When I first started writing fiction as an adult, after years of being a journalist, I started with fan fiction.
One thing led to another, I accidentally created a Mary Sue and then I realized that if I brought the character down to earth, she would be great fun to play with in her own universe.
So Trisha Connell, crime reporter, was born.
Trisha is a crime reporter because it was a profession that I can portray accurately and because it gave her an excuse to get into trouble.
I was inspired a great deal by Robert B. Parker’s Spenser mysteries, so I also wanted to give Trisha a steady boyfriend ala Susan Silverman in the Spenser books.
So Edmund Grayson, security expert, was born.
Except Grayson was a demanding character. I gave him point of view as an experiment one day and it quickly became clear that he was Trisha’s co-star, not a supporting character.
And that’s how I started writing romance.
Their first adventure is called Above the Fold. Strictly speaking, it’s more of a mystery with romantic elements as it’s about half/half of each. The story has finaled in several regional Romance Writer of America contests, including the Daphnes and the PASIC awards. I’m extremely proud of the second place in the PASIC because I was competing against published authors.
Here’s my tagline:
Trisha wants the story behind the museum murder. Grayson wants to catch the killers. They’re both shocked to discover they also want each other.
Above the Fold: the affair behind the headlines.
My favorite snippet from the book:
“I thought ticking time bombs were a myth.”
The opening of the story is below the cut. Above the Fold:
Trisha Connell made it to her motorcycle just as hangover dizziness hit with full force. She dropped to one knee on the cold cement of the parking garage, clutching the soft leather of the bike’s seat for balance. A deep breath brought the leftover smell of tequila and cigarettes into her nostrils.
I’m getting too old for this shit. At least, old enough to know better.
The cell phone in her jacket pocket vibrated against her waist. Her fingers fumbled around, each successive vibration increasing her urgency. She pushed aside a wad of tissues, breath mints, crumpled bills, and finally clutched the phone. She flipped it open, hoping it was a number she could ignore. Her editor. No ignoring that.
“Connell.” She answered in a quiet mumble. Damn, her voice was still shaky.
“Trisha, sorry for taking up your day off–”
Joe sounded crisp and businesslike and not the least bit sorry. An alcohol-induced migraine, centered just above her left eye, made it hard to focus on his words.
“–but I need you to get to city hall in the next hour, to cover a press conference about the new zoning regulations.”
“Zoning regulations?” It didn’t sound any better when she repeated it. “Joe, I’m a crime reporter. Why am I covering city zoning regulations?”
“Three reasons. Pick one. Weinstein wants it covered, we’re short-handed, and it’s your turn.”
“Hell.” Weinstein the publisher. She pressed her head to the cool metal of the bike’s gas tank, hoping to soothe the pounding. The bike’s smiling Indian head logo seemed to mock her. “Lucky me.”
Joe sighed. “We have plenty of background. All you have to do is get to the press conference, be presentable, and take notes. Weinstein wants something up on the website fast.”
“When does this start?” Some water and Tylenol, and she’d be able to focus. But presentable? Not with blue jeans, black t-shirt, motorcycle boots and no shower.
“One hour,” said Joe. “Problem?”
City Hall from here–at least thirty minutes, more if she hit traffic. Not enough time to go home and change. She clutched the phone tighter. “Weinstein will have to settle for my kind of presentable.”
“You’re not home?” Long pause. “Trisha, have you even been to bed?”
Bed, yes. Sleep, not so much. She sat back on her heels and took several deep breaths. “I’ll manage.”
“It had better be more than that. You need to do this right or you’re in deep trouble.”
She reached for the silver cross hanging from a chain around her neck and closed her hand around it. “So even if I file the story in time, if Weinstein hears what I look like at the conference, I’m toast?”
“Damn straight.” Another pause. “It’s actually a kind of interesting story, about regulating the height of new buildings. It’ll affect how a lot of people live in New York. And there really is no one else to send.”
The newsroom had been shorthanded for months. It wasn’t going to change. Not Joe’s fault. She gritted her teeth. “I’ll be there.”
“Not looking like death warmed over.”
“Got it.” She closed the phone, hung her head, and let go of the cross. She fished a couple of capsules of Tylenol out of her inside pocket, brushed off the lint, and swallowed them. If she went back upstairs, she could use Lee’s shower and maybe find some presentable clothes. But there might be paparazzi hanging around, looking for the latest on the rock star. She didn’t think Weinstein would particularly like her being the ‘unidentified redhead’ on some gossip website. Besides, that didn’t solve the problem of her motorcycle boots, whose zippers tended to jingle when she walked.
