by Kara Leigh Miller & Jody Holford
February 21st, 2016
They can pretend they’re fine…
Moving to NYC is supposed to be the fresh start Kristy Andrews so desperately needs, but she can’t seem to shake the after-effects of having been kidnapped last year.
Detective Jackson Reed never meant to kill an innocent man, but knowing that doesn’t change the guilt he lives with every single day.
But they can’t hide forever…
When Kirsty and Jackson meet, the connection is instantaneous, but neither is ready to open up about their pasts. Can love and trust conquer their demons?
In order to have a future, they’ll have to face their past…
When Kristy starts receiving threatening messages, her anxiety kicks into overdrive, but the last thing she wants is Jackson worrying about her.
Jackson may doubt his ability to return to active duty, but he has no doubts about his instincts concerning Kristy. Someone is trying to hurt her, and he refuses to let that happen, even if it means going back to work; something he wasn’t sure he’d do.
As the threats increase, Jackson shows Kristy that strength doesn’t mean facing her fears alone, and Kristy shows Jackson that forgiveness starts from within. Can they save each other before it’s too late? Or will the past come back to haunt them?
Kara Leigh Miller
Kara lives in Upstate New York with her husband, three kids, three dogs, and three cats. When she’s not busy writing romance novels, she’s spending time with her family or attending one of her many writer’s groups. An active member of The Romance Writers of America and the CNY Writers Haven, Kara is also Managing Editor for Anaiah Press’ Surge and Romance Imprints. She absolutely loves to hear from her fans and fellow authors, so feel free to drop her a line anytime!
Jody is a wife, mom, reader, and a writer. She is also a blogger and follower, a word twister, and a Gemini.
Kristy turned up the dial on the mini heater she kept under her desk. She ignored her buzzing phone and scrunched her brows as she re-read the lines she’d highlighted in the report. A headache blossomed at the base of her skull.
“Want a coffee?” Brianna asked as she walked past Kristy’s cubical.
She looked up, smiled at her new coworker. “No thank you.”
“Oh, you have a heater.” Brianna stepped closer, and Kristy fought the urge to lean back.
“A room full of scientists and we can’t figure out the thermostat.” Kristy forced a laugh.
“Yeah. It’s the building. I always dress in layers.” Brianna shrugged and wandered toward the break room while Kristy mentally chastised herself for not having better social skills. She used to. But that was before everything changed.
She flipped to the back of the multi-page document. Preliminary trials on a new blood pressure medication had gone very well. She’d actually been the one to open the file in the Chicago office almost twelve months ago. She’d been happy to take it over when she arrived at the New York office. But what she was reading didn’t jive with the original results.
Several follow up trials revealed that lab mice experienced signs of dizziness, vomiting, and loss of appetite. In the most recent trial, 177/ 230 mice showed one or both of these symptoms within six weeks of their original doses.
New medications often came with side effects, but such severe symptoms after several trials concerned her. Regardless of what the drug could do, pushing it forward didn’t sound promising. She placed a sticky note next to the numbers just as Brianna returned.
Biting back a sigh, Kristy smiled and made eye contact. She couldn’t avoid everyone. Brianna leaned a hip on Kristy’s desk as though they were old friends. “You settling in okay?” “Yes. Other than it being cold in here, it’s been good.” Wracking her brain for a polite question, she asked, “What are you working on right now?”
Brianna tucked a strand of her brown bob behind her ear. The thick, black glasses she wore were somehow geeky and cool at the same time.
“A new sugar substitute. Looks good so far. It’s into its fourth trial. It’ll give people something to argue about other than the effects of aspartame,” Brianna said.
This time, Kristy’s laugh wasn’t forced.
Brianna glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’ve got to get back to it. Let’s grab lunch one day this week.”
“Sure. That’d be great.” The words left Kristy’s mouth before she was sure if she meant them. She let out a deep breath as Brianna went back to her own desk. Thoughts of lunch with a colleague shouldn’t make her insides twist. Hanging out with anyone other than her family and her best friend Alessa sent pinpricks of unease along Kristy’s skin, but she didn’t know why. Hanging out was normal, and she’d never been a hermit. She was still getting settled after her move and didn’t have time for new friends. Excuses. But why was she making them?
Setting her coffee down, she told herself uncertainty about new people was normal. Caution never hurt anyone. Neither did a little faith. Maybe if she’d had more of both last year, she wouldn’t have been taken. Pushing that thought away took a lot of effort. She repeated a mantra in her head: I am fine. I am safe. The words took some of the edge off, but not all. Why couldn’t she let herself trust that things would be okay? Maybe because she still hesitated over things like this.
