Ring of Lies now available in Print

Now available from Amazon.

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Set in the steamy heat of the Florida Gulf Coast, Ring of Lies is the story of one woman’s struggle to find the truth surrounding her marriage and her husband’s true identity.

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.

 

“Victoria Howard pens a suspenseful tale full of intrigue.”

– The Romance Studio

“Filled with danger, corruption, and a myriad of pitfalls for our hero and heroine to navigate through, and it is really a thrill ride to the very end.”

Romance at Heart Magazine.

“A story about a heroine full of guts and a hero with a need for understanding.”

Wewriteromance.com

 

 

Romance puts the spark in love by Special Guest, Author Christi Barth

Everlasting true love is great and all, but the mere existence of it isn’t enough. You need a regular dose of romance to give you that gooey, melted feeling on the inside. And that feeling is what reminds you just how crazy in love you are. Readers who may not be able to work romance into their own busy schedules depend on getting it from romance novels. That’s right – we aren’t just writing boy meets girl love stories. There’s got to be heart-stopping, knee-weakening romance.
The thing to remember is that, although lovely, romance isn’t limited to champagne and roses (although far be it for me to ever turn them down!). One dictionary defines romance as “to try to influence or curry favor with especially by lavishing personal attention, gifts or flattery”. It can be easy to throw down a credit card and go the gift route (see the aforementioned champagne and roses). But as romance authors, we need to dig deeper. Our hero/heroine should ooze romance from their pores, and that means hitting all three areas, not just the old standby of gifts.
Let’s turn to flattery. This can be tricky, because flattery can often lean towards cheesy. Here is a quote from my first book, Carolina Heat:
Mark covered her hand with his. “I don’t believe I’ve taken the opportunity to tell you how beautiful you look tonight. Your hair is like a molten sunset spreading across your shoulders.”
Annabelle’s vision blanked, then hazed over with indignation. “I’m going to come right out and tell you there is absolutely no chance I’ll sleep with you tonight.”

Sure, she overreacted a tad, but his line – so obviously a line – verged on the ridiculously smarmy (I promise I did that on purpose). And timing is everything. They were on their first date, which was far too early to say something so over the top romantic. Sadly, this kind of hyperbole isn’t limited to the overactive imagination of romance writers. Years ago my best friend went to a concert in the park and hit it off with the man next to her. They went to a late dinner, and he proclaimed on the way to the car, “This is the night dreams are made of!” True story – I promise. Needless to say, she decided he was a nutcase and promptly got rid of him.
In my recent release Cruising Toward Love, a photographer suffering from PTSD feels broken. Sincere flattery from a beautiful woman starts to put him back together.
“You’ve really jumped right back on the horse, haven’t you? Don’t blush or anything, but you’re one of the bravest people I know.”
Yeah, and the moon was made of green cheese. Because what she’d said was equally ridiculous. “A brave man would head back to Iraq. Hook up with another platoon and cover the soldiers who aren’t given a choice about returning. About facing danger head-on every single day.”
She shook her head hard enough to spill silky hair across her cheeks like a veil of liquid gold. “Reed, you don’t have to single-handedly take on a pack of fire-breathing dragons to be a hero. Life and death situations aren’t the only ones that require courage. Facing every day head-on takes a lot. It boggles my mind to imagine how hard it must’ve been just to get out of bed each morning and face your fears. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, you discovered the only way to pursue your dream is to abandon part of it. And yet you adapted, forced yourself to find a way to still find joy in expressing yourself through your art.” Callie’s voice caught halfway to a sob, held back by her radiant smile. “Makes you every bit the hero in my book.”
For months he’d seen himself as damaged, useless. The doctors tried to tell him depression was an expected symptom, but he didn’t feel depressed. He felt like a windshield the moment after it’s hit by a rock—covered with a web of hairline cracks, on the verge of splintering apart. Waiting for the next tiny thing that might shatter him irreparably. In the space of a few heartbeats, Callie’s words glued him back together from the inside out.

