Category Archives: Behind the Iron Cross

Surfacing

Hoo boy, this has been an insane month so far, and it’s only the 10th. In between A/C failures in both our upstairs and downstairs units (the downstairs unit was a grand to repair, so luckily the upstairs unit was still under warranty and could be fixed for free), trying to get Shifter Woods: Snarl (I typed Snark there which is appropriate — this story has been fighting me like you would not believe) finished and out the door, getting back to work on Behind the Iron Cross, and finishing up a BUTTLOAD of jewelry in a very hot garage, it’s been interesting.

Did I mention that I’m also retaining about ten pounds (seriously) of water weight due to the oncoming Shark Week and look (and feel) like I’m seven months’ pregnant? I am clearly allergic to being female. It’s supposed to start tomorrow and I can already feel the blessed hormonal shift because suddenly I have energy again and want to eat vegetables. I just vacuumed the downstairs and as soon as this rain stops and the rush hour traffic dies down I’m getting the makings for stir fry, as well as egg salad and chicken salad for the rest of the week’s lunches.

And Midol, because damn. Ten pounds, people. I’m astounded my heart is still working.

But back to writing things. I think I worked out the problem with Snarl — basically, I have a packless wolf Alpha shifter/SEAL who’s been hired by his former commanding officer to work at the family ski lodge in Esposito County. He’s also been told to stay away from the officer’s daughter. Problem is, the daughter is Wolfie’s mate, AND she lost her sense of smell so she can’t tell she’s his mate. So Wolfie is dealing with a slew of emotions — honor, duty, a sense of being unworthy due to losing his pack, AND confusion as to how to convince her that they’re meant to be together since she can’t smell it — that’s stopping him from claiming her. Then I realized I had a chance to show how shifters learn to love when they’re not being driven by the mating instinct. In Kate’s case, she’s going to think, “I don’t care what my father says, I’m an adult and I want you, PLUS I’m heir to the pack’s Alpha so Dad can learn to deal” and go after Wolfie, re-igniting his sense of self-worth and leading her to realize that they’re mates. Boom, the block evaporated.

So, yeah, Snarl should be finished this week, God willing and the crick don’t rise. Iron Cross is 75% finished so I’m going to get that done as soon as Snarl is out, with an aim to releasing it in mid August, and then it’s on to Shifter Woods: Scream (Deputy Jane’s story, where she finds out she’s mated to a hot tiger shifter/FBI agent AND a half-elf zookeeper. Because I like complicating things).

The one where I’m on USA Today’s HEA blog

Or as I like to put it, SQUEE!

USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog has me on today with an interview talking about To My Muse, where I get my ideas from (everywhere), what distracts me (five cats), and what I looked like back in the 1980s (there’s a picture. I warn you). So if you want to know what makes me, me, go on over and check it out!

In other writing news, the rights to Storm Season have reverted to me and I’m bringing out a re-edited edition of it next Tuesday, including a spandy new cover! I’m also distributing ARCs for reviews tomorrow, so if you’re a blogger/reviewer and you’re interested, DM me with your preferred ebook format/email or fill out the form here.

And finally, I’m putting the finishing touches on Shifter Woods: Snarl. The plan was to have it out by 6/12 but it got bumped by Storm Season, so you can expect to see it on 7/4. I’m experimenting with the common wisdom that Amazon promotes you more widely if you bring out a title every 30 days, so that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of the year. Right now, the schedule is:

  • June: Storm Season (Olympic Cove 1)
  • July: Shifter Woods: Snarl (Esposito County Shifters 3)
  • August: Behind the Iron Cross (historical MMF)
  • September: Uncertainty Principle (Pacifica Rising 2)
  • October: Shifter Woods: Scream (Esposito County Shifters 4)
  • November: King of Blades (Two Thrones 4)
  • December: Two Thrones holiday novella

It’s not as insane as it sounds — Storm Season is already done, SW:S is a novella and almost done, Behind the Iron Cross is 80% done, and I have the plots for all the other books and novellas already worked out. Let’s see if I can pull this off!

Marvelous Monday Reads: Heidi and the Alien Cop

Welcome to another edition of Marvelous Monday Reads, angels! You know how much I love SF romance, so today I’m featuring Jessica Coulter Smith and her new SF romance Heidi and the Alien Cop (Intergalactic Brides #12), now available from Changeling Press. Take it away, Jessica!


