DUCK CHAT: Get to Know Kylie Brant!Friday, September 11, 2009 10:00
So glad you could make it back to Duck Chat! Welcome!
Today Kylie Brant is here, so pull up a chair and have some fun!
Kylie began writing in 1990 and in 1992 her first book was published. Now twenty-five or so books later, her backlist is full of Silhouette Intimate Moments and more recently books with Berkley. Today she’s going to talk about her latest trilogy, Mindhunters, plus a few of her other books.
Kylie was born and raised in Iowa, where she still lives today with her husband. They enjoy traveling quite a bit to get away from Iowa winters and visit their children and grandchildren. She loves to read, of course, garden, and exercise. Being an elementary special education teacher, Kylie works with students who have learning and behavior problems.
If you leave a meaningful comment or question for Kylie, we’ll put you in the running for a copy of Waking Nightmare, the first book in her Mindhunters trilogy. If you’re an international reader, she’ll gladly send you an e-copy of the book. Now let’s chat!
DUCK CHAT: Kylie, the exciting news for you is your Mindhunters with Berkely trilogy which releases this month, then also in October and November. First tell us about the trilogy as a whole and then well talk about each book.
KYLIE BRANT: The Mindhunters is the series names. It’s the nickname of a private forensics agency headed by the legendary Adam Raiker, a former profiler for the FBI. It includes some of the best criminologists in the country, and they are hired to assist law enforcement on particularly puzzling and high profile crimes.
DC: Did the trilogy evolve as you originally envisioned it?
KB: It was sort of difficult to know for sure if there would be a trilogy! I wrote the first book on spec and hoped they’d buy the proposals for the other two, as well. Berkley did offer on all three books. But by the time I got to book 3 my vision for it had changed drastically. The character names and occupations were different and even the conflict between the hero and heroine wasn’t the same.
DC: If you could retire any question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
KB: “Are all those love scenes from personal experience?”
“No, but the murder scenes are…”
DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
KB: Always. I’m not a plotter at all and I like to be surprised by my characters. When the dialogue just starts to flow…that is truly a magical writing day!
DC: The first book in the trilogy is Waking Nightmare. Would you tell our readers about Ryne and Abby and what to expect in their book?
KB: Abby Phillips is a forensics profiler. Savannah detective Ryne Robel is not happy when he’s assigned to his task force after he requested another investigator. He makes it obvious that he doesn’t think she can offer anything to their hunt for a vicious serial rapist. But it’s Abbie who determines the suspect’s method for selecting his victim–he learns their deepest fear and then forces them to live it.
The chemistry between Abbie and Ryne ignites as they track the elusive suspect. But he’s closer than they think. And they become the newest focus of his horrifying obsession.
Excerpt from Waking Nightmare:
“I’m never going to get used to this weather.” Ryne slid Abbie a glance as he backed the car out of the slot. “How do you stand wearing long sleeves like that in the middle of summer?”
“Superior genes.” Ignoring his snort, she spilled the contents from the file he’d given her onto her lap. Flipping through the neatly arranged photos and reports, she noted they were sorted chronologically beginning with the first incident reported, three months earlier.
She looked at the detective. “So if this latest victim turns out to be related to the others, she’ll be the. . .what? Fourth?”
Ryne pulled to a stop at a stoplight. “That’s right. And she’s almost certainly related. He’s injecting them with something prior to the attacks, and they all describe the same effects. It turns the victims’ memories to mush, which means they haven’t been able to give us squat when it comes to details about the attacker. From the descriptions they give, it also does something to intensify sensation.”
“Maybe to increase the pain from the torture,” she murmured, struck by a thought. If that were the actual intent, rather than just hazing the memory or incapacitating the victim, it would be in keeping with a sadistic rapist.
The hair on the nape of her neck suddenly prickled, and it wasn’t due to the tepid air blasting from the air conditioning vents. The atmosphere in the vehicle had gone charged. She slanted a look at Ryne, noted the muscle working in his jaw.
“What do you know about the torture?”
Feeling like she was stepping on quick sand, she said, “Commander Dixon told me a little about the cases when we discussed my joining the task force.”
“On the phone yesterday afternoon.”
The smile that crossed his lips then was chilly and completely devoid of humor. He reached for a pair of sunglasses secured to the visor, flipped them open and settled them on his nose.
Irritation coursed through her. “Something about that amuses you?”
“Yeah, it does. Considering the fact that the last time I asked Dixon for another investigator—“ She didn’t miss the inflection he gave the last word. “—was yesterday morning, I guess you could say it’s funny as hell.”
Abbie stifled the retort that rose to her lips. She was more familiar than she’d like with the ego massage necessary in these situations, though she’d never develop a fondness for the need. “Look, let’s cut through the unpleasantries. I have no intention of muscling in on your case. Since I was hired by Dixon, I have to provide him with whatever information he requests of me. But my role is first and foremost as assistance to you.”
His silence, she supposed, was a response of sorts. Just not the one she wanted. Her annoyance deepened. According to Commander Dixon, Robel was some sort of hotshot detective, some very big deal from–Philadelphia? New York? Some place north, anyway. But as far as she could tell he was just another macho jerk, of a type she was all too familiar with. Law enforcement was full of them. Departments could mandate so-called sensitivity training, but it didn’t necessarily change chauvinistic attitudes. It just drove them deeper below the surface.
Abbie studied his chiseled profile. No doubt she was supposed to crumple in the face of his displeasure. He’d be the sort of man to appeal to most women, she supposed, if they liked the lean, lethal, surly type. His short cropped hair was brown, his eyes behind the glasses an Artic shade of blue. His jaw was hard, as if braced for a punch. Given his personality, she’d be willing to bet he’d caught more than his share of them. He wasn’t particularly tall, maybe five foot ten, but he radiated authority. He was probably used to turning his commanding presence on women and melting them into subservience.
One corner of her mouth pulled up wryly as she turned back to the file in her lap. There had been a time when it would have produced just that result with her. Fortunately, that time was in the very remote past.
Ignoring him for the moment, she pored over the police reports, skipping over the complainants names to the blocks of texts that detailed the location, offense, MO, victim and suspect information. “I assume you’re using a state crime lab. What have the tox screens shown?” she asked, without looking up.
At first she thought he wasn’t going to answer. Finally he said, “GBI’s Coastal Regional Crime Lab is here in Savannah. The toxicologist hasn’t found anything definitive, and he’s tested for nearly two-dozen of the more common substances. Reports on the first three victims showed trace amounts of Ectasy in their blood. All victims deny being users, and the toxicologist suspects that it was mixed in controlled amounts to make a new compound.”
She did look up then, her interest piqued. Use of an unfamiliar narcotic agent in the assaults might be their best lead in the case. Even without a sample, it told them something about the unknown subject.
“Same torture methods?”
He shook his head. “The first victim he covered with a plastic bag and repeatedly suffocated and revived. The next he carved up pretty bad. Looked like he was trying to cut her face off. Another he worked over with pliers and a hammer.”
“It’s unusual to switch routines like that,” Abbie mused. “Some rapists might experiment at first, perfect their technique, but if you’ve got no trace evidence it doesn’t sound like this guy is a novice.”
“He’s not.” Robel turned down a residential street. “He’s been doing this a long time. Maybe he’s escalating now. Maybe it takes more and more for him to get his jollies.”
It was possible. For serial offenders, increasing the challenge also intensified their excitement. With that in mind, she asked, “Are there any uncleared homicides in the vicinity that share similarities to the rapes?”
He looked at her, but she couldn’t guess what he was thinking with the glasses shielding his eyes. “Why?”
“He had to start somewhere.” Abbie looked out the window at the row of small neat houses dotting the street. “A guy like this doesn’t get to be an expert all at once.” She turned back to Robel, found him still surveying her. “Maybe he went too far once and accidentally killed his victim. Or something could have gone wrong and he had to kill one who could identify him.”
