COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 2

Chapter Two

Friday, June 4
 9:30 AM

 

“I’m telling you, I didn’t kill my husband!”

Justin Blakely, Allegheny County Executive Assistant District Attorney, traded skeptical glances with Detective George Talbot, and anger slashed through him. He was less convinced of Marlene Cavarella’s innocence, if that was possible, than he had been when she was booked yesterday afternoon.

“Mrs. Cavarella,” he cut her off as he rose from his seat to pace about the room, “you were found with the murder weapon and the body, covered in your husband’s blood. Do you really expect us to believe you had nothing to do with what happened to him?”

Huge blue eyes filled with tears, and a dark head Justin was certain came straight from a bottle dropped into her hands as she sobbed brokenly. Marlene Cavarella was one hell of an actress, he acknowledged sourly, but all the tears in the world weren’t going to sway him.

“Oh, cut it out!” He slapped his hands down on the metal table. She jumped, her eyes wide in fear. Justin frowned. What the hell? “The waterworks aren’t helping your case, lady.”

“Find Officer Martin Kopinski,” she implored Talbot, turning her broken gaze on the veteran detective. “He’ll tell you. I’d never k-kill my hus…band.”

A low curse of frustration left Justin and he plowed one hand through his hair as she started sobbing again. He was just about to launch into a full-blown tirade when an icy voice broke in.

“Well, I guess some things never change. Still resorting to scare tactics, Counselor?”

Justin’s glare snapped to the doorway. He froze as he locked gazes with the new arrival, those electric-blue eyes like a sucker punch to the chest, knocking the wind from him. Her!

She was slim, but curvy, encased in a conservative powder-gray business suit and spectator pumps that still managed to show off enough of her long, shapely legs he was sure that outfit should be illegal. Coppery hair fell in a riot of curls over her shoulders, and one fine-boned hand clutched a dark leather briefcase so tightly he was surprised it didn’t shake with the strain.

But her eyes were what held Justin spellbound. They were eyes he fantasized about since the Fairman trial, two years ago. He never expected to see them, or her, again. Especially not like this. Lightning blue, and currently glaring back at him as if he was the most vile creature on Earth.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he snapped, scowling to cover his runaway pulse.

Her answering laugh was mocking.

“Why doesn’t it surprise me you’ve already forgotten I’m a defense attorney, Mr. Blakely? Naturally you’d want to forget about Chad Fairman, and the one smudge on your spotless record, wouldn’t you?” She snorted derisively. “Of course, you tried this very same tactic on that poor kid, whose only crime was running away from an abusive parent.”

He stared at her, thunderstruck by the suffusion of passionate rage on her classically beautiful features. He could have argued, turned her words back on her. He could have admitted he’d been unable to forget the Fairman case, unable to forget her, for all the trying he’d done in the past two years. Damn, but she was beautiful when she was furious. Even as the thought crossed his mind, a sharp retort sprang defensively to his lips.

“Well, if it isn’t the crusading Counselor Hanover. What brings you to the lock-up? Finally get arrested for contempt of court?”

 

Chelsea watched the smug little smile tug at Blakely’s lips, and the anger she held under tight control since walking in to find him bullying her client erupted.

“I’m Marlene Cavarella’s attorney.” Her glare raked over both men like striking lightning. “You gentlemen should have waited for me. Mrs. Cavarella isn’t required to answer a single question without legal counsel present, and you,” she fixed her scathing gaze on Justin’s bland expression, “should have known better than to badger my client. Or are you Blakelys all above the law you cherish so damned much?”

Justin snapped upright, contempt flaring in his green eyes at her accusation. He glared at her for a long moment, and then bit out a sharp bark of laughter, startling the bewildered-looking woman seated at the table.

“I was not, as you so eloquently put it, ‘badgering’ your client, Hanover. Detective Talbot and I were merely–”

“Trying to intimidate a confession out of an obviously-distraught woman,” Chelsea snapped, her tone dripping disdain, and watched Talbot shift as if his seat was uncomfortable. Triumph flared in her as she turned back to Justin. “Or am I misreading the detective’s squirming?”

“Now, wait just one damn minute,” Blakely protested, before his expression went as cold as she felt. “Can I speak to you?”

She raised a brow. She had to maintain the upper hand, here, if she had any chance of surviving this ordeal without some kind of break down. Her heart was already beating too fast. “Sounds like that’s what you’re already doing.”

Those intense eyes narrowed. Uh-oh. She already knew from the Fairman trial it was a bad sign when his gaze went intense like that. “Outside, Counselor.”

