My guest blogger today is one of the Loopies, Jill Gregory. Way back when books were chiselled out of stone tablets, Jill and I were part of the Four of Hearts promotion at Dell, and a few books later, the Four of Hearts Reunited. As I recall, we met at a Romantic Times Conference, at a dinner hosted by Dell, and we just happened to be seated next to each other and both of us said: oh, so you’re one of the other Hearts! Jill is also a nighthawk, like myself, (and like the other Jill, Ms Metcalf) so I can usually count on an answer from one Jill or the other coming back to an email I send out at 1 in the morning *g* Jill has also recently joined the ebook revolution, and I was pleased and flattered when she asked me to do the covers for the first three reissues, so I hope you all give her a little extra love LOL.
Please welcome…Jill Gregory
Hi everyone! I’d like to thank Marsha for inviting me to chat with you all today. I’m Jill Gregory and I’ve written more than thirty historical and contemporary romances, as well as romantic suspense and thrillers. I started out writing historical romances many moons ago — in fact, my first book was published the same month my daughter was born. My husband brought me my very first letter from a reader while I was in the hospital after giving birth! I’ll never forget what a thrill that was. And to this day, I love hearing from my readers. I’m always striving to give them the best, most riveting and exciting reading experience I can create. This is probably because I am an avid reader myself and have treasured so many books over the years.
I learned my love of books from my mom — we used to meet downstairs in the kitchen in the middle of the night — have a snack, of course <g> — and read our respective books in companionable silence into the wee hours before finally tearing ourselves away from the pages to return to sleep. I still love when a book keeps me up reading all night! Who needs sleep when one can get lost in the magic of a story?
I hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from one of my early adventure-filled western romances. — WHEN THE HEART BECKONS. In this scene, Annabel Brannigan, a private investigator for a detective agency similar to the Pinkerton Agency, is searching for her childhood friend, Brett McCallum, who has disappeared in the Arizona Territory and is in some kind of trouble. Discovering that a dangerous gunfighter, Roy Steele, is also hunting for Brett, Annabel decides to follow Steele, spy on him, and use whatever he discovers about Brett’s whereabouts to find Brett first. Unfortunately, all does not go as smoothly as she plans….
A brief excerpt from When The Heart Beckons (which just HAPPENS to be on sale this week for .99… I mean, what a DEAL!)
Annabel waited, pressing back against the stall. She heard the blacksmith return to work, swearing under his breath, and then she eased her way to the rear door and out once more into the quickly falling dusk.
But as she rounded the corner of the building, heading back toward the hotel, she suddenly collided with a rock-hard wall of sheer male muscle looming directly before her.
“Ma’am.” The harshness of Roy Steele’s voice raised gooseflesh on her arms. She tried to answer in kind.
“You know my name.”
For the second time since she’d met him, Annabel felt the hot blush warming her cheeks, but she recovered smoothly. “Why, yes, the clerk at the hotel mentioned it. May I pass, please?”
Mr. Steele …”
“You’re not going anywhere until you answer a question. Why are you following me?”
“Following you? Mr. Steele, you obviously have an exaggerated sense of your power over women. I assure you I am not …”
She shook her head and let a light laugh trill from her lips. “Well. If you aren’t the vainest man I’ve ever met. Merely because I happen to find myself in the same vicinity as you twice in one day—to my own regret, I assure you …”
Icy fury clamped down over his implacable features. “Stop prattling. Answer my question or I’ll …”
“You’ll what? Shoot me? Oh, heavens, I am quite shaking in my boots!”
Annabel was amazed at her own audacity. Truth be told, she was shaking in her boots; her knees rattled quite humiliatingly beneath her serviceable traveling skirt. But she kept her face schooled into an expression of outraged scorn. If there was one thing she hated, it was a bully, and Roy Steele was nothing but a bully, she assured herself.
A bully who looked as if he would like to wring her neck. He reached out one hand and for an agonizing second Annabel thought he was really going to choke her, but he only gripped her by the shoulder. “If you weren’t following me, lady, what the hell are you doing in this alley? A little while ago, I saw you behind me on Main Street , pretending to look in a shop window.”
“You’re quite mad, Mr. Steele. Quite mad. And if you don’t let me go this very instant …”
A voice like hell’s own thunder roared through the alley. Annabel and Steele both spun toward it.
Annabel’s eyes widened at the sight before her. Good God, not one, but two vicious-looking gunmen glared at them from less than twenty feet away.
They must be outlaws—or gunfighters, Annabel guessed, fighting back a rush of faintness. Her heart was banging against the wall of her chest like an Indian war drum. She’d never seen such dirty, unkempt, savage-looking men.
