Wednesday, December 31, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #10

Nikki considered scooping up the serving dishes to avoid having to meet his eyes. Ringo wore a brittle mood tonight, still amusing and charming, but with sharp edges just waiting to cut someone. No, leaving the room would be seen as running away. She had nothing to be afraid of because she had done nothing wrong. Even when she didn't like Ringo, she knew he had always been fair with her.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what you're hinting at," she said instead, and sat back in her chair.
"What's with the big guy?"
Was Ringo's chiming tension tonight because of Brock? Nikki turned toward the kitchen, as if she could see through the wall and study him. That earned a chuckle from Ringo.
"I'm not blaming you." He reached over and patted her hand, resting on the table next to her plate. "The guy's uptight. He came back that way. Since you were with him, I thought you might know."
"Oh." Nikki thought back over their day. Brock had seemed focused, to the point of being too quiet, from the moment she got up that morning. Still, it had increased. "Oh, okay. I ran into someone from home this morning. Maybe Brock is upset about that. He didn't really like Joan, so…" She shrugged.
"Someone from home? They know where you are?"
"Cincinnati is a big city, and we're outside it. I know the drill on protecting your privacy."
         "Yeah, you do." He winked, his smile a little broader, but also a little thinner. The shiver that struck her occasionally when dealing with Ringo whispered over her.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #9

"We don't have much time," Moira said, stepping around the end of the aisle filled with wine bottles shaped like fish, cats, buildings, and abstract art. "O'Breza's cover is about to shatter and we need to take out Santiago ahead of schedule."
"But--" Brock swallowed hard. He had met Santiago only once, and the man had made him feel cold for days afterward. Until then, he thought Ringo's errand boys, Marcus and Angelo, were the worst he had encountered in the organization. "Things are going to be churned up for a while after that. There's no way the rest of the operation will work. Ringo will go into hyper-alert, pull a vanishing act, and take us and all the records with him."
"You can bail, but the chances of moving fast enough and getting far enough away are pretty slim. It's not a matter of cutting off one snake's head -- gotta get the whole nest in one blow."
He knew that far too well. He had been part of the effort to make Ringo's "business ventures" so impervious, to knit the organization together so tightly that nothing could happen to one division or team without the others knowing and being able to react immediately. It was a combined effort of self-preservation and lashing out at the attackers.
"You have to get Nikki away to safety before you strike at Santiago."
         "Negative." Moira's voice was cold, but Brock saw the sympathy and regret gleaming warm in her eyes for a few seconds. "If even one thread of his web is pulled out of place, it's going to set off alarms for your boss. If you send Nikki away, he's going to look at you and wonder what you're up to. The whole reason we're here is because those two bulldogs of his have been sniffing around. They don't like you any more than you like them, and that automatically means they don't trust you."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #8

The irony gave him a headache. Why feel guilty now over using Nikki to hide what he was doing? Hadn't he been using her from the very beginning? Hadn't Ringo sent him looking for a cute, innocent-looking girl who could dress up fancy for parties, distract the suspicious and present a wholesome, safe image as they traveled around the country? Brock had set out to romance Nikki, knowing she was the perfect one for the plan from the moment he first laid eyes on her at the winter community outreach at Butler-Williams University.
He nearly stumbled as the coincidences struck him -- he had left Nikki alone for a few minutes at that winter carnival to meet Moira, and came back to find her talking with someone from Tabor. He actually recognized Joan's big gray bear of a dog before he recognized Joan. Something about the way that dog looked at him made him feel like a huge killer icicle had fallen off a roof, ramming right through him and nailing him to the ground.
"It's gonna be okay," he muttered. "I'm not that guy anymore. Nikki's gonna be okay."
          Looking back, Brock knew Ringo's decoy plan had gone wrong from the moment he decided he wanted Nikki and no one else. Just ten minutes of flirting with her, laughing with her, being charmed by her and realizing he hadn't been able to fluster her at all -- he had been a goner. Nikki had conquered him while he worked to win her total loyalty and charm her into running away with him. Two months to the day since she said yes, he woke up and watched her sleeping, and wished he could walk out on Ringo and find her a safe little cottage somewhere to "play house" for real. The masquerade now was in making Ringo think they were both using Nikki. As long as Ringo thought she was innocent and ignorant, he would continue to treat her like a pet, and she would be safe. Brock didn't want his boss to know that he had fallen for the decoy. Hadn't Ringo himself warned him never to put a weapon or hostage into the hands of anyone in their organization?

