups for about ten years, hearing the stories of many combat and non-combat veterans. Some of the stories became a burden to carry, and I was advised by an Edgar (Allan Poe) winning author to rewrite my story, adding what those veterans shared with me, fictionalizing the book. I also wanted to tell the stories of what the nurses had gone through. In 1993 I was a technical advisor for a play titled Piece Of My Heart, based on a book about women veterans. One of the events during our Lehigh Northampton Vietnam Veterans Memorial weekend, was the second time I saw the play, especially proud of my daughter as she portrayed a nurse. It was the only play she ever did, saying, “Dad, I don’t think I could ever do another role as satisfying as this was.” I began to type the book on my word processor, and later, on a computer. The process took many months, and one-hundred-and-forty-three-thousand words later, completed my manuscript.

As I searched for a publisher, now being able to send digital copies, I began to write a second book.

95 Bravo was published as an e-Book in 2004, by Writer’s Exchange E-Publishing, and in 2009, the paperback was released. The rewrite came after my wife, Peggy, read the paperback. She felt that there was entirely too much unnecessary information in the book, and she wanted me to focus more on the protagonist’s love interests, making the story more female friendly.

This rewrite was relatively easy, because it was a simple matter of reading it, cutting out the unnecessary stories and when I finished, I had cut nearly twenty-five thousand words, and tightened it up quite a bit.

Late, in 2009, I self-published it with Lulu, and years later, with CreateSpace. And finally, Kindle Direct Publishing. The new title became Combat Boots dainty feet-Finding Love in Vietnam. That title came about after a co-worker of mine read the manuscript, finding that my female lead had dainty feet. He offered that I should use that in every proceeding book, which I have done.

Requiem For A Vampire

While waiting for a publisher for 95 Bravo, I had the itch to continue writing; the juices were flowing.

Having always been a vampire fan, Bela Lugosi scaring the beJesus out of me when I was a kid, and seeing many vampire movies after that, I had come up with some ideas of what my vampire would ‘look’ like. In the 60s I became a fan of Dark Shadows, a daytime soap opera that featured a two-hundred-year-old vampire, Barnabas Collins. During my twenty-two months in the army, I was unable to watch it, so my sister sent me weekly synopses of the show. Many years later, a new TV Network, SiFi ran the entire series again. I enjoyed watching the shows I had missed. A second Dark Shadows was released about twenty-five years later, and I also enjoyed that show.

I never quite believed that a vampire, a dead creature, could be destroyed by driving a wooden stake in his or her unbeating heart. Why would garlic affect a vampire? Can a vampire actually see its reflection? Do vampires eat? Why can’t they walk in the sunlight and be twenty-four seven killers?
Coming up with my own ideas about these subjects, I began the writing process, my fingers flying over the keyboard. I probably wrote the manuscript in about three months, ending up with ninety-three thousand words, and change.

I found a publisher, Mundania Press, in 2007, and after the manuscript was edited and an amazing cover created, my book was published. Sadly, they did nothing as far as marketing was concerned, and my sales were not great. I got my rights back, and figured that someday I would rewrite the book, not caring for some of my character’s names and the story needed a little work.

For months I had been searching for the disc or flash drive that contained the manuscript, but I had no success. I tried photocopying the pages of the book, printing them out and writing as I read the page. That was a horrible experience. In May, I found the answer. I used the dictate feature on Word and began to read my entire book aloud, seeing the words appear on paper. Technology is amazing. After completing a hard copy, I began the process of editing, which is not my forte.

I purchased a program-Grammarly-and after dictating a chapter, I had to move the chapter from Word to Grammarly. After correcting the piece, I had to copy it back to Word, with every paragraph indent disappearing. That gave me an opportunity to reread my work again, and after completing that task, I used the Word editing program.

On July 20th, I finally finished the dictation process and the two editing processes. My manuscript is now in the hands of an editor, and I look forward to giving the story one more read before my wife, who has been the final reader of each book, gives it her once over.


Other Books by Larry Deibert

Larry Deibert

Larry Deibert is a Vietnam veteran and is the past president of the Lehigh Northampton Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Macungie, Pa.

He retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2008 after working as a letter carrier for over 21 years. He and his wife, Peggy, live in Hellertown, Pa., where he enjoys reading and writing.

Larry has written fourteen books and is currently working on a collection of his many short stories.

Larry’s website is, www.larryldeibert.com.

You can contact Larry at larrydeibert@rcn.com.

Signed copies of Larry’s books may be purchased directly from the author.


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Setting the Stage by Kat Martin

July 28, 2020 by in category Guest Posts tagged as , , , ,
Kat Martin | A Slice of Orange
Photo by Juan Carlo, Ventura Country Star

Today’s Guest Author is Kat Martin. We hope you enjoy her post on Setting the Stage and the excerpt from her next romantic suspense novel, THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL

New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing in Missoula, Montana with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, Kat has written sixty-five Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels. More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.


Setting the Stage

I love to read novels set in interesting places. Currently I’m reading an historical romance that takes place in Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII. I’ve always loved Paris, which makes the book even more fun to read. Being able recognize the settings where the action takes place, as well as the names of restaurants and streets I have visited.

As a writer, going to the place your book is set, or choosing a place you have actually been, is the best way to make your book seem real.

In THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL, the novel takes place in Colorado, a state I love to visit. After I’d concluded my second Maximum Security novel, THE DECEPTION, which was set in Texas, I was looking for someplace different for book number three. Colorado, with its wide variety of landscapes and extreme climate conditions seemed perfect.

Having been to Denver a number of times, street names were familiar, parks and airports, locations of smaller towns and rural mountain communities.

