Monday, April 04, 2011

Want a preview of Hitched and Hunted?

My April Intrigue, Hitched and Hunted, hits the shelves tomorrow, so how about a preview? Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the book:

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Mariah Cooper had imagined her death a thousand times in the past four years, but never had she thought she'd be crouched in a motel room bathtub when it finally happened.

"It's going to be okay." Jake's calm voice barely rose above the wind gusts rattling the windows and howling around the corner eaves just outside the motel room. Across the tub, he locked his hands with hers, his blue eyes meeting hers with steady assurance. "Just another tornado warning, right?"

Mariah nodded. Having spent her whole life in tornado-prone areas, she'd responded to hundreds of tornado siren warnings with actions drummed into her head over the years—go to the basement or an interior room, put as many walls between you and the exterior as possible, get beneath something sturdy if possible. Right now, they were on the bottom floor of the two-story motel, and the bathroom was the only place in the room that didn't have an exterior window. The tub had a long steel handle set into the wall to hold on to if things got hairy.

But she couldn't remember ever hearing the wind howl so loudly or feeling the walls shake with each gust.

"It's close," she said, pressure rising in her ears.

Jake's gaze held hers. "It may not even touch down."

On the counter across from the tub, a battery-powered radio kept up a steady stream of chatter from a local station carrying wall-to-wall weather coverage from a television station out of Meridian, Mississippi. The meteorologist was warning people in the Buckley area to get to their places of safety immediately.

"I love you." The warmth of Jake's voice wrapped around Mariah's shivering body. She held his gaze, her heart sinking under the weight of the truth. Jake didn't really love her. He couldn't. He didn't know who she really was.

A crackling boom shook the motel room. The lights surged, then died, plunging the bathroom into utter blackness. Mariah gasped, her fingers tightening over his.

"A transformer blew. That's all." Jake shifted, turning her until she was cradled between his knees, her back against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, his breath hot against her neck. "Just a few more minutes and it'll be over."

The roar of the wind rose. Cracks and thuds filled Mariah's ears, frighteningly close. Though she closed her eyes against the darkness, as if she could shut it out somehow, the blackness pursued her relentlessly, carried on a sea of destruction encroaching from somewhere outside.

She repeated Jake's promise in her head. A few more minutes and it'll be over. It'll be over. It'll be over.

Then, suddenly, it was. The roar of wind fell quickly before dying away altogether, replaced by a steady drumbeat of rain against the windows. Jake began to stir, but Mariah clutched his arms, holding him in place behind her in the tub. They sat quietly, listening to the radio. Only when the weatherman started talking about storm damage reports trickling in from Buckley did Mariah finally move.

"We should see if the truck and boat made it," she murmured, struggling to compose herself.

Jake muttered a soft oath. "Didn't think about the boat."

The power was still out, so Mariah had to feel her way out of the tub and into the main part of the motel room. She'd spotted candles and matches in the drawer of the bureau when she was putting away their clothes a couple of days earlier, so she made her way there and opened the drawer, groping inside until she felt the smooth, cool wax of a candle beneath her fingers. A little more searching garnered the small box of matches as well. She struck a match and touched the tip to the candle's wick. The candle sizzled to life, casting a warm, flickering glow across the motel room.

Mariah turned and found her husband gazing at her, his expression tense but confident.

"Told you we'd make it through." He brushed her arm with his fingertips as he passed her on the way to the front window. He moved the curtain aside and peered out through the rain-mottled windows. His back stiffening, he spoke in a raspy voice. "Good news is the truck and boat are still there. But the shopping strip next door is gone."

Her knees buckling, Mariah stumbled to the end of the bed and sat heavily, her heart pounding wildly. There had been fifteen stores in that strip center. They'd shopped at the drugstore there just that morning. And now it was gone?

She'd known it was a bad idea to come back to Buckley.



THE BAD WEATHER THE NIGHT before had bypassed Victor Logan for the most part. A few trees had fallen in the woods surrounding his house, a shanty of a place that was the most he could afford to rent with the little bit of money he'd had left after his legal fees. But he'd seen nothing but a little wind and rain where he lived, despite the tornado siren. And as his old box set television couldn't pick up any channels since the conversion to digital, he hadn't watched the morning news before gassing up his van and driving to town to look for work.

