Welcome to the release day Five Past Midnight, a special boxed set from Samhain Publishing! I’m so proud to be a part of this with my fellow supernatural thriller authors. Each of our stories is unique, but I think you’ll find some elements in common: sexy and smart heroes, independent heroines, and action galore!

Below you’ll find excerpts from all the books but, first, the giveaway! This will run for a week and enter to win the entire digital set.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now the sneak peaks! As you can read, I’m in excellent company.One of the fringe benefits of being in this box set is that I found four new authors to read. 🙂

From Veiled Target by Robin Bielman:
Tess Damon had no intention of telling the man holding the gun to her head what she was capable of. If he believed he had the upper hand, maybe she’d get out of this alive.

She silently fought the knots in her stomach and gripped the leather safety straps hanging in the open lift gate of the small, private business jet. As she struggled to keep her footing against the howling gale-force wind, shivers raced up and down her body. The frigid temperature stole precious air from her lungs. Her eyes watered and her ears ached. Pressure from the gun barrel hurt right in that tension headache spot above her eye.

Her first time flying in an aircraft that combined the comfort of a Cessna with the functionality of a sky-diving plane wasn’t exactly working in her favor.

“When we started this date, I’d no idea of your true intentions,” shouted the sharp- toothed businessman over the painful air currents. “You were wrong to think I’d be easy to get rid of.”

Tess let a practiced smile slip over her lips. She might be wrong about a lot of things, but eliminating the vampire who’d killed dozens of innocent people using weapons—with delay and torment—because he hated to get his fangs or hands dirty, wasn’t one of them.

From Blood, Smoke & Mirrors by Robyn Bachar:

I hate after-midnight meetings. Anyone who wants to talk to a witch after the witching hour doesn’t want to chat about the weather, and my boss wouldn’t call this late unless something was wrong. Bad news should be heard after I’ve had a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee, not after I’ve worked a ten-hour shift that featured lousy tips and three of the loudest screaming babies I’d ever encountered during my restaurant career. Already I wished I’d done the smart thing and hung up, turned off my cell phone, crawled into bed and hidden under the safety of the covers.

The anxious feeling in my gut made me indulge in my first cigarette in over a month as I left my apartment building. I’d dug the half-empty pack out of the bottom of a purse I hadn’t used since winter, and the cigarette tasted stale and bitter. This was my tenth failed attempt to quit—I’d have to remember to cuss Mac out for it first thing at this meeting of his, because it was clearly all his fault. Maxwell “Mac” MacInnes is my boss, the owner and manager of the Three Willows Café. He’s also my friend, and has been for several years now—one of the few I have left.

Though it was a warm, muggy summer night, the air outside was much more comfortable than my stuffy apartment. I puffed away on my smoke as I headed down the sidewalk, and the streetlight closest to my building flickered as the bulb exploded with a loud, angry pop. Feeling guilty, I ignored it and picked up my pace.

Most of the windows were dark in the houses I passed, the occupants fast asleep at this hour as they rested up for another day of work. My neighborhood is a nice place in general, though I don’t recommend walking through it alone at night, particularly if you’re a woman. Of course I don’t follow my own advice, but my case is…unique. Sure, I look as threatening as a grade-school librarian. I’m on the overweight side, I wear glasses, and my mouse-brown hair is most often pulled back into a messy braid or ponytail. My wardrobe consists of T-shirts, blue jeans, and unintimidating white running shoes. I might as well have “Mug me” stamped in the middle of my forehead.

From Slayer’s Kiss by Cassi Carver:

“Just lie back and relax, asshole. I swear you won’t feel a thing.” Kara adjusted the bindings around the man’s wrists and plunged the syringe deep into his thigh. When the concoction started making its way through his veins, he bucked under Kara’s weight. She stood and put one boot heel against his throat to quiet him as the relaxant started taking effect. “How is she, Abbey?”