Heidi’s life hasn’t been easy since she dropped out of school at sixteen to have a baby. The worst mistake she ever made was moving in with her boyfriend Brent, who turned out to be an abusive bastard, but with no education and no job, there’s nowhere for her to go. Her life for the last five years has disillusioned her that happily-ever-after could possibly exist… Then he comes into her life.

When Raylic rushes to Heidi’s aid, the last thing he expects is to end up with house guests, but she and her small son, Shane, are just what he needs. They bring life to his monstrous home and make him want things better left alone. But the more time he spends with the little family, the more he wants to keep them with him forever. Even knowing Heidi is pregnant with another man’s child doesn’t stop him from wanting to claim her.

Heidi knows Raylic is one of the good guys, but can she dare trust her heart to someone again? He’s everything she’s ever wanted, but she knows wanting and having aren’t the same thing.


Story Excerpt

Heidi hoped like hell that Shane had gotten out of the house. She hadn’t heard the door open or shut but prayed her little boy had run to safety and not stayed to help her. Despite his young age, he acted like her protector when his dad got mad, which was far too often.

She placed a protective hand over her stomach as she cowered in the corner of the room. Brent towered over her, his face flush from too much alcohol and the rage that was burning in his veins. It wasn’t the first time he’d struck her, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last, unless she finally managed to escape. But where would she go? Without a job, or friends, or family, only the streets waited for her and their small son.

“Everyone was talking tonight about how you’ve been whoring around behind my back,” Brent said, spit flying from his lips.

“Brent, please. You know how rumors are around here.” She swallowed the knot of fear in her throat. She’d learned the hard way that fighting back only made it worse. When she fought back, it pushed him to the point of nearly killing her, and she had to keep living to take care of their son. She couldn’t leave him in Brent’s hands. Either her boyfriend would kill him, or he’d turn her sweet boy into a monster.

“Stupid, lying bitch. Did you think I wouldn’t hear about it? I bet that brat in your belly isn’t even mine. Who’s to say the other little snot is mine either? You just saw a meal ticket and latched on.”

“Of course, it’s yours, Brent. They both are. You know I haven’t been with anyone else.”

He backhanded her across the face again, an explosion of pain ricocheting through her cheek and rattling her brain. Another blow landing in almost the same spot nearly knocked her off her feet. She had just braced herself on the wall when another fist pummeled her stomach. Heidi cried out, her hands clutching her belly, hoping he hadn’t harmed their child. She’d tried damn hard not to get pregnant a second time by him, but the condom had broken two months ago.

She saw his hand wind back for another blow and cowered down, but it never came.

“I know humans play by different rules, but where I come from, we don’t beat females,” a deep voice said with a hint of a growl.

Heidi’s eyes went wide as she looked around Brent at the purple alien with the badge clipped to his belt. Was he a real cop or one of those Terran guards? He knocked Brent’s legs out from under him, then pressed him face first onto the floor, wrenching Brent’s hands behind his back. Her drunken boyfriend was no match for the rather brawny guy manhandling him. The alien slapped cuffs on Brent, then pulled out a cell phone.

“Dispatch, this is Officer Raylic. Can you send a car around to pick up some trash I found beating a female?”

She didn’t hear what else was said as the room spun around her. Heidi sank to her knees and tried to process what was happening. Had someone really come to her rescue? How had he known where to find her? A small hand slipped into hers, and she looked into the terrified eyes of her son.

“Shane?”

“I found a police officer, Mama. He’ll take care of us, won’t he?” Shane asked, looking more troubled than a five-year-old had any right to.

“Are you all right?” the officer asked her.

“I don’t know. He hit me in the stomach and the face.”

Shane’s face scrunched up. “What about the baby?”

“You have a baby?” the officer asked.

“In her tummy,” Shane told him.

The officer cursed. Brent took his moment of distraction to rear up and lunge at Heidi, a murderous glint in his eyes. She jumped to her feet and lashed out at him, kicking him in the shin and hitting him in the eye. The officer made a grab for him and shoved him back down. Brent fell face first onto the floor, getting a mouthful of nasty carpet. Heidi had to admit that it had felt damn good to fight back for once.

Heidi approached her boyfriend. With a well-placed kick between his splayed legs, she had him howling and cursing her all at the same time. She felt a bit of satisfaction, knowing she’d caused him pain, but it wasn’t enough. She looked at the officer who regarded her with a bit of mirth for attacking her abuser.

