I've always loved the Fourth of July. Patriotic fireworks, red white & blue picnics, watermelon spitting contests, lake campfires, fireworks (really really love those). I even enjoy crowds. No kidding. Well, as long as they respect my blanket.

Professionally, the Fourth turned into my official favorite holiday in 2009 when I finally sold my first book. 
Me, seeing HCH on sale at midnight

Fifteen years ago at a fireworks celebration, a writing exercise turned into SEE JANE RUN. Two years later, it finaled in the 2004 Golden Heart. Eight years and a couple of revisions later, that story won the Romance Writers of America 2010 Golden Heart and went on sale that night (at midnight) as HILL COUNTRY HOLDUP by Harlequin

Winning the GH
Here's how I incorporated that writing exercise into my first chapter. There are a couple of things to note: in contests, I'd been severely dinged for having unusual names. So I jokingly said, "What do they want? SEE JANE RUN?" Palmer & Woods were popular golfers (also easy names). And another judge told me that my story could have taken place ANYWHERE and had no depth (as in the five senses). Anywhere? I lived in Texas...I should be proud of that. So while waiting on Tim & Kourtney to buy roasted corn before the show, I sat on our patriotic blanket and starting writing what I smelled, observed and heard. Then my imagination took flight and I began adding the "what if's"...
            Steve Woods focused on the woman pushing a million dollars through the Fourth of July spectators in Williams Square. They hadn’t identified her yet. She’d taken possession of the stroller--and the hidden money--only four minutes ago.
            Musical notes from the orchestra’s “Baby Elephant Walk” faded into the background along with the chatter of the Texas crowd. His target swerved to the right so Steve ducked behind a double-wide plaid shirt, keeping out of her line of sight.
            With the ease of a long-time mother, the suspect fussed over an imaginary baby. The Mustangs of Las Colinas sculpture loomed in the background as she stuffed the large bills into a pack she flung onto her back.
            The gut instinct that kept him alive through ten years of FBI fieldwork pumped adrenaline through his veins. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But he would. Heart pounding, he searched for any sign of a weapon while wiping sweat from his forehead.
            “Everyone count off.” No one around him took notice that he spoke into a hidden microphone built into his earpiece. The bystanders appeared intent on following their noses, drawn by the aromas of funnel cakes, hamburgers, and roasted corn. Or in grabbing the free samples of Starbucks coffee before the portable store packed up shop and went home. No one here knew that a little boy had been kidnapped.
            “Greenback Two in position with a lock,” George Lanning began the count. Only four out of the five followed.
            “Where’s Stubblefield? Does anyone have eyes on her position?”
            “She was by the corn dog stand two minutes ago.” Even without the help of his powerful scope, George had the best vantage point of the entire field from atop the north parking garage. “I can’t find her ponytail.”
            “Greenbacks scramble. Switch to Bravo Tango Alpha,” Steve said. The team changed frequencies to exclude Stubblefield in case her radio was compromised. “Granger, search her last position. I’m staying with the target.”
            The sun sank fast behind the surrounding buildings. Darkness was just as much their enemy as the kidnappers. Once the fireworks began, it would be hell keeping the woman in sight. They had to stay alert and not lose the target in the crowd, even while restrained to the meandering pace set by the woman pushing the stroller.
            Wouldn’t she be in a hurry to leave?
            The money headed toward the middle of the activities, the center of a field of picnic blankets, lawn chairs, and kids with glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Steve had his agents in place, but the large perimeter stretched their coverage. Their target was cut off completely by a man-made lake on the southeast side of the field. The kidnappers had chosen an ideal time and place to run their game.
            “Where the hell is she going?”
            “I’ve got nothing,” George answered. “The monorail blocks my view of the other side of the lake. Who builds a damn lake in the middle of a business district anyway?”
            “Apparently the city of Las Colinas,” Winstrop mumbled.
            “Cut the chatter,” Steve commanded. “Keep your eyes open. Our area is over-extended, and you guys know the Irving cops and Highway Patrol already have their hands full monitoring the crowd. Anyone see Stubblefield?” Dammit. Her first assignment after moving back to his team, and she wasn't following protocol. Terrific.
            He needed to sort the facts and disconnect from the team’s challenges. Thomas Brant, Jr., son of the computer mogul, age twenty-nine months, had been snatched July third from his mother’s arms just outside their Dallas home. One computer-generated note--free of fingerprints or any other identifying marks--left next to her unconscious body and broken arm. Intentionally broken by the monster abducting her son.
