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Friday, October 26, 2007

More Baby Steps...

Not sure, but I think I may have shared the opening to Baby Steps before. For those who've been asking, here 'tis. Scroll back or use the link below to read the first scene... This is my Mother's Day novella (out in a collection with Lori Handeland and Rebecca Winters in April) AND my Snow White and Grumpy story... Sigh...

Oh, and here's the Dear Reader letter I've written for up front, for those who weren't around when I dreamed this one up ;o)

...There's something beguiling about fairytales. Something addictive, if you will, that even grownups don't really want to be cured of. The timeless themes from our childhood stories are the backdrop for dreams and desires we spend our lives pursuing.

When I began searching within for what motherhood meant, my wacky writer's mind locked onto an unlikely motif from my favorite fairytale—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Unlikely, because Snow White was never a "real" mother. Evidently, my Baby Steps heroine wasn't going to be either.

You see, Snow White not only took over the care and nurturing of an entire band of little people who didn't know they needed mothering until she came along. She picked the crankiest, most cantankerous of the dwarfs as her special project—Grumpy. Grumpy wasn't bad in her eyes, just misunderstood. With a little extra effort, he could become all he and the other dwarfs needed him to be.

And Snow White was in. Not just for the challenge or because she needed a little extra stress to add to the burden of watching her dreams disappear before her eyes. But, I think, because she understood how scary it was for Grumpy to trust again. How much he must have been hurt to have developed such a hard, hands-off shell. They had a lot more in common, these two, than the reader first realizes. Snow White was determined not to give up until Grumpy let love in again, and by helping him she never really let love go herself.

It's Grumpy who ends up leading the charge that destroys the wicked witch—saving both Snow White and her prince in the process. In fact, if it weren't for Grumpy, Snow White's happily ever after might never have happened. Amazing stuff.

I hope you enjoy my very contemporary interpretation of this timeless fairytale theme. Mothers of every kind out there, know that you have my admiration. Being a Mother of the Year is as simple as opening your heart and making a difference in a child's life. And it's just that complicated. Loving so deeply makes you all fairytale princesses in my book!

Okay, Excerpt #2--

**************

"Because she's a teacher," Tyler Brooks explained to his gym class truant. Lily was also the most beautiful woman Tyler had ever met, not that now was the time to make that point. "And even if she wasn't, she's an adult. Don't talk to adults that way, period, and you might tunnel out of detention before the end of the school year."

"Oh, okay," the kid spat back. "But Nathan Grover can call me a bastard all he wants!"

"Of course he can't."

"Nathan called you what?" Lily stepped closer. A petite dynamo, she was barely taller than the kids she taught.

"Some of the boys were playing four square, and Dakota's our new all-star." Tyler dragged his attention away from his wife's peaches and cream complexion and dark auburn hair, and nudged Dakota's shoulder. "Seems Nathan doesn't take kindly to losing, so—"

"So! He cheats. And he calls me names when you're not looking. And—"

"You kicked him, Dakota, right before you bolted out of the gym without a pass." Tyler watched his wife circle a gentle arm around the fourth grader's shoulder. Caught up in the day's latest injustice, the child forgot to resist the nurturing that came as second nature to Lily as breathing.

"No matter what someone else does, there's no excuse for—"

"Defending myself?" Dakota's gaze slid to where Lily's hand rested on his shoulder. He sidestepped until they were no longer touching.

"There's no excuse for hitting." Lily wrapped her arms around her chest. She caught Tyler's smirk and shot him an eat me look, because she knew that he knew how much she wanted to still be hugging the kid. "And there are smarter ways to defend yourself. You let Nathan goad you into losing your cool, and you're the one who gets caught. Meanwhile, he looks clean as a whistle?"

"Screw you!" Dakota made a bee-line for the door.

Luckily, Tyler had the reach of an albatross. A handy thing on a basketball court, where he'd made many of his best high school memories. An essential for a career in corralling hyperactive school children into organized physical activity. He snagged Dakota and turned him around.

"First." He tightened his grip when the boy tensed for another sprint. "Apologize to Mrs. Brooks and Ms. Lawson. Second, help clean up their..." Tyler gazed at the piles of fuzzy white stuff, brown fabric and what looked like overweight chickens strewn about the floor, "...whatever. Then you and I are meeting Nathan at the AP's office for a little chat."

"Nathan?" Dakota peered up at Tyler.

"He started the fight, didn't he? He's going to stand up for his part in what happened."

Mr. Confrontation looked younger, suddenly. Confused. Stunned, even. Tyler smiled over his student's head, catching his wife's nod of approval. He squeezed Dakota's shoulder and shoved him forward.

"S...Sorry," Dakota said to the two ladies he'd sent crashing to the mint green floor.

Sincerity and belligerent ten-year-olds... An unnatural combination, if Tyler had ever seen one.

The kid began clearing his mess, mumbling under his breath. Something about how stupid adults were.

That kind of spunk was a good thing, Tyler reminded himself, not a pain in the ass. A child like Dakota learned to be tough from the cradle. Had to stay that way just to get through the day. Tyler understood that better than most. More than he cared to.

Lily motioned him closer to the door.

"New student?" Her chocolate brown eyes drank him in. When they were in their nineties, she'd still be able to bring him to his knees with just one look.

"Dakota started with Alma Rushing's class on Monday. He's having a little trouble settling in with the other kids."

"So it would seem." Lily held his gaze until he was the one to look away, hiding the need to pull her closer. "Sounds like he and Nathan's problems are more than just boys being boys in PE. You're going to make sure that Ms. Emory gives him a break?"

"Yeah, I'll handle it."

"You always do."

He frowned at the accusation, then started when she took his hand, reaching for him for the first time since she'd moved out. Their fingers tangled together out of habit. A perfect fit.

"You're amazing when you're fighting for one of your kids." Her smile was hesitant, as if she wasn't sure of its welcome. "You're going to make a great father."

Tyler's throat stung against the urge to start a conversation they couldn't have. Not there. Enough of their personal issues had already followed them to school, if even his newest student knew about their separation.

Temporary separation.

It had only been two weeks. It just felt like forever.

He squeezed her fingers and kissed them. Kept the rest to himself. The sparkle in her eyes dimmed at his non-response—eyes he'd once read so easily.

"Ready for our appointment at four?" she asked.

It wasn't really a question.

"How about I meet you there, as soon as I get things settled in the gym?"

It wasn't really an answer.

With a worried nod, Lily turned to help clean up whatever she and Ashley had been working on. Tyler dove in, too, his mind racing with the two battles looming before him that afternoon. And he'd be damned if he felt ready to tackle either.

He had to find a way to motivate a little boy to fight for the second chance only Dakota could make for himself. Then he had to convince his wife to accept the truth that had come as a crushing blow to them both, before what was left of their marriage slipped away.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Halloween Skies...

Beautiful Halloween Skies are happening here. Raining a lot, in the midst of the worst run of dry we've had in a long time. Meanwhile, California is buring. It's a wacky time of the year to be sure. Hope everyone out there is staying safe and looking forward to lots of treats and good surprises next week ;o)

There's a summary of release party prizes below. Another excerpt ready to share tomorrow ;o)

We're stocking up on chocolate to give away--we like the smiles when the kids get the "good" candy. It's an addiction, LOL!

Before I forget, a special blog friend did a fabulous thing this last Tuesday--profiled BOAB and said some really lovely things about my writing over on her blog. You ladies know Jennifer Yates, so check out her "Random Musings" (http://jennifersrandommusings.wordpress.com/). She's a nice lady (it's always fun to see her at a signing) and she brightens up every chat and online party. Her blog layout is amazing, and there's lots to see and read. Check her out!!!

Okay, here's my list of the release party winners, including the folks I don't yet have a mailing address for. Packages start going out tomorrow ;o)

Note: *** Indicates that I don't have a mailing address for the winner.

Day 1
------
Guess Mini Evening Clutch--Ruth
RT Giveaway Bag--Julie***
Amy S.--Ellora's Cave cards and books

Day2
-----
XOXO Purse and Wallet--Fannie
RT Books and Promo items--Jan***
Border's Gift Certificates--Bambella

Day 3
------
Nine West Tote--Minna
RT Books and Promo items--Pat Cochran
Border's Gift Certificate--Cheryl (cas2ajs)

Day 4
------
XOXO Tote--Bethre

Day 5
------
Grand Prize: BCBG Tote!!! -- Crystal G.
RT Tote Bag--Nad D
RT Book selection--Donna***
Border's Gift Certificate--Emma
RT Promo Items--Belinda Peterson***

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Last Release Party Winners--Baby Step Excerpt 1

Yesterday got away from me--but no worries. The final prizes are out here today, so no worries ;o)

Nad D (who commented at 4:39 in the Saturday post)--I have one last RT tote bag and it's yours.

Donna (who commented at 9:30 in the Saturday post)--I have one final selection of books from RT '07 coming your way.

Emma (who commetned at 12:36 in the Sunday post)--a Borders Gift certificate has your name on it.

and

Belinda Peterson (who commented at 2:13 in the sunday post)--there a few of the fabulouse promo items from RT '07 left, just for you ;o)

Keep emailing me your mailing addresses, ladies. I'll post a summary of all the giveaways and who I haven't heard from yet either tomorrow or Wednesday (along with more blogging of the daily but still partying kind, lol!)

