Condor: Sneak Peek Excerpt

Air-crash Savant Miranda Chase and her NTSB  team enjoy a quiet evening…but it won’t last for long in this brand-new technothriller coming on March 10th.


Condor coverSpieden Island, Washington
1 hour ago
(9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time)

“Favorite airplane?”

“Oh, c’mon, Jeremy, ask a real one. We all know Miranda’s favorite plane,” Holly chided him.

“My F-86 Sabrejet,” Miranda answered with an easy certainty that she at least knew this one answer. For twenty years she’d flown the old jet and knew it as well as the back of her hand. She liked its familiarity. Just as she liked the familiarity of this house. She’d grown up here.

She knew all its ways. The way the old wood creaked when the Pacific Ocean storms roared over Vancouver Island and slammed into the San Juans. The way the air didn’t smell of the sea, but rather so fresh it seemed as if no one had ever breathed it before.

The high-vaulted living room with its beach cobble hearth, dark beams, and Douglas fir walls could seat twenty comfortably, four as it did now, or be cozy for just one as it usually was.

It was slightly uncomfortable having visitors to her island, thereby decreasing her favoritism for her house over her jet if one were to expand the parameters to “favorite place at this moment in time.”

No, not uncomfortable. Merely…unfamiliar. Yes, that was a better way to think of it. Even though it was only Friday night and the rest of the chill March weekend loomed uncertainly ahead. Despite the new descriptor, she remained uncertain of her preparations to entertain them.

“Ehhhh!” Holly made a rude sound like a plane’s stall-warning buzzer. “So not on, Miranda. It’s not your Sabrejet.” Holly’s Australian accent was even thicker than usual as she sipped her second beer of the evening.

Before Miranda could respond that she knew her own mind—which she wasn’t always sure of, though she was this time—Jeremy raised his hand.

“Wait! I know. I know!”

“Don’t have to raise your hand, buddy.” Mike winked at Miranda from his armchair near the fire. He sat as neatly as ever—a slim, elegant man with short dark hair, a dress shirt, and custom-tailored slacks.

Miranda sat on the sofa with Holly. Actually, she sat on the sofa whereas Holly slouched so low she was almost horizontal—her feet on the coffee table, sticking her toes out toward the fire. Her socks didn’t match.

“It’s any plane that hasn’t crashed,” Jeremy proudly announced his answer.

While the others laughed and nodded, Miranda considered. The four of them were the lead crash investigation team for the National Transportation Safety Board. Yes, any plane that was fully functional was a very good thing.

But still, she liked her old Sabrejet very much.

“Jeremy’s favorite site investigation tool?” Mike called out.

Holly giggled.

Miranda had no idea why.

Holly whispered to her, “Can you figure him picking out a single favorite tool?”

“Oh,” Miranda understood the joke now but had learned that laughs that came too late were better not laughed at all.

Jeremy always had a bigger field pack than the other three of them combined.

“That handheld military-grade thermite torch he used to slice evidence out of the old DC-3’s wreckage,” was Miranda’s estimation. He had been particularly enamored of its ability to melt quickly through steel though it was no bigger than a two-D-cell flashlight.

“His hammer,” Holly suggested. “The one he actually offered to that colonel who wanted to bust up his phone for constantly giving him bad news of more planes that had carked it.”

Jeremy Trahn blushed brightly enough that it could be seen by the firelight.

“No, his program for reading Cockpit Voice and Data Recorders, even if he isn’t supposed to have one. He secretly wishes he was James Bond,” Mike ribbed him.

“No,” Holly shook her head hard enough to flutter her rough-cut blonde hair over her shoulders. “He wishes he was Q, Bond’s equipment geek.”

“No,” Jeremy spoke up a little hotly, “but he wishes you both had fallen into the ocean and been eaten by orcas on the way here.”

“You’d have been fish food right along with us.” Mike accurately pointed out. He had flown the three of them out to her island in Washington State’s northern Puget Sound for the weekend.

Holly was the one who’d suggested the spring solstice was a good excuse for a party. Though this March was chilly enough that “spring” didn’t come easily off the tongue yet.

“Whale food,” Jeremy corrected, then mumbled, “Would’ve been worth it.”

There was a brief silence in which the only sound was logs shifting in the fireplace. Miranda watched the curious turbulence patterns as the sparks rose up the chimney.

“What is your favorite tool, Jeremy?” Because now she was curious.

He looked down, and she was afraid that she’d somehow embarrassed him even further than Mike and Holly had.

Then he reached for his shirt pocket and pulled out a pen.

“A pen, mate? Fair dinkum?” Holly turned to Mike. “Have you ever seen him even use a pen? Everything in the world is on his tablet.”

Mike just shook his head.

Miranda could remember three instances. They’d been together as a team for almost six months, yet three was all she could recall.

“You gave it to me on the first day I joined your team. It’s everything I ever dreamed of.”

“Miranda’s pen?” Mike scoffed.

