What do you do with a tied up Ranger? EXCERPT from UNTAMED

    This weekend — after a work week of 12-hour days — I will be sitting down to finish what (I hope) is the last chapter of Untamed. I say "I hope," because sometimes you just can't fit into one chapter what you need to fit into one chapter, and making it any shorter but cutting out scenes makes it feel rushed or choppy. And since I'm already over, pretty much every page means another page might have to be cut somewhere else. So I hope this is the last chapter.

    And then there's the epilogue, of course, but that's the part of the story I always love the most. I just love seeing the hero and heroine living their well-earned Happily Ever After. As a reader, I get to savor the happiness of characters I've come to love and watch all the pieces slide into final place for them. As a writer, it's my way of giving every bit of fulfillment to characters whom I cherish — and to my readers.

    For me, that often includes proof that the hero and heroine's union is a rich and fruitful one, i.e., babies. I know it sounds corny in this day and age perhaps, but the ultimate outcome of a happy sexual relationship between a man and woman is children. Not tons of children, okay, but children. In historical times, this was also the inevitable outcome of sex. I also like to tie up any loose threads and give the hero and heroine "bonuses," such as Marc getting his old Chevy back.

    What do you love/hate about epilogues? Have you ever read a purrfect epilogue?

    And what would you do with a tied up Ranger? In one of our previous excerpts, Amalie allowed herself to explore his anatomy, running her hand over his chest and abdomen to feel all those muscles. She thought he was asleep. Well, he wasna. So what's she going to do with a tied-up Ranger today?

    Read to find out...

    From Untamed

    Amalie stepped carefully around mud puddles as she made the long walk to the hospital, so lost in her own thoughts that she scarcely noticed the rain-fresh scent of the morning breeze or the bright blue sky or the soldiers at morning muster. She had hoped to be free of this duty. She had hoped to be free of him. Now that he was out of danger, she’d hoped never to see the Ranger again. She’d asked Bourlamaque to let her return to her customary duties, but he’d refused to release her.

    “Monsieur Lambert tells me Major MacKinnon asked about you yesterday evening. He believes MacKinnon has warmed to you. You might yet be of some use to us in the infirmary.”

    “But he is healing and no longer needs—”

    Bourlamaque had cut her off. “Continue to tend him, as you have done so well. But now that he is awake, be attentive. Listen to him, and then report back to me all that he says.”

    “You wish me to… to spy on him, monsieur?” The idea had seemed so absurd to Amalie that she could scarce speak it.

    Bourlamaque had chuckled. “Non, sweet Amalie. It is not in your nature to deceive. I wish only for you to be exactly what you are—young and beautiful and innocent. He is a man who has seen much war, a man who knows he has come to his end. In his despair, he will seek solace in your gentleness. He will trust you and tell you things that he would never tell me. All you need do is inform me each day of all that was said. Can you do this?”

    Ashamed of her own reluctance after all Bourlamaque and the men at Fort Carillon had done for her, she’d nodded. “Oui.”

    Oh, how she wished Bourlamaque had not asked this of her! How could she explain to him that caring for the Ranger had already left her feeling beset by blame? Must she now compound her guilt by spying upon him? For that’s what it was no matter how delicately Bourlamaque had tried to paint it. She was to soothe his desperation with kindness in order to win his trust, then report all he told her to her guardian.

    But why should the Ranger tell her anything? In her experience, most men deemed women unworthy of purposeful conversation, let alone confidences.

    She opened the hospital door and stepped inside, giving her eyes a moment to adjust. A small fire burned in the hearth, chasing away the early morning damp. Two of Monsieur Lambert’s young attendants bustled about, one cleaning chamber pots, the other gathering soiled linens for the laundresses. Six soldiers lay on their little beds, some sleeping, all but one of them still recovering from the Ranger attack.

    And this was what she needed to remember. Major MacKinnon had commanded the Rangers who’d harmed these men. He’d attacked this fort, and not for the first time. He had French blood on his hands—perhaps even her father’s blood.