“I’ll go,” she whispered the silent promise to herself. She’d go out and have fun with someone new. Maybe she’d invite Alessa. Needing to get out of her own head, away from the doubts over something so mundane, she flipped open the file again. She read through the entire document once more before emailing her boss with her concerns.
* * *
Kristy leaned back in her chair and stretched. She glanced up at the clock, surprised it was already 5:55 PM. She’d worked through half of her emails—only to have another dozen show up—and made her way through two straightforward files. Her phone rang, and she was happy to see Alessa’s name on the screen.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Alessa’s voice was loud in Kristy’s ear but made her smile. She’d missed Alessa when she moved away and was glad to be back in the same town.
“Just finishing up some files. You?”
“We just got home from the ultrasound.”
Kristy smiled, picturing Alessa’s face, giddy with excitement. Her friend had been through so much and deserved the happiness. She knew what Alessa was doing with the silence, and it made her laugh. “Are you going to tell me?”
Alessa giggled. Actually giggled, and Kristy leaned forward on her desk trying to imagine the last time she’d felt so much happiness. For herself.
“Nope. I’m actually not.”
“You’re such a tease.” Kristy laughed. A couple of colleagues waved on their way out, reminding her of the time. Listening to Alessa talk about how she wanted to keep it a surprise but wasn’t sure if she could, Kristy eyed the folders she still wanted to get to. Hesitating, she finally shoved them in her bag.
“You heading home?” Alessa asked.
Yes. Do you need anything?”
“Actually, Josh has to go back to the clinic for a bit, so he’s going to drop me at the church. I’m trying to organize the door prizes and decorations for the singles’ dance,” Alessa said.
Kristy shut down her computer and pulled on her jacket. Her phone beeped when she held it in the crook of her neck and for a moment she worried she might’ve inadvertently hung up on Alessa. But then Alessa sighed, signaling she was still on the line. “You want help?”
“I’ll bring food.” Alessa’s voice was sing-songy, and Kristy rolled her eyes. But her stomach growled at the same time.
“You know the way to my heart.” With her bag and purse slung over her shoulder, Kristy waved goodnight to the few people still testing and reading. Brianna waved, a friendly smile in place. “I’m leaving now. See you soon.” Kristy said a quick goodbye before tossing her phone into her purse.
Once on the subway, Kristy tried to ignore the smell of the large, dripping sandwich a man was eating two seats behind her, and instead let her thoughts wander to her personal life. Why was she so reluctant to reach out and widen her social circle? She didn’t want the answer to be related to what she’d endured with Raymond, the disgusting jerk who’d kidnapped her, knocked her around, and planned to do all manner of horrid things to her as a way to get back at her best friend. She shuddered thinking of him, seeing his face in the recesses of her mind. She pulled her purse tighter, hugging it to her chest as the train jostled her forward in her seat.
She’d put all of that behind her and had much to be grateful for; she didn’t want the memories bogging her down or holding her back. She needed to move forward. Figuratively and literally, she thought, swallowing down the nausea roiling from the smell of the man’s sandwich. She stood at the next stop. The church wasn’t much farther, and as soon as she was off the train, she walked at a quick pace.
Because the silence of the quiet street was too much for her, Kristy spoke aloud, to herself. “See, Mom. I’m spending all of my time at church.” Maybe not for praying, but she was doing well, hanging out with a friend, and she enjoyed feeling like she was part of something. In the back of her mind, she thought of Brianna’s lunch invitation. She’d asked more than once now, but Kristy had continued to say no. Until today. Which had been a slip of the tongue. Or just the guilt of always saying no. The soothing sight of the church came into view. She’d never envisioned herself spending so much time in a church. But, she had to admit, aside from being with her friends, which brought her a sense of calm, being there gave her a sense of peace. A freedom to let go of negative thoughts and worries. Or maybe that was because Alessa kept Kristy so busy helping she didn’t have time to obsess.
Letting herself in, she inhaled the scent of vanilla candles and wood polish. Kristy unbuttoned her jacked and walked the aisle. The sound of Alessa humming in the room Pastor Ethan, or Ethan as Kristy called him, used as an office filtered out to Kristy. She smiled. On the other side of the church, there was a sitting room that led to a large rec center area where they held dances, special events, and receptions. The size of it still amazed her.
“Hey you,” Alessa said. Standing at a fold up table loaded with an assortment of goods, her best friend smiled warmly. The gesture pushed away Kristy’s earlier concerns.
“Hey yourself.” Kristy embraced her, and then looked down at Alessa’s protruding belly, unable to contain her grin. “I say boy.”
Alessa laughed. “Why’s that?”
Taking off her jacket and tossing it and her purse on the small loveseat in the corner of the office, she scanned the table. “Because there’s a fifty percent chance I’m right.”