Abbey frowned and brushed her red hair out of her eyes. “She’s going to be all right, but I put a call in to 911. We need to hurry.”

Kara glanced at the man lying on the dirty pavement of the alley. His expensive slacks were around his ankles, and after all these years, it still struck Kara as odd that the assailants never fit a certain mold. She and Abbey had taken down everything from homeless men to men who drove hundred-thousand-dollar sports cars. Money didn’t matter, and it wasn’t for the sex.

These men wanted power over others. They got off on the degradation and the pain they inflicted.

“He’s ready for you. Let’s help this gentleman get in touch with his manners.”

Abbey tucked a coat around the unconscious victim, shielding her lower half from view of the police officers who would shortly be arriving on the scene. She rose to her feet and walked to Kara. “Don’t bruise his throat, Kare-bear. The knot you gave him with your elbow is bad enough. His temple looks like he got hit with a baseball bat, and we don’t want the police thinking he was the victim here.”

From Soul Bound by Anne Hope:

Jace had always suspected that someday someone would try to kill him. He just hadn’t expected it to be tonight. Especially not in some rundown bar that reeked of beer and unwashed flesh.

He should have, though. The place was ripe with negative energy, this evening more than usual. An undercurrent of violence permeated the air and resonated from the patrons. The tattooed lump of flesh who went by the name of Viper was no exception.

“Did you say something to me, bitch?” Viper shattered his beer bottle on the corner of the bar and approached him menacingly.

The biker didn’t resemble a snake. He was big and round and lumbered more than he slithered, but there was definitely something snakelike about him, a predatory gleam in his eyes that would warn any sane man to back off.

Sanity had never been one of Jace’s strong points. He had too much anger inside him, was sick and tired of seeing men like Viper terrorize everyone around them and get away with it. “I said, leave the guy alone,” he repeated, ignoring the broken bottle aimed at his throat.

Viper’s original target had been some lanky accountant-type, who’d walked into The Hangout—a renowned bikers’ bar—dressed in a goddamn suit. Then he’d added insult to injury by ordering a glass of Chardonnay. Smelling blood, Viper had come in for the kill, incessantly poking fun at the man and not allowing him to leave when the idiot realized the error of his ways.

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The not-so-secret ingredient.

The not-so-secret ingredient.

As I sat down to write this post, being tagged in this awesome cookie exchange by my friend, author Gin Jones,  I pondered which of my characters would actually make fudge.

Alec Farley, the firestarter from Phoenix Rising, would likely burn the fudge on his first attempt but he’d persevere. Philip Drake of Phoenix Legacy, the man who can become whatever you need, already knows how to make it and has modified it to feature several different flavors. He makes it for the love of his life, Delilah Sefton, who loves the fudge but is trying to figure out how to make it a mixed drink of some sort.

I bet Marian Doyle of Ghost Phoenix has made it but she doesn’t like baking and would rather buy gourmet chocolate in Little Italy. And Renee Black from the upcoming Phoenix Inheritance makes it with her son, Charlie. They (of course), lick the remains on the fudge on the saucepot, even at risk of burning their tongues.

Meantime, Al and Noir of Luminous and Ghosts of Christmas Past ask:

What the heck is Marshmallow Fluff?

To those who don’t know, it’s a mix of corn syrup, sugar and egg whites. It’s even gluten free!

Here’s the base recipe for Never Fail Fudge, which is on every jar of Marshmallow Fudge:

2 1/2 cups sugar
4 tbsp margerine or butter
5 ounces of evaporated milk
1 jar of Marshmallow fluff, 7.5 ounce size
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 package (12 oz.) of semi-sweet chocolate

My additions? Always, always use real butter. And buy Ghiradelli or other gourmet chips. They don’t have to be chocolate either. I’ve made this with peanut butter and white chocolate chips too. When I used white chocolate, I crushed up small candy canes and sprinkled the crumbs on top when the fudge was still hot.

