A launch party for HUNTED!
Posted by Suzanne Ferrell Jul 12 2012, 12:13 am
Cover design by Lyndsey Lewellen
In 2006 I entered two manuscripts in the RWA Golden Heart contest. One in the Long Contemporary category (KIDNAPPED) and the other in single title Romantic Suspense (HUNTED). This was a wonderful thing because both books were finalists in their respective categories and because of that I met all the wonderful Romance Bandits! (You guys know the rest of that story!!)
The first book, KIDNAPPED, which was published on Amazon and B&N back in March was a book I targeted for Harlequin. I’d set it for their style and word count, but always felt it needed more content. It won their Harlequin Intrique contest and was requested for consideration for publication. Meanwhile, never one to just sit and wait, I had already begun a second RS, this one featuring one of the heroine in KIDNAPPED‘s brothers, Matt. When Harlequin rejected that book, I was shocked, and quite frankly a bit miffed. (Okay, really PO’d!!) I let that reaction be my catalyst for this second book. Channeling all my frustration and anger into the heroine Katie Myers/Sarah Strict (yes she has two names…I’ll explain in a minute) and just wrote the best book I could, one that wouldn’t fit the category size or mold, one that I would love to read.
So, that was how HUNTED was born. (My daddy always said I was stubborn as a Missouri mule!)
The story starts off with the sentencing of militia cult leader, Joseph Strict:
Seated behind the prosecutor’s table and flanked by two large men dressed in government-issue blue suits, dark sunglasses and wearing stern expressions, Sarah shivered as she watched the devil standing before the judge.
“Jacob Strict, having been found guilty of conspiracy against the United States government in the Philadelphia Federal Building bombing and the deaths resulting from therein, you are hereby sentenced to be put to death on the date and time to be set by this court.”
The judge’s gavel hammered against the wooden bench frame. Despite her resolve to remain calm, Sarah jumped, her breath catching in her throat.
The judge’s words echoed for a moment in the silence of the crowded courtroom.
Then shouts of victory erupted from the victims’ families. Strict’s “family” moaned and wailed. She felt neither jubilation nor remorse. Seeing that Strict received judgment for his crimes had driven her for months. Nothing else mattered.
The prosecutors shook hands and slapped each other on the back. Reporters scribbled frantically in their notebooks or spoke softly into tape recorders. The rail-thin, white-haired man standing at the defendant’s table didn’t move a muscle—not even an eyelash. He stared ahead with deadly calm as if waiting for the perfect moment to strike—a consummate performer to the last.
Grasping the coat sleeves of the oversized navy blue suit the Marshal’s assistant had given her to wear for the hearings, she closed her eyes. The tumult in the courtroom pounded in her ears and she shrank into the chair, praying she’d be swallowed up by it. Plain by most people’s standards and rarely noticed in a crowd, she prayed that for once she could blend into the furniture. Only this time she knew her wish wouldn’t be granted. No matter how little he’d shown it to his audience, the defendant’s entire attention was focused on her.
She’d done the unthinkable. She’d defied the Almighty Prophet—dared to expose the monster to the light. There would be hell to pay.
The judge’s gavel banged and banged. Shouted commands to come to order or have the courtroom cleared slowly registered with the crowd. People regained their self-restraint. Women dried their eyes. Men took their seats.
A cold chill settled in her bones. Fine tremors caused her hands and knees to shake. She dug her fingers into the nylon serge of her borrowed suit.
Once again the judge focused his attention on the silent man before him. “Mr. Strict, do you have anything you wish to say before this court, Sir?”
Tense silence filled the assemblage. Women gripped their husbands’ arms tight. Some spectators waited to hear their prophet speak his last free words. Reporters’ pens paused.
For her, time slowed to an eon. She sucked in air, every muscle in her body tensed for flight. Words can’t hurt me, words can’t hurt me. She silently repeated the mantra she’d practiced for years in her head. She just wished her body believed them as much as her mind wanted it to.
The Marshals moved a fraction of an inch closer, reminding her they were there to protect her. Slowly, she exhaled, sat straighter and lifted her head.
Jacob Strict, the Grand Prophet of the People’s Militia Movement, inhaled deeply. Only five feet eight inches tall, he appeared to double his height with the breath he took—a trick she’d watched him practice in front of the mirror for years. Slowly, he scanned the faces on the jury, his throng of supporters, and then the faces of his victims’ families.
Finally, his gaze locked on hers. His eyes narrowed. He’d lived by one simple code for as long as they’d known each other. An eye for an eye—total retribution, no matter how large or how small the infringement.
She returned his stare without flinching. She’d be damned if she’d let him see her fear. From the moment she’d walked into the police station, half-starved and nearly frozen to death, she’d known her testimony would seal her own death sentence.
