New Release Today: HAVOC

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Havoc

Havoc

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.

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Here’s a third exciting excerpt:


The landing of the Airbus A330-900neo unfolded with a movie-like slow motion feel—even more painfully drawn out than watching Engine One destroy itself and the wing.

At least that’s how it appeared to Holly as the adrenaline surge slowed her perception of time.

It began with Captain Dani Evers’ landing, so perfectly smooth that it didn’t seem real. Only the screech of the tires accelerating from zero to a hundred and forty knots indicated they were in contact with the runway.

Keeping an eye out the left window, Holly could just see the left-side wingtip continue down, spark against the pavement, then flop onto the ground. Not breaking free, it dragged at that side of the plane.

“Reversers on Engine Two full!” Dani and Quint shouted out in near perfect harmony, trying to slow the right side with the engine enough to match the drag from the broken left wing.

The roar was so loud that Holly’s ears popped.

“One-twenty.”

“One-ten.”

Holly braced as hard as she could. For once, she truly didn’t appreciate Miranda’s assessment of a plane’s airworthiness. Her eighty-two-point-five percent chance of wing failure on landing had just paid out.

How—

Of course! In flight, the wing was flexing upward with lift. The undamaged bottom skin of the wing had remained under tension. But as soon as that lift was lost on landing, the damaged upper surface couldn’t hold the wing’s weight aloft.

Gods, but Miranda was so good. Holly should have figured that out, but Miranda simply knew it.

But even though she probably knew, Miranda hadn’t said what might happen next.

Holly had seen enough accidents to have a very vivid imagination at this particular instant.

At one hundred knots, the left landing gear let go. The left wing and landing gear broke away and skidded to a halt. The left side of the jet’s fuselage lurched sickeningly down onto the runway. The sudden drag of two hundred and nine feet of aircraft hitting the runway twisted it sideways on the pavement.

However, the momentum of two hundred tons of plane and fuel, twenty-five tons of passengers and baggage, and twenty-five more tons of cargo—all still moving at ninety-three knots, a hundred and seven miles an hour—was not to be denied.

If the landing gear had held, they might have been sent careening sideways across the rough side field into the ocean, but the struts weren’t designed to withstand a force at ninety degrees—to the side—as the plane twisted.

Both the nose gear and the remaining right-side main gear buckled, then tore away at the lateral force.

The aircraft, now sliding fully sideways to the direction of travel, began to roll.

When the right wing slapped down onto the runway, the fuselage’s momentum was still far too great to be stopped so easily.

The wing acted as a lever of resistance.

It didn’t give.

Yet the fuselage had to roll.

It initially sheared in two places.

Immediately ahead of Row 20, at the slight weak spot due to the emergency exits directly in front of the wing, the hull’s structure gave way. At the center of the destroyed cross section, the forward economy-class galley shattered, spraying meal containers and soda cans in every direction.

The occupants of Row 20, Seats D, E, and F, were severely burned by the spray from the shattered coffee machine. They didn’t survive long enough to care when a fully loaded drinks cart slammed into them and caved in their chests.

Seat 20F gave way under the massive blow, and its seatback crushed the occupant in Seat 21F.

Aft of the wing—in the wide gap between rows 41 and 42—the fuselage sheared again, utterly destroying the four mid-cabin lavatories. Passengers for five rows both fore and aft were sprayed with ten gallons of high-pressure toilet disinfectant, staining them bright blue.

With the shearing of the fore and aft sections of the fuselage, the wing pinned the middle section of the fuselage in place. But the plane’s momentum was far from spent.

As of this moment, only the four unfortunates killed by the errant drinks cart had died.

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Havoc

Havoc

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.

Order Now!
About the Book

When one of their own is threatened—the nation’s #1 air-crash investigation team enters a race to survive.

An airliner downed on a Pacific atoll. A CIA covert strike team sent in to “clean it up.” An old enemy seeks revenge. This time, the NTSB’s autistic air-crash investigator, Miranda Chase, and her team are in the crosshairs. The action races around the globe as US military airbases become shooting galleries and their lives are placed on the line.

And hidden from sight? A treacherous plan to grab political power and start a new war with Russia in the Middle East. Only Miranda’s team stands in their way, if they can survive.

(print & more audio on release day)

Other Books in "Miranda Chase novels"
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."

