Sunday, April 29, 2012

PAGAN QUEEN has a cover!

BOOK 2 of the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series has a cover, with Jimmy Thomas, no less. It makes sense, since the cover for the first book, PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE featured him, and this novel features the same characters as in Book 1.

So, here it is. and you can enter a contest to win the book on my website, just click on CONTEST on the upper right at http://www.vijayaschartz.com and send me an email from that page. Hurry, because as soon as the book is out, the contest will be over.

Good luck!

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Blasters, Romance with a Kick
http://www.vijayaschartz.com

Pick up Book One, PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE, on Amazon HERE.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Open letter to a soliciting publicist - by author Vijaya Schartz

Dear publicist:

I am not interested in paying thousands of dollars for your publicity services offering a slew of interviews on national media. I’ve been doing my own promotion for years successfully enough and for free. I write for eBook publishers, so my audience is downloading on the internet. At night, they read instead of watching TV talk shows. Besides, national media exposure can become a career in itself (I know, I used to be a radio talk show host) and all the hoopla, travel, and preparation involved for all these interviews would take time away from what I’m supposed to be doing, which is writing more stories for my loyal readers.

Unlike one-book-wonders who promote and milk the same best seller for years and never write another, popular fiction authors must produce consistently. Most mega names in popular fiction these days (you know who they are) have to pay ghost writers to write their novels, because they are too busy with TV, movies, national paper interviews, premieres, book tours, etc. My goal is to write my own quality stories, not start a multimedia franchise. I choose quality and integrity over greed. I believe that’s the secret of true success, self worth, and happiness.

I know my readers understand what I’m talking about. All they want is a great story at an affordable price. And that’s what I intend to provide for them, as long as I can write. This is my pledge to them. I love you guys. Keep reading.

Oh, and Snatched is free today in kindle on Amazon. Grab it quick by clicking HERE. You won’t regret it. It’s a five-star romantic science fiction novel well worth the read.

Snatched from a post-apocalyptic battlefield by galactic traders, Zania is sold to a clandestine ring of fighting Amazons, on a planet lush with green jungles and teeming with deadly felines. She resents the gorgeous and overzealous Viking champion, Svend, who saves her life but too easily accepts slavery. Adulated by a woman who claims to know her, hated by the jealous Amazon queen who fancies Svend, Zania seeks escape...

But Svend knows the price of rebellion, and on this seemingly peaceful planet, ruled and defended by machines, nothing is what it seems, not even Zania herself... Among the rumbles of a volcano threatening to explode, an insurrection is brewing, and no one is safe...

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick
http://www.vijayaschartz.com
Find Vijaya's books on Amazon at:
http://www.amazon.com/author/vijayaschartz

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weekly eBook Winners



Congratulations to the weekly ebook winners in Books We Love's annual Spring Fling Event!

This week's winner is Joy Isley.

Joy wins her choice of any two Books We Love ebooks or Spice ebooks. She also receives TEN extra entries into the Kindle Fire drawing May 31. Joy, please visit our website http://bookswelove.net/ and make your two choices, then email the titles to bookswelove@shaw.ca

Remember, only subscribers to our newsletter are eligible to enter our contests, so if you're not a subscriber go here and sign up now. Find the entry form for Spring Fling there too!


Congratulations Joy!



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Upcoming Book Reading and Signings

