(More about the header above and the great deal it is, awaits down below.)
First, a look at 2020
My favorite road placard of the year was: “2020 OMG! Please Make It Stop!” And, because you can’t stop time outside of a good science fiction story, it finally is gone into the past and we can look ahead.
But, I personally had a very fun time writing during the “Shut-in Year.”
Home for the holidays, with friends, should be worry free…
For the first time in years, Miranda has invited guests to her San Juan Islands cabin for Christmas—her NTSB air-crash investigation team. She’s not sure it was the best decision.
When more of her past flies in on Christmas Eve, it proves to be an even greater challenge than she expected. But, with the help of her past and her team, perhaps she can find the feeling of that true Christmas spirit.
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Hollywood star Isobel Manella leads a charmed life in many ways: interesting roles, surrounded by friends and family, and the ability to sense precisely what those around her are feeling. Her empathic skills help her and her team shine.
Sailor and film handyman Devlin Jones enjoys the job niche he’s created along Seattle’s waterfront. His skills as a Jack of all trades keeps him fed, companionship can always be found, and his beloved Dragon sailboat lies moored just outside his back door.
However, when Devlin takes Isobel on an evening sail, he brings aboard far more trouble than he’s ever faced before. As an assistant on her upcoming film, he thought he could just sail through the gig. Little did he know she’d completely change the uncharted course of his future.
Isobel Manella stood at the end of her pier. Sadly, she was there in both the literal and metaphorical sense. The film actress in her appreciated the juxtaposition, but the woman she was didn’t at all. Except it wasn’t even a dramatic pier, it was just a little floating dock, and the crashing waves were inch-high wind ripples rolling across the quiet urban lake to lap below her feet.
“What was I thinking?”
The gull bobbing gently nearby didn’t answer back and she really, really wished it would.
Reflecting the Seattle skyline, Lake Union lay quiet beneath the summer sunset. The breeze rippled the surface just enough to break up the bright reflection of the lowering sun. It was hard to believe that she was in the heart of a major American city. Her home in San Antonio might boast the River Walk, but it had nothing like this.
The lake was a half-mile wide and a mile-and-a-half long. The southern shore was protected from the urban core by a thin line of restaurants and a wooden boat museum. The expanse of a park filled the north end with a lovely grassy hill that caught the evening light.
To the east and west, tall hills rose steeply, thick with a piney green so verdant that it practically clogged the air with oxygen. Only scattered apartment blocks and low office buildings risked those slopes that resisted most attempts at urbanization.
On this quiet June Tuesday, the lake was thick with more sailboats than all of Canyon Lake on July 4th weekend. Every year, Mama had made a point of driving the forty miles from San Antonio to take her and Ricardo there for the parade and fireworks. After she’d died, they’d only gone one more time—to scatter her ashes where their father’s had been all these years.
Isobel had never become attached to the sea; it was too vast and unruly. But she loved the happy bustle of a big lake.
The shoreline here was lined with marinas for boats of all sizes from daysailers to mega-yachts. Even a few massive workboats added their contrast to the scenery.
Several large houseboat communities also gathered along the shore. Though houseboats conjured the wrong image for her. A houseboat was a trailer on a rectangular metal hull rented for a few days on Canyon Lake. These were actual floating homes, hovering along finger piers that stuck out from the shore. They created a world away from the city, a quiet corner, without having to travel miles through sprawling suburbs to seek some peace. From here, the predominant evening sounds were the slapping of sails interrupted by the occasional hard burr of a seaplane lifting from the water.
No, the problem wasn’t the lake. Or the “houseboat” she’d rented for the team. She turned to look at it, a pleasingly eclectic mix of old and new. The weathered cedar-shake siding was offset by the dramatically large windows.
It had four bedrooms, three baths, and a luxurious great room that spanned the entire first floor and made it easy for her team to all be together or spread out in smaller groups. It had an open plan kitchen that reminded her how much she used to enjoy cooking, back when she had the time.
The back deck had a rack of single and double kayaks. A smaller deck spanned across the two front bedrooms on the second story. And the rooftop deck was ideal for looking out over the lake to watch the sunset light up the sixty-story-high Space Needle even though the sun would soon be sliding off the lake and going behind Queen Anne hill.
She could happily stay here forever.
Another spatter of laughter sounded from the rooftop deck, which she could hear clearly from where she’d “reached the end of her dock.”
The problem was her team.
Not that she didn’t love them all.
