Tuesday, March 17, 2015

~~Happy Release Day~~ Echoes by Laura K. Curtis

Echoes (A Harp Security Novel)
March 17, 2015


A single photo of herself as an infant on a beach, taken before the date on her birth certificate, throws everything Calliope Pearson knows about herself into question. Hoping to find answers, she takes advantage of her job as a travel writer to make a reservation at the Caribbean island resort in the picture.

Resort security chief Mac Brody distrusts Callie on sight. After all, she looks exactly like his deceitful missing wife, Nikki, who owns half the resort. But when Nikki’s found dead, Mac's facing murder charges, and he’s sure that Callie must hold the key to proving his innocence.

The deeper Callie and Mac dive into the mystery of her past, the more bodies surface. And they’ll have to learn to trust each other, or become victims of a dark danger neither could've imagined… 

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Excerpt 1:

Callie drove through slowly, flicking glances backward at the guard as she did. He had checked her driver’s license against a clipboard, leading her to assume he had a list of guests and approved visitors, but if she hadn’t been on it, he hadn’t said so. Could he tell, just by looking, that she was more than a simple travel writer looking for a story? A little shiver ran up her spine as she realized he hadn’t closed the gate. Instead, he stood in the center of the road, speaking into a walkie-talkie she hadn’t noticed when she drove up and watching her as she parked and approached the sprawling mansion of a hotel.
A plump woman standing behind a mahogany desk just inside the entrance greeted Callie with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. And those eyes didn’t blink. She never even looked down at the reservation book open on the desk. Callie resisted the urge to look down and see whether she’d spilled something on her clothes.
“Madame Pearson. Welcome to Paradis de la Mer.”
“Thank you. And please, call me Callie.”
“I am Claudine.” The woman paused as if debating what to say next. “I see you have suitcases. Let me call Ben to take them upstairs for you.”
“That would be great.”
But the woman didn’t pick up the phone on her desk. Instead, her gaze shifted over Callie’s shoulder.
“Christ,” said a deep voice to her left, tinged with accusation beneath the distinctive thickness of the American southeast, “where did Nikki find you?”
“Excuse me?” Callie turned to give the stranger a piece of her mind but momentarily lost her train of thought. The man was too close, too big. He stood with his back to the door, so that her first impression was of an impenetrable void rimmed in bright light. Closer examination proved no more comforting.
A gun rode in a holster threaded onto his belt, a silent, matte black threat. In a separate holster, the man wore a walkie-talkie, which probably meant the gate guard had called him. But why? What threat could she possibly pose? Ragged ebony hair and stubble the same color contrasted with an almost military posture, and a vicious, ropy scar running from just above one cold, green eye down his cheek and angling toward the corner of his mouth gave the harsh planes of his face a dangerous cast. But the worn jeans covering his slim hips and molded to his muscular thighs were presentable, and the charcoal gray T-shirt stretched across his broad shoulders sported a Paradis de la Mer logo embroidered in red and gold over his heart. He belonged. Still, Callie took an involuntary step back, which brought her up against the desk without placing nearly enough space between the newcomer and herself.
“Maybe it’s a coincidence,” said Claudine in French.
“Not on your life,” said the stranger. “This is one of Nikki’s games. She found a fatter, plainer version of herself and brought her to stay here while we were all worried sick.”
Callie balled her hands into fists at her sides and gritted her teeth against the words of outrage threatening to pour forth. She’d decided long before her arrival her purposes would be better served by pretending to speak only English. Sure, she could stand to lose five or ten pounds, but she wasn’t fat. And she’d never cultivated a dramatic appearance because it didn’t fit her lifestyle. Middle of the road, that was her: average height; average weight for her height; medium length, medium brown hair; and perfectly happy with her position smack in the center of the bell curve, thank you very much.
Breathing in for four beats and out for eight, she achieved a modicum of control. The byplay had been quick, so much so it wouldn’t have been offensive to someone who didn’t understand the content. Whatever was going on, it couldn’t be related to a riddle almost three decades old, so her best bet was to continue on as planned.
“Is this how you welcome all your guests? Speaking to one another instead of to them? It’s a wonder St. Martin dares call itself ‘the friendly island.’”
The man ignored the touch of sarcasm she’d allowed to creep into her words. Instead of taking the easy out and backing off, pretending the exchange was meaningless, he moved even closer. “Do you have a sister, Miss Pearson?”
Never let them see you sweat. It was the defining rule by which her father taught her to live. She drew herself up and gave him her best superior glare. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no. Maybe I just have one of those faces. People often think they know me.”
“Not likely. You have fairly distinctive features. And you share them with Nicole Lewis.” Those jade eyes, opaque, shadowed, and unreadable, pinned her like a specimen fastened to a display board. “Or, more accurately, Nicole Lewis Brody. My wife.”
Nicole Lewis, half owner of the Paradis? Nicole Lewis, his wife? Not some casual acquaintance with a vague resemblance, then. The slight sheen of sweat Callie had acquired on the drive from the airport cooled abruptly, leaving goose bumps in its wake. She’d come to St. Martin to solve a mystery, but she hadn’t anticipated being forced to dive into a second one.