------------

Now, because I promised, a taste of Baby Steps...I may have excerpted this before, so it may sound familiar to some, but we're through revisions with the publisher, which means things are really strating to come together...I can't wait for this one to come out!

So, let's meet our Snow White (or Lily, as the case may be in this version of the fairytale story...)

******

"Lily, the chicken's bottoms aren't fat enough. Do you have any more stuffing?"

"If I had a dollar for every time someone's asked me that..." Lily Brooks looked up from her portable sewing machine and handed over a bag of cotton batting. "And for the last time, Ashley. They're hens. Happy mothers, all."

The stars of her Mother's Day surprise for Silent Springs Elementary's upcoming Spring Fling.

"Okay, then." Ashley Lawson crammed a brown, corduroy bottom with more fuzzy, white filling.

"I don't think top-heavy hen's toppling over and smothering live chicks is what Ms. Emory had in mind when you suggested doing something special for the K-3rd grade moms."

"Good point." Lily grabbed a handful of cotton, plumped the nearest chicken's tush to find the hidden Velcro seam and pried it open. "I'm going for memories the families can look back on and cherish. Not scarring children for life."

She'd pitched the assistant principal a booth where carnival attendees could stop and play with baby chicks, then smile for commemorative photos that the younger kids could decorate for a Mother's Day present. Another fabulous idea, Gayle Emory had cooed. I'm sure you'll pull it off as effortlessly and successfully as you do everything else.

Lily stuffed and sighed.

She'd lined up a local farmer to provide the chicks, arranged to rent a tent from the same company providing the dunking booth, and she and her best friend Ashley would be spending their lunch hours for the next two weeks effortlessly sewing and painting a picturesque barnyard motif for other women to enjoy with their kids.

A perfect idea that would take forever to execute.

She glanced around the cluttered, colorful art room. Ashley put her energy into exploring and enjoying the school day. Getting the most out of each moment. Not so much with the planning and worrying that everything be perfect. Lily had the corner on that obsession.

She tossed a chicken at her carefree friend.

Ashley giggled and lobbed the lovingly-stuffed bundle onto its growing pile of peers. "So, what's next?"

"Mr. Palmer offered to bring enough animals for a petting zoo, if we could find the space for him to set up a corral." Last year, Lily had been his granddaughter's third grade teacher, and she'd encouraged Molly's parents to test her for Dyslexia. Since starting treatment, the formally shy, withdrawn child had blossomed, and the Palmer family was convinced Lily was their angel's fairy godmother. "But I'm not sure—"

"Do it!" Ashley ran her hand over at the bolts of bargain-bin fabric Lily was morphing into easily controlled replicas of living, breathing, pooping stable inhabitants. "Sewing everything would be a safer solution, especially once the chickens—hens—don't look like the bad end of a funhouse mirror. But a little chaos is a good trade-off. It might get crazy, mixing things up with the kids and real animals, but everyone will love it!"

Crazy...mixing things up...

Panic surged through Lily at the mere suggestion. She was starting to hate that about herself.

"Maybe... Maybe it wouldn't be so out of control," she agreed, when she'd promised a calm, picture-perfect photo op. "As long as we're careful about which animals Mr. Palmer brings."

"Dakota, stop running in the hallway!" a familiar voice boomed, a split second before a whirlwind dressed in jeans, tee-shirt and a Atlanta Falcons cap blurred through the doorway and took aim for Lily and Ashley's poultry assembly line.

"Look out!" Ashley dove left.

Lily ducked right. "Ah!"

The boy hit his knees and slid beneath the table, catching a table leg with his sneaker. Corduroy and butt stuffing flew into the air. The table clattered to its side. Their hen-assailant kept on sliding, until he'd crashed into the easel Ashley had set up to teach the second graders coming in after lunch.

"Ow!" he yelped.

The wooden frame collapsed on top of him.

"Are you ladies okay?" His pursuer's emerald gaze connected with Lily's. Tyler knelt on one knee, held out his and helped her to her feet.

His frown warmed to a heart-tugging smile in response to her nod. When he turned toward Ashley, Lily forced herself to let go and head for the struggling heap of little boy and art supplies in the corner.

"Nice touchdown, kiddo." She extricated the easel, then the blank canvas that had been propped on top of it. The kid's shaggy, dark hair partially obscured the bright green eyes glowering up at her. "I bet you're a champ on the ball field."

"What do you know about it, stupid!" His insult missed it's mark. His scowl was simply too adorable to pull it off.

"Dakota, you know better than that!" Silent Springs, Georgia's impossibly tall, impossibly handsome PE teacher corrected. He stepped to Lily's side. "Apologize to Mrs. Brooks for your bad manners."

The child struggled to feet that were covered in unlaced, hole-riddled sneakers that didn't square with the rest of what appeared to be spanking new clothes. Lily caught a hint of embarrassment, maybe even regret, touch his hostile expression. Then everything but anger disappeared.

"Why do you care how I treat to your wife?" Dakota demanded. "Everyone in school knows you two aren't even living together anymore."

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Saturday's winners--and let's talk Baby Steps

Yay!!! What an amazing week. Exhausting, but amazing ;o)

Time's in short supply today, but I didn't want to miss a post. A new goal of mine--to stay up with the blog and all of you guys, because hearing from all of you last week was an ah-hah thing for me. Not ready to let it go yet ;o)

So, I'm giving away that BCBG shopping girl tote below, the rest of the goodies (books and promo items and another gift certificatet) I'll sprinkle into the post throughout the day and maybe even into tomorrow.

Did I mention that I've fallen in love with BCBG Max Azria's designs? I've had to basically replace my "business" wardrobe this fall--nothing I own fits...don't hate me, but I'm a wee tad smaller than I was last year (stress exercising and a year of deadlines can do wonders ladies, LOL!).

Take a look at their sweaters--
http://www.bcbg.com/category/index.jsp?categoryId=2769188&cp=2769127&clickid=cat_leftnav_txt .

And the amazing tops that you can layer under them--
http://www.bcbg.com/category/index.jsp?categoryId=2769164&cp=2769127&clickid=cat_leftnav_txt .

Ooh, and the dresses--
http://www.bcbg.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=2768985&cp=2769162&clickid=cat_leftnav_txt .

It's the kind of funky, creative mix and match line that pictures can't do justice, but it looks so cool on. Can't wait for it to stay cold here long enough to try everything out. So far, I've only been able to wear my new duds at conferences, where they keep the hotels so cold you practically need a parka on to keep your teeth from chattering while you give a workshop!

That Brunette asked about my Mother's Day anthology--Mothers of the Year comes out in April. Three amazing novellas you won't want to miss, including my Baby Steps, which was written around a Snow White/Grumpy theme. How about an excerpt tomorrow???

Here's the winner of the BCBG tote--check back in later for more giveaways. Toodles!!!

CrystalG--the shopping girls are yours my friend. Major congrats, you lucky lady, LOL!

Back later!

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Friday's Winner--More to come tomorrow!!!

Thanks everyone who participated over on Let's Talk Romance and out here. It's great to hear from so many people. And lots of hugs to those who shared not only their dream hero must-haves, but also lovely thoughts about Because of a Boy and Remember Me. Sorry Remember Me's going to be a bit more of a wait, but I promise to find something to keep everyone entertained out here once BOAB is off the shelves ;o)

Okay, yesterday's winner of the amazing XOXO tote bag--Bethre who posted at 6:30 PM!!! Email me your mailing adress, Bethre--I don't post my email addie out here, to keep down on the debilitating spam, but you can find it under the Write Me link on my website (annawrites.com).

More prize announcements to come (I'll post them by tomorrow) for the great BCBG shoping girls tote bag and the rest of the goodies.

Thanks again for the great party, ladies!!!

Keep reading ;o)

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Release Party Bonus Excerpt 3--Final Remember Me Teaser

Third and final excerpt from my WIP--thanks Bellas for stopping by to take a look. Remember to leave a comment in any of today's posts to in the running for the XOXO tote a few posts down ;o)

Don't want to give too much away in this one, but I've been asked for something sexy and hot, so here' a scene lifted from the middle of the book--Alexa (Jane Doe up until this point in the book, because she's lost her memory...but now it's slowly coming back) and Robert are trying hard to resist the attarction between them, but no such luck, lol!!!

********
Robert had brought her meal tray in himself. He'd kept the windows covered to shield her from the view of anyone walking down either hallway outside her corner room. There wasn't a nurse in sight.

He was protecting her, as usual.

Her angel.

Ditch him! Him and your fantasies. Let him help you eat if it makes him leave faster, then get out of here!

Alexa tried reaching for the lid covering the food, but her arm gave up about halfway to the tray. She sighed while Robert finished the job and scooped up a small bite. He held it up for her to sample.

"Shouldn't you be off daringly saving other lives or something." She willed her hand to take the fork from him and fed herself the eggs—at least, the half of them that didn't dribble onto her hospital gown.

He started to brush the mess away, smiling, then the barely-there feel of his touch feathered across her collarbone.

Her breath stalled.

The room shrunk around them. He slowly withdrew his hand, his gaze sharpening, heating, even as he shook his head in disbelief.

Had he felt the zing of energy arching between them?

Had she completely lost her mind?

But there was no stopping the wave of certainty that engulfed her. Suddenly, he stopped being a doctor acting more attentive than she had any right to expect, and she stopped being the patient pretending to need his help, to need him, when she wasn't really pretending at all.

"I..." she muttered. "I'm sorry, I..."