But the other members of Shadow Force: Psi were now three couples. Her twin brother had married Isobel’s best friend. They now supported each other more than her. She wouldn’t wish it otherwise, but still she missed them—even though they were right …there, up on the roof. And her best friend’s stepbrother had just become engaged to a lovely English lass. Even the quiet Hannah and her cowboy husband were utterly charming.
But she could feel their happiness.
She and Ricardo had grown up in a hard household. Papa dead in the Gulf War. Mama a single mother who’d run an entire nursing staff at a major hospital. Isobel had run their household from the time she could reach the stovetop from a stool.
They’d made it. A tight, hard-working unit. Then, while Isobel was in college and Ricardo in the Army, Mama was suddenly gone. Her death still left a hole in Isobel’s heart that the last decade had proved would never heal.
By keeping her team close, she was surrounded by happiness every day.
Yet she wasn’t just a third wheel to Ricardo and Michelle’s happiness. She was now a seventh wheel to all three couples.
Shadow Force: Psi was between missions, so they’d all accompanied her here and were looking forward to helping on her latest film—with an excitement that was a little overwhelming. They’d arrived in Seattle just this morning and everyone had plunged into enjoying themselves as not a one of the others had been here before. Nine years and a lifetime ago she’d been here to shoot her breakout rom-com but not been back since.
Isobel had been managing it, enjoying their sense of fun.
Until Michelle had announced that she was pregnant.
The general excitement had turned to near ecstatic joy. Hannah had exchanged a look with Jesse, who then announced that they were going to start trying, too. Michelle had cried on Hannah’s shoulder that she might not be facing this alone—as if that was possible in this group.
Isobel couldn’t be happier for them…but her mind couldn’t shut them out.
They each had their unique gifts. Some of them could switch them on and off, others couldn’t. Michelle and Ricardo shared a telepathic link that was unique to them, and always worked without fail. Though Ricardo occasionally complained about being unable to shut out his wife’s thoughts. The others had absolute control over their skills. Hannah and Jessie could do strange things with creating sounds, really strange and useful things if they were in physical contact. Michelle’s stepbrother Anton could send his vision out to take a look around without having to drag his body along. And his fiancée Katie could feel if someone had been in a certain spot and then use her wilderness tracking skills to follow their trail.
Normally, her own empathic gift was wholly under her control. She could choose to sense what those around her were truly feeling, or she could shut them out and just be “normal.”
It was a skill she’d always had, but hadn’t known was unusual until Papa had been killed in action. Mama had put on the brave mask for her four-year-old children, but Isobel had been overwhelmed by that hidden grief. She’d had to learn at a very early age how to turn off her extra sense in order to survive.
But tonight the joy was so thick in the air, she hadn’t been able to shut it out. She couldn’t breathe.
“How can we stand it?” she asked the gull who had drifted to the other side of the dock.
Apparently deciding that she couldn’t (or that Isobel was not being sufficiently forthcoming with some torn bread), the gull fluttered aloft and soared off in search of less frustrating places.
If only she could do the same.
Again happy laughter, big and deep this time. It sounded as if Michelle’s stepbrother, Anton, had talked Katie into all of them trying to have their children close together even though their own wedding was a month off.
Isobel rubbed her own midriff.
She ached to be like them. Be one of them in this moment.
But all she could see of the future was becoming Auntie Isobel. Always cheering for others but never for herself.
Her face had been on every cover from Vogue to The Hollywood Reporter as her career had exploded. Even her Christmas blockbuster had busted the block beyond all projections. People had imaginatively dubbed her “The Sun-kissed Actress.” No matter how non-PC it was to emphasize her skin color, it was true that fortune was absolutely smiling down on her. Amazing career. Incredible friends who truly understood the joys and fears of being gifted. A challenging life with the secretive Shadow Force.
And the personal life of a lone oyster. At least those lucky mollusks got pearls.
Every man who saw her instantly thought he knew her—and wanted to conquer her. Not her, but rather her-the Movie Star. Her chances of finding what all of her friends up above were now celebrating decreased with each passing film.
The evening was still bright, but soon the team would notice she was gone.
Michelle would come find her first; she knew Isobel’s moods better than Isobel did herself. She’d slip a friendly arm around Isobel’s waist—her emotions thick with the green velvet of her core kindness, and rolling pink with compassion—and say something completely outrageous that would make her laugh and feel as if she belonged and was just being foolish.
Isobel didn’t want to be consoled. She didn’t want to live through her friends’ relationships, through their children.