After a moment that seemed like an eternity, he spoke. “The chains of this illegal government cannot hold me. Soon I will be free. Then nowhere on this earth will provide safe haven for the traitor among us.”
Rachel Weisz would be my candidate for casting as Sarah Strict/Katie Myers
If you’re going to have a known villain at the beginning of a book, I figure he ought to be really creepy.
So this is Sarah Strict facing her own personal nightmare. Because of the threat to her she has to go into Witness Protection and had to change her name. It is a lonely life, but one she’s grown used to. She’s finished her education and now works as a night nurse in a hospital nursery. She meets our hero by-the-book Highway Patrolman Matt Edgars when he finds her asleep at a stop light one morning on her way home from work. She’s mortified when he makes her take a Breathalyzer test and can’t wait to get back to her apartment:
Katie let herself into her apartment and closed the door. For a moment she stared at the main room’s monkish austerity.
House and Garden material it wasn’t.
She kicked off her tennis shoes, standard work shoes for nurses even in winter, and dropped her backpack on the threadbare chair. Flopping down wearily on her couch, she heaved an exhausted sigh.Man, what a night.
First, premature twins were born, which she had to stabilize for transport to the children’s hospital downtown in
Columbus. Then, three other newborns added to her already burgeoning nursery.
To top it all off, that patrolman found her asleep at the traffic light. Could anything be more embarrassing?
And why did he have to be so darn handsome? Tall, with dark hair and serious, but kind, hazel eyes. When he’d awakened her, she’d thought she was still in some sort of dream, because men that handsome didn’t notice her in real life.
Katie sat forward with her face in her hands and groaned.Having to take a Breathalyzer test. She prayed he hadn’t decided to run her license plate or issue her a ticket. She groaned again. From his uniform to his strictly-by-the-book manner, he screamed good guy. The last thing she needed in her life right now was a guy, good or otherwise.Well, this holiday season couldn’t get any worse, that was for sure.
A shudder ran through her body. Yes, it could get worse. The Family could find her.She pushed herself off the couch and headed to the shower, stopping first to turn on the electric blanket. She hated getting into a cold bed after working all night.
Stripping in the bathroom, she shivered before stepping under the steaming water jets. The hot water pounded on her aching back muscles as she lathered on the gardenia-scented body wash. It was her favorite thing to indulge in. No matter that no one else would ever enjoy the scent of it on her body, some things a girl just did for herself.
When the shower grew cold, Katie stepped out, shivered and toweled off. She pulled on her flannel pajamas, and a pair of thick socks. She liked the room cold, but her bed and body warm. Since working nights the past five years she’d discovered it was the only way to get any real sleep during the day, that and turning the phone ringer off.
Finally, she crawled into her bed, and let out a long breath. Tucking one pillow under her leg, she turned onto her side and stared at the bedroom’s bare white walls.She’d called this one-room apartment home for nearly six months. Other than her father’s picture sitting by her bed, she’d left no personal mark on it. How could she when she knew she’d have to leave on a moment’s notice?She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a home of her own.
For the past decade she’d moved from place to place, never putting down roots, never having a real home. She’d never been able to trust anyone to become her friend, either. Besides, anyone who dared get close would be in grave danger.
She exhaled long and slow, then wiped at the wetness stinging her eyes.How much longer can I bear this loneliness?People complained all the time about their dysfunctional family holidays. If they only knew. Next week was Christmas, and if the Family found her, it would be murder.
Matt is smitten. His sister and brothers have always believed he “didn’t have a romantic bone in his body”. He knew they were wrong, he’d just never found the right woman to love and protect. Something about the wariness in Katie’s eyes touches him deep inside. What he doesn’t realize is there’s a good reason for all of Katie’s barely concealed fear:
For the first time in a long time, he’d met a woman he couldn’t get out of his mind. It was stupid to be hung up on a woman with whom he’d had a ten-minute conversation, during most of which she’d been pissed off at him.
He blew out an exasperated grumble.
If he was smart he’d turn his truck around and head home. He’d been lucky enough to draw Christmas Day off, as well as the day after. After his shift today he needed to finish his shopping for his parents then drive down to their house for the family gathering.
That’s what he’d do, turn around and forget about hoping to find Katie Myers again.
Coming to the traffic light where he’d stopped to help Katie, he put on his signal to make a left turn. He waited for the light to turn green. He believed in obeying traffic laws. He couldn’t give tickets to drivers for doing something he’d done–illegal U-turns among them.
Don’t know who this model is, but he’s definitely my image of Matt Edgars!
A white van appeared from out of nowhere from his right side. It turned in front of him onto Route 3 toward Columbus, and sped away.
Matt nodded to himself. There was a prime example. If he’d been on duty, he’d bust the idiot. Out of habit he glanced at the retreating vehicle’s rear plates. Pennsylvania.
