Sunday, February 04, 2018

Safari Heat Blog Hop

Hi, y'all! I'm participating in the Safari Heat Blog Hop and contest. I'll be giving away a signed paperback of my novel, ARCANE KISS. 
There are a bunch of us authors blogging and giving away books, so I hope you'll participate. The grand prize of the hop is a Kindle Fire; between that and all the great books, you've got a good chance to win something great. You'll find the rules and details of the contest listed on the Safari Heat site. I've listed a few of the details below.
In the meantime, I want to talk a little about romance in general, along with my upcoming novel, Arcane Heart, the second book in the Talent series.
The world of the Talents is an alternate universe version of Earth where witches and magical shifters try to coexist with mundane humans who distrust them. Trust is, in fact, the book's main theme.
In romance-- both fictional and real life -- the greatest challenge is building trust. You've got to trust the person you're falling in love with -- trust him with your heart, finances, your very life. That's quite a lot to risk. If you make the wrong choice, you can end up heartbroken at best, and at worst in physical danger.
Yet people take that chance anyway, not just for sex, but because humans have an instinctive craving to feel close to others.
Ultimately all romance novels, like all relationships, are about the question: "Can I trust this person?" In my books, the heroines often have really weird reasons to distrust their heroes. The hero may be a vampire, a werewolf, or a sexual dominant with a kinky streak.
I love writing stories about couples who find a way to trust each other despite all the very good reasons they have not to.
I know something about that kind of love in real life, because I've been married for 33 years to a handsome cop. If you look at any of my heroes, you'll find Mike Woodcock in all of them. He may not be a vampire, a werewolf, or a magical shape shifter, but he's there in my heroes' compassion, intelligence, and devotion to the women they love.
My newest hero is Jake Nolan, who, like my husband, is a sheriff's deputy. Unlike my husband, he has a psychic link to a magical African lion which allows him to draw on the lion's powers.  Heroine Erica Harris, another deputy, is a witch who served with Jake during the Caliphate War.
And for the past four years, Erica has struggled to find a balance between her need for Jake and her distrust of him and his unpredictable cat instincts...
Here's a taste of Chapter One...
It was sheer, stupid impulse, and she knew better. But when Deputy Erica Harris’s gaze fell on the Potions sign, she whipped her patrol car into the parking space that had just opened up along the sidewalk. For a moment she sat there, listening to the cooling engine tick and staring at the nighttime crowd hurrying on their way to dinner or drinks. “You really are an idiot.”
Shaking her head, she picked up her radio’s handset mic and clicked the button to radio dispatch. “Laurel County — Alpha 22, going 10-8 at Potions.”
“Ten-four, Alpha 22.” The dispatcher sounded bored. No surprise; it had been a slow night.
So now Jake knows where I am. Question is, will he show up?
Yeah, Potions was Jake Nolan’s favorite restaurant, and she hadn’t heard him go 10-8 — the Laurel County police code “for out of service” -- to take a dinner break. That didn’t mean he could or would take it now just because he knew where she was.
So go for it. Call the man and ask him to meet you
Yeah, no. Much as she wanted to see him again, only a masochistic twit would want another ride on the Nolan merry-go-round. The last time had damn near destroyed her.
Yet here she was, masochistic and twitty, with the need she’d felt for months threatening to overwhelm her sense of self-preservation.
Screw it. If he shows, he shows. If he doesn’t, I’m still hungry. Erica got out, cold March air stinging her cheeks. The Friday evening crowd surged around her, heading in and out of the bars and restaurants along Faraday Square. Her stomach growled, and she headed up the sidewalk toward Potions. She’d been too busy working a traffic accident to grab dinner. It was eight o’clock now, and she craved the greasy goodness of a cheeseburger combo.
Almost as much as contact with Jake Nolan. Two Mideast tours had turned the man into an addiction.
The thought of the war made her automatically check the crowd, though she shouldn’t have to worry about terrorist sorcerers in Laurel County, South Carolina.
Except that just last year, they’d had that polar bear Feral and his murderous witch wife. They did not need another Faraday Square Massacre.
Scanning the crowd, Erica opened her mind to her Talent. Her magical vision was so sensitive she didn’t even need to close her eyes to see the arcane energies surrounding all living things. Suddenly those around her wore glowing overlays of healthy blue and green, though splashes of red here and there indicated pain — headaches, feet hurting from pinching high heels. That poor bastard on the right probably had a bleeding ulcer; that shade of red wasn’t right for cancer.