Chelsea debated the wisdom of following his request. One glance at her client told her Marlene Cavarella couldn’t handle the argument sure to come. Meeting Blakely’s gaze again, she nodded, and turned toward the door. Shock plunged through her as he grasped her arm, and she tried to jerk away. His grip tightened ever so slightly, and she gritted her teeth, knowing she couldn’t react without creating a scene. Once they were outside the door, however, he was a dead man.

 

Even before the door finished closing, Chelsea glared frostily up at him and demanded, “Remove your hand this instant, Counselor.”

God, but she was a beauty, Justin thought as he studied her flashing eyes. Too bad she was more mercurial than a damned thermometer. Irritated with himself for his fascination, Justin couldn’t resist a taunting, “Or what?”

“Or I will remove it, and you, permanently,” she retorted with a sharp yank of her arm.

Justin tightened his grip, but eased up when she winced in pain. “That sounds dangerously like the textbook definition of a terroristic threat, Hanover.”

“And you’re treading perilously close to assault,” she shot back, her gaze going pointedly to his hand on her arm. “Not that I’m surprised.”

A dangerous smile curved on his lips as an idea for putting her off-balance, while satisfying his raging curiosity, came to him. “In that case…”

Before Chelsea had time to realize what he was up to, he dragged her against himself and smothered her angry protest in a kiss damned close to incendiary, he decided as he drank in the sweet taste of her lips. She brought her hands up, and for an instant, he thought she’d save them both, and push him away. Instead, those hands ended up clenched in the lapels of his black suit jacket, as a soft sigh betrayed her.

Justin was shell-shocked. He wondered what it would be like to kiss her for nearly two years, fantasizing over what she’d taste like. None of his fantasies ever came close to the reality in his arms now, her mouth fused to his and her body plastered against him in a passionate response that knocked his experienced socks off. She tasted fresh and new, like a field of wildflowers after a summer storm, and her scent was apples and roses, surprisingly soft and innocent for such a driven woman.

Because he wanted to tear off those all-business clothes of hers and see if she was as soft and hot underneath as she was hard and cool in the courtroom, he took a mental step back, and pulled away from her. The dazed expression on her face made him chuckle, happy to have rattled her.

“So, Counselor, still think you can make those charges stick?”

He knew he was baiting her. He also knew Chelsea wouldn’t disappoint — she had too much passion buttoned up tight inside that prim little suit coat to not rise to the fight. Even as the words left his mouth, he watched ice-cold fury slice away the haze in Chelsea’s eyes. He tried to let her go; he really should. But the warmth of her, and the soft texture of cloth and warm female body conspired against him, and his hands refused to release her. With a gasp of outrage, she took the choice away from him, yanking away. Her palm connected with his face hard enough to burn.

“If you have anything to discuss with me or my client in the future, save it for the courtroom.”

With that, Chelsea spun on her heel and marched back into the interrogation room. As he watched her go, Justin realized he just made the biggest tactical mistake of his entire career.

Staring after Chelsea, Justin wondered what it would be like to actually get to know her. He’d seen her in court — the cool, imperious beauty whose faith in her clients’ innocence was unshakable, and far too often right. Her flashing eyes and sexy lips hinted at a woman hell-bent on mischief lurking somewhere under all that conviction. The passionate way she returned his kiss…

He wondered what other fascinating secrets she hid behind that all-business exterior of hers. One thing was for certain. Keeping up with her was going to be exhausting — just keeping a step ahead of her mercurial moods would require superhuman strength. How could one woman be so perfectly poised, and so supremely irritating at the same time?

She accused him of bullying the prisoner. Him. Had any other attorney leveled the accusation at him, he’d laugh it off, aware his pristine reputation for adhering to the letter of the law was in no danger. But something about Chelsea Hanover made it impossible to find the notion amusing. Her earnestness and complete lack of guile were an oddity in the business of criminal defense.

He witnessed, firsthand, how those same qualities served her in the courtroom. The results were staggering. Chelsea believed in her client’s innocence, and her unwavering faith spoke volumes to a jury. No matter the evidence, in the end Chelsea poked holes in the prosecution’s theories.

Grudgingly, he admitted she was right about Chad Fairman. The poor kid was set up from the beginning, and only Chelsea believed him, until she gave the most brilliant cross-examination Justin ever saw, and brought Chad’s abusive father to a tearful confession, right there on the stand.