Sneakers. She had sneakers at David’s place in Soho. Not perfect, but Soho was close enough. She pulled a bottle of water out of the knapsack hanging on her bike and took several deep swallows. Her migraine had to be at least half dehydration. The water brought her body back to a semblance of life. She blinked her eyes, blessing the cement columns around her for allowing enough morning light to see but not enough to bother her aching head. Around her, several cars in the garage roared to life, spewing fumes, and echoing even louder in her head. She coughed as David answered his phone.
“Hey, I need a favor. I-”
“Look, Trish, I can’t do any favors today.”
He shouted in Spanish at some driver ahead of him. She didn’t understand it all but caught enough to know it was obscene. He was in traffic already? “What’s wrong?”
“Ah, the damned museum exhibit,” he said. “It’s been a pain in the ass since day one. Now it’s some minor deal about the alarm and Grayson’s being anal about it.”
“Boss Grayson being anal is not news. Is the exhibit okay? You okay?” She drank again. A nearby car started and spewed exhaust fumes. She coughed and water dribbled down her chin.
“Just a minor thing.” He shouted again, this time in English. She overheard ‘double-park for a second longer and I’m going through you.’ “Look Trish, I have to go.”
“It’s okay. I just need to get my sneaks from your place. Nobody else is there, right?”
A momentary pause as she heard his tires squeal in the background. “Nope, no girlfriend this week. Take whatever you need.”
“Thanks. Be careful, hey?”
“I will.” Another pause. “Wait, you’re not in trouble are you?”
David laughed. She closed the phone and stood up straight, her dizziness nearly gone and her headache momentarily under control. Besides the sneakers, she could borrow one of David’s blazers, look halfway professional at the press conference, make Weinstein happy, score points and–waitaminute.
Boss Grayson had ordered David to work immediately. The order was urgent enough that David, the calmest person she knew, was swearing in traffic. Grayson was supposedly Mr. Prepared. If he said urgent, he meant it. Given the high profile of that art exhibit and the controversy about the Nazi connections, it might be the kind of urgent that made a great story.
It’d beat the hell out of some press conference about mind-numbing zoning regulations.
She straddled her Indian Chief and strapped on her helmet, the cushioning soft and soothing against her forehead. She could be on scene with an exclusive, possibly something worthy of the front page, above the fold.
Disobey orders, skip the press conference, and risk being fired? Crud, if she didn’t come up with something good, Weinstein would be livid. She should follow orders and stop wrecking her life. Be a good girl. She fingered the cross with her right hand, while her left drifted down and hovered over the old scars on her stomach. Her hand clenched. What had being good ever done for her?
She jerked her gloves out of her jacket and shoved her hands into them, using her boot heel to push the kickstand up. She started the bike. Its roar put the car engines to shame. She burned rubber as she turned and accelerated.
The safe thing?
Edmund Grayson slowed down from a run to a brisk walk as he approached the entrance to the Lost Treasures exhibit. The click of his wingtips echoed around him, the shadowed, silent faces in the hanging paintings the only witnesses to his concern.
He turned the corner and blinked at the change from the night lights to the overhead fluorescents illuminating the exhibit’s entrance. Museum Security Chief Conrath stood next to the door to Lost Treasures. Conrath held his pass card in his hand, ready to turn off a custom-made alarm.
“Wait.” Don’t you dare mess with my alarm. “I want a status report first.”
Conrath turned around. His hand hovered above the gun holstered at his side. Conrath had been mulish from the start about working with a private security contractor. But reaching for his gun brought that aggravation to an entirely different level.
Grayson stared the older man down. For a moment, Conrath met his gaze. Then he dropped his hand to his side, away from the gun.
“Status report,” Grayson said.
“I’ve had my people check all the entrances and exits. Don’t worry, we’re secure.” Conrath cleared his throat. “Except, well-”
Grayson walked forward, setting himself between Conrath and the door. He’d be damned if he’d let anyone inside the exhibit until it was clear what was going on.
“We have a guard missing,” Conrath admitted. “She showed up for her shift and now she’s gone. We’ve looked everywhere except inside Lost Treasures. It’s just a precaution. She probably just took off and left her post. You know how college students are.”
“Who’s the guard?” Grayson said.