Monday, December 22, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #7

Over Nikki's shoulder, Joan saw Brock lean inside the pavilion and look around. She held still and silently told him to go away. She needed more time with Nikki. Ulysses whined and got up off the concrete, just a heartbeat before Brock's gaze fastened on Nikki's back. Joan silently echoed her companion's complaint.
"Hey, hon, we gotta go," Brock said, reaching to catch hold of Nikki's elbow. He jostled her just as she was taking another sip of her chocolate.
Nikki let out a little squeal and twisted aside, neatly avoiding the splatter when the cup tipped over, losing nearly a third of the contents. Joan sat still, watching the brown drops hit her boots. She looked up and couldn't help grinning at the confused frown Brock gave her.
"I know you," he said.
"Yeah, this is my friend, Joan, from back home," Nikki said, as she swung her legs over the side of the picnic table bench and stood up. "You got your business done already?"
"Ah -- yeah -- sort of. The guy I was supposed to meet couldn't." Brock still frowned at Joan.
         For a moment, she had the strangest urge to leap at him, shouting, "Boo!" just to see what he would do. Something had him edgy-tense. Joan doubted it had anything to do with seeing her.

Friday, December 19, 2014

NIKKI -- excerpt #6

"He's the office manager, the numbers guy. Accounting, that sort of stuff. And he does a lot of troubleshooting. That's why we're here, actually. Somebody in one of Ringo's businesses is having some trouble, so Brock dropped me off here to have fun while he takes care of it."
"So you're living here? Cincinnati itself, or one of the suburbs?"
"We're on the road a lot." Nikki glanced away.
         Okay, not a good subject to pursue. That's fine. All that matters is getting her to talk.
"Me, too." Joan reached down and brushed her fingers across Ulysses' head. "This big guy -- his name is Ulysses -- is sort of my bodyguard while I'm on the road."
"You and Sophie?"
"Ah… no. She's pretty much confined to headquarters. There was an accident and… it doesn't matter. We're both working for Arc, and it keeps us busy."
"Doing what?" Nikki offered her hand for Ulysses to sniff as they stepped inside the partial shelter, where a crowd was already growing around the snack bar offering hot chocolate, coffee, tea, spiced cider, and fresh donuts. The first batch was just coming out of the deep fryer vat, the wire basket bounced to knock off the oil droplets and then the golden brown puffs of dough falling into a mound of powdered sugar.
          "Helping people, basically." Joan's mouth watered, and she decided she didn't care if she had eaten breakfast less than half an hour ago. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

NIKKI -- excerpt #5

"Please tell me my folks didn't send you looking for me." Nikki looked around, probably hoping Brock would show up and whisk her away.
"Nope, I'm totally here on my own recognizance." She gestured around the curve of the skating rink in the other direction. "Can I buy you a hot chocolate? If I promise not to nag you to come home, can we at least talk? I've been worried about you."
"You have?" Another blush, then she hunched her shoulders. "You don't have to. Brock takes great care of me."
Joan swallowed hard to keep from blurting that yes, she did have to worry. It was part of her DNA, and she had been worrying about Nikki long before she came back to Tabor and found her. Her lips burned to spill what she should have told Nikki nearly six years ago -- they were sisters, and she knew who had tried to kill Nikki when she was a baby. Dumping that kind of information on her without any preparation would just send the younger girl running.
"Yeah, I can tell," she said instead, and managed to sound amused. "That must have cost a lot." She ran her gloved finger down the arm of Nikki's sweater.
"I guess. Actually, Ringo bought this for me for Christmas. That's Brock's boss."
         "What does Brock do?" Joan breathed a silent prayer of thanks when she took a few steps toward the pavilion selling hot drinks, and Nikki fell into step with her, no resistance.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #4

"Please, Lord. I know nothing is ever this easy, but… please?" Joan tried not to stare just like she tried not to plead. This summer would mark two years since her sister had run away from home to be with Brock. Nearly two years since all the resources of the Arc Foundation had been focused on finding her and praying her home.
The Brock look-alike gestured around the winter carnival, where shutters were nearly all open now on all the fanciful booths decorated like gingerbread houses, igloos, snow forts and ice palaces. The traffic had doubled just in the couple of minutes since Joan spotted the two of them heading toward her. He nodded at the benches placed against the wooden barricade around the ice rink, leaned in to kiss the tip of the Nikki looke-alike's nose, then hurried off through the thickening crowd.
Joan counted to twenty again, willing the girl to keep walking around the skating rink toward her. She looked away for another twenty-count, looked up again.
"Nikki?" She stood, a chuckle bubbling out of her at the way her heart raced.
The girl stared for several seconds, then her face flushed bright pink. Shrugging, she summoned up a smile and waded through the sudden influx of children intent on getting to the long building labeled Valentine's Sweet Shop, where the doors were just swinging open.
"Joan. How… weird to see you here." Nikki stopped, looking down at Ulysses, who tipped his head to one side and gazed steadily at her. "I didn't know you liked dogs."
         "A lot of things have changed since--" Joan swallowed hard and took a deep breath. Might as well jump in with both feet. "Since you ran away."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #3