Since this was a Maximum Security novel, a romantic thriller, I began by researching crime in the state. I had digging and digging and finally stumbled onto an article about the U.S. Army chemical weapons depot near Colorado Springs. As Brandon Garrett, the hero of my story, was a former army officer, I loved the idea of Bran interacting with his military past.

The idea of stealing chemical weapons from a storage depot gave me all sorts of plot ideas. In THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL, when investigative journalist Jessie Kegan’s father, a colonel in the army, is accused of treason, she’s determined to clear his name. Afraid for her life, Jessie turns to former Special Ops soldier, Brandon Garrett. But time is running out and the game being played is deadly. Working together, Bran and Jessie risk everything to solve the riddle and stop the threat–before it’s too late.

Because of the military setting, this was one of the hardest books I’ve ever written. I think it turned out to be one of my best. I particularly love the interaction between Bran and Jessie and I hope readers will, too.

I hope you’ll watch for THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL and that you enjoy Bran and Jessie’s story. Till next time, all best wishes and happy reading, Kat


The Ultimate Betrayal
by
Kat Martin
Excerpt

Too much downtime always made him nervous, kind of edgy as he waited for the other shoe to drop. It had been a week since his last client had headed back to Nashville, a week of peace and quiet he should have enjoyed.

Instead, he had this nagging feeling that something bad was coming down the line.

Lounging back in the chair behind his desk at Maximum Security, Brandon Garrett looked up at the sound of the front door swinging open. A gust of cool, late October winds swept in, along with a petite, whirlwind of a woman with the prettiest strawberry blond hair Bran had ever seen.
She had a sweet little body to match her fiery curls, he noticed, outlined by the dark blue stretch jeans curving over her sexy little ass and the peach knit top that hugged her breasts.

It wasn’t tough to read the anxiety in her big green eyes as she surveyed the room, but instead of heading for the receptionist’s desk, those big green eyes landed on Bran and as she started toward him, there was something about her that rang a distant bell. Interest piqued, he rose from his chair. “Can I help you?”

“You’re Brandon Garrett, right? You were a friend of my brother’s. Danny Kegan? I recognize you from the photos Danny sent home.”

The mention of his best friend’s name hit him like a blow, and the muscles across his stomach clenched. Daniel Kegan had been a member of his spec ops team, a brother, not just a friend. Danny had saved Bran’s life at the cost of his own. He was KIA in Afghanistan.

Bran stared down at the girl, who was maybe five-foot-four. “You’re Jessie,” he said, remembering the younger sister Daniel Kegan had talked so much about. “You look like him. Same color hair and eyes.”

She nervously wet her lips, which were plump and pink and fit her delicate features perfectly.

“My brother said if I ever needed help, I should come to you. He said you’d help me no matter what.” She glanced back toward the door and his mind shifted away from the physical jolt he felt as he looked at her to the worry in her eyes.

“I’ll help you. Danny was my closest friend. Whatever you need, I’ll help. Come on. Let’s go into the conference room and you can tell me what’s going on.” When her gaze shot back to the door, his senses went on alert.

“I didn’t mean I needed your help later,” Jessie said nervously. “I meant I need your help right now.”

Gunshots exploded through the windows. “Get down!” Bran shouted to the other guys in the office as he shoved Jessie down behind his desk and covered her with his body. Glass shattered and a stream of bullets sprayed across the room.

Jaxon Ryker popped up, gun drawn, and ran for the door. Hawk Maddox and Lissa Blayne were shuffling through their desks, arming themselves. Jonas Wolfe drew his ankle gun and ran for the rear entrance, ready for any threat that might come from there.

“Black SUV with tinted windows,” Ryker reported. Six feet of solid muscle, dark hair and eyes, Jax was a former Navy SEAL, currently a PI and occasional bounty hunter. “Couldn’t get a plate number.” Jax’s gaze swung to the front of the room. “Mindy, you okay?”

The little receptionist eased up from beneath her desk. “I-I’m okay. Should I call the police?” Around here, it was never good to jump to conclusions.

Bran hauled Jessie to her feet. He could feel her trembling. Her eyes looked even bigger and greener than they had before. “Are they coming back?” he asked.

“I-I don’t know. It could have just been a warning.”

Bran turned to Mindy. “Unless someone’s already phoned it in, let’s wait to call the cops till we know what’s going on.” His attention returned to Jessie. “We need to talk.”

She just nodded. Her face had gone pale, making a fine line of freckles stand out across her forehead and the bridge of her nose.

Bran took her arm and urged her toward the conference room. “Keep a sharp eye,” he said to The Max crew. “Just in case.”

Jessie sank unsteadily down in one of the rolling chairs around the long oak conference table. The man she had come to see, Brandon Garrett, sat down beside her.

“Okay, let’s hear it,” he said. “What’s going on?”

She thought of the men who had just shot up his office and her pulse started thumping again. “Danny said if I ever needed help–”

“Yeah, I get that. Your brother knew he could count on me. Like I said, I’ll help you any way I can, but I need to know what’s going on.”

Bran was taller than Danny, around six-three, with a soldier’s lean, hard body, vee-shaped, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. Powerful biceps bulged beneath the sleeve of his dark blue T-shirt. With his slightly too-long mink brown hair, straight nose and masculine features, he was ridiculously handsome, except for the hard line of his jaw and the darkness in his eyes that contrasted sharply with their beautiful shade of cobalt blue.

“Start at the beginning,” he demanded.

Since she wasn’t sure exactly where to begin, Jessie dragged in a shaky breath and slowly released it.

“I’m here because of my father–Colonel James Kegan, Commander U.S. Army Alamo Chemical Depot. Just before he died a little over two months ago, my father was removed from active duty. He was charged with larceny–specifically the theft of chemical weapons stored at the Depot. Because the Army believed he was selling the weapons to a foreign entity, he was also charged with espionage and treason. I need you to help me prove his innocence.”


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