“Want to have another go at him?” the officer asked.

“What I’d like to do is beat him over the head, with a cast-iron skillet, until he can’t ever hurt anyone again.”

He nodded. “I probably would get into a bit of trouble if I let you do that. But feel free to kick him again. It’s just his word against mine.”

She looked at her bare feet. “It might contaminate my foot if I kick him there again. I’ve always heard if someone accuses you of cheating, they’re probably the one with the guilty conscience. No telling where he’s put that thing.”

The officer chuckled a bit. “As soon as backup arrives to take care of him, I’m going to take you somewhere safe. We’ll stop by the Terran Station first though. I want our healer to look at you. As small as you are, he could have easily broken bones or caused internal damage.”

“Thank you for helping us,” she said. “No one’s ever helped us before.”

He frowned. “Have you called the police before now?”

She nodded. “The officer who answered the call said I was overly emotional and it was just a domestic dispute. He said if he got another call, he would haul both of us to jail. It was the first and last time I asked for help.”

“Asshole,” the officer muttered. “Do you remember who it was? I’ll make sure he’s written up.”

“Officer Clarke.”

He nodded. “I can see him saying something like that. Don’t worry. Your husband is getting locked up this time.”

“We’re not married,” she said.

“Good. Then you can make a clean break when he’s taken out of here today. Do you plan to stay in this apartment?” he asked, looking around.

She knew what he’d see. Cracked walls, stained carpets, and the ugliest furniture imaginable. The place reeked of mildew and piss, and unfortunately for her, the rent was past due. It might not have been much, but it had been home for the last year. As often as they’d been late, no way the landlord would renew the lease. Not that she could pay it anyway.

“Where are we gonna go, Mama?” Shane asked.

“I don’t know, baby.”

The officer tilted his head. “Go pack your things. I was going to take you to a hotel for the night to give you some time to think things through, but it sounds like you need a more permanent solution.”

“The rent is past due here,” she said. “I don’t have a job to pay for a hotel room. Could you take us to a shelter?”

“Don’t worry about the cost,” he said in a soothing tone. “Just pack your things and be ready to go as soon as possible. Don’t leave anything behind that you want to keep.”


Where to Buy

Amazon | Changeling Press | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes


About the Author

Award-winning author Jessica Coulter Smith has been in love with the written word since she was a child. Her first stories may have been written in crayon, but now she’s a multi-published author of over seventy-five novellas and novels. Romance is an integral part of her world and spills over from her professional life into her personal one. When she went on that first date with her husband, she never expected to hear the words “marry me” pop out of his mouth–and judging by the shocked look on his face, he hadn’t meant to say them either. But, being the hopeless romantic that she is, Jessica said yes and they’ve been married since 2000.

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Welp, I passed 5000

And by 5000, I mean five thousand actual sales, not including returns (God, those annoy me because I know a good percentage of them are people who are gaming the system to read new stuff then return it and get the price of purchase back) or giveaways. And by “I” I mean Empress of Storms.

The funny thing? I honestly can’t tell if that’s good or not. Some sources say that you need to sell 10K copies, but that’s if you’re with a major publisher. Other sources say that a self-pubbed book sells 500 copies on average, so in that case I’ve done really well. I dunno, Marty. I guess all I can do is keep writing and hope people like the new stuff as much.

Lord, I just realized — I have to finish Palace of Scoundrels, Do No Harm, and Behind the Iron Cross, get those out, write The Chevalier and get that out this fall, then start researching the historical M/M romance that my BFF suggested so that I can start writing it in November. Sleep? What means this word, sleep?

Nicola’s Progress Reports

NotEnoughCaffeineSince I was poked by my buddy Peter on this:

Palace of Scoundrels (Empress sequel) – 1,645 words since I spent a fair amount of time outlining the thing. Nonetheless I’m hoping to have this done by RT — I would like to have it out and available, but that may not be possible. We’ll see.

Behind the Iron Cross – 76,039 words and I’m storming into Act Three as we speak. This one is gonna take mega editing, though.

Cross Current (Olympic Cove #4) – 3,538 words, and I came up with a refinement for my main character that is extremely organic and effective AND makes the story more diverse.

