Ring of Lies

My latest novel, Ring of Lies, will be released in December in both print and ebook formats.

When English accountant Daniel Elliott dies in a car accident one rainy night, his widow, Grace, is overcome with grief…and panic. Daniel was controlling and their marriage loveless, but he always took care of the sheltered Grace.

Or so she thought.

She soon discovers Daniel kept secrets: an alias, mob ties, a list of numbers, a mysterious beach house in Florida….and a girlfriend who looks like Grace.

Swallowing her fear, she flies to Miami to claim the house Daniel left her. But the price of her curiosity is peril. Underworld figures stalk her. The other woman has left a damning trail of evidence pointing her way. And handsome, troubled FBI agent Jack West has crossed precarious paths with Grace before. He could be her savior or her damnation. All she knows for certain is that she longs to be in his arms.

With little to go on and danger at every turn, Grace must depend on Jack to help her navigate the criminal world of south Florida, and find the truth behind the Ring of Lies.

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Passionate Hearts Anthology

Vanilla Heart Publishing announces the release of its forthcoming romance anthology, Passionate Hearts. My short story, Her Protector, has been chosen for inclusion in this wonderful book. For more details or to purchase a copy, please click on the link below.


Three Weeks Last Spring

In need of some summer reading? Here’s an excerpt from my novel, Three Weeks Last Spring.

