Excerpt: Isobel’s Story

a paranormal romantic suspenseAT THE CLEAREST SENSATION

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.

“Excuse me?”

“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.)

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.”