Featured Post

The New Cover for Last Shot Revealed!

Happy New Year!  Today is the day! Last Shot at Justice has its new cover, and is now up for pre-order on Amazon. That's right, ALL th...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review of Upon Your Return, by Marie Lavender

I won this in a Facebook giveaway, and promised my honest opinion, which I give below. Please bear in mind that it is likely I would never have read this book on my own, and that may have an impact on what readers think of my review. 

Well, I finished it, and I wasn't very impressed with this novel. I always try to find positive things to say about books I review, but I'm having trouble with this one. The only reason I gave it 3 stars was because there were a few cute scenes between the couple, and despite all the confusion I felt, I rather liked Grant. And even Fara, when she wasn't insane. I also quite liked Eric.

I was mostly confused by the dialog and the logic. I called Fara insane: she went hot and cold on Grant, thinking one thing and then saying the complete opposite, so often I thought surely she wasn't playing with a full deck. The repetition of "what society expects" was tedious as well as incomprehensible.I have read other historical romances and never been so boggled. 

It was also just...long. If you factor what the story really was, and took out all the repetition and convoluted conversations, it would have been about half the length.

It could use a good editing - in form, function, and story execution. And maybe I'm not as funny as I like to think I am, but I can't help saying, if the author reads this... You keep using this word, "diversely"... I do not think it means what you think it means. (The word you were looking for is conversely.)

However limited my experience of historical romances, I have read more than a few and enjoyed them, so I am not completely ignorant of the genre. Granted, I think the only fiction I previously read set entirely in France was Les Miserables (the unabridged version - so you can see I'm not simply put off by long fiction.)

Anyway, I don't think I'll be reading any more books by this author. I very nearly didn't finish this one.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review of "The Wedding Dance" by SJ McCoy

The Wedding Dance 
4 Stars ☻☻☻☻

How fun to revisit all the couples in Summer Lake - plus a few extras I hope to see more of - in this long weekend in Las Vegas. There was a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of POVs, but that was part of the fun. At times the narrative switched seamlessly between characters, and it became akin to being at the various events, moving from group of friends to group of friends, and thereby moving across the landscape of the story.

Call me a realist, but I liked that some of the characters - despite having had their own happy ending in their featured book - were realizing that relationships aren't all buttermilk and bananas. They take work. That is life. So seeing characters working through some schtuff made me happy.

I also loved the surprises - not surprises for me, as a reader they were a bit predictable - but the characters scheming up surprises for each other. Overall the various storylines were sweet and entertaining. The characters, as usual, are very well drawn and consistent. I never got confused about whose head I was in, or surprised by things that were out of character. I was even moved to tears by at least two scenes.

As usual, there were a couple of characters I wanted to beat on the head with a...(looking around Las Vegas for something suitable to use)...maraca to make them see sense, but there are people IRL that I want to do that to, also, so nothing new there.

As far as the location, there was really very little of Las Vegas to be found. I didn't get a real sense of place. Then again, Las Vegas is really a character in its own right - a big, flamboyant character that could easily run away with the book, so while I missed it a bit, the story was about the characters from Summer Lake, so I understand why it wasn't there in big, full color.

Another thing that was utterly missing, but not missed (since I only just realized it as I am writing this review) is the steamy part of the Sweet & Steamy romances. Again, there was really just too much going on to want to visit each couple in the bedroom. 

The Wedding Dance is a solid addition to the Summer Lake Romances. You won't want to read it if you haven't read the other books. It just won't make sense at worst, and at best, you won't care about any of the characters, since most of them have been developed in the previous books. (You can get away without having read the Remington Ranch books, although there is crossover mention of the Montanans.)

Fair warning, it ends on a bit of a...not really a cliffhanger, but the final three words say it all: "Wait and see."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

On This Christmas Eve...

Okay, Christmas music on, coffee at hand, blanket tucked in place...and....

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! – 2015 edition

This was another year of transitions for us—some we’re still in the process of, so not all have definitive conclusions to share with you.