England April 1999

Skye Dunbar stood by the window, and looked out across the meadow as she waited for the transatlantic phone call to connect. It had been a miserable weekend—dull, wet and cold—cold as the heart that beat inside her breast. She glanced at her watch, and calculated the time difference; early morning in San Francisco—Debbie should be up by now.
After a few rings, a sleepy American voice answered.
“Debbie? It’s Skye. Did I wake you?”
“Not really, I was lying here thinking about getting up. Talk to me, you sound anxious.”
Skye took a deep breath. “I’ve decided to take a month’s sabbatical. I’ve contacted the airline and have an option on a flight leaving in just over a week’s time. They’re holding it for the next twenty-four hours.”
“Why, that’s great. You need to get away and you know San Francisco loves you.”
“Actually, Debbie, that’s why I’m calling, I’m not coming to San Francisco. I’m going to Seattle and—”
“Skye, you can’t possibly want to spend a month there, not after all that happened last year.”
“I can’t explain why, but I need to go back.” Skye twisted a strand of her hair between her fingers as she waited for Debbie to respond.
“I don’t understand, and if you want my advice, you’ll come here and stay with me. After all that lying bastard put you through, I’m amazed that you can even contemplate being within a thousand miles of Washington State. Please, come here and stay with me. We can visit all our old haunts—Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown. We can go for a drink in the John Barleycorn and listen to that folk singer you liked so much. And if that doesn’t appeal, then we can hire a car and drive along the coast. You haven’t seen the Marin Headlands or Monterey yet. And if you wait until I get to the office on Monday and I’ll see if I can beg for some vacation time. Or we could meet somewhere else, if you prefer. How about Vermont?”
“That’s a lovely thought, Debbie, and I do want to see Vermont, but in the Fall. Please, save your holiday time. This is just something I have to do on my own. I go to bed at night and in my dreams I see this figure on a beach. I know it’s me. It sounds crazy, I know, and I really don’t expect you to understand. Just give me your blessing and tell me that if I need you, you’ll be there for me, okay?”
“I guess you know what’s in your heart, although I really do worry about you, Skye. You have to put what happened behind you and move on. So tell me, just where are you staying?”
“I’ve rented a cabin in the San Juans.”
“You’ve done what? No one goes to the San Juan Islands in the middle of April. It’s too cold for one thing and Friday Harbor will be deserted. What will you do there for a whole month on your own?”
“I thought I would catch up on some reading, go walking and generally enjoy the scenery.”
“Hmm, I don’t know. If you ask me, the last thing you need is to be by yourself. However, now that you’ve made your mind up I don’t suppose there’s much I can say to dissuade you. But promise me, if you become too upset or lonely up there, you’ll get on the first available plane to me, here in San Francisco. Deal?”
“Deal. And Debbie,” Skye hesitated before continuing, “thanks for understanding. You’re the best friend anyone could ask for. As soon as my plans are finalised, I’ll let you know.”
Skye replaced the receiver and turned once more to look out of the window. Was she being stupid wanting to go back to the Pacific Northwest? What would it achieve? Would it even put her mind at rest? They were questions she couldn’t answer, yet in her heart she knew she was doing the right thing.
She’d met Michael while on a visit to Debbie the year before. He’d knocked her to the ground while roller skating in Golden Gate Park. He’d helped her up, apologised, and insisted on buying her a coffee. Coffee had somehow turned into lunch, and before they knew it, they’d spent the whole day together. Skye was due to fly home the following day and Michael had insisted she give him her address. She’d agreed, but hadn’t really expected to hear from him again. Six weeks later, returning home after a particularly fractious day at work, she’d found his letter waiting on her doormat.
That initial letter, like those that followed, had been read and re-read time and time again, the words feeling as if they were almost engraved on her heart. Finally, six months later, Michael had written asking her to visit.
Skye quickly pushed the thought of him out of her mind. She had so much to accomplish in the coming days that daydreaming wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Her flight confirmed, and the cabin booked, she needed to concentrate on clearing her diary. Then all she had to do was pack her suitcase and talk herself into getting on that plane.
The following week passed in a blur. Each day she arrived at the office early and brought all her files up to date for John, her business partner, to takeover in her absence.
They’d had met at university shortly after Skye’s mother’s death, and had been good friends ever since. At thirty-nine, he was five years Skye’s senior. Six feet tall, and of muscular build, with brown eyes, unruly curly hair, he had a smile that could melt the iciest of hearts. John had been a Graduate Teaching Assistant when Skye had started her degree course.
When Skye graduated, they set up business together. Years of long hours and neglected holidays had finally paid off and their services were in demand by major corporations all over the world. But despite the success they experienced, their relationship had never passed beyond friendship.
None of Skye’s closest friends knew what she did for a living, apart from the fact that she was a high-level executive, and whatever it was, she didn’t like to talk about it. In another few months, she and John would be making a presentation to Government officials in the hope of securing an exclusive contract—top secret, and the most demanding of their respective careers.
The day before Skye was due to leave she scheduled a meeting with him.
“Skye, what are you going to do with an entire month’s leave? You’ll be bored by the end of the second week, and you know how busy things can get here. There is still a lot of testing to do.”
“I realise that, but you did say you could handle it. The code is complete, so you really don’t need me.”
“This has to do with what happened between you and that navy guy last year, hasn’t it? I wish you’d tell me what brought you scuttling back to the office two weeks earlier than planned. I told you not to trust a guy in uniform and in particular a sailor, but you didn’t listen. What you need is a real man, not one of these military types who still play with the action man they got as a child.”
“And just who did you have in mind—yourself?”
John ignored her comment. “You’ve been like a scared rabbit ever since you got home. You never go out; you’re slowly becoming a recluse. You spend every waking hour here at the office. Just what did the bastard do to you?”
“I don’t wish to discuss my love life, or lack of one with you. And what if I do spend all my time here—that’s my choice. At least the work gets done and we are ahead of schedule on one or two projects.”
“Look, love, I know something happened and whatever it was, it must have been something major to have affected you this way. But you have to pick up your social life. You can’t continue to bury yourself in your work or it will make you ill. You’ll meet someone else and I promise you if he really loves you he won’t hurt you. Besides if you’re frightened of being left on the shelf you could always marry me.”
“I appreciate your concern, John. But you and I both know that while our business relationship works, a more personal one wouldn’t. You’re not the type to settle down, so just leave it there before one of us says something we’ll regret. Now about the Jones account—”