To make:
1. Combine first 5 ingredients Stir over low heat until blended.
Advice: Trickiest part? Getting the fluff out of the jar. I run my spoon under hot water first so it doesn’t stick.

2. Bring to boil over medium heat, being careful not to mistake air bubbles for boiling. (That’s because Fluff is full of air). Boil slowly, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
Advice: Stir, stir, stir. Never stop stirring. How do you know when it’s done? When hard residue begins to build up on the edge of your stirring spoon. But always do it for at least five minutes.

3. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and chocolate until melted. Pour into a buttered 9X9 inch pan and cool.
Advice: If the mixture is super-hot, the vanilla will boil and spit when you add it. Put in the chips first to cool it down, then add the vanilla. Stir, stir, stir and the chips will blend in nicely. And make sure you transfer it to the pan right away because it will start hardening quickly.

Also, I grease the pan, cover the pan and side with wax paper, and then pour in the mixture. This allows you to basically lift the fudge out of the pan with ease for cutting.

Voila!

You’ll notice I forgot the wax paper this time. And this is a 13X9 pan because I made a double batch. Also, yes, we did sample some, just to make sure it tasted good before we cut the fudge to give away as gifts. I know, I know. A rough job, tasting, but someone had to do it.

Fudge, made with semi-sweet Ghiradelli chips!

Fudge, made with semi-sweet Ghiradelli chips!

Phoenix Inheritance may be the geekiest book I’ve ever written.

It’s definitely the most personal. One, because the heroine is very much a geek, like me, and loves all her geeky attire. But mostly because Renee Black deals with her autistic child on a daily basis, often without help, and I know what that’s like. Without giving away too much of my children’s privacy, I’ve been in her shoes any number of times. For that reason, I’m terrified at the book’s possible reception.

I also know it’s a book I had to write.

As part of the SF Romance Brigade Showcase, here’s the first scene with Renee and my lovely cover, with Daz. The book is already up for pre-order on Amazon and comes out March 3, 2015. And check out the showcase link for other science fiction romance sneak peaks, covers, and other fun news.

Renee Black stored the last of her full gas canisters in the backyard shed. There. That was enough to keep the generator going for days. Even if the early snowfall materialized and knocked out power, she and Charlie would be all set.

The old-fashioned ring tone of her cell phone echoed in the quiet air of her backyard and she tugged the phone out of the pocket of her military-style peacoat.

Please don’t be Charlie’s school, please don’t be Charlie’s school.

It was Charlie’s school. “Hello?” “Ms. Black? This is Principal Partnope.” “Yes? Is something wrong? Is Charlie okay?” “Your son is fine now, Ms. Black, but we really need you to come immediately. How soon can you be here?”

“What happened?” She hated when they did this, told her to come down without telling her exactly why.

“We’ve had an incident. It’s best we discuss this in person. Will you be able to come?”

“I’m already on my way.” She dug out the keys to her pickup from the coat. “Is my son okay?”

“He’s calm and safe now.” Now. Implying he hadn’t been before. Oh, Charlie. How bad had it been this time?

“What happened?” she asked again.

“I’ll explain when you get here. Thank you, Ms. Black.”

He hung up on her. Dammit. The least he could do was give her some hint what had happened instead of making her run fifty million scary scenarios in her head on the way. She whistled for Thor and Loki. Her search-and-rescue-trained German Shepherds came bounding over from the other side of the yard. She knelt down and hugged them, noting the white on their muzzles, which struck her as especially prominent today. They were elderly dogs by regular standards and especially old for SAR dogs, as the work took a toll. Any day they could get outside and romp was a good day for them. She dreaded the coming of winter. They felt the cold so much now.

“I heard you barking at some animal, boys. What did you find?” They didn’t chase squirrels. They knew better. Maybe it was the stray cat Charlie had spotted over the last few days.

“I guess it doesn’t matter. In the house you go!”

She pointed and they headed inside through the open garage and through the doggie door. She pulled her truck out, closed the garage door, and drove down her long, winding driveway at a higher speed than she should have. She’d made this kind of trip far too often lately.