Since playing the “Crippled Girl” in The Pied Piper of Hamlin during second grade—a role she’d landed because her mother the nurse had been able to borrow a child-sized crutch from the hospital—she’d loved acting. But the price! The price was terribly high, and growing all the time.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on shutting herself off from others.
There was only her, the evening breeze, the warmth of the early evening sun on her face. She leaned toward its warmth. She could just—
“Don’t do it!”
Isobel opened her eyes and looked at the man who’d called out to her. He floated a short way off in an elegant sailboat. It was long and lean, with a teak deck and a bright-varnished wooden hull. She’d never sailed on one, but she knew it was a model called a Dragon. It had been easy to remember because it was how sleek a flying serpent should look.
“Don’t jump, lady. Whatever’s wrong, it’s not worth it.”
She looked down at the water lapping quietly a foot below her bare toes. One of the first things they’d all done on arrival this afternoon was jump into the water and swim about to wash off the flight from San Antonio.
“I think I’d survive the fall.”
“Maybe there’s a hungry Kraken lurking below. Why risk possible doom when you can sail?”
She focused on the man. His skin was roughly as dark as her own though differently toned—less Latin-brown, more desert ochre. Black hair strayed down to his collar and a close-trimmed beard and mustache emphasized the strong cheekbones that stood out despite his mirrored sunglasses. He wore denim cutoffs, and the edge of a colorful tattoo peeked out from the sleeve of a white t-shirt that declared, “I’d rather be sailing.”
She nodded toward his t-shirt. “But you are sailing.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be sailing?”
“I’d rather be doing anything.”
Releases 9/29. Pre-order now. (Print and Audio available 9/29.)
Army helicopter pilot Anton Bowman could always see more than everyone else. Even as a kid, he could send his vision out to look around in places his body hadn’t actually gone.
Katie Whitfield embraces her lonely status as an outsider. Her livelihood as a wildlife tracker across the English countryside keeps her content and well clear of her uncaring family.
Both their lives change when the gifted members of the Shadow Force: Psi team travel to England as part of a security test. A test that uncovers unexpected dangers to both the UK’s network of undersea cables and to their hearts.
“You owe me the bloody fee and you know it.” Katie had only one other client ever stiff her, a lawyer. “Are you a lawyer?”
“No, I’m a photographer.”
“Well, whatever you are, you owe me my fee, Chas Thorstad.” She thumped a fist on the Ship Inn’s bar for emphasis.
“I don’t have the money, Katie.”
Katie wondered if it would be worth hitting a client, knowing it meant that she would never be paid. He was a good hand taller that she was and strong; if she hit him, it wasn’t likely to turn out well. Of course, most of the folks in the Ship Inn pub knew her and—
Chas seemed to levitate into the air until his feet were dangling near her knees. She stepped back to avoid being kicked as he struggled.
“Lady says you owe her a fee, my friend.” The voice behind Chas was deep and dangerously soft. “Seems to me she earned it.”
Katie looked up, way up, to see the person holding Chas aloft by his jacket collar. He was a giant of black man. His white t-shirt said, “BBQ Pit” in dripping red-sauce letters. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him. His biceps barely seemed to bulge as he held Chas aloft.
Chas aimed a vicious elbow strike behind him, which didn’t work well with his jacket pinning his arms. It didn’t matter as it bounced off the giant’s shoulder.
The giant shook him once—hard.
Chas stopped struggling.
Still not setting him down, he reached out Chas’ wallet and handed it over. “How much does he owe you?”
She opened the wallet and riffled through the thick wad of pound notes. Screw it! She took her triple fee, then handed the wallet back. That would pay rent on her room for next month.
The giant stuffed it back into Chas’ pocket, then tossed him negligently aside. His aim was perfect.
In midflight, Chas squeaked in panic. Then he slammed against the front door and tumbled out into the street. A brief salty wind blew in from the harbor. Then Clive, still smelling of his day working the fish nets, shut the door and muttered, “Eejit. What a tuss.”
“You okay?” Then the giant looked down at her and his eyes went wide. “Holy shit!”
Katie knew she wasn’t the sort of woman that men said such things about.
Still, he kept staring.
“Do I know you?” She’d meant to thank him for his help, but he was somehow familiar. Not that she’d ever seen him before. There was no possibility of forgetting such a man.
“Yes. No. I know…” He stumbled over his words, shook his head like a wet terrier, then tried again. “I definitely…uh, would remember you.” His words didn’t sound quite truthful. The first part was okay, it sounded like a sincere compliment. But there was something gone awry in the latter part of that short sentence.