                        One million. Large Bills. Unmarked.
                        Packed in small bag in kid’s stroller.
                        Cover with blue blanket.
                        Williams Square, Irving Fireworks, 8:00 P.M.
            No payment and he gets the same as the mother.
            Their only lead was to follow the money.
            Three adults and two children blocked Steve’s view of the target. She stood five feet from the lake. He stood fifteen feet behind her, within his reach, but the sky was completely dark.
            Time was up.
            “Any word on Stubblefield?” Everyone rose or stopped walking as the national anthem began. Some placed their hands over their hearts, and some sang their pride off-key, especially the guy in front of him. Pushing his respect aside, he concentrated on the target. He could see the white of her knuckles from her tight grip on the guide bar of the stroller.
            “I’m here,” Stubblefield said out of breath. “I’m trailing a suspicious teenager and lost radio contact.”
            “I no longer have a lock on the target,” George interrupted. “Too many civilians in the way.”
            He inventoried his target--small frame, hair stuffed under a floppy-hat, a drawstring bag looped over both shoulders, flip flops, and a red, white and blue oversized shirt that hung to the edge of her tight, blue jean shorts.
            Flip flops?
            Why would someone, prepared to grab the money and run, wear flip flops?
            The first rocket exploded. The hushed awe now shattered by the pops, sizzles, and crackles of fireworks. Steve didn’t let the noise distract him. He stared at the woman’s slender ankles and bright red toenails. They moved.
            Closer to the lake.
            “She’s going in the water!” he shouted to his team.
            Shoving through two cowboys, he snatched the stroller. Frightened blue eyes turned to him. Familiar eyes.
            It couldn’t be...
            A prick burned his forearm. He heard “I’m sorry” from a voice he remembered only too well. Her hands grabbed at his belt before he realized his knees had buckled and he crashed into her body. The ground meeting his shoulder didn’t cause him pain, which was odd. There should have been a jolt.
            Had he been shot?
            A blurry image waved off the concerned men. The world swirled around him, lit by the white and silver rockets exploding over his head. Her hands shifted from his chest to the bag of money, where she unrolled a hose? No, a breathing tube. She replaced the bag on her back as quickly as the shoes came off her feet.
            “George.” He struggled with words, unable to force his mouth or hands to move.
            “He just collapsed,” she told the men around her. Then she forced something into his hand. “I’m really sorry, Steve. Here’s the antidote. The paralysis is only temporary.”
            Damn, it was his Jane.
            “I’ll guide the paramedics here,” she said, but he knew she wouldn’t.
            Dr. Jane Palmer, chemist, genius, ex-lover. Not exactly who he thought he’d be tracking tonight.
            Barely able to turn his head, he caught sight of her sliding into the lake. No one paid any attention. The men were still shaking him, attempting to get a response. He couldn’t move his pinkie, let alone follow. Jane disappeared in the water as the two guys trying to help him drew a crowd.
             He struggled to keep his eyelids open. The guys shook him harder, as his team screamed “man down” and called for an ambulance. George shouted the target was under water and someone needed to follow her.
            “Get out of the way!” Windstrom reached him first. The grass swished near Steve’s ear before a friendly hand landed on his chest. “Woods? Can you hear me? Dammit, Lanning, where are the EMTs? He’s barely breathing.”
            “Where’s he shot?”
Re-Release in FRANCE
            “I can’t find a wound.” He pried Steve’s fingers away from whatever Jane had placed in his fist. “Wait a minute. It’s a note addressed to Zaphod? God, it’s instructions to administer an antidote. There’s a hypo here. Should I do it? George?”
            Steve heard the voices. Everything in his brain seemed to work, but he couldn’t focus past the blur in his eyes or force his mouth to move.
            God, he wasn’t about to die until he figured out why and how Jane was involved in this kidnapping.
            Give me the damn shot!

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  1. I love your story and why you love the 4th I 15 years ago moved from Ca to Ia as I married my husband and he moved me. It was the day that i moved from my family it was the only choice we had as husband couldn't find as good as work and pay that he has in ia and he also has family in ia although i am closer to the family i left in Ca and will always be as his kids who live in our same city never call him or come out to see him.

  2. How exciting and frightening at the same time !!

  3. I enjoy seeing the different covers books have depending on where its from! Congrats on 15 years!