“Before we get back to business hear me out. Professionally you’re one of the most logical people I know. You’ve an eidetic memory and know instinctively when a project is about to go pear-shaped. You’re a shrewd and ruthless businesswoman when necessary. You’ve even got a temper to go with the colour of your hair, but then nobody’s perfect. But having said all that, you’re just a big softie at heart.” John reached across the table, took her hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “What I can’t understand is why you couldn’t see that this guy was trouble.” Skye’s expression told him he’d over-stepped the mark. “If you must go on this idiotic trip, will you at least let me take you to the airport on Sunday?”
Skye smiled. Only her voice betrayed mild annoyance. “Thank you for that character analysis. Remind me to return the favour one day. I am quite capable of organising a taxi. But if you feel you must take me, then I’ll accept your offer. Check-in is at noon.”
“In that case, I’ll pick you up at nine-thirty.”
Sunday dawned warm and sunny, and although early April the daffodils were already in bloom. As she showered and dressed, Skye couldn’t help wondering if this was the new beginning she was seeking or whether she was just being plain stupid.
She’d chosen her clothes with care—a pair of well cut navy blue trousers and midnight blue shirt, colours that not only gave her confidence but which also matched her sparkling eyes. Her medium length auburn hair had been cut the day before, and it now framed her pale, delicate, feminine face. Her suitcase stood ready in the hallway as she sat at the kitchen table drinking a final cup of coffee waiting for John to arrive.
A short time later, John’s BMW pulled into the drive. Skye took one last look around the house, picked up her purse and opened the door.
“Ready, Sweet Pea?” John asked. “Have you got your tickets, passport and packed everything you need?”
“I think so.”
“It’s not too late to change your mind you know. Even Debbie thinks you’re slightly crazy for wanting to do this,” John said, making one last attempt to get her to stay.
Skye stopped in her tracks. “You’ve been talking to Debbie, behind my back?”
“Actually, she called me. Now, Sweet Pea, don’t be annoyed with her, she’s just concerned about you. Besides, Seattle wasn’t exactly the happiest of places for you, now was it?”
“I wish you two would accept that this is something I need to do, instead of hounding me to change my mind. You’re both good friends and I know you have my interest at heart, but please allow me to do this and don’t tell me I told you so, if I come home in tears.”
John put his arms round her diminutive frame and gave her a hug. “I just don’t want to see you hurt again, that’s all.”
“I know. Now, are we going to stand here all day or are you going to put that suitcase in the car?”
They hardly spoke during the journey to the airport, John sensing that Skye needed to be alone with her thoughts. He repeatedly glanced across at her. She seemed so small, so vulnerable and yet beneath that very feminine exterior he knew there was a strength and stamina that defied her appearance. But she had taken such an emotional beating over the last year that he couldn’t help the feeling of wanting to protect her from more hurt.
Forty minutes later he pulled the BMW to a halt in front of Terminal four at Heathrow Airport. He collected Skye’s luggage from the boot, then walked round to the passenger side of the car and opened the door.
Once inside the terminal building, he waited patiently while Skye completed the checking-in formalities for her flight, then accompanied her as far as the security check-point.
He gave her a hug, and kissed the top of her head. “Have a good flight, Sweet Pea. Get some rest and lay that ghost. Then come home and be prepared to do some work.”
Skye wiped away a stray tear at his use of her nickname, and tried hard to smile. “I’ll do my best.” Without a backward glance, she turned and walked quickly through security into the departure lounge.
She found a seat close to the gate, and took out her book. But she couldn’t concentrate on the words. Instead, she amused herself by watching the people in the terminal, wondering where they were all going to and the reasons for their journey.
Time passed quickly, and soon her flight was called. She settled into her seat in business class, and fervently hoped that the one beside her would remain unoccupied. The last thing she wanted was to spend twelve hours next to someone who wished to talk all the way to Seattle. Luckily, her wish was granted, for within fifteen minutes of boarding, the flight attendant closed the doors and the aircraft pushed back from the ramp.
As the plane taxied towards the runway, Skye suffered one last moment of self-doubt, but knew it was too late to turn back. Seconds later, she felt the increased tempo of the Boeing 747’s engines as it thundered down the runway. After what seemed like an eternity the huge plane lifted gracefully into the air.
During the flight Skye read a little, then slept. Her mind reeled from all her thoughts and dreams. She was startled awake when the landing gear hit the runway, and shook her head to regain her focus and get her bearings. She looked out of the window—the terminal buildings looked as grey and uninspiring as they had a year ago.
Once inside the terminal, the Immigration formalities were completed with a minimum of fuss, and the delay at Customs was only mildly annoying. The usual questions and then ‘have a nice day.’
Skye then made her way to the rental car desk where she collected the keys to the car she had organised. Within minutes, she was manoeuvring the vehicle out of the parking lot and down the ramp on to Interstate 5. Fortunately, she did not have far to travel to her hotel and soon found herself being shown to her room on the third floor.
After breakfast the following morning, she took out her road map and traced her route north. The hotel receptionist told her that it would take about two hours, depending on traffic, to drive the seventy or so miles to Anacortes.
As she wasn’t due to check into the hotel in Anacortes until early evening, she decided to do a little sight-seeing. She found a place to park on Alaskan Way, locked the car, and then climbed the Harbor steps to admire the fountain, before continuing along First Avenue to Pike Place Market.
At the Westlake Centre she caught the monorail to the Space Needle. The panoramas from the observation deck were stunning—well worth the white-knuckle ride in the express elevator. For once the weather was kind to her, unlike her previous visit, when the sky had clouded over. Today there was hardly a cloud visible, although it was a little on the cool side. Far below she could see a State ferry sailing to one of the islands in Puget Sound. A few small sailing boats were out in Elliot Bay, no doubt, like her, taking advantage of the fine weather.
Skye leant against the safety rail and looked out across the bay, and remembered the postcard she’d received from Michael. Lost in her thoughts, it was only when she glanced at her watch that she realised she’d been standing daydreaming for nearly an hour. Annoyed for having allowed Michael into her thoughts yet again, she rode the elevator back down to ground level. She quickened her pace as she walked down Broad Street and on to Alaskan Way, past the Aquarium and Omnidome until she reached Ivar’s restaurant. There she found a table overlooking the bay, and ordered a bowl of clam chowder and a pot of coffee. After her meal she returned to her car, and headed north towards Anacortes.
According to her guidebook the bustling port of Anacortes was founded in 1877. Shipyards, seafood processing facilities, and tourism all contributed to the local economy. Spectacular panoramas, combined with exclusive real estate, yacht charters and marina facilities brought residents and visitors alike to the area.
The ferry to Friday Harbor left at eight the following morning, and the travel agent had recommended that Skye stay at the inn close to the terminal. Tired from her drive, she ate a solitary dinner in the hotel restaurant then retired for the night.
A short time later, she slipped between the cool white sheets of the double bed and settled against the comforters. Sighing deeply, she wiped a surreptitious tear from her eye. Where did we go wrong, Michael? Why couldn’t you talk to me? Why did you have to hurt me the way you did?