"No need to apologize," he said gruffly. "I..."

But he didn't seem to know what to say, either.

What's wrong with you!

Somehow between the dreams and the nightmares, the voices and the confusion, Robert had become something her mind had let itself need.

Every touch had been telling her. Every time she'd woken and been relieved to find him beside her. Now, with her amnesia no longer protecting her and him still sitting so close, his gaze drinking her in, her addled brain was determined to hang onto the dream. Her fingers were reaching to trace the stubble sprinkled along his jaw. Her body was clenching and then melting when that jaw tightened and his eyelids lowered at her touch, becoming piercing slits. Reflecting back the need racing through her.

It was the drugs. It had to be the drugs. She didn't fantasize or lose herself like this in ridiculous moments of insanity.

Only her head lifting instead, her lips hovering just below Robert's.

She had to know.

She had to have just moment with her angel that wasn't a dream, before her falling-apart life took over completely and she never saw him again.

Robert gripped her shoulders. His gaze trailed a scorching path to her mouth.

"Jane." A guttural groan followed. "I'm your doctor. I can't--"

"My name's not Jane," she reminded him. She lifted one final inch. Her lips trembled against his. She felt his body shudder. "And I want a new doctor."

"Damn." Robert's mouth took hers.

His hands slid in a too-gentle path down her shoulders. He pulled her closer. One touch of his tongue, one shared breath, and she was shaking. Then he was inching away, cursing again.

"We can't," he whispered. "You don't need more confusion on top of everything else you're dealing with. You can't even remember who you are..."

He cut another glance toward the closed door, analyzed the readings on her monitors--all in the amount of time it took her brain to convince her hand to smooth up his chest, so she could cling to his lab coat to keep him close.

Her.

Clinging!

It had to be the meds. The stupid dreams.

But it had been so long since she'd let herself need anything, want anything beyond working her way out of Dmitriy Andreev's insane world. Then saving Evie, and maybe somehow saving herself in the process. And in Robert's arms, all she'd failed out, all she still had to make right, faded. She could lie to him, lie to herself, about everything else, except how he made her feel.

"Please." She shivered at the roughness of his hands covering hers. "I don't understand it either, but your eyes... Your touch. They feel better than anything I could possibly remember. You make me feel free of all of this. Please... Please don't stop."

And he didn't.

She kissed him and forgot one more time, losing herself in her dream. He was there. He'd been there through every minute of the of the fear and the pain and darkness. And he was still standing between her and danger, even if he had no idea how much trouble she was leaving him to deal with.

His kiss filled her with the sweet need for more. Maybe even a little hope.

She clung to his shoulders. Shuddered at his taste and the simple goodness of a good man needing her back. She'd lost so much of herself, long before the amnesia. But Robert drawing her into his arms was a glimpse of what life could be like without the darkness. Something clean and simple and honest.

A life she wouldn't have to run from to keep herself and everyone else safe.

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Release Party Bonus Excerpt 2--Another Rember Me Teaser

Here's a glimpse of my WIP (Remember Me) hero--Robert Livingston (who's a continuing character from Because of a Boy)...

****

"Finish prepping her," Neurosurgeon Robert Livingston demanded, his gaze lowering to his patient's now-relaxed features. "I want to be in there looking for bleeders in five minutes."

He made himself let go of her hand as she was intubated. Studied the portable CT scans the ER had captured on their latest high-tech toy. Focused on the challenges of the case, instead of the rush of unprofessional protectiveness he'd felt for the gravely-injured woman who'd been frantically trying to crawl off his operating table.

Jane Doe's skull hadn't been breached by whatever had struck her--a pipe, maybe something smaller. But there was significant damage. The CT scan showed a compound fracture, a subdural hematoma beneath and other lesions that could become life threatening. Reversing the damage, even delicately, would increase the risk of complications. Permanent debilitation. But he had to stop the bleeding. Remove any debris that might cause a clot or escalating pressure and swelling.

Then all there'd be left to do was wait, and hope.

It will be okay...

Trust me.

Every person in the OR had frozen at his unprofessional lapse. Her odds of a full recovery were around 50/50 at best.

But she'd been frantic. Terrified. Desperate. And then she'd grabbed his hand, and he'd fallen into those expressive brown eyes--just like Jacob's eyes. And in the face of her all-consuming fear, he'd found himself promising whatever he had to, just as he had with his baby brother over twenty years ago.

"I have to re-scrub." He turned away while his surgical intern stabilized the patient's head, covering everything but the shaved area around the injury with sterile dressings. "We open in two minutes."

It had been drilled into him in med school that his patients's problems outside the hospital were beyond his control. So were the many possible complications they faced during recovery. But in the OR, the control was his. And he was good at what he did. The best in the state, tops in his field nationally. He lost very few patients, and his were the most delicate trauma cases of all.

And, damn it, he wasn't losing this one.

Not because of an emotional lapse that had tapped into decade's-old memories of watching helplessly while Jacob slipped away.

He turned on the taps and lathered up. Breaking the seal on a fresh brush, he scrubbed from his nails to his elbows. His fingers clenched at the memory of his Jane Doe's hand trembling in his. The strength that had fueled her determination to run, even though she'd been weak from heavy blood loss.

And he'd found himself equally determined to protect her. To defend her from whatever she was so certain was closing in.

The brush clattered to the floor.

Damn it!

He opened another from it's sterile packaging.

Focus, man.

Get it together.

He was a doctor. His patient was perfectly safe now, whoever had hurt her, and it was the police's job to keep her that way. He'd said what he had to. Calmed her down so his team could finish prepping for surgery. He'd have done the same thing for anyone in her emotional state.
This case was no different than any other.

He scrubbed harder.

He'd never promised a patient anything before. And he'd have promised this one even more. Whatever it took to ease the panic consuming her so completely.

You have to help me get out of here...

He shook his head. Began to rinse--fingers up, letting the sterile water wash the soap downward, away from his fingers.

It was time to work his magic, then send Jane Doe on her way. His focus had to stay on patching her up, so she could go wherever she so desperately needed to go--before he became even more irrationally attached to helping her get there.

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Release Party Bonus Excerpt !--Remember Me Teaser

Seems the best way to excerpt for our Let's Talk Romance, Romance B(u)y The Blog guests is to link them back here.

So....Here's the first excerpt from my WIP--Book II of Atlanta Heores (to read up on scenes from this month's release, Because of aBoy, scroll back through posts from the last few weeks, or click the excerpt link below). All comments from each of today's posts are in the running for the great XOXO tote!!

We join Alexa Vega (who's been seriously injured) in the OR of Atlanta Memorial Hospital, as she awakes from her nightmare to find she's going into surgery...

*****
...she kept fighting as she was yanked to her feet. She kicked for the nearest groin.

Her arms twisted against her restraints...

Her feet flailed at the hands holding her down to the table...

She fought to be free....
Fought the pain shattering her skull...


The darkness turning to grey. The light overhead drawing closer...

Table?

Light?

"Hold her still," a calm voice said.

The warm hand on her shoulder belonged to the voice, she realized, not the icy cold of her nightmare. It was soft, not cruel, absorbing her shivers. Quieting them.

"It's okay," he whispered closer to her ear. "Try to relax. You're safe now."

She somehow willed her body to still and her eyes to open. To focus. A tall figure towered over her.

Blue, shapeless shirt.

Blue mask.

Bluer eyes.

Honest eyes.

Safe.

Her mind recoiled from the thought. She tried to jerk away from the gentle touch, but he
stopped her. Him and the heaviness stealing through her body.

Their gazes collided. He smiled behind his mask, his expression kind. Caring. She hadn't had either in a long time. She was certain of it, even though nothing else made sense.

"We've given you a sedative," he explained. "You should be starting to feel it. Try to relax. No one's going to hurt you here."

Her instinctive laugh escaped as a moan.

He studied the whirring and beeping monitors she hadn't noticed before, his eyes frowning. His hand moved to the whatever bandage engulfed half her head, pulling it back to check beneath.

"You've got one minute to get her under," he instructed someone she couldn't see.

The blackness reached for her again.

His fingers smoothed down her cheek, easing her panic like magic. She blinked against the shadows, needing to see his eyes a while longer. Their blue was shot through with a steely, determined grey.

"Help me," she begged. "You have to help me get out of here. Get to the street. We need to go..."

"What street?" he asked. "We, who?"

The question strangled her breath in her throat. Adrenaline anchored her more firmly to the present, forcing a horrifying moment of clarity.

Because there was nothing there.

No answers to his questions.

She couldn't remember... Except for the gun pointing at her, and that final scream. A child creaming. She'd been trying to run.

"Run!" She struggled to sit up. She had to get out of there. "I have to go back, before--"

"Go back where?" He held her down until she stopped struggling against the straps securing her arms to the table. She blindly reached for his hand. He started, then squeezed her fingers.

"There's nowhere to go right now. Let me take care of you, then we'll figure out the rest. It's going to be okay."

The sentiment sent her fighting again.

"You've taken quite a blow to your head." He restrained her as gently as before. "You need immediate surgery, but you're safe. You're not alone. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

A mask was placed over her mouth and nose.

"Breath normally." He nodded to someone behind her, then smiled back down. "Let yourself fall asleep. I promise, I'll be here when you wake up. You can trust me."

She was in bad shape.

