Kay Thomas & Hard Target

olp_2496d_final_headshot_medOne of the pleasures of being a Bandita is to have the privilege of inviting some of our favorite writers and good friends to visit with us here in the Lair. Today I have one of my favorites visiting, Romantic Suspense author Kay Thomas, to talk about her new series Elite Ops for Avon Impulse and the debut book HARD TARGET.

Pull up a bar stool or chair, and since it’s winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, I thought we’d have some mulled wine or hot chocolate, your choice, and help me welcome my friend, Kay Thomas!

Suz: Welcome back to the Lair, Kay! So how did the idea for the Elite Ops series come about?

Kay: Thanks so much for having me today, Suz. It’s always a pleasure to be in the Lair, even when the cabana boys are wearing turtlenecks instead of swimsuits.

The idea for the new series and for Leland Hollis, the hero of Hard Target, was a combo kind of Eureka experience for me. I’ve shared here before that my son has Aspergers. About four years ago, he was working with a new social skills therapist who was in the process of changing careers. This man had left the DEA and was starting his own security business while also working with special needs kids. Quite a combo, right? I was fascinated by what would take someone from such a challenging, busting-down-doors job to teaching my seventh grader how to talk about his feelings. Conversations there definitely started my wheels turning.

At the same time my son was working with this (did I mention he was gorgeous?) guy, my critique partner gave me an article from The Atlantic magazine about a gentleman who goes into Latin American countries to recover children who’ve been kidnapped by non-custodial parents. The article combined with those earlier conversations got me to thinking some more, and the concept for Hard Target came from there. But I realized I couldn’t just write Leland Hollis’s story and be done with that world.

I started wondering what if instead of just one sexy guy, I had a whole company of men and women with backgrounds that were ex-military or ex-DEA and who wanted to start their lives over again and work in the private sector. The idea kept percolating and the Elite Ops team was born.

Suz: What do you like best about your hero, Leland Hollis? What drove you crazy about him?

Kay: I love that Leland is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Anna Mercado safe, even if it means driving her away. Her 9780062290847-2_medsafety is far more important to him than her thinking he is a nice guy. When the book opens Leland is rethinking a lot of things in his life. He’s disillusioned with the career path he’s chosen and knows that he doesn’t have all the answers. Basically, he’s looking for redemption and finds it in helping Anna and her son. That kind of searching humility is very appealing to me, and the whole badass-southern-boy-with-a-heart-of-mush persona makes me melt. 

The thing that drove me crazy about him was something I did to myself when I created his character. When the book opens Leland is recovering from a drug bust gone horribly wrong and he’s wearing one of those walking boot casts. I’ve had to wear one of those myself, and I thought at the time that I was being oh-so-smart in “writing what I knew.” What I didn’t consider was how awkward that boot would be if one was on the run from a Mexican cartel, traipsing through the jungle and um…having sex.

Suz: The heroine, Anna Mercado of HARD TARGET, has quite a lot on her plate in the way of trouble, doesn’t she?

Kay: Indeed she does. When we first meet Anna, she is on a vacation with her estranged husband and teenaged son the weekend before the boy’s scheduled heart surgery. She’s agreed to this “faux family” trip to Mexico because her son Zach has been waiting for over a year for a heart transplant that hasn’t come and is about to have an heart pump installed. Zach’s been begging for them to all spend time away together despite his parents’ separation, and because of his serious health situation Anna says yes. While in Mexico she overhears her soon to be ex planning her murder.

Here’s the back cover copy that gives you a little more detail….

Former DEA agent Leland Hollis wasn’t planning on being a hero. Recovering from an injury sustained during a drug bust gone wrong and with more personal demons than he cares to admit, he wants nothing more than peace and a chance to rebuild his life. But when Anna’s crazy ex shows up wielding a nine iron, Leland can’t ignore his instinct to help. After her son is kidnapped, Leland agrees to deliver the ransom into dangerous territory south of the border.

Anna has no choice but to go with this stranger she’s just met if she ever wants to see her son again. But getting the boy out of a violent cartel region involves risking everything. And for that Leland will have to convince Anna to do the scariest thing of all…open her heart and trust him.

Suz: We’ve heard stories before here of your “hands on” research gone wrong…rock climbing ring a bell? (Please, someone ask her about that!) How did you research HARD TARGET?