Charlie needed routine and order. He was already on a 504 Plan—special accommodations—because of his diagnosis of autism. She stayed hyper-alert around Charlie because if she spotted the signs of an incoming meltdown, she could head it off. But Charlie’s teacher had a full classroom and couldn’t do the same.

She’d asked the school for full psychological testing that might result in Charlie being classified as special ed and being given an aide who could watch him fulltime at school, like she did at home. Charlie’s teacher, Mr. Lamoreux, was on her side but he kept saying the principal, Partnope, was against it. Partnope had given her an entire litany of excuses as to why they should put off testing.

“He’s not that impaired.” “His grades are very good.” “His behavior chart, full of rewards, will be a big help.”

A big help? It obviously hadn’t helped today.

Every time she convinced herself her son was stabilizing, the school called again. It was one step forward, two steps back.

A text alert blared from her phone. She ignored it while she drove along the twisty corners of the back road. Only when she entered the center of Bernard and stopped at the main traffic light did she glance at the text. It was from the school too, but this time a general message informing parents the school had an early release because of the impending snow.

The light turned and, as she went through the intersection, she noticed the traffic was heavier than usual. Likely everyone was preparing for the storm.

Once she reached the school, finding a parking space was nearly impossible. She finally parked the truck on the grassy divider between the two main lots. The office buzzed her in the front door without even asking for her name. After her many visits over the past two months, the staff knew her by sight. She ran her hand over her hair to smooth it down and unzipped her jacket.

Only then did she realize she was still wearing her Captain Marvel “Princess Sparklefists” superhero T-shirt.
She bet Principal Partnope wouldn’t get the joke. Add that to the old peacoat and her looking ragged because of this morning’s work outside, and she’d earn Partnope’s disdain again. Maybe if she wore designer clothes and shoes like half the women in town instead of her jeans, work boots and her geeky T-shirts, the principal would take her more seriously.

Steeling herself for yet another confrontation, she opened the front door to the school office. Dorothy, the office manager, smiled at her. “Good to see you, Ms. Black.”

Dorothy, impeccable as always in a pretty sweater, seemed glad to see her. “Good to see you too. Where’s Charlie? Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, Ms. Black. He’s been asking for you.”

“Thanks.” Not for the first time, Renee wished Dorothy ran the school. Charlie liked her and listened to her. “What happened? Where is he?”

Dorothy pulled a pencil from behind her ear and pointed with it. “He’s in the conference room over there. He promised to draw me a picture of Thor.”

“Great. Did he mean my dog or the superhero?”

“You know, I didn’t ask. But I’d love either.”

Renee turned to the conference room but Principal Partnope came out of his office and intercepted her. “I’d like to talk to you first, before you see Charlie. This was a pretty serious incident.”

“I just want to make sure he’s okay, thanks.” She pushed open the door to the small conference room. Charlie sat there with a supply of crayons and blank paper in front of him. He smiled and ran over to her. She hugged him tight.
She drank in the sight, smell and feel of her son, his dark unruly hair, his brown eyes, his favorite Batman T-shirt and the whiff of peanut butter on his breath. I love you, kid.

Yes, she definitely needed this hug before talking to Partnope. She knelt down to look him in the eye.

“I like your T-shirt,” he said. “Is it new?”

“Just came yesterday. Along with your new Batman Beyond shirt.” “Awesome.” But he stared at the floor instead of at her. He shuffled his feet. “I did something really bad, Mom. But it was their fault. They were mean to me.”

“What did you do?” “I hit Mr. Revis,” he whispered.

“Who’s Mr. Revis?” she asked.

“Our substitute teacher this week.”

“Right.” Mr. Lamoreux was out for several weeks after having broken his leg. “What happened?” she asked.

Charlie waved his hands. “He was really mean. He tricked me!”

Mr. Partnope poked his head into the room. “May we talk now, Ms. Black?”