    One of the attendants turned toward her. “Bonjour, mademoiselle.”

    “Bonjour.” She walked between the beds to the supply cupboard and took out two rolls of fresh linen, refusing to notice the beating of butterfly wings in her belly.

    You have no reason to fear him, Amalie.

    All she had to do was tend his simplest needs—food and drink—and listen considerately while he spoke. It was a uncomplicated task, not difficult at all. So why did she feel like running away?

    She walked to the back room, found the door slightly ajar, and heard a man’s voice coming from within.

    “If you think this is painful, major, wait until the Abenaki—”

    Amalie pushed open the door to find Lieutenant Rillieux bent over the Ranger, the heel of his boot pressed cruelly against the wound in the Ranger’s thigh. Jaw clenched in obvious pain, the Ranger glared at him with undisguised hatred, but didn’t make a sound.

    Aghast, she rushed in. “Monsieur! Que faites-vous?”

    What are you doing?

    Startled, the lieutenant jerked his leg away and turned toward her. A slow smile spread on his face. “I am just giving him the merest taste of what is to come, mademoiselle. It is better he be prepared, non?”

    He spoke in English, his gaze shifting to the Ranger, who glared up at him, sweat beaded on his brow, a dark bruise spreading on his right cheek.

    The Ranger’s voice was a growl. “Do your worst, you neach dìolain!”

    Outraged, Amalie answered Lieutenant Rillieux in French. “You go too far! Did you not understand Monsieur Lambert’s orders that the prisoner was not to be abused?”

    Lieutenant Rillieux took a step toward her, his smile gone. “You forget your place, mademoiselle. I do not answer to Monsieur Lambert, nor do I answer to you.”

    But Amalie refused to let him intimidate her, no matter that the look on his face frightened her. “In the hospital, lieutenant, Monsieur Lambert’s word is to be obeyed. It is cruel and cowardly to strike an injured—”

    The lieutenant cut her off. “You are in a fort in the midst of war, little Amalie, not in your convent! Here, military concerns prevail, not the frail sentiments of women.”

    Fisting a hand in her hair, he ducked down and pressed his lips hard against hers, the contact painful and frightening—and mercifully brief.

    Amalie was so shocked that it did not occur to her to push away until after he’d released her and walked out the door. She drew a trembling hand to her mouth and tried to wipe his taste away.

    # # #

    Morgan watched the poor lass wipe the violence of that bastard’s kiss off her lips and wished to God he had the strength to break iron. There’d be one less Frenchman walking the Earth if he could. “Did he harm you, Miss?”

    She whirled about with a gasp, her fingers still pressed against her lips, her eyes wide. For a moment she simply stared at him, and Morgan found himself wondering if he’d slipped and spoken French to her.

    Have a care, MacKinnon.

    He’d understood every word of their conversation, of course, and it had only served to inflame his rage. The lass was an innocent, raised in a convent, and she’d been trying to protect him—only to suffer ridicule and ill use.

    You are in a fort in the midst of war, little Amalie, not in your convent. Here, military concerns prevail, not the frail sentiments of women.

    Morgan would liked to have kicked the bastard’s teeth down his throat for touching her, then tossed him on his arse for insulting women. Morgan knew a great many women, and few of them were frail-minded. Had the planning of this war been in the hands of his Muhheconneok grannies, it would likely have been won by now. But he could not let on that he’d understood lest he lose the only advantage he had—listening in on their conversations.

    At last Miss Chauvenet shook her head. “He merely startled me.”

    Morgan’s blood still boiled. “No man has the right to treat you thus. You should report him to Bourlamaque.”

    Spots of pink appeared in her cheeks, and he realized she was ashamed that he had witnessed her humiliation. “Lieutenant Rillieux is a… good officer. I have wounded him. H-he wishes me to be his wife, but I… I have no interest in marriage.”

    And then Morgan had to ask. “Are you pledged to the Church?”

    She bowed her head. “Were it not for this war, I should most likely have returned to the abbey at Trois Rivières by now.”

