Sunday, November 30, 2014

A gift that keeps on giving - Fabulous Crime/Mystery/Thriller series.

Looking for a gift for the mystery lover in your life? Love character driven fiction that keeps you on the edge of your seat and cheering for the good guys? You'll love the Justice Series.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two of my favorite quotes from New York Times bestselling author, M. A. Comley, and two free books!

Trapped – that’s what she was whether she liked it or not. #Quote M.A.Comley Evil in Disguise

She dreamt of faraway beautiful places with a faceless man who treated her like a princess. #Quote M. A. Comley Evil in Disguise






Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Sample - WIP - Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

Coming soon! Hopefully in October - Beyond A Reasonable Doubt


CHAPTER ONE

Jenna scanned the courtroom, anxious to get started and get it over with. Closing arguments were the part of her job she loved the most, and the part she was good at. The evidence had all been presented to the jury. Next, the defense would weave their story, shining a different light on the proof and twisting testimony in the hopes of creating doubt. All they needed was one juror. Her job was to make sure they didn't get that—to close all loopholes and leave the jury with only one choice: Travello was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. She'd practiced her closing argument, and she was ready.

Her gaze fell on Aran Travello. He grinned at her, causing a deep, nagging feeling to gnaw at her gut. She shook it off. The evidence was all in her favor. No jury in its right mind would find him innocent.
Grant Benson slid into the seat beside her and handed her a file. “Here's the PSIR."

Jenna scanned the presentencing investigation report, her eyebrows knitting together. Travello's previous crimes included everything but murder, and most of the crimes were nonviolent. "Damn it, there has to be more, something everyone missed."
Grant smiled, showing even, white teeth. "Patience, you’re showing your true colors.”

Jenna laughed and closed the file. Her father had wanted to name her “Impatience,” but her mother had balked. Two months early and weighing only two pounds, Jenna Patience James had burst into the world with gusto, screaming and kicking and fighting for life—just as she’d been doing ever since.

A quiet hush fell over the courtroom. Jenna turned, watching as Conrad Merced sashayed through the doors. She heard the quick intake of Grant’s breath as a blinding pain started just behind her right eye.

“What the hell is he doing here?” she whispered. “There’s no damn way Travello could afford to hire him.”

Jenna rubbed her right temple, soothing the pain as she continued to watch Conrad stroll down the aisle. He always reminded her of a clown, dressed in a dark-blue Armani suit, bright-red bowtie that matched his flaming-red hair and, of course, his trademark white shoes. Travello couldn’t even afford the shoe shine.

Grant shrugged and stood up. "Don't worry about it. I'd say you've got this one in the bag, even with Merced on his side."
Jenna raised an eyebrow. Grant was the new law clerk at the DA's office and had yet to try his first case. He had no clue just how many things could go wrong in a trial, especially a trial with Merced. His confidence in her ability wasn't exactly comforting.

Jenna continued to rub her temple as she slipped her feet into her three-inch heels, which gave her a respectable five-foot-five-inch height. Going up against Merced, even that felt short. Why hadn't Michael told her Merced was entering the case? She glanced to the back of the courtroom, and he shrugged, his lips lifting in a sympathetic smile.

Merced stopped at the prosecutor's table and dropped a motion in front of her. "There's been a slight change in Mr. Travello's representation. I'll be doing closing arguments. I hope you won't object as I'd hate to see a mistrial called on a technicality."

Jenna glanced at the motion. Merced knew damn well she wanted to object. Under other circumstances, she would have objected. Conrad Merced had never lost a case. Well, today wasn't going to be his lucky day. Pasting on her sweetest smile, she met the stony black gaze. "No objection, counselor."

She took some pleasure in the knitting of his bushy brows as the bailiff entered the room.

"All rise. Judge Raymond Carter presiding."

Jenna continued to smile as she stood. Merced was known for his courtroom drama, but Carter would squash him like a bug if he started that.

"Counsel, approach the bench, please."

Jenna held her smile as she stood before the bench, meeting the judge's sympathetic look. Damn him, he'd buried her already.

"Miss James, I have a copy of Mr. Merced's motion, do you have any objections?"

"No objections, Your Honor."

Carter eyed them both over his glasses. "All right, counsel, you may proceed with closing arguments. Mr. Merced, there will be none of your usual shenanigans."

"Strictly by the book, Judge. If Miss James has no objections, defense will go first, alleviating the need for rebuttal by counsel."