Now that’s sincere flattery! As for gifts, they don’t always have to be tangible. Think beyond bracelets or candles. As an author, you can inspire your readers to dig deep and give thoughtful, romantic gifts. The main characters in Cruising Toward Love used to be high school sweethearts, but he left her on prom night. Ten years later in the middle of the ocean, Nate attempts to recreate that lost experience for Zoe.
Nate smiled, held her eyes until they softened into pools of liquid chocolate. “I can be chock full of charm—for the right reason. Giving you the magical night you deserve is a pretty big motivator.” Taking her hand, he drew her across the room to the marble topped bar. With swift, sure motions he uncorked a bottle of pale pink champagne and served them. “Do you remember the theme of our prom?”
It didn’t even take her a second to come up with the answer. “A Night to Remember.”
He guided her onto a stool and handed over a crystal flute. “Yes. And it was going to be. I bought you a corsage of peach roses.”
Her eyes widened. Recognition flashed across her face. “This room is full of peach roses.

Lavishing personal attention is easy in a romance. The characters want to be together, and we want to see that happen. But make the reason they are together more meaningful. In Act Like We’re In Love, perennially uptight Wes is encouraged by live-for-the-moment Ingrid to relax.
But tonight, as he thought about losing the only job he’d ever had, it was different. As though sharing his troubles with Ingrid had helped build a guardrail. Although still way too close to the edge for comfort, at least now something stood between him and the darkness.
Ingrid link hands with him and gave a mighty yank, which almost landed them flat on the grass. “Come on. Nothing looks quite so bad with a hamburger from Joe’s Garage in you.”
“That’s it? Dr. Dahlberg is out of session?”
“Cutie, I’m not really a shrink, not with these legs. It’d be a waste of God’s gifts. You got a few things off your chest, and now we move on to the fun portion of the evening. Consider it my prescription. Take one hamburger, a plate of fries, strawberry shortcake for dessert, followed by a full dose of my legendary smooches.”

Romance makes love fun. Romance keeps love fresh. It’s the fizz that elevates white wine to champagne, and turns a hum-drum love story into a sweeping epic. So don’t just write a romance novel – infuse your love story with romance!
For more information on all my books, please visit www.christibarth.com or http://christibarth.blogspot.com

Ring of Lies

Need something to help while away the dark winter nights. Here’s a short excerpt from my latest novel, Ring of Lies.

