You don’t have to be an established book reviewer; you just need to have an opinion! I would like YOU to help me create the perfect suspense romance novel.

The working title is Who Are You? The novel will be a stand alone sequel to Hearts On the Run and will focus around Max, an assistant district attorney who is seduced by his dream woman – who then disappears on him without a trace. When he finally discovers who she is, he’s in for another surprise. It seems someone else is after her as well, and will use any means necessary to get her. Even if that means killing Max to get him out of the way.

Intrigued? There's more: I’ll even publish your name at the end of the book under a section titled, “My Opinion Mattered.” (You may stay anonymous if you would like.) If this sounds like fun, then this is how you can critique the novel every step of the way:

Every couple of days, I will post a small section of the book. After reading it, comment on what you liked, what you didn't like, how the dialogue flowed, character traits, how well edited the section was, and whatever else you can think of while reading. I will then revise the section based on your suggestions. Names published under the "My Opinion Mattered" section will be listed in order of number of comments contributed, so comment often! For those just joining us, please check out the blog archives to start the book from the beginning.

There is also an area to vote on how well you think the novel is progressing. You will be able to change your vote as the novel progresses to best reflect how you feel at any given time along the journey to a completed novel.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Part 8 of Who Are You?

Chapter 8

Monday morning started right away with client meetings, one right after another.  Before Lauren knew it, it was noon and her stomach was rumbling.  Skipping breakfast in lieu of an extra few minutes of sleep didn’t usually bother her, but today her stomach was protesting its emptiness.  Picking up her phone to call Audrey to see if she was free for lunch, she didn’t notice she had a visitor until she heard a knock on her open door.  She looked up, surprised to see Max standing there.
            “I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said.  He looked fantastic in his dark blue suit, white shirt and blue and red striped tie.  So good it took her a moment to respond.
            “Um, no,” she finally said.  “What can I do for you?”
            “I brought you this.”  Coming into her office, he set an envelope on her desk.  Which, of course, triggered the thought of him putting her on the desk and having his way with her.  She tried to shut down that mental image before her hormones made her do something stupid.  She was acting like a moon-eyed teenager and she didn’t like it.  “It’s the recommendation for Marshawn Devereaux to go to the Second Chance Ranch until he’s eighteen.  I spoke with Mr. Schwartz and he agreed with you.  He’s known Marshawn for a long time and was surprised as anyone that he had taken such a wrong turn.  Mr. Schwartz would like to give him a second chance as well.”
            Lauren knew her mouth was hanging open, but she was in shock, she couldn’t help it.  “Who are you and what did you do with Max Canter?” she asked.
            With a heart-stopping smile, Max said, “Yeah, I guess I deserved that.  I do give you a hard time and honestly, I don’t know why.  Maybe I just enjoy sparring with you,”           Lauren couldn’t help but smile in return.  “I think I do my own share of needling you as well.  Maybe we could call a truce?”
            Max nodded.  “I’d like that.” 
He looked like he was about to say something else when Audrey came into her office.  “Hey, Lauren, can you look at this?” she said without looking up until she almost bumped into Max.  “Oh,” she said in surprise, “excuse me.  I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“That’s alright, I was just leaving.  Let me know if you run into any trouble with that,” he said to Lauren and then he was gone.
Lauren stared after him for a moment remembering the night they spent together.  God, she wished he knew and more than that, she wished he wanted to repeat it.  But she would never have the courage to tell him and apparently, he hadn’t figured it out.  And other than that adrenaline induced kiss on Saturday, he didn’t seem the least bit attracted to her as she really was.  Not some sex starved vixen out for seduction.
Audrey got in her line of vision.  “Hello?  I asked what he wanted.”
“Oh, sorry, um, he just wanted to drop something off.”
“Couldn’t he just messenger it over?”
Lauren shrugged.  “Maybe he was coming down here for something else.”  The DA’s offices and the court appointed defense attorneys were in the same building but were separated by several floors. 