So it was with some surprise that he saw the utter devastation wrought across the small town of Buckley, Mississippi, in the early hours of the morning. Houses with roofs damaged or missing completely. Vehicles upside down, including an eighteen-wheeler wrapped around the concrete piling of an overpass, the trailer split in two, spilling its payload of fresh strawberries onto the roadway. Birds swarmed like winged piranhas, pecking bits of flesh from the berries until the roadside bled red with their juices.

Bodies of farm animals dotted the highway into Buckley, buzzards circling overhead. As he neared town, traffic slowed to a grind due to a roadblock on the highway ahead. The cops must be screening people to be sure they had legitimate business in the storm zone, he realized with a grimace.

He didn't want to talk to the cops, so he turned off as soon as he could, parking in front of a small diner. He'd eaten there a few times. Good food, low prices, and the staff mostly left you alone. Inside, he sat at the counter and ordered the breakfast special—eggs, sausage and a gravy biscuit.

Nearby, a half dozen fellow customers huddled around the diner's small television, murmuring in low tones of horror and concern. Victor could see part of the television screen between their bodies, enough that he got a good look at the devastation in downtown Buckley and on the south side, where the road toward Flint Creek Reservoir had taken a hard hit, wiping out a shopping strip center and several dozen residences.

Victor watched for a moment, his only emotion curiosity. The destruction might open up the job market for him. He was a good mechanic. He could also do construction work if necessary. He just needed someone to look past the black marks on his record. He was starting to get anxious—he'd never been a thief, and he didn't want to become one now just to keep his head above water. Theft was Marisol's crime, not his.

Treacherous bitch.

As he started to look away from the television screen, a face in the crowd behind the male reporter caught his eye. Dropping his fork, he walked closer to the television screen, edging another man out of the way to get a better look.

Marisol. As if his thoughts had conjured her up.

Four years later, she'd changed little, her hair still long and coal black, her eyes so light they looked like pools of silver against the dusky olive of her skin. She gazed straight into the camera, as if looking right at him, and his heart beat a thunderous cadence in his ears.

Her eyes widened and she looked away quickly, as if she'd seen him watching her through the television screen, and turned to speak to a tall, dark-haired man standing beside her. He put his arm around her shoulder and they walked out of the frame.

Victor stared at the screen, barely breathing. He forced himself to listen to the reporter's drivel. The talking head was near a residential subdivision the tornado had nearly wiped out. The people behind the guy were volunteers for the rescue and recovery efforts. More volunteers were needed.

Victor returned to the counter and wolfed down his breakfast. He was on the road within a few minutes.

He bypassed the main highway into Buckley, taking side roads that snaked through the forest and farmlands hemming in the town on all sides. A policeman flagged him down as he entered the affected area.

Victor willed himself to remain calm. He'd done his time. He'd gotten out on good behavior. Seeing his parole officer weekly, as required, and still looking for a job. Plus, he had skills the rescuers could use, didn't he?

He said as much to the policeman who rapped on the driver's side window of his van to ask what business he had in the area.

The cop eyed him a moment before giving a nod. He told him where to park the van and where to find the fire department officer who was coordinating volunteers.

Victor parked where directed and walked to the staging area, a pavilion tent set up in the middle of the road near the tornado strike zone. Inside, volunteers were taking names and handing out bottles of water to those who'd come to support the first responders.

Hers was the first face he saw.

Victor's heart jumped. Marisol was only a few feet away, bending to open another crate of water bottles. She pulled several bottles from the package and set them on a collapsible card table set up in the middle of the staging tent.

She was as beautiful as ever, though time had blessed her, at twenty-five, with a more womanly shape and a leaner, more mature face than she'd possessed at twenty-one. Her dark hair was twisted into a careless braid down her back, humidity giving it a hint of curl in the tendrils around her face. She smiled as she handed a volunteer a bottle, and Victor saw she'd fixed the upper left bicuspid she'd broken as a child.