Jenna eyed him warily. Clearly, he had something up his sleeve. "No objections, Your Honor."
Jenna returned to her seat as Merced addressed the court. The gnawing feeling inside her gut grew to almost a physical pain as she listened to him go over the evidence, creating loopholes that could, if believed, create a reasonable doubt in the jury's mind. Fortunately, the loopholes were minor, but Merced's lack of courtroom drama and droning voice created a new fear inside her. Was he setting up an appeal defense for incompetent counsel?

"Miss James?"

Jenna stood and walked around the table.

"Your Honor, counsel, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you've heard the testimony. The evidence is clear and precise. Mr. Travello not only butchered but reveled in the death of a homeless immigrant. All for a bottle of cheap wine." She knew her blue eyes were flashing as she delivered condemning words with precision. She didn’t flutter or wave her hands at the exhibits. Instead, she gripped them as weapons, walking slowly in front of each juror as she met their eyes, dropping her voice and making it soft and sensuous. “Perhaps Mr. Travello thought no one would care. Ladies and gentlemen, I care. This was someone’s son. Someone’s father. Someone’s best friend.”

~ ~ ~

Michael Elkins took his gaze from the jury for just a moment to admire the young woman delivering the scathing closing argument. She wasn't as pretty as the women he normally dated, but she was cute, and eventually he would change the things he didn't like. He studied the black curls that surrounded her face, already beginning to frizz on the edges. His gaze traveled down the slender frame. The breasts were a little too small, but implants would take care of that. He sighed. Her legs had almost become a deal breaker. He liked them long and shapely. Unfortunately, there was little he could do about her height.

He shook his head as the jurors averted their eyes from the gory picture she held in her hands. She was one of the best prosecutors in the state of Texas, and in another year to two, she'd be the new district attorney. That made her valuable to his career, which was all that really mattered in a relationship.

Shrugging his shoulders, he met the gaze of his partner, Scott Harman, who had taken his place on the case when Jenna was assigned as prosecutor. Their relationship wasn’t exactly public knowledge, but there was no way he would risk his career for a lowlife like Travello. He'd known Travello was guilty the first time he talked to him. He didn’t need to stay to hear the jury’s verdict. Travello had lost the second she dropped her voice and whispered those soft words, “someone’s son... someone’s father... someone’s best friend.”

He turned his attention back to Jenna. She was going to be pissed that he hadn't told her about Merced. Of course, he could feign ignorance. Scott had called him last night to tell him Merced was doing closing arguments. He hadn't asked why. Truth be told, he didn't care one way or the other. If Jenna won, he would take her for a celebration dinner. If she lost, he would console her.
Rising, he caught her eye as she returned to the prosecutor’s table to wait for Judge Carter to deliver the jury instructions, then to wait longer for the verdict and, if he was found guilty, sentencing. He caught her subtle wink, the slight lifting of the corners of her mouth.

Michael raised his hand, running his fingers through his thick, blond hair in a silent salute as he headed for the courtroom door to answer the cell phone that had been vibrating incessantly for more than five minutes.
He cleared security, heading for fresh air and a much-needed cigarette before he returned the call. The Honorable William Jefferson Elkins had summoned—six times. He wasn’t going to be happy about Michael’s refusal to answer the phone, even if he had been in court. Lighting a cigarette, he took a deep drag and scowled. His father hadn’t called him in over six months, and now he’d called six times in the space of a half hour. Hitting the Redial button, he threw the unfinished cigarette into the street.

“Hello.”

“Maria, it’s Michael. My father has been trying to reach me.”

The silence on the phone was deafening, and Michael felt the first tremors of foreboding.

“Hold, please.” The words were whispered with an underlying note of compassion and pain.

“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been calling you for hours.” Judge Elkins bellowed into the receiver.

“I’ve been in court, dad.” Michael didn’t bother to correct him that it had only been a half hour. No one ever corrected Judge Elkins—at least, no one that still had a bar license.

“There’s been an accident.” Anger still riddled the old man’s voice. “Your mother’s dead.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Coming Soon - Beyond a Reasonable Doubt - Warning - strong language.

Coming soon! Beyond a Reasonable Doubt - this was one of my favorite chapters. Right now in the hands of the editors, so it could change before the final publication, but I love Harry Redmond and Jake Savior.




CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE

Marcus poured another drink and glanced at Gregory. "Thanks to Miss James, we have a little over thirty-six hours to find that evidence and set the stage. The house should be empty except for the maid. Don't kill her unless you have to."

Gregory sipped his scotch. "What about James and those two cops? They could be a problem if they connect you to Elkins."

Marcus smiled and lifted his glass. "If all goes as planned they won't have time to connect me to either of the Elkins. Except as their lawyer, of course." He downed the bourbon and wiped his lips on his sleeve. "Don't look so disappointed. I do have a job for you. I believe David Garcia is soft where Miss James is concerned. He needs a little lesson on where his loyalty lies."

Gregory grinned. "Leg or arm? Or both?"

"I think an arm will be fine. He needs to be able to walk tomorrow."

~ ~ ~

Harry parked in front of the house, picked up the arrest warrant for Michael Elkins and handed Jake the one for William. "Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll resist arrest."

Jake tossed his cigarette out the window. "JJ might be upset if she doesn't get to take these bastards to trial." He opened his door and stepped out. "Of course, if there's nobody else here, who's gonna know they didn't resist?"

Harry joined him on the sidewalk. "I've got scratches and you've got a busted nose. Looks like the bastards resisted to me."

Jake shook his head. "I know you want to kill the guy for what he did to JJ, but he had a heart attack recently. We want him alive long enough to enjoy the fruits of being behind bars. He's cute remember. Cute guys are always popular."

Harry's lips compressed into a tight line. "All right, but I get one punch."

Jake slapped him on the back. "One punch it is partner."

Harry knocked loudly on the front door which was opened by the maid. Her eyes widened and her hands immediately started fluttering. "Can I help you?"

"We have a warrant for the arrest of William Elkins and Michael Elkins. Where are they?" Harry asked.

The hands fluttered even more wildly. "I do not understand. You're going to arrest Mr. Elkins?"

Jake gave her his best smile. "That's the plan, honey. Where is he?"

"The judge is in his study. Mr. Michael is upstairs in the shower."

Jake tapped Harry on the shoulder. "We'll do the judge first." He turned to the maid. "Why don't you show us where the study is, then you can go get Michael and bring him down."

"Yes, sir. Please follow me."

They followed her down the hallway to huge oak doors. She knocked and waited.

"Come in."

Jake grabbed her arm as she reached for the door. "Go get Michael. We'll take it from here."

Harry drew his gun as Jake opened the door and stepped into the room. Elkins glared at them from behind a huge mahogany desk.

"What the hell are you doing here? Get out of my house."

Jake moved slowly. "William Elkins, you're under arrest for the murder of Olivia Elkins. You have the right to remain silent."

Elkins reached for his drawer and Jake drew his gun and pointed it directly at judge's chest. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. I don't need much of a reason to pull this trigger."

Elkins let his hand fall away and Jake grinned. "As I said, you have a right to remain silent. If you give up that right anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." He rounded the desk, holstered his gun and jerked the judge to his feet. He pulled an arm behind the judge's back and slapped on a cuff. "You have the right to an attorney." Grabbing the other arm he wrenched it around and cuffed it. "If you can't afford an attorney one will be appointed to you." He turned the judge to face him. "Do you understand your rights, sir?"

Elkins spit on him before bellowing, "You're dead you son-of-a-bitch."

Jake wiped off the spittle and glanced at Harry. "I do believe the judge just threatened me, Harry. What do you think?"

Harry leaned against the wall never taking his eyes from the open door. "Sounded like a threat to me."

Jake eyed the old man. He wanted to hit him. Maybe break a few bones. Instead he smiled maliciously and pulled him in close. "I've waited twenty eight years to get you. So you know what I'm gonna do, Judge? I'm gonna spread the word around the jail that you're a former judge. Prisoners don't like judges. With that information making the rounds, even an old ass like yours is gonna see some real action. You've spent your whole life fucking people. Let's see how you like it." He pushed him toward the door just as Michael Elkins came sauntering through it.

"Don't worry, dad, I called Marcus and left a message. He'll have you out before they even finish the paperwork."

Harry stepped forward and handed Michael his warrant. "Michael Elkins you're under arrest for conspiracy, tampering with evidence and transporting a dead body across state lines."

Michael glanced at the warrant. "That little whore put you up to this?" He smiled at Harry. "She's pretty good in bed, isn't she?"
Harry's right fist came up hard and fast, catching him dead in the lips. He grabbed him before he could fall, pulled his arms behind his back and cuffed him. "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent anything you say can and will result in me beating the shit out you."