That was when the fantasy began, Justin acknowledged, swallowing hard as he clamped down on his libido. From the moment Chelsea turned from the stand with that blazing look of triumph on her face, he was lost. He couldn’t admit just how much he wanted her, and nor could he approach her. They occupied different worlds, which only crossed at points like this one, leaving them no room to be anything more than adversaries.

Not this time, he decided fiercely as he reached for the door handle. He wouldn’t let her slip away on him again. He didn’t see belief in her eyes when she stormed into Interrogation, and he noticed the slight hesitance in her voice when she proclaimed herself Marlene Cavarella’s attorney. She wasn’t convinced of the woman’s innocence, either, and he planned to use her doubt.

As he opened the door, Justin suppressed a grin at the cool ultimatum Chelsea was in the process of issuing to a haggard-looking Talbot.

“–I will not allow my client to speak with you until then, Detective, so you might as well accept it. I want to speak with her now, before she answers another of your questions.”

“Ms. Hanover, please,” Talbot calmly tried to head off the storm. “It’s police procedure. We–”

“The Miranda Warning specifically states she isn’t required to answer a single question without legal consultation,” Chelsea brushed his explanation off, her back ramrod straight. It was obvious she was taking out her anger at him on Talbot.

“She’s right,” Justin broke in as Talbot opened his mouth in protest. “Mrs. Cavarella has both the right to silence and to an attorney. We’ve got lots of time. We can let her confer with her lawyer first.”

Chelsea turned, eyes wide in surprise for an instant, before she recovered. Her surprise bothered him. Did she think he would violate the law just to win? The mere idea she might was insulting. He was very aware of the law, and he wasn’t about to prove her earlier accusation right. The triumph on Chelsea’s face as she gave him a curt nod, then turned her glare back to Talbot, fascinated him. Just what was she trying to prove?

“If you gentlemen will excuse us, my client and I have some talking to do.”

Talbot rose from his seat and left, but not without a wary glance at the prisoner. Justin, taking a step toward Chelsea, leaned to murmur in her ear, “I’ll concede this battle, Counselor, but choose your future battles carefully, because I intend to win the war.”

With that, he turned and followed Talbot out of the room. But not before he caught the flicker of relief on Marlene Cavarella’s haunted face.

*****

Now, just what in God’s name was that all about? Chelsea wondered as she turned to frown at the closed door. Blakely made it sound like he was doing her a favor, rather than following a well-established principle of law. Weary, she decided she most likely didn’t want to know. Turning back to Marlene, she gave the other woman a brief smile.

“I’m sorry you had to be put through that display, Mrs. Cavarella. I’m sure you’re under enough pressure without having to deal with any unnecessary stress. My name is Chelsea Hanover. I was told you requested my services yesterday evening.”

The petite, pretty woman at the table nodded miserably. “Nick always said you were the best. He told me to call you if anything ever… if I needed… if…”

Every ounce of strength seemed to desert the tiny woman, and her calm poise of a moment ago evaporated. Burying her face in her trembling hands, she sobbed uncontrollably; great, heaving sobs that looked enough to tear her apart. Compassion flooded Chelsea, and she moved to sit beside Marlene, placing a comforting hand on the older woman’s shoulder.

Marlene Cavarella didn’t look like a murderer, or like she’d ever have been able to hold down and stab her six-foot-four-inch, two hundred-fifty pound husband. She was tiny, like a fragile china doll, and Chelsea doubted she weighed more than a hundred pounds. If the murder happened as the police report laid it out, then Marlene would have to have been acting in an emotional frenzy, which meant she was provoked.

Reaching into her briefcase, Chelsea drew out her digital recorder and a notepad and pen. Turning on the recorder, she gently rubbed the sobbing woman’s shoulder. “Tell me what happened.”

Marlene nodded, making a valiant effort to pull herself together, but her lips continued to tremble as she haltingly began. “My husband and I had a fight yesterday morning.”

Chelsea started, surprised. Was she hearing the beginnings of a murder confession? Please, God, don’t let it be!

“It was such a stupid fight. I don’t even know why we were arguing.” She looked up at Chelsea with weary blue eyes. “All we seem to do, anymore, is argue.”

“What did you argue about?”

A bitter laugh answered her. “Anything and everything. The kids. Work. Some woman he’s been seeing on the sly.” She shrugged helplessly. “Everything was falling apart. Nick was always working, Tim was in trouble constantly, and neither one of them would listen to me. So when Nick made a comment about having to work late last night, I guess I just lost it. I demanded he stop lying to me and just admit he’s been seeing some woman from the studio. He denied it, yelled at me about doubting him. I don’t know what else was said. We just screamed at each other.”

