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.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Part 12 of Who Are You?

Chapter 14

Considering the bombshells that had exploded around Max in the last twenty-four hours, Lauren couldn’t help but be impressed at how comfortable he made her feel as they spent the day together.  He was so different outside of the courtroom; he seemed to have left his arrogance and surliness at his office.  The afternoon slipped by in a beautiful haze of sex and football.  After making love on the couch, they made sandwiches and snacks and enjoyed watching the Lions win for a change.  Max seemed genuinely thrilled that Lauren’s love for sports rivaled his.  She had always been a vocal fan, something that had driven David crazy, but every time she yelled at Max’s TV, he would give her that sexy grin of his and kiss her.  The day went so well, it was hard to remember that they were still practically strangers to each other.
            After the Lions won against Green Bay twenty-eight to seven, Max stood up and stretched.  Since Lauren was now wearing the t-shirt he had on earlier, she couldn’t help but let her eyes feast over his muscular torso.  “I think I’ll have a beer, would you like one?” he asked over his shoulder as he walked towards the kitchen.
            Lauren was about to say yes until her brain kicked in.  “Probably not a good idea.”
            Max stopped and looked at her sheepishly.  “Sorry.”
             “Don’t worry, I’m still getting used to the idea, too.”
            Apparently deciding against the beer, he came back into the living room and sat down on the couch facing her.  “Can I ask you something?” 
Lauren couldn’t read the expression on his face, but his voice when he spoke had lost some of the light-heartedness she had enjoyed all afternoon.  “That sounds ominous,” she said trying not to assume the worst but failing.  The day had been getting along so well, she hated to ruin the illusion that they were a couple who had worked through their problems and had nothing left to do now but stay happy.
            Max began running his hand up and down her arm below the sleeve of the black t-shirt she had borrowed after they made love.  A trail of goose bumps rose up where his fingers touched her bare skin.  “If it hadn’t been for the pregnancy, would you still have gone out with me when I asked you to dinner?”
            Lauren smiled.  That was an easy question.  “Yes.”
            “Would you have told me it was you in the Bat Girl costume if I hadn’t figured it out?”
            Lauren had to think about that one.  “I’m not sure,” she finally admitted.  “Even though it was great at the time, I’m pretty embarrassed about it now.”
            Max grinned wickedly.  “Trust me, you have nothing to be embarrassed about.”
            That made her laugh.  “I’m not talking about the sex.  I’m talking about the whole night.  Dressing in the costume, tricking you into having sex with me, ending up pregnant.  Probably not one of my sanest ideas.”
            Sobering some, he cocked his head to the side and asked, “Do you regret it?”
            Lauren bit her bottom lip while she tried to think of how to answer that.  “Regret is a pretty strong word.  I don’t regret having sex with you, but I wish I had been more honest about it.  It wasn’t fair to you the way it happened and it makes me feel like a coward that I didn’t just ask you out.  I don’t regret being pregnant right now but it’s not real for me yet.  I haven’t thought about all the things that will need to change in both of our lives.  I always thought I would be in a loving relationship when I had kids, not that I’d end up with an unplanned pregnancy after a one night stand.  Which is why there’s one thing I definitely do regret…”
            “What’s that?”
            “That I’ll never know if you want to be with me because of me or the baby.”
            Max looked at her with the sweetest smile on his lips.  “Can’t it be both?”
            Ignoring his response, Lauren decided to ask the question that had been in the back or her mind all day – even though she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know the answer.   “Can I ask you something now?”
            “Of course.”
            Lauren looked down at her hands.  She didn’t want him to see how much the answer would mean to her.  “Are you going to continue sleeping with other women?”
            Max’s hand stilled on her arm.  He raised it to her chin and lifted her face so she could see his stony expression as he searched her eyes.  “You really think that little of me don’t you?” he spat as he searched her face for the answer. 
Lauren knew she had made a serious error in judgment asking him that question.  Even with all the arguments they had had at work, Lauren had never seen him this angry.  Why couldn’t she have just trusted that he would do the right thing?  Was it uncertainty because he had the reputation of a player, or her own lack of confidence about her ability to keep him interested in her. 