Monday, August 4, 2014

Coming Soon! Helena's Diary



CHAPTER ONE

Saguria Canyon offered a picturesque view of everything Gabriella loved about spring in southern California. The golden hue of mule’s ears and deep blue Ithuriel’s spears dotted the lush green grass of the meadow below. In another week, two at the most, life in the canyon would be thriving. Lovers would walk hand in hand, seeking out private trails and stopping for a kiss under the cherry blossoms.

But not me.

Her shoulders slumped. She’d been dating Robert for six months, but the relationship wasn’t going anywhere. At least not for her. The only romance and passion in her life were captured on the pages of her romance novels. And lately even those relationships seemed stale and monotonous.

The blare of a horn broke her reverie, and she turned to wave at Maddy. The heaviness lifted for a moment. Madeleine Jones simply didn’t allow being down in the dumps. Gabriella couldn't help the grin that spread across her face as Maddy extricated herself from her fire-red Jaguar. Even dressed in oversized sweats, without a touch of makeup, she looked like a movie star or supermodel. She had tied her long blonde hair back in a careless ponytail, and the baggy sweats did little to disguise what everyone called a “curvaceous” figure.

“Helena Gabriella Carson, you look like you’ve lost your best friend.” Maddy grinned and swung into a set of stretching exercises that would have left Gabriella gasping for breath. “And I know that isn’t true, because here I am. Ready? A good four-mile hike will get your blood pumping and your artistic juices flowing. Spring has sprung, and love is in the air.”
Gabriella tried to smile but couldn’t pull it off. “Life is all around me, and yet I still feel dead inside.”
Maddy wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “It's only been six months, Ree, and most of that you've spent finalizing your mother's estate. Another month and you'll be back to writing sizzling romance novels for all your fans.”

“I hope so. I finally finished Cold Heart and sent it off to Celeste last week.”

Maddy pulled her toward the hiking trail. “Good. Let's go find some inspiration for the next one.”

Gabriella followed, thankful the friendship between them didn't require a lot of small talk. She'd woken up frustrated and angry without an outlet for either. The four-mile trek up the trail might help with the frustration, but the anger was something unfamiliar, new territory through which she didn't know how to navigate. And she definitely didn't want to dwell on the reasons behind it.

“Have you thought about going back to school?” Maddy stopped on an outcropping of rock and bent to examine a small stonecrop flower growing beside the boulder. “I love these things. They’re so beautiful.”

Gabriella studied the tiny orange flower clinging to the side of the boulder. It looked lonely and vulnerable. Just like she felt. She wanted to hide it, protect it from the hikers that, like them, would stop on the boulder to enjoy the view. “And like most beautiful things, endangered because people want to possess them.”
Maddy sat on the boulder and patted the spot beside her. “I wondered when that was going to happen.”

“What?” Gabriella sat next to her but moved as far from the edge as possible.

“The anger and resentment.” Maddy shot her a sympathetic smile. “It's perfectly normal. You gave up two years of your life to nurse your mother. And cancer is a horrible disease. You go through the highs of thinking she’s getting better and then the lows of knowing it’s only a matter of time. Now that your grief is subsiding, other emotions are fighting for control.”

“That's not...” The truth she didn’t want to dwell on was staring her right in the face. “But I loved my mother.”

“Of course you did. I loved her, too. My favorite childhood memories were made at your house. My mom was always mad at us because we weren’t the little ballerina princesses she wanted. Your mom let us jump in the mud puddles, washed our faces, and gave us a cookie. You have every right to be angry. You were jerked from a life of fun, parties, and friends to a life of seclusion, sickness, and pain. No matter how much we love someone, there's a part of all of us that's just a little selfish.”
Gabriella wiped away a tear. “I feel like I’ve changed so much. Like I’m not the same person anymore.” She waved toward the trail.

“This is the first spontaneous thing I’ve done in three years. And I almost cancelled it.”

“Necessity always changes people. You were forced to grow up overnight. You went from making decisions about what to have for lunch to how to pay this month’s bills.” Maddy turned to her, her eyes filled with respect. “And you did it, Ree. Without ever making one complaint in all that time. You did it all. Let yourself be angry. Scream occasionally at the injustice of it all.” Maddy grinned mischievously. “Then buy a new dress, get your hair done, and go out for a night of fun and frolicking.”