Chapter Two

The following morning dawned cold and grey, the cloud level so low, that the majestic mountains were completely hidden from view. There were only a few cars waiting for the ferry to Friday Harbor, and most of those appeared to be locals and business people. The tourists would come later, making it essential to book passage and spoiling the tranquillity of the journey.
Once on board, Skye left the car and climbed the stairs up to the main deck. The aroma of coffee drew her towards the small café where she purchased a beaker of Seattle’s Finest. Carrying her cup, she wandered out onto the observation deck.
As the ferry steamed towards the islands, the cloud base gradually lifted, allowing the sun to filter through here and there. The panorama unfolding before her eyes was amazing, and she wondered why anyone would want to lie on a sun-drenched beach all day, when they could have this.
San Juan Island was the second largest in the archipelago, and it wasn’t long before Friday Harbor came into view. It was much smaller than Skye had imagined, and she wasn’t prepared for the numerous sailboats with their impossibly tall masts, which filled every berth in the marina. The Islands were a Mecca for tourists, whether they arrived off the ferries from Anacortes or Canada, or sailed their own yachts into the tiny and picturesque harbours that dotted the islands.
After disembarking, Skye drove the short distance into town. The realtor’s office was situated in a small side street, just up the road from the terminal. The formalities completed, and with the key in her pocket and a detailed map in her hand, she once more set out.
The roads were deserted, and the only traffic she encountered were trucks carrying fish from the north of the island to the ferry terminal. Skye found driving in this backwater much easier than in Seattle or on the Interstate. Before long her exit came into view; she moved across the highway, and signalled her turn into the private track.
The cabin was all she had hoped for and more. Constructed purely of timber, it stood some five hundred yards back from the shoreline and a mile or so off the highway. A path led down from the cabin to a small wooden dock. Eager to explore, Skye made a quick cup of coffee. She wanted nothing more than to breathe the clean fresh air and savour the view, before unpacking and settling into what would be her home for the next month.
She left her jacket over the back of a kitchen chair, and then carried her steaming cup down to the dock. She sat down by the water’s edge and took off her shoes. She was just about to dip her toes into the deep blue water, when a very masculine voice called out.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. The water is pretty darned cold at this time of year.”
The voice seemed to emanate from the very depths of the pinewood. Skye squinted into the early afternoon sunlight, and watched as a figure emerged from the trees. He was tall, well over six feet, with raven black hair and the slight shadow of a beard. She couldn’t really see his eyes, but had a feeling they would be ice blue and would have that ‘damn you to hell’ expression.
A chill ran down her spine.
The cabin was isolated, and even if there was another house within screaming distance, no one would be at home at this time of day. Skye considered her options as the tall figure strode towards her. If he were to prove difficult she could always push in him the sea, and run back to the safety of the cabin.
The stranger halted a mere foot from her, forcing her to look up.
He grinned. “Sorry to startle you, ma’am, but I wasn’t sure if you were planning on taking anything else off besides your shoes.”
Skye’s mouth opened but she couldn’t utter a word.
“Because if you were,” he continued, “you’d only last about thirty minutes before hypothermia set in, and being the gentleman that I am, I would feel duty bound to come right in after you. That would be a shame, because I’d planned on going home and cooking this fish for lunch.”
Coughing and spluttering, Skye choked on her coffee. So a fish was more important than saving someone from freezing to death. She inclined her head to examine him more closely and saw that she’d been right about his eyes. Here was a man who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Well, Mr Damn Your Eyes could just go back where he came from and take his fishy friend with him.
“You’ll be relieved to know, that I have no intention of taking anything other than my shoes off. The thought of going for a swim hadn’t entered my head. But now you’ve mentioned it, it’s not a bad idea. As for you coming in after me, I’ll take a rain check if you don’t mind! Not, I might add, that what I do is any business of yours. I was assured that this was private land. May I ask just what you think you are doing prowling around scaring the hell out of people?”
“My, my, we’re mighty touchy. What happened, someone wake you up too early?” The ice blue eyes flashed. There was a trace of laughter in his voice that was totally lost on Skye, who felt more than a little intimidated by the stranger’s height. She stood up in one fluid movement. Not one inch of her five foot five frame gave her any more confidence. She barely came up to the man’s chest—a chest that any woman would feel comfortable snuggled up against. Now where in the world did that thought come from?
Feeling at a disadvantage, Skye took a long look. Close up he didn’t appear quite so intimidating—‘impressive’ was a better adjective. In fact, she could think of a number of suitable adjectives to describe Mr Damn Your Eyes, including handsome, rugged, not to mention offensive and arrogant. This guy would stop traffic in London, but there he would be completely out of place. Here in the rugged mountains of the Pacific Northwest he was totally at ease.
Skye revised her estimate of his height. He was at least six feet four, possibly more. His eyes were deep set and she’d been right about the colour. He had a scar over one eyebrow and smaller one on his chin. She wondered how he’d acquired them, but something about his demeanour told her not to ask.
He was dressed in black jeans, which fit his muscular body to perfection and a navy blue check work shirt which he wore open at the neck, revealing a tangle of dark hair on his chest. He held a fishing rod in one hand, and a fish in the other, and looked for the entire world, as if he had stepped right out of the pages of her guidebook.
“Look, Mr…? I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name, and at this particular moment, I don’t even care to know what it is. I’ve had a long journey and I’m tired. As far as I’m concerned you’re trespassing. I’d very much appreciate it, if you would leave by whatever means you arrived and allow me to finish my coffee before it goes cold.”
“My, my. The lady obviously has a temper to match the colour of her hair. Now why don’t you take a deep breath, calm down and enjoy the day? You’re obviously not from around here otherwise you wouldn’t jump down a perfectly innocent person’s throat, especially one who’s trying to give you some friendly advice. But I won’t disturb you any longer. I’ll be on my way. And for future reference, the name is Walker, Jedediah Walker, but everyone just calls me Walker.” Abruptly he turned and strode quickly along the dock. He continued along the pebble beach, in the opposite direction from which he’d come.
What did he mean, “Future reference…?” Hell could freeze over before she would choose to cross his path again. Her first thought was to call the real estate broker and complain. They had, after all, promised her complete privacy. She’d been most insistent on that when booking the cabin. She didn’t want noisy neighbours destroying the peace and tranquillity of this wonderful place. No campers, boaters and especially no screaming children, just her own space in which to do as she pleased for the next month.
But logic kicked in.
The San Juan Islands were well known for attracting fishermen and women. The guy had probably moored his boat somewhere along the coast, and walked along the shoreline to find a suitable place from which to fish. No big deal. But now that the cabin was occupied, Skye hoped that he’d respect her privacy. Other than the mailman, with the occasional letter from Debbie or John, she didn’t wish to see anyone during her stay.
