Revenge for Hire
by Natalie S. Ellis
GENRE: Contemporary Fiction
North West Side Chicago. A man’s phone rings at 3am, and it’s every father’s worst nightmare – his little girl is in danger.
Fort Wayne, Indiana. Belinda ‘Billie’ Chapman is working the overnight shift at WVOX-TV when she’s called away to photograph a car that’s crashed into the second story of a house. But when a little girl is spotted in the house across the street, the aggressive behaviour of her guardian piques Billie’s curiosity.
Nolan Voss has come to Fort Wayne to check on WVOX-TV, the station he owns. Rich, uptight and deliciously hot, he can’t keep away from the fiery Billie, and that means being dragged into her plan to help the young girl.
Each step closer to finding the truth leads them to a dangerous plot that has come all the way from Chicago. Will the danger only fuel their irresistible attraction to one another? Or will one of them get burned?
Near West Side, Chicago
The first blast of music jerked Chris Panyard from a 3 am fog. Stupid ringtone. His hand felt like a dead weight as it flopped around the nightstand to locate his cell as the second round of music blared. Finally on the third round, he managed to fumble the smartphone into his palm and swipe the screen.
“’Lo,” he grunted.
“Who the hell is this?” he croaked more than yelled.
He recognized the tiny, high-pitched whimper immediately.
“Jilly, what’s wrong?”
The muffled sob made him sit up, wide awake now.
He softened his voice. “Take a deep breath and tell me what’s wrong, punkin’.”
“B-ba … B-bad,” the seven year old managed between gasps.
“Do you have a bad tummy ache again?”
“You hurt somewhere else? Your head?”
“Good idea. Go get Mommy, honey.” He was surprised Joelle hadn’t heard her crying.
Chris yawned, but swallowed it midstream when Jilly’s cry elevated another octave. She stifled the sound suddenly, as if she’d buried her mouth in her pillow. What the hell is going on?
“Jilly, you have to give me a clue here!”
“It’s M-mommy,” she shrieked, ending on a hiccup.
“Is Mommy hurt?”
She cried softly for a moment, then finally managed, “Yessss.”
“Bad men.” Jilly took a deep, shuddering breath. “The bad m-men hurt my mmommyyy.”
Lurching out of bed, he struggled to pull on his pants with one hand as he pressed the phone to his ear with the other. He clenched his teeth to keep a stream of obscenities from escaping. “Where are you? Are you somewhere safe?”
She sniffed. “Cubby.”
Before he and Joelle split, Jilly used to hide in an attic crawlspace that she called her “cubby” whenever she got upset—like when he and her mom yelled at each other. The miniature attic door was located way in the back of Jilly’s closet, behind hanging clothes and a pile of toys.
“Jilly? Are the bad men still there?”
“I th-think so.”
“Okay, you stay right where you are and don’t make a sound, baby. Daddy will be there in ten minutes.”
“Ji-i-i-lly, where a-a-are you?” Chris heard a man through the phone, calling for his daughter in a fake, too-friendly voice. Shit! He had to be in Jilly’s bedroom to sound so loud.
“Shhh,” Chris whispered to Jilly, the sound of his heart pounding in his ears.
Not bothering with a shirt, he ran for his front door. Should he put Jilly on hold and dial
911? No, it would take too long and he couldn’t risk her accidently hanging up on him. If he did lose the connection, calling back would make the phone ring and give away her hideout.
“Shhh,” Chris said again, too afraid to utter anything more, in case the man overheard.
Joelle tended to keep the volume way up on her cell phone.
A loud thump came through the phone, then a sound like hangers pinging against each other. Chris held his breath, glad Jilly was silent. The man was obviously searching his daughter’s closet.
“Show yourself, kid!” the man yelled, clearly frustrated now.
When Chris reached his car in the lot behind his apartment, he muted the phone just long enough to start the engine. He listened again and heard the man yelling, but far off in the distance.
“In your quietest voice, tell me if the man has left your room.”
“He’s gone now,” Jilly’s precious voice piped up immediately. Chris winced, remembering too late that her perception of a whisper was always louder than his.
He strained to hear any indication that the man was heading back to the closet.
“Daddy?” she whispered, softer this time.
“I’m here and on my way.” He backed up the car and pulled out of the lot. “Do you know who that man is?”
She didn’t answer.
“Jilly?” His heart pounded against his chest. Had the man returned?
He let out the breath he’d been holding. “I know you are, baby. I’ll be there soon, I promise. But who are they? Who are the bad men?”
“I don’t know, Daddy.”
What had Joelle gotten herself into this time?
Chris raced down Roosevelt Road to reach his daughter. He had no idea what he’d find in that house. But as long as Jilly stayed safe, that’s all that mattered. Even if it meant tearing through ten men to get to her.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Natalie S. Ellis worked behind the scenes in TV news for sixteen years and will always miss the rush of a breaking story. But the seduction of writing a fiery romance with twisty suspense is even harder to resist, especially when she has a new curveball for the plot. Natalie enjoys living in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and attributes her cheerful attitude to empty nesting, a supportive family, and way too many lattés.
Natalie joins me on the blog today to answer my tough 🙂 questions on her writing process. Take it away, Natalie:
What do you write?
I write romantic-suspense that will keep you guessing until the very last chapter. The love scenes in my books can be extremely steamy sometimes. I let the characters tell me what works for them.
What genre do you favor?
I read a lot of Women’s Fiction books these days and I have a feeling I’ll write one someday.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I knew I wanted to be a writer in 4th Grade. Even then, I obviously liked writing about kidnapping because I wrote about aliens abducting my characters. I say “even then” because my first book, FEAR FOR HIRE, is about a mistaken kidnapping. And, like the kidnapper in FFH, the aliens I first wrote about tended to be charming and very protective of their victim(s). As I got older, I added some romance to the mix.