Audrey snorted.  “Yeah, probably to hit on someone.”
Ouch.  That stung, especially since it wasn’t her.  That made her want to change the subject quickly before she started imaging who Max was talking to now.  “Want to get some lunch?  I’m starved.”
“Yeah, let me grab my purse.  I can show you this later.”  Audrey took the file she had in her hands with her and went back to her own office to get her purse.  They made it a quick lunch and thankfully, Audrey didn’t mention Max again the entire time.
Later that afternoon as Lauren went through the things her assistant had brought in and set on her desk, one envelope in particular caught her eye.  It was addressed to her and marked personal, but it had no return address on it.  Tearing it open she found a small piece of paper with a typed note.  It read, ‘It’s almost time for you to be mine.  I count the days and the hours until we belong to each other.’  Stunned, she let the note fall to the desk.
Picking up the phone, she called Audrey’s office.  When she picked up, she said, “Will you please come down here?  I have to show you something.”  She could hear the slight panic in her voice.
“Sure, I’ll be right there.”  Audrey’s office was only a couple of doors down from Lauren’s.  It only took her a moment to walk over.  “What’s up?  You sounded strange on the phone.”
Lauren held the note out to her with a shaking hand. The flowers were annoying but this had her rattled.  An escalation in behavior like this couldn’t be a good thing.   
Audrey took the note and read it.  With eyes like saucers, she asked, “What do you think that means?”
            “I don’t know.”  A slight tremor in Lauren’s voice gave away her growing fear. 
            Brows furrowed in worry lines, Audrey handed the note back.  “Maybe David’s right, maybe you should report it to the police.”
            Lauren groaned and put her head in her hands.  “I don’t know.  It’s not like whoever is doing this is threatening me.  There’s not much the police can do.”
            Audrey sat in the chair across from Lauren’s desk and sighed.  “Yeah, I guess not.  It’s still kind of creepy, though.”
            “Tell me about it.” Lauren raised her head to look at her.  “I just hope whoever this is gets tired of messing with me soon.”
            “Me, too.  It’s getting too personal now.”  Standing back up, Audrey said, “Hey, it’s late.  Let’s get out of her and go for a drink.  You could use it.” 
Lauren nodded in agreement and gathered her stuff with hands that wouldn’t stop shaking.  She tucked the note in her top desk drawer and tried to forget about it.  Easier said than done.
            She stopped at her assistant’s desk as she waited for Audrey to get her things from her office.  “Tim, did you get a chance to type up that affidavit from this morning?”
            “I sure did,” he said pulling a file from the stack on the corner of his desk.  Lauren was happy to see it not only had the affidavit but all the copies needed ready to be signed.  Tim was almost anally organized which was in slight contrast to his often unkempt appearance.  Lauren suspected he usually stayed up late playing the role playing game on his computer that he talked about sometimes, getting very little sleep.  He was sweet, though, and an excellent paralegal.
            “Great.  Could you set up a time with the witness to proof it and get it signed?  Tomorrow if possible.”
            “It’s already set for tomorrow at ten.”
            Lauren laughed.  “I should have figured.  What would I do without you?”
            A proud smile touched his lips.  “Crumble under a pile of unanswered messages and untyped briefs.”
            “Yeah, I probably would,” she agreed.  “I’m heading out for the night.  Why don’t you take off, too?”
            “I just have one more thing I want to get done and then I will.”
            “Okay, don’t stay too late,” she admonished.  She suspected he was often here later than he needed to be.  She appreciated his dedication but didn’t want to overwork him.
            “Ready?” Audrey asked carrying her purse and jacket.
            “Yes.  Goodnight, Tim,” she said over her shoulder as she and Audrey started walking to the elevator.
            When they were out of earshot, Audrey said, “I still think it’s a little weird that your assistant is a guy.  Don’t you?”
            Lauren shrugged.  “Not really.  He’s great at what he does.”
            “He doesn’t give you a hard time because you’re a woman?”
            Lauren made a face.  “Why would he?  And when did you become so provincial?”