Last November (2014) saw the arrival of ‘Little Luke’ Owen Dunigan, and we’ve been adjusting to being grandparents to both him and his older brother Mario. It has been a blessing to watch Luke, Lupe, Mario and Little Luke grow as a family, and we made a few extra trips to Salem to visit when we were home. We are proud of Caleb, who is now working as a Music Director at a church in Michigan. After working at a resort near Jackson, WY, Jeremy is currently in truck driving school down in Riverside, CA, joining Luke to be another trucker in the family. Luke drives for SWIFT, and Jeremy will drive for CRST.

Most of our home-time has been spent getting the exterior of the house sorted out. The house has been painted—possibly the first time since it went up in 2001. We got a LOT done toward finishing the back yard, smoothing out what we tore up last year—or was that the year before? We now have 9 raised beds, so we’ll get to have a garden next year! (More on that in a moment.) We’ve put up another poly-shed, and have taken down most of the decrepit wooden shed. By the end of next year we hope to have a greenhouse up. It’s shaping up...and that’s enough said about the house.

Speaking of home time, that is part of the biggest transition of all. In July, our house sitter went on an extended vacation, so I came home to hold down the fort, and I’ve been home ever since. It was earlier than planned, but I’ve transitioned to writing and editing full time. I anticipate being able to put out twice as many books in 2016. (I’ll have another novel in the Boys of Syracuse, Kansas, series released come February!)

When Collin came home in October, Christopher moved out and we shook up the interior of the house. We moved our bedroom into the spare room, and I now have a “Writing Cave” (Collin calls it a Diva Den) in the master suite. I’m sitting in it now, enjoying the comfort and the view out the window. It’s a place to escape any hubbub in the rest of the house, because...

The end of an era is nigh? Collin came home to stay at Thanksgiving, and is trying out driving log trucks for Ireland Trucking. Our long term plan has been for us to be home together, and it looks like we’re putting that in motion. Collin is looking forward to spending quality home time with me, getting to see the kids and grandkids more often, and having time to do more around the house. So far, he enjoys the challenge of driving in the woods, but he’s not yet sure if it is ‘the job’ he wants to do until retirement. He’s reserving the option of doing something different.

Chances are good, though, that the Ball & Chain will officially shut down come the first of the year. It’s been a great 8.5 year run, with plenty of ups and downs, but the industry has been changing, and we just figure it’s time to move away from being owner operators and closer to our long term goals.

We are looking forward to a new year filled with family, home time, love, and all the peace and happiness we can find. We wish the same for all of you.

Much love, Kristi & Collin 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Sale!

Now until Christmas Day all of my books will be half off on both Smashwords and AllRomanceeBooks.com.

Just link to my books on AllRomance - the discounted price is already applied. For Smashwords, coupon codes are below.

Knight Before Dawn - When kidnap victim Cassandra Reyes meets Alaskan bush pilot Nicolas Knight, she doesn't know whether to trust him, or run like hell.
Smashwords Coupon code UZ49B
Knight Before Dawn on Smashwords

Knight Before Dawn on AllRomanceeBooks: 

Last Shot at Justice - Denver Detective Mitzi Reardon's boss is gunning for her. Literally. She has to find out why and prove she's not a murderer, all with the help of sexy cowboy Blue Thomas.
Smashwords Coupon code: AF84B
Last Shot at Justice on Smashwords

Last Shot at Justice on AllRomanceeBooks

Last Second Chance - Tim Reardon has a chance to start over in a small Kansas town, but only if his past leaves him alone.
Smashwords Coupon code: WJ54E
Last Second Chance on Smashwords

Last Second Chance on AllRomanceeBooks

Post a Comment and ask me about codes to get audiobooks for free! I have a limited number available for Last Shot at Justice and Last Second Chance.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Review of "The Wild Operatives Collection" by Vivienne Savage

The Wild Operatives Collection (on Goodreads)
A 5 Star Collection - ☻☻☻☻☻

#1 - The Right to Bear Arms
Vivienne Savage delivers my favorite shifter romance stories. Hot, sexy, and well drawn characters.

Read this and all her books. You won't be sorry.
(Or, if you are sorry, then I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do for you.)

Yeah, this is kind of a cheeky review, but what the hey. Finishing this book put me in a good mood. So read it already.