“And then what?” Chelsea prompted, her stomach knotted in dread.

“And then I left.” Marlene shrugged.

Chelsea blinked, hard. “You left?”

The older woman nodded. “I just picked up my coat and purse and walked out the door. I was afraid he might hit me if I stayed, with the mood he was in.”

Chelsea sucked in a sharp breath. “He hit you? Before, I mean?”

A half-shrug answered her.

“Marlene,” Chelsea pressed her fingers against the other woman’s shoulder, “you have to tell me. If he hit you anytime, it’s important I know.”

“Yes.” The word came out faint, barely more than a whispered breath. “He didn’t use to, but over the past year, Nick’s been… different. Tense and easily upset — moody all the time. He never talks anymore, unless we argue.” She sucked in a pained breath, fighting tears. “I was afraid of him, but he made me so angry, too. I had to leave.”

Chelsea nodded. “Where did you go?”

“To a friend’s house.”

“Can you give me a name?”

“Linda. Linda Travis. She owns Travis Catering. She’s my best friend.”

Chelsea allowed herself a small smile. At least she would have an easy time verifying part of Marlene’s story. “What did you do at Linda’s?”

“Talked. I told her about the trouble Nick and I have been having. Then we went shopping. I bought a…” she stopped, color flooding her cheeks, before she continued in a whisper, “I bought a new nightgown. I thought, maybe Nick would like it… you know… maybe we could get our marriage back on track.”

Chelsea smiled, vindicated. A woman who couldn’t hide her embarrassment over buying sexy lingerie would never be able to hide her mortification over committing murder. “That sounds like a good idea to me.”

Marlene gave her a teary smile. “That’s what Linda said, too.”

“What time did you return home?”

Marlene smiled again. “It was just shortly before two in the afternoon. I remember because I was thinking the kids wouldn’t be home for nearly an hour, when I saw Nick’s car in the driveway. I thought, maybe he’d come home to apologize, hoping I’d be there.”

“And then what?”

Marlene swallowed hard, her cobalt eyes going wide in horrified memory. “I walked into the living room, and… and…” Her lips trembled, and her face went ashen as her hands started to shake violently. “There was Nick, laying on the floor, with his chest all bloody, and one of my best kitchen knives sticking out of his chest.”

Chelsea reached out, placing her hands comfortingly over Marlene’s. “I know it’s hard to talk about, but I need to know everything that happened, exactly as it happened.”

Marlene swallowed again, fighting for composure, and steadily losing as her eyes became huge and haunted.

“I… I didn’t know what to do,” she whispered. “I ran to him, screaming his name. He opened his eyes… looked right at me, and said…” she stopped, looking away for a moment. “I don’t remember what he said. I was too busy trying to stop the bleeding. I thought, maybe… I thought if I took the knife out of his chest, he’d be able to breathe easier.”

Chelsea’s breath caught. Could the explanation be so easy? “Go on.”

“When… when I pulled it out, Nick started gagging… turning purple. I panicked. I kept trying to stop the bleeding, pressing on his chest with my hands. But…” her huge blue eyes lifted to Chelsea’s face, imploring. “The blood made me dizzy, the smell, I guess. I don’t remember anything after that, except Tracy screaming.”

“Tracy’s your daughter?” Chelsea already knew the answer; she’d studied everything in the file she’d wrangled out of research before leaving the office last evening. The Cavarellas had two children – twins. Timothy and Tracy both just turned sixteen.

Marlene nodded, a small smile flitting over her lips. “Yes.”

“What time was it, when you woke up? Do you remember at all?”

Marlene nodded timidly. “It was five o’clock. Time to make Nick’s dinner. He always eats at six, on the dot. I remember I looked at the clock, and thought I better start dinner, or he’d be…” Tears welled in her eyes. “He’d be mad.”

Chelsea sighed. It all sounded so innocent, but there was something strange about the whole picture.

“Did you call nine-one-one?”

“I…” Marlene’s gaze faltered. “No. It never occurred to me.”

Her ashen features as she admitted to that one small error convinced Chelsea Marlene was telling the truth. She was innocent. A woman who looked that guilty for not calling an ambulance and went so irrational as to be worried about cooking a dead man dinner would never be capable of carrying out the bloody kind of execution performed on Dominic Cavarella. With a reassuring smile, Chelsea squeezed Marlene’s hands.

“It’s okay. I’m sure the shock made thinking difficult. Don’t worry; I’m going to help you.”