“Very scientific, Dr. Andrews,” Alessa said, mock seriousness in her eyes. “I do what I can. These things look great, but I believe you promised food.” Kristy looked around the office. It was homey and quaint, no doubt thanks to the added touches of Amanda, Pastor Ethan’s wife and Alessa’s sister-in-law.
“And I always keep my promises.”
Alessa walked behind the desk and pulled out a small cooler. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail, and her youthful face reminded Kristy of when they had met in high school. So long ago, and yet, nothing had changed between them. Regardless of time, distance, love interests or vengeful psychos, their bond had always held.
Alessa unloaded the cooler onto the dark, heavy-grained wood. Egg salad sandwiches, grapes, carrots and dip, strawberries, cans of soda, and of course, chocolate. Kristy opened the container of strawberries and popped one into her mouth, shaking her head at the sheer quantity of food.
“What? My appetite has picked up.” Alessa snagged a ripe strawberry.
“I’ll say. Not that I’m complaining. Being around you while you’re pregnant means I’ll never starve.”
They opened the sandwiches and sat on the desk to eat before getting to work. Kristy played with the tab on the soda can for a moment before blurting, “Brianna asked me to go for lunch again. I accidently said yes. But the thing is, I don’t really need more friends. I have you guys and Amanda and Ethan. Brianna’s nice, but maybe work should just be… work.”
Alessa took a bite of her sandwich. “From what you’ve said about her, Brianna seems nice. And you spend a lot of hours at work so even if you don’t want to be friends outside of your office, it doesn’t hurt to have someone there you can go to or count on. What’s the big deal about grabbing lunch?”
“I don’t know.” Kristy shrugged, not sure she wanted to get into it. Even though she’d opened the conversation by telling Alessa about the invite when they’d spoken earlier, she no longer wanted to talk about her overly friendly co-worker.
“You’d tell me if you weren’t okay. Right?”
Kristy looked at her friend, who glowed with pregnancy. Alessa had married Josh right after the ordeal with Raymond. She’d put herself back together, one beautiful piece at a time. Now she was having a baby with the man she loved. No traces of trauma, of flashbacks, or nightmares. She’d embraced her faith more since being with Josh. Or maybe since finding him.
“I’m fine. Stop worrying about me.”
“Can’t do that. Sorry. It’s in the best friend handbook. Worry about bestie becoming introverted is right after must always bring ice cream in times of need.” Alessa smiled around a handful of chocolate almonds.
“Hmm. I saw the ice cream and fully support it, but must have missed the other. And I’m not becoming introverted. I’m busy. I’m settling into a new job, a new apartment, a new life. I see you and Josh and Ethan and Amanda all the time.” Kristy took her wrapper to the garbage and began sorting through the goodies on the table. Gift cards, chocolates, books, and movie tickets were just some of the choices.
“You get all of these donated?” She glanced over her shoulder to where Alessa was leaning back on the couch, still watching her with concern in her pretty, brown eyes.
“Yes. The community is very supportive. Kristy, it happened to me, too. You can talk to me. I want you to talk to me.”
Busying herself by separating the more expensive prizes, she ignored the tightness in her chest. “I’m fine, Alessa. And it happened mostly to you. I was just collateral damage. He was after you, not me. I should be asking you if you’re all right, but it’s pretty clear you are.”
Tears stung her eyes, and she didn’t look over when Alessa came to her side.
“You’re who Raymond took. Yes, I was the reason, and I live with that every day.”
“Alessa, that’s not what I meant.” Kristy turned to her, blinking away the tears.
“I know. But it’s true.” Alessa’s voice was low. She put a hand on Kristy’s arm. “We all have lingering feelings about what happened. But I have Josh, and I feel like you have no one to open up to.”
“I have you.” Kristy gave a watery smile and went back to her task. “But you won’t talk to me.”
“Because nothing is wrong.” Before she could apologize for snapping, the door of the church whooshed open and thudded closed. Alessa checked her watch. “Josh isn’t due yet.” She frowned.
Kristy patted Alessa’s hand. “I’ll go check.”
Leaving before Alessa could answer, Kristy let out a shaky breath. She was fine. Or she had been, until she locked eyes with the man who stood in front of her. Easily over six feet tall with dark, mussed hair, he stared at her with a scowl on his face, his eyes narrowed. His gaze moved over her, traveling all the way down, then back up to lock onto her eyes again. His expression didn’t soften one bit as he took a step forward. His bulky jacket made him look bigger, wider than he probably was, but it was his attitude and the way his eyes seemed to see everything at once that made the space seem smaller, airless. Electric. Kristy waited to feel fear or anxiety at the sudden appearance of a stranger, particularly one with such a sneer on his face and a presence that tangled her tongue.
