WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE, the third book in my series of romantic thrillers that explores the intersection of archaeology, politics, and war, released late last week. I had a blast writing this short novel. I loved finding Trina’s voice and Keith’s… well, I pretty much love everything about Keith.
Like all books in this series, this story can stand alone, but the characters from the previous books are present in WE, and I really enjoyed writing the friendship between Trina, Mara, and Erica, as they all work together at Naval History and Heritage Command. Years ago my husband worked for NHHC’s underwater archaeology branch making writing about the organization especially fun.
Today I’m excited to share with our Kiss and Thrill readers the first scene of Withholding Evidence.
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Trina Sorensen stiffened her spine and rang the town house doorbell. She couldn’t hear a chime, so after a moment of hesitation, she followed up with a knock. Seconds ticked by without any sound of movement on the other side. She rang the bell again, and then repeated the knock for good measure. The front door was on the ground floor, next to the garage. Glancing upward, she checked out the windows of the two upper floors. No lights on, but at nine in the morning on a hot August day in Falls Church, that didn’t tell her anything. If the man she hoped to meet was home, he’d have to descend at least one flight of stairs, possibly two.
She was about to ring the bell again when the door whipped open, startling her. She stepped back, then remembered she needed to project poise and straightened to meet her target’s gaze.
Keith Hatcher was even more handsome in person than in his official navy photo, but she couldn’t let that fluster her. It just meant he’d been blessed with good genes, a rather superficial measure of a person, really.
She took a deep breath and held out her hand. “Mr. Hatcher, Trina Sorensen, historian with Naval History and Heritage Command. I’d like to ask you a few questions about Somalia.” She cringed as she said the last part. Too perky. Too eager. That was not how to approach a former navy SEAL when asking about a mission.
Sporting tousled dark hair that suggested he may have just gotten out of bed, and wearing low-rise jeans and nothing else, the man leaned an impressive bare bicep against the doorframe and raised a quizzical thick eyebrow. “Trina? Cute name.” He smiled. “It fits.” He reached out and touched the top of her head. “But I think you should go back to the day care center you escaped from and leave me alone.” He stepped back, and the door slammed shut.
She jolted back a step. He did not just pat her on the head and slam the door in her face.
Except that was exactly what Senior Chief Petty Officer Keith Hatcher had done.
She was aware she looked young, but dammit, she was thirty-one freaking years old—the same age as Hatcher. She squared her shoulders and rang the bell again. Seconds ticked by. Then minutes. She pounded with the side of her fist.
Finally the door opened. “Yes?” He leaned against the doorjamb again, this time stretching out an arm to touch the hinged side of the opening. His body language conveyed amusement mixed with annoyance.
“Senior Chief, I’m Dr. Trina Sorensen”—she never referred to herself with the pretentious title of doctor, but figured his crack about day care warranted it—“and I’m researching your SEAL team’s work in Somalia five years ago for Naval History and Heritage Command and the Pentagon. You must answer my questions.”
“Dollface, it’s Sunday morning. The only thing I must do today is jack off.”
She crossed her arms. “Fine. I can wait. It’ll be what, one, maybe two minutes?”
The man tilted his head back and laughed. She saw her opportunity and ducked under his arm, entering, as she’d suspected, an enclosed staircase. The door to the left could only go to the garage. She went straight for the stairs, heading up to his home. Her heart beat rapidly at her own audacity, but she was never going to get the information she needed to do her job from the SEAL without taking risks.
“What the hell?” he sputtered, then added, “Who do you think you are, barging into my home?”
“I told you. I’m Dr. Trina Sorensen from NHHC,” she answered as she reached the landing that ended in the most spotless mudroom she’d ever seen. She crossed the room and stepped into his kitchen. She leaned against a counter as he paused in his own kitchen doorway. His mouth twitched, but his jaw was firm, making her think he couldn’t decide if he was annoyed or amused.
“I’ll wait here while you masturbate. We can start the interview when you’re done.”
Amusement won, and a corner of his mouth kicked up. He took a step toward her. “It’ll go faster if you help me.”
Her heart thumped in a slow, heavy beat. Barging into his home might’ve been a mistake. She frowned. Of course it was a mistake. “I’m good to go. Already took care of business this morning in the shower. You go ahead without me.”
He barked a sharp laugh, then shook his head. “What do you want, Dr. Sorensen?”
“As I said already, I’m here to ask you questions about Somalia.” She pulled her digital recorder from her satchel. “Do you mind if I record our conversation?”
His brown eyes narrowed. “Hell, yes, I mind. More importantly, we aren’t having a conversation. You are leaving. Now. Before I call the police.”
“Please don’t be difficult. I’m just doing my job.”