All pretty standard. She started to close her Talent down…
A block ahead, someone moved out of the way, revealing a tall man. White exploded across his aura like a bomb blast.
Erica froze in mid-step. For an instant she was back in Iraq, watching helplessly as a Caliphate sorcerer detonated his suicide vest, its explosives amplified by intricate spells. The sorcerer’s aura had flared exactly that blinding white just before he’d blown up himself and a dozen innocents.
Too late, too late… Erica braced for the explosion.
It didn’t come.
This isn’t Iraq, dumbass. There’s still time! She lunged toward the man, dodging through the crowd, pushing people aside, ignoring startled shouts and drunken curses. No sign of a weapon blocking the shine of his aura – no black silhouettes of guns, knives, hand grenades, or a suicide vest’s wiring. Nothing but the shadows of zippers and buttons. I can stop him before he does whatever the hell he’s planning.
And he was planning something. Every time she’d ever seen that aural pattern, the person who displayed it tried to commit murder minutes later. The weapon might not be on him now, but it was somewhere nearby.
Erica thumbed the button on her body cam, activating the unit as she plowed ahead. Grabbing her shoulder mic, she keyed it. “Laurel Alpha 22, officer needs assistance in front of Potions on Faraday Square. Possible 10-68A.” Which was the ten-code for mentally ill suspect, possibly violent and armed. “White male, approximately six-three, weight 230 to 240, dark-haired, dressed in jeans and a black trench coat. Out with the subject.”
10-4, Laurel Alpha 22,” the Laurel County dispatcher replied. “Dispatching units.”
Here’s hoping they’re in time to do me any good, Erica thought, slowing to a cautious walk as she moved up behind the man. He had a good six inches on her, along with sixty or seventy pounds. On the other hand, she was good hand-to-hand, and the guy looked a bit chunky, which should slow him down.
Unfortunately, given the way his head was glowing with fifty shades of crazy, she wasn’t confident she’d come out of any fight on top. Not without shooting him, anyway.
She’d rather not shoot the unfortunate batshit bastard. Judging from the furious currents whirling around his head, he was already hip deep in hell. He needed help, not a bullet. She’d kill him if she had to — she’d certainly killed during the Caliphate War. Still, she’d rather avoid it, assuming she could do so without anyone innocent getting shot.
But if she gambled wrong…
Just as Erica was about to reach for him, Burning Man stepped off the sidewalk and started across the street. Meaty shoulders bunched, big hands curled into fists, he headed for the cars parked along the narrow strip of park that occupied the center of Faraday Square.
Weapon must be in his car. Erica’s hand tightened on her own pistol, her thumb on the snap of the retention holster. She didn’t draw the Glock. It would be way too easy to miss and kill an innocent bystander in this crowd.
“Sir!” Erica threw up a hand to stop oncoming traffic, then jogged across the street. “Sir, I need to speak to you.”
He didn’t turn, didn’t appear to hear her at all. The white blaze surrounding his brain intensified. I really don’t like the looks of that aura. It wasn’t just murderous-asshole-white. You could reason with a murderous asshole because he didn’t necessarily want to die.
Burning Man was I’m- going-to-die-and-take-you-all-with-me-white.
Yeah, this isn’t going to end well.
She was right behind him when he reached a battered Honda Civic, parked diagonally in a patch of darkness between the street lamps. As he paused to fish in his pocket for the keys, Erica slapped a hand down on the trunk with a hollow metallic bang. “Sir!”
Burning Man jumped, shying like a startled horse. She had to concentrate hard to see his face through the hectic shine of his aura against the night. His dark hair stood up in sweaty clumps, as if he’d been raking his fingers through it. He smelled of sweat and stale beer, and his round face was stubbled, as if he’d forgotten to shave a couple of days in a row. An intricate tattoo crawled up the side of his neck, something serpentine with wings.
“What?” He rocked back on his heels at the sight of her black Sheriff’s deputy uniform, and his eyes took on a hunted rat gleam. “I didn’t do nothin’!”
Yet. “You were jaywalking.”
He glowered. “You gotta be kidding me!”
“Crosswalk’s back that way. Can I see some ID?” She needed to distract him, derail him long enough for her backup to arrive. At least that murderous white had dimmed around his head, taking on a yellow tinge of fear. Burning Man could still blow, but she’d bought a minute or two.
Cursing, BM dipped in a pocket of his coat. She tensed, but he only pulled out his billfold and fumbled for his driver’s license. Still no sign of a gun.
Still no sign of probable cause either. The Supreme Court had ruled information gained through magical means about non-magical crimes wasn’t admissible in court. She badly wanted to draw on him, but he was unarmed and not visibly violent.