“Do No Harm” (Dark Captive antho entry for Evernight) – 1,520 words. This is the one I really have to focus on since the deadline is March 15th. It’s also the most difficult of the bunch because, well, here’s the antho description:

Dark Captive will be a collection of dark erotic romance stories featuring alpha men with fierce sexual appetites. They’ll stop at nothing to get what they want. And they have their sights on one man. Possessive and bold, these heroes give their conquests exactly what they crave—to be taken … to be owned. Any resistance offered will be tested, but in the end love rules.  

So, dubcon with a romance and HEA/HFN. Kinda hard to do that effectively in less than 25K words, but I think I found a way to make it work.

I’m also trying to catch up on some desperately needed housework in my spare time, but I think I’m breaking down and paying for a professional spring cleaning of the place after I get back from RT. My blue collar South Side soul is screaming blue murder at this, but my professional writer brain is saying, “You can spend time cleaning or you can spend time writing. Which is more productive and satisfying to you? Plus if you hire a service you’re pumping money into the economy, and you can give them mega tips to shut up that screeching soul of yours.” Works for me.

Happy anniversary to me!

storm-season_webFacebook’s Memories function has just been kind enough to remind me that three years ago today I got my acceptance from Evernight on Storm Season. My exact post on the topic was:

So, yeah, uh, I just sold my first standalone novel, Storm Season, to Evernight Publishing. Um…I’m a novelist. So what do I do now?

The answer is, write another novel, of course. Which I did, and I thank each and every one of you out there who has been buying them and chivvying me to write more. Y’all rock.

Speaking of books, writing continues apace in the Cameron manse. I’ve started on Palace of Scoundrels (the Empress sequel) and I’m flipping back and forth between that, Iron Cross, and Cross Current depending on my mood. Hey, it works for a lot of bestselling authors so why not me? But three books (plus a short story, plus another project that I’ll announce here in due time) apparently isn’t enough for my sozzled slavedriver of a muse, since she’s been prodding me to write a MF contemporary standalone like you would not believe. Thing is, it has some really deep, relevant hooks for me so I think it’s got to go on the To Be Written list (which is now stretching to 2020 and beyond).

At least it means you have lots of reading material to look forward to, right? That’s what I keep telling myself.

In other news, I’ll be at Wild Wicked Weekend this weekend in San Antonio and I’ll have print copies of Storm Season, HIS: Manlove Edition, and Empress of Storms with me, so if you’re coming and want a copy please hunt me down. This is my first romance convention where I’m a signing author, so I’m both excited and a little nervous. I’m putting together a gift basket and bringing swag, but I still have to learn the lay of the land and what’s expected from an author at such events (e.g. this ISN’T a science fiction convention so the graphic t-shirts will probably be left at home).

And yes, there will be pictures. And I’ll give you a full report on our outing to the Lair (San Antonio’s premier BDSM club). Pity I can’t wear what I wore to the Rubber Ball in London, muwahahahahaha…

Happy Tuesday

It’s Day 2 of A More Productive Me and so far it’s been going pretty well. I knocked out 3K of the Empress of Storms sequel outline yesterday (working title is Palace of Scoundrels), made dinner, did laundry and food shopping, and realized that the fingerless mitt I’ve been working on for the last year or so is way too big so I frogged that back and started over again with a smaller size. That shocks me, to be honest, because I have man hands and I’m so used to going to the largest size possible. The fact that the pattern includes a size that’s too big for me is kinda impressive.

Today’s goals — 3K on Iron Cross and finish off the Palace outline, finally get around to taking down the Christmas tree (yeah, yeah, I know I suck), crit the two manuscripts due at my writers’ group meeting tonight, finish an editing project for a friend, and see if we can squeeze in a showing of Deadpool at some point (we were going to see it on Valentine’s Day, but I took a nap after the con that turned into a coma). I also think the writing goals for the next two months are:

  • Finish Iron Cross by the end of the month, get off to the agent by mid-March
  • Finish Cross Current by the end of March, get it off to Evernight by mid-April
  • Concurrently finish Palace of Scoundrels by the end of March, get it released by mid-April (or sooner if possible).

Plus there are some short story goals scattered in there when I have time. Seems doable to me.

Why, yes, I’m still alive

songJudgingCatSorry about the extended radio silence. I was in the Chicagos for the second half of January hanging out with Younger Nephew while his mom and dad went on a very well-deserved vacation, and then while I was there YN gave me a rather juicy cold that knocked me on my ass once I got home.