She'd seen the truth in his eyes. In the barely controlled urgency behind the orders he'd calmly issued. The right side of her head felt like it was on fire. The nightmare--it had been real. And now she could die. But worse, she'd...

Failed...

She'd failed at something important...again... And now...

Someone she cared about deeply, someone she couldn't remember, was in danger. She was certain of it. But she couldn't remember...

Please, she begged him with her eyes.

Please, she'd begged someone else a long time ago. Stay. Don't go away...

"It will be okay," he promised. "Trust me."

And she did.

She shouldn't. That long-ago voice had promised the same thing, and lied. She hadn't trusted anyone since. But the anesthesia was enticing her to let go, a cloud of security blanketing the fear.

She could finally stop running. From what, she had no idea. But just this once, she could stop running.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Release Party--Four to get ready...

Great dream getaway ideas yesterday, my friends. You make me long for sandy beaches and tons of hours to read for pleasure myself...

Now to get ready for day Five... Link on over to LivetimeTV.com's "Let's Talk Romance" at Romance B(u)y the Blog, for a sneak peak of the fun we'll be having tomorrow with Michelle Buonfiglio's lovely Bella's:

http://www.lifetimetv.com/lifestyle/entertainment/romance-buy-the-book/blogs

In addition to the fun out here tomorrow, I'll be hanging at "Let's Talk Romance" at RBTB and inviting everyone there to hop over and join our Because of aBoy Release Party. With all that back and forth, we're bound to have a blast. To register and leave a comment at RBTB, don't forget not to leave spaces in your UserName (that's what tripped me up, when I couldn't get it to accept my info).

The topic of the day (well, tomorrow), is heroes and what
makes up your ideal (both the larger than life hero, as well and the one who might be living right next door to you). Tell us what's most important to you in the man you'd trust with your life!

For more insight into what I think, check out the link above--my guest blog on LifetimeTV.com's "Let's Talk Romance" begins tomorrow!!!

To keep things moving here, I've added a final excerpt below. If you're a newcomer, link backwards through this week's earlier posts for more of the great scenes coming your way in Because of a Boy!

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The two great totes I'm picturing are up for grabs--the red XOXO bag I'll give to one lucky Thursday/Friday commenter.


The extra-special BCBG "shopping girls" tote will go to a lucky blog buddy who hangs out over the weekend and leaves a comment either Saturday or Sunday. And of course, I have a few more promo items left and a handful of books, all from Romantic Times '07, and one final Borders gift certificate, so keep leaving us your thoughts while we all get to know each other.

And don't forget, leaving a comment between now and the end of December puts you in the running for the designer Isabella Fiore bag I'm giving away in my website contest. Check out my contest page for more details and a great picture of the purse someone will be taking home after the first of the year!!!

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Before I forget...

Wednesday's winners--

Mina, the Nine West tote is yours!

Pat Cochran, you'll receive a selection of books and RT '07 promotional items!

and Cheryl (cas2ajs) , a Border's gift certificate is yours!

All winners, keep emailing me those pony express addresses...
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And One final excerpt:

This scene takes place after thier romantic black moment--when we're certain their relationship won't make it. But Kate's just heard that Stephen might have been seriously injured trying to protect the little boy they've been fighting to save throughout the whole book. It's a great set up for the resolution of both the romance and the battle these two heroes have been waging to protect Dillon and his father...

*****

Kate raced into the ER, not bothering with the reception desk. She slowed enough to pass through security and its scanners, then headed for the double doors that lead from admissions to the trauma area. It took three tries to get her card to swipe, then she was running inside, desperate, her heart breaking.

There was shooting outside the safe house, Martin had said when he'd phoned. The Digarros didn't make it inside. Either someone was tracking your lawyer friend, or something got leaked at DEA. Sounds like APD shut everything down pretty quickly, but there were some injuries...

Her brother hadn't been able to tell her anything more, other than that more than one ambulance had been called, arrests had been made and that everyone who needed patching up was on their way to the hospital. Stephen's friend Curt had been the one to contact Martin, and both of them would meet her at the hospital as soon as they could. Robert had been listening to her end of the phone call, and he'd already grabbed his keys before she'd hung up. After breaking every speed limit on the way from his house, he was outside conquering the parking deck packed with weekend visitors, while she sprinted toward a reality she wasn't sure she could bear.

Were Dillon and his father all right?

She hadn't heard from Stephen. Was he okay? Was he--

"Kate!" Marsha called from the other end of the hall.

Trauma was in chaos, as usual. Less critical cases were fast-tracked to an entirely different area, leaving the specialist in the trauma unit to triage and focus on high risk patients.

"I came down as soon as I heard." Marsha zigzagged through the maze of staff and patients, gurneys and other equipment, to get to Kate. "What happened--"

"Where is he?" Kate didn't stop for the answer. Ducking into each alcove, she stopped only long enough to see the face of the patient being treated.

"Who?" Marsha hustled behind her. "Dillon? He's upstairs. They're admitting him to pediatrics, and there's a slew of APD on the floor making everyone nervous. What happened?"

Kate pulled her friend aside as EMTs rushed in from the Ambulance Bay, pushing a gurney and calling out the patient's stats for the doctor hustling alongside.

"Dillon's okay?" Kate asked through the weight of the fear still pressing down on her. "Then he wasn't shot?"

"Shot!" Marsha grabbed her to keep Kate from rushing off. "He's perfectly fine, just weak. But he's terrified and he won't talk to anyone. Kate what happened? Where you with him when--"

"No." Because Stephen hadn't wanted her there. He hadn't trusted her not to be the kind of distraction he couldn't afford, while he faced down federal authorities who held his client's future in their hands. And now... "I have to find him..."

She wrenched away from her friend. Checked the next examination area, knowing as she went that she was getting closer to the rooms reserved for only the most critical patients.

"Dillon's upstairs," Marsha insisted, still close behind.

"Not Dillon." Kate turned the corner, her heart and her feet stopping at exactly the same moment, at the sight of the man being treated on a gurney in the crowded, over-filled hallway outside the largest trauma suite. "Stephen!"

He was looking away from her, into the trauma room, while an intern set stitches in his shoulder.
The sleeve of his shirt had been cut away to expose the wound. What was left of the expensive knit was covered in blood. Too much blood to have come from such a small injury.

Kate's gaze rose from cataloguing his condition. The intensity of his gaze locked with hers. Relief at seeing her warred with something else in his eyes. Something that looked too much like giving up to belong in Stephen Creighton.

Seeing, feeling, his pain was what finally got her moving again.

"Are you okay?" She rushed to his side. The intern who'd been working on him melted away--either finished with his task, or uneasy with the tears Kate couldn't keep from falling as she wound her arms around Stephen. "Martin said there was shooting...that there were injuries."

When Stephen didn't hold her in return, she eased away. He held himself rigidly erect. Rage was the only thing alive in his eyes now...

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Release Party--Three for the Show

What if we were balloons, and celebration meant flying away? A flashy show of color, free of worldly bonds, lifiting toward the sun, clouds softly brushing as they whisper by... ;o) Yes, I do indulge in a bit of poetry from time to time, but I promise not to burden the blog with any more of it, LOL!

But seriously, for day three of our release party, if you could grab hold of your balloon and fly, what would your destination be? What says freedom to you?

Is home the freest place you know, or would charting your way toward a sunnier place be the release you need? Is escape from time-to-time how you stay grounded in your every day (I have to say that's me clinging to the baloon to the left, getting away so I'll want to come back to stay), or can your peace only be found in the fondly familiar?

This is a creative excercise I do not just before every new book, but during yoga and pilates and other mind-body exercises, too. Also in the midst some of the tougher times life sends my way. I go back to simpler days, back when I was a young girl, and remember my fly-away dreams. For me, the trip usually involves ocean and tides and waves that sweep my imagination away...

Tell us where your mind goes, when you need a party of one--what's your dream escape, if you could fly far, far away. If your ties to all those to-dos fell away, what would be your first dream destination be? Where does your mind recharge or let go or whatever you need the most, even if it's only in fantasy?

--------------

Day 2 Winners...

Fannie, the XOXO heart purse and wallet are yours!!!

Jan, a selection of books and promo items from RT '07 are yours (and congrats for sending your partinal in!!!).

And Bambella, you'll be receive a Border's gift certificate ;o)

Keep sending those mailing addresses to me, ladies.

--------------

Day 3 Prizes--The great Nine West tote pictured above, more RT '07 books and promo items pictured in the last few posts (another deck of Ellora's Cave cards, perhaps???) and one more Borders gift certificate, if we keep getting such great participation.

There will be a new tote to win tomorrow and Friday--Friday's being the best of the bunch, so keep coming back and commenting.

------

And my blog escape for you--another excerpt...this time, Kate and Stephen's morning after their first love scene. It's a great reveal of what these two are really dealing with underneath their tough, everyday heroic exteriors. Can't wait to hear what you think. I absolutely love these characters--think they're the realest I've ever drawn ;o)

*********

"Is the juice fresh squeezed?" Kate asked as she floated into the kitchen the next morning.

She'd gotten very little sleep for the second night in a row, but she'd never felt better.

"The juice is from the carton you keep in the door of the fridge." Stephen had pulled on his dress slacks. He'd left his oxford shirt unbuttoned.

He was using a wire whisk to give a mixing bowl of eggs what-for.

"Let me guess." She sat and sipped her juice. "Rich lawyers make their own breakfasts these days, just to prove that they don't take their status too seriously."