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 Burden of Proof by Esther Mitchell
All Rights Reserved
Any unlawful reproduction, duplication or presentation of this material without the express, written consent of the author is subject to prosecution under Intellectual Property Rights laws.

Burden of Proof Final

“Dangerous Request” – Excerpt from BLOOD DEBT (Project Prometheus)

BloodDebtCoverArt

When Doctor Michael Banks asked his brother to find him a specialist to help combat the biological weapon wiping out entire villages in the Amazon jungles, he expected a dedicated, licensed doctor with enough lab time to make Albert Schweitzer green with envy, and warrior enough to handle himself in the Amazon.  So he was stunned and disappointed to find himself face-to-face with a petite spitfire of a woman with no degree, desert features, and china blue eyes.  To beat the poison, Michael will need everything at his disposal, and the Persian spitfire at his side has the key to his most valuable weapon — if he can keep her far away from his darkest secret.

 

“Dangerous Request” –Excerpt from Blood Debt (Project Prometheus, Book 4) :

Michael, his head bent in concentration over the most recent batch of blood tests, jerked upright as a scream tore through the camp. As his brain registered the sound came from the nearby blood-supply tent, where Shahdi was working, icy panic lanced through him.

He lunged for the lab’s entrance, and dashed out into the bright light of day, with barely an acknowledgement of moving as he tore into the canvas of the collapsed tent next door.

“Shahdi!”

“Michael,” her faint voice, even muffled by the heavy canvas, sent an electric charge of relief through his veins. Shoving aside canvas as he went, Michael waded through the collapsed tent, until he uncovered a sight that made his blood run cold.

Shahdi lay pinned beneath a large chunk of the main support pole, with the heavy beam wedged sideways across her body from left shoulder to right hip. That thing had to be crushing her!

Scrambling to her side, Michael grasped the pole, muscles straining as he lifted the beam away. It wasn’t as heavy as it was awkward to lift, but it was still heavy enough to do damage when dropped from nearly fifteen feet above. Discarding the pole, he dropped to the ground at Shahdi’s side even as she tried to sit up.

“Don’t move!”

She gave him an odd look — probably questioning the sharp fear in his voice — but subsided with nothing more than a sigh and a wince. Michael ran his hands quickly over her body, checking for cracked or broken bones and warmer than normal spots that would indicate internal bleeding. Relief poured through him when he found nothing.

“This is not how I planned to have your hands on me.” The humorous lilt of Shahdi’s voice snapped his gaze to her face, and he scowled as his fear boiled over into anger.

“You could have been killed, and you’re cracking jokes?”

She rolled her eyes as she slowly sat up, his hands steadying her in spite of her apparent strength.

“You must learn to not fret so, Michael,” she murmured. “The point is that I was not harmed. Therefore, a little humor puts the situation into its proper place.”

“You’re going to have nasty bruises by tomorrow–”

“But they will heal with time.”

“You’ll be stiff and hurting–”

“But I am alive.”

He eyed her testily, his nerves drawn to breaking point. Damn it, she was hurt; couldn’t she see how much the idea scared him? “You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

“No.” Her good humor fled, and her somber blue gaze met his. “I do not know how to make you love me.”

Blood Debt – Available from Desert Breeze Publishing on May 11,2016

“Unknown Variable” — Excerpt from IN HER NAME (Project Prometheus)

InHerNameCoverArt

Every story has a beginning. While Project Prometheus’ beginning is thousands of years in the past, Matt and Manara’s story starts not quite so long ago… with a brutal slaying, and a dangerous mission. Problem is, only one of them knows exactly how dangerous this mission really is…

“Unknown Variable” – Excerpt from IN HER NAME (Project Prometheus, Book 1) —
January 2, 2000

The noonday sun glinted off the Mediterranean Sea in sapphire and diamond shafts, reflecting light against dark sunglasses. Salty seawater sprayed up against the prow of the sleek speedboat, carrying with it the pungency of fish and seaweed. His jaw clenched as he shifted gears, watching the shimmer of approaching land dance in and out of view like a desert mirage.

Sidon. Matthew Raleigh’s stomach clenched with bitter memory. He was well-acquainted with the deceptively quiet Lebanese city. He’d been here too many times in a past that he’d just as soon forget as a Navy SEa, Air and Land operative on prowl-and-growl missions. His lips curved in a wry grimace. He wasn’t a SEAL anymore — there was at least that much mercy left in the world. Not that what he did these days brought him much peace either. Good thing he wasn’t looking for peace anymore. To deaden the pain in his soul and help reduce the nightmares that regularly stole away sleep, he formed Project Prometheus — a special mercenary organization dedicated to ending terrorism. A futile enough cause. He scowled. The men who’d hired Prometheus’ mercenaries had business in Lebanon. Scum was still scum. That never changed.