When had she become so pathetic and insecure?  She had never been like this with other men.  Hopefully, the pregnancy hormones were to blame.  She’d go with that theory because she didn’t want to delve too deeply into the subject.  She might not like what she found.
“Dammit!” he swore and dropped his hand from her face turning so he was facing the TV.  He leaned forward with his arms on his knees, his hands clasped so tightly his knuckles were turning white.  Lauren watched uncomfortably while he reined in his anger.  She knew she shouldn’t have asked the question.  She just succeeded in ruining the day.  And probably, any possibility of a relationship between the two of them.  She wished she could take it back, rewind the last five minutes and keep her mouth shut.
After a long moment, Max turned back to her.  He still looked angry, but he didn’t look like he wanted to punch a hole in the wall anymore.  “Look, I know I have a shitty reputation when it comes to women,” he began, enunciating each word in clipped tones as if weighing them each carefully, “but I told you I wanted us to try to be together as a couple.  I even asked you to marry me, for God’s sake!”
“Because I’m pregnant,” Lauren couldn’t help interjecting.  Why wouldn’t her mouth stay shut?
Max took a deep breath then spoke through a clenched jaw.  “Okay, yes, I asked you to marry me because you’re pregnant.  But I guess I’m just a little old fashioned that way.  I think a baby’s parents should be married if possible.  And I may be a jackass, but I’m not a cheating jackass.  I thought it was understood that we would be exclusive while we tried to figure things out.  I didn’t realize I needed to spell that out.”  Then an emotion flashed across his face too quickly for Lauren to figure out what it was.  He looked at her through narrowed eyes and added, “Unless you don’t want to be.”
Lauren’s own eyes widened in surprise.  “Of course that’s what I want!”
He looked like he was about to say something else, but Lauren’s phone started ringing in the hallway where she had left it on the small table near the door.  His mouth clenched in a thin line, Max stood up.  “Why don’t you get your phone and I’ll get myself that beer now.”  He sounded like he needed a breather from the conversation, and truth be told, so did she. 
Rising from the couch, she dug her phone out of her purse and checked to see who it was.  Great, David.  Perfect timing, as always.  If they hadn’t been friends for so long, she wouldn’t answer.  As it was, she didn’t sound overly polite.  “Hello.”
“I was hoping you would call me back after hanging up on me this morning.  I’ve been worried sick.  Did you talk to the police?” David asked.
“Actually, Max talked to a friend of his on the force and he’s going to have someone start looking into it.”
He was quiet for a moment, and then said with forced cheerfulness, “Oh, so you two must have worked things out after you left last night.”
“As a matter of fact, we did,” Lauren said dreading the inevitable backlash from him.
“Does that mean the two of you will be seeing more of each other?” he asked calmly.  More calmly than she had expected.
Max chose that moment to come back into the room.  He looked tense but he gave her a tight-lipped smile as he sat down on the couch.  “Yes,” she said in answer to David’s question.
“Lauren, I know you’re going to get angry with me for saying this, but the guy’s an asshole.  You can do so much better than him.”
Lauren sighed.  “Like who, David?  You?”
“Look, I know I’m not who you want, but there are some great guys out there.  Max Canter just doesn’t happen to be one of them.  The guy has player written all over him and from what I’ve heard, he has that reputation.  He’s going to break your heart.”
Max was looking at her curiously now while she debated what to say to David.  Max did have a reputation as a player, she couldn’t deny that.  And she just might get her heart trampled on.  But she owed it to the baby to at least try to work things out with him.  And besides, for her, it wasn’t just about the baby.  She wanted things to work with him, regardless of how many times she had told herself before Halloween that sleeping with him once would get him out of her system.  That had been one of the biggest lies she had ever told herself.  Lauren’s heart clenched as she realized just how vulnerable she was when it came to Max.  After taking a deep breath, she said to David, “I guess I’ll just have to take my chances.”
David swore softly but he didn’t argue.  “Then I guess there’s nothing else to say about it except that I’ll be here for you when he moves on to the next beautiful woman.”
“Thanks for being so supportive, you’re a great friend,” Lauren replied sarcastically.  “I have to go.”  She closed her phone and hung up on him for the second time that day.
“I take it David Spencer isn’t in our corner?” Max asked sardonically.