That being said, the enforced downtime in bed meant that I have binge-watched a goodly chunk of Downton Abbey, Series 1-3 (damn you, my good sister, for introducing me to this between-the-wars quicksand). And may I say that I would give a pretty for a lady’s maid right now? Someone who could brush my hair, fasten my shoes, lay out my clothing and run my bath for me, especially when I feel like I’ve been hit by a car, would be absolutely lovely. Granted, I’d also have to work on getting her martyr of a husband out of jail, but I feel that would be an acceptable compromise.

That being said, I have risen from my sickbed and am now clean, coiffed, and dressed so I feel it’s time to get back to work and continue to craft the cleverly saucy erotic romances that I am known for (do you know how HARD it is to stop talking like that? Crikey…). As February has begun I’ve started outlining the sequel to Empress of Storms (working title still to be determined, and suggestions are being accepted), with the idea of publishing it at the end of March. I’m also finishing (yes, still) Behind the Iron Cross (ironically DA may wind up informing a lot of the editing), and I had a whopper of a plot development while I was in Chicago that will require me to scrap the first chapters of Cross Current. That being said, this new plot point is kinda amazing and gives the main character some real issues to overcome while he figures out what he’s doing at Olympic Cove.

Back to Empress of Storms, I’ve crunched the numbers for its first quarter and I’m very pleased to announce that it has become my bestselling title for any given quarter. From November 7, 2015 to January 31, 2016 I sold 745 copies through assorted online retailers, and made $1525.38. After deducting promotion and production costs my net income for Empress was $1227.82. Not too shabby for the first book as Nicola M. Cameron in a subgenre I’ve never written in before, hey? Moreover, it confirms my determination to continue as a hybrid author because that is obviously where the money can be made, and while I love entertaining you all I do kinda need to help Ramón keep a roof over our heads and kibble in the cats’ bellies. The nice thing is that the upward selling trend is continuing, so hopefully I can ride that for the next two months while I get out the sequel.

Oh, and the moderately fevered bingewatch of Downtown Abbey may have spawned an idea for a dieselpunk M/M series about a great estate that secretly serves as His Majesty’s first line of defense against arcane, supernatural, and paranormal attacks on the Empire, and the wolf shifter who gets sucked into all this after a brief dalliance with a man who turns out to be the estate’s heir. I’ve been describing it as Downton Abbey meets Girl Genius with a heavy dollop of Harry Potter thrown in for flavoring. It’s going to be sexy and dangerous, but with huge lashings of humor as well.

So that’s me settled for the first half of 2016!

So far January is turning out to be rather nice

I’m happy to say that the first week of 2016 has been enjoyable around Casa Cameron. Ramón is still looking for work, which is a bit of a fly in the ointment, but he’s ridiculously talented and I have faith he’ll have a job toot sweet. He’s keeping busy with various electronics stuff in his Fortress of Solitude, and we’ve received shipments of arcane computing gear that have had him grinning in anticipation. I can’t tell if he’s building a quantum computer, a transporter, or a new machine for dispensing kitty kibble, but he’s busy and that’s all that matters.

ColbyMeWholeFoodsIn personal news, my buds Karl and Colby came to town on Monday and we wound up having beer and hard cider at Whole Foods (we were supposed to have lunch at Tallywackers but it’s closed on Mondays and the WF down the street had a mini bar area in their beer and wine section) with their friend and Colby’s traveling companion Oliver. Two hours of listening to details of Colby and Oliver’s new religion, Karl talking about his plans to make a documentary about women who like gay porn, M/M romance, and the like, and laughing like drains was wonderful.

On the writing front Empress of Storms continues to sell well, I’m back at work on Cross Current and Behind the Iron Cross, and I’m mulling over the plot for an Empress sequel. I have also purchased an absolutely ridiculous amount of yarn and have four projects going in the living room alone. Expect pictures of socks, shawls, and fingerless gloves in the very near future.

And to those fellow  Eastern Orthodox folks who celebrate, Merry Christmas!

Mid Week Tease: Behind the Iron Cross #MidWeekTease #MWTease

MWTease15It’s Wednesday? Well, we all know what that means! Courtesy of the lovely and talented Sandra Bunino, I’m sharing another teaser from Behind the Iron Cross, my delightfully kinky historical MMF romance set in 1923 Berlin. Here’s a flashback sequence where an 18-year-old Kat learns what her uncle’s Parisian friend Giselle really does.

Enjoy, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!