The man he'd seen her with on TV was nowhere around.

Victor slipped from the tent, not yet ready to be seen. He needed to know why she was here. Was she still living in the Buckley area? Surely not. He'd looked for her in vain as soon as he got out of jail.

Who was the man she'd been with, who'd put his arm around her and led her away from the reporter? Her new lover?

Victor wasn't jealous—he'd never consider sullying himself with her. She'd been an intellectual passion, not an object of sexual desire.

But he hadn't plucked her out of filth to watch her whore her way around Mississippi, either. He hadn't schooled her in the classics, filled her formerly dull mind with the precisions of science and the exquisite mysteries of mathematics to watch her throw her knowledge away on frivolous, romantic dreams of marriage and maternity.

She was supposed to be a different sort of creature, dedicated to knowledge and beauty, not a slave to her baser drives and emotions.

Marisol Mendez had been a great disappointment to him.


Text Copyright © 2011 by Paula Graves. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books.

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If Hitched and Hunted sounds interesting to you, please visit your nearest bookstore tomorrow or head online and purchase a copy! It's also available on Kindle and other ebook formats. I'd love to hear what you think of it after you've read it. If you click the links to the right on this blog, you'll be able to purchase not only Hitched and Hunted but also the second book in the trilogy, The Man from Gossamer Ridge, available right now from eHarlequin.com.

And how about a little contest to celebrate the release? In the comments, answer one of three questions for me:

1. Do you like books where the main couple are already involved?

2. Do you like books where the hero or heroine has a hidden identity?

3. Have you ever been through a natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake? If so, can you tell us what it was like?

I'll pick a commenter from random to win a $25 eGiftcard from the online bookstore of your choosing.

17 comments:

desere_steenberg said...

Wow great post thank you so much I need more I am definitely hooked !!!

Thank you so much for a stunning giveaway !

Best ,
Desere
ps is the contest open to international readers ?

Paula said...

Only if your online bookstore of choice will allow international purchases--I'll have to purchase the eGiftcard from here in the US. I have been able to buy from Amazon.UK before, but I had to figure out the exchange rate and everything.

I can send signed copies of my books out internationally, so if you win and there are some of my backlist books you'd like to purchase, I could send those.

Paula said...

BTW, I didn't mean "purchase" in the last line above. I meant "have." You would not have to purchase them from me if you won!

desere_steenberg said...

Stunning thank you so much Paula there are 3 of your books that I am missing so that would definitely work if I won !

And a signed copy would be beyond awesome it would totally make my year !

Thanks again

Desere

susanna in alabama said...

Hey, Paula! Sorry I didn't comment yesterday - in the middle of big contract proposal deadlines and my brain is scattered! I'm kind of on a story-by-story basis on whether I like the main characters to be already involved. I *do* like it when they already know each other, because it makes the relatively short time line in most series romances easier to believe. But sometimes if they're already *dating* when the book starts, it takes some of the starch out of the story tension because they've already gotten past the barrier of connecting romantically. Again, depends on the writer and story as to whether it works. I'm okay with a hidden identity as long as it makes sense in the context of the story. As for natural disasters... not been through a big one. Caught the tail end of Katrina up here, but the only damage in my world was caused by me scraping my car against the brick of my house as I was trying to move it to a safe place. I'm a ditz!

Planning to go to Walmart today to pick up your book and a couple of others. Excited!!

Leanne109 said...

1I like books with the main couple already involved :)

2. I don't think I've ever read a book where the main characters identity is hidden.

3. I have been through a natural disaster. I was in Halifax NS Canada when Hurricane Juan hit. I was actually living where it hit the hardest.
We stayed in the basement all night with a battery operated radio and the windows upstairs looked as if they were breathing. It was pretty scary but we made it through with no one hurt.
Just lost some siding on the house and an apple tree.

Cindy Tucker said...

I can honestly tell you that the ONLY books I have PURCHASED for my kindle application on my iPhone have been yours. After reading about them on FB, I searched for Harlequin Intrigues and then your name and tried one. I have since sought out every one that is available on there. When my current books are gone, the first place I look is for your books and then go on to free ones. Awesome books!