    At once Morgan felt a both sense of loss that so beautiful a woman should spend her grace on the Church and strange surge of relief to know that no man would ever have her. “I am sorry.”

    She raised her head, met his gaze—then frowned. “Let me tend your face.”

    “Is it so bad then?”

    She did not answer but hurried to the bedside table, poured water from the pitcher into a wooden bowl and dipped a clean cloth into it, a look of concern on her face. “He struck you. You are shackled and injured, and he struck you.”

    “Dinnae fret, lass. I wager I’ll suffer worse ere I leave this place.”

    Abruptly, she stilled, the sodden cloth in her hands dripping water into the bowl. Then she seemed to catch herself. She squeezed the cloth out, but her motions were wooden, her face giving play to her distress.

    So, the thought that he would be beaten upset her.

    Morgan would remember that.

    Without a word she pressed the cold cloth to his right cheek, the chill bringing relief from the sting of that whoreson’s fist—Rillieux she had called him.

    He watched her as she bathed his cheek, his gaze seeking out the details of her form. The dark and delicate sweep of her lashes. The soft curve of her cheek. The fullness of her lips. The slender column of her throat. The gentle swell of her breasts beneath the lace of her bodice. The silken length of her hair. And her scent—fresh linen, lavender and woman.

    She is promised to Christ, you lummox.

    Aye, she was. And he to Satan.

    ’Twas then he remembered what he’d planned to say to her. He’d thought through the words all night, shaped them in his mind. ’Twas time to speak them. “’Tis sorry I am about your father, Miss Chauvenet. If I could call back the ball that stole his life, I would.”

    She met his gaze, a look on her young face that might have been astonishment—or anger. When she spoke, her voice quavered. “H-how can you speak to me of him?”

    “There’s naugh’ I can say to ease your grief. I ken that. But I am deeply sorry that you should suffer, and I ask your forgiveness.”

    Unable to breathe, Amalie looked into the Ranger’s blue eyes and saw only sincerity. It was the same earnestness she’d seen in the eyes of wounded soldiers who’d asked her to pray for them—the naked honesty of men who knew they were about to die and sought to make peace with the world.

    As upset by the Ranger’s unexpected apology as she was by Lieutenant Rillieux’s loathsome kiss, she turned away, at a loss for words. She dipped the cloth back into the water, only vaguely aware of what she was doing.

    How dare either of them! How dare Lieutenant Rillieux kiss her, knowing full well that she did not wish to marry him! And how dare the Ranger ask her forgiveness! He hadn’t trodden upon her foot, after all! He and his men had slain her father, stealing the joy from her life, filling her nights with grief and loneliness.

    “What kind of man are you, Major MacKinnon?”

    “Just a man.”

    His humble answer shamed her. In God’s eyes he was just a man, oui, but here on Earth he was a British officer, a Ranger, a legend among both his people and hers. But now he was in her care, a wounded man and condemned to die. And he had asked as respectfully and gravely as any man might for her forgiveness.

    How could she deny him and yet call herself Catholic?

    Without forgiveness, Amalie, there can be no peace.

    The Mère Supérieure’s stern voice echoed through her mind.

    Amalie slowly turned to face him, the damp cloth in hand. He was watching her, his gaze gentle, a strange contrast to the fierceness of his appearance—bruised cheek, shackles, beard, warrior marks. “I… I loved him very much. He was my only real family. He was killed last summer in the first attack while I was here in the hospital helping the wounded. I thought for a time that he had survived, but—”

    “Sweet Mary, you were here during the battle?” He stared at her, his blue eyes filled with what could only be dismay.

    She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded, looking down at her hands, trying not to remember that terrible day.

    “Och, lass, ’tis sorry I am that you should have seen it. War is bloody and cruel. It makes monsters of men. ’Tis no place for a woman.”

    “It was awful.”

    “Aye, that it was.”

    Something in the tone of his voice made her look up, and she knew by the lines on his face that he had his own terrible memories. “You lost someone, too.”