“The criminology student?” She’d followed him around, asking questions. Good questions. A woman who wanted a career in law enforcement—highly unlikely she’d leave her post. His nerves returned, a leaden weight in his stomach.
“Right, that’s her,” Conrath said. “She probably had a fight with a boyfriend or something.”
“Go back, double-check the outer alarms. I’ll check here.” That should get Conrath safely out of his hair.
Grayson turned to the door. Instead of leaving, Conrath peered over his shoulder. Grayson swept his hand out, forcing the other man to backpedal. He rolled his shoulders, turning slightly so he see Conrath while examining the door.
No signs of tampering on the locks above and below or on the heavy metal of the door itself. No way to tell what was going on without checking. But his gut said this was going to be a worst case scenario. Hell.
“Chief, I told you to go and double-check all your work. I’ll handle the exhibit.” He shouldn’t go in alone. But he sure as hell wouldn’t go in with an armed guard that he didn’t trust at his back. David, I’m going to fire you if don’t get your ass here now.
Conrath braced his stocky body and put his hand on his gun. “You need back up.” He drew his gun and hiked up his pants.
Grayson slowly drew his Beretta from a shoulder holster, watching Conrath intently. If the man was involved in something, he would make a move right now.
“Only you can deal with the regular museum alarms. And you need to coordinate your staff.”
At the sound of footsteps, Conrath turned. Grayson let out the breath he’d been holding. David Valesquez jogged into view around the corner, his sneakers squeaking as he skidded to a halt. A Glock was in a waist holster strapped crookedly to his belt.
“I have my own back-up,” Grayson said.
Conrath holstered his gun, cursed under his breath, and left. Grayson took a deep breath. Too close. He slid his pass card through the slot in the alarm box and punched in the code. David watched him in silence.
The little square box chirped, almost sounding happy. Shut up, box. Grayson put his hand on the cold metal door handle and took a deep breath. He twisted the door handle and heard the click as the locks were set free. He let the familiar weight of his Beretta settle in his palm for a second.
“David, I’ll take point.”
“Right.” David nodded.
Grayson pushed open the door, gun and gaze sweeping from right to left.
On the far wall, the once pristine white paint was covered with black swastikas that resembled malevolent spiders crawling up the wall. The five masterpieces by Cezanne were gone, each empty frame now filled with a swastika. A crumpled figure in a museum security uniform lay motionless on the floor below the empty frames.
He tapped David on the shoulder and made a circular motion with his index finger, asking for cover. David nodded. Grayson lowered his weapon and rushed to the downed guard. As he drew closer, he could see it was Katz. She wasn’t breathing.
He pushed her brunette hair aside to check the pulse at her throat. No warmth, no pulse, nothing. Dead. Her hair fell back as he took his hand away and, in his shock, he flashed to the memory of a lifeless police officer, her uniform saturated with blood. Karen.
Stilling his trembling hand, he pushed Katz’s hair away from the other side of her head. Half of her skull was smashed in. Pieces of white skull mixed with bright red blood and a lumpy mess that must be part of her brain had leaked onto the black marble floor. Bile rose in his throat and he swallowed it, the acid burning his tongue.
He stood up. David pointed to the guard. Grayson shook his head and motioned to check the rest of the exhibit. They moved in silence through the twists and turns of the exhibit, listening and looking for anything out of order in the other six rooms. When Grayson felt certain it was secure, they returned to Katz’s body.
So young. Katz was only four years older than his daughter. Katz had a black belt, she learned police work quickly. But she had no expertise, as far as he knew, in walking through walls. How had she gotten inside without a pass card?
David put his weapon back in its holster, knelt over the girl and murmured a blessing in Spanish. Grayson silently seconded the prayer. He didn’t know where he’d gone wrong, but he’d made a mistake, one that led to her death.
He took out his cell phone.
“911?” David asked.
“No.” Grayson put the phone to his ear, staring away from Katz. “Call 911 and it’ll go out on the scanner. We’ll have the press all over us and we’ll never have a chance to solve anything in that circus. I’m calling in Dorothy. This is a major crimes case, anyway.”
His people counted on him for their livelihoods, and that could be in jeopardy if he couldn’t recover the paintings. Not only had his security system failed to protect the exhibit, it’d failed to protect Katz. The failures could be the ruination of his firm as well.
He closed his eyes, concentrating on the ringing of the cell phone, ignoring the churning in his brain. Think. Focus.
“You think we’ll have press all over this?” David said.
“As soon as they hear,” Grayson said.
“Exactly,” Grayson said.