Matt pulled his mind from the dark thoughts creeping in; he needed to concentrate on the mission. Was the team ready? He brought them in under the cover of night yesterday. He hoped they made it to the pre-arranged safe house but he had no way of being sure. They were on radio silence and for safety’s sake, he couldn’t go to find them until he was ready to join them. Matt glanced at his wristwatch. Besides, he was already on his way to meet with their CIA contact, codenamed Star.

Uneasiness clutched Matt. He didn’t like that no one at Langley had ever actually seen Star. There was no picture, not even a physical description, though the Agency claimed Star was a miracle worker. Matt scowled. He didn’t believe in miracles or miracle workers. From the little Matt knew, he surmised Star was an important figure in Lebanon, well connected with an extensive knowledge of the local area. Matt also guessed Star, whoever he was, probably had connections to arms dealers or some other dubious operation. Great. Just what they needed; a contact they couldn’t trust.

Find out more about the mission. Pick up your copy of IN HER NAME, today! And look for the continuation of Project Prometheus with HOPE OF HEAVEN, coming in 2015!

Project Prometheus & Remembering 9/11

While most of today I’ll be talking about the release of Project Prometheus’ first book, In Her Name (well, re-release, really), I wanted to take a moment, right here at the beginning, and talk about the events that happened on this date thirteen years ago. The events of September 11, 2001 had a profound impact on the entire world. They also inspired a great deal of the most important changes made to the development of the book I’m going to be talking a lot about, today. Because of this, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the men and women who died that day, and who died in the days, weeks, months, and even years afterward, because of those events.

It was anger that drove what In Her Name would become. Not just anger at what happened, though that factored into what drove me. I was angry because the first instinct was to blame an entire ethnicity, before anyone even knew who was to blame, or if there actually was anyone to blame. Even after things began settling down and the task of figuring out what happened and who was responsible began, I wanted to show the world how wrong it was to turn a person into a criminal just because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

And so, a woman who had merely been a priestess of an ancient faith evolved, to become a heroine in her own right. Manara Binte Alzena became a symbol, and a lesson. Matt Raleigh came with built-in prejudice. The product of a disastrous childhood, he despises all things paranormal or spiritual.  Manara is the embodiment of everything his prejudice has set him up to hate. But she’s also someone to be admired, whose dedication to preserving life and serving what is right and just in the world has put her at dangerous odds with her world. She’s rushing headlong into Iraq, where her faith and her status could easily cost her life. But she’s determined to do what she has to do, no matter the cost. That’s something Matt can’t help but admire.

By putting a man with a deep hatred up against a woman who is both the embodiment of everything he hates and a source of great strength and help for him, I address the age-old question of which is stronger – hate, or love. It’s a question (and an answer) I think we could all learn a little something from.

Project Prometheus Badge

“The Score” – Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground)

Heros HopeThe character of Matt Clipper, aka Watchdog, is one of my more unusual and intriguing characters. Loosely based in equal parts on a friend with a very rough upbringing and a well-earned attitude that won’t quit (and covers a heart of gold), and my brother, from whom (among other details) Matt Clipper draws part of his core personality and name, Watchdog is an unusual blend of streetwise tough guy, a gang-banger whom Rick and Tamia, at different points, refer to as having an attitude the size of Texas, and the lonely, sensitive artistic type, given to a romanticism he rarely even shows a glimmer of.

One of the things I most looked forward to, with writing these later books in this Evolution, was finally being able to actually delve into this character and what he really experiences. In the first few books, we only ever get to see how he interacts with the team, and all we know about his interactions outside of the Underground are based strictly on what he reveals to other characters. He comes across as a thug with a few chinks in his armor, but generally not deep.

Well, hold onto your hats, folks! Starting in HERO’S HOPE, you get to see a whole other side to Matt Clipper… This is a man with a surprising amount of depth, and who, for his biological youth (he’s only 25), feels ancient because of what he’s seen and experienced. And, finally, we get to start seeing exactly what Watchdog does out there on the streets, at night. And his world isn’t a pretty one…

So I thought I’d share one of those glimpses into Watchdog’s world outside of the Underground… On the streets, where he’s known by the pseudo-alias “Clip.”  Here you go…

 

“The Score” – Excerpt from Hero’s Hope (Underground, Book #4) —

He told himself he was ready for this.  And he knew he was full of shit.  No one was ever ready to tangle with a dude like Terrence Walker.  One wrong move, one wild card in the mix, and it would all end in a bloodbath.  Matt Clipper sealed his lips in a grim line over the worried oath that pressed against his tongue as he primed his Colt Racer – a recent addition to street warfare, the weapon was a cross between a conventional handgun and a Super Taser – and double-checked that he had his backup.  He glanced into the rearview mirror of the Lincoln Continental.  “Y’all ready?”