“It wasn’t all bad, Maddy. I became a bestselling romance author, and I met Robert.”
Maddy stood up and dusted off her sweats. “The writing I totally get, but Robert is something you're going to have to explain to me. He's the most unromantic, emotionally unresponsive man I've ever met. He's not right for you, Ree, and I wish you could see that before it's too late.”

Gabriella searched for words to defend Robert but came up with nothing. She’d been thinking the same thing before Maddy arrived. Her cell phone saved her from having to respond. “It's Celeste. Should I take it?”
Maddy chuckled. “Definitely, and put it on speaker. I love her accent and the way she always calls you Helena. She sounds like one of those old movie drama queens. I can just see her with her long cigarette holder, waving it around as she exclaims, “But, Helena, darling...”

Gabriella placed her fingers across her lips, mumbled “Shh,” and pressed the speaker button. “Hi, Celeste.”

“Helena, darling, we simply must talk about this manuscript.”

Gabriella bit her lip to stop the giggle rising in her throat as Maddy waved her imaginary cigarette in the air.

“The story, as always, is superb. But, darling, where is the passion? The spice? Our readers want to feel their blood boiling and their toes curling.”

Gabriella’s phone beeped another call coming in, and she turned her back to Maddy. If she kept watching her, she’d break down in fits of laughter that Celeste would never understand. “I have another call coming in, Celeste. Send it back and I'll work on it.”

“All right, darling, but don't forget we have a deadline. Your readers are waiting, and waiting readers are fickle. If you make them wait too long, they'll simply move on to someone else.”

“I’ll make it so hot the paper sizzles. Bye, Celeste.” Gabriella hit the end button and glared at the number ringing in. Robert knew she was hiking with Maddy this morning. And she really didn't want to deal with his weekly dinner reservation confirmation at the moment. Maddy leaned over her shoulder and said, “Let it go to voicemail.”
She let it go to voicemail and faced a grinning Maddy.

“Darn it, you didn’t give Celeste time to say, ‘Cheerio, darling.’”

Ignoring her, Gabriella dialed her voicemail and listened to Robert's droning voice. “Wanted to give you a heads up. We can't get reservations for Girando's until tomorrow night, so we'll cancel tonight, and I'll see you tomorrow at seven.”
She'd forgotten the phone was still on speaker until Maddy piped up, her voice filled with disgust. “You should play that for Celeste. Maybe then, she'd understand why there was no passion or spice in your writing. That guy would have a heart attack if you even mentioned blood boiling or toes curling.”

She shook her head, biting her lip again to stifle a giggle. She lost the battle as an image of Robert's prim and proper face popped through her mind, and she laughed aloud. He would have a heart attack if she mentioned wanting him to “curl her toes.”

“Stop it, Maddy. Robert's a good man, and I was lucky to find him. He'll make partner by next year.”

Maddy snorted again and took off walking. “You're selling yourself short.” She leveled a stern look at Gabriella. “Again.”

The trail grew steeper, and the two fell into a comfortable silence. Gabriella tried hard to concentrate on the haunting sounds of the songbirds in the trees and keep her breathing even, but Maddy's words continued to nag at her. Why am I with Robert? She was fond of him, and their relationship didn't take up a lot of her time. Dinner once a week, a movie on the weekend sometimes followed by a half hour of hand-holding and Robert telling her about his latest case. He'd explained his need to work almost every night and weekends. If he was going to be a Supreme Court justice within five years, there wasn’t time for anything else. Until now, that had been enough. Caring for her mother and writing had filled the lonely hours from dusk until dawn.

She hadn't realized how deep into her own thoughts she'd gone until she bumped into Maddy at the top of the trail. “Sorry.”

“There's something I need to tell you.” Maddy walked a few feet off the trail, putting space between them. “I'm leaving for England next week. I've been offered a partnership in a clinic there.”

Gabriella’s heart skipped a beat as a strange tightness seized her chest and loneliness settled over her. Maddy had been her best friend since first grade. She couldn't have survived without her to lean on the last two years. And she certainly would never have submitted her first manuscript to Capricious Books without constant prodding. She'd been more surprised than anyone had when Capricious not only bought the manuscript with a modest advance but also offered a contract to purchase her next four novels. The extra money had allowed her to hire help with her mother, and over the next twenty-four months, she'd managed to publish two more books.