#2 - Let Us Prey
I like that Vivienne Savage's characters have problems, like Leigh, but they find people who help them by having faith in them, like Ian. I like that the men are Alphas in that they are strong and kick ass, but they aren't jerks who like to boss women around. I like that the women are stronger than they know, until their men help them realize their strength.

Let Us Prey is a story of redemption, of having faith in love and each other, loving people where they are, and fighting back against injustice in the world. Oh, and some hot, steamy sex.

I can't wait to see what the Wild Operatives have in store for the drug dealers in the town of Quickdraw. I just gobble these books up!

#3 - The Purr-fect Soldier
These books keep getting better and better. They're not deep, meaty plots that keep me guessing whether everything is going to work or okay, but this one, I like very much HOW things got resolved. There was just the right amount of angst. When the inevitable happened, and I knew it was coming, I really didn't want to see it go down--in that good dread where you know it's got to happen or it wouldn't be much of a story. Then it did, and just as I'm thinking 'there's the rest of the book blown to angst,' things changed, and took me by surprise.

The external conflict was exciting, and I won't spoil anything, so you'll just have to read and see. If you already read these books, you will love The Purr-fect Soldier. If you're new to Vivienne Savage, this is a great introduction. (You won't have had to read the others first, but it does help as many characters are repeats.) 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review for "Dragonfly in Amber" by Diana Gabaldon

3 or 4 stars? ☻☻☻?

I'm on the fence whether this is a three or a four star read. I spent a small deal of it bored, and wondering how on earth this is going to last for nine books. There were some more good parts, though. Mostly after they get back to Scotland.

I bought the 7 book collection, and I had to put it down after this one. It will be a while before I light into book 3, but I will, because I do need to know what happens. 

Dragonfly in Amber (on Goodreads)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Review of Perfect Touch by Elizabeth Lowell

I'm probably more at 3.5 stars, but here's the deal. The first, oh, third of the book is S L O W, with so much internal dialog used as exposition that I wondered if I would be able to finish. Who *thinks* all that stuff? In that kind of language?

The descriptions of Wyoming (and the paintings) were beautiful, and I think captured the region well. It is beautiful country.

When the action finally started, it finally started getting good, and I binge read the last 8th of the book.

Then we got to the end, and (view spoiler)

So, the action was well done, but I thought the mystery resolution points were a little weak. Oh, and I mentioned the head-hopping in my status updates. How distracting! If it were truly omniscient, it would show all characters' thoughts, but it is mainly the H/h, and then at the end, we even get into the bad guy's head for a couple paragraphs. In my opinion, that's just lazy.

The romance was refreshing. No angst, which is a thing I totally appreciate.

In summary, I more than liked it, by the end, but I can't say I loved it.

Here are my status updates:
10/19/2015 marked as: currently-reading
10/21/2015 page 40
10.0% "Yeesh. A lot of internal dialog, blatantly used as a device for exposition. Here's hoping it gets better.

And what's with the 1.5" line spacing? Trying to make the book look longer than it is? Mixed with the tiny font, it is confusing, and a challenge to read. :-/"
10/24/2015 page 70
19.0% "Interesting thoughts about art and Wyoming, but the head-hopping is killing me. And again (still) the internal dialog as exposition. Yawn."
10/29/2015 page 194
52.0% "It's starting to get better. Even though I'm impatient, I do like the descriptions of the Wyoming landscape. Reminds my of my driving time."
10/31/2015 page 238
64.0% "She sure draws bad characters well. I'm plotting ways they can get rid of Liza!"

Monday, November 2, 2015

Review of "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon

5 Stars! ☻☻☻☻☻

Loved this book. It's funny, kept me guessing, and yet a little predictable. If I had any issues with it, it's something I'd call the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome, where if anything bad was going to happen, it will happen to her or to someone close to her. Of course, that is the nature of fiction.

I totally loved Jamie, and the shit he went through...holy cow. No spoilers, but just, wow. Ms. Gabaldon sure put him through it. 

Outlander (on Goodreads)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review of the Spellbound Consortium series by A. Payne & N.D. Taylor

I'm going to post my reviews of all the Spellbound Consortium Books in one blog entry.

The series so far consists of 3 full length novels, one novella and one short story collection. There is one remaining full length novel to come.