“Let’s roll.”  Snooks brandished his weapon with a grin just this side of sadistically gleeful, and Matt bit down on the wave of nausea that spiraled through him at the sight.  Similar anticipation preceded too many of his nightmares.  He resisted the urge to shudder.  He was getting way too old for this shit.  Problem was, he didn’t see how he was of any use to the Commandos if he left the streets behind.  He didn’t have Blade’s skills, or Jen’s brains, or Red’s background.  He had nothing to offer but what he learned out here, and the one thing Matt Clipper wasn’t was a leech.  So he did the only thing he knew how to do.  Even if it killed him.

To combat the queasy uncertainty in the pit of his stomach, he pasted on his most cocky grin and reached for the driver side door.  He was about to put it on the line to get Big T to this meet-up.  The Man had best represent.

“Let’s go.”

Like a pack of wild animals, the gang-bangers piled out of the vehicle with none of the stealth or finesse Matt grew accustomed to as a Commando.  He winced inwardly, and triple-checked his weapons again.  He had a bad feeling this was about to go to Hell, and Jen would kill him if he got sloppy.  Hell, the Voodoo woman would probably dig him up just to kill him again, if he got himself whacked.

A snort of dark laughter nearly broke his lips, and he caught the wary look the kid beside him cast his way.  Rance stuck close to him since JT went down.  Poor kid wasn’t cut out for this life; too bad Matt didn’t know how to get him out.

Matt’s gaze went to the building before them, and the scene was far too familiar.  Rundown and solitary among the empty lots that flanked it on three sides, this pre-World War Three tenement was where JT was murdered, and Matt’s fall into Hell began.  No one knew how much he hated every time he had to come back here.  The queasy sensation in his gut talked loud and clear.  When Matt Clipper checked out, it would be in a place just like this one — a building on the edge of forgotten.

Damn.  He was dipping into the morbid, again.  That was a distraction he didn’t need.  Matt shook it off and cocked his weapon with a grin only he knew was forced.

“Playtime.  Just remember, the Big Man wants T alive, or we’re in deep shit.”

He wasn’t worried they’d fuck it up.  These boys might need some lessons in finesse when it came to assaults, but they were far from incompetent novices.  They had their own silent language, and while it didn’t have the sophistication he’d learned by hanging with Booters like Blade and Ace, he was comfortable with it.  These were streeters.  They knew the score.

The gang fanned out to surround the front door, waiting for Matt’s signal.  He edged up to the door and listened intently.  The sound of an old building settling, and the drip of water somewhere in the distance, reached his ears.  No voices, no footsteps.  Relief wound through him.  No ambush; and that was good news to him.  He jerked his head toward the door, then eased it open to scoot inside cautiously.  The same couldn’t be said for his gang.

Snooks barreled through the door like a maniac.  Damn it, was he high?  Matt couldn’t tell; he couldn’t see the kid’s eyes, but Snooks was sweating.  That was a bad sign.

“Yo, Snooks, hold up a min-” His caution fell on deaf ears as Snooks took the stairs three at a time, disappearing into the upper levels of the old building.  There was a loud crash, and the Snooks’ voice echoed down the stairwell.

“Prayer time, muthafu-”  His words died in a spray of gunfire that lit up the stairwell and echoed off the tile walls.  Matt immediately dropped behind cover, his instincts honed to self-preservation by years of Commando missions.  He knew what that gunfire meant.

“Damn it.”  Anger tightened his chest.  It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.  God damn it, Snooks knew better than to get high right before a hit.

“Shit, dude!”  Rance dropped back as well, his face a shade between green and gray.  Kid was scared.  Smart.  “What was that?”

“That,” Matt responded grimly, “was trouble.  Everyone, hang back.”

With that quiet instruction, Matt started slowly up the stairs, forcing himself to draw even breaths as he went.  This was it.  He’d never told anyone, but he always knew he’d die alone.  And here he was, climbing into the lion’s den, alone.  Still, if he wanted this to go down without any higher of a body count, he had to go it solo.