In the aftermath of World War I, Berlin has become a hotspot of decadent pleasures, and American millionairess Kat Tracy is determined to enjoy each and every one of them with Sam Hellman, her late brother’s lover and her convenient “fiancé.” But when the two of them meet Friedrich von Bader, a former German Army officer turned reluctant prostitute, their wicked games take on a new meaning.

BtIC_coverNaNoDinner had been just as splendid as predicted, and Giselle had promised to take Katherine out at some point for tea and shopping. But Uncle William had run into some company owners at dinner and was inveigled into an impromptu business lunch the next day. Bart had slipped out of the hotel at a ridiculously early hour (or simply hadn’t come back in the first place, Katherine guessed). Her lady’s maid/chaperone Alice was pleasant enough (a huge improvement on the unfortunate Jane), but the poor woman was also a martyr to migraines. One of the dreadful headaches had struck just that morning, and Katherine had insisted that Alice go lie down in her room with a damp rag over her eyes until the dratted thing had run its course.

Which left Katherine at loose ends. She mused over the idea of visiting Notre Dame or the Louvre, but neither idea held much appeal. It wasn’t until she found one of Giselle’s letters in her trunk that a wonderful idea came to her.

It had been even easier than she’d thought. The doorman of the hotel had been more than happy to summon a large black taxi cab for her, giving the address in the ninth arrondissement to the crabbed driver. Feeling wonderfully daring, Katherine had made sure to tip the doorman, and the driver when he finally pulled up in front of the beautiful cream stone building with green shutters and black ironwork balconies full of greenery.

Surely visiting times in Paris didn’t differ that much from Bridgeport, Katherine reasoned as she went up to the large green door with its immaculate paint and gleaming brass trim. And Giselle had invited her out, after all. If the Parisian woman was otherwise occupied, the arrondissement’s collection of shops and galleries looked intriguing enough for an afternoon’s browse.

The door opened, revealing a maid in the classic black French uniform. She gave Katherine an oddly bold look, scrutinizing her from head to foot. “May I help you?”

“I’m here to see Madame Giselle, if she’s available.” Katherine held up the envelope with Giselle’s address on it in lieu of a calling card.

The maid smiled, her manner relaxing a bit. “You must be the new girl. Come in. But make sure you use the rear entrance from now on.”

Katherine frowned. The new girl?

Before she could say anything the maid stepped back, waving her through into a pretty little foyer tiled with a black and white chessboard floor and decorated with a huge arrangement of fresh flowers on a polished wooden table. The delicious scent of the flowers perfumed the air, but Katherine barely had time to appreciate it as the maid turned on her heel and headed up a flight of wide marble stairs. She had to hurry to keep up, grabbing her skirts as gracefully as possible and lifting them as she followed the maid to the second floor.

“Excuse me, I think I should explain—” Katherine tried to say as the maid stopped in front of a polished oak door.

“No need,” the maid said cheerfully. “Madame Giselle pays me very well. What happens here is no business of mine.”

Katherine tried to make sense of the words as the maid swung the door open, ushered Katherine into a little office that overlooked the boulevard. “Madame is busy with a client at the moment, but I’ll tell her you’re here as soon as they’re finished.” With a nod, she closed the door.

Boggled, Katherine turned in a circle to study the room. It held the unmistakable stamp of Giselle’s taste, from the comfortably upholstered green velvet chair behind the Louis XIV desk to the Tiffany lamps that would light the room at night. What it didn’t hold was an answer to the maid’s nonsensical phrases.

Madame is busy with a client. Katherine had assumed that Giselle, who always wore the most stylish gowns in a variety of greys and blacks, was a rich widow of one of Uncle William’s business partners. Now, however, she realized that she didn’t know very much about the elegant Parisian woman at all. Perhaps she teaches piano, or is a singing teacher. With Giselle’s warm honey voice, Katherine could easily imagine her as a retired opera singer who only took the most promising pupils. Did she think that we would look down on her for being an instructor? I can’t think of anything more wonderful and romantic than being an opera singer.

A muted sound, almost a cry, came from the far end of the office. Curious, Katherine headed there, studying the bookcases that lined the wall. After a moment she puzzled out that the central bookcase was actually a door painted to match the bookcases on either side. At eye level was a little circular flap attached to a small screw.

A brief touch revealed that the flap swiveled up, revealing a peephole. Katherine put her eye to it.

And gasped.


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