            “I don’t know, it just seems like some guys would still have a hard time with it.  Or maybe develop a crush on you.”
            “Well, Tim hasn’t shown any signs of either,” Lauren said firmly.  Audrey let the subject drop as the elevator doors opened and they stepped on with several other people. 
            Unfortunately, the following week Lauren received an identical letter to the first one.  The same cryptic message on a plain white piece of paper.  With resignation, she knew she couldn’t ignore it any longer.  Pulling the previous letter out of her desk drawer, she took both letters down the hall and knocked on Ben’s door.  Ben Johnson, the head of the department, was always a level minded guy.  He’d be able to tell her if she was overreacting or not.
            “Hey, Lauren, what can I do for you?”
            She stepped into his office and put the letters on his desk.  “I’ve received these here at work and I’ve been getting flowers for weeks both here and at home.  I’m starting to get nervous.”
            Ben picked up the letters and frowned as he read them.  “I can see how this would upset you.  Do you have any idea who could be sending them?”
            Shaking her head, she said, “No.  At first I thought it might be a friend of mine but now I don’t think so.  I’m afraid it might be a previous client.  What do you think I should do?  Should I go to the police?”
            Ben pursed his lips for a moment.  “As horrible as this sounds, there’s not a whole lot the police can do at this point.  It doesn’t sound like this person has threatened you at all.  It seems more like a secret admirer than anything more sinister.  At best, if the police could figure out who was sending them, the person could possibly be charged with harassment, but that would be a hard sell.”  That was not the answer she wanted, but it made sense. 
            Handing the letters back to her, Ben said, “Keep me apprised of the situation.  If there’s any more escalation, I’ll bring it to the police myself.”
            “Alright.”  Lauren took the letters and walked back to her office, more frustrated now than she was before.  She had hoped Ben would have a better answer that.
Thanksgiving came and went with just a small gathering of friends and family.   Lauren received the same letter each week and they all said the same thing.  Nothing more, nothing less.  But she took comfort in the fact that it hadn’t gotten worse.
She hadn’t spoken to Max since that Monday when he came to her office, and she couldn’t help feeling disappointed.  Her hopes had risen when he brought the recommendation over himself, thinking it may be an indication that he was interested in her, but apparently not.  That stung but she was the one who had made certain it would only be a one night stand.  And he would never know with who.  Max hadn’t done anything except not be as attracted to her as she was to him, just like it had always been.  It was absurd to feel hurt over that. 
            The night of the gala for Second Chance Ranch had arrived and she was looking forward to wearing the gorgeous dress she had bought last month - a tea rose colored floor length gown with a plunging heart shaped neckline and no back.  The slit up her left thigh could almost be considered indecent.   She had no idea what had made her buy it.  It was so different than the more modest gown she had been planning to buy.  Maybe the Bat Girl outfit had given her the courage to be a little more daring without the mask.
            As she slipped into the gown, it became obvious it didn’t fit quite the way it had when she first bought it.  Her breasts were in danger of falling out if she turned too quickly and where it had loosely draped over her curves before, it now hugged them tightly.  She hadn’t noticed that she was eating more; she actually thought she had been eating less since she had been so busy, but she must have put on a few pounds.  The dress still fell into the realm of respectability, but just barely.
            “Lord have mercy!” her grandmother exclaimed when Lauren came out of her room.  “Where is the rest of that dress?!”
            Already feeling a little self-conscious, she asked, “Is it really that bad?”
            “Not if you want every man and his brother not having to guess what you look like without that flimsy piece of material on!” her grandmother sniped.  “You don’t even have a bra on!”
            Lauren sighed as she looked down at her dress.  “Grandma, it’s okay for women to go without bras sometimes.  But the dress is a little tighter than when I bought it.  If I had another gown, I’d change.”
            Her grandmother pursed her lips.  “It does look like you’ve put on a couple of pounds in certain places.  Lord knows how since you eat like a bird.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were pregnant.”  Laughing at the ridiculousness of the notion, she turned to open the door for David who had just rung the bell.
