Monday, June 29, 2015

Book #46!!! 'Welcome to Fugitive Inn' by Andie Alexander

I'm well on my way to publishing 50 or more indie books under the SweetTale Books 'umbrella.'  I'm also still on track for a book a month this year.  YAY!

Here's number 46:


Blurb:

Brynn McMurray is awakened to a sea of reporters at her Maine inn in the middle of the night. Her ex-husband is a wanted criminal, and, according to the note left at the scene, he's heading for her inn. However, two of Brynn's current elderly guests think Nazis have invaded and want to shoot one of the reporters—Norman the Naked Newsman. Brynn would rather remove all the guests out of the inn so she can have a peaceful life, alone.  But until her ex-husband is caught, she's on a mission to stay sane. 



Chapter 1:


A huge thud woke me. I was in the midst of a dream about a gorgeous blond man feeding me chocolate-covered strawberries and plying me with glasses of champagne in the back of a private airplane. Whoever or whatever made that noise to wake me up was going to pay. Dreams like that were hard to come by for any woman over forty.

I sat up in my bed. Another noise came from outside and I heard talking. "No," I whined. "Not now. I don't want more guests in the middle of the night."

"Miss McMurray," a woman said in a low tone from outside my door. "I think da mobs are going to kill us." She had a German accent and I knew right away that it was Mrs. Jones. Her parents had been prisoners in Auschwitz, and the paranoia they'd taught their children was astounding. Her husband, though, was from America. His father had fought the Nazis in World War II, meeting Mrs. Jones' parents when he rescued them. The elderly Mr. Jones had brought them all home to America with him.

The 'younger' Mr. and Mrs. Jones were now staying in a room at my inn. Mr. Jones was 72 and the missus was 70. I'd gotten their whole story—whether I wanted to hear it or not—when they'd checked in.

I lowered my feet to the floor, thinking chocolate-covered strawberries would be much better than the current taste in my mouth. I stood up and headed to the door, wondering why the clock even bothered working in the middle of the night, because no one in their right mind cared.

The door lock was cold in my hand as I flipped the metal to the side, making me realize it was early May, which in my mind, was still winter in the Pine Tree State. I threw the door open to see Mrs. Jones in front of me with her husband hunched over beside her, holding onto his walker.

"Miss McMurray," the woman said. "Da mob's outside. I think dey found us." Her eyes grew in size, looking more than terrified. "Where can we hide to get away from these peoples?" Her German accent was mild enough to understand. "I'm sure they're sent here from Hitler himself."

Probably right on that point. The entire universe seemed to be out to get me lately.

But I wasn't about to deal with this. Granted, I'd be worried, too, if I'd heard of the horrors of Auschwitz firsthand, but this was Maine. We didn't usually have mobs hunting us down, and ghosts usually didn't require that much noise to attack people. Everyone knew ghosts and mobs seemed to like stealth attacks. No, this was probably a drunken guest and not a mob.

"I'm sure they're not here for you," I said. "And I'm sure Hitler's ghost is asleep, just like everyone else. Who knows…it may be someone from the town. They may not like me because I'm from Philly." I ushered the couple out toward the hallway. "Just go back to your room and lock your door." I pushed up the long sleeves of my sweatshirt and went into the hallway. "I'll handle this, Philly style." And I meant it. Mr. Blond Man of my dreams needed me. I could almost hear him calling me back to the chocolate-covered strawberries.

"I have a shotgun," Mr. Jones said. "I don't go anywhere without it."

I stared at him. Maybe they were fugitives and I should install metal detectors at the front door? Who were these people, anyway?

I studied the elderly couple. They were no threat, each of them having one foot in the grave. "I don't think…"

The old man took off, pushing his walker in front of him. I didn't know he could move that fast, making me just watch him in admiration. I hoped I could move that fast at his age.

The banging got louder at the back door. I ran into my room and shrugged on some sneakers and a jacket, figuring I could handle the people before Mr. Jones came out with a shotgun. The thought of a shotgun at my inn boggled my mind. The guy seemed blind and would probably hurt someone if he had any type of ammunition.

I turned toward the door. "Yeah, I'm coming!" I glanced at my watch. Two in the morning? What was going on? If it was a guest, they were paying for the entire night. No one woke me from a dream like that and got away with it.