She picked up her cup, and shuddered in disgust as the cold liquid hit the back of her throat. She made her way up the dock to her car, retrieved her suitcase from the trunk, and carried it into the cabin.
The cabin was well equipped with cable TV, VCR, and an impressive stereo system. While she could live without a television, t music was a different matter and she was glad she’ brought a selection of her favourite CDs with her.
The centrepiece of the main room was a stone fireplace which stretched across a one wall. The floors were polished and scattered with native Indian rugs. A large leather sofa sat invitingly in front of the fireplace. Full-length windows opened on to the deck, where the owner had left wicker chairs in which visitors could sit and admire the wonderful scenery.
Skye dragged her suitcase into the bedroom and started to unpack. Not only was there a king size bed, and an open fireplace, but the room also had full-length windows which opened out on to the deck. A hand stitched quilt with matching comforters covered the bed. Skye ran her fingertips over it and marvelled at the hours of work involved to complete it.
Her unpacking completed, she decided to call Debbie later to let her know she’d survived the journey. By then it would be close to midnight in London, and a perfect time to call John. At least he wouldn’t be able to trace her call. That was the disadvantage of working at the cutting edge of technology and having a business partner who was her self-appointed ‘big brother.’ Without wasting any more time, she set off to explore the cove and surrounding woods.
After terminating his conversation with the woman, Walker made his way through the trees back to the lodge. He’d purchased the lodge and twenty-five acres of prime waterfront land just over five years ago. It was a place where he could return to re-charge his batteries after investigating some of man’s worst atrocities against nature.
The lodge was far too big for him, and normally he stayed at the cabin. But this year he’d decided to undertake some renovations, and had let the cabin instead. He hadn’t expected it to be occupied so soon, and had been taken completely by surprise when he saw the small, solitary figure walk to the end of the dock. He vaguely remembered receiving a letter from the realtor advising him that it had been let for a month. For some reason he had it in mind that the tenant was a man. If he’d known it was a woman, he would have told the realtor to cancel the booking.
The aroma of coffee had alerted him to someone’s presence, reminding him just how long it was since he’d had breakfast. He’d watched from the tree line as the figure walked out of the cabin and down to the dock. He guessed she was no more than five foot six, and was dressed in a pair of black slacks with a baggy red sweater. He had the feeling the sweater hid a soft and curvaceous body, the sort of body a man could bury himself in, until he forgot who he was.
The gentle breeze had lifted her thick, shoulder length auburn hair, reminding him of the colour of leaves in fall. He imagined it would be soft and silky to the touch, and just long enough for a man to tangle his fingers in. Unable to tear his gaze away he’d continued to watch as she sat down at the end of the dock and took off her shoes. She looked so sad, and for one agonising moment he feared that she might do more than just dangle her pretty toes in the ice-cold water.
Damn it, he didn’t need this sort of distraction now. He knew someone had been using the coves at night, and now it would be even more difficult to prove it. He just hoped that he hadn’t placed this unwitting stranger in any danger. It was one more thing on his list to worry about. His first priority was to find out who was poisoning the fish around the island. The second was to find out who was hacking into his computer files. He rested his fishing rod against the wall of the lodge, and unlocked the door.
He went straight to the laboratory he’d set up in the small bedroom and proceeded to expertly dissect the fish. Walker was meticulous in his sampling, and in the preparation of the slides for the microscope. Only when he was satisfied he had everything he needed, did he discard the carcass—it would have to be burnt like the rest. Pity, it was a magnificent salmon, but if he didn’t find out what was causing fish to wash up dead along the shoreline, it might not just be the salmon lying on a cold slab.
Four hours later, his suspicions were confirmed. The fish contained a mixture of toxic chemicals and, had it been eaten, would have put someone in hospital. He strode into his study, picked up the phone, and called his friend at the Department of Fish and Wildlife on his direct number.
“It’s Walker.”
“I can tell from your voice, that I’m not going to like this—”
“Five gets you ten on this one. The latest batch of samples show that the fish are contaminated with lead, mercury, cyanide and some other substances I’ve been unable to identify. I’ll have to send the samples into the main lab in Seattle to get a more detailed analysis. The results should be back in three or four days, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they showed large quantities of PCBs.”
The voice at the other end of the line let out a stream of expletives. “For once, can’t you give me some good news?”
“Joe, it gets worse. Fish have started washing up along the cove in front of the lodge. This has gotten personal. I want to nail whoever’s dumping this stuff. Sooner or later someone is going to get sick, real sick. What’s new your end? Have the police come up with any leads yet? Someone somewhere must know where this stuff is coming from.”
“Realistically, it could be any of five plants in the State. But, and this is unconfirmed, it may be coming from the plant belonging to the waste management consortium that applied to build a new facility at Anacortes a while back.”
Walker frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “But they were refused consent. I know—I sat in on the committee. In fact, I made the recommendation that their application be refused.”
“I realise that. But from what we’ve heard, the present facility is unable to cope with demand. The police approached some of the employees, but no one would talk. I’m just as concerned and frustrated as you are. But we need concrete evidence before we can move on this, and so far no one has found any.”
“So what do you suggest we do? Wait until someone ends up in hospital or worse, on the cold slab in the morgue? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“I’m as annoyed about this as you, Walker. But I have to do things by the book, you know that.”
“I guess so, but it doesn’t make it any easier.” Walker slammed the phone down.
After graduating from university as a marine biologist and biochemist, he’d taken a job with the State Government Department. His main area of expertise was the environment, and the effects mankind was having on the diminishing fish stocks. After years dividing his time sitting behind a desk and collecting the water samples, he finally decided it was time to go it alone. He set up his own company, Walker Environmental Research. Now after ten years of hard work, his company was well respected throughout the world. There was hardly a government he hadn’t given advice to, or major ecological disaster he hadn’t helped investigate.
Several months earlier, his old university friend, Joe McCabe, had called him. Joe worked for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was concerned about the increasing reports of dead salmon being washed up around the coast of Puget Sound, and in particular the San Juan Islands, and had hired Walker’s company to investigate.
At first, they thought the problem had been caused by the large oil tankers plying their way between Alaska, Canada and the rest of the USA. Many of the ships’ Captains were not above flushing their tanks before heading out into open waters. But a detailed analysis of the dead fish had shown they were contaminated with a lethal cocktail of chemicals, and not crude oil. But, there was no consistency. Fish would wash up one week on the north coast of one island, and the next they’d wash up on the west coast of another. The changing tides couldn’t account for such discrepancies, which meant only one thing—someone was deliberately dumping toxic waste. Two weeks ago fish had started washing up on Walker’s land, and last week his computer files had been hacked into for the first time. Suddenly, the fight had become personal.