Staring down at the canyon below, she concentrated on the lush green pasture before pasting a smile on her face and turning back to Maddy. “You’re going to be a great doctor and therapist, and this sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you.” Her smile faltered as she took in the stiff stance and set jaw.

“Cut the crap, Ree, and come with me. There’s nothing to keep you here now that your mother is gone. You can write anywhere. Remember all the nights we sat up talking about the great adventures we were going to have? The places we would see? After England, I'm going to Africa.” Her light blue eyes darkened. “It's not too late. We can still have those adventures. You should be living romances with exciting men, not writing about them. This isn't you. Robert isn't you.”

For a moment, the old feelings of excitement threatened to emerge, but two years of penny pinching to afford her mother's expensive pain medications after insurance denied her claims had created a sensibility she couldn't overcome. Even with the advances and sales of her books, she'd barely managed to keep them out of bankruptcy. “We'll see.”
The trip back down the trail was much more somber than their past trips, the parting in the parking lot quicker, as if both were anxious to put distance between them. “Call me, and we'll celebrate the night before you leave.”
Maddy waved at her as she pulled into traffic. “Next Wednesday, then.”

Gabriella watched the car until it was out of sight. They had planned the hike to ease her feelings of loss and hopefully jumpstart a new life and overcome her writer's block. Instead, she felt more miserable than before. She opened the car door then sighed and climbed behind the wheel. Maddy was sailing off into the spring of her life, leaving behind the cold, stark winter that had suddenly enveloped Gabriella.




CHAPTER TWO

Gabriella pulled into the driveway of the two-story ranch that had been home for as long as she could remember. Robert was pressing her to put it on the market, but she couldn't bring herself to part with it yet. Even if she was acting foolish and sentimental, that was home, and right now, she needed that comfort more than she needed a suave apartment in the city.
Exiting the car, she smiled at the elderly woman next door waving to her. “Hi, Mrs. Finley. How's George doing today?”

“Tolerable, missy, but the day is still young. Got something for you.” She held up a package and a long white envelope. “Mailman made me sign for both. Hope it ain't nothing bad.”

Gabriella walked the short distance between the houses and took the package and envelope. She recognized her mother's longtime friend, Suzanne Johnson's, return address on the package. “Well, this one is from a friend, so it shouldn't be anything bad.” She flipped the envelope on top of the package, read the law firm's address, and shook her head. “And this one is hopefully an inheritance from a long-lost relative I didn't know I had.”

Mrs. Finley guffawed. “If that's true, it's a shame they didn't die before, when poor Helena could have used the money.”
Gabriella smiled and waved her hand again. Mrs. Finley had been a godsend during her mother's final days. The only thing more prominent in her personality than kindness was nosiness. “I'll let you know later.”

She closed the door and placed the package and letter on the credenza. First things first. She poured a glass of wine and kicked off her walking shoes as she studied the two items. Package or letter? Her sense of curiosity won out, and she ripped the paper from the package.

Gabriella opened the box and lifted the tissue paper to find a folded sheet of her mother's stationery lying on top of a leather-bound book, with the words “Helena's Diary” burned into the cover. A cameo picture of her mother at an early age had been placed in the center. Fresh tears started as Gabriella rubbed her thumb back and forth over the picture. She swiped away a tear before unfolding the paper.

My sweet child, if you are reading this, then I have gone home. I asked Suzanne several years ago to send you my diary and a small package after my death. I hope my diary will bring you comfort and inspiration. Do not think too badly of me. I was in many ways like you—impulsive and just a tad on the wild side.

There is also a small package in the box. Inside, you'll find the key to the diary as well as a locket. Forgive me, Ree, for asking this, but the locket must be returned to its rightful owner. Once you've read the diary, you'll understand.
I had hoped we could do it together, for I did not mean to leave you alone so soon. Tell Armand I loved him.
Mom.


Gabriella rummaged through the remaining tissue until she found the jewelry box. She studied it for a moment before lifting the lid. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. The locket was the most beautiful piece of jewelry she’d ever seen. She lifted it carefully from the box and examined the intricate design. Two hearts surrounded by tiny jewels overlapped the word “forever.” If the jewels were real, the locket would be worth a fortune. Unable to contain her curiosity, she opened it, careful not to dislodge the two pictures. Her mother's picture could easily have been her own face looking back at her at age sixteen, but the other picture caused her breath to catch and her face to flush as dark and mysterious eyes smiled up at her from the most handsome face she'd ever seen. If this was Armand, no wonder her mother had loved him. She held it for a moment and closed her eyes. She could almost hear the whispered words of young lovers. The urge to write hit her. Inspiration in a flood of heat induced shivers. Celeste had wanted passion and spice. She'd found it. All she had to do was write it.