Come join Joan Donaldson-Yarmey at
Audrey's Bookstore, 10702 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, on Saturday May 12 at 3:00pm as she launches the third
mystery novel, Whistler's Murder, in
her Travelling Detective Series.
In Whistler's
Murder, travel writer and amateur sleuth Elizabeth Oliver has tagged along
with her best friend, Sally Matthews, to Whistler, B.C. where Sally is
attending a Science Fiction/Fantasy writers retreat. Elizabeth plans on
spending the first week working on an article about Whistler and then relaxing
and enjoying her time in the famous resort town. However, her well laid plan
immediately begins to fall apart with the discovery of a body in a newly
demolished house. Then she is again sidetracked when one of Sally's fellow
students asks her to solve the mystery of her cousin's death and is then
murdered herself.
Other Travelling Detective Series books
are Illegally Dead and The Only Shadow In The House.
*******
Joan Donaldson-Yarmey will be doing a
reading from the latest mystery novel in her Travelling Detective Series, Whistler Murder, at the Calgary Library,
616 Macleod Trail, on Monday May 14 at 6:00pm.
In Whistler's
Murder, travel writer and amateur sleuth Elizabeth Oliver has tagged along
with her best friend, Sally Matthews, to Whistler, B.C. where Sally is
attending a Science Fiction/Fantasy writers retreat. Elizabeth plans on
spending the first week working on an article about Whistler and then relaxing
and enjoying her time in the famous resort town. However, her well laid plan
immediately begins to fall apart with the discovery of a body in a newly
demolished house. Then she is again sidetracked when one of Sally's fellow
students asks her to solve the mystery of her cousin's death and is then
murdered herself.
Other Travelling Detective Series books
are Illegally Dead and The Only Shadow In The House. Author
will have all three novels for sale.
*******
Joan Donaldson-Yarmey will be doing a
talk about the mascots and world's largest attractions of the small towns and
cities in southern Alberta at the Calgary Library, 616 Macleod Trail, on Monday
May 14 12-1:00pm. Joan is the author of Backroads of Southern Alberta and
Backroads of Northern Alberta as well as travel books about British Columbia
and The Yukon and Alaska. She also has written three mystery novels in her
Travelling Detective Series.
*******
Joan Donaldson-Yarmey will be doing a
reading from the latest mystery novel in her Travelling Detective Series, Whistler Murder, at the Wainwright
Library, 921 3rd Ave, on Monday Tuesday May 15 at 6:30pm.
In Whistler's
Murder, travel writer and amateur sleuth Elizabeth Oliver has tagged along
with her best friend, Sally Matthews, to Whistler, B.C. where Sally is
attending a Science Fiction/Fantasy writers retreat. Elizabeth plans on
spending the first week working on an article about Whistler and then relaxing
and enjoying her time in the famous resort town. However, her well laid plan
immediately begins to fall apart with the discovery of a body in a newly
demolished house. Then she is again sidetracked when one of Sally's fellow
students asks her to solve the mystery of her cousin's death and is then
murdered herself.
Other Travelling Detective Series books
are Illegally Dead and The Only Shadow In The House. Author
will have all three novels for sale.
*******
Joan Donaldson-Yarmey will be doing a
reading from the latest mystery novel in her Travelling Detective Series, Whistler Murder, at Lots-A-Books 5010 50
Ave, Cold Lake, Alberta on Thursday May 17 at 6:30pm.
In Whistler's
Murder, travel writer and amateur sleuth Elizabeth Oliver has tagged along
with her best friend, Sally Matthews, to Whistler, B.C. where Sally is
attending a Science Fiction/Fantasy writers retreat. Elizabeth plans on
spending the first week working on an article about Whistler and then relaxing
and enjoying her time in the famous resort town. However, her well laid plan
immediately begins to fall apart with the discovery of a body in a newly
demolished house. Then she is again sidetracked when one of Sally's fellow
students asks her to solve the mystery of her cousin's death and is then
murdered herself.
Other Travelling Detective Series books
are Illegally Dead and The Only Shadow In The House. Author
will have all three novels for sale.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Weekly eBook Winners

 


Congratulations to the weekly ebook winners in Books We Love's annual Spring Fling Event!

This week's winner is Denise DiFalco.

Denise wins her choice of any two Books We Love ebooks or Spice ebooks. She also receives TEN extra entries into the Kindle Fire drawing May 31. Denise, please visit our website http://bookswelove.net/ and make your two choices, then email the titles to bookswelove@shaw.ca

Remember, only subscribers to our newsletter are eligible to enter our contests, so if you're not a subscriber go here and sign up now. Find the entry form for Spring Fling there too!