“You could say that.”  Lauren put her phone back in her purse and joined him back on the couch.  She really, really didn’t want to finish their conversation from a few minutes ago, and he didn’t look like he wanted to either.  She leaned her head back on the couch cushions and said, “I can’t believe how tired I am.  I’m sure it’s normal, but would you mind if I used your computer?  I’m afraid I don’t really know much about early pregnancy and I’d like to do a little research to figure out what to expect.”
Max raised his eyebrows.  “I thought women were born knowing everything about pregnancy and it was just us lowly men who were ignorant.”  At first she thought he was being serious but a hint of a smile on his lips let her know he was teasing her. 
Lauren snorted.  “Then I guess that gene skipped right over me.”
Max laughed.  It wasn’t the comfortable, relaxed laugh she had gotten used to over the afternoon, but it was a start.  Standing up, he said, “Let me grab my lap top.  We can educate ourselves together.”

Chapter 15

Anything to get off the train wreck of a conversation they were having before her phone rang, Max thought.  Looking up pregnancy information on a Sunday afternoon didn’t rank up there with sex and football, but it was better than arguing about his past.  Apparently, he had a lot of work ahead of him convincing her he’s serious about trying to make things work between them.  This was all new territory for him, but the more time he spent with her, the more he realized the pregnancy didn’t play into things as much as she thought it did.  He wanted to get to know her because he found her intriguing.  The beauty and passion that burned under her carefully put together court façade, and her intelligence that made him want to disagree with her just to see what arguments she came up with in rebuttal, attracted him like no other women ever had.  He wanted to be more than just the father of her baby, and if he had any shot at that, she needed to trust him. 
            What had she done to him on Halloween to get so deeply under his skin, he wondered as he grabbed his lap top from his office in the spare bedroom upstairs and headed back to the living room.  Other than Lauren, even before he knew she was his Bat Girl, he hadn’t been able to think about any other women.  He never, ever, dated anyone from work.  It was a hard and fast rule of his, but he had asked Lauren out anyway.  Subconsciously, he had to have known that she and Bat Girl were the same person.  Why else would his dormant attraction to her have suddenly risen up with such a vengeance?
For the next hour and a half, they researched as much as they could about pregnancy and Max found himself more curious than he thought he’d be.  Some of the information they read about didn’t seem so bad, but a lot of it made Max cringe.  He couldn’t help but be grateful that men didn’t get pregnant.  Especially when they got to the birthing part.  Good thing he had time to mentally prepare for that!  A short clip on YouTube of a woman giving birth without any pain killers had him fearing for the father’s life as his wife took her pain out on him.  Convincing Lauren to have an epidural was going to be high on his priority list.  Both for her comfort and his desire to survive the baby’s birth.  One thing all the research definitely did was harden his resolve to be as supportive as possible for her.  She was going to have a hell of a lot to deal with over the next eight months.
            Max’s phone rang just as Lauren found a particularly disturbing article about people who ate the afterbirth.  Cringing and glad for a distraction, he looked at the caller ID on the screen.  Then he silently cursed himself for not turning the damn thing off.  It was Gina calling.  He looked sheepishly at Lauren who had an expression on her face he couldn’t read.  “Sorry,” he mumbled as he answered the phone.  If he didn’t, she would keep calling.
            “Hello,” he answered gruffly.
            “Hey,” Gina said.  “I missed you at the gym today.”
            “I was with my girlfriend and decided to skip the gym this morning.”
            “Oh, I didn’t realize you had a girlfriend,” Gina pouted into the phone.  “When did this happen?”
            “Recently,” Max said shortly wanting to get off the phone because he could feel Lauren’s eyes boring into him; but he had to make sure that Gina knew not to call him anymore.  That made him think about the other women that called him from time to time and he grimaced again.  Maybe he should just change his number.
            “Well, I’ll believe it when I see it.  I don’t really see you as a one woman man,” Gina said giggled.  “I can wait my turn.”
            Damn, did the woman have no self esteem?  He had known that Gina was immature, but still.  “I’m trying to convince her to marry me,” Max said into the phone as he looked at Lauren.  It didn’t look like thoughts of marriage were running through her mind right now.  Thoughts of killing him, maybe.  Not the greatest start to building her trust.  “So, as much as I enjoyed hanging out with you, I’m afraid I’m not going to be seeing anyone besides Lauren.” 