Vanilla Heart Publishing generously extends donations to Deepwater Horizon Disaster Fund.

Vanilla Heart Publishing is joining with its authors to donate a portion of the sales from five titles to the Greater New Orleans Foundation Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund for their relief efforts in helping to clean up the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill.

Three Weeks Last Spring by Victoria Howard

Nature’s Gifts Anthology compiled by Vanilla Heart Publishing

Hostage Heart by Chelle Cordero

Observations of an Earth Mage by Smoky Trudeau

The House on the Shore by Victoria Howard

Please consider purchasing one of the five titles on offer and contribute to this worthy cause.


Nature’s Gifts

To celebrate Earth Day and the work of the Nature Conservancy Council, Vanilla Heart Publishing has released ‘Nature’s Gifts.’

More than twenty pieces, from haiku to villanelles, from essays to short stories, will delight nature lovers everywhere. Take a walk in a garden or hike in a national park. Reflect on the moon. Learn something new. Laugh—and cry—with our writers as they discover the beauty, the joys, and the raw power of nature.

The Nature Conservancy will receive a donation of 50 percent of the profits for every book sold in both print and e-book editions for one year. Dedicated to protecting our rapidly vanishing natural environment, The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 117 million acres of land in 28 countries.

The selected poets and authors are:

Kathi Anderson, Douglas G. Campbell, Malcolm Campbell, Sam Cash, Chelle Cordero, Helen Haught Fanick, jeglaze, S. Kelley Harrell, Robert Hays, Donna Henes, Lisa Mayers Houff, Victoria Howard, Leah Mooney, Thom Newnham, Deanne Quarrie, Connie Spittler, Smoky Trudeau, Kimberlee Williams , and Scott Zeidel

Nature’s gifts is available from Amazon.com and in e-bookformat from Smashwords.com

Here’s a short excerpt from my contribuition, ‘Man’s Complacency.’

A heavy sea fog rolled in along the Strait of Juan de Fuca catching everyone, including the weathermen, by surprise. By early evening it covered the coastline from Port Angeles in the west, to Seattle and Tacoma in the east, and as far north as Anacortes. Traffic on the freeway slowed to a crawl. Planes were grounded, and ships were confined to port or instructed by the Coast Guard to keep station and wait for the fog to disperse.

Most residents of the Pacific Northwest were used to the fogbanks that settled over their cities in spring and autumn, but this fog was different. Thick and cloying, it hung heavily in the air, covering everything in a fine mist and reducing visibility to a matter of yards. Formed when a warm air mass moved over a colder area, the fog hung around for days, and resulted in a backlog of shipping. Ships’ masters, desperate to keep to schedule to avoid lost revenue and additional operating costs, often became frustrated, over self-confident and complacent.

Joe McCabe, head of the department of Fish and Wildlife, had just finished breakfast the following morning when his cell phone rang.


“Hi Joe, it’s Steve Jones from the Department of Ecology. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“I was just about to leave for the office. What gives, Steve?”

“Just thought I’d give you a heads up. A seine netter out of Anacortes has reported seeing an oil slick in the Rosario Strait. The skipper was about to put his nets out when he spotted it. He thought it was fairly well localized, but I’ve asked the Coast Guard send up a spotter plane to check it out. But this darned fog is making things difficult. In the meantime, I want you to take charge of any cleanup operation.”

Joe rubbed his bald head. “Why not use someone from your department?”

“Because all I have is Bryant, who only joined us a couple of months ago, and I need someone with experience.”

“I see. With any luck the slick will be small enough to disperse, but better ask the Coast Guard to fax me a list of vessels that went through the Strait in the last forty-eight hours. While we wait for news, I’ll contact the oil spill team and have them standby. Have… what’s his name? Oh, yeah, Bryant. Have him meet me in my office in an hour.”