I turned on the lights in the living room and moved to the back door, which was close to the cliff overlooking the beach. Before I opened it, I flipped on the lights, pulled back a curtain, and looked out. A sea of people stood in front of me. It looked like reporters with cameramen, microphones, and news trucks off to the side. Had I finally won the lottery or something? If not, I'd throw the entire lot of them into the Atlantic Ocean. This was the Rockbridge Inn, a respected landmark on the coast of Maine, not a place for a college party.

"I'll help," Mrs. Jones said, holding onto my arm. "If my parents could live through the camps, I can help with dis." She grasped the neck of her long flannel nightgown and buttoned the top, then straightened it out. "If I'm taken to a camp, I have to be dignified. My mudder told me dat."

I fought off the urge to roll my eyes as I ran my fingers through my short hair, hoping I looked good for their cameras. If these people weren't here to give me money, then they'd better leave and let me get back to my incredible dream.

I lifted the cordless phone beside the door, with my fingers ready to call for help. I didn't know any cops I wanted near the inn, so I might have to call in some undesirable favors from said cops if this crowd turned unruly. The thought made me shudder.

I took a deep breath, unlocked the door, and swung it open, just as a volley of questions were yelled at me.

"Did he do it?" some man yelled.

"Is he here?" another woman screamed.

"What's your relationship with your ex-husband?" a snotty-looking woman asked. "And is he available so I can date him?"

Huh? Nate, my ex-husband, wasn't anyone's type. Who would ever ask for him? He was a major loser with an invisible 'L' on his head that I seemed to be able to see clearly, now that we were divorced.

Mrs. Jones and I stepped onto the slightly elevated porch, staring at the sea of people illuminated in floodlights used for television stations.

I raised my hands, waiting for them all to stop talking. They immediately quieted. I still commanded respect from my elementary school teaching days. I'd obtained the inn after divorcing the loser, Nate, who'd called himself my husband.

I stared at their faces, all waiting for me to speak. But before I could say anything, Mr. Jones pushed his walker between Mrs. Jones and me, holding an old shotgun in his hand. I couldn't believe my eyes. The man was wearing an old bandana as a headband, appearing like a Vietnam-era vigilante ready to take on the world…with a walker and a pre-WWII shotgun.

"Be gone, you Nazis!" he yelled, then lifted his gun and aimed. People ran in every direction. However, one stunned distinguished, good-looking man in front didn't move one inch. Instead, he slipped his hand in his pocket. I nicknamed him Mr. Good-Looking.

A thought flashed through my mind. Maybe I could confiscate one of the videos the cameramen continued to shoot for their feed. I could use it for an advertisement, which might bring in more guests…especially gun enthusiasts.

Before I could stop Mr. Jones from shooting, a van pulled up onto my lawn and a younger man jumped out. "I'm here now. You're allowed to start the interviews." The man pulled off his shirt and moved into a bodybuilding pose. Granted his muscles definitely weren't defined, but I was more impressed that he would do that in such cold weather. I guessed it to be around forty degrees. What a way to wake up.

Mr. Jones lifted his gun higher, aiming at the man. "Who are you?"

Mr. Good-Looking kept his hand in his pocket, just watching the half-naked man and Mr. Jones, while all the other reporters cowered at the edges of the scene, closer to the cliff.

Mr. Half-Naked dropped his pants, and was completely naked. "I'm Norman the Naked Newsman." No one said a word as he dropped his arms in defeat. "Come on. Everyone knows me. My ratings are way up and you must've heard of me."

Mr. Jones cocked his gun. "Didn't we fight you in the sixties? I must've missed one of you dingbats back then. You're just like them Nazis."

I reached over and lowered the gun barrel. "Mr. Jones. They're not Nazis. They're with the press." I nodded toward Norman. "Even the naked guy. He's trying to get publicity because he can't do his job otherwise."

Mr. Jones' face showed extreme confusion. "Press? Not Nazis?"

"Not Nazis." I glanced out at the crowd, who were now returning to their spot.

Norman ran closer. "I'll have you know I can do my job." He crossed his arms and stared at me.

I didn't even look downward, because I knew what I'd see. Nothing, since it was so cold outside. Instead, I stared at his face. "Then why is your hair moussed up and you're wearing makeup? Women's makeup, no doubt." I really wasn't in the mood for this guy.

He shook back his hair. "I like blue eye shadow. It goes with my pecs."

Yeah. Pectoral muscles blue from the cold.