Congratulations Denise!



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Research is Key


By Shirley Martin

A dedicated fiction writer recognizes the value of research.  With the possible exception of paranormal and fantasy, research is a necessary ingredient in the crafting of a novel. But even within the categories of paranormal and fantasy, the writer may find that research is helpful. For instance, in my fantasy romance, "Night Secrets" one of the main characters--Radegunda--is a healer. A book on herbs gave me helpful information and added to the authenticity of the character.

This is as good a place as any to mention the internet, where all kinds of information are available with a few clicks of the mouse. However, most of my writing occurred before the advent of the internet. Really, in conducting research, I prefer the richness and quantity of information in the printed book. Your local library will surely carry books on virtually any subject. Then, too, a writer can build up quite a voluminous library of her own to refer to time and again.

Nowhere is research more important than in writing a historical novel. No fudging on facts in this genre, no guessing. The writer must do more than an adequate gathering of facts; she must fully capture the essence of the time period. If a writer presents any inaccurate information, you can bet that one of her readers will catch the mistake. This is a sure way to lose your readers. My historical romance, "Destined to Love" takes place near present-day Pittsburgh during the French and Indian War. In preparing for this novel, I read everything I could find pertaining to the French and Indian War in that area. Since much of the action happens in an Indian village, I read about the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Indian. I even studied the language. Books on pioneer life in Pennsylvania, life in the colonial period, clothing and so many other books proved quite helpful.

My time travel romance, "Dream Weaver" takes place a few years after "Destined to Love" and essentially in the same area. So many of the research books I used in writing "Destined to Love" also provided good reference material for my time travel romance.


Many mystery and suspense novelists need to know about poisons, body trauma, and police investigation of crimes. Great research books exist on poisons and body trauma, and a few visits to a police station will help. Ever read Mary Higgins Clark? You can bet she does extensive research for her excellent suspense novels. Suppose you want to write a suspense novel set in Miami. Are you just going to write about the heat and humidity and palm trees? Not enough! (And yes, I know BWL's writers are more skilled than that.) Find out where Little Havana is, and Little Haiti. Read about Santeria


Do you like to write fantasy novels? Here, more than elsewhere, you can let your imagination run free. At the same time, isn't it fun to read about demons, vampires, and witchcraft? In my own library, I have books on demons, monsters, vampires, witchcraft, astral travel, mythology, and Celtic fairy tales. I have used virtually all of these books and have based two of my novellas on Celtic fairy tales.

What genre do you like to write?  Get started on your research, and then write!

Shirley Martin

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

WRITING THE MEDIEVAL SERIES - by Vijaya Schartz

This book is available in kindle format HERE. Give it a thumbs up if you feel like it.

Historical series are a challenge to write... always. How much history, how much fiction, how much emotion compared to action and battle scenes? How many love scenes if it's a romance...

It all depends on the specific genre. If you are writing true history with a gritty feel, if you know your audience, and they are all about the historical details, by all means give them a chuckful of them. If the focus of the story is romance or legends, however, or if it's a young adult story, other factors should be at the forefront at all times. Also consider the age and level of education of the reader. Will you have to explain every medieval word you use? Will they need a lexicon at the end of the book? You don't want them to be checking the dictionary at every page.

If that's the case, you may be in trouble. Because if you use fewer historical words and make sure they are illustrated in context, you should not need to explain anything.

When I started this series a few years back, after a decade of research and travels to Europe, I didn't really know how to define it, since it is based in authentic legends. It really didn't fit any mold. It was history, fantasy, legends, romantic, full of action... but with adult subjects. Publishers were interested, they liked the writing, but they didn't know what to do with it. But with the rejections came interesting comments. Once a NY agent told me there was a dichotomy between the modern narrative and the formal dialogue. So I had to unify the entire work. I simplified the dialogue, and formalized the narrative, so that the difference wouldn't jar the reader.