“Being on Miranda’s team,” Jeremy said softly.

Holly, who never looked touched, looked touched. She turned to Miranda.

“He’s so damn sweet,” she whispered, but loudly enough for everyone to hear. “Can we keep him?”

Miranda didn’t know why she wouldn’t. He was an exceptional airplane systems specialist despite his youth.

“Holly’s favorite soccer team?” Mike asked in a sudden, bright tone, completely changing the mood.

“The Australian Matildas,” they all called out in unison. Their four Matildas baseball hats were all lined up on the mantel.

This time Miranda was fairly sure that her timing was right when she joined in on the laughter.

Coming March 10th

Meet Miranda’s Team: Jeremy Trahn

No woman is complete without her team…even if she doesn’t know them.

military technothrillerAn excerpt from Drone:

A young man with Vietnamese features stepped right in front of her.

You’re Miranda Chase? Oh my God! I can’t believe it.” He grabbed her hand and began shaking it. “I’m Jeremy. Jeremy Trahn. Systems specialist. I can’t believe I’m on your team. When the security guy driving me here told me who I was meeting, I didn’t believe him. No way, just no way. But here you are. I’ve read every single one of your investigation reports.” His English was accentless and so fast that it was hard to follow.

Her hand was still tightly clasped between the two of his.

“All the way back to that first Cessna 152 that flew into the powerlines by Boeing Field in Seattle and ended up dangling upside down for hours. I’ve taught you everything I know. No. Wait. Everything I know I’ve taught… You know what I mean. I’m— I’m…speechless.”

“All evidence to the contrary,” Holly remarked drily from somewhere behind her.

Miranda’s attempts to recover her hand weren’t working.

“It’s amazing. I’ve been so hoping to just meet you or even attend one of your lectures. And now here I am assigned to your team. This is too perfect to be true. I’m Jeremy. Jeremy Trahn. Did I already say that? I’m just so excited to be here that I can’t begin to tell you. Such an honor to—”

Holly reached out and casually took Jeremy’s forearm.

“Ow! Hey!” His clasp relaxed suddenly, as if his nerves had been switched off.

Miranda recovered her hand and Holly let the man go.

“I think she got the idea, mate.”

“Sorry, it’s just—” Jeremy wrapped his other hand protectively over where Holly had seemed to barely touch his forearm.

“Honor and privilege and all that rot.” Holly turned to Miranda. “So I’m guessing that you’re some kind of hot shit crash girl in addition to facing down generals. I seriously like that. Want to get married? Not that I’m into girls, but I bet you’re a gas to hang around with. What are you?” She addressed the last to Jeremy.

“Systems specialist: electrical, fuel, hydraulics, you name it,” he rebounded with his full enthusiasm even as he rubbed at his arm. “Oh and weather. I’m always fascinated by the interaction of processes whether it’s electronic, fuel-based, or even atmospheric conditions. MIT at sixteen for computer systems. Though I went to Princeton for a double doctorate: fluid dynamics and advanced system topology modeling. Then I—”

Holly reached out toward his arm again.

Jeremy clutched it to his chest and stopped talking.

Meet Miranda’s Team: Mike Munroe

No woman is complete without her team…even if she doesn’t know them.

military technothrillerAn excerpt from Drone:

Mike Munroe stepped up to the two women after the general was out of hearing range.

“What is wrong with you two? Are you trying to get shot?”

Holly, the blonde Australian who had been on his flight—apparently asleep from the moment she hit the seat until the helicopter’s skids touched the ground—arched an eyebrow at him. Clearly practiced to put men in their place, he didn’t bother reacting to it.

The petite brunette on the other hand ignored him completely as she carefully labeled the scrap of metal she’d bagged.

“I mean seriously. The man had a revolver.”

“That’s not a revolver. It’s an M17; a Sig Sauer P320 to civilians. Nice upgrade from the M9 your Army boys used to carry,” the Australian was emphatic.

“He was going to shoot you.”

“Not with a revolver, he wasn’t, mate. Because he didn’t have one.”

Mike considered kneeling down and pounding his forehead on the sandy soil.

“You’re NTSB?”

The blonde turned her back on him to show the NTSB emblazoned across the back of her vest that he probably should have noticed sooner.

“How’d you get here from Australia?”

“Decided to hop a ’roo and try something new. ATSB, Australian Transport Safety Board, sent me over for cross training.”

“Here,” he tossed her a tube of sunscreen. She was fair-skinned enough to burn in minutes. She tossed it back right at his face. Only his quick reaction time managed to save his nose. Normally women appreciated his thoughtfulness.

She then pulled out a ball cap as if that would save her ears, neck, and other exposed areas. She made an unruly ponytail through the loop of the cap. The woman looked as if she’d hacked off her hair with a knife. Maybe the big one strapped to her thigh.

Her cap was yellow and green and announced the Australian Matildas.

“Who are they?”

