Rebecca York -Harlequin
SOLID AS STEELE
A 43 LIGHT STREET Series
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Jamie Shepherd struggled to claw her way back to consciousness, but the nightmare held her fast. She was in a dark, spooky funhouse, trying to find the exit to freedom.
Music from a slasher movie blared from hidden speakers. Eerie green light shimmered around her. And the air was thick with a horrible graveyard smell.
Coughing, pressing her hand over her mouth, she fought to escape, even when she knew on some instinctive level that it wasn't her dream. She clung to that secret knowledge as she ran down an endless hallway, her breath coming in great gasps, her terror increasing with every step.
Ahead of her was a blank wall. Oh Lord!
She was trapped.
Or maybe not. Struggling to control her fear, she began to slide her hands over the flat surface, searching for a seam or a latch, something that would let her escape from the monster that she knew was behind her.
Finally, her fingers found a small indentation. When she pressed into it, a door sprang outward so fast that she lost her footing and tumbled through.
As she scrambled to right herself, she found she was on a slide that carried her down into the darkness, then dumped her onto a cold cement floor.
She lay there panting, her shoulder throbbing where it had struck the floor. From far away she heard a train whistle blow. Then, much closer, a sound behind her froze the blood in her veins.
He was coming! She had to get away.
After dragging herself up, she stood in the darkness, trying not to let her breathing give her away.
From a speaker in the wall, a grating voice boomed, "You can't stay there."
"No more. Please. Let me go," she cried out.
"What have I done to you?"
"I don't! Please just let me out of here. I don't even know who you are."
"Of course you know."
"I'll let you out if you can find the door. Go back upstairs."
As he spoke, a spotlight switched on, and she saw steps leading upward.
She clambered up, grasping the railing. At the top, she found herself in another corridor, this one lined with mirrors that distorted her image as they reflected her face and body.
Someone had spattered red paint on the floor. Or was it blood?
She looked behind her and saw a shadowed figure climbing the steps, his pace slow and deliberate, like he had all the time in the world.
A cry rose in her throat when she saw how he was dressed. He wore a black robe, and his face was a skull mask with glowing red eyes. She had seen him before. First just a glimpse. Then a fuller look. And some deep, primal instinct told her she was dead if he caught up with her. "No! Please."
She couldn't let him get her. That thought filled every corner of her mind as she came to a place where the corridor divided.
Which way? Oh God, which way? As he bore relentlessly down on her, she whimpered and chose the left-hand hallway. Only a few steps later, a bright light flashed in her eyes, almost blinding her, but she kept running because that was her only option.
Then out of the brightness, a black shape loomed in front of her.
It was him. Somehow he had circled around. He must have used a hidden passage, because now he was blocking her path. In his hand, she saw the glint of metal—the blade of a long, cruel knife.
She screamed and raised her arm, trying to defend herself. But the knife slashed into her flesh. As he pulled back and swung down for another blow, pain jolted through her.
Then mercifully, everything went black. On a sob, Jamie woke, her fingers clawing at the sheet as she tried to drag herself out of the nightmare house and back to her own reality. To her own bed.
It had been a dream. Only a dream. But not about her. It was another woman desperately trying to escape from a madman and just as desperately reaching out to Jamie.
Now the contact had snapped off, vanished as if it had never existed. She wanted to deny that it had been real. Yet in the secret part of her mind, she couldn't convince herself that it was only a nightmare.
"No," she whispered, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and rocking back and forth as she willed it not to be true, but denial was not an option. She had been in that other woman's mind. Felt the terror coming off of her in waves. And Jamie was pretty sure that the scene of horror had taken place in Gaptown, Maryland, the small city in the state's western mountains where she had grown up.
She'd made what she considered her escape, and she'd vowed never to return to a place where she'd hated her life. Yet a woman from home had reached out to her and pulled her back.
That the contact was in her mind didn't make it any less real or any less terrifying, and it didn't absolve her of responsibility to do something.
She lay in bed shivering, her heart pounding like a drum inside her chest as she watched the headlights of cars travel across the ceiling and wondered whether one of the vehicles was coming for her.
"Stop it," she muttered. "You're safe in your own bed. That man isn't in Baltimore. He can't get you."
