Midsummer #5 is coming on May 27!
This was originally a tougher one to plot. Where previous fairy tale retellings–Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast–had clear plot arcs and villains to base my stories on, when I had the idea to do Goldilocks and the Three Bears one, I ran into a bit of a block.
Really, any Goldilocks story would have to be a wrong-bed-trope kind, so the romance was going to be easy. But for the rest, the suspense aspect, I asked, What if Goldilocks was running and hiding from someone? What was her life before finding the bears’ cabin?
I looked then at other fairy tales and settled on Rumpelstiltskin and the miller’s daughter who has to spin straw into gold.
The result was my new story Gold about the “baby bear” of a family who’s always been in trouble with the law and hacker girl on the run who stumbles across his family’s lodge.
Here’s the blurb and pre-order info, and below the cut I’ll paste the Once Upon a Time (aka prologue) opening. The excerpt is unedited, so please forgive any typos and errors.
Usually I like to have the next book up for pre-order when one releases, however I’m probably going to take a break to research my next projects, and I’m uncertain what I’ll be working on next. After Gold, I don’t have any firm release dates decided upon. I’m thinking of working on Gimme Shelter next. I also have Cats & Conjure #5 and Midsummer #6 on my list.
It’s his last chance at a life of freedom.
Gabe Ross has never not been in trouble. The principal’s office led to juvie, juvie led to jail. Getting probation on good behavior was difficult enough, but he did it and now he’s home with a job lined up and a shot at staying out of prison if he keeps on the straight and narrow. As the small town of Midsummer settles into spring, Ross prepares to open the cabins his family owns for the seasonal vacationers. Late one night he finds a girl curled up in his bed and assumes his ex has figured out he’s back in town and is looking for a little fun.
The criminal underworld’s golden girl wants a way out.
Kryssie Locke is known in criminal circles for spinning nothing into virtual gold, a reputation she built to save her life. She’s escaped at last with enough knowledge that her former employers are hunting her, and hiding out in a cabin in the woods seems like it’ll give her time to figure things out. She doesn’t realize the cabin is owned by the Ross family, nor is she expecting their youngest son to crawl into bed with her.
The attraction between them is electric and immediate. But Ross is trying to stick to his probation and Kryssie is tempting him to break just that. Because as he’s starting to fall for her, he knows he’ll do anything to keep her safe from those hunting her. Even kill.
Release Date: May 27, 2016
Genre: IR (bwwm) contemporary romantic suspense
Length: novel (50K words or 150 pages)
Series: Midsummer Suspense
Format: ebook & paperback
Ebook Price: $3.99
Print Price: $8.99
Despite assurances otherwise, Kryssie Locke knew she was going to die.
Playing hooky from college where she was a freshman, sleeping late and wandering down the deserted alley shortcut to the coffee house, she’d been an easy target. No witnesses, her roommates in school. Simple to grab though she’d fought and screamed, blindfolded and threatened with a gun. And she’d known immediately it had to do with her dad, that he was in worse trouble than usual. It couldn’t be her, she’d stayed on the straight and narrow. Got mostly good grades, didn’t use any of her “gifts” to do anything stupid—why risk it when she was so determined to make something of her life legitimately?
But her dad. Well. Miller Locke was why she’d tried so hard not to fall into his footsteps. And if there was a reason she’d found herself ziptied to a straight-backed chair with a black sack over her head while she braced for the feel of a bullet entering her skull, it probably came down to him.
The room was cool and she shivered, wishing she’d at least grabbed a hoodie or something on her way out the door—she’d needed it, but thought she’d be in the shop having coffee within three or four minutes prior to her abduction. She wore jeans and a thin T-shirt, strapped there and unable to move meant she might as well have been naked.
Though she listened, Kryssie couldn’t make out much around her. There was carpet beneath her, that much she knew, because the steps of her captors had been silent when dragging her in. So there was no echo from the previous footfalls and she had no idea of the depth of the room. It felt big, not huge but roomy. Maybe there was little furniture. And the black bag over her head prevented any light from reaching her, tied loosely around her neck so it couldn’t slip off and made her uncomfortably aware of how easily they could strangle her.
