Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow! I’m so excited for you all to meet my characters and read their story. Since you’ve met the main characters now, here’s a sneak peek of Chapter One:
Bo McKenzie stepped off the bus and onto the ground. A cloud of red dust erupted around her feet to cover her suede boots. The heat blasted her face with the force of a blow torch. This was an omen, a symbol of the coming Apocalypse.
Turn around, girl. Go home. You don’t belong here.
What the hell was she thinking, agreeing to open her new business in Texas, anyway? Already, she missed the hustle and bustle of New York City, the people rushing by, the ability to get an iced latte on any corner at any time of the day or night—the anonymity she didn’t truly enjoy until it was gone.
The only thing she spotted rushing here was a rabbit that darted out in front of the bus wheels then second-guessed his decision and raced back to the brush, unscathed. Unlike that lucky rabbit, though, Bo hadn’t escaped New York without a whole lot of bumps and bruises.
The bus door creaked shut, and the engine roared. Panic blared a red alert in her skull.
Get out. Before it’s too late. You aren’t ready for this.
She whirled to stop the driver from leaving her here—a second too late. On a puff of acrid black smoke, the bus pulled away from the Silverton station. A ton of self-doubt, gift-wrapped with a big ol’ ribbon of self-recrimination, sat on her shoulders, but she shifted on her feet to balance the invisible weight, as well as the weight of the hard-shell black satchel she carried in her left hand.
Six months into this project, with only weeks ‘til the grand opening, was not the right time to second-guess herself. Maybe, if she’d taken a step back, thought about the events and the consequences when everything had first started to snowball, instead of pulling the trigger on her entire life…
“Bo! Over here!”
Her posture sagged with relief when she spotted the burly figure waving to her from across the dusty road. Thank God. A friendly face. Her second thought wasn’t quite as charitable. Where the hell is the car?
“Mitch. Please tell me I don’t have to walk from here.”
Her associate chuckled, his round and robust face turning ruddier in the excessive heat as he hurried across the street toward where she waited. “The car’s on the other side of the lot, air conditioning on high. I didn’t want the strong sun to warm up the interior again, so—”
“You left the keys in it, engine running?” Of all the stupid…
“Relax. It’s perfectly safe. This isn’t New York.” He reached for her satchel, but she shielded it with both arms.
She glared at him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Now, Bo, I know you don’t go in for all that chivalry stuff, but here, it’s expected that a gentleman will hold a lady’s burden.”
Her exasperation erupted in an indelicate snort. “Lucky for you, I’m no lady. I’m a he-man with lady parts.”
“Jeez-us.” His jaw dropped. “Did Rob say that?”
The shock in his tone hurt her more than the insult had. Instead of replying, she kicked a rock in her path and watched it skitter a dusty trail to the curb. Did Mitch really think anyone who got a good look at her would see her as someone who required a man’s assistance? Years of cleaning tanks, schlepping water buckets, and hauling barley had given her the physique of an Amazonian war goddess. She topped Mitch by a good six inches and would probably stand out like a sunflower in a field of daisies when surrounded by delicate Texas ladies. No amount of men holding her belongings would change the optics.
“It’s not true, you know. You’re every inch a lady. Rob was the monster, not you. Never you.”
“Don’t.” The slightest softness right now would wilt her resolve. She needed to remain tough, prove she was up to this challenge. Since Mitch continued to give her sad puppy-dog eyes, though, she relented on a sigh and handed her case to him. “Fine. Be careful with this. My whole life is in here.” She had to stifle a laugh when he cried out and stumbled under the weight. “Can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I keep forgetting how freakishly strong you are,” he grumbled. “For a lady.”
Rather than take offense, she laughed and slapped him on the back, causing him to stumble again. She took his elbow to steady him. “Okay, fine, but let’s go. I want thirty minutes to prepare for the meeting before the lawyers get there. At this stage of the game, everything has to run smoother than polished glass.”
They’d never take her seriously if she appeared before them wrung out or emotional. She needed to be cool, knowledgeable, and all-business. Her mobile laboratory, her recipes, and her certification from Berlin’s VLB Institute should take care of the knowledge and business parts. The cool would have to come from a steady blast of icy air conditioning during the car ride and a quick fix to her melting makeup in the rest room.
Mitchell hefted her case against his belly with two hands and staggered down the street, duck-walking, while she had to shorten her strides so as not to get a mile ahead of him.
“This is silly,” she said. “Let me take the bag.”
“Unh-unh. Appearances are important here. Trust me.”