It was dark when Grace left the solicitor’s office. Numbness had finally set in. She moved without thinking, without emotion as if she were one of the stick figures at a theme park—flagging down a taxi and giving the driver her address.
Flicking on the hall light in her home, the home she and Daniel had shared and loved, the pain returned in a torrent. She dropped her purse on the table, and went straight to the study. Daniel’s study, the one room in the house she never entered, not even to dust.
Grace rested her hand on the door knob, and half expected to hear his deep-timbered voice reminding her not to enter. She’d ignored his warning only once, the ensuing argument had left her reeling. Ever since then she’d respected his wishes. All of them.
But Daniel was no longer here to wish for anything.
She pushed open the door and stepped inside. The air smelt stale. She told herself that the lingering aroma of pipe tobacco was permanently embedded in the furniture, but her feelings told her otherwise—that he was here, alive somehow, yet invisible to her. She fumbled with the catch on the window and threw it open, impervious to the frigid air that flooded the room. An old leather chair, which had once belonged to Daniel’s father, stood next to the soot-stained limestone fireplace where ashes of a half-burned log lay in the grate. A large oak desk, its surface covered with a faint film of dust, filled the bay window. The date on the desk calendar showed the seventeenth of November, the day Daniel had left for the conference. She tore off the pages without bothering to read the proverb printed underneath, and threw them into the wastepaper basket.
Daniel’s face, and that of her own, smiled back at her from a small silver framed photograph on the corner of the desk. She picked it up and wiped the dust from the surface with her fingertips.
“What other secrets have you kept from me?”
Daniel’s brown, unfathomable eyes seemed to stare everywhere but at her. With a heavy heart she replaced the photograph on the desk. She collapsed into the chair and rested her aching head in her hands. Their marriage hadn’t been perfect; they’d had their fair share of ups and downs like every other couple, but she’d never thought of Daniel as being secretive. Yet the last few hours had proved that he was just that.
She leaned back and rubbed her temples. Nothing the solicitor had told her made any sense. They weren’t rich. Their joint checking account, which last time she’d looked, held less than two thousand pounds. When they’d purchased Applegate Cottage four years ago, they’d put down the minimum ten percent deposit and borrowed the rest from the bank. So where had the money come from to purchase a house in America? And more importantly, why hadn’t Daniel told her about it?
The desk held seven drawers; three in each pedestal and one in the centre. Her fingers hovered over the small brass handle of the centre drawer. Feeling like an intruder, she pulled it open. It was empty. One by one she opened the remaining drawers. Apart from an assortment of envelopes, a few credit card receipts, a letter opener shaped like a dagger, and some spare batteries for the hand-held dictating machine Daniel occasionally used, she found nothing connected to the beach house.
Daniel’s briefcase, which the police had found in his car, and the personal items from his office, sat in a box next to the door. She slipped out of the chair, picked it up, and placed it on the desk. Item by item she removed the contents: a desk diary, a box of post-it-notes, a calculator, and a framed photograph of her and Catherine. The desk diary she put to one side, replaced everything else, and then put the box on the floor.
She’d given Daniel the Raffaello briefcase for his thirtieth birthday. It had cost two weeks housekeeping money, but it had been worth it to see the smile on his face when he opened the box. She ran her fingers over the now scuffed and torn calfskin.
Grace pressed the locks to open the case, but nothing happened. She dug the fingertips of her right hand into the frame and tugged at the handle. The catch on one side gave, and she realized that the force of the impact had warped the frame. With great care she eased the blade of the letter opener into the lock on the opposite side and twisted sharply. There was a loud click and the case popped open. Inside lay Daniel’s MacBook and a number of manila folders. One by one, she went through the internal compartments, but found nothing else of interest.
Part of the silk lining had come away from the frame. When Grace ran her fingers along the edge she felt something underneath. She pulled back the fabric and found an envelope taped to the bottom of the case. She tore it free and turned it over in her hand.
Why go to so much trouble to hide something as innocuous as an envelope? She slipped her fingernail under the flap and opened it. A passport and a tiny piece of paper fluttered on to the blotter. A series of numbers, written in Daniel’s unmistakeable scrawl, covered the surface. Perplexed, she counted the digits. Twenty-four. Daniel was fascinated by numbers and frequently designed puzzles as a way of relaxing. Were these something he was working on, or the combination to the safe at the office?
The latter seemed the most likely explanation, yet Daniel had an eidetic memory. There was never a need for him to write anything down.
Grace opened the passport at the photograph on the back page. Daniel’s face stared up at her. Only the name in the passport wasn’t his, but that of Lionel Lattide.
A flicker of apprehension coursed through her. She tried to catch her breath, but couldn’t get air. The more she struggled to control her breathing, the more terrified she became. Beads of perspiration dotted her forehead. She willed herself to relax, just as the doctor had told her to, but it was impossible.
She staggered into the kitchen. Her medication lay on the shelf next to the fridge. Standing on tiptoe, she reached for the bottle, but her hands shook so much it slipped from her grasp, the contents spilling out along the shelf and onto the floor.
She could get through this, she told herself. It was only a panic attack—she wasn’t about to die. It wasn’t real. Crying with frustration, her fingers trailed along the floor until she finally pinched a wayward pill between her thumb and forefinger. She popped it in her mouth, and washed it down with a glass of water from the tap.
Leaning against the sink for support, she forced herself to breathe deeply—in, out, in, out. The pill started to do its work, and the room began to steady itself. As her heartbeat slowly returned to normal, she tried to ignore the questioning voice in her mind, but couldn’t. She pressed her hands over her eyes in an attempt to blot out her fears.
What have you been up to, Daniel, that you needed a second passport?
She took another sip of water. The passport lay on the drainer next to her hand. With trembling fingers, she opened it and turned to the visa section.
It was stamped.
She froze. Her mind and body benumbed.
She peered at the faint impression and could just make out the words ‘Department of Homeland Security’. America! She turned to another page, and found that too, had been stamped. During the last six months alone, Daniel or whoever he was, had travelled to the United States on five occasions.
Why?
She wrenched the calendar off the wall, and compared it to the passport. Every entry visa coincided with a date when Daniel had been away on business.
Waves of panic and nausea overwhelmed her, and she sank to her knees and sobbed. The man to whom she had trusted her heart had lied to her. Not once, not twice, but least four times.
Pain yielded to anger.
Who was her husband?
It seemed that the only way to find out was to fly to Miami and meet with the attorney, Zachary Parous. It sounded so easy when she said it quickly. But the thought of such a journey aroused old fears and anxieties. She wasn’t a traveller—and certainly not alone. What if she had a panic attack mid-Atlantic? Who would help her? And then there was the small problem of getting from Miami to some place called Gasparilla Island and locating the mysterious beach house. How hard would it be to find? Would she be safe?
She’d heard such things about Florida, stories of gangs, drug lords, and even worse. She snatched up the phone before she could change her mind and booked a seat on the nine-thirty flight to Miami the following morning.
Then there was only one call left to make.