Kay: You’ll be happy to know that I’ve now learned my lesson and do my “extreme research” online only! That said there are some fascinating places I would love to visit, virtually—places I would never dream of buying a plane ticket to. Hard Target takes place in extraordinarily remote locations in Mexico and one area in particular where drug cartels are quite active. I have no desire to do a live research trip there, but on-line I’ve made a wonderful discovery: You can find English speaking expat bloggers in pretty much any place you’d like to set a story.

For me that means finding someone who has documented their experience of moving from their “first world” life to a third world country and has written all about how that exposure to a dramatically different way of living and looking at the world has changed them. Some folks are in their adopted countries for a few weeks, maybe a year, others arrive and decide never to leave.

Regardless of the length of their stay, I find very similar themes in most of their stories: what they notice first about being immersed in a new culture, what they miss about their old life, what they appreciate, what they find fascinating and freeing about their new home. These are many of the things my characters would think, feel, or experience if they were travelling to the same area for the first time.

These eye-opening travel logs have introduced me to places I’ll never physically visit, even for a day. With the Elite Ops series I’ve found that where I set something will sometimes depend specifically on what kind of blogs I can find on-line. For Hard Target I found a blog with you tube videos.

An older California couple had moved several years ago to the area of Mexico I was writing about before it became so dangerous. They drove their airstream RV into the jungle and just decided to stay. They have fascinating videos of the terrain, the people, festivals, towns, and parks.

I’m not sure I’ll ever want to move across the globe to a totally different way of life, but I’m definitely up for a virtual trip and learning as much as possible from folks who’ve “been there, done that.”

Suz: Since we’re coming up on Christmas, what would you give Leland and Anna for Christmas?

Kay: I’d give them a spa vacation in Hawaii—away from bad guys and hospitals. They could even take Zach along, if he could have a separate room in their luxury hotel suite.

Suz: What’s next in the Elite Ops series?

Kay: Each book in the series stands alone and focuses on a different agency member, but the stories are very much connected with a common villain and a mystery arc that deepens as the series progresses.

Personal Target, book 2 in the Elite Ops series is about a case of mistaken identity and a very personal vendetta against former SEAL/CIA operative, Nick Donovan. From Dallas to Mexico, across the African Savanna, to the shores of the Mediterranean—it’s a race against time for Nick to save the woman he loves but lost years before.


Excerpt for HARD TARGET:

This is a scene from the first chapter of HARD TARGET where the heroine, Anna Mercado, overhears her estranged husband, Max, talking on the phone.

“Take Zach from the party before the guests arrive. We won’t dump her body until the designated time. It’s all been arranged.”

Anna stopped in the doorway of the Presidential suite, her husband’s words abruptly penetrating her lust-fogged brain.

“No, I’m not worried. Haven’t you heard? Mexico is the land of vicious drug cartels and random violence. My wife will be a sad statistic.”

Was this a dream?

She felt the cold Italian marble beneath her bare feet and recognized Max’s voice in the adjoining room, but she didn’t wake up. The seductive words he had whispered moments earlier on the beach still resonated in her head.

The only thing I want you to wrap yourself around is me.

She’d come up immediately when Julia had volunteered to get Zach and the cousins’ meals from the hotel’s beach grill. But on the way to the room she’d been calling herself all kinds of a fool. She and Max were on the verge of officially separating even though they’d been living apart for several months. The counseling wasn’t working. Having sex was a terrible idea. Even comfort sex.

Yet he’d been so attentive, so different on this trip. So anxious to please her, while keeping his temper completely in check. Last week she’d been considering which attorney to use in a divorce. Now she was just grateful she was standing here overhearing his phone conversation in the next room.

Her thoughts raced and her blood chilled, but her feet were glued to the imported floor. She stared across the opulent suite’s living room to the open balcony doors. The heir to the Mercado Tequila fortune settled for nothing less than the finest, even when planning his family’s demise.

An ocean breeze blew through the room, ruffling her hair like a playful lover. The Gulf of Mexico was just as blue as it had been ten minutes ago when Max kissed her on the sand, yet everything had changed. She was listening to her husband order their son’s kidnapping and her murder. 


While we’re on the subject of far flung locales and vacation spots— here’s my question to you: If you could visit anywhere for a day by just snapping your fingers and being there, where would you want to go? I’ll pick TWO random commenters for an e-download and a print copy of Hard Target. Be sure to sign up for my Kindle Paperwhite Rafflecopter too!

Book trailer

You tube: http://youtu.be/hklqkbsnkXk

Rafflecopter Kindle Paperwhite…ends December 9 HTML code a Rafflecopter giveaway


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  • Helen says:

    Is he coming to my place

    Have fun

  • ki pha says:

    Welcome back Kay!!!! LOLOL You research are just hilarious! Rock climbing….Ha!