 

Havoc excerpt: Miranda on the Move!

a political action-adventure technothrillerHavoc: a political technothriller
Miranda Chase #7 – coming April 27th


Miranda called Mike as she hurried from the house, across the meadow, and up the grass runway to Spieden Island’s hangar. She didn’t like breaking the law, but the urgency was high enough that she was willing to drive one-handed while using her cell phone. It was an oversight that she hadn’t set up the island’s golf cart with a hands-free system.

The data said that the law should have been written to prohibit all phone usage while driving, even hands-free, but that had proved to be too unpopular a choice for vote-minded representatives in Washington, DC. Safety bowing to consumer convenience was a trend she’d witnessed all too often in how the FAA’s decision-making process selected which of her own recommendations to implement and which to ignore.

And now she was a contributing factor to one of the most dangerous problems that the NTSB’s surface transportation teams were always struggling to correct.

The fact that she owned the island and was the only person presently here perhaps diminished the risk.

While waiting for Mike to answer, she navigated along the dirt track over the half-mile from her house to her aircraft hangar. The local deer were very calm when she was the only one here, and she had to wait for a family of them to graze across the track in front of her.

“Hi, Miranda. What’s up? Do we have a launch?”

“Holly is on a flight to Sydney, currently over Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific.”

“Right. I knew that. I’ve been following her with a flight tracker. What’s Johnston Atoll?”

Miranda considered the priority of answering the question…and chose not to. Holly would congratulate her on proper selection of information organization. However, the “where” was indeed pertinent.

“It’s where,” she emphasized for clarity that she was amending his question, “her plane will be crashing in approximately nineteen minutes. Or near there if the damaged wing falls off before they arrive at Johnston. I estimate that she has a sixty-two percent overall chance of survival.”

The deer remained grazing in the middle of the track. As much as she hated to do it, she beeped the golf cart’s horn. They looked at her in some surprise, but moved aside and she was able to continue toward the hangar. She was most of the way there before Mike responded.

“Would you mind repeating that?” His voice was so soft that she could barely hear it over the swishing of the tall grass against the underside of the golf cart. She really needed to get out the tractor and mow the runway soon.

“Yes.” She hated repeating herself. Mike knew that, but she did it for him. “Holly is on a flight to Sydney, currently over Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific. It’s where her plane will be crashing in approximately nineteen minutes. Or near there if the damaged wing falls off before they arrive at Johnston. I estimate that she has a sixty-two percent overall chance of survival.”

“Holly. Crashing. South Pacific. I’m…going to need…moment.”

Miranda wondered at that. It wasn’t a difficult concept. Unless this was one of those interpersonal things that she never understood. Mike took care of those for her. But he wasn’t making much sense at the moment.

Perhaps it was because he and Holly had been lovers for most of a year now. Would that be a significant factor? His stuttered reaction said yes.

“Is Andi there?”

“Uh-huh.”

When nothing happened, she decided that she had to be extremely specific. “Please hand the phone to her.”

“Uh-huh.”

For seven more seconds nothing happened, then there was a shuffling sound.

“Miranda, what did you say to Mike? He’s gone white as a sheet.”

She decided that her third repetition wasn’t actually repeating herself if a new person was involved.

“I said, ‘Holly is on a flight to Sydney, currently over Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific.’ Then I told him, ‘It’s where,” she did her best to match her earlier emphasis for exactitude, “her plane will be crashing in approximately nineteen minutes. Or near there if the damaged wing falls off before they arrive at Johnston. I estimate that she has a sixty-two percent overall chance of survival.’ That percentage is only a first-order approximation; I should have mentioned that. Then he asked me to repeat it and I told him the same thing again, also without the first-order approximation amendment.”

“Okay, Miranda. I’ll try to fix it. You need to think about how important Holly is to us all, but especially to Mike. You could have found a better way to say that.”

“But she does have a sixty-two percent chance of survival. That’s a good thing.”

“The fact that she’s in a pending plane crash and has a thirty-eight percent chance of dying is a bad one.”

“Oh, I get that now.” At least enough to state that she did. But… “No, I don’t. Can you explain it to me?” She’d carefully used as positive an explanation as the data allowed. She always started with the positive once a period of A/B testing had revealed that it made for a much more efficient and effective interview than when she started with a negative—even when the negative was far more factually supported.

“Later. Let’s get moving.”

“Oh, right.” Miranda had parked at the hangar but become too involved in the conversation to continue with what she’d been doing. Driving and phone conversations were not a good combination. “I’ll be at the Tacoma Narrows airport in twenty minutes. Call Jon. We’re going to need a longer-range jet than either of mine to fly there.”

“He’s your boyfriend. Shouldn’t you be the one calling him?”