    “Aye, many. Good men and true. They died for nothin’, pawns in a war not of their makin’.” The last words were spoken with a measure of bitterness.

    She understood bitterness. “I have hated the Rangers since that day.”

    He grinned — a sad, lopsided grin. “And do you hate me?”

    “I have tried to hate you, monsieur.” She lifted her chin, fighting to ignore the way his smile touched her. “But I fear I have not succeeded as I should have liked.”

    He chuckled, a warm, deep sound. “Dinnae judge yourself too harshly. I’d wager there is little hatred in you, and ’tis hard to loathe an enemy you have helped to heal.”

    She looked into his eyes and wondered how he saw through her so clearly. “Oui, Major MacKinnon, I forgive you. May God rest my father’s soul.”

    And a weight she hadn’t known she was carrying lifted off her shoulders.

Marc in music — an Unlawful Contact playlist

    Hi, all,

    Sorry to be MIA again. It's a really busy time at the paper for the next couple of weeks, so my energies are very drained. Plus, I'm trying very hard to finish Untamed within the next two weeks. Bottom line: I'm falling behind on everything.

    But here's the playlist I promised. If you haven't read Unlawful Contact there are some major spoilers here. So read at your own risk!

    Part of writing a convincing story is for the writer to feel every bit of emotion that the characters feel. That means the writer has to be present in the story, breathing and feeling through the characters. I try very hard to feel exactly what they're feeling, to the degree that if they're afraid my heart rate goes up, too. To do this, I have to manipulate myself and seek their "energy" anywhere I can find it.

    Music is the single most important inspiration I have, in addition to the stuff in my own sick and twisted imagination. I am always hunting for new tunes, expanding what I listen to and letting the music spark emotional reactions inside me that I can channel into writing. The only genre of music I won't listen to is country, because all it inspires is a desire to plug my ears and run away. But hip hop, rock, metal, classical, Celtic, blues — all of these take up lots of space in my iTunes, which is why I was so desperate to retrieve my iTunes when my last computer died.

    For those of you who love music, I've put together a play list with notes of key songs that influenced my emotions when I was writing Unlawful Contact.

    Remember, there are spoilers! And have fun sampling if you haven't already heard these.

    “When I’m Gone,” 3 Doors Down from Away from the Sun

    Notes: The first time I heard this song, it personified Marc for me, particularly his sense of self and his longing for Sophie, knowing he’s not good enough for her and wanting her anyway. I felt it also captured the “no happy endings, not for us” reality of their relationship, the idea that one way or another his freedom and his life with her was going to be very, very short. This was such an important song for this story, keeping me focused on the hopelessness of their situation.

    Key lyric:
    So hold me when I’m here
    Right me when I’m wrong
    Hold me when I’m scared
    And love me when I’m gone
    Everything I am
    And everything in me
    Wants to be the one
    You wanted me to be

    “Here Without You,” (acoustic version) 3 Doors Down

    Notes: This obviously fed the emotional thread of Marc longing for Sophie over a 12-year period, particularly in prison where all he had to conjure her back was his mind, his memories. For me, it represented Marc's deep loneliness during his six years in the slammer.

    Key lyric:
    A hundred days have made me older
    Since the last time that I saw your pretty face
    A thousand lies have made me colder
    And I don’t think I can look at this the same
    But all the miles that separate
    Disappear now when I’m dreaming of your face

    I’m here without you baby
    But you’re still on my lonely mind
    I think about you baby
    And I dream about you all the time
    I’m here without you baby
    But you’re still with me in my dreams
    And tonight it’s only you and me

    “Savin’ Me” Nickelback from All the Right Reasons

    Notes: I love this song. It came into my life as a Julian song, full of that dark energy that motivates him—his sense of utter worthlessness, his being trapped in some ways by his own past, his fear of confronting the darkness inside him. Then, somehow, the song morphed into a Marc song, and in that incarnation the connection was very clear, as Marc was in prison. Both Julian and Marc are “saved” by their love for a particular woman and her love for him. This song freaking rocks.