She took the small key from the box and placed it with the diary. She wrapped the locket in tissue paper before placing it back inside the jewelry box. Right now she wanted a hot bubble bath, a cool glass of wine, and her favorite, if only, pair of silk pajamas. She would read a portion of her mother's diary, and then she would start writing The Locket.

Two hours later, armed with a plate of cheese and crackers and a glass of tea, she curled up on the sofa and opened the diary. A note for her was on the first page.

My sweet Gabriella, please honor one more wish from your mother. Please do not read the last page until your wedding day.


“Oh, Mom, how could you?” She fought her instincts to turn immediately to the last page and smiled to herself as she nibbled on the cheese and studied the childish handwriting beneath the note.

May 1st, 1956

Her mother would have been twelve years old, which explained the cameo picture on the front.

Dear Diary,
We have new neighbors. Daddy called them fur-en-ers, and I asked Mom what that meant. She said not to pay Daddy no never mind, 'cause he was pred-just. I wanted to ask what pred-just meant, but she was busy so I climbed my favorite apple tree and watched them move in. They sure had a lot of boxes. And they must be awful rich. Momma called their car a limo or something. It was long and black. Almost fell out of the tree when I saw HIM.


The page ended there, and Gabriella wondered if the “him” was the good-looking boy in the locket. Excited, she turned the page.

Dear Diary,
Momma baked a cake, and we're gonna go meet the new neighbors. I didn't even complain when she made me wear my Sunday dress and shoes. And she brushed my hair until it was all shiny.
Thought Momma was gonna pass out when we stepped inside the big house. She grabbed me and whispered, “Don't you dare touch anything.” Mrs. Ruiz was nice and invited me and momma to have a cup of tea and a slice of Momma's cake. I sure wanted one, but then HE came in. His momma told him to show me the horses. He took my hand and led me to the barn. I can't remember what kind of horses they had. My hand was tingling, and my heart was beating so loud I couldn't hear him. I'm such an idiot. He probably thought I was deaf and dumb.


Gabriella felt the urge to laugh at and cry for the little girl with her first big crush. She continued to read, enthralled by her mother's short paragraphs detailing a budding friendship. Armand had been two years older than her mother but never treated her like a child. Instead, he had welcomed her questioning mind once she'd finally found her voice, encouraging her to learn Spanish and teaching her to ride horseback. A growing infatuation and adoration filled the next year.
Gabriella finally closed the book well past midnight. Yawning, she placed it on the coffee table just as her gaze fell on the still-unopened envelope. She'd actually forgotten about it. Now or morning? If it were good news, she would lie awake thinking about it, and if it were bad news, she'd lie awake thinking about it. She could almost hear Maddy's teasing voice. “Every great adventure in life starts with a sealed envelope.”

Reading her mother's diary had washed away the day's disappointments. She could use a little adventure. She crossed to the credenza, picked up the envelope, and opened it before she could change her mind. Gabriella pulled out the single sheet of letterhead, her eyes growing huge as she read. She was never going to sleep tonight.

Dear Ms. Carson,
My client, Armand Ruiz, has heard of your mother's recent passing. Pursuant to an agreement with your mother, he requests that you visit him in Madrid. He asked me to implore you to make the trip quickly, as his health is deteriorating and there are urgent matters for the two of you to discuss. If not for his health, he would have made the trip to America to see you and pay his final respects to your mother.
I have taken the liberty of purchasing airline fare, as well as tendering a sum of money to take care of any needs you may have prior to leaving America. Should the dates be impossible for you, please contact me immediately. Otherwise, we will expect you by the end of the month.
Sincerely,
J. Eduardo Martinez


She refolded the letter and slipped it back inside the envelope. Presumptuous of the lawyer to believe she would just drop everything and rush to Madrid at a moment's notice. Still, she couldn't stop the stirring of excitement. She'd always wanted to travel.

Madrid in springtime. She flushed as she remembered the handsome face and dark eyes. Maybe someone was out there who could make her blood boil and her toes curl.