“SEAL ops are classified.” All hint of amusement left his voice, leaving only hard edges.
She sighed in frustration. Hadn’t he bothered to read any of her e-mails? “I sent you what you need to verify my security clearance in my e-mail. And my orders came directly from the Pentagon.”
“I don’t give a crap if the pope sent you on orders from the president. I’m not telling you shit about a place I’ve never been.”
He expected her to accept that and walk away? She’d never have gotten anywhere as a military historian if she allowed the men in her field to brush her off. “Oh, you’ve been to Somalia all right. You were there on a reconnaissance mission, gathering data about a rising al Qaeda leader who was taking advantage of a power vacuum created by ongoing interclan violence.”
He crossed his arms and spoke softly. “I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
The man had a solid poker face; no hint that she’d surprised him with the paltry facts she knew. So he was handsome and big and had the most gorgeous sculpted pecs and abs she’d ever seen, and he was sharp to boot. “I’m researching various SEAL actions in Somalia over the last two decades, starting with Operation Gothic Serpent and ending with yours.”
“The work I did when I was in the navy is classified. Not only do I not have to tell you about an op I was never on in a country I’ve never visited, but I could also get in serious trouble if I did tell you a damn thing about the places I have been.”
She handed him her card. “But you do have to answer me. The Pentagon wants this report. Your input is necessary.” This project was her big break. Future naval operations could depend on her findings, and the biggest of the brass were eager for this account. She was already having visions of moving out of the cubicle next to cantankerous Walt. She could have walls. And a door.
“But, you see there, dollface, that’s the problem. I’m not in the navy anymore. I don’t take orders from the Pentagon. I don’t have to follow commands from anyone, least of all a five-foot-nothing librarian who invaded my kitchen without my permission.”
She straightened her spine and threw back her shoulders, determined to reach her full height. “I’m five foot three. And I’m an historian.” Her glasses slipped, and she nudged them back to the bridge of her nose.
He chuckled, and she flushed. She’d have been better off if she hadn’t corrected him on the librarian label as she adjusted her glasses.
“Whatever, doll. Listen, you have one minute to get out of my house, or I’m going to assume you’ve decided to watch me jerk off after all.”
She couldn’t look away from the brown eyes that held hers in a tense gaze. Just her luck that he was so frigging gorgeous. Attractive men made her self-conscious. Especially ripped, half-naked ones. “I’m not playing games, Senior Chief. I’m just here to do my job.”
He smiled slowly and reached for his fly.
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Today I’m giving away a signed print copy of WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE. To enter the drawing, tell me: are you are willing to read books in a series out of order, or do you always start with book one?
I’ve always dreamt of being at a grand ball and waltzing.
The image of tall, mysterious men circling a floor to the strains of Strauss, while their partners’ dresses billow behind them, is incredibly romantic – like a music box springing to life.
Too bad it only happens in novels.
So, when the invitation came for a true Viennese Ball at the National Museum for Women in the Arts, I begged my husband to go. It was a wonderful cause and the fairytale event every girl dreams of. Poor guy never stood a chance. Imagine, a beaux art mansion in the middle of D.C., a candle-lit dinner on the mezzanine, overlooking the marble dance floor where a twenty-piece orchestra played.
My imagination has played this scene for so long it morphed into the first chapter of my spy novel. My heroine sneaks into a very fancy, very private ball in modern day Budapest in a mansion overlooking the Danube. (excerpt) The adventure takes her to Hong Kong where she battles traitors and falls in love. So, even if the view was that of
New York Avenue, instead of Strauss’ famed river, last Saturday night really was a fantasy come true.
It’s amazing how plots get inspired by these kinds of settings. While other people worried about dance steps, or romancing their partner, my husband had to deal with me checking out alternative exits, stairwells, and figuring out who might make a good villain in my next book. It’s wonderful when every event takes on the nuances of a Bond film. Too bad it is more exciting in my head than in real life.
And, oh the beautiful people! Everyone wore black tie. Some women went for full ball gowns, and military men, in perfectly fitted dress uniforms, sparkled with medals. There were couples who put Fred and Ginger to shame, and then there were couples like my husband and me – let’s just say my toes will never be quite the same. Still, I wouldn’t have traded him for any other guy in the room.
By the time the evening was over, we’d met some lovely people, got the hang of dancing counter-clockwise, participated in the grand march, and learned the quadrille.
And every now and then, behind billowing ball gowns and marble pillars, I may have seen my hero and heroine laughing, as they danced in the night.
Stop by tomorrow because Roxanne St. Claire will be back with an exciting announcement on behalf of her fellow authors from the MurderSheWrites blog: Their exclusive e-book anthology Guns and Roses. And she’ll be giving away a free copy!