“Her. Bryant is a woman.”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding.”

McCabe hung up without another word. The last thing he needed was some namby-pamby woman traipsing around him in a day-glow survival suit.

Thanks to a jack-knifed truck on the I-90, the drive from his home on Mercer Island to downtown Seattle took nearly forty minutes. While he waited for the cops to clear the freeway, McCabe thought about the last major oil spill he’d been involved with. Twenty five years before, the Exxon Valdez had dumped approximately ten million gallons—one fifth of her cargo of crude oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska. He’d been part of one of the many cleanup crews tasked to remove the clumps of oil from the shoreline. The memory of the devastation had lived with him ever since, which was why he’d been a driving force behind the state’s oil spill contingency plan. He just hoped he wouldn’t have to implement it now.

When he reached his office, a slim young woman with her hair up in a silky blonde ponytail stood as he entered.

“Mr McCabe?” She extended a hand. “Faith Bryant, Department of Ecology.”

McCabe paused before he shook her hand, then stepped back from the door and motioned her to take a seat. “You’d better come in. Steve Jones tells me this is your first spill investigation.”

“That’s right. I studied marine biology and wrote my thesis on the challenges facing Puget Sound. Steve thought it would be good experience for me to be part of the investigation and cleanup process.”

McCabe thought about his friend, Jedediah Walker, another marine biologist. They’d worked together on a number of investigations and projects over the years. Right now he could do with Walker’s expertise rather than this pretty young woman straight out of college. But Walker and his wife, Skye, were in China helping the Chinese Government investigate the reason why the Yangtze River Dolphin had become extinct.

“Well, listen carefully and learn. Any news on the slick or what vessel might have caused it?”

“Unfortunately, yes. The McMinnville, a tanker headed for the refinery at Cherry Point, failed to pick up a pilot at Port Angeles. At the time, the Coast Guard tried to raise her on the radio, but got no response. Around midnight, the third mate reported that the engine had failed and the vessel was drifting out of control in the Rosario Strait.”

McCabe knew that hundreds of ships and ferries passed through Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Rosario Strait every day. Add commercial fishing boats and pleasure craft into the mix, and the fishing lanes of Puget Sound were the busiest in the nation. In good conditions it could take a tanker more than a mile to stop. But with no means of propulsion, the McMinnville was at the mercy wind and tide.

London Book Festival 2009

The winners of the London Book festival Annual Competition 2009, http://londonbookfestival.com/portal/content.asp?ContentId=600 honouring the best of international publishing have been announced, and I’m delighted to say that my novel, The House on the Shore, received an honourable mention.

The House on the Shore is a romantic suspense novel set in Scotland. It interweaves the lives of Anna, a scholar who is reaching for her long-buried creative dreams, and Luke, an American artist, who is running from his tumultuous past. One man stands between them and happiness. And survival.

Recently, The House on the Shore was shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon New Writers Award 2009, presented by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the United Kingdom’s counterpart to Romance Writers of America.

“The House on the Shore is a sensually suspenseful story filled with non-stop action, romance, and mystery. The facts of Scotland are told with brilliant description that bring the land to life and leave you feeling as if you have stepped out of your world and into the pages. Ms. Howard uses such passion and emotion when telling her story, making the tale flow right along until the last page is turned. With many different characters that will keep you guessing, this novel is the perfect example of how a suspenseful story should be told. …Thrilling until the very end, this book has a who-done-it attitude with such an aching tone of sensuality and love, it will keep you up all night just so you can finish this fantastic tale.” —Danielle. Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More

Pushcart Prize 2009

I am delighted to annouce that my novel, Three Weeks Last Spring, has been nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize.

Here’s a copy of the annoucement made by my Publisher:

Vanilla Heart Publishing Announces

2009 Pushcart Prize Nominees

Vanilla Heart Publishing is pleased to announce our nominations for the 2009. The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses, published every year since 1976, and widely recognized as the most honored literary project in America.

From the Pushcart Prize Website:

“The Pushcart Press has been recognized as among the most influential publishers in American history by Publishers Weekly. Pushcart won the National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award (2005), The Poets & Writers/Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Prize (2006), and Publishers Weekly’s Carey Thomas Prize for publisher of the year (1979).

The Press is best known for its annual anthology The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, published every year for more than three decades and featuring outstanding fiction, poetry, memoirs and essays selected from hundreds of little magazines and small book publishers.”

And now, our Vanilla Heart Publishing Nominees:

Robert Hays; The Life and Death of Lizzie Morris

Chelle Cordero; Final Sin

Victoria Howard; Three Weeks Last Spring

Collin Kelley; Conquering Venus

Kate Evans; Complementary Colors

Vila SpiderHawk; Forest Song: Little Mother

Congratulations, Nominees!

Kimberlee Williams
Managing Editor
Vanilla Heart Publishing

Backstory: Relevant Information or Inconsequential Event?

Today, I’d delighted to welcome my good friend and fellow author, Brenda Hill to my Blog. A novelist, short story writer, Brenda is the author of two novels, Ten Times Guilty, and Beyond the Quiet, and a non-fiction book, Plot your way to Publication, which I can highly recommend. Brenda also writes features and restaurant reviews for her local newspaper and teaches novel writing and edits manuscripts on a freelance basis. Her website can be found at www.brendahill.com

A few months back I read Brenda’s article on Backstory, something that many new writers spend too much time on, and I’m glad to say she’s agreed to let me post it here.