“Good thought.” The words might have sounded like a compliment if they hadn’t been uttered so grudgingly. “We checked that. Also looked at burglaries. Nothing panned out.” But her remark seemed to have splintered the ice between them.
“I’m not surprised the burglary angle didn’t turn up anything. This isn’t an opportunity rapist. Sounds like he goes in very prepared, very organized. His intent is the rape itself, at least the ritual he’s made of the act.”
“I worked narcotics, undercover. Did a stint in burglary, a longer one in homicide.” He pulled to a stop before a pale blue bungalow with an attached carport. Only one vehicle was in the drive. “I can understand the motivations of those crimes. Greed, jealousy, anger.” Switching off the car, he removed the sunglasses, and slid them back into their spot on the visor. “But I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around rapists. I know what it takes to catch them. I just don’t pretend to understand why they do it.”
Abbie felt herself thawing toward him a little. “Well, if we figure out what’s motivating this guy, we’ll be well on our way toward nailing him.”
“I guess that’s your job.” Robel opened his door and stepped out into the street, reaching back inside the vehicle to retrieve his jacket. “You get in his head and point us in the right direction. That’s what Dixon had in mind, isn’t it?” He slammed the door, shrugging into his suit coat as he rounded the hood of the car.
Abbie opened her door, was immediately blasted by the mid-day heat. The rancor in his words had been barely discernible, but it was there. So she didn’t bother telling him that getting inside the rapist’s head was exactly what she planned on.
It was, in fact, all too familiar territory. She’d spent more years than she’d like to recall doing precisely that.
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
KB: Are you kidding With five kids of my own and 30 years experience teaching? They don’t stand a chance against me! I do give them a great deal of leeway, though. As I said, I like being surprised and I enjoy letting my characters tell me the story.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
KB: Pretty much anything Breathing, LOL! I tend to require a looming deadline to acquire discipline.
I must say, my husband does everything in his power to distract me, though. If it’s a nice day he’s like a hyperactive three year old coming up with plans that will take us out of the house. I have to be firm
DC: Next is Waking Evil. Would you tell our readers about this book?
KB: Ramsey Clark is hired by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to assist in the investigation of a young woman’s murder in rural Tennessee. Ramsey is interested only in evidence. But famed parapsychologist Devlin Stryker insists on filling her head with superstition and stories about a century old curse on the town. She puts little stock in the stories until a second murder rocks the town. And Ramsey begins to wonder if a killer is playing on everyone’s fears, or if a prophecy is coming true, one victim at a time.
The helicopter landed in the clearing with a bump, bounced once, before settling on the ground again for good. Ramsey Clark shouted her thanks to the pilot, shoved open the door and jumped lightly to the ground, her lone bag slung over one shoulder. She ran in a crouch to avoid the rotors, heard the whop-whop-whop behind her indicating the pilot taking off.
She scanned the cluster of four people waiting nearby as she jogged toward them. The three men wearing suits each held a hand over his tie to prevent them from dancing in the breeze generated by the chopper’s rotors. “Director Jeffries.” The hand she offered was engulfed in the older man’s pawlike grip and squeezed until she had to hide a wince. The chief of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation hadn’t changed much in the years since she’d left its ranks. His craggy face might be a little ruddier. His mop of white hair a bit shorter. But his six-foot frame was just as straight, just as firm as ever.
“Good to see you again, Clark. I hear you’ve been making quite a name for yourself with Raiker Forensics.”
Since the director wasn’t prone to flattery, and since he could only have heard it from Adam Raiker himself, Ramsey allowed herself to feel a small glow of satisfaction. “Thank you, sir. I think I’ve learned a lot.”
Jeffries turned to the two men flanking him. “TBI agents Glenn Matthews and Warden Powell. You’ll be assigned to their team. If you need more manpower give me a holler and I’ll talk to the boss.”
Ramsey nodded her appreciation. Jeffries had no superior at TBI so they were being given carte blanche. Raiker had told her to expect as much.
The director turned to the man in the sheriff’s uniform on her right. “I believe you know Sheriff Rollings.”
Frowning, she was about to deny it. Ramsey knew no one in Buffalo Springs, Tennessee. But the sheriff was taking off his hat and recognition struck her. “Mark Rollings?” She shook her former colleague’s hand with a sense of déjà vu. “I didn’t even know you’d left TBI.”
“Couple years ago now. Didn’t even know I was interested in moving back home until the position of sheriff was open.” Rollings’s pleasantly homely face was somber. “Have to say, tonight’s the first time I’ve regretted it.”
“I assume you’ve looked at the case file.”
Ramsey’s attention shifted back to Jeffries at the question. At her nod, he went on. “Rollings has his hands full here calming the local hysteria, and after a week we aren’t progressing fast enough to suit the governor’s office. The area is attracting every national media team in the country, and the coverage is playing hell with his tourism industry expansion plans.” The director’s voice was heavy with irony.
“I understand.” And she did. Being brought in as a special consultant to the TBI pacified a politically motivated governor and diminished some of the scrutiny that would follow the department throughout the investigation. If the case drew to a quick close, the TBI reaped the positive press. If it didn’t. . . The alternative didn’t bother her. Ramsey had served as shit deflector many times in the past in her capacity as forensic consultant. If the investigation grew lengthy or remained unsolved, she would be served as sacrificial lamb to the clamoring public. Or to the state attorney’s office, if someone there decided to lay the blame on Jeffries.
“Raiker promised a mobile lab.”
“It’ll be here tomorrow,” she promised the director. “But for certain types of evidence we may need access to the TBI facility on an expedited basis.”
“We’ll try to speed any tests through the Knoxville Regional Lab.” Jeffries beetled his brows. “Just help solve this thing, Clark. It’s causing a crapstorm and I don’t want a full fledged shit tornado on my hands.”
Ramsey smiled. She’d always appreciated Jeffries’ plainspeak. “I’ll do my best, sir.”
“Can’t recall a time that wasn’t good enough for me.” Clearly finished, he turned to his agents. “I’ll expected daily updates. And keep me abreast of any major developments.” Without waiting for the men’s nods he turned and strode briskly toward a road about a quarter mile in the distance. Ramsey could make out two vehicles parked alongside it.
“I’m guessing you’d like to get on into town, drop your stuff off in the room we lined up for you,” Mark was saying.
Ramsey shook her head. “I want to see the crime scene first.” Since diplomacy was often an afterthought for her, she added belatedly, “If that’s okay.”
The sheriff raised a shoulder. “It’s all right with me. What about you fellas? Want to come along?”
The two agents looked at each other and Powell shook his head. “We’ll head back into town.” He shifted his gaze to Ramsey. “We’re set up in the local motel on the outskirts of town. One room serves as our office. We got you a room there, too when Jeffries told us you were coming.”
And by not so much as a flicker of expression did he reveal his opinion on her being brought in on the case, Ramsey noted shrewdly. She’d have to tread carefully there, with both agents, until she was certain how her presence here affected them.
“I’ll check in with you when I get to town and you can bring me up to date on your notes so far.”
When the agents headed in the same direction Jeffries had gone, she turned to Rollings.
“Let me get that for you.” He reached for her bag, but she deflected the gesture.
“I’ve got it, thanks.” She fell into step beside him as they walked toward the tan jeep emblazoned with Spring County Sheriff in black lettering on a green background. “Tell me about the case.”