“Is Ethan around?” His eyes were alert and pensive, but his voice sounded like he’d just woken up. Raspy. Thick. Intriguing. The thought surprised her as much as her reaction to him had. “No.” He arched an eyebrow, waiting, but no way was she saying more than she had to. The quickening in her pulse made it very clear she was overtired and not in full control of her judgement.
“Do you know when he will be?”
“No.” She shook her head for emphasis. His lips quirked slightly. Then he looked past her to where Alessa stood in the doorway.
“Ethan will be back in the morning. Is there anything we can help you with?” Alessa asked, apparently unfazed by this man’s presence. To be fair, she did have a good-looking, loving husband of her own. Or maybe pregnancy had made her blind. Could that happen?
“Thanks. You ladies shouldn’t be here late at night by yourselves. Anyone could walk in.” He looked back at her.
Kristy stifled her laugh, thinking he wouldn’t appreciate it, but arched her own eyebrow at the statement. Before he could say anything more, Alessa spoke, stepping toward them.
“My husband is due any minute to pick us up. Do you want to leave your name? I can let Ethan know you were here. He’s my brother-in-law.”
“And it’s not that late,” Kristy said, her tone almost defiant. Heat rose to her cheeks when Alessa gave her a funny look.
“I’ll catch Ethan tomorrow. Please don’t stay here much later by yourselves. It’s really not safe.” His gaze never left hers.
Kristy and Alessa watched him leave. When Kristy pulled her gaze away from the door, Alessa grinned at her. “What?”
Alessa laughed and turned back to the office. Kristy followed her, awareness and irritation fighting inside of her. “Oh nothing. Hot man got your tongue?” “Shut up,” Kristy said, making Alessa laugh harder.
“Do you want to get this done or not?” She started wrapping and labeling door prizes while Alessa selected items for a gift basket.
“Bet you’d meet him for lunch,” Alessa said a few minutes later, breaking into another fit of giggles. Kristy threw ribbon at her and smiled. “No. I wouldn’t. I don’t need more friends.”
“Honey, you weren’t looking at him like a friend.”
Her throat tightened, but she kept her smile firmly in place. “I don’t need any more anything. How about that? Let’s finish this before Josh gets here.”
Alessa let it go, and Kristy was grateful. But later that night, after Josh and Alessa had dropped her off at her apartment, she wondered if she had lied to her friend. Maybe she did need more. Want more. The problem was, the thought of admitting that sent enough fear to the pit of her stomach to push the thoughts far away, like she did her nightmares.
Swimming in a Crowded Pool
How to Stand out Among Millions
Jody Holford & Kara Leigh Miller
We often talk about how to best market ourselves, both as co-authors of Jaded Love and Dangerous Love and also as individual authors with our own books. We send each other links and articles on suggestions and tips from others and research how to build a platform.
What we’ve found though, is there might not be one right way. Another thing we’ve started to realize, and this is a hard one, is that the key to success might be just to, as Dory put it, “Just keep swimming.” When we started writing together, we had our own websites and Twitter handles. We each had a Facebook page. This was all BEFORE we had launched our book together.
Definitely on the right track according to all we’d read: build a platform, make authentic connections, be a “real” person on social media. But we still didn’t know if that was enough or the right direction to promote sales.
Sometimes the old adages are the truest: slow and steady. Once we released Dangerous Love, the real marketing began and as reviews started to come in, we had something we could build on. To use another well-known phrase: word of mouth. We connected with bloggers and reviewers online in Facebook groups and had great success there.
For Jaded Love, it feels more like we’re building on an already existing platform. We have readers who enjoyed the first book that will be eager to pick up the second. Readers love a follow up…at least, we do. To us, as readers, there’s nothing better than knowing the characters you fell for are appearing in another book. When you’re not ready to say goodbye, it’s good to know you don’t have to.
We still spend a lot of time talking about what the best route is and how in today’s publishing world, authors have to do so much marketing and this can come as a surprise. Most of the authors we know are have expressed a similar feeling about having to “promote” yourself. It’s hard. It’s really hard to say, hey, we wrote this book, can you buy it? Review it? Suggest it? For me, personally, that can sometimes be harder than writing the book. We’re proud of what we did but we also don’t want to ‘oversell’ ourselves and become annoying.
How do you find the balance? How do you do right by your books and not push people away?We aren’t one hundred percent certain about the answers to those questions but here’s what we try to do, hoping we’re on the right track: write good books that people enjoy and connect with and readers will want to tell their friends about. Be genuine and professional online. Give back– the writing community is so welcoming and helpful…to be part of that, we try to help other writers in any way we can– sometimes it’s just retweeting or sharing a post. But it matters. We’re in this together. Don’t forget why we’re doing this– we love writing and reading.
In the end, we don’t know the right way or if there’s only one. But we’re hoping that, slow and steady, we’ll build an audience and make them happy with the characters and the stories we share.
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