She couldn’t say how long she’d been there, trying to replay songs in her head to gauge the minutes, but gave up when she lost track of how many she’d been through.
A door creaked behind her.
Kryssie tensed and held her breath. God, I’m not ready to die.
She felt someone moving around her, jerked to the side when a hand brushed the sack over her head. She thrashed and screamed, blinded and terrified, until the sack was torn off.
Blinking hard in the sudden brightness, Kryssie panted and struggled to see.
The room was lit above her, glow from the lamp falling like a spotlight on Kryssie in her chair, the corners and walls shadowed. She twisted around, her curly dark hair swinging about her shoulders and swishing over her eyes as she frantically glanced about the room.
She wasn’t alone. Two figures stood across from her, silent and observing—one large and built heavy with broad shoulders straining his T-shirt, the sort of stereotypical guy who could rip your head off without thinking too hard about it. The other was a bit shorter, his jacket one size to small and tight enough to show off a bulge at his side. A gun, if she didn’t miss her mark.
Kryssie’s heart pounded hard and she swallowed past a lump in her throat. The men stood on either side of a big framed painting with a sheet over it. They both just stared impassively, like having a girl tied to a chair in front of them was no big deal.
It probably wasn’t.
“What do you want?” Her lips trembled as they formed the words but at least her voice didn’t shake. “I don’t have any money.”
“On the contrary,” a male voice said, startling her.
She glanced around but couldn’t find a source—it sounded like it was coming from all around her—until she glimpsed square boxes in either corner behind her. Speakers.
“From what I understand,” he continued, “you might not have money, but you can obtain it. Easily. You first showed an aptitude for coding at age nine when you were accepted into a program for the gifted. The following year, you were expelled when caught changing grades for money after hacking into the administration computer. Age twelve you built an alogrithm designed to…well, I admit I don’t understand all of this, but the gist is that you built a website with ads and had bots constantly refresh the pages and click the links, netting you thousands of dollars of income a month until the police came knocking. You were barred from having a personal computer and put on probation for years.”
Kryssie had closed her eyes and bowed her head, tears rolling down her cheeks. She’d been such a cocky kid. So determined to break whatever rule she could find. Having grown up in poverty with a dad who always in gambling debt, abandoned by her mother, all she’d wanted was to get out. To prove she was something more than everyone said, that she could be rich and successful.
Then Caleb was shot when she fifteen and she vowed she’d do everything differently. And yet still her past haunted her.
“Miss Locke? Krysanthe?” the voice prompted, like he’d expected she’d fallen asleep.
Kryssie blinked a few times and lifted her head, glaring up at the ceiling where she assumed he had a camera or something to watch her.
“As you might have guessed, I have a job for you.”
“What?” She bit out the word like it tasted bad, anger now taking the place of her fear.
“I need money removed from an account and moved around so it cannot be traced. I will provide you a laptop, internet access, and as many details of the account in question as I have. You will be monitored and your body will be cold before the police get here if you try to contact them, assuming they can even find the place.”
Her breath caught, another tear rolling hotly down her cool cheek. Already plans had been blooming in her head, ways to find the location she was being held at and alert someone while making it look like she was doing as instructed, but hope withered away at his words. He might not understand hacking, but he wasn’t stupid.
And then, though? After she was done? He’d kill her. She knew this. Couldn’t leave any witnesses, after all. There was no way she’d just be dropped back into her life.
“Fuck you,” Kryssie spit out.
The voice above her laughed. A dark, gruff, full-bellied laugh that dragged heavy claws of dread through her.
One of the men, the big burly guy who could probably snack her neck between his forefinger and thumb, rounded her chair and began slicing through her bonds. Kryssie shivered and flinched as his meaty hand clasped her upper arm and yanked her to her feet.
“One further incentive,” the disembodied voice said.
The man remaining by the covered picture yanked the sheet away.
She’d begun to wonder if it actually was a painting, and it turned out not to be. Instead there was a huge glass panel with darkness beyond it, just her own reflection, of scared brown eyes and disarrayed hair, looking back at her.