“Same ol’ Ramsey.” A corner of Rollings’s mouth pulled up. “Always with the small talk. Chatter chatter chatter.” His voice hitched up a notch as he launched into a pretend conversation. ‘Well, I’m just fine, Ms. Clark. And how have you been? How’s that new job of yours? The wife? Oh, she’s fine, too. Still adjustin’ to small town life, but the two little ones keep her pretty busy. What? You’d like to see pictures? Well, it just so happens I have a couple in my wallet. Got them taken at the local Wal-Mart just last month. . . .”
“I can play the game if I need to,” she replied, only half truthfully. “Didn’t figure I needed to with you.”
He stopped at the vehicle, his hand on the handle of the driver’s door, his face serious again. “No, you don’t gotta with me. Figure we go far ‘nough back that we can just pick up. But you’ll find you’ll get further with some folks in these parts if you put forth the effort. I know you never had much patience for mindless chitchat, but the pace is slower ‘round here.”
She was more familiar than he knew with the unwritten customs and tradition demanded by polite society in the rural south. Had, in fact, spent her adult life scrubbing away most of those memories.
Rather than tell him that, she gave him a nod across the roof of the car. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She opened the back door and tossed her bag on the seat behind the wire mesh used to separate prisoners from the law enforcement personnel. Then she slid into the front passenger seat.
He folded his tall lanky form inside and started up the Jeep while she was buckling in. Several minutes later he abruptly pulled off the road and began driving across a field. After the first couple of jolts, Ramsey braced herself with one hand on the dash and the other on the roof of the car.
“Sorry.” Rollings’s lean frame seemed to move seamlessly with each jar and bump. “It’d take half an hour for us to get there by road. The kids that found the body hiked across through the woods on the other side, but going in from this direction will be an easier walk, though I’m told it takes longer. Brought the body out this way.”
“Has the victim been ID’d yet?”
“Nope. White female, between the age of eighteen and twenty-four. Found nude so no help with the clothing.” A muscle jumped in Mark’s jaw. “Not from these parts, is all I know. No hits from National Missing Persons database, at least not yet.”
So a Jane Doe, at least for now. Ramsey felt a stab of sympathy for the unknown woman. She’d died alone and away from home. Was that worse than being murdered in familiar surroundings? Somehow it seemed so.
“How valuable have the wits been?”
“What, the kids?” Mark shot her a look. “Told us what they know, which didn’t turn out to be much. Both scared silly, of course. Spouting nonsense about red mist and screaming and dancing lights. . .tell you what I think.” The Jeep hit a rut with a bone jarring bounce that rattled Ramsey’s teeth. “I think half is fueled by that blasted legend folks ‘round here insist on feeding regularly.”
“Legend?” The case file contained only facts of the case. But when facts were in short supply, other details took on more importance.
Rollings face looked pained. “Guess you’ll be hearing it from ‘bout every person you talk to in town. I know I can count of you, out of anyone, not to be distracted by nonsense.” Still, it seemed to take him a few moments to choose his words. Or maybe he was saving his strength for wrestling the Jeep. Beneath the velvety spread of pasture, the terrain was wicked.
“We’ve got something of a local phenomena here called the Red Mist. Someone else could explain it better but it’s caused by some sort of reaction from some plants ‘round here coming in contact with iron oxide in stagnant water, coupled with contaminants in the air. . .once every blue moon the fog in low lying areas takes on a red tinge for a day or two. Nothing magical about it of course, ‘cept the way it makes folks ‘round here take leave of their senses.”
“So the kids that found the body saw this red mist?”
“That’s what they’re saying. And I do have others in these parts that claim they saw the same thing, so might’ve been true. But local legend has it that whenever the red mist appears, death follows.”
The Jeep hit a rut then that had Ramsey rapping her head smartly on the ceiling of the vehicle. With a grim smile, she repositioned herself more securely in her seat and waited for her internal organs to settle back into place. Then she shot the man beside her a look. “Well, all nonsense aside, Sheriff, so far it appears your local legend is more grounded in facts than you want to admit.”
Rollings brought the Jeep to a halt a few hundred yards shy of the first copse of trees. “Don’t even joke about that,” he advised grimly. “My office is spending too much of our time dealing with hysterical locals who set too much store by superstitious hogwash. The truth is, this is a quiet place. The crime we do have tends to be drunk and disorderlies after payday at the lumber mill, or the occasional domestic dispute. Once in a while we have a fire, or a bad accident to respond to. But violent crime is a stranger here. And when it appears, people don’t understand it. They get scared, and when folks get scared they search for meaning. This legend is just their way of getting a handle on how bad things can happen near their town.”
Ramsey got out of the car and stretched, avoiding, as long as possible, having to look at that expanse of woods ahead of them. “That’s down right philosophical, Mark. Didn’t learn that in the psych courses at TBI.”
He reached back into the car for the shotgun mounted above the dash, and straightened to shut the door, a ghost of a smile playing across his mouth. “You’re right there. I understand these people. Lived here most of my life. I know how they think. How they react. Don’t always agree with ‘em. But I can usually figure where they’re coming from.”
They headed for the woods, and Ramsey could feel her palms start to dampen. Her heart began to thud, the physical reaction annoying her. It was just trees, for godsakes. Each nothing but a mass of carbon dioxide. And she’d mastered this ridiculous fear—she had—years ago.
Deliberately, she quickened her step. “You hoping to go hunting while we’re here?” She cocked her head at the shotgun he carried.
“Not much of a hunter. But we do have some wildlife in these parts. Those kids were downright stupid to come in here at night. There’s feral pigs in these woods. An occasional bobcat. Seen enough copperheads around in my time to keep me wary.”
When her legs wanted to falter at his words, she kept them moving steadily forward. Felt the first cool shadows from the trees overhead slick over her skin like a demon’s kiss.
“Wish I could tell you there was much of a crime scene,” Mark was saying as he walked alongside her. “But apparently a bunch of kids dared eachother to come into the woods and bring back proof they’d been here. First ones back to town got bragging rights, I ‘spect. So they paired off and trooped out in this direction. Shortly after the two found the victim, a few other kids arrived on the scene. And then the whole thing became one big clusterfuck because we had tracks and prints all over the damn place.”
Ramsey felt a familiar surge of impatience. No one liked to have the scene contaminated but one of the few downsides to her job with Raiker Forensics was that she was rarely called to a fresh crime scene. By the time their services were requested, the crime could be days, or weeks old. She had to satisfy herself with case files, pictures of the scene and notes taken by the local law enforcement.
“The way Jeffries talked, you’ve gotten more than your share of unwanted media attention.” They stepped deeper into the woods now and the trees seemed to close in, sucking them in to shadowy interior. She resisted the urge to wipe her dampening palms on her pants leg. “Seems odd for national news to be interested in a homicide in rural Tennessee.”
“I suspect some local nutjob tipped them off. It’s the legend again.” Mark’s face was shiny with perspiration, but Ramsey was chilled. She would be until they stepped back out into the daylight again. “Every two or three decades there’s this Red Mist phenomena and a couple times in the past there’s been a homicide around the same time. The two circumstances get linked, and all of a sudden we have people jabbering about secret spells and century old curses and what have you.”
She made a noncommittal sound. Part of her attention was keeping a wary eye out for those copperheads he’d mentioned so matter-of-factly. But despite her impatience with idle chitchat, she was interested in all the details that would have been missing from the dried police-speak accounting of facts pertinent to the case so far. Evidence was in short supply. It was people who would solve this case. People who’d seen something. Knew something. The tiniest bit of information could end up being key to the homicide. And with no murder weapon and no suspects and little trace evidence, she’d take all the information she could get.
“We’re still trying to sort out tracks from the kids at the scene with any that may have been there earlier.”
“And you’ve eliminated each of the kids as the possible killer?”
“Shoot, Ramsey these kids are sixteen, seventeen years old!”