Do your characters talk to you?
My characters do talk to me, and yes, they seem like real people. Both of my books are set in my hometown of Fort Wayne and when I drive past one of the settings, I think: There’s Franke Park duck pond, where Molly tried to tell Jack to get lost in between bites of McDonald’s fries. Or, there’s the spot where Jack drove off the road in the ice storm. And in the new book: There’s the house where that car crashed through the second story window. Yes, the second story!
Back to my characters talking to me: when I started plotting my third book in the “FOR HIRE” series, Jack and Molly, who are secondary characters in that story, kept demanding to be the stars. So, I worked on Alyssa in REVENGE FOR HIRE, until her character became strong enough to take over and shut Jack and Molly up. I know I sound really weird, don’t I?
How do you approach starting a new book?
Once I’ve got a kernel of a story, or a “what if” in mind, the first thing I do is look through magazine pictures to find the hero and heroine. I use Pinterest too. After I have my characters, I figure out what their internal and external goal, motivation and conflicts are. Once I know their issues and what they look like, it’s easier for me to know what they’d say and do in certain situations. Next, I start plotting the book by listing as many scenes as I can think of, like: Man answers phone in the middle of the night. His 8 year old daughter is hiding in a closet from “bad men” at her mother’s house. As I start writing, I’ll add more scenes and delete scenes. The story will change many times as I add twists, which is good because I don’t get bored, and if I’m not bored, the reader shouldn’t be either!
What is your writing process?
After I spend weeks listing possible scenes for my new book during my spare time, sometimes jotting down an idea in the middle of the night, I’m ready to start writing. I get up early Saturday morning, eat a big breakfast and brew a lot of coffee. Then I pull up the blinds on a big picture window in my living room to let in the sun and a view of my back yard. I settle onto the living room couch with my laptop on my lap and start writing scenes in chronological order. I rarely write the end, like some authors do. If I get really stuck on a scene, I’ll just leave it hanging. That usually happens when I subconsciously know that I haven’t figured out all the information that needs to go in that scene. I write for about 6 or 7 hours Saturday and Sunday. I’m usually brain dead by then. I try to stop right before I write a really fun scene so that I end on a positive note and know that the next time I write, I’ll start out very strong.
What are the best writing books or blogs you’ve ever read?
Margie Lawson is my favorite writing instructor. If you’ve never heard of her, check out her website at www.margielawson.com. She’s taught best-selling authors how to make their writing more emotional by using Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing techniques. It sounds complicated, but Margie makes it extremely easy and entertaining to learn how to write a page-turner by using examples from the best authors out there.
What are your non-writing hobbies, or what do you do to relax?
I love to cook, play doubles tennis, read, hike with my husband and watch Scandal, Hart of Dixie (so sad it’s cancelled!!) Downton Abbey (also extremely sad it’s ending) and The Good Wife. That’s kind of a weird combination now that I see it in black and white.
What was your best date ever?
I’m going to answer this question instead because the answer is more interesting: How did you and your husband meet? We met in a class called “Social Singles” that was designed to give us ideas about where to go to make new friends and how to socialize without being scared out of our minds. We were both in our thirties, divorced for about a year, and needed something to do when our kids were off having fun. Of course we’d never admit it, but we secretly hoped that new “friend” would be someone from the opposite sex. Russ almost signed up for a guitar class instead, but something compelled him to go outside his comfort zone. Thank goodness! He was blond, tall and ruggedly handsome, but what really got me excited was the fact that he was smart! I knew I had to go out with him, but I was too shy to just ask, so I stood behind him in line and looked over his shoulder when he wrote his phone number down on the teacher’s “stay in touch” form and I memorized it. Yes, Russ still calls me a stalker to this day. I phoned him when I knew he’d be at work—such a chicken–and left a voice mail asking if I could follow him to a concert the class was going to so I wouldn’t get lost. He offered to drive me and I brought him some homemade banana bread as a thank you. We were the only ones in our class who danced to the music of the local band, per our assignment. (Our teacher wanted us to try out our new skills by asking people to dance with us.) The other 20 or so men and women played cards and never asked anyone to dance, not even the people they knew from class. Russ to this day calls them the Unsocial Singles. Anyway, we got along great at that event, but I still almost lost my chance with him. He thought I was only in my twenties and didn’t want to “rob the cradle,” but when he found out I was 33 to his 39, he pursued me (as if he had to) full speed ahead! We’ve been married 17 years and have grown deeper and deeper in love each one. It’s scary sometimes when we think about what would have become of us if we hadn’t met in that class.
Navy SEAL or cowboy?
Cowboys remind me of Russ. I love them!
Chocolate or chips?
Both! But if I have to choose, I’d say milk chocolate.
Fancy restaurant or picnic?
Picnic. Only because I like to cook and enjoy my cooking more than a lot of the places we go to.
My favorite authors are Lisa Gardner and Harlan Coben. I’m an extremely picky reader, but I’ve never put one of their books down before finishing them. And I don’t bother reading the blurb before I buy one of their books. I’ve met Lisa several times and I really like her personality too. In fact, I give her a lot of credit for not ignoring me that first time we met. I was so star struck that I told her my agent says I write just like her. I meant it as a compliment because I truly idolized her and couldn’t think of anything better than being compared to Lisa Gardner. But in hindsight, it was pretty arrogant of me, and pretty insulting to Lisa, that I compared our writing like that. I must have thought she’d say: Well, since you write like I do, let’s get lunch and share writing tips. I don’t do well at all when I meet my idols! But I really do wish Lisa and I could get lunch and share writing tips!
Smooth or hairy?
Natalie will be awarding an eCopy of Revenge for Hire to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour, and choice of 5 digital books from the Impulse line to a randomly drawn host.