Then a light flipped on to reveal another room like the one she’d been held in, this time a different figure tied to a chair.
It was her father. Miller Locke with his arms tied behind him, dried blood dark against the side of his face and staining his light blue dress shirt. One eye was swollen shut, a sheen of sweat covered the dark skin of his bald head, and his lips were stretched around a bandana gag.
He twisted in the chair as his good eye settled on her and then his shoulders sagged, defeated and regretful.
Tears spilled down her cheeks faster than before, this confirmation enough to make her lose all hope. Because part of her had been praying they didn’t have her dad, that he would still be out there somewhere and know she was gone.
Now there was not a single living person who would realize she was missing let alone look for her.
“I need an answer, Kryssie,” the voice said.
“Fine,” she whispered. “Fine. Please don’t hurt him.”
“Good girl. You have until dawn” Perhaps that was some kind of signal, because the men came and grasped her arms and forced her to the door.
She cast one final look back at her dad, and followed.
They’d led her out of the room, a few steps down the hall, and then right into another room. This one as empty as well but for a desk—the drawers pulled out and missing—a chair, a laptop, a single sheet of paper, and a bottle of water. She’d glanced around quickly but saw nothing else that could be used as a weapon. They’d sliced through the bindings on her wrists and slammed the door shut before she could say a word.
Like the other room, there was one light in the center of the ceiling. She imagined she’d find cameras and mics if she went looking, but she didn’t bother. They’d be watching, that was all she needed to know.
She rubbed at her sore wrists and sat, taking deep breaths to try to calm herself. The tears kept falling and she swiped at her cheeks, tried to blink them back. She wasn’t stupid enough to assume he’d let them go after this, but she wouldn’t be herself unless she tried.
Kryssie looked over the paper. The name of a bank and an account number—the target—and then the destination. Probably easy enough—she hadn’t done this kind of thing before, but a hack is a hack.
She booted up the laptop, drummed her fingers on the tabletop. The guy had said until dawn and it wasn’t until the time popped up that she realized how late it was. Already nine in the evening, so she’d been held longer than she realized.
Though she considered the water, it could be drugged. Or it might just make her have to pee, and she didn’t see a bathroom.
When she got to the bank’s site and got hunting around, she realized this was going to be a lot more difficult than previously thought. Of course, it was a bank and they weren’t just going to leave an open front door to all their accounts, but hacking in to transfer… Well, if she’d spent the last couple of years doing this instead of school, she might’ve had a clue on how to get in.
Although she didn’t doubt she was being monitored, this was going to require a little more help. First thing was to check and see—she found a program logging keystrokes. A few twists here and there and that was disabled. The laptop itself wasn’t networked with any other systems in her location. Her best shot was getting this solved quickly and making herself seem useful. He might not be so quick to shoot her.
With the surveillance now turned off, Kryssie opened a new tab and typed in a few shortcuts, delving into the Deep Web she’d not been near in a while. Found some old hacker chatrooms, and started putting a few feelers out there. Someone had to know the bank’s system, or something like it. It was just a matter of finding them.
A half hour later, while she searched on her own and came up with nothing, a private message window popped up in the chatroom she’d left open.
Joaidane: I can get you in.
She stared for a moment at the message, her heart thumping hard, then responded. Goldilocke: how?
Joaidane: you will owe me a favor.
She rolled her eyes. As long as he wasn’t asking for her firstborn… Goldilocke: anything that I can give. I really need this.
Joaidane: I will collect when I need it and if you deny me, you will be sorry.
Kryssie shivered a little but fuck it, she needed the help. Goldilocke: I said anything. What do I do??
Then her eyes widened as this mysterious Joaidane gave her the key.
Although when she’d finished the hack and ensured both the money was where it was supposed to be and that she hadn’t been caught, Kryssie called out that she’d done it, no one came for her until six in the morning. By then she was exhausted and starving, her bladder ready to burst because she’d eventually drank the water, but despite her requests she wasn’t shown to the bathroom and instead taken right back to the room she’d been in to start with.