Odd. The notebook computer was open, but not turned on. The notebooks were scattered across the table, but none of them were open. No colored pens and highlighters everywhere, and crumpled paper, indicating Brock had been working hard since before sunrise.
If he wasn't attending to another emergency that had sprung up overnight in Ringo's far-flung business empire, then why was he on the phone and who was he talking to?
Maybe her dreams had come from some tension she picked up from Brock? Nikki turned back to the snowy golf course and nodded. That had to be the answer. She certainly wouldn't be having any of those dreams -- times when she thought God was sending her warnings or guidance. Such beliefs belonged to a simple little church girl who obeyed her parents and never crossed the line. Not even when her heart was broken and she wanted to punish the world.
          No, God certainly wouldn't be talking to her in dreams -- if He ever had. She had been a silly little girl, to believe such things. Since running away with Brock nearly two years ago, she had stopped being that silly, simple little girl.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #2

She found Brock in the kitchen downstairs, pacing and talking on his cell phone. As usual. The coffee smelled like it had been brewed just past the fragrant stage. Only an inch remained in the bottom of the carafe. As usual. Brock flinched when he turned and saw her in the doorway -- not usual -- but that changed to a smile and wink, and he resumed his pacing while nodding to whatever the person on the other end said. As usual. Nikki padded to the refrigerator.
This was nice, having a condo of their own instead of sharing a larger condo or a rented house with Ringo. Not that Brock's employer wasn't charming and clever and gracious -- and had good hygiene habits. Nikki liked smaller condos, or even living in hotel suites, because it meant some privacy for her and Brock, and less chance of Marcus and Angelo wandering in, helping themselves to the treats she stocked for Brock and throwing out anything she bought just for herself.
Such as yogurt. She smiled as she opened the refrigerator and saw the four stacks of three cups each of her favorite flavors. Such a small thing, to have everything where she left it the night before. It meant she wouldn't turn around to find either man peering around a corner, leering at her. It meant she could go barefoot in her silky nightshirt, instead of needing a thick robe, or even getting dressed to leave her bedroom.
          Flickers of the dream that woke her intruded as she toasted bagels for herself and for Brock, poured juice, and set his food on the table that was covered with stacks of papers, envelope folders, a dozen notebooks and his computer -- as usual. Nikki took her food to the breakfast nook, like a little enclosed balcony that looked out over the golf course covered with melting snow. She knew better than to try to find a corner of the table to sit at while Brock was busy with Ringo's business.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

NIKKI -- Excerpt #1

Nikki woke sweating, reaching for Brock to hold her and chase away the dream.
         Darkness coiled around her, solid and cold like a massive snake. As she struggled, it fractured into dozens of coils, all wearing the faces of Marcus and Angelo, Ringo's errand boys.
Brock wasn't there. His side of the bed was cold.
Nikki curled up, hugging her knees to her chest while she got her breathing under control. Their king-size bed was too big, the extra-thick mattress threatened to swallow her like quicksand, and all the luxuries surrounding her made her feel small and colorless.
She opened her eyes to rainy, early morning gloom. With a soft groan, Nikki unrolled from the tangled blankets and what felt like twenty pounds of quilts, got on her hands and knees, and crawled to the edge of the bed. She shifted onto her bottom to swing her legs off the side of the bed and suddenly the floor looked two stories away.
          "Not again," she moaned, and pressed one hand to her abdomen and the other to her mouth, in case that rolling-on-rough-seas sensation followed through on its threat to make her spew. Deep breaths and focusing her eyes on the door on the far side of the master bedroom helped her steady the world. She slid down to the floor as gently as possible, to avoid jarring anything unhappy inside her. So far, so good.

Monday, December 1, 2014

NIKKI -- Quarry Hall #5

Quarry Hall, the sister-series to Tabor Heights, has a new release coming mid-December from Desert Breeze Publishing.


If you've been to Tabor Heights, then you've met Nikki James, heroine of FORGIVEN, foster-daughter to Dr. and Mrs. Holwood, the Arc Foundation's resident representative at the Mission. And if you've read other Quarry Hall stories, you probably know she is Joan's half-sister.

At the end of Joan's story, Nikki had run away from home with her older boyfriend, Brock.

Now, it's two years later and Nikki is facing some big problems and decisions. December and January will feature excerpts from the book.

Get ready for little tastes in the days to come!