    But if I were to go anywhere with the snap of my fingers….London. It’ will have to be, well, actually the Versailles in Paris. Yup, that’s it. I love museums and that’ll be the place to go.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hey Ki Pha,
      It’s great to see you here. Ah, I’d adore going to London, especially right now around Christmas time. And I’ve never been to France but would love to go. I’d definitely want to spend more than just a day there though. : )

    • Hey Ki!

      Love both your choices, but I think London would take me more than one day. The Versailles? Yeah, that would be one day…all day!

  • Amy Conley says:

    North Island of New Zealand without any questions.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Amy!
      All the beautiful pictures I see of New Zealand make me want to visit there…again for more than just one day.

    • Hey Amy!

      Ookay, I have to ask…why the North Island? I know it’s beautiful, but is there some specific reason for that island itself?

      • Amy Conley says:

        I have a best friend, whom I’ve never met, who lives there. We met 14 years ago in a chatroom and figured we were sisters of the heart because we have so many things in common.I know I’d want more than 1 day, but I’d take it.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Kay

    Wow I do love the sound of this book I definatly want to read this one 🙂
    Oh and yes what did happen with rock climbing I would live to know sounds like on line research might have been safer

    There are a lot of places that I would live to visit but the Scottish highlands is top of the list 🙂

    The weather is lovely and warm here today the shopping has been done sobthr GR can enjoy himself

    Have fun

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hey there, Helen!
      I hope you’ll let me know what you think if you get a chance to read HARD TARGET. I sure had fun writing it….as to that rock climbing saga. The long story is….I wanted to rock climb because a character in a book I was writing was going to and I was convinced the only way to really write rock climbing was to experience it. Dumb, dumb, dumb….yes?

      My agent begged me not to do this because she was concerned I could get hurt, but I wouldn’t be deterred. I settled on a local rock climbing gym and after a wonderful afternoon of climbing and wondering what the big fuss had been about, my equipment malfunctioned and I fell about 10 feet in front of my husband and son landing flat on my back. I scared everyone to death and really did a number on my back the week before RWA’s National Conference. After that I promised myself no more “extreme research.”

      The Scottish Highlands sound amazing and I know after watching the new Outlander series I’m REALLY going to want to go.

      • Helen says:


        That sounds very painful and ver scary best to stick to on line research glad you are OK 🙂

        Have Fun

        • Helen, it was pretty scary, especially for her hubby and son to watch, but boy I was impressed the level of research to which Kay would go for her books!!

          • Kay Thomas says:

            It’s pretty funny now, because I’m the most unlikely person to ever do rock climbing in real life…nOt athletic or dare devilish at all. I really took that experience to heart when I wrote HARD TARGET and opted for everything “online.”

    • I’d hop a plane and meet you there, Helen, but I think it would take me more than a day to see all I’d want to see….Kilts?

  • Mary Preston says:

    I would actually go & visit my Mother, even though I have just come back from a visit. Since my father’s death earlier in the year she is very lonely.

    The upside is that she lives on the Sunshine Coast , QLD. As the promos say – Beautiful one day, perfect the next.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Mary,
      I’m sorry to hear about your Dad. I know the first holidays without loved ones can be particularly difficult. I’ll be thinking of you and your mom this Christmas season. I live 8 hours from my parents and my mother always says that’s about four hours too far….Over the years I’ve wished I could just snap my fingers and be there many times….

    • Shannon says:

      I’m with you about being near Mom. I’m doing that now, and it’s a gift. Not to say that sometimes I want to explain that I’m 53 and have driven for over 30 years; amazingly, I haven’t said that to her. It’ll be hard to leave next Thursday, but that is when there’s supposed to be a major snowfall. I’m loving the sunny weather in in the teens (that’s F not C).

      • Kay Thomas says:

        Safe travels to you….and yes, my mom wants me to call her whenever we are driving back from visiting them in Mississippi also. She worries. I guess we never stop doing that do we, even when our kids are grown? Enjoy that “sunny” weather. We had an ice storm here in Dallas last night. The trees are bent and all the school are closed. So grateful we still have power although several transformers have blown in the neighborhood in the past 12 hours or so…Looking out the window it’s remarkable how the ice is coating EVERYTHING.

      • LOL, Shannon. When I’m home and driving, Mom will tell me, “Now you need to get over in that lane to turn left (or right).” Then she stops herself and says, “But you probably already knew that.”

        I smile and say, “That’s okay, I don’t mind the reminder.”

    • Hey Mary.