“All right.” Now that she’d seen Charlie, she could deal with whatever this was. “Charlie, I’ll be right back. Are you finishing that drawing for Miss Dorothy?”

He nodded. “Yes! I promised her I’d finish before school gets out.”

“Good.”

Once in the principal’s office, Partnope sat behind his very official desk. He looked like a bureaucrat with his thinning hair, thin red mustache and conservative tie. She preferred Mr. Lamoreux, who sometimes wore loud ties and shirts that broke the mold.

“Would you please sit down?” Partnope asked.

Renee thought about standing but decided since Charlie admitted he’d hit his teacher, looming over the principal and taking out her frustration with the situation was the worst thing she could do.

“That’s an interesting T-shirt, Ms. Black.” His gaze flicked over the shirt. It featured Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel, in a red, blue and yellow costume with her energy power blazing at her hands. Hence, Princess Sparklefists.

“Thank you, it’s one of my favorites.”

“Interesting.”

“I think so.” She took a deep breath. She wouldn’t rise to the bait. “Why did Charlie hit his teacher? What happened?”

“I’m glad he admitted it. A lot of kids don’t.” Partnope laced his fingers together. “First of all, you should know that we take any assault on a teacher extremely seriously.”

She nodded. “Of course. Was the teacher hurt?”

“No, I don’t believe he was injured at all. Still, we might have to suspend Charlie.” She took a deep breath. She wanted to protest because she was sure Charlie’s impulse control issues had caused him to overreact, but it would be far better to hear this out first. “Could you please tell me what happened?” she asked again.

“Mr. Revis gave the students a surprise quiz today.” He paused. She nodded but what she wanted to do was say that didn’t they know Charlie hated surprises? She’d talked to all the school officials about it, including Partnope. Teachers were supposed to give him advance warning of any quiz. “And Charlie failed this surprise quiz?”

“It wasn’t that kind of quiz,” Partnope said.

He handed over a sheet of paper that started with Read this over fully first, and included all kinds of instructions about drawing shapes and writing sentences. It was busy work but work Charlie knew how to do. It wasn’t until she reached the last sentence that she knew why Charlie thought they’d been mean to him.

“It says at the end that no one has to do any of the problems.”

“Yes. The very first instruction was to read the paper fully and the last instruction is that they don’t have to do any of the work. This is a test we give to make sure students follow instructions and read their papers fully.”

“How many students in third grade read this all the way to the end?”

Partnope’s eyes narrowed. “Only two.”

“And after Charlie did all the work and got to the last sentence and realized he didn’t really have to do any of it, he lost his temper?”

“Exactly.” Partnope nodded. “He rushed to the front of the class, screamed at Mr. Revis for tricking him, kicked him in the leg and ran out of the room.”

Renee rubbed the bridge of her nose. Of course, Charlie would see this as being tricked and react. The whole quiz was a trick. Still, he shouldn’t hit anyone. But his reaction was entirely predictable and could have been avoided by letting him know beforehand.

“What happened after he ran out of the room?” she asked.

It was Partnope’s turn to take a deep breath. He cleaned off his glasses. “Charlie ran out of the school, toward the road.”

“Toward the road?” The elementary school was located on one of the town’s busiest streets.

“He was out the door before anyone could catch him. We did get to him before the road.”

“How did you get Charlie inside?” she asked, hearing the hoarseness in her voice.

“Dorothy called to him. He slowed down. Then she asked him to come back and sit next to her for a while.”

Dorothy. She had no way to repay the woman for this. “And he did?”

“Yes, he listened to her. And then she asked him for a drawing because she knows he likes to draw. Once your son was settled, we called you. Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“I understand your concern.” She tucked her hands into her lap, having no idea what to say. She was frustrated at the school for a situation that could have been avoided, worried about Charlie for running outside and just completely sick to her stomach because she had no idea how to stop it from happening again.

As bad as it had been at school so far, she’d thought he was at least physically safe there.