The Regent's Gamble - Book 1
What a delightful romp. I read the original, unabridged version, which was a mouthful, but the underlying story was very intriguing, compelling, and kept me guessing all the way. It is an introduction into a fabulous world, full of great characters and great creatures.

The abridged version should be more focused and easier to follow. I look forward to reading the next book in the Spellbound Consortium series. 

ETA - I listened to the audio version of the updated, abridged version and it was fantastic! Will Watt is perfect for the job, and my hopes for the streamlined story were realized. 
5 Stars for the updated edition. ☻☻☻☻☻

Primal Legacy (Spellbound Tales #1) 

This was actually the first story in the Consortium I completed, and it was a little rough to enter at this point, as many of the secondary characters were already well established from other books, but Dahlia and Felipe were a cute couple, well suited to handling the crisis that occurred in the rain forest. I liked that Dahlia was a strong character who could kick ass as well as deal with Felipe and his people with compassion and even passion. Felipe was also strong and I could believe in his innocence of the ways of the world - due to the limited exposure his tribe had with the outside world.

I did like the story, but it fell short of *really like it*, so the rating would be 3.5 stars. ☻☻☻?

This took some time to process, but WOW.
Definitely my favorite Spellbound Consortium book so far.

I was right there with Griffin and Aisling and all their trials and beastly things the writers put them through. I don't want to give spoilers, but prepare to ride a hell of roller coaster with these two. I felt so bad for Griffin, and Aisling too, though more for Griffin.

It has been a long time since I read a book and actually fretted for a character as though he was a real person, thinking about him when I wasn't reading and trying to justify reading when I should be doing something else, and that says a lot about the quality of this story.

I was also very impressed with the way this story dovetails with Book 1 and Tales 1, which speaks to the authors' dedication to plotting and executing some complex story lines. I look forward to reading The Gatekeeper's Key, and any future Spellbound books to come.

There were a couple things I thought could be explained a little better, but nothing to take away from giving it a 5 star review. And these days a 5 star is saying a lot from me here on goodreads.

Well done, Taylor & Payne! ☻☻☻☻☻

Cute shorts. Sweet shorts. Sexy shorts. Exciting shorts.

These three short stories pack a pretty good punch for Christmas stories. The first story is a sweet first Christmas for a newly forming family that is just figuring out what a family Christmas should look like. The second story is about a lonely hell hound who finds connection and discovers he is needed by a special friend. That one is something of a tear-jerker.

Then there is the third story. It's not every Christmas story that features society balls where sizzling tangos are disrupted by gun-toting fanatics and chaos and magic abound.

Yep, they're not your typical smarmy Christmas tales. If you are wondering whether you'd like to read the Spellbound Consortium books, but you're not sure you want to commit, this trio of tales will give you a good idea of the series, and by the time you're done, you'll know if they are something you'll like or not.

4 Stars ☻☻☻☻

4.5 stars ☻☻☻☻/
These books keep getting better. The skill of the authors has grown so much. The storytelling remains rich and vivid, while the verbiage gets more concise - and therefore packs a more powerful punch.

The story of Jean-Luc and Krystine is a great love story as well as a great adventure. We're taken on the run from gargoyles at Notre Dame in Paris, through tunnels full of demons in a Labyrinth in Greece, and defending civilians from possessed gunmen across Central Park.

The battle against an organization of occultists is growing more heated with every book, and I find myself rooting more and more for the company of young mages and their fae and sylvan friends who put their lives on the line time and again.

The characters are so well drawn and the story so seamless that I felt like I was inserted into their lives, a passerby, or a close friend, who is asked to participate in the action. The drawback to that is sometimes I felt like important things had happened that I wasn't privy to, and I occasionally got lost. However, as I read on, things became clear again.

These books are supposed to be standalone, and the first two both contain a story arc that is complete by the end, however The Gatekeeper's Key has a story arc that is not complete, though I understand the next book will wrap up the entire series, including the overarching storyline. I do recommend that readers start with The Regent's Gamble, and follow the stories in order, if only to help you avoid spoilers, because the stories are intertwined, and the books do reference things that happened in a previous book. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

All my books are available in (almost) all markets again!

I haven't posted my buy links in a long while. My books are available in all markets right now, including two audiobooks, so if you haven't already, check them out.