His familiarity bothered her. It was recent. Not the sight of him, but the…feel of him? Now she was getting into her best friend’s Earth-Mother interconnected-universe crap. Dora would already be going on about souls meeting and—
“Uh, look. Glad I was able to help. If you want to join us, me, my friends…” he nodded toward a couple at the bowsprit table. “Well, anyway. It’s a pleasure to actually…uh…meet you in person.”
“In person compared to what?”
He looked at her wild-eyed, grunted something, then picked up the three pints James had pulled for him and hustled off to his table.
She picked up her own pint of Mena Dhu “Black Hill” stout, and tossed James a fiver from her new-found wealth. She took a sip and let the toasted, dark-chocolate taste roll across her tongue.
The giant was familiar. Recently, like…this evening.
However, it had been only her and Chas out at the badger sett.
She chatted with James long enough to find out about Tabby’s newest attempts to take her first steps. His little girl was apparently furious that her body couldn’t yet do what her brain could already picture.
Then she turned, and down the length of the room the big guy was looking right at her over the rim of his glass of the same stout she was drinking. He snorted his swallow, choked, and the tall redhead leaned over to pound him on the back with an easy familiarity—though none too gently. Then she leaned against his shoulder obviously teasing him about something.
Katie knew that she didn’t have much power over men. Definitely not like his redheaded companion must wield. She’d been fairly sure that he’d been flirting with her, if doing an even worse job of that than she would have. Why would he do that when he was obviously so close to the stunning redhead?
Still, the fact that Katie was able to completely discomfit him, and that he’d helped her get paid, led her to nod thoughtfully to the end of James’ story, then stroll down to the table.
“You the one upsetting Anton?” The redhead asked by way of introduction.
A holly-berry red cowboy boot shoved out the closest chair. “You just gotta join us. Always glad to meet someone who can mess with my demi-brother’s head. I’m Michelle. This quiet boyo, he’s Ricardo.” She leaned over and kissed him on the temple in a way that clearly stated, “This one is mine,” without appearing to be rude about it.
Ricardo, a sleek Hispanic, tipped his beer glass to her in acknowledgement, then swept it ever so slightly toward the empty chair. Which still didn’t explain what the redhead was to Anton.
“Demi-brother?” Katie sat before she had a chance to really think it through.
“No, don’t—” Anton started, but then yelped. Katie had the distinct impression that Michelle had just kicked his shin under the table with the toe of those red boots.
“Okay, demi is too much. What’s less than half?”
Anton was still watching her a bit wildly. It was getting a little unnerving.
“Less than a demi?” Katie sipped her beer slowly to draw out the moment. “How about a dram-brother?”
“Like a dram of whiskey. How much is that?”
“A dram is an eighth of an ounce.”
“An eighth of a—” Michelle squealed. “That’s perfect! Everyone, raise your glass.” When they all had, she announced loudly enough for the entire pub to overhear. “To my dram-brother and the woman who messes with his head.”
They all clinked glasses, even Anton, and drank to the toast.
He didn’t appear the least put out by Michelle’s declaration of his unimportance.
“Step-sibs,” Ricardo spoke for the first time.
“Dram-sibs!” Michelle turned on him ready for a fight. “We’re nowhere near step-sibs. Thank God!”
His response was to cup her cheek and kiss her very soundly. A choice that softened the hard-edged woman with a surprising abruptness.
“Newlyweds,” Anton whispered in that lovely deep voice of his. His affection for both of the others clear in his tone.
Now she knew where he was familiar from. “Tonight. You were…” But that was impossible. It had been only her, Chas, and the badgers. Yet, somehow, he’d been there.
When she tried to look into his eyes, his gaze slid aside too fast.
“You were there. How? I didn’t see you.”
“Hey,” Michelle reentered the conversation by slapping her dram-brother on his shoulder. “Is that what you were doing earlier?”
“Missy,” Anton growled at her.
“Michelle,” Ricardo’s soft admonishment brought brilliant color to Michelle’s cheeks.
“Uh, don’t mind me.” Then she concentrated on playing with her beer glass though her cheeks continued to flame as brightly as her hair.
“How were you there and not there?” Katie turned back to Anton. The group had shifted from fun to suddenly tense in ways that she didn’t like one bit.
“How did you know I was? Uh, I wasn’t…” Anton struggled.
Katie pushed to her feet. She didn’t need these people. Didn’t want to know any more about—
When she turned to leave, she almost plowed down a beautiful woman only a few centimeters shorter than she was.
No, not just some beautiful woman. This was one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars, Isobel Manella.
“Holy shit!” She couldn’t think of what else to say.
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