Norman raked his eyes down over me, a smile covering his lips. "You taken?"

I shot him a look that he'd better not question. Instead of answering him, I moved my hands to gather the crowd again. "Okay. Back to the topic at hand. Ignore the idiot without clothes. Just let him freeze."

Norman huffed and stared, but didn't say anything.

I returned to Mr. Jones. "Let me have the gun and if they get out of hand, I'll give it back to you."

He leaned closer to my ear. "It's not loaded, but don't tell anyone. I forget where I put the shells."

I nodded. Good to know, but everyone could've heard him. He was half-deaf and spoke loudly.

Mr. Good-Looking removed his hand from his pocket, still looking rather stunned. He was about my age, but seemed very confident and able to hold his own.

After I took the gun from Mr. Jones and stored it by the door, I turned toward the group again. "Now that we're sure you're not Nazis…" I glanced toward Mr. Jones, but he had no clue I was talking about his comment, just from the smile he wore. "…I have some questions. Given that it's two in the morning, you'll have to bear with me. I won't answer any questions if they're yelled at me, and I expect you to raise your hands and use your inside voices, even though we're outside. Before any questions can be asked, though…" I was sure I looked confused. "Why are you here?"

They all started to speak at once and I raised my hands once again. "No, you didn't follow the rules. Hands."

Norman raised his hand with every other member of the group. "Oh! I know!"

I ignored him, because he didn't follow the rules. Instead, I focused on Mr. Good-Looking. He didn't have his hand up, but from the way he stared at me, he wanted me to call on him.

I knew his type—probably recently divorced and wanted to date again. Couldn't hurt my chances. He also didn't have a camera or even a pad of paper, so he seemed to be the least obnoxious. With graying hair on the sides, dark hair around the gray and on top, and the bluest eyes I'd ever seen, I decided he wasn't that bad looking. Granted, I only had the assistance of the small light of the back porch and the huge camera lights set up around the property. Regardless, he'd do, considering my dream man in that plane feeding me chocolate-covered strawberries wasn't real and could've been Norman's age. Maybe I could have Mr. Good-Looking feed me strawberries at ten thousand feet. Interesting concept.

I pointed right at Mr. Good-Looking. "You."

"Not fair!" Norman said.

"You didn't follow directions." I crossed my arms. "Besides, you're too cold to talk." I glanced downward. "And it shows, too."

The idiot glanced downward and covered himself. What a loser.

I returned to Mr. Good-Looking's face. He grinned a very white smile and winked at me. That was as a good as an apple for the teacher, in my book.

"Well, Ms. O'Brien…" he said.

"It's McMurray. If you can't get your facts straight for my maiden name, I might have to call on someone else." Or take him inside and 'debrief' him, with strawberries and chocolate.

"Want me to shoot him?" Mr. Jones asked, holding onto his walker. "I have ammo in my room, I think."

I felt my mouth open, knowing everyone had heard him. Mr. Good-Looking bit back a smile, so I knew he'd heard, at least.

"No," I said to the Mr. Jones. "I'll handle this without hurting anyone."

The crowd chuckled as the cameramen continued to shoot pictures. I didn't even care, because Mr. Good-Looking Reporter was clearly amused. He smiled at me with his blue twinkling eyes. Even at my age, I could've melted.

"Sorry," Mr. Good-Looking said. "I think I even knew that, but my assistant was on vacation and she told me the information over a bad phone connection. Ms. McMurray, your ex-husband, Nate O'Brien, is on the run after being a suspect in the murder of his wife and mother-in-law, Senator Beckett's wife."

Time stopped and my eyebrows rose. It hit me that meeting with the press was a bad idea. But I couldn't just shut the door on these people. No, I had to save face, because I really wanted the name of Mr. Good-Looking, a potential mile-high-strawberry man.

"Want me to shoot your ex-husband?" Mr. Jones asked me. "I'm a good shot, even with my bad eyes." He scanned the crowd. "Where is he, the murderer? Is he in with that naked man? I really want to shoot him."

It was tempting to have him carry out the deed, but I figured murder was still against the law, or these people wouldn't be so interested in the deaths of Nate's current wife and his mother-in-law. Maybe it was a family reunion that got heated over a roast that was overdone. Nate hated overcooked meat.

I turned toward Mr. Jones. "No, I think we'll just see how this plays out. But I'll keep you on speed dial for my ex, at least."