Unshaven, their faces pockmarked and tough as buffalo hide beneath their stringy brown hair, they looked like the type of men who would as soon wring a cat’s neck as pet it. They both wore long greasy yellow dusters over dirt-stained pants and cracked boots that were torn and splattered with mud. One man was taller than the other, with even tinier, beadier eyes. Annabel noted in alarm that his gun was drawn and pointed straight at Roy Steele. The other man had a long mustache and a scar looping from his cheek down across his pointed chin. They bore a startling resemblance to each other: the same long gangly build, the same flat, squashed noses, the same aura of evil radiating from them, right down to the expression of leering hatred on their faces.
“Who are they?” she whispered to Steele, swallowing past the lump of fear in her throat.
“The Hart brothers. Outlaws. Reckon they mean to kill me.”
“In that case, I think I’ll be going,” she murmured, but as she took one tentative step away from him, the taller gunman fired off a shot that scattered pebbles near her feet.
“Don’t neither of you move none!” he ordered. His brother spat into the dirt and grinned at Steele.
“Steele, you son of a bitch, I’m gonna blow your damned head off.”
“Or else I will!” his brother vowed.
The gunfighter answered with a cool laugh. “You reckon so, Les?”
Annabel could scarcely believe her ears. There was no mistaking the icy nonchalance in Steele’s voice. Peeking over at him, she saw that there was no fear on his face. Not a trace of it. Only a sneer of contempt. She drew in a deep breath though her lungs were tight with fear. Glancing at the other two men, her heart sank. The hatred on their faces had hardened with his cool words and arrogant demeanor. Steele, she thought and it was almost a prayer breathed in the late afternoon stillness, you’d better be good. Damned good.
“You kin wipe that smug look off your face, Steele, ‘cause we got you now, and you know it,” Mustache crowed with glee. “You knew we’d get you for killing Jesse. Wal, your time has come. You’re going to hell where you belong.”
Steele kept his gaze riveted on the men, but spoke to Annabel in a calm, offhand tone. “I’d get out of here if I were you.”
“H-how do you suggest I do that?”
Run. Run away and leave him there to face these cutthroats alone. Well, why not? He certainly seemed able to take care of himself, and he was hardly her concern. Yet Annabel hated the idea of dashing away like a scared rabbit before these two ugly lumps of vermin. “I never run, Mr. Steele,” she murmured, her gaze fixed warily on the Hart brothers all the while. “It’s so undignified …”
“You little fool. This isn’t a parlor game. Run.”
Les waved his gun. “What’re you talkin’ to your lady friend fer? Pay attention, you low-down bastard—you’re about to die!”
Steele let out another low, cold laugh. The sound of it chilled Annabel’s blood. “Does this female look like any lady friend of mine, Les? Hell, I don’t even know this woman. And I don’t want to. Get her out of here so the three of us can settle this.”
“Mebbe she’d like to watch. How ‘bout it, little lady? You want to watch this hombre die?”
“I’d much rather have a cup of tea at the hotel,” she confessed, trying to smile though her lips felt like cardboard. “And I’d like to ask your permission to go there right now and do just that—but first I feel I must point out to you that two against one is hardly fair odds, gentlemen. And you might not realize this, Mr., er, Les, but you already have your gun drawn! That’s not a typical gun duel, not at all, from everything I’ve seen and read. Why, you’ll go to jail.”
Mustache shoved his hat back on his head. “Not if there ain’t no witnesses.”
The implication of this remark made Annabel swallow hard. “I admire you for thinking ahead,” she managed faintly, “but perhaps you gentlemen could just discuss this first …”
“No more talk.” Les Hart suddenly went tense with readiness, his eyes razoring in on Steele once more. “Steele, you never shoulda killed our brother.”
“We’ve been waiting a long time to git you, and we’re not goin’ to wait a minute more,” Mustache growled. “I jest wanted to see the look on your face and now …”
“Watch out! Behind you!” Annabel shouted, her arm lifting to point and instinctively the two men jerked around.
At the same moment Roy Steele knocked her to the ground.
Then the street exploded in a thunderous, violent blur.
Gunshots rent the air, dust and smoke billowed, blood erupted. Annabel, face down in the dust, heard herself screaming.
She stopped at last, jamming a dirty fist into her mouth and lifting her head to stare in disbelief at the bloody tableau.
The Hart brothers sprawled dead in the alley. At least one was dead, she amended, gulping down the sick nausea that rose in her throat. The other still twitched in a grotesquely horrible little dance. After what seemed like endless seconds, his elbows and knees went still and the gurgling in his throat stopped.
Roy Steele stood calmly, feet planted apart, surveying the scene. He looked as cool and remote as a glacier. His gaze flickered to her, his black eyes gleaming above the wisp of blue smoke that curled upward from his Colt .45.
“I told you to run.”
Visit Jill’s website at: www.jillgregory.net