He shrugged. "No sense having to get dressed and go out for anything more complicated than coffee. So, I took a few classes and learned the basics."

Whatever he wanted, Stephen simply set his mind to and got. And last night, he'd set his mind on her.

"Basic smells good." She inhaled the delicious scent of her victory. Closed her eyes to savor.

How long had it been since she'd felt this loose? This at-ease with a new day, let alone with a near-stranger making himself at home in her kitchen. Except Stephen hadn't been a stranger since they'd first met at the hospital. Something deep inside them had connected. Something she hadn't ever expected to find.

She didn't want to leave the kitchen or the moment that a part of her wasn't sure she'd be able to hold on to, once they walked back into the real world.

"Eat." He laid a plate in front of her. "We've got a long day ahead of us."

He'd piled the plate high with eggs and bacon cooked to savory perfection. And there was plenty remaining for Lissa, who hadn't made an appearance yet. Kate lifted a fluffy, buttery forkful and saluted her indentured servant before taking a bite.

"You're as good as your word." She'd scooped up another mouthful, before she'd swallowed the first. "We'll have to wager more often, at least until my waistline outgrows my wardrobe."

"I'll buy you a new wardrobe." His naughty leer down the neck of her bathrobe, under which he'd insisted she wear nothing, made swallowing her next bite difficult. "Losing to you is a pleasure."

She covered her snort by sipping her juice.

"You loathe losing." She crunched a strip of bacon.

"Actually, I don't lose." He set his fork down and rested his forearms on either side of his plate.

"And that makes this morning..."

"About having you right where I wanted you, without having to ask if I could stay."

"So, you let me win last night, so you didn't have to admit to wanting to stick around?" She laid her fork aside. "That's a shade manipulative, don't you think?"

"I'm a lawyer." Stephen's expression turned distant for the first time since she'd walked up to his car last night. "Exactly what did you think I do for a living."

She blinked.

"You help people who are being chewed up and spit out by the legal system," she countered carefully.

"I help myself." He sat back and folded his arms, renewing her faith in just how sexy a man in rumpled, business attire could look. "Doing what I do for other people--"

"Is all about you?" There was no glass to hide her disbelief this time. She was clenching the tablecloth too tightly to pick it up.

The real world could have at least waited until after breakfast to make an reappearance.

"I'm not some romantic hero," Stephen warned.

During the night he'd been more generous, more patient, more involved than any man she'd ever been with. Before that, he'd waited for her to work through her confusion over the Digarro case and her brother. He'd given her time to trust him. To trust herself.

What exactly was a hero in his book?

"Do you always tell women that you're a using son-of-a-bitch over breakfast the morning after?"
"I don't make woman breakfast. I'm never around for the morning."

"Maybe I've manipulated you, then."

"Maybe you should listen to what I'm saying, before you go another round with me tonight."

"Tonight?"

"I want tonight." He took her hand. Held fast when she would have shied away, unsure of his mood. "I want tomorrow morning. Damn it, I want you, Kate, any way I can get you, and I never
play to lose. But I don't want you to wake up tomorrow or next week or next month--"

"Next month? Let me get this straight. You're a bastard, but I'm going to let you stick around for a month?"

His low opinion of himself, hidden deep beneath the successful veneer of one of the top legal players in town, translated at some level to a low opinion of her.

Didn't he get that?

"No. I'm..." He let her go and ran his fingers through his sleep-rumpled hair. "I didn't--"

"Think I was smart enough to figure out for myself whether I should trust you or not?"

"You're smarter than I am, Kate, but--"

"But with men, I'm too inexperienced?"

"Not that I could tell last night, no." There was that leering glance again, the one that made her want to shove reality back out of the kitchen door. "Hell no. But--"

"Then what exactly is my problem. What makes you think you have to warn me off, so I don't make the mistake of falling under your spell? I get it. You're a real person with your own agenda. I mean, you even have selfish motives for the work you do, just like everybody else. What was I thinking!"

Stephen studied his cold plate of perfectly prepared food.

"I don't do relationships well," he explained. "My work keeps people at a distance, but I still get to do them some good. Which is a step up from my parents, who spent their trust funds on themselves and didn't give a shit about anyone else. But, doing the caring, loving thing isn't my strong suite. Never will be."

And there it was--the connection she hadn't been able to put her finger on. The unspoken understanding she'd felt in Stephen, long before she'd let herself trust anything he said or did.

"Well, since my father beat the hell out of my mother, when he wasn't belittling her so she thought she was worthless without him--" Kate said, her voice rough. "--and since my mother hid the signs of their dysfunctional home life from everyone in town but me, and since I hid the whole thing myself, I guess I have my own reasons for pushing people away."

Stephen sat straighter in his chair.

"Kate--

"I don't have the first clue how to trust my feelings for anyone, either," she continued. She wasn't stopping until it was done. "Not even my brother, or the only man who pushed through my crap long enough to get me to marry him. So, I guess that makes me a closed-off, manipulative user, right along with you. Maybe you're the one who should be careful. Breakfast the morning after, with a serial one-night stand like me?" She tisk-tisked, as she stood and walked to the sink to scrape her food down the drain. "Not a wise move, counselor."

Stephen stepped behind her. He wrapped an arm around her waist and braced the other on the edge of the sink. Curled her into his warmth.

"We already established that you're smarter than I am," he whispered against the spot on her neck, just below her ear, that he'd discovered was ticklish. "And I'd bet money you can count the number of one night stands you've had on one hand. Not that I wouldn't take another night with you any way I could get it."

He turned her until their bodies aligned. She was close enough to want to kiss the beard stubble lining his jaw.

"So." She rubbed her palm across his chest--she'd discovered a few sensitive spots of her own.
"You're as bad a judge of playmates as I am, then?"

"I'm not playing." His hand covered hers. "And neither are you. But..."

"You're scared."

Strong, independent, successful men who could bend anything in their worlds to their will didn't get scared. But Stephen was.

"Of hurting you, yes." He pulled her fingers to his lips, kissed them, then let her hand drop to her side.

She lifted it right back to his mouth and began tracing his lips. Her breath caught as he sucked the tip of one finger between his lips.

"Or maybe," she offered, "you're trying to scare me away, so you get to control how much this hurts you when it's over?"

Stephen took a step back...

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Release Party--Two for the Prizes

Okay, the saying is Two for the Show, but I'm taking creative liscense because we're having so much fun...

Winners from yesterday and a new excerpt are below (a Lissa and Martin scene this time, as promised), but first a new party question to keep everyone hanging out and having a good time--and of course commenting, so you can be in the running for today's prizes (which I'm sprinkling in throughout the post, so enjoy the view ;o) ...

Reality TV--that's what a lot of my friends get together to watch on "party" night. I know, it sounds very tame, but we do have PR (Project Runway) and TC (Top Chef) night. I know I've asked this before, but so much keeps changing on the the tube...What do you and your friends watch the most? Are you tuned in to Tim Gunn's new fashion show? What about "What Not To Wear" or "How Do I Look?"

TV Dramas vs. SitComs--What's your fav. new show (Dirty, Sexy Money, anyone???) or is a drama more to your liking? Is there an "oldie but still goodie? you're still tuning in to watch? Is Grey's bumming you out now more than making you giggle???

Me? I'm actually getting back into The Unit this season--I think the writing and the drama/uniqueness of the plots is getting better...they seem to have hit their "mainstream" stride... Just about everything else, I have to wait for the DVDs to come up. I don't trust myself with TiVo, you understand. I'd never get anything done... Though I do see that PW is slated to start up again mid-November. Did anyone else catch that an outsted cotnestant is already griping on the Internet Gossip Rag blogs???
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Okay--yesterday's winners and an new excerpt...

Ruth, the Guess mini evening clutch is yours!!!

Julie, you get the great giveaway bag from RT, complete with promo items I snuck back home inside ;o)

And, because the covnersation was so lively yesterday... One of my prize decks of EC model cards and an Ellora's Cave book goes to... Amy S.!!!

Ladies, email me your mailing addresses, and I'll pack everything up for you today!! Gonna keep up with the mailings this time...scouts honor ;o)

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Today's XOXO purse/wallet combo (see the pucture above), another selection of books and a Borders Gift Certificate go to randomly selected commenters to today's post...so Party On and let us know your guiltiest TV pleasure!!!
---
Now, about Lissa and Martin's first romantic scene, as a running subplot from The Perfect Daughter through Because of a Boy...our truobled lovers have already met in BOAB and spatted a bit...actually a lot, because Martin's fighting his therapy and recovery and has walked away from everyone and everything he still wants so badly but is afraid he can't keep...and Lissa's not ready to let him go without a fight...

Martin is working out with his physical therapist, overdoing it of course, and not aware that Lissa is there watching as he crashes and burns because he's too frustrated to let his recovery (or their relationship) take its own course:


********

Martin positioned himself between the bars and braced his weight on his hands. Carmen stood to the side, spotting him.

"Just a few steps today," she cautioned. "You've pushed a bit too far already."

Ignoring her, he set off, tentatively sliding--sliding--his right foot forward, while loosening his hold on the bars and lifting his hands. Letting the right leg bear his weight, he inhaled and lifted the left off the ground. His right let promptly gave out, its muscles clenching in a spasm he barely felt, as the ground rushed up to meet him. He caught his weight on his arms. Carmen took as much of it as she could, while he struggled to get his legs back under him.