When she merely looked at him, brows raised, he had the grace to look abashed. “Yeah, I know what you’ve seen in your career. I’ve seen the same. But ‘round here we don’t have kids with the conscience of wild dogs. They all alibi each other for up to thirty minutes before the body’s discovery. Witnesses place the lot of them at Sody’s parking lot for the same time. Pretty unlikely a couple hightailed it into the woods, committed murder and dumped the body knowing more kids would be traipsing in any minute.”
Unlikely, yes. Impossible, no. But Ramsey kept her thoughts to herself. She was more anxious than ever to review all the notes on the case and hear what Agents Powell and Matthews had to say on the subject.
There was a rustle in the underbrush to her right, but it didn’t get her blood racing. No, that feat was accomplished by the trees themselves, looming like sinister sentinels above her. Hemming her in with their close proximity. She rubbed at her arms, where goose flesh prickled and shoved at the mental door of her mind to lock those memories away.
Some would have found the scene charming, with sun dappling the forest floor with brilliant slants of light, spearing through the shadow. They wouldn’t look at the scene and see danger behind every tree trunk. Wouldn’t feel terror lurking behind. Horror ahead.
The trail narrowed, forcing her to follow Rollings single file. “Whose property are we on?”
“Most of it belongs to the county. We’ve got little parcels that butt up against the land of property owners but we’re standing on county ground right now.” They walked in silence another fifteen minutes and Ramsey wondered anew at any kids foolish enough to make this trek at night.
Sixteen or seventeen, Mark had said they were. She knew firsthand just how naïve kids that age could be. How easily fooled. And how quickly things could go very wrong.
One moment they were deep in the forest the next they walked out into a clearing with a large pond. It was ringed with towering pines and massive oaks, their branches dripping with Spanish moss and curling vines. The water looked boggy at the edge closest to them, with clumps of rushes and wild grasses interspersed between the trees.
Ramsey’s gaze was drawn immediately to the crime scene tape still fluttering from the wooden stakes hammered into the ground. A plastic evidence marker poked partway out of the trampled weeds near the pond, overlooked by the investigators when they’d packed up.
And in the center of that tape, crouched at the water’s edge was a man repeatedly dunking something into the water and then holding it up to examine it before repeating the action yet again. A few yards away a jumble of equipment was piled on the ground.
She eyed Rollings. “One of yours?”
The sheriff looked pained as he shook his head. “Now, Ramsey,” he started, as she turned toward the stranger. “Better let me handle this.” But she was already striding away. “Hey. Hey!”
The man raised a hand in a lazy salute, but it was clear he was much more interested in the reading on the instrument he held than he was in her. Ramsey waited until he’d lowered the tool to jot a notation down in the notebook open on his lap before he looked up, shot her a lazy grin. “Afternoon, ma’am.”
“Interesting thing about that yellow tape all around you,” she said with mock politeness. “It’s actually meant to keep people out of a crime scene, not invite them inside it.”
The sun at her back had the man squinting a bit at her, but the smile never left his face. And it was, for a man, an extraordinarily attractive face. His jaw was long and lean, his eyes a bright laser blue. The golden shade of his hair was usually found only on the very young or the very determined. Someone had broken his nose for him, and the slight bump in it was the only imperfection in a demeanor that was otherwise almost too flawless. Ramsey disliked him on sight just on principal.
“Well, fact is, ma’am, this isn’t an active crime scene anymore. Hey, Mark.” He called a friendly greeting to the man behind her. “Kendra May know you’re out walking pretty girls around the woods?”
“Dev. Thought you’d be finished up here by now.”
Ramsey caught the sheepish note in Rollings’s voice and arched a brow at him. The sheriff intercepted it and followed up with an introduction. “Ramsey Clark, this is my cousin, Devlin Stryker. He’s uh. . .just running some tests.”
“Your cousin,” she repeated carefully. “And does your cousin work for the department? If so, in what capacity?”
Rollings’s face reddened a little. “No. He’s a. . .well, he’s sort of a scientist, you could say.”
Stryker rose in one lithe motion and made his way carefully back to the rest of his belongings, which included, she noted, a large duffel bag with unfamiliar looking instruments strewn around it; a couple cameras, a night vision light source and. . .she blinked once. . .a neatly rolled up sleeping bag.
“Odd place to go camping.”
“Can’t say I used the sleeping bag much last night.” He unzipped the duffel and began placing his things inside it. “Too worried about snakes. I thought I’d stick around a while to compare last night’s readings with some from today.”
With quick neat movements he placed everything but the sleeping bag in the duffle and zipped it, standing up to sling its strap over his shoulder. “I’m done here for now, though.”
“Done with what, exactly?”
Devlin sent her an easy smile that carried just enough charm to have her defenses slamming firmly into place. “Well, let’s see. I used a thermal scanner to measure temperature changes. An EMF meter to guage electromagnetic fields. An ion detector to calculate the presence of negative ions. Then there’s the guassometer, which. . .”
Comprehension warring with disbelief, Ramsey swung back to face Rollings, her voice incredulous. “A ghosthunter? Are you kidding me? You let some paranormal quack compromise the crime scene?”
KB: I loved Born in Secret, which had a young Pierce Brosnan lookalike on it! Smokin’ hot!
And Waking Nightmare is my favorite of the single titles. I think they did an excellent job capturing the tone of the trilogy.
KB: That would be Friday’s Child. It has a couple on it watching a young girl play on a jungle gym. But with all the bars criss-crossing over it, it looks like the couple is in prison!
DC: Waking the Dead rounds out the trilogy in November. Would you give us a look into the hero and heroine and tell us about their story?
KB: This is the story that had changed so much by the time I got to writing it! Caitlin Fleming knows bones. The former forensic anthropologist–turned investigator is called in to Oregon when seven sets of skeletal remains are discovered in an out of the way cave. She needs wilderness guide Zach Sharper for one reason only–to help her find her way through the Willamette Forest in search for clues. But as they draw closer to the killer, he’s determined to end their search…and the two on his trail.
Excerpt from Waking the Dead:
Seven stainless steel gurneys were lined up in the morgue, each occupied by a partially assembled skeleton and a large garbage bag. The bones gleamed under the florescent lights. An eighth gurney was heaped with the stray bones that had been found lying separately. Caitlin Fleming’s first thought was that the extra bones looked forlorn. Deprived of their dignity, until they could be rejoined to form the remnant of the person they’d once belonged to.
Her second thought was that without the skulls, the chances of identifying those persons decreased dramatically.
“What do you think?” Sheriff Marin Andrews demanded. Her booted feet echoed heavily as she walked from one gurney to the next. “The bones were pretty much loose in the bags, but the medical examiner made an attempt to re-assemble them. We brought out the bones scattered on the bottom of the cave floor in a separate body bag. Recovery operation was a bitch, I’m telling you. The cave branches off from the original vein, gets wider and higher. Then it drops off to a steep chamber about seven feet down. These were probably dumped from above into that chamber.”
Cait barely restrained a wince as she thought of what the recovery process might have entailed. And what could have been destroyed or overlooked. “I think I’ll want to see the cave.”
Andrews’s expression first revealed shock, then amusement. “Fortunately for you, that won’t be necessary. It’s on the face of Castle Rock and not too accessible. Either you climb or rappel down over the edge, or you scale upwards nearly eight hundred feet. There are trails, of course, but they could be tricky for an inexperienced climber. We don’t need an injury on our hands before we even get started.”
“I’m not inexperienced.” Cait knew exactly what the sheriff saw when she looked at her. It was, after all, the appearance she’d cultivated for well over a decade. But her days on the runways of New York, Milan and Paris were long behind her. She was most comfortable these days in a room exactly like this one or hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “I’ll want to see the cave,” she repeated firmly.