So instead she moved in closer and reached with her magic. Blue tendrils of her aura brushed his roiling energy, curled into it like fingers, trying to slow it down, cool it off.
Burning Man handed over his license with a shaking hand, his aura going a brighter yellow as his emotions shifted away from suicidal determination to the fear of going to jail.
Keeping her voice low and soothing as she wrapped her aura around him, Erica went into a cop’s questioning patter — who was he, where did he live, what was he doing in town. As she spoke, she dared a glance down at his license in the illumination of a nearby streetlamp. Assuming the information was accurate, his name was Richard Carson, twenty-eight, brown and blue, and he lived at 132 Mason Avenue in Cotton Ridge. “This address still correct?”
“Uh, yeah.” Carson fidgeted, rocking from foot to foot, his eyes darting.
“That’s forty-five minutes from here.” Erica said, though most of her attention was still on his aura as she fought to drag him back from the edge of violence. He was a little calmer, but he could still explode. Her head began to ache with the effort; he was too damned close to the edge.
“I was just going to get a beer,” Carson began. “I work at…” He broke off.
She sucked in a gasp as the pressure against her aura grew crushing.
Which was when she realized he was staring at the glee of the gold pentagram pin on her collar. An expression of fury dawned on his face, eyes narrowing, lips pulling off his teeth.
Oh, shit.
“Witch!” Carson’s aura flashed blinding white, detonating like a Molotov cocktail. “Witch!” And he dove at her.
Erica went for her gun…
Too late. All two hundred plus pounds of him plowed into her like a runaway truck. She hit the sidewalk flat on her back hard enough to click her teeth together. Tasting blood, she glimpsed a tattooed fist swinging at her head, threw up both arms in an automatic boxer’s block. Pain blazed up her forearms as his big inked knuckles thudded against them.
“Witch, fucking witch, trying to cast a fucking spell on me, I’m gonna kill you!” Screaming in fury, Carson loomed over her, raining punches at her head, his expression crazed, the whites showing all the way around his irises, lips peeled back from his teeth. She could only ball tighter behind her blocking forearms, pain blasting through bone every time he hit them. Waiting for an opening…
He paused an instant, frustrated at his inability to hit her…
Erica rammed her fist into his mouth hard enough to rock his head back on his shoulders. Wrapping her legs around his hips, she wrenched sideways, trying wrestle him off her. Dragging in a breath, she fought to gather more magic. If all else failed, she’d…
A fist the size of a canned ham powered past her guard. As it slammed into the side of her face, Erica saw stars and tasted blood. Oh, fuck this!
She reared up, slapped her palm against Carson’s forehead and fired a magical blast right into the center of his skull. Though she didn't have the power to knock him cold, she could induce a blinding burst of pain in his cerebral cortex.
With a startled scream, he rocked back on his knees. Erica planted a foot in the center of his chest and kicked him off her. He fell flat as she sprang to her feet, one hand going for her Taser…
The roar echoed off the surrounding buildings — a shattering leonine blast of sound that made them both jump.
Jake Nolan. And he sounded seriously pissed.
Oh, thank you, God. With the Feral in the fight, Carson didn’t have a prayer.
He knew it too. “Shit!” Pale-faced, terrified, the big man scrambled to his feet and ran for his life.
Despite her aching jaw, Erica dashed after him. Something gold and blazing bounded past her with another ear-ringing roar. Bystanders screamed in terror and started to run, fleeing in all directions. Probably remembering the polar bear…
Glowing like a halogen bulb, the magical African lion leaped, knocking Carson on his face and pinning him there with massive golden paws. The man writhed face-down on the pavement as he fought to escape, screaming, his voice cracking with terror. “Get off me! Getoffgetoff! Don’t eat me…!
“I’m not going to eat you, you idiot,” Jake growled back, magic giving his normal baritone an inhuman reverberation. Concentrating, Erica could just make out the familiar broad, muscular body inside the blazing shell of his cat. “But I am going to kick your ass if you don’t quit fighting me!”
“No no no…” With a sob, Carson went limp, his aura burning red with pain, probably from a combination of her blast and getting tackled by a fully manifested Feral. 
None of the red was intense enough to indicate serious injuries, though. Probably just bruised all to hell.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Carson started babbling about demon cats and witches interspersed with fragments of prayer. Waves of terrified yellow rolled across his field’s scarlet background. He really did think Jake was going to eat him.
Erica might have felt sorry for the crazy bastard, if she didn’t suspect he’d been planning mass murder.
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