Excerpt 2:

The slap of her flip-flops echoed as she descended the winding, bowered path to the beach, sending a little shiver up her spine. She felt like a character in a Twilight Zone episode, wandering a strange and deserted land, alone, surrounded by oppressive beauty.
The stone pavers of the path gave way abruptly to sand, and the front of Callie’s shoe caught, sending her sprawling. She checked reflexively to be sure no one had noticed the embarrassing slip, then shook her head at her own foolishness. Who could have seen her? Plucking off her sandals, she curled her toes in the sand, which had gone slightly cool despite the warmth remaining in the air. She meandered along the water’s edge, letting the tiny waves lap over her feet, occasionally glancing back to judge her distance from the Paradis, until she considered herself positioned in much the same spot where her mother stood in the mystery photograph.
She plunked herself down on the sand and drew her knees up beneath her chin. What had Sharon Pearson been thinking that day? Callie didn’t have much experience with children, but if she’d had to choose an adjective to describe the baby in her mother’s arms, she would have chosen “new.” Tiny, wrinkled fingers grasped the edge of the blanket wrapping her, and her face, equally wrinkled, was blotchy and red. A dozen times, Callie had tried to see herself in that baby. A dozen times, she had failed.
“I’d expect you to be asleep.”
Callie’s heart stuttered and her muscles froze before she recognized the honeyed drawl with its sandpaper edge.
“I needed to unwind. I didn’t realize having my things stolen had affected me so much.”
Uninvited, Mac settled beside her, close enough that the heat radiating off his body caressed her skin. “You handled it well. Better, as John mentioned, than most of our guests would.”
Distracted by his nearness, it took her a minute to interpret the comment. “Is there a question in there somewhere, Mr. Brody?”
“Mac. And, yeah, it occurred to me you might have expected something similar, and it might not have come as such a surprise.”
“I assure you, I expected nothing of the kind. If, as you claim, my shock didn’t show, it’s because I’m a tad less sheltered than your standard clientele.”
“You’re not exactly poverty-stricken.”
She should have realized he’d pry into her background, but the sense of violation the simple comment engendered was as strong as that from the burglary. Her response sounded stilted and prudish, but she couldn’t soften it.
“I’ve lived all over the world, including places where money attracts undesirable attention.”
“You traveled with your father?”
“According to the press, he was a businessman.” Another question couched as a statement. It seemed Brody’s preferred method of interrogation. She would go with it, at least for the moment. Nothing about her father’s life could hurt her, and perhaps talking about him might spark hitherto hidden memories.
“Half businessman. The other half diplomat.”
“Diplomat.” The word rolled across Mac’s tongue. “Another word for ‘spy’?”
Callie laughed, her first spontaneous outburst since her arrival. “For a while, in my early teens, I imagined him as James Bond. But no, he wasn’t some undercover hero. I meant ‘diplomat’ in the most literal sense. Let’s say you owned a big corporation”—Mac snorted—“and you wanted to open an overseas branch. You’d hire my father and he’d go first to find all the contacts you’d need. He’d pave the way with individuals and government entities, find you security personnel, work on community relations, and clean up messes your predecessors might have left behind. Sometimes, the trips we took were short. Not much in Europe, for example, took very long to arrange. A couple of months here, a couple of months there. But we spent a year in Greece when one of his employers got tangled up with some unsavory types, and two in Indonesia while he tried to mediate between various factions in and out of government.”
“Sounds like quite a life for a child.”
“It was. And it prepared me for upheavals, for things like having my belongings taken.” Wow. She’d just revealed more about her childhood to Mac than she had to anyone else in the ten years since she’d moved out of her father’s house. Time to turn the tables.
“And you? Where did you grow up?”
“In the slums in Atlanta.”
“I never thought about Atlanta having slums. It seems so clean and pretty.”
He chuckled, a low rumble of sound that heated her blood despite the soft breeze off the ocean.
“The board of tourism would be happy to hear it. But in reality, Atlanta’s just like any other city.”
“How did you get out?”
“The same way as any other kid in my neighborhood with an iota of ambition. I joined the Army straight out of high school. Learned a lot about the world and myself in my six years in, one thing being I have little talent for—and less patience with—politics. And I’m not good with rules. So I left. Came home and joined the Atlanta PD.” Callie could hear the warning: he knew how to investigate.

About the Author:

Laura K. Curtis does everything backwards. As a child, she was extremely serious, so now that she’s chronologically an adult, she feels perfectly justified in acting the fool. She started teaching at age fifteen, then decided to go back to school herself at thirty.
Laura has taught middle school social studies, high school literature, and college-level rhetoric, all with relative success. She’s also a full-on Mac geek who spent years as a consultant and running an academic computing lab. The only thing she completely failed at in the field of education was attempting to teach obedience to her pack of Irish Terriers. Currently, she lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband and two insane Irish Terriers who have taught her how easily love can coincide with the desire to kill.
To date, she has two romantic suspense novels (Twisted, 2013 & Lost, 2014) and one contemporary romance (Toying With His Affections, 2014), none of which her mother thinks are as good as The Speshel Dog.


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