Appearances? Who was around to judge? The gray and white birds resting on the awning over the bus station? There wasn’t another human anywhere else in sight. Maybe everyone remained indoors ‘til the sun went down since it was so damn hot. They strode past a storefront with a large window, a steel counter, and a sign advertising snow cones. The lure of a sweet frosty treat tempted her under the blazing sun, but with her luck, she’d wind up dripping cherry juice on her shirt or staining her lips blue—neither the professional look she hoped to present to her lawyers.
Across the street stood an imposing, tan brick building of graceful columns and a sweeping stone staircase, advertising itself as the town hall. Still, Mitch kept walking, past a small general store and a beauty salon…
“Where’d you park? Oklahoma?”
He glanced left then right then left again. “No. It should be around here somewhere.”
A ball of dread formed in the pit of her stomach. Two beat-up pickup trucks sat parked in front of a feed store. A rusted bicycle lay in a patch of dry grass. That summed up the various modes of transportation in sight. No sleek black car with engine running and fogged up windows waited for them. She stood stock still in the middle of the street, tossed her head back and groaned. “Dammit, Mitch, what are we supposed to do now?”
He had the grace to look sheepish. “We could walk it.”
“About three miles.”
“Three miles? In this heat? Are you insane? I’ve got…” She glanced at her men’s waterproof sports watch and noted the time. “…forty minutes before my meeting and a ton of things to review and prep before the bloodsuckers arrive.” She rotated slowly, scanning the few buildings around them. “I’ve got a better idea. You walk it—after you report the theft to the police. I suggest you start at that fancy-looking building over there. In the meantime, give me my bag so I can call a cab.”
“Umm…” He lowered his head, his gaze staring at his feet. “There are no cabs here.”
This just kept getting better and better. Okay, don’t panic. Focus. You need this to go well. You can’t go off the deep end whenever something goes wrong. That’s what they expect you to do.
For all she knew, her brothers had paid Mitch to lose the car, hoping to throw a monkey wrench into her plans. Practical jokers, the whole bunch of them, sometimes funny, but not always. Especially not today. Well, she wouldn’t let them win. She wasn’t about to let anyone get the better of her again. Not today, not ever. She took a deep breath for inner calm. Heat and dust clogged her lungs, and she coughed. When the tears dried in her eyes and she’d recovered the use of her throat, she yanked her case from Mitch’s grasp and strode with purpose toward the government building.
“Bo? Where ya goin’?”
“To find a ride. You should probably come with me so you can file a police report while we’re there.”
As she strode over the rutted path, her heeled boots became a handicap she refused to acknowledge, twisting her ankles at near-impossible angles on the uneven surface. She didn’t care if she broke a bone. She had a meeting to get to and would risk just about anything to get there. Her entire future depended on it.
At last, she reached the sidewalk and without a care if Mitch followed her or not, took the stairs two at a time to get to the circular door and the building’s interior. Inside, cool air kissed her skin, and she said a silent prayer of thanks for modern air conditioning.
A uniformed guard who had to be close to seventy climbed off his chair behind the reception desk and hobbled toward her on arthritic limbs. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
“Umm, yeah, hi. I was hoping I could find the sheriff’s office in here somewhere?”
“Yes, ma’am. Second door down that hall.” The septuagenarian security guard raised his chicken-wing arm and pointed to her left.
“Thank you.” A glimmer of hope flickered in her brain, feeble but evident nonetheless, and she turned to walk in that direction.
“You can leave that bag here, if you like,” he called after her.
“Not on your life,” she muttered so he couldn’t hear. Aloud, she said, “Thanks, but I need to keep it with me.” All she had left in the world was in this case, and she wouldn’t let it out of her sight for a second. Besides, the weight would no doubt separate the old geezer’s shoulder from its socket.
She expected an argument, but the guard shrugged and toddled back to the scarred wooden reception desk against the back wall. “Suit yerself.”
Bo bit back a laugh. At home, she wouldn’t be allowed past the door with a case like hers. Clearly, Dorothy was not in a metropolis anymore.
She headed down the hall and found the second door with “Sheriff” in bold black lettering and a gold star etched into the glass. Outside, she hesitated. Should she knock? Back in New York, she’d just walk into a police station. At least, she figured she could. She never had reason to walk into a police station.
No, they’d come to her.
Shoving that memory into the back of her brain with a growl, she pushed open the door with more force than necessary and tumbled into the room on the other side. Two men seated inside veered to stare at her sudden intrusion, slack-jawed. The one behind the desk got to his feet as she straightened and smoothed her hair with feigned cool aplomb.
“Are you all right, ma’am?”
She took a minute to catch her breath before replying, “Umm…hi there. I’m in a bit of a jam and I’m hoping you can help me.”
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE is available on Kindle in the Amazon Worlds. Buy your copy here!