Finally, after many rewrites, I found the right tone for dialogue and narrative, the right amount of old words, just to give it the right flavor (historical fans like them). And I am proud to announce that Books We Love Ltd just releasee this first novel in the Curse of the Lost Isle series... PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE (here again I am taking a chance with a French word in the title, but it's all about taking chances).

You can find the book in kindle format HERE. Give it a thumbs up like if you feel like it.

Good luck in your own writing endeavors.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Medieval knights, Romance with a Kick
http://www.vijayaschartz.com/

Beach Settings

Many readers have commented favorably on the settings in my books, often centered--although not always--on the Oregon Coast or the Puget Sound area in western Washington. Two examples are my YA romance, Sandcastles of Love and my adult romantic suspense novel, The Fisherman's Daughter. (Both books are available on Amazon.com) Marine background settings do indeed play a big factor in these books. But why beach settings? Why do they evoke strong memories that fuel my writing?
I grew up near Edmonds, north of Seattle, WA. Many decades earlier, Edmonds began its existence as a logging town. Now this “friendliest town in Washington” boasts luxurious condos with sweeping views of the Sound, unique gift shops and boutiques, antique stores, and scrumptious bakeries--just to name a few. In summertime and early fall, colorful hanging flower baskets adorn the main streets, giving the town a festive, European ambiance.

I remember as a small girl scouring the beach in Edmonds for shiny small rocks and shells, and the soft plopping sounds as I dropped each shell into my plastic bucket. Even broken shells would do! (Those were the days when it was all right to take the shells home.) I remember the relatives who visited every summer without fail from the Midwest. They loved riding the ferry, even if it were only to the opposite shore and back. Often in the late afternoon, the women packed up a casserole, a simple salad, and beverages to tote to the beach where we’d spread out our feast onto wind-worn picnic tables. My dad would join us once he returned from work. There we’d eat, laugh, talk and gaze out over the Sound. We'd sometimes make a game of counting the number of vehicles boarding the ferry. And what impressive ferries they were with their multiple decks and their green-and-white, sleek designs.

I remember my early teen years when my girlfriends and I’d walk to the beach during summertime. We’d spread out blankets, slather on cocoa butter, bake under the sun, and look for cute guys. With a briny breeze against our faces, the warmth radiating up from the sand, and the occasional wail of a train that rode the rails paralleling the beach, we were happy Beach Bums for the day. Later during high school, our crowd I often drove to the beach on warm summer evenings. We built beach fires that scented the air with the salty smell of driftwood. We strolled barefoot, feeling the gritty sand between our toes. Later we huddled around the fire to toast marshmallows and solve the world’s problems--or so we thought.  

And a weekend campout on Whidby Island with my biology class resulted in several of us kids getting caught by an incoming tide. What an adventure finding our way out! (That scene appears in my second published book, Double Crossing, released by a German publisher many years ago.)

After I'd married, and our two sons were small, we took them to Edmonds often to visit their grandparents. The beach was always an important part of those visits. How the boys loved to dig in the sand--if we'd forgotten to take a bucket and shovel, they'd improvise by using shells as "scoopers." And whenever they'd hear the Amtrak whistle growing louder, they'd drop their "scoopers" and go running to get a good view of the train roaring by and to wave to the engineer, who would usually wave back!

My husband and I still visit Edmonds regularly. Though our immediate family is gone, some extended family and friends remain, and it’s fulfilling to connect with them. Yet a good part of our time is spent overlooking the beach and the ferry dock. There we love watching the ferry traverse the Sound, hearing the waves lapping gently against the beach, and seeing the rugged Olympic Mountains off to the west.

Yes, some things do indeed change, but not all things. And my memories are forever fixed in time. These are just a few of the evocative sensory details I aspire to bring to my writing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Weekly eBook Winners

 


Congratulations to the weekly ebook winners in Books We Love's annual Spring Fling Event!

This week's winner is Tia (lenikaye).