I watched Mr. Good-Looking smile while I tried to rein in my shock of hearing about Nate. What was I going to do? I wanted to get to know this good-looking reporter and there was only one way. If he turned out to be a dud, I'd just sic Mr. Jones on him. He was the closest thing to a pit bull that I had at the inn. Although, I was certain Norman would do whatever I wanted him to do, just for the story.

I faced Mr. Good-Looking. "I think you just won the lottery, sir. Won't you come inside for some coffee?"

"And not me?" Norman said. "What about me? I want the story."

"Go take a picture of yourself freezing," I said. "That'll be your story." And his viewers would be able to see a living breathing idiot in the meantime.

He just wouldn't stop, jumping up and down with his arms crossed, probably trying to get warm. Considering he was naked, everything was bouncing, but I certainly wasn't impressed. "I'm not going anywhere until you meet with me," he said.

"Then it's going to be a long, cold, small night for you." I motioned for Mr. Good-Looking to join me on the porch while the rest of the reporters laughed. Yeah, Norman was the comic relief.

That's when it hit me. What was I thinking? I was asking a reporter inside?

Ah, but he was a very handsome, classy reporter. Need I say more? Besides, I was sure Mr. and Mrs. Jones would be close by, because this was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to them since the aftermath of the big war.


Web page: http://andiealexander.com/fugitiveinn.html

Buy links (more will be added on the web page, listed above):
Smashwords

Have a great week!
Markee/Andie

Friday, June 26, 2015

What's Up With All the Apostrophes?

I've trolled Facebook on occasion (not so much lately) and found so many 'new' uses for apostrophes.  For example, I saw the following:

To the one's I love

Um...apostrophes are used to indicate possession.  I don't think the writer owns the ones.  That's slavery, in my book.

Look at grammarbook.com and see the following in part 2b:

Rule 2b. Do not use an apostrophe + s to make a regular noun plural.
Incorrect: Apostrophe's are confusing.
Correct: Apostrophes are confusing.
Incorrect: We've had many happy Christmas's.
Correct: We've had many happy Christmases.
In special cases, such as when forming a plural of a word that is not normally a noun, some writers add an apostrophe for clarity.
Example: Here are some do's and don'ts.
In that sentence, the verb do is used as a plural noun, and the apostrophe was added because the writer felt that dos was confusing. Not all writers agree; some see no problem with dos and don'ts.

That's exactly what the user is doing.  They're adding apostrophes when it should be a plural.

Here's a great example page to explain it better:

(In case you can't see the picture, here's the link http://theoatmeal.com/comics/apostrophe.  GREAT illustration!):

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In my mind, I replace the word with 'dogs' and see if that works (any noun will do, but dogs is short).  'To the dogs I love' looks much better than 'To the dog's I love' to me.  That goes for any place you think there should be an apostrophe.
So the next time you want to add an apostrophe, think to yourself...is it possession or is it plural?  Can you replace the noun with 'dogs' and would it work without the apostrophe?

Have a great week!
Markee

Friday, June 19, 2015

Men Have It Easy With Logical and Clear Thoughts

Men versus women.  Writing as if you're in their head isn't easy, because you only have one type of experience in your own head.  For me, it's from the woman's standpoint.  Men...it's not so easy to think like them, because they're SO literal, logical, and straightforward to me.

I was writing part of my latest work-in-progress (WIP), where a male lawyer has to address a class describing his typical day.  I had to think like a man and write like a man.  Not easy.  But having a husband and a grown son, I've been studying their habits--how they talk, how they think, how they live.

Easy way to think like a man if you're a woman:

  • Sentences are short and to the point.  There's no 'clarifier' after the end of the sentence.  Women clarify their sentences, to make themselves seem less nasty.  For example, a woman would say, 'He's confrontational, right?'  That 'right' softens the blow.  But men would say 'He's confrontational.'  Period.  Nothing softening the blow there.  AND they get away with it without being nasty.
  • Thought processes--literal and logical.  Women's brains are all over the place.  They're multitasking, doubting themselves, and really worried what everyone else thinks about their decisions.  Men--a straight line in their thinking.  They don't doubt their decisions, but are focused on the goals and not worrying about how to get there.  See this link for a visual aid.
  • One thought at a time, and it's usually carefree.  At least that's what I've observed.  Here's an article that describes a carefree discussion between men: https://coreycarter.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/tourist-fishing-pull-up-your-beach-chair-grab-a-cold-beer-brace-yourself-for-hilarity/  It's hilarious!  What if the people in the chairs were women, though?  They'd all feel sorry for the tourists they're duping and one of them would start a fight about how it's not right, yada, yada, yada.
  • No room for emotion.  Their brain thinks from point A to point B.  They don't deviate.  It's all in one straight line.
  • Others should fix their own problems.  It's not the job for a man to fix things for others unless asked.
  • Doesn't do anything without being asked first.  This actually isn't a bad thing, because they don't step on others' toes.
  • Able to compartmentalize.  Think  of it this way.  Men seem to have these boxes in their heads where they store topics (see this post and you'll understand).  They open one box at a time and only dwell on that box.  The rest can stay shut.
Women's brains:
  • All over the place in their thoughts.
  • Emotional and filled with worry.
  • All topics seem to be thought of at the same time.
  • Nothing is carefree in thought, or the woman is thought to be a ditzy blonde or something.
  • Doubt, big time.  Sentences end with clarifiers like 'right' and 'isn't that so' just to soften their thoughts.  They don't want to come across as nasty or confident, or they will be thought of badly.
  • Fixers.  They want to fix all problems presented to them.  Since they're nurturers by definition with a woman's instinct, they want the world to be nice-nice for everyone.
  • Steps in and does jobs without being asked, because they have to pick up the slack for everyone.
  • Sentences are long and wordy, and much of the time, contradictory.  Example:  "I want to go to the store but if I go to the store then I'll have too much to do here, feeling guilty for not doing my work first.  So I'll stay home.'  Very doubtful in their own capabilities.
In writing men versus women, there should be a difference in how they talk and behave.  Short logical sentences for men, bordering-on-crazy thought processes for women (and yes, I have two daughters, too, so trust me...it works).

I'm not saying any of this in a bad or a good light, but just what I've observed.  There are pluses and minuses to each of the way the genders think.  But I suspect, if I could choose, I'd rather have a man's brain.  I'm tired of my thoughts not being linear and logical and way too emotionally charged (can you tell my kids are all home this summer?).  LOL!


Have a great week!
Markee

Friday, June 12, 2015

Words I Was Sure Were Real...

Have you ever written a word you were sure was real just to find out your brain made it up?  I have this problem more than I care to admit.  But it's hilarious when I do realize it's just a made up word.

Here's an example of my favorite word.  Clapter.

You're saying, HUH?

Think about it.  Laughter filled the audience.  So did clapter.  Since people can laugh and create laughter, why not all clap and create clapter?

I think these words need to go in a cool dictionary somewhere and eventually be brought into the English language.  What do you think?

Another one that I love to use (and yes, I find and correct them while editing) is smilize.  He smilized his whole face.  That means his smile filled his face, his eyes narrowed slightly while his laugh lines deepened, his lips turned upward, and his dimples showed on his cheeks.  We all need to smilize more.  LOL!

Do you have any words like this that you'd love to admit to?  They just crack me up!

Have a wonderful week!
Markee

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Short Story Just Published!!!

This story is part of the 2014 Christmas Collection Anthology by Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery and Victory Tales Press.  It's now being put out as a standalone short story with a fantastic cover.  YAY!  Thanks to Karen Michelle Nutt and Rebecca Vickery for helping out with everything.  Great group to work with!!!




Blurb:

Do you believe in love at first sight? Or love after a kiss under the mistletoe? Neither did Tasha or Cal.

Tasha Adams owns a bakery and catering shop after losing her nursing career. Lack of confidence and low self-esteem make her an almost hermit, especially during the holidays.

Calvin Miller, busy doctor and bachelor, receives a sudden and unexpected visit from his young niece and nephew for the holidays. There go his work plans.

Then a fateful collision on a staircase changes all their lives.

~~~~~


Buy link (more buy links will be listed on the website as they become available):

Have a great day!
Markee




Friday, June 5, 2015

The Hook

She teetered on the edge of the bridge, staring at the abyss below her.  A look behind her verified her fear.  The lion inched closer.  Which way would she choose to die?  Eaten by a wild animal or falling to her death?  Now would be a great time for a superhero to swoop down from the trees to save her.