When we begin a new novel, we need to intimately know our characters. We must know their motivations – why they do certain things and what causes them to react to events with warmth or hostility. Otherwise, their strong reactions or nonchalance may seem strange to other people.

So, to prevent our readers from thinking our character is an escapee from the psycho ward, we create backstories for them, inventing histories, naming parents and siblings, all information we hope will bring that character to life on the page. Some writers go into such detail that they fill page after page of character history, even listing grades the character received in school.

Not me.

While I’m a strong believer in plotting my story beforehand, I’m not one who needs to know what day of the week my character washes her hair – unless it’s relevant to the story. That’s the key. Our readers do not need to know every facet of a character’s life – unless that particular facet is an important storyline.

Suppose, for example, I begin a new book and name my main character Lucy. And let’s further suppose I create a northern Minnesota history for her, and after describing her, I want a character trait that other people would consider a bit ‘quirky’ but harmless. While I’m trying to decide what to give her, my husband flips the TV channel to the latest rerun of Arachnophobia, so I decide to give Lucy a strong fear of spiders. She’ll scream and run at the sight of even a harmless garden spider that may have found its way into her apartment or dormitory.

What do I do with that information? I could use it as a comic relief and show this fear as a source of teasing from her friends, but if that’s the case, it’s not very important and isn’t relevant to the story. When you’re writing tight, it should not be included.

But what if I include WHY Lucy’s fear is so strong. Remember, in fiction, we need to show motivations, not only in character conflicts, but we need to know WHY Lucy screams at the sight of a spider. We must remember to be like a child and always ask why, why, why? Why did George slug his brother on graduation night? Why does Lucy have this overwhelming fear of spiders? While most people do not particularly like spiders, most will not go into hysterics when spotting one. So why does Lucy scream and run?

Now we can invent something brilliant, such as a near-fatal black widow spider bite when she was seven. Venomous spiders are rare in Minnesota, but let’s say her parents visited the Twin Cities and bought home a tropical houseplant from Florida, and one of the leafy branches hid this nice, fat, poisonous black spider. Lucy survived the bite, of course, otherwise there wouldn’t be much to the story, but we could create this horrible experience at the hospital and how she was deathly ill.

That event, even though it’s dramatic, is just that – a dramatic event in her history. As with our friends’ and neighbors’ background, we might find the event mildly interesting, but really, who cares? I shouldn’t bore my readers with that bit of backstory unless it relates to the main plot.

If the plot is about Lucy meeting the love of her life while in graduate school and debating whether or not to marry him and move to another town in Minnesota, then the spider background is not an issue. It’s simply an event that happened in her life that is of no interest to anyone else and shouldn’t be mentioned.

But suppose I want to use it in my story? Suppose I want Lucy to overcome her horror of spiders as part of her character growth? If so, I’d need to invent a storyline where spiders could be an issue.

How about if the love of her life is a young man who thinks the curved tail of a scorpion is fascinating, loves to examine the long, hairy legs of a tarantula, and can’t wait to compare the beautiful red markings of different black widows? Lucy adores him beyond everything, or most everything – she’s repelled by his career choice, which, of course, is Arachnology. He wants to study these creatures and write a book about them, so he plans to move from nice, safe Minnesota and live in the states where their species thrive.

Ah hah! Now we have a possible storyline with the character trait as a main source of conflict.

And to make matters worse, we turn up the heat and say he’s just been offered his dream job as an assistant to the country’s foremost authority on spiders, but only on condition that he immediately accept the position and make the move within the next two weeks. He asks Lucy to marry him and accompany him to his new location.

Lucy now has a dilemma: her fear or her lover? She must make a fast decision, one that could affect her entire life. And readers, if I’ve written the story well enough, will turn the pages to see what she decides. Now I’ve taken a character trait and not only used it in my story, but I’ve used it as a major interest of conflict and built a story around it.

How about traits for your characters? I’m sure you can be more imaginative than the fear of spiders, so list several that are of interest to you. Then explore the conflicts each could trigger. If you can develop a trait and use it to build your story, it’s relevant. The others you can disregard – until the next novel.

Friends of the San Juan Islands


Three Weeks Last Spring ISBN 978-1-935407-04-1


Supporting Marine Conservancy in the San Juan Islands

Midnight May 31st, 2009 – Midnight June 7th, 2009

To celebrate the release of Three Weeks Last Spring, a romantic suspense novel set in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, with intriguing plots and deeply developed characters and scenes, Victoria Howard and Vanilla Heart Publishing are pleased to announce we will donate $1 per copy sold during launch party week to the Friends of the San Juans, which provides education, training, and project management for the caretakers of the beautiful beaches, creatures, and waters of the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

To register your purchase of Print or Kindle editions, please email VHPPromoTeam@vanillaheartbooksandauthors.com with your name, email, and the info of your purchase including edition (Kindle or Print), and the last 3 digits of your order number. All Ebook sales are automatically counted by our Ebook Catalog detail counter, so no additional ‘work’ is necessary for Ebook purchases.

Every dollar donated goes to a great cause, with volunteers who make a difference to the flora and fauna of the region, and now, …YOU can make a difference!