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.

Seasonal Offers from Vanilla Heart Publishing

From now until the 16th November 2010 Vanilla Heart are offering 50 of their great titles, including their latest release, Passionate Hearts, at just $4.99 each.

So if you enjoy reading why not download one now and start reading today?

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.

http://www.vanillaheartbooksandauthors.com/Home_Page.html

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.

“McCabe.”

“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.

Valentine’s Day Release

What a busy three months! Life has been on big rush ever since Vanilla Heart accepted my submission for The House on the Shore. Not only did the cover and synopsis appear on Amazon.com and other online bookstores, but it will also be available in libraries in both the UK and USA. WooHoo!!!

The House on the Shore

Set in the Highlands of Scotland, this visually magical tale takes the reader on a journey from the remote shores of Loch Hourn to the singular beauty of Cape Cod.

And for those of you who might be considering buying a copy, here’s a short excerpt:

Her concentration was broken by the shriek of frantic barking. She tore her gaze away from the screen and looked out of the kitchen window. A tall, dark-haired man was making his way up the crescent-shaped beach, doing a weird twisting dance, holding his right arm above his head. With his left he pushed off the two boisterous, snapping collies.

“Oh hell,” she groaned. She threw open the door and shouted. “Ensay! Rhona! Heel!”

The dogs instantly stopped snapping at the stranger’s ankles and ran to their mistress. Anna leaned against the door frame and waited while the figure strode confidently across the grass towards her, his well-muscled body covering the rough ground with long, purposeful strides. His jet black hair showed a little grey at the temples, the cut slightly longer than was considered acceptable for a man she judged to be in his forties. But somehow it suited him.

He stopped a foot from her door, close enough for her to smell the lemon spice of his cologne. Now that she could see him more clearly, she noticed the laughter lines around his eyes and mouth, hinting at a softer side to his character. His body was lean, the outline of his muscles visible through the shirt he wore. A faint white scar creased his right cheek, and she thought it gave his face a handsome rugged look. He gazed at her with dark brown eyes and smiled, slow and warm, and for some reason her breathing quickened.

With just one look she knew he was trouble.

“Hi, there. I know I’m trespassing, but do you think you could ask your dogs not to rip off my thigh?”

Anna drew herself up to her full height, which was barely up to his shoulder. “They’re guard dogs and only doing their duty,” she said stiffly. The dogs sat at her silent signal, but their eyes remained fixed on the stranger.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m having engine trouble and I can’t get a signal.” He indicated his mobile phone.

“That’s because there are no transmitters.”

“Oh, then could I borrow your phone? I need to contact the nearest boatyard for some advice.”

“I don’t have a phone.”

He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Look, I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours and I’m beat. Sandpiper, that’s my yacht, developed a problem soon after I left Stornaway.” He paused as her words registered. “Did I hear right? You don’t have a phone?”

“No, I don’t, so I’m afraid I can’t help you. I suggest you weigh anchor, turn your boat around, and head west out of the loch.”

“Perhaps I should’ve introduced myself. I’m Luke Tallantyre, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.” He offered his hand. She didn’t take it.

“Anna, Anna MacDonald. Yachts are always straying into the loch at this time of year. Their crews seem to think this is some sort of hostel. Well, it’s not, and I still don’t have a phone.”

“Okay, so where do I catch the bus to town?” His eyes lingered on her face. “Oh, no. You’re about to tell me there isn’t a bus either. Aren’t you?”

Anna nodded. The motion sent sunlight gliding through her auburn hair. “That’s right. Welcome to Kinloch Hourn, otherwise known as the Loch of Hell.”

“The name fits,” Luke muttered. “What sort of place doesn’t have a phone or a bus service in this day and age?”

“How about the remotest glen in the Highlands? Up here, one man and his dog constitute a crowd. And before you ask, there are no shops either, unless you count Mrs McCloud in the village, but she only opens on alternate days. The butcher’s van calls every Thursday afternoon, and the library service visits once a month. I think that about covers all the local amenities. Oh yes, there’s a mobile bank too, but that only comes once a fortnight. The school closed last year. But you’re in luck…there’s a hotel and it has a phone.”

“So there is a God after all.”

“However, its twelve miles down the road in that direction,” she replied, pointing vaguely to some distant place.