Tia wins her choice of any two Books We Love ebooks or Spice ebooks. She also receives TEN extra entries into the Kindle Fire drawing May 31. Tia, please visit our website http://bookswelove.net/ and make your two choices, then email the titles to bookswelove@shaw.ca

Remember, only subscribers to our newsletter are eligible to enter our contests, so if you're not a subscriber go here and sign up now. Find the entry form for Spring Fling there too!


Congratulations Tia!



Friday, April 6, 2012

2011 RT Recap

The famous RT Bookovers Convention was held last year at the beautiful Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Jude Pittman and Jamie Hill were pleased to attend representing Books We Love. It was an amazing, whirlwind long weekend meeting authors, other publishers, graphic artists, editors, and yes, even a slew of handsome cover models. 
 
Jamie's cover model -->

Okay, she stole him because Jude saw him first, and actually had dinner with him Thursday night at the Faery Ball. 




After Jamie stole Shane Rice, Jude ended up with:
She kept a tight rein on the chain!



Friday, Jude and Jamie manned a table at Club RT. BWL author Vijaya Schartz stopped by to leave some of her wonderful cover flats and postcards for display. There were free books in the goody bag room, author swag galore in promo alley, and all sorts of seminars to attend. 


Jamie's choice of a newsletter seminar was pleasantly interrupted by an unexpected visit from author Catherine Coulter, who spoke to the group for about an hour on her publishing journey.

Kate Ryan of RT and author Catherine Coulter


Later that day while Jude hustled up the publishing company, Jamie signed books at the ebook expo with roughly 150 other authors. It was a busy, bustling activity. 

Saturday was the huge Barnes and Noble print Book Fair with more than 300 authors, including a few celebrities.

Fan-girl Jamie with Susan Seaforth Hayes and her husband Bill Hayes, who played Julie and Doug Williams on Days of Our Lives for many years. They were there signing a Days retrospective.


BWL gave away two lovely baskets, one filled with print books, chocolates, candles and bath items. The second was a Native themed basket created by BWL author John Wisdomkeeper. Along with copies of his book The Wisdomkeeper Collection, there were several Native artifacts including a medicine bag and  dreamcatcher. It was a truly lovely collection and we thank John for his time and generosity!

The view out the hotel window was incredible.

The amount of author swag received was also staggering!


It was a fast and furious weekend, and one every author and booklover should try to experience if at all possible.





Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dear Artist - Getting Started and Training for being a cover artist


Dear Artist,
How did you become interested in doing cover art? How did you get started?
Sincerely,
Curious To Know
* * *
Dear Curious,
I originally started out doing cover art with my own books. I actually designed the cover for my first e-book, a short erotic story collection. I wanted to work with the publisher, but I shuddered at some of the covers. Knowing from being on lists that a lot of the time authors have little to know say in their covers, and with that particular publisher – no say, so when I was contacted with an acceptance of my work I told the publisher flat out that I wanted to design my own covers. I would provide the images and everything. Thankfully, they agreed.
After that, I went on to write longer stories, and moved to other publishers that already had cover art teams, and I basically had to take what was given to me. After a while, I felt confident enough in my sales to approach the primary publisher and say hey, I wouldn’t mind doing cover art for you – including doing my own covers. Luckily, I was able to provide a ‘sample’ cover, which was approved. From there, I took over doing my own covers for almost all of my releases. (Some however, are still with publishers that are not looking for new cover artists, have a set feel that they want to their covers, or so on.)
I also started working on covers for other authors at my primary publishing house, and from there, one of the cover artists became a good friend and asked me to start working on covers for another publisher (one that I am not with). I jumped at the chance.
I came to Books We Love because Jamie asked me if I would be interested in joining the team as a cover artist, since she knew I had the skills she was looking for in a cover artist.
I think what motivated me more than wanting to control everything (because that is apart of the appeal), is that my career field is very serious and intellectual. So cover art, and writing, gives me a creative outlet. I am a very tense person by nature, and I relax by working on graphics and either writing, or reading.
Hope that wasn't too long-winded of an answer for you!
* * * ~ * * *
Dear Artist,
What training do you need to become a cover artist?
Curious To Know
* * *
Dear Curious
Hello again!
There actually isn't any set required training. Rather it is just knowledge of graphics programs. Some publishers like artists to know how to work a program called Poser. What poser does is create 3D computer graphic images – people, places and things. When you see an image that looks like the one below, that is a poser image.