“That will only delay my flight to you.” Miranda unlocked the hangar door and pressed the garage opener. She concentrated on keeping in motion, which made it harder to follow the phone call.

“And he may not wish to use a military asset for a civilian crash.”

“Remind him that Johnston Atoll, closed or not, is still a military property.”

“Okay, I’ll twist his arm for you.”

“Why would you do that? I’m not certified to fly any current military jets. We’ll need both of his arms intact.”

“It’s a saying, Miranda. It means that I’ll take care of it as soon as I can get Mike and the others moving. Are you sure that you don’t want to call him?”

Miranda thought a moment. Their last conversations had been…uncomfortable. Jon kept asking for things she didn’t understand; like he was the one in control and her opinion was damaged to begin with. She knew that. She was the one who was autistic after all, not him. But she still had them and—

“I’ll take that as a no,” Andi spoke up.

“No what?”

“No, you don’t want to call Jon.”

Miranda considered the time factor and the annoyance factor. Weighed separately either would be acceptable. Compounded? “No, I don’t.”

“Okay. I’m on it. Now go,” and Andi hung up.

Miranda realized that she’d come to a stop again. Cell phones really were dangerous.

Havoc

Havoc

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.

Order Now!
About the Book

When one of their own is threatened—the nation’s #1 air-crash investigation team enters a race to survive.

An airliner downed on a Pacific atoll. A CIA covert strike team sent in to “clean it up.” An old enemy seeks revenge. This time, the NTSB’s autistic air-crash investigator, Miranda Chase, and her team are in the crosshairs. The action races around the globe as US military airbases become shooting galleries and their lives are placed on the line.

And hidden from sight? A treacherous plan to grab political power and start a new war with Russia in the Middle East. Only Miranda’s team stands in their way, if they can survive.

(print & more audio on release day)

Other Books in "Miranda Chase novels"
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."

Miranda Chase’s Next Adventure Is Almost Here

Chinook: excerpt

Chinook

Chinook

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.

More info →

Six months ago

Outside the crippled AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, two men wearing the only two parachutes were falling through the midnight darkness toward life.

Inside there was only death.

US Air Force Colonel Vicki “Taser” Cortez stared at the inside of the jump door she had just closed, blocking her own chance of survival.

Except she wasn’t any of those labels anymore.

If she set foot back on US soil, she’d be stripped of rank and court-martialed along with every other person on this plane. Too guilty to ever plea bargain a lesser sentence. Leavenworth for life. For what this crew had done, they might bring back the firing squad.

The sick joke was, she wasn’t even Vicki Cortez. That was just the name on the identity papers her mother had bought when they’d slipped across the Mexican border a lifetime ago. A name she’d since associated with bank accounts, pensions, and security clearances that properly would belong to a dead girl.

With the two civilians off the plane and parachuting to safety, and the Ghostrider yawing drunkenly through the last of its death throes, there was nothing left to do.

No one left to be.

She pulled the challenge coin from her pocket. A cast metal coin, the very first one every handed out by her commander after he made general. It was a sign of his respect, and the honor of it had been her anchor for nineteen years.

Nineteen years she’d spent following General JJ Martinez on his quest. A man of perfect integrity.

He had fought for what was best for their country—his country, not technically hers.

And when blocked one too many times despite their combined efforts, the three-star general had taken on the battle himself.

Had it been a failure?

The shuddering of the deck through her boots would argue for that. The highly modified C-130J Ghostrider was damaged past any ability to land. Two hundred million dollars of stolen aircraft was in its last minutes of life.

The main gun mounted in the middle of the cargo bay, the 105 mm howitzer, had exploded and was still on fire. Through the small round view-glass in the jump door, she could see that both portside engines were also now burning. Fuel pouring from the shrapnel-punctured wings caught fire even as it streamed out.

Yet tonight they had destroyed four major drug cartel strongholds along the south side of the Mexican border. Hundreds had died beneath the barrage of this gunship. Millions, perhaps billions of dollars of drugs had burned as well. It wouldn’t stop the flow, but it would cripple it while each cartel fought an internal battle to establish new leaders now that so many had been executed.

Perhaps it would finally force the United States and Mexico to do something useful together.

Perhaps not.

But all that was over.

All that was left to do was to die.

There would be no landing in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert—impact with the terrain was imminent.

A day ago, even a few hours ago, she’d have gone to sit by the general and await her fate.