      I’m sorry to hear about your dad. Since we just lost ours a little over a year ago, I’ve been heading home more too. 🙂 Like you, I’d love to be able to click my fingers and just pop in for a visit with mom. What a great choice!

  • Sandy Bartles says:

    I would love to go back to Anchorage, Alaska, to visit with family I haven’t seen in a while.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Sandy!
      Great to see you here. I’ve never been to Alaska but it is definitely on my list. My parents and sister have both been on cruises there and they raved about how beautiful it was. How fun to have family there!

    • Hey Sandy!

      Right now Anchorage isn’t on my list…I have enough cold and ice outside. Now come July? Yeah, I’d go in a heartbeat!!

  • Minna says:

    Well, as I’m looking at all that cold, white stuff on the outside, I would love to go to Hawaii.

  • Minna says:


    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Minna!
      It’s lovely to see you again! I adore Hawaii. We took a family vacation there a couple of years ago…to the main island and had an absolute blast. They have so many different climates on that one island with the huge elevation difference. I’d like to go there but definitely for longer than a day.

  • Sandyg265 says:

    I’d choose Austrailia

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Sandyg265,
      Oh yes, Australia! Another one of those most-wanted spots to visit on my list….I think I need to get started on that snap-your-fingers-and-be- there machine cause I have so many places I’d love to see.

    • Hey SandyG!

      Australia would be cool, but I’d be specific. I’d want to do lunch with Anna C, Christina and Annie West!!

  • Maureen says:

    Congratulations to Kay on her new series and book! If I could only visit for a day I would pick London. I think I would be able to see several things with only a day.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Thanks Maureen…I appreciate the congratulations. Yes, London. What would you want to see in that one day? The Tower, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster? So many fascinating things to see there.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Thanks Maureen…I appreciate the congratulations.
      Yes, London. What would you want to see in that one day? The Tower, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster? So many fascinating things to see there. This conversation is reminding me of that movie “Jumper” about the guy who can do the “snap your finger and be there” thing…fun action adventure/fantasy movie.

    • Hey Maureen!

      I loved HARD TARGET. It gave me a “book hangover!”

      And yea on another vote for London!

  • Laurie G says:

    I’d love to visit Budapest, Hungary. My in-laws came from Hungary. They talked a lot about it’s beauty, the people and their customs.

    I will look for your book. I can’t imagine overhearing your husband talking so complacently about your own murder! The adrenaline starts flowing, going into overdrive..how to escape?

    • Shannon says:

      Oh do go! I spent a week there–5 days for a conference and 2 days playing. It’s a wonderful city, old and new. Do take in a concert, the music was fabulous. When I got tired of touring, I stopped in the most marvelous water park and watched the children and families.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Laurie G (and Shannon!)
      I’m so glad Hard Target sounds interesting to you…I too have heard travelers “rave” about Hungary. How fascinating to have family there. I hope you get to go and search out that background.

    • Hey Laurie!

      I’ve always thought Budapest would be a wonderfully cool city to visit, even for a day!

  • Shannon says:

    I spent a year in Cairo Egypt once, and took the opportunity to see everything (except the Sinai–was sick every time that came up; concluded God did not want me to see the burning bush). Everything meant Alexandria, Heliopolis , Sakara, Luxor, and Aswan.

    A year anywhere? I second London. But I also would love to base out of Italy and get to Switzerland, Greece, and Spain. I’ve also heard the Adriatic region (Albania: Deti Adriatik, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenego) is beautiful but politically difficult.

    • Shannon says:

      Silly me. I re-read the question–a day anywhere, not a year. I’m greedy when it comes to travel.

      • Kay Thomas says:

        HI Shannon…
        I think a year sounds perfect….that way you’d really get to know and experience a place and not be rushed. There is just too much to see otherwise, right? My husband and I talked about his taking short term (1-2 year) overseas assignments with a couple of different companies he has worked for over the years but circumstances with life and family were never conducive when the opportunities arose. Would love to maybe try that now with our kids almost grown. You experience a place in a completely different way when you live there vs being a tourist, don’t you?

    • Hey Shannon!

      I’m thinking if I spent one day in Egypt, I’d want to see the pyramids and the markets.

  • Donna M. says:

    I appreciate how much work authors put into making their subject matter authentic. I usually go off and research things that I read and new to me. This has led to some face reddening online searches. 😉

    As for travel, I want to experience the aurora borealis and aurora australis in all their glory.