    Key lyric:
    Prison gates won’t open up for me
    On these hands and knees I’m crawlin’
    Oh, I reach for you
    Well I’m terrified of these four walls
    These iron bars can’t hold my soul in
    All I need is you
    Come, please, I’m callin’
    And, oh, I scream for you
    Hurry I’m fallin’, I’m fallin’

    “Where Do I Hide” Nickelback from Silver Side Up

    Notes: Another pretty obvious Marc song. Though Nickelback really needs to brush up on the reality of the U.S. criminal justice system — sorry, the journalist in me is nitpicking for accuracy — the idea of a man on the run and looking for vengeance that feeds this song helped feed my “Marc as criminal badass” mood.

    Key lyric:
    Got a criminal record, I can’t cross state lines
    First on the bad list, and you’re last on mine
    Lookin for a scapegoat, long past due
    Walking down the aisle, staring straight at you

    “Worthy to Say” Nickelback from The State

    Notes: This song really captures the whole underground drug culture element of fear—of wondering which one of your friends turned narc on your ass, though creating the song around marijuana instead of, say, coke or meth or smack is kind of funny. What I liked about this was its sense of the street. I could see Marc checking all of Megan’s known hideouts, walking the “shooting galleries,” i.e., places where heroin addicts shoot up and bliss out, and following her pusher/boyfriend to his home on Race Street to kick his ass.

    Key lyric:
    They’re growin dope everywhere around the block
    You can smell it
    You can tell by the way they talk
    Somebody stole five for gasoline
    Who told ya, Who told ya

    “Better Than Me,” Hinder from Extreme Behavior

    Notes: No explanation needed, really. This highlighted Marc’s deep sense that he was only destroying Sophie’s life by being a part of it. Aimee turned me on to Hinder. Thanks, Aimee!

    Key lyrics:
    But I remember
    What it feels like beside you
    I really miss your hair in my face
    And the way your innocence tastes
    And I think you should know this
    You deserve much better than me

    “Cocaine” Eric Clapton

    Notes: Really, it’s just the entire song — the drug theme. And coke is, of course, the drug Marc was accused of stealing and selling as a DEA agent

    Key lyric:
    If you got bad news
    You wanna kick them blues
    When your day is done
    And you wanna run

    “Closer” Nine Inch Nails from The Downward Spiral

    Notes: I love how raw and unapologetically sexual this song is. I felt that Marc found escape from his past with Sophie, particularly when they shagged…

    Key lyrics:
    You let me violate you, you let me desecrate you
    You let me penetrate you, you let me complicate you
    Help me I broke apart my insides, help me I’ve got no soul to sell
    Help me the only thing that works for me, help me get away from myself
    I want to fuck you like an animal
    I want to feel you from the inside
    I want to fuck you like an animal
    My whole existence is flawed
    You get me closer to god

    “A Time for Us,” the love theme from Franco Zeffarelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1969)

    Notes: This was Marc’s “death” theme. I put it on repeat and listened to it for probably eight non-stop hours as I wrote that particular scene. A very poignant song, written for “Romeo and Juliet,” it encapsulates the bittersweet experience of star-crossed love. I had to believe the worst was going to happen to write that scene the way it needed to be written, and this son enabled me to manipulate my emotions to do that. I cried the entire day.

    Rather than putting in key lyrics, here’s the entire song:

    A time for us, some day there’ll be
    When chains are torn by courage born of a love that’s free
    A time when dreams so long denied can flourish
    As we unveil the love we now must hide

    A time for us, at last to see 
A life worthwhile for you and me
    And with our love, through tears and thorns 
We will endure as we pass surely through every storm 
A time for us, some day there’ll be a new world 
A world of shining hope for you and me

    And with our love, through tears and thorns 
We will endure as we pass surely through every storm 
A time for us, some day there’ll be a new world 
A world of shining hope for you and me

    A world of shining hope for you and me


    Notes: These are largely action-scene themes, songs that capture the energy of an Alpha hero in action.