The other woman shrugged. She wasn’t much older than Cait, maybe thirty-five or so. Her looks were nondescript. A sturdy build filling out a beige uniform. Close cropped light brown hair and hazel eyes. But Cait knew better than anyone that appearances could be deceiving. Marin Andrews had a reputation for being an excellent, if ambitious cop. And that ambition, along with her father’s millions, were rumored to be priming her for a chase to the governor’s mansion.
Cait’s help in solving this case would provide a stepping stone to that end.
“Figured you’d want to see the area, anyway. We’ve hired Zach Sharper to stay available during the course of the investigation to take you anywhere you want. He’s the guide who found the bodies. Said he was preparing for a client who wanted to spelunk some out of the way caves, so Zach explored a few off the beaten path. Thought he’d discovered a new one when he stumbled on this.” Andrews’s waved a hand at the skeletons. “He runs a wilderness guide company. Rafting, kayaking, mountain climbing, hiking, that sort of thing.” The assessing look in her eye said better than words that she didn’t believe Cait’s assertion of her outdoor experience. “He’s also on the search and rescue team when campers and hikers go missing. He’s got some rough edges, but he’s the best in the state.”
“I can handle rough edges.” Cait walked around the gurneys to look more closely at the nearly identical junctures where the skulls had been separated from each skeleton. “Looks like an ax may have been used here. Or something else with a wide sharp blade heavy enough to decapitate the victim with one blow.” If they were living in the 1600s she’d suspect a guillotine. The slice was that clean. There were no serrations at the top of the skeletons. The skulls hadn’t been sawed off. “You’ve got four men and three women, but I suspect the medical examiner told you that.”
“He did, but this thing is way out of his league and he knows it. He’s a pathologist, not a forensic anthropologist. When I saw what we had here, I immediately thought of Raiker Forensics. Adam Raiker assures me you’re the best in this field.”
She bent over to examine the femur of the second skeleton. The guy had suffered a fracture to it at some point in his life. It had knit cleanly, suggesting certain medical attention. “I am,” she responded absently. She looked up then to arrow a look at Andrews. “My assistant will be arriving at dawn tomorrow with our equipment. Will this facility remain available to us?”
“It will. Anything you need, talk to the Lane County ME. His name is Steve Michaels. You’ll have to meet him tomorrow.” Cait followed the direction of the woman’s gaze as she looked at the clock. Eight PM. And Cait had left Dulles Airport at six am, east coast time. Weariness was edging in, warring with hunger.
“I’ve arranged two rooms for you and your assistant at the Landview Suites here in Eugene. You’ve rented a vehicle?”
“Picked it up at the airport.” The compact SUV looked perfect for the ground she’d be covering in the course of this investigation. “I’d like all the maps you can provide for the area. Roads, forests, surrounding towns. . .” A thought struck her then and she looked at the other woman. “And thanks for arranging for the weapon permit so quickly.” Raiker refused to let any of his consultants work without one.
Andrews lifted a shoulder. “Raiker made it clear that condition wasn’t up for discussion. I doubt you’ll need it. These bones have probably been in that cave for a decade or more. Even if we determine foul play, that would mean the unknown subject could be long gone by now. The threat should be minimal.”
“You think so? Come smell this.” She held up the skeleton’s leg with one hand under its fibula.
Andrews looked at her askance but she approached cautiously and gave a token sniff. When she straightened she looked quizzical.
“Calcium oxide.” The faint but unmistakable odor still clung to the bones. “Lime,” she explained when the sheriff looked confused. “It’s possible that we’ll find it’s a naturally occurring element in the cave’s chambers.”
“Or perhaps an UNSUB decided to hasten the decomposition process by covering the corpse with lime prior to dumping the remains,” Andrews said slowly.
Cait nodded. “Even without help, it doesn’t take decades for a corpse to be reduced to a skeleton. In some climates it’d be a week if the body were left out in the elements. In Oregon it’d take several weeks or months, depending on where the body’s dumped, the season, the temperature, insect and animal access. Maybe you’re right and these bones have been there for decades. But not necessarily.”
When she saw the satisfied gleam in the sheriff’s eye, Cait knew she’d read the woman correctly. Whatever the outcome of this case, Andrews was going use it to vault her political career. And solving a current crime spree would make for a lot better press than some old murders that had happened long ago.
But the woman only said, “I’ve got a copy of the case file for you in the car. You’ll be reporting directly to me, but a great deal of the time I’ll have you working side by side with my lead investigator, Mitch Barnes. You can meet him tomorrow, too.”
Her attention was already back on the skeletons. There was a lot of preparatory work to be done on them, but it would have to wait until tomorrow when Kristy arrived. Although she’d be supervising the lab work, these days Cait was an investigator first, a forensic anthropologist second. And she was anxious to get a look at the secondary scene.
“I’ll want to get my assistant started first thing tomorrow morning. Have Barnes meet me here at nine and tell Sharper to stand by. We’ll head up to. . .”
“. . .McKenzie Bridge,” the other woman supplied.
“. . .and he can take me to Castle Rock. Show me how he happened to discovered the remains of seven people.” She shot a glance at the sheriff as they headed to the door. “How did Sharper react to the discovery? Is he pretty shaken up?”
Andrews gave a bark of laughter, real amusement showing in her expression. “Nothing shakes up Sharper, unless it’s people wasting his time. He’ll be steady enough, don’t worry. But he won’t win any congeniality contests.”
Cait shrugged. “I don’t need congenial. I’ll be satisfied with competent.”
Andrews led the way out of the morgue, the echo of her booted footsteps ringing hollowly. “I may need to remind you of those words after you meet him.”
Her first stop had been an office supply store. The next was a fast food drive through for a grilled chicken salad with definite wilting around the edges. Cait had eaten in between setting up her work area. The crime scene photos were tacked to the white display boards sitting on top of the desk. A collection of labels, index cards, markers and post it notes sat neatly at the base.
Now she sat on the bed leaning against the headboard, the contents of the fat accordion file folder scattered across her lap and on the mattress. The photographs taken in the cave chamber had been taken with a low light lens, but they were still darker than she’d like. While she was able to easily make out the skeletons’ proximity to one another, it would be much more difficult to use the pictures to tell which one was which.
There was a preliminary report from the ME, Steve Michaels, and it appeared to be solid work. Exact measurements of each set of bones were included, as was a thorough examination for evidence of trauma. None of the skeletons showed recent signs of injury. Perhaps the missing skulls would. Or maybe the deaths were the result of poison. Cait narrowed her eyes, considering. She found herself hoping the decapitation had been enacted posthumously. The deaths would be too gruesome to contemplate otherwise.
Had the skulls been removed to impede identification of the victims? To prevent investigators from detecting a telltale method of death? Or were they kept by the perp as trophies?
Taking a look at her watch, Cait began gathering up the materials and replacing them in the file. But it occurred to her that if she could answer those questions, she’d be a long way toward profiling the UNSUB they were searching for.
Kristy Jensen was a full foot shorter than Cait at four-eleven, a wispy ethereal creature with an otherworldly air. Slap a pair of wings on her, and with her elfin features and blonde wavy hair, Cait had always thought she’d looked like a fairy in a kid’s storybook.
Once she opened her mouth, however, that notion would be dispelled forever.
“There is no fucking good way to get to this fuck dump of a town, you know that, don’t you?” Kristy sipped at her Starbucks coffee and aimed a gimlet stare over the rim from cornflower blue eyes. “Charter plane, my ass. Eight fucking hours it took me from Dulles. I could have walked faster. I could have parachuted half way here, hitched a ride on a mother-fucking migrating duck and still gotten here before that damn plane.”
“So the plane ride was good?” Cait laughed at her diminutive friend fingered her as they entered the morgue. “And you owe me four bucks. I’m giving you a pass on the ‘damn’, and the one finger salute, because at least that’s silent.”