Last Shot at Justice

Last Shot at Justice the Audiobook

Last Second Chance

Last Second Chance the Audiobook

Knight Before Dawn

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Boys of Syracuse, Kansas series is going back to All Markets on Sunday, August 9th. This is your last chance for the foreseeable future to borrow and read for free! 

Last Shot at Justice (#1) 

Detective Mitzi Reardon doesn’t know what she did to anger her boss, but he is gunning for her. Now a prostitute is dead, and she is the prime suspect with the law hot on her heels. With nowhere to run and no one to trust, Mitzi’s only hope lies in the hands of a sexy stranger.

Last Second Chance (#2) 

An ex-con's search for a new start leads to a chance at a life and a love he never expected. But the life he left behind won't stay quietly in his past.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Looks like we passed the judges!
Last Shot at Justice - the Audiobook - is headed to retail, which means it will soon be on sale on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Last Shot at Justice ~ the AUDIOBOOK! Now available on CD

After a steep learning curve for designing and printing the packaging for the CDs, they are finally under production. We have 10 complete sets available for direct sale right now! There will be 25 copies in the first run. So if you are someone who prefers to get your fiction through your ears instead of your eyes, hit us up. 

Elaine from Coyote Monster Audio did a great job. If you are an author who has a book you'd like to hear in audio, check out her ACX profile and ask her to audition for you. Elaine may be my sister, but I'll confess, I was worried when she offered to read my book. I was very pleasantly surprised (and thrilled!) at how it turned out.

Check my website for purchasing options.
It will soon be available on USB flash drives, too.

Last Shot at Justice will also be available on Amazon and iTunes, soon. It is currently in production on ACX. We'll keep you posted when it becomes available.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Influences and Inspirations - A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy

Live Long and Prosper
(Image credit surely goes back to the Studio...)

Woke up to the news this morning that Leonard Nimoy has died. After the initial check to make sure this wasn't one of those "Morgan Freeman died" spoofs, it got me thinking about influences. 

Like many from my generation, Star Trek was one of the shows I watched as a kid (in reruns, thank you very much – I'm not quite old enough to have seen the first runs) that had an impact on the way I think. On my creativity, on my imagination and my logic.

I remember watching and discussing episodes with my best friend Shelly, and having a ball with the subtle, cynical and often sarcastic humor that Spock's character embodied. Spock was anything but cold and clinical, he was warm and full of life. At least to me.

Thinking fondly about it now, I realize that some of my best humorous writing happens in that same understated way. The best stuff sneaks in while I'm not even aware, and it isn't until I read it back that I think, "Oh, that's funny!"

Sometimes I think the things that crack me up are so abstruse that no one will get it, so it often surprises me when people comment that something in my book made them laugh out loud. It always makes me smile to know I brought laughter to someone's day.

It's all good. Days like today, when I'm reminded that my style didn't come out of a vacuum, I read back and see my wry humor showing through and bless the books and shows that influenced me.
I have tried on more than one occasion to write a "logic scene" in classic Star Trek style. I've even had success to varying degrees. Well, success in my eyes. I have yet to publish any of them. In one of my earliest novels, a hero character is trying to confuse an android using circuitous logic. The android predictably gets all boggled, but when the hero turns away, the android smirks and the reader realizes it was just going along to make the hero feel better.

Lately I have been revisiting some of my older work, looking to see if any of it is salvageable (as if I don't have enough new material clamoring in my head to get out!) and I see how strong these early influences were—and still are, if I'm honest about it.

Today, so many shows and movies seem to be regurgitating the stories I grew up with—from Red Dawn and Footloose to Total Recall and 12 Monkeys—that it seems like there's nothing new in Hollywood. It's sad to see, but then there are other shows that reassure me that there are artists who are still pioneers, who still stretch the limits of creativity to bring fresh new stories to eager viewers.

I look back to my childhood with fondness for those writers, directors, and actors who challenged me to become a writer. Who, all unknowing, shaped my style with a master's touch—like Michelangelo's marble with the statue waiting to be uncovered. I like to think I've taken over the art, and I'm still chipping away bits at a time, uncovering the greatest works I still have inside.