    “Spybreak” Propeller Heads from the soundtrack to The Matrix
    “Clubbed to Death” Rob Dougan from the soundtrack to The Matrix
    “Jerusalem Poker” Bruce Cockburn from Life Short Call Now

    Do you have any songs that make you think of Marc? Does music make you think of books at all? What music do you think I should hear?

    Post and share some tunes (hint: no country) and I'll give away another signed copy of Unlawful Contact.

Unlawful Contact hits Bookscan's Top 100

    I just wanted to pop in and share some great news. Unlawful Contact is on Bookscan's Top 100 for Overall Romance. Right now it's No. 89, but hopefully, with word of mouth enthusiasm, it will continue to climb.

    It's nice to be on a list that includes Nora Roberts, Deb Macomber, Julie Garwood and so many other fantastic, bestselling writers.

    Also, earlier this week the book was No. 16 for Borders Group Inc. for romance bestsellers.

    Thanks, everyone, for your great support!

Help me name my new baby

    It's a MacBook!

    But I haven't named it yet, and my mind is so full of other things that I can't seem to think of a cool name for my speedy new computer. And this thing is fast! Hooked up to my broadband, it's the fastest machine I've had. Not that it will make me write any faster, but hey...

    So here's today's contest. Help me think of a name for my new computer. The winner gets a signed copy of Unlawful Contact plus samples of "Marc" and "Sophie." (The perfume is probably as close as any of us will get to sniffing the real man, so might as well go for it, right?)

    To help you help me, here's a brief history of my computers and their names.

    The first computer I owned on my own was a Mac Centris 610. It's name was R2D2. I wrote Sweet Release on R2D2, and I loved it. Remember, it took me seven years to write my first book, so I was with that computer almost as long as I was married. However, the Internet came along and made it obsolete. It was still functioning perfectly when I had to let it go and got...

    An iMac, which I named Enterprise. Enterprise still works, but it's so outdated that I use it only in absolute emergencies. It can't read the files from my other computers, but it can, in a pinch, connect to the Internet. I wrote Carnal Gift and started Ride the Fire on Enterprise.

    Then I got my iBook, which I loved! I finished Ride the Fire on the iBook, which, because it was portable and could go wherever I went, I very cleverly named Strider, in honor of The Lord of the Rings Films and Viggo Mortensen, who is extremely sexy and, best of all, part Danish. (Dejlige Danmark!)

    But my iBook died in the line of duty, after helping me produce Ride the Fire, Extreme Exposure, Surrender, Hard Evidence, Unlawful Contact and most of Untamed. It deserves a decent burial, so I'm recycling it through Apple.

    Now I have this sweet little MacBook. It's smaller than the iBook but much speedier. I haven't even come up with a name that interests me, but the name is important because I spend more time with this machine — I spend more time touching it — than I do any living human being.

    My sons have already run with the Star Trek theme, so Star Trek-related names — I'm a hardcore Trekkie deep down, though I've never worn a costume, thanks very much — are probably out. And George Lucas ruined Star Wars for me with the second trilogy.

    Next post: Music that is Marc to me
    Coming soon: A preview of Untamed

And the winner is...

    The winner receives a signed copy of Unlawful Contact plus samples of these two perfumes designed for the book!

    Sorry to have disappeared! Not long after I posted this blog, my trusty computer — a wonderful iBook that had been my most constant companion since Ride the Fire — bit the dust. I lost lots of files, including emails, but managed to have my iTunes salvaged. Hallelujah!

    Needless to say, between getting up and operating again and extra work at the paper — our biggest edition comes out three weeks from today — I've slacked off on bloggery. And I've left you hanging!

    So, the winner through random drawing, is... Rachel!

    Congrats, Rachel! Your signed copy of Unlawful Contact and your samples of "Marc" and "Sophie" perfumes (I'm wearing "Sophie" today) will be in the mail soon!

    Stay tuned for more contests.

    Next: Marc in music — my playlists for Unlawful Contact and which songs helped me bring Marc Hunter alive.

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