            Gina didn’t say anything for a minute.  Finally, she said, “Fine!  You’re a jerk, anyway,” and hung up on him. 
Shaking his head, Max couldn’t think of what he had ever seen in her.  Looking guiltily at Lauren as he put his phone on the coffee table, he said, “I guess I need to find a new gym.”
            “And probably a new dry cleaners, and grocery store, and pharmacy, and every place else you frequent,” she said between clenched teeth.  Rising from the couch, she said with eyes flashing, “I don’t think this is going to work out.”
            “Hey,” Max said grabbing her arm and tugging gently to bring her back to the couch.  “I was jealous as hell when David called you earlier but I didn’t just throw in the towel.”
            The look on her face told him this conversation could get ugly fast.  “I have one man who still calls me and I haven’t slept with him in years.  How many other phone calls are you going to be getting like that one?”
            “Fine, I haven’t been the shining example of celibacy that you are, but does that mean you don’t give me a chance to make things right?  You heard what I said to her.  Could I have been any clearer that I didn’t want to hear from her again?”  He watched her struggle with her jealousy and anger and he tried to remember what the articles had said about raging pregnancy hormones.  He would be lucky to come out of this unscathed.
            Folding her arms across her chest, she ground out, “Maybe you could do a conference call and tell them all at once.  Can you get that many people on the phone at the same time?”
            As Max looked at her full breasts crowded over her arms and the hem of the t-shirt rising up, he couldn’t help thinking that she was damn sexy when she was angry and jealous.  But, he was a smart enough man not to say that out loud.  Instead, he stood up and gave her his best humble face as he touched her cheek with his hand.  “I have no problem calling every woman I know and telling them that I am off the market.  Would you like me to do that?  I can do it right now.”
            Max watched as emotions warred across her face.  “No, I’m not going to insist you do that,” she finally said even though she looked like she wanted to tell him to go ahead.
            “Come here.”  He pulled her gently into his arms.  She didn’t uncross her arms from her chest but she didn’t pull away, either.  “I’m sorry that this is an issue but I am whole heartedly committed to making things work with you and just you; and I will make sure every woman I know understands that, okay?”
            After a moment, she nodded her head and finally wrapped her arms around him.  He hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear, “You are the most beautiful and sexy woman I have ever met and I’m glad you’re here.”
            “Right, you’re just saying that to appease my hormones,” she scoffed but she hugged him tighter. 
            “You can believe it or not, but it’s true,” he said pulling back so he could see her face.  “Are we okay?”
            She nodded but still looked uncomfortable.  “Until the next time I freak out with jealousy because I don’t seem to be able to control my emotions any more.  Are you sure you can handle that?”
            Max chuckled softly and rubbed his hands along her back comfortingly.  “I think I’d be more concerned if you didn’t get jealous.  At least this way I know you care about me.  But I’ll do my best not to give you reason to worry, okay?”
            Finally, her lips curled into a small smile.  “Okay.”  She gave him a light kiss and added, “You know, you can be a really sweet guy when you want to be.”
            “Glad you noticed.  You just keep trying to see those good qualities of mine when I’m doing something completely asinine that pisses you off, okay?”
            “Deal,” she said with a real smile this time.
            “Alright, I’m going to go smash my phone into little pieces now and then see about dinner.  I grill a mean steak and red meat is rich in iron - good for you and the baby.  How does that sound?”
            Lauren laughed.  “Leave your poor phone alone and a steak sounds great.”
            Max kissed her and then told her to sit back and put her feet up while he made dinner.  They had weathered their first arguments and they both came out alive and smiling.  Maybe they really could make this work.

Chapter 16

Lauren was already embarrassed about her behavior.  She dropped into his life like an atomic bomb and she’s acting like he should have seen her coming.  Of course other women were going to call him.  Who besides Max and herself even knew anything about their situation?  She was being ridiculous, pregnancy hormones or not.  She had no right to make demands on him about whom he could and couldn’t talk to.