Thank you, Mr. Spock/Nimoy. Thank you Mr. Roddenberry, and yes, Mr. Shatner, and countless others who inspire and inspired me. You each have made the world a better place to live. And we have all prospered.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sneak Peek of Chapter One in Book 3 - One Last Song

Chapter One

"Where are we going?"
Jackson "Jax" Belamy struggled to keep up with Kylie Thomas as she pulled him through the crowded fairgrounds. It was Sunday night and the last night of the Tri-County Fair, and Kylie was just hitting her stride. She worked the swing shift at the Chew Brew & Pit Crew Truck Stop, and for her it wasn't even lunchtime. Jax had been up with the sun, however, and was dragging ass by 9pm.
"You'll see!" Kylie said with a laugh, throwing the words and her gorgeous smile over her shoulder at him.
It was enough to spur Jax on, bringing himself even with her as she drew them up to the Karaoke tent. Jax smiled. He loved to hear Kylie sing, and she hadn't had much occasion to sing lately.
"I called in a favor," she shouted as she wove through the people crowding the entrance to the tent, heading toward the stage. Jax was glad she kept hold of his hand, or he was pretty sure she would have lost him. "Alice already put my name on the list."
Sure enough, the MC was at the microphone. "Last call for Kylie Thomas. Kylie Thomas, get your ass up to the stage to sing!"
The locals in the crowd whooped and hollered as Kylie threw up her free hand. "I'm here!" she shouted.
That was enough to cause the crowd to part and let her through, and Jax followed in her wake. Laughing, she only released his hand after he helped her hop up onto the front of the stage. He stood, looking up at her as she walked with purpose and confidence to the microphone.
The MC stepped back and fiddled with the equipment until the first keyboard notes and cymbals of Katy Perry's "Firework" rang out, lulling the voices in the crowd as people got ready to listen.
The other ranch hands out at the Lazy J gave Jax grief for listening to Katy Perry while he worked in the barn, but this right here was the reason for it--it had nothing to do with some glittering star in a studio and everything to do with this country girl who had been the center of his world for as long as he could remember.
Kylie had star quality, Jax was sure of it. She worked the microphone with an easy level of comfort, and worked the crowd just as well as any video queen. He lost himself in her performance as she sang about letting inner light shine like fireworks.
Kylie was her own light show, a display of confidence and inner beauty that had everyone in the crowd calling out "Ah, ah, ah," in time with the song.
Jax knew he was bouncing up and down like an idiot, staring up at her with bright admiration, but he didn't care. He lived for moments like these.
When the song ended the crowd roared with as much appreciation as Jax had heard coming from the main stage where some tired old band from the 80s was yukking it up, and people started calling for more.
"Give it up for Kylie Thomas!" the MC said, lifting Kylie's arm above her head as if she had just won a prizefight. "I think she gets the popularity award for tonight. What do you say, folks? Do you want to hear one last song from Kylie before we take a break?"
Jax shouted as loudly as the people behind him. "One more, Kylie!"
Kylie smiled, her teeth flashing in the bright stage lights, and leaned in close to the MC to say something. Then she bent down and held her hand out to Jax. Without hesitation, Jax took her hand and hopped nimbly to the stage, knowing exactly what was coming next and happy to join in.
"Hey y'all," Kylie said, vamping up her country girl twang. "My friend Jax and I are going to sing our favorite duet for ya. Feel free to join in if you know the words!"
That was part of why the local crowd loved Kylie. She didn't just mug the microphone and shine in the stage lights, she invited everyone to take part in the joy that was Kylie singing. She had a great voice. She had an even better stage presence.
As the simple notes of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" sounded in the tent, the crowd laughed and Jax happily slipped his arm around Kylie's waist--the only time she let him make such an intimate gesture.
Jax glanced nervously out at the crowd--it was bigger than he'd ever been in front of before--but as Kylie started to sing, she put her finger under his chin and brought his gaze back to her green, green eyes. Her knowing smile calmed his bout of nerves enough so he could sing his part, then join in with her for the tag line: "I got you, babe."
They weren't really singing alone. Several people in the crowd joined in, and it became a drunken chorus, ending with shouts of laughter and plastic solo cups raised in salute. Kylie took a bow, forcing Jax to do the same, then laughing, they headed for the steps that led down to the side of the tent away from the bar.