Her dad was still on the other side of the glass, alive. He smiled weakly at her as she was forced to sit.
“Congratulations,” the disembodied voice said. “And you didn’t try to contact the authorities. I’m pleased.”
Oh, I bet you are, asshole. “And it’s probably time to let us go if you want to keep that money.”
“See, there’s a little worm in the system now. One on a timer. I don’t go in and tell it to stand down in an hour, your money goes poof. All your money, too, not just the fifteen million you had me move.”
And it was that silence more than anything that was getting to her. She expected him to swear and rant and rave, not just say nothing. Prickling fear ran up and down her spine.
“An hour is more than enough time for us to be on our own.” Her voice wavered a little and she tried to steady it so he didn’t know how unnerved he had her. “You let us go, we get away, and I will ensure your money stays safe. I have no reason to fuck with you. Wouldn’t want to.”
The voice sighed, heavily, almost comically. “You think you’re clever. You think this was more than a test, but it wasn’t. That is pocket change to me, little girl.”
He could be bluffing. She tried to tell herself he was bluffing. But his tone was dead serious and she realized with a sinking feeling it probably made an ugly sort of sense. Of course he’d have other accounts. Of course this kind of organized thug didn’t get to where he was by trusting a serious job to some punk hacker like her.
Now her pride stung, and still, she was stubborn. She’d been kidnapped, knocked around, threatened. Same with her father. And she’d be damned if she let this guy scare her more. “Fine, then. I failed. And you’re going to kill us anyway, so go fuck yourself.”
There was no laughter this time. Instead a long pause of crackling silence went on and on
“You’re right,” he said simply.
A man stepped into view—short and broad, built like a little bulldog but with none of the charm. Skin tan, hair black and combed severely back, suit pants a navy blue and shirt white. The sleeves were rolled up and top buttons undone, and she was certain the peppering of blood was from her father.
The man looked straight at her and she knew without a doubt she looked at the person responsible for abducting them, the one calling the shots and talking to her over the speakers.
Then, so quickly she could scarcely comprehend it, his arm shot out and finger squeezed the trigger of a gun.
The gunshot was deafening over the speakers in the room. Blood exploded from her father’s head and Kryssie screamed, throwing herself forward even as the brute behind her kept her immobile with his firm grip. Her dad slumped forward, his temples leaking blood, and she squeezed her eyes shut against glimpses of the gore against the wall.
“Miller had no use to me,” the voice continued coldly. “You, on the other hand, do. You do what I tell you and I have no reason to cause you harm. If you don’t… Well.”
Kryssie had tried to sag onto her knees but the guy who held her kept her from falling over. Weakly she found her feet again and stood, shook her hair back so she could see.
The killer stood in front of her father’s body now, blocking her view, and she was actually grateful for it. Hate filled her eyes and she bit savagely at her lip to keep from screaming at him.
“Do we have a deal, Krysanthe?”
Kryssie trembled from head to toe, either with rage or terror—she couldn’t tell now.
She was fucked. Completely and utterly fucked.
Unless I’m not. Slowly, coldly, the emotional part of her brain clicked off and the problem solving part rose to the forefront. This man, whoever he was, had clear motivations: money. Illegally obtained money, obviously. Evading the authorities. Anything that helped him achieve those ends would be useful; anything that didn’t would be discarded. He told the truth in this regard.
So he had to believe she wasn’t merely a one-trick phony. That she could be given just a laptop and some time and then spin straw into gold for him. That she was valuable.
If she could do that, and bide her time, she would live.
And, eventually, she’d find a way out.
“Fine,” she whispered.
He looked pleased. “Good. You’ll be shown to your quarters. And do behave, Kryssie.”
The brute gave her a tug toward the door. Kryssie took a deep breath to collect herself and followed on stiff legs, no longer crying, but determined. With a plan now in mind, she followed her captors to the small bedroom set up for her, prepared to do whatever she had to for survival, and silently swore she would take this fucker down as soon as the opportunity arose.
No matter how long it took.