“Hallo! Best soccer team in Oz? Well, not yet, but they will be. Catch a clue, pretty boy. There’ll be a quiz at end of week.”

“It’s already Saturday.” And dammit, that reminded him that he’d had a hot date lined up for this afternoon: 5K run, dinner at Basta, and hopefully some serious sex afterward. At least he had before they’d mobilized him out of Denver a couple hours ago. He checked his cell. No reception. No way to reach her. Alejandra—even her name was sexy—was gonna be pissed, probably past recovery. This sucked in so many ways.

“Better get studying then, hadn’t you?” Holly was enjoying herself too much at his expense, so he ignored her.

The brunette was drifting away, turning back toward the wreck. “Excuse me, is one of you Miranda Chase?”

The brunette turned back to look at him with narrowed eyes. Then she opened them incredibly wide—but not as if she was surprised. More as if she was seeing how wide she could make them. She didn’t speak; instead she tapped her badge.

He glanced down and read her name.

Mike held out a hand. “Hi. I’m Mike Munroe, your operations and human-performance investigator.”

“You’re not Evelyn,” Miranda narrowed her eyes again. Was she angry that he wasn’t?

He made a show of glancing down at himself. “No, I don’t seem to be. At least not today.”

“He could be an Evelyn,” Holly inspected him from head to toe as if he was a dead fish. Usually ladies liked what they saw when they looked at him. Alejandra certainly had.

“I’m not.”

Meet Miranda’s Team: Holly Harper

No woman is complete without her team…even if she doesn’t know them.

military technothrillerAn excerpt from Drone:

Miranda turned very slowly; she’d never faced a weapon before.

She could shoot one well enough, though she’d never enjoyed it particularly. Living in a very isolated area as she did between assignments, it was occasionally necessary to put down an injured animal herself. It still made her cry every time. So beautiful and free in life, then—bang!—gone forever. Just like every victim in a plane crash she’d been unable to prevent.

“I said no goddamn photographs. Now give me that thing.” General Harrison tipped the handgun slightly to indicate her tablet.

The pumping adrenaline made her even more hyperaware of details than normal. Every bit of grit shifting under the sole of her boots was a moment of individual assessment until she came face-to-face with the tiny black hole at the end of the barrel, which seemed to expand until it filled the world.

Now her heart rate was escalating toward panic and her palm went sweaty holding the tablet.

She glanced over the barrel at the scowling general’s face. This time when her eyes refocused on the tip of the barrel, the black hole had returned to its normal size—small, black, and utterly void of feeling.

Before she could decide on the best course of action, a tall blonde came toward them from the landed helicopter—slightly behind the general’s field of view. She could have blindsided him easily. Instead, she scuffed her boot loudly by kicking a thorny scrub brush.

The general flinched and redirected his aim at the newcomer, which caused the blonde to do little more than arch an eyebrow.

“Now isn’t this just so interesting.” Her accent was thickly Australian. She remained at perfect ease as she circled around to stand close beside Miranda.

The handgun tracked her closely.

“Now general, I don’t want to be telling you your job, but is this really the best course of action? First, if you do manage to shoot me, there will be a whole mess of paperwork just pilin’ up higher than Uluru—that’s the big red rock at the center of Australia, by the by, just in case you’re not from around about there—which is a lot of paperwork. Shooting a civilian is very bad form. Even worse, firing on the Investigator-in-Charge of the NTSB Go Team investigating your crash would make your motivations appear maybe a tiny bit suspect to people. People you probably don’t want suspecting things about you. However, far more importantly, me former mates in the SAS—that’s the Australian Special Air Service, not my Brit brethren—would be sorely disappointed if I was to let either of those scenarios happen.” She stood as casually as if she was chatting with a friend.

Miranda inspected her more closely.

She was five-ten and looked remarkably fit. Which would be fitting for the SAS. Australian Special Operations might not be Delta Force, but they were very elite military. Miranda had no idea what she was doing here, but the woman appeared far better prepared to deal with a weapon-bearing general than she herself was.

Her hands—Miranda always noticed hands—were strong and had a wide variety of calluses. The most prominent were on the webbing between thumb and forefinger. Miranda tried flexing her own hand through several positions that different tasks might require, but none of them seemed likely to create such a mark. Unless…

Miranda formed her hand as if she was firing a pistol. Yes, each shot would make the weapon buck against the webbing between thumb and forefinger, which matched the observed data. Just how much did someone have to shoot to create a callus there? Obviously, this woman could answer the question.

“So, mate. I’m asking myself, ‘Holly’—that’s my name, so it’s how I typically address myself—‘Holly, should you break one or both of the general’s hands as you take his weapon?’ For the moment, you may consider that an idle question while you consider the next part. As an extra add-on service, I’d be glad to shoot you with it after I rip it from your bleeding fingers. Just a graze, mind you, so that you could claim you struggled manfully before a Sheila took away your personal weapon and spanked you with it.”