Every curse word he'd ever heard came tumbling out, one right after the other.

"Martin!" Suddenly, Lissa was supporting the side opposite Carmen. "Are you all right?"

"What the hell are you doing here!" His body leaned into hers, as if he had no say in the matter. And to make matters worse, the area immediately south of his waist responded the same as it had every other time he'd seen her since she arrived in Atlanta. "Can't you get it through you head, I don't want you here."

Clearly his body did, but that didn't mean he intended to do anything about it. Hell, he couldn't even put one foot in front of the other, even if Carmen had given him the all-clear to pursue his reawakened libido.

Just no swinging from the chandelier for a while, big boy she'd teased.

"Back on the bars," she said now. "I'll get your crutch."

His damn arms were weak as noodles as he fought to support his weight on his own.

"Get away from me," he growled at both women. "I'm fine."

Carmen must have been satisfied. She turned and retrieved his crutch, then headed for the side room where she'd massage the kinks out of his muscles on a low table he'd barely be able to roll off of once she was through.

"Five minutes, and your ass is mine again," she said as she went. "You're going to be stiff tomorrow, and your hip's already tight. You're not going anywhere tonight, until I've worked you over from head to toe."

And he wasn't going anywhere near her table until his raging hard-on was under control.

"You can't be here," he said to Lissa in as close to a civil tone as he could manage.

"Martin..." She felt so right beside him, still touching him.

It was bewitching. Terrifying. It made him want to throw his crutch away and lean on her instead. Forever.

Except, even with his manhood intact, he was still half the man she deserved.

"I..." He sighed. Time to cut to the chase. "I can't handle you being here, making me feel the things you do, when..."

"You don't like the way I make you feel?" She glanced down, then let her gaze slide back up his sweat-slicked body. "Wanna run that one by me again?"

"Yes, I'm hard." He clenched his jaw. "It seems all you have to do is walk in the room the last couple of days, and I want you."

She smirked and backed up.

"Be careful, Martin, or you might just turn my head."

"Fine, as long as I'm turning it away." He eased out from between the bars, and headed on his one-and-a-half good legs to finish the day's PT.

Lissa, of course, put her two bewitching legs to work and cut him off at the pass. Leggings... She was wearing black leggings beneath her coat and the oversized sweater that hugged her thighs and butt in a way that gave every muscle in his body even more reason to cramp.

"Damn it, get out of my way!" He'd meant to sound mean.

What came out was closer to begging.

"I've done that long enough." The fury rising in her expression was more than a warning. It was a promise. "I don't care how afraid you are of me or us or whatever you're feeling, I'm not going anywhere tonight, or any other night, until I damn well want to. And right now, I want to be in your way, more than I've wanted anything else in my life."

It wasn't a good idea, he might not be able to get up again, but he headed for the nearest bench and lowered himself down with a groan.

He couldn't bear being close to what he couldn't have, no matter how many times she offered him his dream come true.

It was Lissa's turn to sigh.

"Is it really possible?" She was standing in front of him.

"Is what possible?"

"That you're more afraid of me than you are of never having complete use of your body again?"
Martin leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He still saw her though. She'd always be in his mind, even after she'd given up and was gone.

"Anything's possible," he said.

Lissa's soft touch on his cheek had his eyes jerking open. Her touch trailed down his chest and the ancient muscle shirt he'd worn. Then those legging-clad legs he had nightly fantasies about were straddling him as she slowly, carefully lowered herself to his lap. His instant response jerked beneath her.

"The question is, why?" she purred.

"Why?" He gripped her waist, his hands filling with her sleek softness, his fingers tightening against his body's demand to sample more. "Because I don't have the strength to move you off me and walk away, not even for your own damn good. And screw sex. I can't be what you need outside the bedroom, either, and we both know it."

She rocked forward, her expression turning dreamy as she draped her arms around his neck.

"I know this feels wonderful." She lowered her head enough for her to lick the inner curve of his ear. "And I know your big, bad heart, and how much you're worried about hurting me, turns me on even more than your body does."

Her lips fluttered against his throat. His hands began to roam.

He'd touched her, held her, even made out with her back in Oakwood. But that had been forever ago, when he'd been carefully courting her and hiding the parts of himself he'd never wanted her to have to deal with. There was nothing careful about the need coursing through him. The drive to take her, to stake his claim, to make sure there would never be another man that could give her what she'd remember having with him.

He wanted to be that man for her, the one she couldn't leave behind, not in her mind. The way she'd always be the woman in his. No more lies. No more hiding. He wanted, needed, her soul.
The way he wanted to believe she needed his, shadows and all.

"Get away from me." He ordered his hands to stop their decent to the bottom nestled against his lap.

He dropped his arms to his side and opened his eyes to stare into her stunned ones.

"Why?" She didn't budge. "So you can be right? So you can limp away and console yourself, instead of dealing with the dirty work of living with what you want? You refuse to let yourself reach for happiness, Martin. That would mean trusting that you and I can handle the good stuff together, as well as whatever's bound to go wrong next."

A not-so-hushed cough was the only warning they got.

"Would you two mind postponing the good stuff?" Carmen wanted to know. "I've got dinner plans, and--"

"No problem." Lissa rocked forward and back again, then she slipped to her feet.

But she didn't back off. She just stood there, only an inch away. Martin's hands reached for her before he realized what he was doing. He clenched them. Pressed them against the bench. His chest accidentally brushed hers as he stood.

Like hell it had been an accident.

Her next breath took his away, his body was so sensitized to the feel of her against him. And she noticed.

She'd always noticed everything about him. About them.

"We're finishing this tonight," she promised.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Because of a Boy Release Party--One For the Money!!!

Hey friends and readers--it's that time again. Celebrate with me, as I say thank you to readers and fans for a wonderful year of support, and while we all party about the October 15th release of Book I in my Atlanta Heroes series, Because of a Boy.

If you've missed the last week or so of posts, click the Excerpts and Reviews links below, or check out my website Reviews page:

http://annawrites.com/reviews.shtml

We'll fast-forward to later in the story below--to Kate's (Martin Rhodes' sister from The Runaway Daughter and The Perfect Daughter) and Stephen's (Neal Cain's co-worker from The Prodigal's Return) first love romantic scene together--what better way to start the party ;o)

Okay, okay, prizes wouldn't be a bad way, either, so... Today, a lucky randomly selected blogger commenters who tell us his or her favorite way to party will win:


This great Guess mini evening clutch.



Another will receive my last tote given away at RT '07--a very cool bag that will come with promotional goodies...

I also have decks of card adorned with Ellora's Cave models and Borders gift certificates. Let's see how many commenters we get...maybe I won't be able to wait until tomorrow to give those away, too ;o)

So, tell us what party-on means to you. To me, it means hanging with folks who lift me up and make my work seem like a dream come true--folks like you ;o)

Okay, onward to Kate and Stephen's first romantic scene--a release party exclusive!!! Trust me when I say the tension between these two builds and builds from p. 1...

They're coming together to help Dillon now, and Stephen, the man who doesn't ask anyone permission for anything, is asking Kate if it's okay to pull her estranged brother into the picture...

Tomorrow...a much anticipated love scene between our troubled couple from The Perfect Daughter--Lissa Carter and Kate's brother Martin Rhodes ;o)

*******
"Would you leave Martin alone, if I asked you to?" She needed not to care so much what he said next, but her heart was suddenly racing.

"It would be a mistake." He smoothed her bangs out of her eyes. "I know things are strained between you and Martin, but I saw how much you two still care about each other. I find it hard to believe that your brother wouldn't help, if he knew you were this involved with the Digarros. But, yes, I'll back off and look for some other way, if that's what you need. I'll put a private investigator on it, and see what he can dig up. Just tell me which way you want me to go."

Kate blinked.

How many times had she told her ex she was sick and tired of him trying to take care of her?
She'd needed to be treated as an equal in their marriage, capable of deciding what was best for her, even if he didn't understand or agree. Robert hadn't been able to do that.

But Stephen, the ace litigator who knew how to masterfully play whatever angle served his purposes, was laying his cards on the table, and allowing her to choose if he played them or not.
He was saying our.

We.

She didn't do we.

"Kate?" Stephen asked

"I...I don't think Martin will agree to help," she heard herself say. "I'm not even sure what he could do..."

"But it's okay with you if I try?"

Kate nodded, only then realizing that Stephen's palm was cupping her cheek--which was wet again.

"I don't know what's wrong with me?" She tried to move away, but found she couldn't.

"It's hard for me, too." His face was closer. His thumb soothed across her cheekbone.

"What?" she whispered.

"This need I have to trust you." His expression hardened. His gaze dropped to her lips. "I'm not an easy man, Kate."

"No, you're not." She ran her tongue over her bottom lip, her heart rate galloping when he flinched and his eyes locked with hers once more.

There was heat there now, tempering the hardness into something sexually challenging. Something she suddenly needed more than she needed her rules about keeping a distance between her and anything that made her feel this much.

"But you trust me, anyway?" he asked.

It was a statement, not really a question.

"Yeah," she replied, feeling the truth settle deep, where nothing ever got to her anymore.

"Yeah," he whispered, a second before his lips sealed hers in a kiss so full of need, it demanded she respond.

As if she needed the incentive.

Get closer.

Feel more.

Make the ache inside stop.

Or make it worse. She didn't care which, as long as she kept feeling what they felt like together.

Together.