Yes. She was safe. But the other woman…
She pushed herself up and turned on the bedside lamp, looking around the familiar bedroom. The lamp's glow was enough for her to see the outlines of the sleek modern chest of drawers and the lower dresser that she'd selected because they were so different from the ugly orange maple pieces back home.
After slipping out of bed, she pressed her feet against the oak floorboards, shivering a little in the early-morning cold, then stood up, stiffening her knees to steady herself. Hugging her arms around her shoulders, she crossed to the bathroom, where she filled a glass and gulped down several swallows of water.
She set down the glass with a thunk, then leaned forward and peered at herself in the mirror, seeing her straight blond hair, her troubled blue eyes, the slight tilt of her nose, and lips that were chapped because of her bad habit of taking them between her teeth.
It was her face. Totally familiar. Yet in the dream she'd been someone else.
Someone she knew? Maybe. But she didn't want to deal with that now, because it made the nightmare all the more terrible.
She'd felt the woman's panic. Her terrible need to escape. And then the blackness at the end.
"Oh Lord," she murmured, her hands gripping the cold porcelain of the sink as she struggled with her confused thoughts. One thing she knew for sure. She didn't want to be alone.
She had to call someone.
She knew that her friend Jo O'Malley would listen to her and tell her what to do, even at two in the morning.
Back in the bedroom, she sat down and picked up the phone, calling the familiar number.
After two rings, a man's deep voice said, "Light Street Detective Agency."
When she didn't say anything, he asked, "Is anybody there?"
"I…I'm sorry," Jamie stammered. It wasn't Jo. Lord, why had she even thought that Jo would be in the office to answer the phone? She was home with her husband, Cam Randolph, and her children, Leo and Anna.
"Jamie?" the man on the other end of the line asked, and she was afraid she knew who he was.
Her fingers gripped the receiver more tightly. Mack Steele was the last person she'd wanted to talk to, yet it turned out he was the one on duty.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I…nothing," she answered, feeling her heart start to pound all over again. There was plenty wrong, but she didn't want to talk about it with him. Not when she was in such a vulnerable state.
"It's something or you wouldn't have called. Is someone outside the house? Did they try to break in?"
She swallowed hard. "No. Nothing like that. I made a mistake," she said.
"Talk to me."
"I've got to go."
Before she could dig herself in any deeper, she replaced the receiver, then sat, shivering, on the side of the bed.
Jo would be in tomorrow. She'd go to her office before she reported to work at the 43 Light Street Lobby Shop, where she'd been a part-time clerk since she moved to Baltimore. They'd talk tomorrow.
She longed to crawl back into the warmth of the covers and lose herself in sleep again, but lying there would be a waste of time. She'd only end up staring at more car lights traveling across the ceiling and thinking about the woman. Or thinking about herself.
And the one rule she'd made after her husband, Craig, had been killed was that she wasn't going to lie in bed if there was no hope of going back to sleep. Better to get up and do something constructive.
Which was what?
She'd been working on some "baking in a jar" projects for the Lobby Shop. Each clear glass container had layers of dry ingredients like flour, spices and dried fruit that made a pretty pattern. But they were also practical—add some liquids and the ingredients made delicious baked goods. And she'd printed up easy directions for each one.
The jars had sold well during the holidays, and the shop owner, Sabrina Cassidy, had asked for more.
Jamie could put a few together tonight and take them to work with her in the morning.
Glad to have a sense of purpose, she padded to the closet and pulled out a pair of jeans and one of Craig's old plaid shirts that she liked to wear around the house. In the bathroom, she turned on the shower, hoping that hot water might wash away the chill from her skin.
In the office of the Light Street Detective Agency, Mack Steele turned toward the window, looking out over the sleeping city.
Jamie Shepherd had called a while ago, and he'd known from her voice that something was wrong. Then she'd hung up.
Probably because she didn't want to talk to him. Well, too bad. Something had spooked her, and he wasn't going to leave her alone and in trouble.