            Lauren felt all the color drain from her face.  No!  She couldn’t be.  The only time she’d had sex in the last year was with Max and they had used a condom every time!  Oh God, she was going to be sick.  She hurried back down the hall to the bathroom just in time.
            “Lolo?  Are you all right in there?” her grandmother asked a moment later.
            Turning on the water, she tried to keep her voice calm as she said through the locked door, “Yes, please tell David I’ll be out in a moment.”
            Lauren leaned her forehead against the cool mirror as she tried to remember the last time she had her period.  She wasn’t always regular so she didn’t usually worry about it.  But now that she was thinking about it, she hadn’t had one since before Halloween.  Just the thought of that made her queasy again.
            The feeling passed after a minute.  Straightening up, she brushed her teeth.  She fixed her lipstick and touched up her make up but she still looked pale and a little nauseated.  Taking a deep calming breath that didn’t work at all, she opened the door and walked with leaden feet to the living room.  The next few hours now stretched out before her as torture.  She couldn’t wait until after the gala.  She needed to know now.
            David’s eyebrows practically touched his hairline when he saw her.  “Wow.  You look beautiful.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you wear anything quite so, um, obvious before, though.”
            Lauren sighed.  That was a backhanded compliment if she ever heard one.  David preferred his women to be more demure, not flashy.  Too bad for him, she thought, I’m not his date anyway.  He just offered me a ride.  With a thin smile, she slipped into her wrap.  She kissed her grandmother good bye and followed David out to his car.
            “Do you mind if we stop at the drug store?” Lauren asked as they started driving.
            David scowled.  “That could make us late.  Is it really necessary?”
            Lauren snorted.  “Oh, yeah.”
            David looked at her questioningly until she said, “Women’s stuff.”
            Looking slightly uncomfortable, David kept his attention on the road until they found a drug store that was on the way.  Lauren asked him to wait in the car and he didn’t argue.  In the store, Lauren quickly found the aisle with pregnancy tests but she was overwhelmed by the number available.  Finally deciding on one that swore to be foolproof and included a second test just to be sure, she brought it up to the register.  The young guy with the lip rings and blue hair behind the counter didn’t bat an eye over the tests but he seemed to enjoy her dress a great deal.
            Swinging her long curly hair in front of her to cover up as much of her cleavage as possible, Lauren asked as he rang up the tests, “Do you mind throwing away the box for me?  It won’t fit in my purse.”
            “No problem,” the young guy said, his eyes never leaving her breasts.
            Lauren tore open the box and pulled out the tests and the instructions shoving both of them into her clutch.  After shoving her change in after them, she snapped the clutch closed and hurried out to the car.
            “Get what you needed?” David asked with just a hint of impatience in his voice.
            “Yes,” Lauren said trying not to sound like she was hiding two pregnancy tests in her purse.  My god, she felt like a teenager!  She was a grown woman with a career, and if she happened to be pregnant, then she’d deal with it.  She closed her eyes as she imagined telling Max.  No, no way was she going to do that.  Admit to not only seducing him but then ending up pregnant as well?  He’d probably think she did it on purpose and she wouldn’t blame him.  If she was pregnant, she’d raise the baby on her own.  There was no reason at all for him to know.  But guilt nagged at the back of her mind.  She didn’t know if she could really do that.  Hopefully, she wouldn’t have to worry about it.
            “You’re awfully quiet tonight,” David remarked as they pulled into the circular drive of the downtown hotel where the gala was being held.  “Something wrong?”
            “You seem kind of down.  It doesn’t have anything to do with that lawyer you were kissing, does it?” he pressed.
            Lauren sighed loudly.  “David, I already told you, that was just an adrenaline thing.  I’m not dating him.”
            “Alright,” he said defensively, “I was just asking.”
            “Please stop asking,” Lauren said as they pulled up to the valet stand.  She didn’t wait for the valet to open the door for her.  She got out into the cold night air and walked briskly into the hotel lobby.