As he reached the first landing, Matt flipped his Racer to stun.  He didn’t want anyone going down for a permanent nap, least of all his mark.  The Man would never forgive him for that, and nor would anyone else.  Set to stun, the energy weapon would release a non-lethal electrical charge in a beam that would render the target unconscious.  He wanted Big T down, not out of the picture.  He had orders, after all.

Pick up your copy of HERO’S HOPE today at Amazon.com   and check out the rest of this critically-acclaimed fan favorite series, with TAMIA, MIND KILLER, and TERMINAL HUNTER. Find out more at www.esthermitchell.com

“When Heroes Fall” – Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground)

Sometimes, when life looks darkest

Hope shines the brightest.

 

Heros Hope            Richard Carinson hasn’t had much in his life truly worth protecting – until now. With a new wife and an unborn child, he can’t afford to make any mistakes, or take any chances his past will come back to haunt them. But some sins can’t be wiped away, and Rick’s are about to come calling – on his wife and child. To save Tamia and their son, Rick’s going to have to make the biggest sacrifice of his life – and it just might cost him everything.

“When Heroes Fall” — Excerpt from HERO’s HOPE (Underground, Book #4) —

The hydrolift ride to the fourth floor was torture as he debated the wisdom of what he was about to do. If only Emergency Rooms and clinics didn’t require fingerprint identification. He’d much rather go there. Involving her was dangerous, and she wouldn’t like keeping his secret, either. Outside her door, he paused for a heartbeat, and told himself she would understand. She might not like it, but she would keep his secret.

Enough. He raised his left hand and knocked on her door, before he could change his mind.

“Just a moment.” The voice was muffled. Then, the sound of movement, before the door opened, and he watched her face drain of color, her green eyes wide in disbelief as a gasp left her.

“What—? How—?”

He quirked her a tired grin. God, he was tired of this charade. “That’s eloquent, for a journalist.”

She recovered quickly, and her gaze shot up and down the empty hallway. “Get in here, before someone sees you, and—” She froze as he flinched when she tugged at his right arm, before he moved past her, into the apartment. Her gaze latched onto his side, where the dark stain was spreading. “Oh my god, you’re bleeding!”

“Yeah.” He sank onto the edge of her sofa as a wave of dizziness hit him.

“Idiot.” The word held no rancor, just open concern, as she moved to her bathroom and returned with antiseptic and first-aid kit. “Take off that coat and your shirt.”

He frowned, suddenly uncomfortable. “Jean, I don’t think—”

She glared at him as she set the items down on an end table and fisted her hands on her hips. “Get over yourself. I did. Now, strip.”

He was too light-headed to sustain this argument. He told himself his wife would understand, even as he reluctantly stripped off his coat and shirt as Jean sat down beside him. She barely spared him a glance, her gaze fixed on the bloody gash in his side as she examined the wound.

“Who the hell did you have a knife-fight with?” She asked evenly as she turned to retrieve a bottle of antiseptic wash and a gauze pad from her kit.

“No one.” He wasn’t about to discuss this.

“Really.” She tipped the bottle, coating the gauze in green gel, before she applied it to his side.

He hissed and sat bolt upright. “Shit, that stings!”

“You deserve worse.” Her expression hardened. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”

“No.”

“Surprise, surprise.” She sighed, and shook her head. “I assume you have a good reason.”

A different pain, one no antiseptic could soothe, twisted inside him. “A damn good one.”

“It better be.” She applied a wound microsealer to the gash. “Because this one’s going to come back to bite you in the ass, my friend.”

 

Are you ready for the explosion? Because this one might just level the Underground forever.  Get your copy of HERO’S HOPE, today! 

Fan Favorite Underground series returns, with brand-new release!

Seven years ago, Underground moved publishers. It’s taken almost a decade to get the first three books re-released and back out there and move forward, but now, at long last, we’re debuting a brand-new release, with Book #4 of the series, HERO’S HOPE!

The hunt for the Security Network mole is about to get very close to home …

Find out just how close, in HERO’S HOPE (Book #4), now available!

Heros Hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you figure out who’s behind it all? Follow the trail from the beginning…
TAMIA (Book #1)
MIND KILLER (Book #2)
TERMINAL HUNTER (Book #3)

Underground #1: TAMIA

Underground #1: TAMIA

Underground #2: MIND KILLER

Underground #2: MIND KILLER

Underground #3: TERMINAL HUNTER

Underground #3: TERMINAL HUNTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And stay tuned to find out what happens next… VENGEFUL HEART (Book #5), coming soon.