(This image is from a site called Pixel Delights that I found back in 2002 or 2003.
Not sure if the artist is still around any more or not.)
The Poser program has gained in popularity, and in graphic ability, over time. I lost my mind once and got the program and tried to use it, but I just couldn't get things to work out the way I wanted them to, so I stopped trying. But many artists do still use it, because they can create pretty much any images they can dream of.
Now, other publishers focus more on stock images, since they want their covers to have that realistic look. So for them, knowledge of a program like Adobe Photoshop or Jasc software’s Paint Shop Pro is a plus.
For myself, I use Photoshop, although I have dabbled a little bit in Paint Shop Pro from time to time. I know a cover artist who uses Paint Shop Pro almost exclusively and finds Photoshop to be difficult. It just depends on comfort level.
As for training – I haven’t had any. I just started playing around with graphics, working on things for my website and for my short story collections, and gradually got more and more confident with the program. I read a lot of tutorials, asked a lot of questions of friends in the field, and did a lot of trial and error to figure out what works for me. And I am still learning. Jude has often gotten emails from me saying flat out that what she is asking for is outside of my skill-set. So we modify things, or I just sit down with a good chunk of time and start playing with things until I learn that skill.
So really, anyone who is patient could theoretically teach themselves how to do cover art. It just depends on how motivated you are.
* * * ~ * * *
If you have a question that you would like Dear Artist to answer, you can leave it in the comment section and it will be addressed soon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Winner of My $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!


Thanks to everyone who entered my contest! The winner is:

TraceyD

Tracey, I'll contact you directly!

Thanks again to everyone who stopped by the blog.

Calista
www.calistafox.com

Monday, April 2, 2012

Winners of the "Follow Us" Contest

Chosen from the followers of our new blog, Karen Haas and Becky Ward each win one of these baskets.

Karen and Becky, please email bookswelove@shaw.ca with your full snail mail address and phone number (for U.P.S.) and we'll have your prize shipped directly to you.

Congratulations!




Sunday, April 1, 2012

Free Book, Contest & Excerpt!



Irish Heat is FREE today on Amazon! Pick it up here! Also, Dirtying It UP, my sexy Valentine's Day story is free, too! Get it here! Both are Top 5 Amazon bestsellers!!

Also, if you're a Books We Love blog fan or you made your way over here after reading my feature on Irish Heat at The Romance Studio, I'm giving away a $25 Amazon gift card! Just leave a comment on this post and your email addy (so I can contact you about your prize) and you're entered to win! So easy!

Finally, I have an excerpt for you! Irish Heat is a #3 Amazon Hot New Release and YES, it's FREE at Amazon!

Irish Heat by Calista Fox

Narrowly escaping with his life after infiltrating a powerful Irish mob family in Chicago, undercover detective Rourke O’Reilly finds himself in a different kind of danger when he returns to his birthplace in Ireland to return a gold coin he’d been bullied into stealing when he was just ten years old. Curses, spells and murder mar the mysterious and mystical land of Talamh an Óir, but a beautiful, russet-haired woman awaits him, ready to help Rourke reclaim everything he’s lost over the years...

If she doesn’t accidentally kill him with an Irish death curse first.


Excerpt:

Chapter One

Rourke. Your name is Rourke O’Reilly.

He didn’t dare say the words out loud. Given his current circumstances, he never knew who was listening in on his conversations. Whether his crapbox of an apartment on Chicago’s south side was bugged, along with the payphone in the lobby he used once or twice every six months to tell family members he was still among the land of the living. Rourke had no idea who he could trust and who he couldn’t these days, aside from a couple of cousins and his police commander.