“We haven’t even started work yet,” Kristy complained. But she was already digging in her purse to pull out the money. “I think we should change the rules so it only counts during work time.”
“Tough love.” Cait snatched the five from the woman’s hand and handed her a one in change. “You wanted help cleaning up your language. Can’t change the rules mid course.”
“Why not, nothing else has changed, except for my disposable income. I’m still swearing like a one-legged sailor.”
They showed their temporary ID to the clerk at the front desk and headed down the long hallway to the room where Andrews had brought Cait the evening before.
“Discipline,” she chided. But there was no heat to the word. She could care less whether Kristy sounded like a hardened special ops soldier, as long as she did her job to Cait’s exact specifications. And since she was the best assistant she’d ever been assigned, Cait was satisfied. “Anyway you’ll cheer up quick enough once you see what we have to work with.” She paused before the door at the end of the hall, before opening it with a dramatic flourish.
“Sweeeeet,” Kristy breathed, when she got a glimpse of the remains on the gurneys. “Very sweet. What do we have, mass burial? Mass murder,” she corrected as she got closer and noted the lack of human skulls attached.
“I suppose we have to allow for the possibility that someone stumbled upon that cave long before the wilderness guide did,” mused Cait. The thought had occurred belatedly, once she’d gone to bed, the contents of the files still filling her mind. “Someone with a sense of the macabre who took the skulls as souvenirs.” There were other possibilities, of course. But she found it unlikely that a group of cave explorers would have all followed each other down into the chamber, once one had fallen in. Unless it was a suicide pact.
Kristy was practically salivating as she walked between each gurney. “So you want me to clean them first, right? And then match up the spare parts with the proper skeleton?”
“I want you to start a photograph log first,” Cait corrected. “I need a notebook kept of images of each skeleton throughout each step of the process.” It would easier to correct mistakes that way, especially in the tricky process of reassembling the full remains of each, which was often a matter of trial and error. “The ME should be around somewhere. Get him to give you a copy of the measurements he’s done.”
“But you’ll want me to do my own,” the other woman said surely.
Cait sent her a look of approval. “I doubt he had a caliper to do the measurements with. We’ll want to double check and make sure the bones are with the right remains. Match the spare ones over on that extra gurney. And then you can clean the bones. And we’ll see exactly what we’ve got here.”
“What should I do in my spare time?” But her sarcasm was checked. Kristy was hooked by the enormity of their task, just as Cait was. Anticipation was all but radiating off her in waves.
“I heard voices.” At the sound of the newcomer the women turned toward the door. The man approaching them was average height, with hair as dark as Cait’s. He wore blue scrubs, shoe covers and a slight smile that faded as he got closer. Then his expression took on that slightly stunned expression that was all too familiar. He stared from Cait to Kristy and back again, with the look of a starving man surrounded by a steaming banquet. “Ah. . . Michaels.” He held out his hand to each of them in turn, visibly wrestling to get the words out in proper order. “Steve. I am, that is.”
He looked chagrined but Cait spared him no slack. “Well, Michaels Steve, I’m Cait Fleming.” She jerked a thumb at the other woman. “My assistant Kristy Jensen. I’ve got your preliminary report. Appreciate it. Kristy will be working down here most of the time. I’ve been assured that whatever she needs, she can come to you.”
While she spoke the man seemed to have regained his powers of speech. But twin flags of color rode high on his cheeks and his dark eyes still looked dazed. “Certainly.” He dragged his gaze away from Cait and fixed it on Kristy. “Certainly,” he repeated.
“Then I’ll leave you to get started.” She didn’t know if the investigator would be here yet, but she wasn’t anxious to spend any more time with the ME who looked like he’d just cast them in a low budget porn fantasy involving a threesome and a stainless steel coroner’s station. She started out of the room, throwing a look at Kristy over her shoulder. “Keep me posted.”
As she headed through the door she heard her assistant say sweetly, “So Michaels Steve, why don’t we go out to the truck and you can help unload the mother-fucking equipment.”
A smirk on her lips, Cait decided to let it slide. Nothing to shatter a guy’s X rated fantasy than a pint sized angelic blonde with a mouth like a sewage plant. She almost felt sorry for him. Would have if she weren’t still annoyed at his all too common reaction. As it was, she figured he was going to get exactly what he deserved working with Kristy.
When she stepped out of the morgue doors she saw the Lane County Sheriff squad car pulling up to the curb a full fifteen minutes early. Her good humor restored, Cait rounded it to approach the driver’s door. A stocky deputy got out, extended his hand. “Mitch Barnes, Ms. Fleming.”
Belatedly, Cait realized she was still wearing the morgue temporary ID. She pulled it off as she shook hands with the deputy. “Looking forward to working with you, Mitch.”
The man came to her chin, had receding blonde hair and brown eyes that were pure cop. And it was her shoulder harness that drew his attention rather than her face or figure. She liked him immediately for that fact alone.
“Sheriff says you want to head up to Mckenzie Bridge. Over to Castle Rock.”
She nodded as she dropped her ID into her purse. “I’d like to get a look at the dumpsite. Get a feel for it.”
“You got the pictures?”
Understanding what he was getting at, she nodded. “Still want to see it.”
Shrugging, he leaned into his front seat only to withdraw a moment later with an armful of maps. “Andrews said you asked for these.”
“I did, thanks.” She took stack from him. “If you want to lead the way up to the McKenzie Bridge area, I’ll follow this time. That way you don’t have to wait around while I go through the cave if you don’t want to.”
“Sounds good. It’s about a forty-five minute drive. I’ll call Sharper on the way and let him know we’re coming by.” A smirk flashed across the man’s otherwise professional demeanor. “He’ll be thrilled to take you to the cave.”
Coupled with the sheriff’s comments the night before, Cait had the distinct impression that the guide they kept mentioning was light on social graces. The thought didn’t bother her nearly as much as it would if he were another ogler like the ME.
Men like that rarely brought out the best in her.
How the hell had he gotten into this mess?
Fuming, Zach Sharper threw another look at the rear view mirror at the empty ribbon of road behind him. The answer was swift in coming. Ever since he’d reported his findings from that cave, Andrews had had him wrapped up like a damn trick monkey. First he’d had to lead law enforcement to the place. Then there’d been the incessant questioning.
And now he found himself forced to be at the beck and call of some consultant hired by the sheriff’s office. Playing glorified nursemaid to a cop—or close enough to a cop—promised to be worse than the biggest pain in the ass client he ran across from time to time. At least he had a choice taking on the clients.
Yeah, not being given a choice here rankled the most.
He saw the county car headed toward him. Zach put on his sunglasses and got out of his Jeep. Damned if he’d been about to travel down to Eugene and then back again, once he’d heard what the consultant wanted. And he sure as hell hadn’t wasn’t going to arrange for the cops to meet him at his place. Whispering Pines was his getaway. His refuge. Guests were rarely invited.
A small navy SUV pulled off the road in back of the sheriff’s car. He was unsurprised to see Mitch Barnes get out of the lead car. The way Zach heard it Barnes did most of the grunt work for Andrews while she got all the glory. He’d been the first of the cops to follow Zach into that cave. The sheriff sure hadn’t gone in, though she’d been present, running things on top Castle Rock while her people had hauled the bones out. If Barnes wanted another pass at the cave he sure as hell didn’t need Zach. He knew where it was located.
Made a guy wonder if this was just one more way for Andrews to yank his chain, show him that she was calling the shots.
He got out of the car and walked toward the deputy, who was approaching on the inside shoulder. The driver of the SUV got out, too, but it was Barnes Zach concentrated on. He wasn’t a bad sort, for a cop. Maybe he could talk him into a change of plans. Zach was resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to get out of this forced alliance with the sheriff’s office. But Andrews wouldn’t necessarily have to know whether he was the one playing nursemaid, or if one of Zach’s employees fulfilled the duty.