ChrisS said...

Congratulations on the release of Hitched and Hunted. It sounds like a great book. Thanks for the excerpt. I love the bathtub conversation when Jake told Mariah he loved her. Then my heart sunk after reading Mariah's thoughts. I'd love to read how their story ends.
For me it doesn't matter whether the main characters are already involved are or have a history as long as there is angst and tension in the relationship. Oh, that sounds awful, but helps make for a good story.
I also believe characters with secrets (whether hidden identity or something else) adds to the intrique and excitement.

Have I ever been through a natural disaster. I have been through 2 minor earthquakes. The 2nd time I was in a hotel in CA and had just gone to sleep. I was startled out of bed at what sounded like someone trying to break into my hotel room. It took a while to relize just what happened. Needless to say i didn't sleep very well that night and couldn't wait to get home to the east coast.

Meljprincess said...

Hi Paula,
I love Intrigues and HITCHED AND HUNTED appeals to me greatly!
I've been through hurricanes (lots of wind and rain), tornadoes (I lived in Texas and was young. On one occasion my mom put me in the closet with our cat lol!), and one earthquake (it was in upstate NY) I woke up and the bed and apt. were shaking. I jumped out of bed to find my kitty and she was hiding under the chair in the living room. My pet rat didn't seem at all fazed. It didn't last long but it was very strange. More so then the tornados and hurricanes.

Mel K.
Meljprincess AT aol DOT com

Kym said...

Hi Paula,

If I was to win, Id hurry and use it to get your book ! :D

I have been in a natural disaster and it was so surreal.

It was called the NO NAME Storm, as it happened before they knew it was happening. I lived in Fla on water...and by the time I went to check on our elderly neighbor (It happened in the middle of the nite) the water was in my livingroom, and we couldnt get out by car. My daughter was 5 months old and I had to carry her up over my shoulders to keep her out of the freezing cold water. We walked to a second story building and stayed there, rescuing all the sleeping people. A couple were asleep in their water bed, didnt know it was going on, and we pulled them from the window. Birdcages were floating...water was ABOVE the mailboxes. They brought boats in to rescue us...imagine going down your road in a boat , I was so afriad the metal boat was going to tip and my daughter would drown. Ill never forget how everyone worked together to make sure everyone was safe,but the shock and fear was on everyones faces.

JV said...

1. Do you like books where the main couple are already involved? Yes, very much. Friends-to-lovers is my favorite theme, and, of course, you must be involved already to be friends. I have also read a couple of series where a couple was involved in the first book but did not finalize or stabilize their relationship until the final book.


2. Do you like books where the hero or heroine has a hidden identity? Meh. I typically do not like thinking of a character by a certain name through the majority of a story only to find out s/he's someone else toward the end. It messes with my head a little bit. Having said that, I've read some amnesia stories that I really liked (and some that I didn't), but I think the difference there was that I knew in advance that we really didn't know who the person truly was. So, the persona was more flexible in my mind, if that makes any sense.


3. Have you ever been through a natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake? If so, can you tell us what it was like?
Not on a really serious scale. On April 3, 1974, a major tornado hit my city and did an incredible amount of damage, destroying many homes and completely changing the face of a local park by decimating so many of the existing trees, etc. However, some friends and I were out running around and didn't even realize that a tornado had struck until someone asked us why we weren't in shelter. We've had a few very minor earthquakes. The most damage we got from that was that a very old building downtown had the chimney collapse. Probably the most serious catastrophes were some flooding we had in 2009. We got more than 6 inches of rain in about an hour and a half. Streets were flooded. Our main library was really damaged, the office at the University where I work had to be evacuated by boat, and many people's cars were totalled in the parking lot. I didn't personally have any damage at my home or with my car, though, so I've been very lucky.

Nas Dean said...

Intriguing excerpt! Now it has me hooked by the tantalising glimpse it gave.

Thanks you for the giveaway and for it to be open to international readers. Because I normally miss out on giveaways.

Lorraine said...