What he did know was that if he didn’t repeat his name in his head every morning when he woke up, he just might lose his identity altogether. He just might start believing he really was Royce O’Neal, a two-bit criminal who’d worked his way far enough up the food chain with the Shaughnessy family to get a birds-eye view of what the Irish mob boss was up to—and collect enough evidence to bust his lying, cheating, murdering ass.

With a low groan over the toil of late, Rourke rolled onto his back and stared up at the cracks in the ceiling for a few minutes. The rumpled sheets on the unmade bed were scratchy against his bare back and feet. Jeans covered his legs, opened at the waist, though he couldn’t remember why. Quite possibly, he’d been too lazy to button all the way up after using the john. Or he’d considered stripping down to his shorts in his drunken stupor, but had then abandoned the idea. A wise decision. He often slept with his clothes on, never knowing when he might have to dive out the window and onto the fire escape to keep from getting his head blown off.

Last night could have been one of those times. For his own safety and for the good of the case he was working on, he really shouldn’t have gotten plowed. That could’ve turned out to be a deadly mistake. But, Jesus... He’d gotten an eyeful at the warehouse on the docks—a horrific scene he’d needed to block out with an alcohol-induced haze. He’d had a panoramic view of a nightmare he prayed he’d never bear witness to again in his life. No matter how long or short it turned out to be.

Sitting up, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and reached for a pack of cigarettes. He wasn’t a fan of cancer sticks, but Royce was, so he shook one out of the box and lit it. Leaving behind a life he’d lived for over three years would be difficult, no matter how shitty the conditions. The cockroach-invested apartment, the double bed with the thin mattress that provided absolutely no barrier against the springs poking through, the lukewarm shower water, the noise from shouting neighbors... No human being should be stuck with this lot in life, but there were plenty of impoverished families occupying the sardonically named Serendipitous Villas.

Villas, my Irish ass.

And he’d yet to find anything serendipitous about the low-rent cesspool in which he lived.

He’d be thrilled to get the hell out of here, if only he knew where to go. He’d been deep undercover for so long, he had no idea what to do with himself now that he was about to blow this case wide open. Shaking all of Royce’s bad habits would be even more challenging.

As he blew out a long stream of smoke, he spared a glance at the alarm clock. It was nearly two o’clock. He’d slept like the dead, even the usual back-alley racket from the street below not waking him. A miracle, really, and his first full night of sleep in longer than he could remember. He should feel refreshed, but it was tough to shed the nitty-grittiness of street life that seemed to cling to his skin, no matter how often he showered.

Before taking another drag from his cigarette, he lifted a glass from the scarred nightstand and sucked down the last gulp of stale, cheap whisky he hadn’t finished the prior evening before passing out.

Wincing from the burn down his throat and in his gut—and the harsh flavor—he set the glass back on the table and stood. He stretched in hopes of minimizing the strain in his bunched muscles. Rolled his neck back and forth a few times. Scratched all the usual places. Then he took a step toward the window to push back the worn blanket covering the dingy pane. He stopped dead in his tracks, though. Despite the fact the window faced the brick wall of the neighboring building not more than five feet away, he reminded himself he likely had a bull’s eye tattooed across his naked chest. If anyone from Shaughnessy’s gang had seen him in the warehouse last night, he was now a moving target. They’d know he was a cop, no matter what extremes he’d gone to over the years to prove he wasn’t.

Ah, the things he’d done...

A sharp grunt fell from his lips where the cigarette dangled. Absently, his fingers closed around the black band he wore on his right wrist and he massaged all the sore spots through the thick material that covered a slit wrist and calcified lumps, only temporarily alleviating the perpetual ache from bones that hadn’t healed properly. “Initiation” scars left by the Irish thugs he intended to take down.