Although truth be told, he wasn’t sure he had an employee he disliked enough to saddle with this job.
“Barnes,” he said by way of greeting. The other man gave him a nod. Wasting no time, he continued, “Maybe you and me can reach a. . .”
“Sharper, I want you to meet Caitlin Fleming, a consultant for the sheriff’s department. She’s with Raiker Forensics.”
The inflection in the man’s voice imbued his last words with meaning. But it was his earlier words that had Zach halting in disbelief. Tipping his Wayfarers down he looked—really looked—at the woman approaching.
The mile long legs could be right. And she was tall enough; only a few inches shorter than his own six-three height. The kiss-my-ass cheekbones were familiar. But it was the thick black hair that clinched it, though shorter now than it’d been all those years ago. He didn’t need her to remove her tinted glasses to know the eyes behind them were moss green and guaranteed to turn any breathing male into an instant walking hard-on.
His voice terse, he turned his attention to the deputy and said, “Is this some kind of a joke?”
Barnes blinked. “What?”
“I mean are there going to be TV trucks and cameras following our every move?” Christ, what a clusterfuck. He could already imagine it. But he’d seen enough so-called entertainment featuring desperate cultural celebrities to anticipate what was going on here. “I’m not about to get involved in a reality TV show or whatever the hell she’s part of. You can tell Andrews the deal is off.” Andrews had threatened to jam him up with the constant renewal of permits needed to take his clients camping or kayaking. But maybe he could bribe someone at the permit department to circumvent her meddling. He was willing to take his chances.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“He’s talking about me.” The voice was smoke, pure sex. He’d never heard her speak before, but he’d imagined it often enough years ago in his adolescent fantasies. “Probably recognizes me from some of my modeling work, isn’t that right, Sharper? A long time ago. If you want me to believe you’ve changed from a sweaty hormone ridden teenage boy who undoubtedly used one of my posters to fuel your juvenile wet dreams, then you’ll have to credit that I too grew up and moved on. I want a first hand look at that cave. You’re going to take me there.”
Somehow when he’d imagined her talking decades ago it had been without that tone of withering disdain. His disbelief dissipated, the skepticism remained. He slanted a glance at the deputy. “Seriously, Barnes. This is the department’s consultant?”
The man’s manner was stiff. “Like I said, she’s from Raiker Forensics. The Mindhunters. That might not mean anything to you, but in law enforcement circles it carries a helluva lot of weight.”
Caitlin Fleming as a cop. The implausibility of it still rang in his mind. But then he gave a mental shrug. Most people in these parts used to be something else. Many were reluctant to talk about their pasts. Including him.
He looked her over again, noting the jeans, tennis shoes and long sleeve navy t-shirt. “Either we hike down Castle Rock or climb up it. Either way, it’s not a walk in the park. Mitch here can tell you that. You might want to rethink visiting it in person.”
Instead of responding, she looked at the deputy. “You coming along?”
He shook his head. “Once was enough for me. I’ve been stopping in at the forest service stations in the area. Getting a look at the citations they’ve issued in the last few years.”
She nodded. “I’ll be anxious to look them over when you’re done. See you back in Eugene, then. This will probably take most of the day.” She walked back to her SUV and pulled a pack out of the back of it. Then she locked it and headed back to where they stood waiting for her.
“We’ll use your vehicle, Sharper. I don’t care which approach we take to the cave, although I’ll want to explore both of them.” She headed toward where he’d left his pickup parked on the shoulder of the road. Her voice drifted behind her as she walked away. “I’d already been warned you were an asshole, so your attitude isn’t much of a surprise. But it’ll be up to you to convince me that you’re as good at your job as I’ve heard. Right now, I’ve got to say, I have my doubts.”
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
KB: I think my female characters are more confident in themselves now. Certainly they have occupations that make them the equal of any male. The males are still alpha heroes but they accept strength from the heroines, as well as vulnerabilities.
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
KB: I’m writing exactly what I want to be! But I have always toyed with the idea of writing YA novels.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
KB: Write faster I wrote my first five manuscripts as completes because I was so afraid to have deadlines interfere with time for my kids. I’ve since learned that I need deadlines to produce. Given my own time frame, I could take forever to write a book!
DC: In July your Silhouette Romantic Suspense Terms of Attraction hit the shelves. This is part of your Alpha Squad series. Would tell us first about the series and then a little about this latest book?
KB: Alpha Squad was born out of an interest in SWAT teams. I got a wonderful expert contact who sent me pages of information on any and all questions I had. The books feature a SWAT squad in a fictional California city. Each book is focused on a different member of the squad. The characters in the first book were hostage negotiators; the hero in the second was a tactical officer and in the third, the heroine, Ava Carter was a sniper.
In Terms of Attraction Ava saves the life of a visiting South America dignitary. His security specialist offers her a job, which she turns down. But Homeland Security agents have their own reasons for wanting her to accept and blackmail her to do so. Cael McCabe discovers too late who Ava is working for and cannot trust her. But when his client is kidnapped, Ava is the only one who can help him bring the man back alive.
Excerpt from Terms of Attraction:
Ava Carter lay motionless atop the gravel and tar flat roof squinting through the Nightforce scope of the Remington 700 rifle. She’d been in position for nearly four hours; under a “weapons tight” command for two. If all went according to plan, the subject would be on his way—in one piece—in less than fifteen minutes.
The rheumy late February sun labored to pierce the light cloud cover, and there was small blessing in that. Temperatures still hovered in the high sixties. And even without direct sunlight she could feel a thin trickle of perspiration snaking down her back beneath the LBV vest.
The breeze kissing her cheek seemed to have gotten a little stronger. “Check the wind meter again.”
Her spotter, Steve Banes, held up the pocket calibrator. “Six point two four miles per hour.”
Ava adjusted the dope of her rifle slightly. Steve picked up his high-powered binoculars again and spoke into the Motorola radio. “Side three, opening three. No movement.”
She reached for her own set of binoculars. Through them she could clearly see the black RV that served as the SWAT command center parked a hundred yards from the civic center. She could make out the figure of a man through one of the windows, hunched over a computer.
Her gaze passed over the RV to scan the area. She and Steve were positioned on top of a building across the road about eight hundred yards from the civic center. The building they were observing was circular, with an oddly pitched roof that was supposed to enhance the acoustics inside. Beneath the overhang were narrow windows encircling the building.
The inner perimeter seemed secure. The interested public was still inside listening to Antonio de la Reyes. But it was his detractors that were cause for concern.
From this angle she could only see a corner of the group of protesters and media vans secured behind the outer perimeter in front of the civic center. There were still a few signs waving, but a majority of the picketers had wisely decided to save their strength for when de la Reyes made his exit.
Hopefully once they figured out he wasn’t coming out the front, de la Reyes would be on his way to the airport. Out of Metro City. Out of California and back to his small South American country of San Baltes.
It wasn’t his politics Ava objected to, though his eloquent arguments for opening the borders of America didn’t resonate for her. It was the target he presented. In the last week alone, as he’d traveled the country, he’d received almost a dozen death threats. Pretty unpopular for a visiting dignitary. She’d heard there was a small rebel contingent in his own country that was just as anxious to see him dead.
She was only anxious to see him gone.
“What’s he even doing here?” grumbled Banes. He was a large man, heavily muscled. His shaved head was the color of her morning double mocha latte and glistened with sweat.
“He has relatives here, I think I heard. His mother lived in Metro City until the seventies.”
Banes’s droopy dark mustache twitched in what might have been a smirk. “Like you’d remember anything about the seventies.”