  • Misty Clarkson says:

    Kay right now anywhere warm and without snow cant stand the cold so Hawaii would be perfect and if u choose me print book would be great

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Misty,
      Thanks for stopping by. I agree….a beach sounds pretty awesome right now. Cabana boys would make it ideal. : )
      Stay warm this weekend.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hi Catslady!
      I hope you’ll enjoy HARD TARGET.
      Ahh….Palermo! The pictures are amazing…That is actually my husband’s and my dream trip. We’re hoping to go in the next year or so. My daughter took a wines course over there her senior year in college (culinary student). She came back with such amazing stories. I’ve wanted to go to Italy ever since I first saw the Robert Downy Jr movie, “Only You.”

    • Good choice, Misty! I’d add that I’d like to be in Hawaii when they’re filming Hawaii Five-O! 🙂

  • catslady says:

    I love debut books!! As to one place I would have to pick Sicily because all my ancestors on both sides of my family came from there. I had a niece that went last year and she found relatives still there – you know those big Italian families lol. They also life right outside of Palermo which is now a big resort so a nice place to visit too.

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Whoops….Catslady, I put your reply in the wrong place. Here it is again. : )

      Hi Catslady!
      I hope you’ll enjoy HARD TARGET.
      Ahh, Palermo! The pictures are amazing. That is actually my husband’s and my dream trip. We’re hoping to go in the next year or so. My daughter took a three-week wines course in Italy her senior year in college (culinary student). She came back with such amazing stories. I’ve wanted to go to Italy ever since I first saw the Robert Downy, Jr/Marisa Tomei movie, “Only You.”

    • Catslady, You’re gonna love HARD TARGET! Be prepared to read straight through it!!

      I’m not sure about Sicily, itself, for just a day. I’d love to go to Italy though! Now see, I’d need a week!

  • Joan Kayse says:

    Welcome back, Kay!

    Hard Target sounds exciting!

    Rock climbing? A bell???? Wouldn’t that be bell climbing???

    Heard you and Suz were doing ICE climbing today! Kentucky is starting to get it and I’m prepared…brownies and kitty cats snuggled in my lap..and your book.

    • Glad to know you have your priorities in order, Joanie! Brownies and cats. Good way to stay warm in this weather!!

      I’m drinking hot hibiscus tea! Yummy!!

      NO ICE CLIMBING for Kay or me!!!

    • Kay Thomas says:

      Hey there, Joan! I hope Hard Target keeps you nice and toasty….along with your kitty and those brownies. You stay safe and warm, I know this crazy weather is coming your way if it’s not there already.

  • Cassondra says:

    Hi Kay and hi Suz!

    Kay, your excerpt is wonderful. Now I want this book.

    I’m so sorry you had a bad experience rock climbing. That’s not the norm and I hate that for you. But I admire your dedication to research, and love that you’ve found resources like your bloggers. Very cool!

  • bn100 says:


  • Donna M. says:

    I appreciate how much work authors put into making their subject matter more authentic. I usually go off and research things that I read that are new to me. This has led to some face reddening online searches. 😉

    As for travel, I want to experience the aurora borealis and aurora australis in all their glory.

  • I love that excerpt, Kay. Imagine what a frightening thing it would be to hear your murder and your son’s kidnapping being planned. Raises ex-husband to a whole ‘nother level!

    My place to visit in one day with a snap of my fingers. London, baby, London! I know I couldn’t do it all in one day, but I would cram as much as possible into that one day – the John Soanes house, the National Gallery, Hatchards, Apsley House!

    A one day Bandits raid on London would be EPIC !!

  • Jo Robertson says:

    Welcome back to the Lair, Kay. I love the story of how you got the idea for HARD TARGET. I have a grandson with Asperger’s and God bless the folks who work with these kids.

    Hmmm, I’d have to say Paris — I’ve been longing to go there forever — but I’d really, really want more than one day.

  • Kay Thomas says:

    Hi Jo
    Thanks for dropping by. It’s been great to be back today….I agree the folks who have worked with my son have been amazing! He would not be where he is today (nor myself and the rest of our family) without the help and care from those special needs caregivers whose hearts are truly bigger than Texas. Best wishes to you and your grandson this holiday.

  • Kay Thomas says:

    Thanks so much to Suz Ferrell and all for having me here today. It’s always a pleasure to visit the lair. I appreciate your kind words about HARD TARGET and I loved hearing everyone’s one-day dream vacation spot picks. If you ever get that Bandita blitz tour going for London, I want to come, too! Wishing you all a very merry holiday season. Have a great weekend and as always…Happy Reading and Bulletproof Hugs.