Turning back to the bedroom door, he passed through it, limping slightly from the dull throb in his knees, having jumped out of a two-story window at the warehouse in order to keep from getting spotted. Or shot. By the luck of the Irish, he’d landed on a stack of empty cardboard boxes, after he’d secured the recording he’d needed, both video and audio. It was enough to seal Frank Shaughnessy’s coffin shut...which provided a hint of relief to the too-tight tension Rourke had felt in his chest since the day his parents had been gunned down, thanks to Shaunghnessy, a distant descendent of the notorious mobster, Dean O’Banion, who’d run the powerful North Side Gang during the Prohibition Era.

The O’Reillys’ deaths had been a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’d been leaving an outdoor farmer’s market on the north side when a territory war between Shaughnessy’s gang and another Irish mob family had broken out. That had been ten years ago, when Rourke was twenty and entering his junior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a full-ride football scholarship. He’d immediately changed his major from Environmental Agriculture to Law, with an emphasis in Criminology.

Rourke craved vengeance and justice. To this day, it was a living, breathing entity that drove his every decision, propelled his every action.

He wasn’t capable of cold-blooded murder—even his alter-ego, Royce O’Neal, wasn’t that vicious—so busting the bastard responsible for his parents’ deaths and sending him down the river for the next twenty or so years would have to suffice.

Entering the kitchen, he snubbed out his cigarette in the sink, turned on the rusty faucet and filled the cracked, glass carafe that leaked coffee as it brewed. The liquid sizzled on the small hotplate as he crossed to the far corner and, at the counter’s edge, slammed his heel against a loose floorboard. His bare foot caused the wooden plank to spring free and he bent down to retrieve the accordion folder file he’d filled with incriminating evidence. It’d all go to his lieutenant commander, who was cooperating with the FBI, since Rourke was the one to infiltrate the gang, rather than a Bureau agent.

Aside from testifying—if he lived long enough for that, because he wasn’t going back to the family after last night’s massacre and that would for sure seal his fate with the mob boss—he could wash his hands of this case. And try to figure out what the hell to do with himself going forward. A dismal, yet glaring reality he needed to face—pronto. But right now, he was dragging his feet.

He unwound the elastic cord from the bulging envelop and added his Smartphone to the stash. It had the recording on it, the footage of five men tied to posts and shot executioner-style by Frank’s men, while Frank stood by and watched. He hadn’t done the dirty work, but he’d ordered the murders, and Rourke had caught that command on his phone as well. There was plenty of other evidence to jack Shaughnessy’s program, and all of it as a whole would put an end to one of Chicago’s Irish mob families.
After returning the file to its hiding place, he turned on the small TV that sat on the counter and washed some dishes as he listened to the continuous coverage of today’s Breaking News. Of course, the top story was the murders. Shaughnessy had wanted to send a clear message to one of the other gangs in town—an Italian crew attempting to usurp Shaughnessy’s power—and he’d left the bodies in the warehouse. A ballsy, cocky thing to do. The man obviously thought he was above reproach...and the law.

Rourke needed to get on the phone and share what he knew about all of this with his superiors. What the hell was holding him up?

Maybe he wanted to savor the sweet taste of revenge a bit longer, before Shaughnessy attempted to exact his retribution. Maybe it was the fact Rourke didn’t have an exit strategy in place. He’d begun to doubt this day would ever come. Now that it was here... Well, it was sort of overwhelming to process.

Avoidance worked for him for the moment. After making a halfway decent attempt at cleaning his kitchen, he opened the fridge and inspected the minimal contents. As he calculated in his head the number of days the leftover food had been sitting on one of the shelves—wondering if all the whisky he’d consumed last night would counteract the bacteria growing on week-and-a-half old chili—another news report caught his attention. A robbery and “questionable death” that had taken place downtown.

Questionable?

That piqued his interest. Dead was dead, right?

Christmases Past...by Sheila Claydon

My latest book, Empty Hearts, is a vintage romance. It isn't about Christmas, but the cover, designed by the wonderful Michelle Lee a...