Hi, Paula!
Hitched and Hunted sounds like an exciting read. Wouldn't expect anything less with your name on the cover. Congratulations on its release!

1. Do you like books where the main couple are already involved?

I'm not fussy as long as the story is good and keeps me interested.


2. Do you like books where the hero or heroine has a hidden identity?

Undercover cops, witness protection, amnesia victims...they all appeal to me.

3. Have you ever been through a natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake?

No, thank God! We had an earthquake here in the late 70's. It rattled the dishes but didn't do much damage.

Paula said...

Susanna, I totally agree that it's easier to write an Intrigue if the hero and heroine know each other, mostly because the stories take place over such a short span of time. Mine average 3-5 days per book.

Leanne, your story about Hurricane Juan is terrifying, especially the part about the breathing windows. That's creepy! I may have to use that in a book!

Thank you, Cindy! I hope you enjoy the Cooper Justice: Cold Case Investigation series, too!

ChrisS, angst and tension in the relationship is what makes a story work. That's why I torture my characters as often as possible--it's for their own good!

I've never been in an earthquake that I could feel, but your story reminded me about something that happened when I was a kid. We used to live about 3 miles from Ruffner Mountain, where were some old non-working mines. But apparently the mining company or someone kept dynamite stored in some of the mines, because one night a batch of that stuff blew to kingdom come. Rattled our windows, and I had friends who lived much closer to the mountain who had their windows broken by the blast.

Paula said...

Meljprincess, I wonder what the cat thought about being stuffed in the closet with you! We have eight cats and we do live in a tornado-prone area. I doubt we could ever get all eight of them into the basement, but we'd try our best.

Kym, your natural disaster story is horrifying! Did y'all not have any warning that the storm was coming? Of course, living close to the water puts you in a problematic position in that kind of situation. The last time I went to Gulf Shores on the Alabama coast, we stayed in a condo that was across the highway rom the beach, not right on it, which is probably for the best, because a strong tropical storm hit that weekend. The winds were so strong they were bending over the palm trees in the condo parking lot, and when it was finally over, we went driving to check out the damage and everything on the Gulf side of the highway had varying levels of flooding. That was scary enough--I can't imagine being in the middle of what y'all went through!

JV, you should be okay with the "hidden identity" of my heroine in Hitched and Hunted, because you find out the bulk of her secrets early on, even if the hero doesn't.

Interesting story about being out jogging while a tornado struck. That's the thing about tornadoes--they are devastating where they hit, but they're small compared to most other natural disasters, and even when a tornado hits an area, it can hit one house and miss one next door (I touch on that fact in Hitched and Hunted, as a matter of fact). I had a friend whose subdivison was hit by a damaging tornado. The house next to their sustained substantial damage, but their house wasn't touched--they lost only a few limbs from trees in their yard. And these houses weren't separated by more than a small side yard.

Hi, Nas! I hope you'll give Hitched and Hunted a read. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Lorraine! Thanks for stopping by. I've been pretty lucky on the natural disaster front, too. I've been lucky to always live on higher ground, avoiding flooding. Tornadoes hit in areas around where we've lived but we've never actually seen a tornado ourselves. We're too far north for hurricanes to bring much more than wind and heavy rains, and so far the New Madrid fault hasn't sent any trembles our way.

Have I just jinxed myself?

LindaC said...

I can't wait to read this book, Paula! I find it refreshing to read about a main couple who have history or who are already involved, since so many couples in books are 'first meets'. I recently read a book where the heroine assumed many identities in an attempt to find info about the man who murdered her mother. I have lived through Hurricanes Frederic, Georges, and Katrina. We stayed for Georges and it was really scary. It came at night and you could hear the tornadoes all around. When people say that they sound like trains, believe it.

LindaC

SueW said...

I plan on getting Hitched and Hunted asap - didn't have time today. The preview only makes me more anxious to read the whole story!
In answer to your question no. 1:
Yes. It is uncommon in romantic suspense to have the main characters already involved in a relationship, so when that happens it is a nice change.

Love the Cooper family stories - very much looking forward to Gabe and J.D.'s stories to finish my set!