“Just enough to know seventy-seven was a very good year.” Ava continued to scan the area. They’d had this conversation often enough in the past that she could participate without thinking. Banes had a good fifteen years on her, and he liked to rib her about his experience. He’d been on SWAT ten years longer than she had. He was a damn good marksman, ranking second in the Metro City PD, fourth in the state.
Ava ranked first in both.
“Have you ever been inside?”
She nodded. “Took my son to a concert there once. It’s pretty nice. All the seats have a good view of the stage.” It must have been about three years ago, when Alex was twelve, before he became afflicted with that weird teenage parental anathema. At fifteen he could barely be convinced to be seen with her at the mall.
The radio crackled. “De la Reyes has left the stage. Subject will be exiting from side three, opening one in the next two minutes.”
Ava kept the binoculars raised. De la Reyes’s white limo approached slowly and rolled to a stop by the curb. It would have been checked thoroughly before being allowed through the inner perimeter. Security inside the building would be directing the public out the front. Officers would keep the people from circling around to the back entrance. Everything was working according to plan.
She was about to lower the binoculars when something caught her eye. A glint in one of the civic center’s upper windows. In the next instant it had disappeared. “Do you see anything up there?”
Banes trained his binoculars in the area she was pointing to. “Nope.”
“Must have been the sun,” she muttered. But there was very little sunlight today. Which made it more likely she’d seen a reflection of some sort. But of what?
“Wait.” She and Banes spoke simultaneously. She went on. “You see it, too, right? What is that?”
Both of them stared for long moments through their binoculars. A chill broke out over Ava’s skin as comprehension slammed into her. “It’s a scope.”
Banes grabbed the radio. “We’ve got a reflection in side three, window seven. Looks like it could be from a rifle scope.”
“Cold Shot in position?” came the answer.
“Weapons tight. We’ll send someone inside to check it out.”
Ava set down the binoculars and peered through the Night-force scope of her Remington. She made the minute adjustments necessary to focus on the window in question. “I see the barrel,” she reported quietly. A familiar deadly calm settled over her. “Can you get another angle and make it out?”
Steve belly-crawled several yards away and took another look through the binoculars. As an answer, he spoke through the radio. “We’ve got a weapon sighted and verified. Side three, window seven.”
The radio crackled. “Keep target inside. We’ve got a sighting.”
She heard the voice as if from a distance. Ava’s entire system had slowed. Breathing. Nerves. Heart rate. Everything was focused on the individual on the other end of that rifle across the road. The best shot would be to shoot perpendicular from the window. But she didn’t have time to change position. Shooting at an angle meant firing two shots. The first to break the glass and the second to hit the target.
“What the hell?” muttered Banes as the back door entrance opened. Ava recognized de la Reyes surrounded by his private contingent of security and three tactical officers hurrying toward the steps.
“Weapons loose. Engage, engage.”
She was dimly aware of the group surrounding de la Reyes halting. Retreating toward the civic center. Her finger squeezed the trigger and fired twice in quick succession through the target window. Nearly simultaneously an answering shot sounded and one of the bodies on the steps crumpled.
Ava gave her watch a surreptitious look and sighed mentally. If this was going to drag on much longer she’d need to excuse herself and text Alex. He’d be getting out of basketball practice soon and might need to catch a different ride home.
The debriefing was going more slowly than usual. But then nothing about this incident had proven normal yet.
The door to the conference room opened and Chief of Police Carl Sanders entered, flanked by his deputy chief, Robert Grey. They were followed by Antonio de la Reyes and a few men she remembered from his security contingent.
There was a scraping of chairs as a few of the SWAT officers made room at the long table. Ava sat still as the newcomers stared her way, feeling like an insect on a pin.
“There she is, gentlemen. The officer of the hour.”
There was little doubt about whom Sanders was referring to. Ava was the only woman in the room. Without looking away from her, de la Reyes circled the table to come to a halt before her.
“Ms. Carter,” he said in melodic fluent English. “I am in your debt.”
Since he’d taken her hand and looked to be in no hurry to free it, Ava rose, ill at ease. “I’m glad it worked out.”
He looked more like a movie star than a politician. He was no taller than she, about five nine, with glossy dark hair and soulful brown eyes. But she recognized the tailor-fitted suit he wore and the designer shoes. His country’s impoverishment didn’t extend to this man.
“It worked out, as you say, for all but your fellow officer.” Finally de la Reyes released her hand and glanced back at Sanders. “But I am told the man is well.”
Sanders nodded, his craggy face grim. “Sergeant Talbot was saved by his vest. He’ll be sore for a few days, but he’s already been released from the hospital.”
There was a collective murmur of relief from the room’s occupants.
De la Reyes went to sit in a nearby free chair and Ava sank into her own with a sense of reprieve. She’d never learned to enjoy the spotlight.
Sanders pulled out a chair. “The would-be assassin has been identified.”
“His name is Pedro Cabrerra.” Ava recognized the man passing out sheets as head of the American company providing de la Reyes security while in the country. He was the sort of man who left an impression.
A shade under six feet, he had a commanding presence, even in a roomful of cops. His streaked blond hair bordered on shaggy, his pale green gaze hawklike. His face was tanned as a surfer’s and his body looked broad and rock hewn beneath his suit. Unlike de la Reyes, whose expensive clothes gilded his sophisticated appearance, this man’s suit only served to highlight what he was beneath it. A warrior. No amount of gloss or polish could ever mask his rough edges.
“I am sorry.” De la Reyes lifted a hand to indicate the man passing out Cabrerra’s likeness. “Cael McCabe. He owns the security company I hired shortly before I came to the States.”
McCabe was the only one to remain standing. And he didn’t so much pace the room as prowl. “Cabrerra was a trusted member of Senor de la Reyes’s private security detail who traveled with him from San Baltes.”
“He is…was,” de la Reyes corrected himself, “my first cousin. Our fathers are brothers.”
Ava saw the grief in the man’s eyes and felt a moment of sympathy. Bad enough for complete strangers to want you dead…
DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?
KB: A meek mannered teacher by day, Kylie Brant is hiding a secret identity from the world. But when people close to her start disappearing, authorities take a closer look at her after hours job…and the research books in her library. Both have suspicion falling on the teacher slash author. Have her suspense plots finally crossed the line from fiction to reality?
DC: What would be your “voice’s” tagline?
KB: Gritty, edgy suspense with sensual romance.
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
KB: I had toyed with the idea of getting my Ph.D and teaching at the college level. About a year after deciding against it I wrote my first book. So I’d probably be solidly entrenched in academia by now.
DC: What’s on the horizon for Kylie Brant?
KB: I just agreed to another three books in the Mindhunters series to be released in 2010 and 2011.
- dark or milk chocolate? – Milk chocolate or none at all!
- smooth or chunky peanut butter? – Creamy.
- heels or flats? – Depends on what I’m wearing But if heels, I’ll take a pair of flats with me for when my feet start hurting.
- coffee or tea? – Neither–I’m a Diet Coke gal
- summer or winter? – Summer all year round!
- mountains or beach? – Beach! Every year for vacation.
- mustard or mayonnaise? – Yech. Neither. I’m too finicky.
- flowers or candy? – Skittles????? I’ll do anything for Skittles.
- pockets or purse? – Purse. Then I’ll promptly forget it.
- Pepsi or Coke? – Coke
- ebook or print? – Print
And just because they’re fun:
1. What is your favorite word? - present (as in gift)
2. What is your least favorite word? - work
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? - family
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? - narrow minded people
5. What sound or noise do you love? - rock music
6. What sound or noise do you hate? – the alarm clock
7. What is your favorite curse word? – f*ckaduck
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – writing humorous greeting cards
9. What profession would you not like to do? - cleaning sewers
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Loved your last book!”
DC: Kylie, thank you! We appreciate your taking the time to spend it with us!