His tongue grazed her lips. Took advantage of her gasp to feather inside. When her own twisted around it, his body tensed. He cupped the back of her neck, asking silent permission. She angled her head, closed her eyes and deepened the kiss. Their groans mingled as he took complete control.

There was no other word for the way he devoured her. Ate at her lips with tiny nips of his teeth. Sipped her tongue into his mouth and suckled gently--then as her nails bit into his arms, more firmly, his hands rubbing down her back. Cupping her bottom. Sliding her closer to the edge of her chair, until her thighs were cradled between his.

She should be protesting. It was too fast. Anyone could come in at any moment. But he was the one to pull away first.

His hands rubbed gentle circles up her arms, leaving her shivering. His kiss gentled, his chest billowing in and out with the effort it took to back off. Kate clenched his forearms, not ready to let him go, and leaned into his next kiss, pressing for more. She swallowed the low, needy sound he made.

A crash in the hallway sent them springing apart, to stare at each other.

Stephen cleared his throat and he stood.

"So." He dug his hands into his coat pockets. "Um... Your brother. I'll try to speak with him this afternoon, if you're sure it's okay."

"He..." Kate stood herself. "I think he's at the academy every weekday. Um--"

The break room door opened. Marsha poked her head in.

"Robert's looking for you." She glanced back and forth between Kate and Stephen, as if she could feel the tension still crackling between them. "I told him you were busy with something important."

"My ex-husband. He's a surgeon here," Kate felt compelled to explain. She shook her head. As if Stephen cared. "Yes, it's okay with me if want to ask Martin for help. But I think you're wasting your time."

"And I think you're underestimating his feelings for you," Stephen countered. "After what I saw last night--"

"Let me know how it goes," she interrupted.

With a glare, she begged Marsha to keep quiet.

"I'll be in touch." Stephen stepped past Marsha and disappeared into the hall.

"Last night?" Marsha asked.

"It was nothing."

"Doesn't sound like nothing, if the man's already met the brother you haven't said boo to since he moved back to town."

"It's a long story." Kate fished her stethoscope out of her pocket and followed in Stephen's wake.


Marsha kept up.

"So, is it nothing?" she quipped. "Or is it a long story?"

Kate kept walking...

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blog Party Starts Monday!!!

Here are the pics I promised--goodies going out to Because of a Boy Release Party commenters next week. Lots of give aways, lots of fun and more excerpts and stuff you love ;o) Oh, and I've added one more review below--the response to the subplots and themes in this book is really blowing me away...

First, a sneak peak of what randomly selected commenters will win next week. Multiple winners every day--


The last of the RT '07 promo itmes I brought back, including amazing decks of cards with Eloras Cave cover models on them.








There are some books left--I'll be giving away a selection of them.








And of course there will be great purses--





And one final review--enjoy, and let me know what you think of BOAB, too! It should be in bookstores everywhere by Monday...

...Anna DeStefano’s BECAUSE OF A BOY is an emotional story that forces her characters to trust based on gut feeling, and this left this reader in tears more than once.

This story comes to readers at a time where America is at war with itself on what to do with illegal immigrants, and this story slants a whole new look into the lives who escape here for reasons most of us will never understand. Ms. DeStefano has taken a tale about a family facing deportation and other evils and made it a backdrop for a beautiful love story. While Kate and Stephen’s story may be a happily ever after love story, this reviewer was just as glad to see Manny and Dillon end their tale with an ending that beat the odds.

Anna DeStefano is an author already on this reader’s auto-buy list and she highly recommends finding the other novels by this author, as well as this one, you will not be let down, she writes a mighty tale filled with emotion.

--Anige, LovesRomanceAndMore.com

http://www.loveromancesandmore.com/Oct07/becauseofaboy_angie.htm

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Having fun yet?

That's what releases are all about, in the world of publishing. Readers having a blast with a new story--everyone wants that. I'm working through three--no, four--new stories in various stages of production right now, and watching everyone have a blast with Because of a Boy is a wonderful incentive to make something special of all the new characters and rocking story plots.

Why all the nature photos? Well, I love nature, and these pictures say thank you to me. I'm a wacky, creative nut...what are you gonna do??? Enjoy, and know this is what I feel like when I think of my online friends reading my work. Like the dawn and setting of a perfect day ;o)

Whatever your daily job, find your inspiration to make every new day the best, freshest work you've ever done. Love what you do and how it touches the people you do it for. That's the reality of why I write, I'm realizing. Knowing these stories touch you guys. You're the best, and you give back far more than you realize.

Okay--'nough of the touchy-feely stuff, right ;o) One more excerpt below, then you' ve got to go buy your own copy of the book. I'll pull specific scenes next week for the release party, but at least you'll have the last of the story "setup."

But before I go, thanks for coming out to chat, everyone who joined me at NovelTalk last night. Don't forget next week's blog release party and the LifetimeTV.com Romance B(u)y The Book guest blog on the 19th. I'm shipping the last of last month's blog prizes out today, and the NovelTalk winners will get their goodies as soon as I have their pony express details.

Oh, and I'm ePublished. Who knew! Check out these links:

Not sure if anyone's buying my "E" content, but it's cool to have it available... It's all cool today. My "thank you" day ;o)

Enjoy some more of BOAB:

******


"No word yet from the hospital?" Neal Cain asked from the doorway of Stephen's office.

The man's dangerous edge wasn't softened by the well-cut suits and crisply-ironed shirts he always wore to the office. Stephen's boss, the founder of the meekly-named Atlanta Legal Aid Center had done five years of hard time--entering the adult penal system as a seventeen-year-old--for a manslaughter conviction he copped to, because he'd felt responsible for his best friend's accidental death.

His choice had robbed Neal of the last of his childhood, and eight years with the people he'd left behind in the small southern town he'd grown up in. But the traumatic experience had sparked his passion for protecting vulnerable defendants from an often too-rigid legal system that had neither the time nor the resources to make sure everyone received the highest quality defense possible. Neal's mission since his early parole had been making sure the innocents he defended were safe from the horrors he'd survived.

As soon as Stephen had briefed him on the Digarro situation, Neal had asked to meet the distraught father, then green-lighted the case. Whatever time Stephen needed to spend on it. Nothing beat Neal's instincts with people, and his gut had told him the same thing as Stephen's--Digarro was hiding something, but he wasn't responsible for Dillon's injuries.

"Nothing official yet from the hospital." Stephen pushed back from the desk. He rubbed the back of his neck, massaging the knots that refused to completely untie themselves at the end of each day. "I got in to see the kid for a few minutes. He's pretty banged up. I can understand the hospital's concern."

"You starting to doubt the father?" Neal gave up his relaxed pose lounging against the door jamb, and stepped into the shadows of Stephen's office. It was hours past sunset. Only a desk lamp held back the darkness as Stephen replayed every fact he knew about the case, what he'd seen with his own eyes, and Kate Rhodes' certainty that Manny Digarro was a threat to his own child.

"No," he finally said. "No way is Manny responsible for his son's medical condition."

"But you don't believe his whole story." Neal sat. He was wicked smart and ruthless, responsible for the bulk of their behind the scenes work, since convicted felons technically couldn't practice law. He was a silent weapon, writing briefs and negotiating deals long before cases got to trial. Still, he read people better and faster than anyone Stephen had ever met, and he hadn't been wrong about a client yet.

"Digarro never touched his son." Stephen was sure of it. "But that green card he showed us..."

"Yeah," Neal agreed, "it's a forgery."

And now the Digarro kid was in the system, and the police were focused on the father, while the hospital ran their tests.

"How long do you think we've got?" Stephen asked.

"Before INS comes looking to join the discussion?"

"Before Digarro disappears from Atlanta for good." There had been a lot of fear in the man the last time Stephen had spoken with him.

Illegal or not, Manny Digarro was fighting to make a new start in this country for his son. Stephen would welcome the chance to help make it a legal one. There were ways to hold off the INS, until the right visas could be obtained. Loopholes to wrangle, giving the Digarros time to apply for legitimate immigration status, and then citizenship.

But deportation was the likeliest outcome, if INS got involved before Stephen was ready to negotiate. Dillon couldn't travel in his condition, but his abusive father might find himself on the next bus back over the border, then turned over to Colombian authorities to deal with. Manny had to know the danger he was in. He was nowhere to be found, at least not at the last shelter he and his son had stayed at. Digarro had disappeared as soon as he'd given Stephen that gift to take to Dillon--along with a father's promise that he would be back for his son, no matter how long they were separated.

"Manny's next move depends on what we hear from the hospital," Stephen reasoned. "If we're lucky, he'll wait long enough to be cleared of the abuse charges. But we won't have the test results for several days. At least that's what the nurses answering the phone on the pediatric floor are saying."

A rotating shift of nurses that so far hadn't included the willful, heart-wrenchingly protective Kate Rhodes.

"And if he's not cleared of the charges?" For Neal, cold, hard reality was the only way to do business. "If immigrations status is an issue, the Digarros are headed for a courtroom either way. You'll work your magic, we'll take our chances, but this one may not be winnable."

Stephen was Neal's top litigator--a pedigreed, trust-fund baby no one had seen coming. Underestimating him rarely happened anymore. He was too determined to help the under-privileged with the same passion as his boss. When he lost, he lost innocent lives to an unforgiving system, and he wasn't losing Dillon Digarro's father.