He clenched and unclenched his fists. Yeah, it had sounded like trouble. She was obviously worried about something. And she was all alone. Had been since Craig Shepherd had gotten killed in a hit and run accident ...ABOUT HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE AUTHOR
New York Times, USA Today best-selling novelist, Rebecca York (aka Ruth Glick) is the author of over 130 books. She writes paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Her many awards include a PRISM Award for “Second Chance” in MIDNIGHT MAGIC (Tor, May 06). She has received two Career Achievement Awards from RT BOOK REVIEW magazine. Her KILLING MOON was a launch book for Berkley’s Sensation Imprint. Her latest Berkley book is DAY OF THE DRAGON (December 2010). Her January Harlequin Intrigue, SOLID AS STEELE, hits the shelves this week. Also the author of 15 cookbooks, Ruth loves cooking, craft projects and watching defunct TV series on DVD. Her garden contains rocks she’s collected from around the world.
~ GETTING TO KNOW REBECCA ~ANGI: What's your favorite cover for one of your books?
REBECCA: My favorite Harlequin Intrigue cover is MORE THAN A MAN. When I saw the cover, my jaw dropped because it looks so much like my son. Yes, he's a hunk--real hero material, I think. When the book came out, he was doing his second tour in Afghanistan as a Foreign Service Officer on a Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Of my Berkley books, I love the DAY OF THE DRAGON cover.
ANGI: What's your favorite title you've been given?
REBECCA: Well, my favorite title is one I picked...NOWHERE MAN.
ANGI: I read the excerpt from SOLID AS STEELE. MAN, I WAS HOOKED FAST. Where did the idea come from?
REBECCA: When my editor at Harlequin Intrigue told me they were looking for scary stories, I started thinking about a book that would fit the definition. I came up with the idea of a villain out for revenge who builds a "funhouse" he's designed to punish the people who "ruined his life." He tells them that he'll let them go if they can figure out how to escape, but really he's planning to terrify them in his house of horrors before he kills them. And, of course, he's watching their every move and adding to their panic as they run through the maze he's constructed in an old mansion. By the way, my original title for the book was FUNHOUSE.
ANGI: Did you write MACK STEELE as a secondary character knowing he would be a hero one day?
REBECCA: No. I came up with Mack when I was thinking of this story. Mack and Jamie have been attracted to each other since she came to Baltimore. But both of them denied the attraction because she was married to Mack's best friend. After her husband was killed, they still felt like they couldn't reach out to each other. But circumstances forced them to solve this murder mystery together. And as they do, they admit that they are in love with each other.
ANGI'S GOTTA ASK REBECCA'S GOTTA ANSWERWhat's the worst title you've ever been given?
REBECCA: My last Intrigue was GUARDING GRACE. My editor wanted to call it BUILT. I hated it. But somehow she forgot about that title and asked ME what I wanted to call it. Big sigh of relief. My original title was EXTREME DNA.
Titles aren't the only problem. Long ago I had a book for Dell called SUMMER STARS. I always call it SEEING STARS. The hero has an agonized expression on his face. Maybe he=s supposed to be hot and bothered, but he looks to me like he's dying of food poisoning. That book was written under the name Alexis Hill Jordan. I just looked it up on Amazon. There's no cover picture.
Got a question you'd like to ask your fans?How important is the book cover to you? Does it influence your book selections? And what about the title? Is that a big selling point for you?
REBECCA'S GOT A FREE BOOK TO GIVE AWAY.I'll do a drawing for a copy of my Intrigue: GUARDING GRACE. But you have to leave a comment. Our winner will be posted in our Winner's Circle and on our FaceBook Page. (Mailed to North America readers ... International readers, we'll try to find an electronic copy of a book for you.)
CONGRATULATIONS, ELLEN TOO. You've won GUARDING GRACE and should contact us at GetLostInAStory@gmail.com for Rebecca's contact information.
THANKS AGAIN FOR JOINING US TODAY, REBECCA. Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment today to be eligible for Rebecca’s book, GUADING GRACE. You can find Rebecca (& Ruth) at her website: www.rebeccayork.com On Twitter: Rebeccayork43 On Facebook: Ruth Glick and see her new Book Trailer for DAY OF THE DRAGON: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wnMUBQQtlQ
AND BE CERTAIN to "Like" us on FaceBook to receive a notification of all ur guest authors. DON'T FORGET to 'Get Lost' in the stories of Kylie Brant & Karen Dionne on Thursday and Friday.
Til Next Time,
USA Today Bestseller Angi Morgan is an 11th generation Texan who plots ways to engage her readers with complex story lines, in actual Texas locations. She shares her research and photos on her daily blog: A Picture A Day.
I love to chat with readers. Join Angi's friends through my Fan Page.