'That was so fun!" Kylie said with a laugh, and he leaned in close--in part so he could hear her better, but mostly as an excuse to be close to her. "Alice says they're having a popularity contest, and I guess that encore means I get to come back," she continued. "You going to hang around?"
Jax pulled on her hand to turn her to face him. "I gotta work tomorrow."
Jax tried to imagine her smile faltered at least a little bit, but he wasn't really sure. Kylie was so independent--and so blind to the way he felt about her--that he couldn't quite convince himself she was sad to see him go.
"You're such an old man!" she said with a laugh, giving him a punch on the shoulder.
"Says the girl who didn't get up until noon!" he said in his defense. "I was up at daybreak, and I will be again tomorrow. Besides, I'm only two years older than you."
"Old," she teased again. But before she could go on, Jax noticed a woman in a business suit waiting patiently for them to notice her.
"Sorry," he said, tugging Kylie's hand to pull her to the side of the tent. "Are we blocking your way?"
"Not at all," the woman said. She was obviously out from some east coast city, judging by her accent and the power suit that was just about as out of place as could ever be found in Syracuse, Kansas. "I was hoping for a moment of the young lady's time."
Kylie turned to the woman, gave her a once over, then stuck out her hand. "Kylie Thomas," she said formally. "What can I do for you?"
The woman shook Kylie's hand with just the tips of her fingers, as if the gesture was somehow distasteful.
"Beverly Andrews," she said, unruffled and cool. Jax thought she could be pretty, if she let her hair out of the tight bun she'd pulled it into, and loosened herself up a couple turns counter-clockwise. "I'd like to have a word with you. You see, I'm with Country Pride, a new talent show that we're putting together for next season, and I'm out here looking for hot new talent. Ms. Thomas, would you like to share your talent with America?"
Kylie stared at the woman in the power suit, not sure that she'd heard her right. "I'm sorry," she said. "Did you say you were with a talent show?"
"That's right. Country Pride. It's a new show that will air this winter. I'm scouting talent, and I've been looking for someone just like you...."
Excitement thrummed in her ears, drowning out what the woman was saying. A talent scout? It was as though someone had trotted her most secret dream out into the lights of the midway, waved a magic wand, and granted her wish. She'd always figured she would have to leave town to be 'discovered,' yet here a talent scout was standing in front of her, asking her to....
"I'm sorry, what?" she brought her attention back to the woman's words.
Ms. Andrews smiled as though she got that reaction a lot. "I was hoping you would join me someplace quiet, where I can explain to you about the show, give you some of the literature, and maybe meet your parents and see about getting their permission for you to audition."
"Oh, I'm eighteen," she said quickly.
Jax tugged on her elbow, trying to get her attention. She turned to him, unable to hide her elation. "A talent show, Jax!" she all but crowed.
"I heard," he said. He looked skeptical about something.
"Well thanks for the vote of confidence," Kylie said, thumping him on the shoulder. That got a smile out of him.
"You know I think you're the tops, Kylie," he began, but his gaze was drawn back to the woman.
"We'd like you to audition too, young man," the woman said. "You know how these kinds of shows go. Two good looking young folks who are obviously in love...."
Kylie laughed again. "Oh, we're not in love," she said.
The woman looked between her and Jax, and just gave a knowing smile. "Very well, two good looking young folks who have great chemistry--you will go far on the show, I'm sure. What do you say?"
"I don't know," Jax began, and Kylie resisted the urge to smack him.
"Let's just hear her out. Where did you have in mind, ma'am?"
"If we can go out to the parking lot, maybe?" she suggested. "It's quite noisy on the fairgrounds."
Kylie had to agree. "We can walk to my work," she suggested. "The truckstop. It's just across the highway from the entry gate."
"Sounds like a plan," Ms. Andrews said, gesturing for the two of them to precede her out of the tent.
Jax hung back, so Kylie grabbed his arm and pulled him close to whisper in his ear. "It's just a walk, silly. This could be a big break for me. For us. Haven't you ever wanted to get out of this town?"
He looked like he wanted to protest, but instead he just shook his head and walked with her. She smiled to herself. She could always count on Jax to support her every whim. In her excitement, she grabbed his hand, squeezing whenever the excitement became too hard to contain.