"We'll make it work," he said. "We've still got some time. If we don't hear anything by morning, I'll--"

"How many other cases do you have pending?" Neal asked.

He knew how many, of course. He knew what was written on every scrap of paper that circulated the office.

"No more than usual." Stephen shrugged.

"So, you're backed up two weeks out?"

The center's everyday caseload would have left the average lawyer drowning beneath mounds of briefs and pending motions, not to mention court appearances that ate entire days at a time.

"I'll handle it." Stephen always did.

"I know. You eat, sleep and breathe this job, the same as I used to," Neal conceded. He still beat even Stephen into the office most mornings, and was slaving away most evenings after Stephen headed home. "But if you're going to hunker down with the Digarro's, consider handing some of the everyday details over to the rest of the team. Let Kelly do your research. Give the junior associates a crack at some of your open cases."

"Yeah, sure," Stephen agreed as Neal stood and headed toward the deserted outer office.

Except Stephen didn't do teams, and they both knew it. Just like he never got sucked too far into a case or let relationships with clients get personal. He stayed in control. He got the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then he moved on.

So why couldn't he get the Digarro's off his mind? And why had confronting one feisty nurse thrown him so badly that morning?

Kate Rhodes' mixture of strength and vulnerability had been a surprise. Her genuine concern for her young patient had been too genuine for an impartial medical professional. That was her tell. Stephen's way to convince her to fork over Dillon's test results before the hospital got around to doing it, so he could handle things for Manny and move on.

Except the idea of playing the woman to get what he needed for his client, the way he'd played countless contacts in the past, was suddenly the last thing he could do.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Beautiful New Jersey

Typing away in the airport on my way home from a FABULOUS New Jersey RWA conference. It's warmer here than in Georgia right now...actually, it's freaking H-O-T. Take a look at my one and only picture from the weekend, and you'll agree, things are just about perfect in this lovely place ;o)

Yep, that's Bill Freeda, a romace cover model friend who showed for the book signing--a native Jersey boy who's always fun to see. I'm the tired lady standing beside him wearing no makeup because I'm working on my second conference in as many weeks. Bill, of course, is fresh as a daisy and lovely enough to hug that I remembered to pull out my camera and have a friend record the moment for my blog buddies! He'll be at RT again next year, and I hear tell there will even be a Romance Cover Model reunion...sigh...

I'm thrilled to report that Because of Boy once again sold like hotcakes. Romantic suspense seems to be a very good twist for my new Superromance venture. Can't wait to hear from readers as they get a chance to dive in. Harriette Klausner (a top online reviewer) has weighed in--and she likies:

"... BECAUSE OF A BOY is a fabulous look at health care for the homeless and for illegal immigrants as much as a contemporary romance. The story line is action-packed from the first encounter in the hospital between the lead couple and never slows down until the final altercation. Yet with all the non-stop action and the romantic subplot, Anne DeStefano provides a strong exposé on the lack of any health care for the homeless and limited at best for illegal immigrants (Hippocrates must be turning in his grave with some of the Draconian solutions to outlaw help).: --Hariette Klausner reviews

Wow--I LOVE writing about up-to-date topics and touch hearts and give you guys romance to gush over, all at the same time. And I promise, Remember Me, Atlanta Heroes book two, is just as exciting a romance. I'll give you a sneak peak during the blog release party, promise ;o)

But, more of Because of a Boy today... Thanks for letting me know you're enjoying it ;o) Here's more of Stephen Creighton--some of the last little bit of character setup before we run full speed into the action. Some of you will find Stephen and his boss Neal and theil legal aid center familiar--Neal was the hero of my award-winning The Prodigal's Return, and Stephen had a few cameo scenes in that book (too few...so I have him his own kick-ass story, lol!). It was a lot of fun to catch up with Neal and Jen ;o):

"No word yet from the hospital?" Neal Cain asked from the doorway of Stephen's office.

The man's dangerous edge wasn't softened by the well-cut suits and crisply-ironed shirts he always wore to the office. Stephen's boss, the founder of the meekly-named Atlanta Legal Aid Center had done five years of hard time--entering the adult penal system as a seventeen-year-old--for a manslaughter conviction he copped to, because he'd felt responsible for his best friend's accidental death.

His choice had robbed Neal of the last of his childhood, and eight years with the people he'd left behind in the small southern town he'd grown up in. But the traumatic experience had sparked his passion for protecting vulnerable defendants from an often too-rigid legal system that had neither the time nor the resources to make sure everyone received the highest quality defense possible. Neal's mission since his early parole had been making sure the innocents he defended were safe from the horrors he'd survived.

As soon as Stephen had briefed him on the Digarro situation, Neal had asked to meet the distraught father, then green-lighted the case. Whatever time Stephen needed to spend on it. Nothing beat Neal's instincts with people, and his gut had told him the same thing as Stephen's--Digarro was hiding something, but he wasn't responsible for Dillon's injuries.

"Nothing official yet from the hospital." Stephen pushed back from the desk. He rubbed the back of his neck, massaging the knots that refused to completely untie themselves at the end of each day. "I got in to see the kid for a few minutes. He's pretty banged up. I can understand the hospital's concern."

"You starting to doubt the father?" Neal gave up his relaxed pose lounging against the door jamb, and stepped into the shadows of Stephen's office. It was hours past sunset. Only a desk lamp held back the darkness as Stephen replayed every fact he knew about the case, what he'd seen with his own eyes, and Kate Rhodes' certainty that Manny Digarro was a threat to his own child.

"No," he finally said. "No way is Manny responsible for his son's medical condition."

"But you don't believe his whole story." Neal sat. He was wicked smart and ruthless, responsible for the bulk of their behind the scenes work, since convicted felons technically couldn't practice law. He was a silent weapon, writing briefs and negotiating deals long before cases got to trial. Still, he read people better and faster than anyone Stephen had ever met, and he hadn't been wrong about a client yet.

"Digarro never touched his son." Stephen was sure of it. "But that green card he showed us..."

"Yeah," Neal agreed, "it's a forgery."

And now the Digarro kid was in the system, and the police were focused on the father, while the hospital ran their tests.

"How long do you think we've got?" Stephen asked.

"Before INS comes looking to join the discussion?"

"Before Digarro disappears from Atlanta for good." There had been a lot of fear in the man the last time Stephen had spoken with him.

Illegal or not, Manny Digarro was fighting to make a new start in this country for his son. Stephen would welcome the chance to help make it a legal one. There were ways to hold off the INS, until the right visas could be obtained. Loopholes to wrangle, giving the Digarros time to apply for legitimate immigration status, and then citizenship.

But deportation was the likeliest outcome, if INS got involved before Stephen was ready to negotiate. Dillon couldn't travel in his condition, but his abusive father might find himself on the next bus back over the border, then turned over to Colombian authorities to deal with. Manny had to know the danger he was in. He was nowhere to be found, at least not at the last shelter he and his son had stayed at. Digarro had disappeared as soon as he'd given Stephen that gift to take to Dillon--along with a father's promise that he would be back for his son, no matter how long they were separated.

"Manny's next move depends on what we hear from the hospital," Stephen reasoned. "If we're lucky, he'll wait long enough to be cleared of the abuse charges. But we won't have the test results for several days. At least that's what the nurses answering the phone on the pediatric floor are saying."

A rotating shift of nurses that so far hadn't included the willful, heart-wrenchingly protective Kate Rhodes.

"And if he's not cleared of the charges?" For Neal, cold, hard reality was the only way to do business. "If immigrations status is an issue, the Digarros are headed for a courtroom either way. You'll work your magic, we'll take our chances, but this one may not be winnable."
Stephen was Neal's top litigator--a pedigreed, trust-fund baby no one had seen coming.

Underestimating him rarely happened anymore. He was too determined to help the under-privileged with the same passion as his boss. When he lost, he lost innocent lives to an unforgiving system, and he wasn't losing Dillon Digarro's father.

"We'll make it work," he said. "We've still got some time. If we don't hear anything by morning, I'll--"

"How many other cases do you have pending?" Neal asked.

He knew how many, of course. He knew what was written on every scrap of paper that circulated the office.

"No more than usual." Stephen shrugged.

"So, you're backed up two weeks out?"

The center's everyday caseload would have left the average lawyer drowning beneath mounds of briefs and pending motions, not to mention court appearances that ate entire days at a time.
"I'll handle it." Stephen always did.

"I know. You eat, sleep and breathe this job, the same as I used to," Neal conceded. He still beat even Stephen into the office most mornings, and was slaving away most evenings after Stephen headed home. "But if you're going to hunker down with the Digarro's, consider handing some of the everyday details over to the rest of the team. Let Kelly do your research. Give the junior associates a crack at some of your open cases."

"Yeah, sure," Stephen agreed as Neal stood and headed toward the deserted outer office.

Except Stephen didn't do teams, and they both knew it. Just like he never got sucked too far into a case or let relationships with clients get personal. He stayed in control. He got the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then he moved on.

So why couldn't he get the Digarro's off his mind? And why had confronting one feisty nurse thrown him so badly that morning?

Kate Rhodes' mixture of strength and vulnerability had been a surprise. Her genuine concern for her young patient had been too genuine for an impartial medical professional. That was her tell. Stephen's way to convince her to fork over Dillon's test results before the hospital got around to doing it, so he could handle things for Manny and move on.

So why was the idea of playing the woman to get what he needed for his client, the way he'd played countless contacts in the past, suddenly so distasteful?

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