            Sitting back down, Lauren decided to check her email to get her mind working in a different direction for a while.  She could hear Max banging around a bit in the kitchen and she probably should offer to help him, but she thought he might need a little space more than he needed help. 
            It wasn’t long before wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen and her stomach began rumbling its approval.  She could already tell he wasn’t lying about cooking a mean steak.  A loud crash outside made her jump and jarred her thoughts away from food.
            She heard Max swear in the kitchen.  “Damn dog!”
            Standing up, she called out to him.  “Max, is everything okay in there?”
            He poked his head in the living room from the hall.  “Yeah, just the neighbor’s dog.  It digs its way out of its yard and likes to come over here and knock over my trash bin.  I’m going out to catch him and bring him home.  Then I’ll probably have some trash to clean up, but it shouldn’t take me long.”
            “Do you need help?”
            “No, I got it.  Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
            Lauren nodded and sat back down.  She heard him go out the back door as she started to read an email from her assistant.  After about ten minutes of going through her work emails, she realized she hadn’t heard Max come back in.  Was the dog that hard to catch, or had it made a bigger mess than Max thought it would?  She logged out of her email and decided to see if he needed help after all.

Chapter 17
Max had been deep in thought about the changes in his life as he moved around the kitchen.  He wondered what kind of father he would be.  He certainly didn’t want to be the every other weekend kind.  He wanted to be a part of this child’s life every day, and the only way he could do that was if he and Lauren were together every day. 
Would that be so bad?    She seemed to share his passion for sports and sex - his two favorite activities.  Hell, she yelled at the TV more than he did during a game, which excited the hell out of him, and she was amazing in bed.  But it was more than that.  She was beautiful and funny and smart as well.  He liked that he could talk to her about anything and not only did she understand what he was talking about, unlike some women he dated like Gina, she had an opinion about it.  And she didn’t care if it was the opposite of his, which made for some lively conversation.  She kept him on his toes and she called him out on his bullshit.  Yeah, he had given her that damn nickname because of that, but if he was honest with himself, he had always enjoyed going against her in court.  She was a damn good lawyer.  She made good calls with her clients, like suggesting the Second Chance Ranch for Marshawn Devereaux or convincing clients to plead to a lesser charge if it was in their best interest.  And if she thought her client was innocent, she was like a pit bull in court.
But, she had made it abundantly clear that she had no interest in marrying him if he didn’t love her.  Love.  That had always been a dirty word to him.  His parents had married for love over thirty years ago and had regretted it ever since, even though they were still married.  In fact, the first time they tried to elope, the priest refused to marry them because he said they didn’t get along well enough.  And he had been right.  But they got married anyway and had three kids, living miserably ever after.  Max had always sworn he wouldn’t get married.  But he had also sworn he wouldn’t get a woman pregnant.  Look how that turned out.  True, he didn’t love Lauren, but as he kept finding more out about her, he believed he could in time.  If he had to pick who he was most likely to be happy with from all the women he had ever known, she would be on the top of the list.  He did care for her already, and that had happened faster than he had thought possible.  That was a start.
He could lie and tell her he was in love with her, but he didn’t think she would believe him.  Not with his reputation for avoiding emotional commitment.  But she was a reasonable woman, much as he had said to the contrary in the past.  She seemed genuinely interested in him; after all, she had gone to great lengths to sleep with him.  Maybe she would agree to trial living together.  See how things worked out.  If they couldn’t make it work, at least they would have tried, and the baby would know they tried.  Now he just had to figure out how to bring it up.
The loud crash of his garbage can falling over shook him out of his reverie.   Why couldn’t Mrs. Pruitt keep that damn dog in her own yard?  Shaking his head, he let Lauren know he had to chase the dog and clean up the mess.  It was already getting dark outside, not to mention cold.  He was not happy about having to chase a ten year old, half-blind dog while their steaks burned. 
With a groan, he grabbed his shoes and keys and opened the side door.  When he stepped outside, he was surprised the motion light didn’t go on.  Looking over at it, he figured out why.  The bulb was smashed to pieces on the ground.  No way a dog could do that.  Turning to take a quick look around the yard, a blinding pain exploded in his temple.  The world was swallowed up in darkness as he felt himself fall to the ground - and then there was nothing.

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