Walking beside them the short distance to the gate, Ms. Andrews picked her way through the crowds and the detritus of several days of fair excesses.
Jax leaned forward so he could address her across Kylie. "How come you stopped way out here, ma'am?" His tone wasn't exactly rude, but it did sound more like an interrogation than mere curiosity.
"We scouts work in teams," she said, stepping gingerly over a largish puddle leftover from the rain they'd had that morning. "This show is different from the older scenarios where they held huge auditions and people come from all over to try to get on the show. With Country Pride, we each get to pick where we want to look for talent. It's as much a competition for the scouts as it is for the performers. I've always had the best vibes about small out-of-the-way towns. Carrie Underwood was from Checotah, Oklahoma. Nobody even knew where that was before she showed up on American Idol.
"Country Pride will do a little back story for you two. My assistant filmed you and several other performers with her cell phone. It's all very organic. If you agree to do the show, we'll go back with a small crew to film a little more before the karaoke tent closes for the night, then we'll film some interviews in the morning. Your folks and such. By the end of the week, we'll head out for Nashville and you two will be on your way to becoming big stars."
They were approaching the gates now, and Kylie turned to Jax, unable to keep a little skip out of her step. "Can you believe it, Jax?"
Jax smiled, but his words sounded doubtful. "Seems she's moving awful fast."
"Just the words, Jax. It's not like she's going to whisk us away tonight or anything, right, ma'am?"
She turned to address Ms. Andrews, but the woman wasn't there. Frowning, she searched the crowds streaming out the gate. They were urged along and out into the parking lot with many fairgoers who had called it a day.
"Where'd she go?" Kylie asked, turning back to Jax.
They were already several yards away from the gate before the woman approached them from behind. "Sorry," she said with a laugh. "I got caught behind the stampede. Listen, I'd like to show you how serious I am, how serious the show is. My assistant went back to the office in our RV to download the footage she shot, and she's been working on it already. Won't you come see?"
She gestured to a very large RV parked just a few spaces away. It was dark-colored, with no designs, but Kylie could see a light on behind the window shades.
"How come it doesn't say who you are?" Jax asked suspiciously.
Ms. Andrews laughed pleasantly. "I told you, we are different. We don't want to be plagued by people with no talent banging on the doors, trying to get auditions. But if you're nervous, we don't have to go now."
"Jax!" Kylie hissed, trying to contain her frustration with him. "What's  wrong with you? This is a big deal."
Jax shrugged in the face of her fierce gaze. "I'll come with you if you want to go."
Kylie turned her smile on Ms. Andrews. "Yes, let's go look, please."
Ms. Andrews smiled. "Right this way."
They approached the RV, and the woman opened the door and again gestured for them to precede her. Kylie let go of Jax's hand and stepped up the stairs, turning the corner to see a very plush interior lit with soft lights reflected in several mirrors. The mirrors confused her so she couldn't immediately tell what she was looking at. She took another three steps forward and heard Jax climbing up behind her.
By the time it registered what she was seeing, she was several steps into the RV.
There, seated on a side bench behind a table, two girls looked at her with terror in their eyes. They wore only underwear, and duct tape covered their mouths and bound their wrists and ankles together.
Kylie turned quickly, intent on getting both her and Jax off that RV. There was only the woman to get past before they could get outside. She could send the sheriff after them once they were clear.
But it was too late. There was a sickening crackle, and Jax slumped to the floor, Ms. Andrews behind him holding a taser that she had just discharged into Jax's neck.
The woman flipped a lever to close the door, then stepped toward her over Jax's twitching body. Kylie couldn't take her eyes off her friend.
"What?" Ms. Andrews said in a sultry purr. "Did you think that only girls got taken for the sex trade?"
Kylie rushed at Ms. Andrews, reaching for the hand that held the taser. She got her hands on the woman, who just laughed as Kylie fought with her.
Before she could wonder why the woman didn't seem at all concerned, Kylie heard the crackle of another taser, and seconds later felt the stinging bite of of a million volts of electrical current blasting through her body.
She tried to hold on, but blackness took over.


So tell me, what do you think?