But Jeremy Trahn had shown her something before she’d strapped him into the last parachute and shoved him out the jump door to safety. Against his sweet nature, he’d helped her. He hadn’t killed. But he’d shown her how to, and she’d done it without compunction.

While being her prisoner, he’d also improvised a weapon that would have blinded her, would have stopped the general—but hadn’t used it. The unused weapon and a final kiss were the last things he’d given to her.

Yet he’d given her more.

An anger.

A fury!

The plane slid hard across a pocket of turbulence, slamming her against the closed bulkhead door. She could feel the plane’s will to survive as the damaged wings caught air and stabilized despite all the damage done to it.

Why couldn’t that have been her life?

Instead, for nineteen years she’d been the general’s weapon, unleashing all the blackness coiled within her chest at his command.

His Taser.

Go find out what’s really happening at Lockheed on this project and fix it.

Track down whoever is blocking this initiative and have them court-martialed for being an idiot.

She had done everything except kill for him.

Until the cartels’ headquarters tonight.

Taz didn’t know if it was funny or sad. For the nineteen years she’d been in the military, she’d never killed anyone.

During her youth in the ghettos of Mexico City and later as a teen in San Diego, she’d been lethal with a knife. She’d never hesitated to serve justice as executioner—wasting no time with judge and jury. All that had ended the day she’d walked up to the Air Force recruiter to escape that life.

And now, she was again not military—for the act of stealing this brand-new plane and eradicating with prejudice the leadership of four Mexican drug cartels. Those very acts had severed her from her decades of dedicated service.

Now? She wasn’t even the general’s Taser anymore.

The only thing that remained truly hers was the nickname “Taz.”

If Jeremy had done anything, it was to offer her a glimpse of an alternate life.

Taz glanced around for the general. He’d gone back up to the C-130J’s cockpit. She could see his back as he sat rigidly upright in the jump seat behind the pilots, watching them fight the already lost battle to retain some control of the landing. The AC-130J Ghostrider was going down hard no matter what they did.

Only now did she understand that the general had taken her life as surely and carelessly as she’d given it to his service. He’d never abused her, but he’d used her without mercy or a second thought.

She flexed her wrist and felt the Benchmade Phaeton drop-blade tactical knife she always wore there.

No.

Another hard yaw threw her to the deck hard enough to knock some sense into her. The hull’s metal groaned as forces torqued the airframe one way and then another. There was no need to take the general’s life; the plane would do that for her.

The weapons console was useless now. All of the Ghostrider’s bombs had been dropped—all of the ammunition fired. The explosion of the very last round had killed both the big howitzer and the wing. Only the HEL-A laser remained, but its aiming cameras had been burned away. Nothing left to shoot at anyway.

Two of the gun crew members who’d survived the initial explosion of the M102 howitzer stared blankly at the shattered weapon. The three others were dead or dying on the narrow walkway around the gun.

Jeremy’s lesson.

Of them all, that’s the one that counted.

And it was so simple…

Live!

And the safest place in a plane crash?

Aft.

Taz sprinted for the tail, racing upslope against the steep dive of the C-130.

An inch under five feet, she was small enough to slip through a gap under the Bofors 40mm autocannon.

The pair of surviving gunners still hung on beside the ruined howitzer, taking no action to save themselves.

Squeezing between them and the big gun, the hot metal of the breech burned a line along her shoulder, but she ignored the pain.

The AC-130J’s rear ramp had been fitted with vertical bomb launch tubes. No seats back here. Maybe, if she braced herself against the tubes and the tail broke away on impact, she’d have a chance.

The gunners had been snapped out of their lethargy by her passage. In moments they’d squeezed in to either side of her as the dying plane flailed and twisted toward the hard earth. The g-force pressed the three of them more tightly together than if they were having a threesome.

It was dark back here. Almost safe. The red night-fighting lights by the gun barely reached the launch tubes. Just enough that she could see the wide eyes of the man pressed chest-to-chest against her.

A sickening lurch.

“There goes the wing,” the one behind her gasped out.

She’d helped recruit them to this final mission, but now couldn’t even recall their names.

In a death spiral now, inevitable with only one wing. Not even being in the tail would offer any safety.

She clutched the general’s coin to her chest for luck.

Luck?

General Martinez would welcome death come to find the warrior at last.

Well to hell with that.

Before the first spiral was complete, before she had a chance to throw the coin away, before the twisting momentum became unsurvivable, the plane slammed into the ground.

***

Taz remembered only flashes of what came next.

The impact.