As the light turned from red to green, a flash of light on metal farther up the road caught his eye. Curious, Matt switched off his turn signal and drove past the light. The road sloped downhill, revealing a familiar green Jeep sitting on the shoulder. He ignored the pleasure that surged in him, seeing her vehicle. As he drove closer he noticed the car leaned at an odd angle. Then he saw the flat rear tire, and Katie kneeling to study it.
He pulled in behind her car. She stood, a mixture of relief and embarrassment on her face.
“Are you okay, Miss Myers?” he asked as he walked between the two vehicles.
“Um, yes. Officer…” She looked a little confused as she searched her memory for his name.
So much for making a big impression last week.
“Matt Edgars. But please call me Matt.” He glanced down at the tire, then back at her. “What happened?”
She pointed down the road, holding her hand out and waving it with some frustration. “It just happened a few minutes ago. The steering became wobbly and the car was hard to control.”
“You’re sure you’re not hurt? You didn’t hit your head or anything, did you?”
He searched her face for any signs of injury. For a moment, he stared into her eyes. Fear, loneliness and something darker swirled in their depths. He had the greatest urge to wrap his arms around her and hold her for a moment.
Then she blinked and lowered her gaze. “I’m alright, really.”
Taking a deep breath, Matt stepped back. “Let’s get your spare and jack. We should have this changed in just a few minutes.”
“I could call a tow truck,” she said as she opened the trunk. “I hate to put you out.”
“You’re not putting me out whatsoever.” He lifted the tire from the truck then reached in for the jack. He put the jack together and slid it in front of the flat tire. “And a tow truck would take forever on a Sunday. Not to mention Christmas Eve.”
“It is Christmas Eve, isn’t it?” She sounded startled by the information.
He popped off the hubcap and handed it to Katie. Then he hunkered down and loosened the lug nuts slightly with the lug wrench. He glanced at her. “Don’t tell me you forgot?”
She shrugged. “I guess I’ve been too distracted at work to think about the holidays much.”
After he jacked the car’s fender off the ground he removed the nuts, tossing each into the upturned hubcap Katie offered him. He grinned at her. “You’ve done this before.”
“Once or twice. I was helping my stepfather once and I lost one.” A shadow passed over her features. “Using this technique, I never lost one again.”
She liftedthe hubcap to collect the bolts, holding herself just beyond his reach as if she suspected he might attack her. Even though they were strangers, he didn’t like the idea she didn’t trust him. Matt shook off the uneasy feeling and concentrated on fixing her flat.
Once he had the old tire off and the new one in place, he lowered the car back to the ground. He lifted the flat tire back in the jeep when something caught his eye. Laying the tire back on the ground he studied it. The tread was barely worn.
“Are these new tires?” He ran his fingers along the deep tread.
“I had them replaced last spring.” She leaned down to watch him. “Why?”
“Most flats occur with old tires that have little tread left on them. It makes the tire more vulnerable to road hazards.” Matt’s fingers touched over a hole. His index finger slipped inside. He leaned over to look closer. “What the heck?”
“What’s the matter?” Katie peered around his arm.
Matt sat back on his heels. “Tell me again what happened just before the car became hard to steer.”
She nibbled on her lower lip while she considered his question. The sight of her teeth pulling on the soft flesh held him mesmerized.
“I was heading home, listening to the radio. Loud. I didn’t want to fall asleep again.” She blushed when she glanced back at him.
“So you didn’t hear anything?”
“I heard a pop. Then I had to concentrate just to keep the car on the road. For a minute I thought it would flip over.”
“I’m not surprised,” he muttered, sticking his finger back in the hole. Except for some jagged edges, the hole’s circumference was an almost perfect circle around his finger. A nagging sense of unease inched its way along Matt’s spine.
Katie leaned close, her lips pressed tightly into a thin line. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Instead of answering her, Matt lifted the tire. On the other side he found a larger hole, one with the reinforced steel and rubber poking outwards like a small explosion.
“What?” Katie grasped the tire’s other side, to help support it.
Matt looked into her eyes. “Someone shot out this tire.”
There you have the story. One creepy villian, one hit man, one strong heroine with tons of baggage, one by-the-book hero with baggage of his own. Toss in some explosions and gunshots, a few friends, some dead bodies, some Ludlum-like plot twists, sexual tension from page 3 on and poof! HUNTED was born.
What do you like in your romantic suspense? Do you like equal parts suspense and sexual tension like HUNTED and KIDNAPPED? Or do you prefer more suspense, less sexual tension? Do you like strong heroines? Do you prefer the hero be the focus of the book? Or do you want to see them come together as a team?
I hope you’ll find something in that combination to lure you into reading HUNTED. I am giving away 2 Amazon gift cards to two commenters today. You can check out HUNTED at http://amzn.com/B008GAS6XE or at
Posted in Columbus Ohio, cult leader, hit man, Romantic suspense, Suzanne Ferrell, Witness Protection