~~~~~

This paragraph illustrates a hook.  It would be at the beginning of a book, or at the beginning or the end of a chapter.  It's something used to ensnare a reader, to make them want to read more.  At the beginning of a book, it's used to get the reader to buy the book.  At the end of the chapter, it's used to make the reader to keep on turning pages, not wanting them to stop at the end of the chapter.  When the reader does stop at the end of the chapter, they're not as likely to pick up the book.  If they stop in the middle of the chapter, they're more likely to keep on reading, for chapter closure.  It's the same for the beginning of a chapter.

So what makes a good hook?  Watch any television show or movie. What would play out well in a scene before the first commercial or the opening credits?  They don't want to lose their viewers before any break, so they stack the odds in the show to keep you wanting to come back after the break.

A hook has to include something that puts the character in danger, forces them to make a decision that has consequences, or shows something that changed them as a person that happened in the past that is relevant to today (not back story).  Or, it can be something simple that is endearing to the reader.  Whatever you use, make it compelling--the reader has to want to read more, to invest time and money in your story.

Hooks have evolved over the years.  If you pick up a book that was published back in the 90s, you'll see pages and pages of back story at the beginning of a book.  But with the advent of more action packed movies and television shows, viewers want to see and read something that is more meaningful or dangerous.  They want to know what happens next.  What will the character do when faced with the situation they're in?

Also, since pacing is a lot faster these days, the first few paragraphs of the book or chapter, and the ending of the chapters, can't drag.  That's not the time to describe a room, for example.  It should be the 'before the commercial' break, to make the reader want to keep on reading.

Good luck with your hook.  It will make or break your book, once a reader has decided to open the thing.  What makes them open the book?  'Curb appeal'--the title and the cover.  If either of those aren't good, forget sales and forget about the reader ever seeing page one or your hook.

Have a great week!
Markee

Monday, June 1, 2015

June Newsletter

Kick back, it's JUNE!


I love summertime in Wisconsin.  If you've never been here, it's GORGEOUS.  The sun is out from about five in the morning until well after nine at night, people are really into planting flowers, and the temps are usually in the 70s and low 80s most of the time (it's rare to get above 90 in the summer).  Summer certainly makes up for the cold winters up here.

At our house, things are happening.  One kid is working at college this summer, one is home, but taking online classes, and the third (the oldest) is moving out on his own to a bachelor pad, about four miles from our house.  Exciting stuff!

As for me, I'm still publishing a book a month.  YAY!  I'm also putting ads out for a small publishing company called Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery at http://rebeccajvickery.com/.  If you get a chance, sign up for the ads.  We took a break for a while on ads, but are back at it this month.  They're having sales, so check it out.  Great company!

Have a wonderful month!
SweetTale Books





What Happened At
SweetTale Books
in May?


This past month, I put out a book by Andie Alexander.



Blurb:

** Book 4 in the Extreme Travel Series *** 

Since Kes and James are now agents, they travel to the Philippines with their team to save kidnapped businessmen. Due to the nature of the missions, the situations get very personal for Kes in more than one way. 