            “In a hurry?” David asked when he caught up to her.  When she didn’t respond right away, he laid his hand on her arm.  “Lauren, I’m sorry.  Please don’t be sore with me.  I know it’s none of my business and I’ll stop asking you about your love life.  I promise.”
            Lauren looked at the hurt on his face and knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep that promise; just like he hadn’t the last hundred times he made it.  “David, I’m not sore with you, I just need to find the ladies room.”
            “Of course, I believe there’s one right over here.”  He took her elbow and steered her in the right direction.
            “Thank you,” she said before slipping into the ladies room.  She needed to run the tests now.  Her heart was pounding in her chest so hard it hurt, and she knew it wouldn’t stop until she knew one way or the other.  Closing the stall door, she took the instructions out of her purse.  Okay, all she had to do was pee on the end of the test.  She could handle that.  Except she would have to juggle a bit if she wanted to do two tests since there wasn’t really anywhere to set them down in the stall.  She knew she was being stupid.  She shouldn’t be doing this here.  But now that the idea was in her mind, she couldn’t help herself.  Taking the tests out of the foil wrappers and taking the plastic end off from each, she sat down to pee.  After being sure that her stream hit both tests, she put the plastic caps back on and sat with the tests in her hands, prepared to wait the three minutes.
            It didn’t longer than a minute for two lines to show up.  On both of them.  Lauren fumbled with the directions trying to find the page that explained what the lines meant, hoping she had misread that part the first time.  Nope, she hadn’t.  Two lines mean pregnant.  Oh God, she wished she could get about five more tests because she really wanted to believe that these two were wrong.  A baby?!  And unmarried.  Her grandmother was going to kill her.  She immediately regretted her impatience because now she had to go out and face David and act like nothing was wrong.  She wished Audrey was here but she had had a previous commitment and couldn’t make it.  That was why she had agreed to ride with David.  So she was stuck.  She wondered how long she could stay in the ladies room before he sent someone in looking for her.  Closing her eyes, she took a moment to try to calm her rapidly beating heart.  It wasn’t cooperating.  Running the tests had done nothing to calm her anxiety.
            As much as she would have liked to hide in the ladies room the rest of the night, Lauren wrapped both tests back in the foil packages.  She put them back in her purse, hiding the evidence.  Finishing up in the stall, her mind was a jumble of thoughts crashing into each other about how she was going to deal with.  But, no matter what she decided, she couldn’t do anything right now.  Now she needed to put on a fake smile and get through the night before she could have an all out melt down.
She found David waiting for her impatiently outside the door.  “Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked.  “You look pale.”
            Lauren smiled weakly.  “I’m fine, I’m just really tired.”
            “Well, as the host I don’t want to be late.  Shall we?” he asked holding his arm out to her.  Lauren placed her hand on his arm and let him steer her into the ballroom.  If she hadn’t, she probably would have walked in the opposite direction.  Towards the exit.
            The next hour was torture for her.  She tried to smile pleasantly and participate in the conversations around her, but all she could think about were the two tests sitting in her purse.  She wished she could go home and crawl into bed and have a good long cry before she faced reality, but she had promised David that she would be here tonight.  And she certainly didn’t want to explain to him why she was leaving.  He’d have a coronary.  Instead, she searched for a quiet corner so she could have just a moment of peace.  It didn’t last long.
            “Hiding?” a familiar voice asked.
            Lauren closed her eyes.  This could not be happening.  She hadn’t expected him to come.  If she had, she would have left right after running the tests.  How could she face him now?  She felt like such a fool.  Suddenly, dying of embarrassment and guilt seemed like a real possibility.  Putting on her best smile, she turned around.  “Just taking a breather from the crowd,” she said praying that her voice remained steady.
            “Would it be inappropriate for me to tell you that you look beautiful tonight?” Max asked.
            A real smile spread across her lips now.  “Not at all.”