The curious soundlessness of the fuselage ripping away from the tail—the hull skin shredding, the cross-connecting beams shearing.

A clear view as the fuel in the remaining wing exploded, pulverizing the main fuselage—too loud to be called a sound.

The gaping mouth of her chest-to-chest companion as he was burned alive by the flash of fire blasted into the now open-ended tail section. She was small enough, or he big enough, that she remained tucked safely in his heat shadow—saved from the worst burns by yanking her flight jacket over her hair and face.

The final shudders of the man behind her as his neck was broken when slammed against the launch tubes.

No more slide and tumble, the tail came to rest in a shallow arroyo filled with sand and tumbleweeds.

Claw her way out from between two corpses.

Tumble onto the night-cool sand.

No longer a US Air Force colonel.

Crawling.

No longer the general’s feared right-hand Taser.

Crawling with no thought but…away.

No longer Vicki Cortez.

All of her past selves dead in the flaming wreckage.

Another hard explosion behind her—she didn’t bother turning to see—assured her that her body wouldn’t be missed.

She was north of Nogales.

In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.

Once more in los Estados Unidos—north of the border.

Once more an illegal with no identity.

Just as she had at eleven years old, she set her guide by the North Star and kept moving.

Clear of the wreckage, clear of the likely search perimeter, she buried herself in the cool night sand and slept.

When she woke, it was…again? …still? night.

The general’s coin remained clutched in her hand. The lone remnant of her past. Rather than dumping it in the sand, she jammed it into her pocket.

She continued north.

Taz hadn’t expected to survive this operation, hadn’t expected to want to, or she’d have emptied her bank accounts. Now all she had was the emergency fund that was never off her person.

In Tucson, she bought a new identity. Colonel Vicki “Taser” Cortez of the United States Air Force became US citizen Tanya Roberts.

The clean social security number and identity came from a crooked mortician and a corrupt medical examiner who took most of her funds between them for not reporting Tanya’s recent death. Tanya was buried as Jane Doe—death by mugger.

No family.

Nothing in “her” apartment worth keeping or pawning when Taz checked it out, except for a phone with no contacts or recent calls other than work, and a set of car keys. Tanya had been a true loner, and perhaps even welcomed death. Perfect.

Taz replenished her funds by emptying out Tanya’s meager bank accounts, and she was done.

As Tanya, she was now legally five years younger—which was closer to her true age. She’d actually joined the Air Force at fifteen straight out of high school after her first name change had aged her three years. Now, her ID declared she was thirty-two instead of Vicki’s thirty-seven, or the thirty-four she actually was in some half-forgotten reality.

With her size and looks, she could have safely dropped ten years instead of just the five.

A week and a hundred miles later, she filed for a legal name change in Phoenix. Somehow, having the same name as a tall, redheaded, 1980s Hollywood sex-kitten actress just seemed too unlikely. She also wanted as clean a break as possible from anyone seeking the dead Tanya Roberts.

Flores was her original family name, left south of the border when she was eleven. She took that back for her mother’s memory.

Her birth name was meaningless. In the Air Force she was always Taz or Cortez. But Jeremy had called her Vicki when they’d made love.

Made love.

She’d had sex when she cared to, but there was little question that mere sex wasn’t something Jeremy Trahn understood.

And he’d proven the difference to her, much to her surprise.

She wasn’t Vicki to anyone except Jeremy. So, she kept both her family name and nickname, and, for luck, the name that Jeremy had called her.

The Motor Vehicle Department clerk hadn’t even looked at the picture on Tanya Roberts’ old driver’s license before issuing her one under her new/old name, which had saved the five hundred dollars she’d had folded tight and ready. They’d switched over the vehicle registration at the same time. Social Security had accepted the name change with the court order and new ID; they gave her a fresh card just as painlessly.

With no plan beyond survival, Tasia Vicki Flores pocketed her new identity, climbed into “her” rusted-but-running 1997 Toyota Corolla, and left Phoenix to follow wherever the North Star led.

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(Print and Audio available by Release Day)

Chinook

Chinook

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.

Order Now!
About the Book

When a crashed helicopter could start a war—Miranda Chase is the woman to save the day.

When the fastest and most powerful helicopters in the US Army’s fleet start falling out of the sky, autistic air-crash genius Miranda Chase and her team of NTSB investigators are called in.

One crash leads to another and they are fast entangled in a Chinese conspiracy to start a war over Taiwan. Only Miranda’s team can stop the trade war from becoming a real one.

Other Books in "Miranda Chase novels"
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."

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.)