Book 1: 'Get Me Out of Africa'
Book 2: 'Voo Do Love Me!'
Book 3: 'Do You Need a Doggie Bag?'
Book 4: 'Please Don't Blow Up the Neighbors'





~~~~~

Chapter 1:

"Kes!"

I all but jumped out of my seat when I heard my name yelled from far away. I must have dozed off or something, because the boring first speaker in the lecture hall was gone. My friend and coworker, Ben, stood in front of the entire auditorium with a microphone, looking right at me. I slinked down into my seat and he laughed. I hated working for CIA just then. This was a required seminar for new recruits, entitled, 'The Magic of Distraction.' If I'd known Ben was speaking, I'd have faked a headache.

"No, Kes," Ben said. "I need you, right now."

It figured we'd be stuck with model-adorable Ben. He was a gorgeous agent, blond hair, blue eyes, and a killer white smile. He also liked to flirt a lot, especially with me.

Every face in the giant filled auditorium turned toward me. I hated Ben for this. He was going to buy me the biggest and most expensive dinner for making me die in front of everyone.

My cheeks heated up. "Where?"

"Up here, Kes. Now."

I stood up and gave my best 'save me' look to my husband, James, who sat beside me. He shrugged as if to say, 'you're on your own and I'm glad it's not me.' So, I straightened my outfit and walked the plank to the stage. As soon as I got there, I gave Ben the 'don't mess with me' glare and stood with my arms folded.

"See this?" Ben picked up my long, wavy, dark red hair in his hand. "Huge distraction, especially in places where they don't normally have red hair." He turned me slightly and held my face toward the crowd. "Green eyes. Not normal."

I shot him the dirtiest look possible, making him chuckle. He stood back and held his chin as he checked me out. "Nice body, too. A little flat-chested, but you can't have it all."

I put my hands on my hips and watched him with my mouth agape. That little…

Ben stifled a laugh and talked to the huge chuckling audience again. "This lady has done amazing things with distraction. She has it down to a science and has proven it time and time again, even before she'd trained to be an agent. She was the inspiration for my book and I'd love to have her demonstrate some of the things she's done in the past. You might want to take notes, because she's a natural."

I looked toward James, who'd hidden far down in his chair with his face covered. He probably felt like I did, terrified for what was to come.

Standing about five or six inches taller than my height, James Hamilton was very handsome, with compassionate and sexy light blue eyes and medium brown hair framing his face. His beautiful white smile and high cheekbones gave his face a model-like glow. With his sexy slightly British accent, his muscular six-pack abs, and his very caring personality added into the mix, I'd married someone who should've been in the movies or on the front cover of a magazine. It didn't hurt that James was independently wealthy from all the businesses he'd started or inherited, including the biggest newspaper in Denver. Even so, we got along really well, but also knew how to push each other's buttons. With his newly obtained doctoral degree in psychology, he thought he could counsel anyone. I think I was his only failure, because I played with his head. Even though we'd only been married for four months, I figured it was my right to play with his head a bit. It kept things interesting.

"James," Ben yelled. "Bring Kes her purse."

James took a deep breath and grabbed my purse. He walked up to the stage, handed me the purse, and headed back for the stairs.

Ben ran to James' side and directed him back to center stage, right beside me. "Oh, no, my friend. You're up here with us."

I turned toward James. "Do you want to kill him now or later?" I said it loudly enough for everyone to hear. The audience laughed. I even saw our big boss, Wilson, hiding a grin.

"Now, Kes, dear, relax," Ben said into the microphone. "I promise this won't hurt." He looked out to the audience and put his hand to the side of his mouth. "We're actually really good friends."

"Not for long," I said. There was laughter again.

Ben shot me a dirty look. "Anyway, here's how this works. Distraction is like the magician who can fool you into seeing one thing when they're doing something else behind your back. Let's take an example here. Kes, I need a sleazy woman."

I raised my eyebrows and lowered my gaze down over him. "Sounds like a personal problem."

Laughter rang throughout the auditorium. I was pushing my luck, but so was my good old buddy Ben.

Ben shook his head while clutching the mic with white knuckles. I guessed he was probably trying to control his anger, but he smiled anyway.

"No, Kes," he said. "I need you to look sleazy and I need it in less than five minutes."

Of all things to choose for me to do. I hung my head.

"What's wrong?" Ben asked me.

I looked up slightly. "This is really embarrassing. Do you know that?"

"That's funny. You weren't embarrassed when you did it before on various occasions. Should I name a few?"

I couldn't believe he'd tell my secrets. I wasn't proud of some things I'd done in the past, but knew I'd gotten the job done and saved a few lives. "Ben…"

He laughed. He was such a joker but I wasn't amused.

"Fine," I murmured. "Are you ready to time me?"

"Sure." He pulled a stopwatch out of his pocket and I waited until he set it to zero. "Go."

I removed my jacket and unbuttoned part of my blouse, and then pulled the blouse up and tied it in a knot under my bust line. I raised my hem by turning under the top of my skirt, and then opened my purse and pulled out a mirror. I applied blush, mascara, and lipstick to the max, so it would be very apparent. I fluffed up my hair and looked at Ben. "Done."

"No, you're not. I want the bra off, too."

"Ben. No," I whined, my hands falling to my side.

James, my dutiful husband, stood back, smiled, and crossed his arms. "Do what the man says."

"Oh, man." I pulled my arms out of my sleeves and took the straps off from my bra, under my blouse. I put my arms back in, and undid the bra in the back. I laid it on the table with my jacket, and turned to Ben. "Do you want anything else off, too?"

"Well, now that you say it…" He glanced at my annoyed face, and then checked his stopwatch. "No, that was great. Doesn't she look sleazy? And in only two minutes and twelve seconds, too."

The men in the audience clapped while the women took notes, like this was something special.

Oh, brother.

~~~~~

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