            “Care to dance or do you not fraternize with the enemy?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
            “As the saying goes, keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” she countered.  This was a stupid, stupid thing to do.  How would she make it through a dance with him without her conscience getting the better of her.
            “Excellent philosophy.”  He held his hand out to her.  After half a second, she took it and followed him onto the dance floor.
            He slipped his arm around her waist sending shivers down her spine. “I didn’t expect you to be here tonight,” she said.
            “Margaret thought it would be a good idea for a representative of the DA’s office to be here and I volunteered,” Max explained with a shrug and a smile.  Margaret was the county District Attorney and Max’s boss.
            “And what made you do that?”
            A sexy grin spread across his face.  “For the opportunity to see you in that dress.”
            Lauren rolled her eyes but laughed.  “I seriously doubt that.”
            “Maybe not, but if I had known you were going to wear it, it certainly would have made the list.”
            She was starting to feel even more self-conscious about her dress now.  Maybe she should have looked a little closer in her closet for something else to wear.  “Thank you for the compliment.”      
“I meant to tell you something in your office the other day, but we were interrupted and our paths haven’t crossed recently at work.  So, I haven’t been able to say this, but I’m sorry about kissing you that day,” Max said as they swayed to the music.
            “Oh.”  Well, that’s embarrassing, Lauren thought.  And she hadn’t thought the night could get any more humiliating.  “You didn’t need to apologize.”
            “Yes, I did.  I was a jerk for taking advantage of the situation and I’m sorry.  I was hoping you’d let me take you to dinner to make up for it.”
            “Oh,” Lauren said again.  She hadn’t expected that.  She suddenly found herself at a loss for coherent words.  “Um, that would be okay, I guess.”
            Max chuckled softly.  “You sound hesitant.  Sure I’m not twisting your arm?”
            Hmm, having dinner with the father of her baby who had no idea that they had even slept together.  Hesitant wasn’t the term she would have used.  Scared to death he would end up hating her and the baby if he ever found out was more like it.  A polite decline was supposed to come out of her mouth, but instead, different words came pouring out.  “I would love to have dinner with you,” she said just as the music stopped.
            Again the sexy smile.  “Wonderful.  I was going to get a glass of champagne.  Can I get you a glass?”
            “That would be great,” she started to say and then remembered that she couldn’t drink any more.  At least not for the next eight months.  “Actually, punch would be better.”
            “One punch coming right up.”  He walked off in the direction of the bar.  Lauren couldn’t help admiring the view of him in his tuxedo as he walked away.  He was the best looking man in the room and the female heads turning towards him as he walked by was proof of that.
            “You look at him differently,” David said behind her, startling her out of her reverie.
            “You seem quite taken with Mr. Canter.  Should I be worried?” he asked with a sad smile.
            “David,” Lauren warned.
            “Actually, I was going to say you two looked lovely together on the dance floor,” he said before she could say anything else.
            She sighed.  “Thank you, but there’s nothing going on with Max and me.  I’m not his type.”
            “I don’t know, he seems to have eyes only for you this evening.  He made a beeline for you as soon as he came in.  And I did find you two enjoying quite the kiss a few weeks ago.  Well, here he comes and I don’t want to intrude.”  David turned on his heel and walked away just as Max approached, leaving a stunned Lauren staring after him.


  1. Oh my gosh!!!! How could she be pregnant??? Nice turn in the plot :) But the only thing I have a problem with is when the test says "You're pregnant!" Don't they usually just show little lines? Like one line means no and two lines mean yes? (Idk since I've never actually had to have a pregnancy test...) Maybe you could talk about how it had two lines and she was frantically searching the box for what two lines meant? Just something to think about!

  2. Clear Blue is a test that reads 'not pregnant' or 'pregnant' but if you questioned it, I bet others will, too. I'll go back and take a look at that section and do a little rewriting. Thanks!

  3. Jessica, I decided you're right - it was easier to go back and make the test the two line kind so it's more what people would expect. Thanks for catching that!