The Inescapable Pull of Family

The Inescapable Pull of FamilyI think it’s human nature to yearn for family.  Written into our genes, even.  If biology doesn’t provide us with the tribal bonds we yearn for, we create family in other ways, through friends, through church, through jobs or clubs or online chats.  And the pull is especially strong this time of year, with the holidays right around the corner.

I played around with family issues in my first four Harlequin Intrigues, from the three sisters in the FORBIDDEN series to the complicated and sometimes twisted family connections of both my hero and my heroine of COWBOY ALIBI. But my upcoming Cooper Justice series gets deadly serious about family ties, introducing the Coopers of Chickasaw County, Alabama.  The books feature seven siblings–six brothers and a sister–who learn over the course of their stories just how important family really is.

Oh, yeah, there might be a murder or two.  A kidnapping.  South American drug lords with vendettas.  And lots and lots of romance.

My Cooper Justice debut book, CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING, features the only Cooper sister, Hannah, a fishing guide on vacation in Wyoming when she’s ambushed by a serial killer posing as a cop.  She’s the only one of the killer’s victims who escaped to tell about it, which makes her of person of extreme interest to Wyoming cop Riley Patterson, who’s been hunting the killer since the murder of his own wife three years earlier.  But there’s a big problem: Hannah can’t remember much about the attack.  Can she and Riley figure out just what it is she can’t remember before the killer finishes what he started? CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING is a January 2010 Harlequin Intrigue.

Then, in February 2010’s CHICKASAW COUNTY CAPTIVE, we meet Sam Cooper, a prosecutor who has just returned to Chickasaw County after in another state for several years.  Someone is targeting Sam, using his daughter Maddy to do it.  After an attempted kidnapping leaves four-year-old daughter Maddy traumatized and her teenaged cousin/babysitter in a coma, Sam knows he needs help protecting his family and finding out who’s behind the attack.  But is Kristen Tandy, a young female police detective with a notoriously tragic past, really the person for the job?

Here’s a small taste of CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING:

The flashing blue light in the rearview mirror came out of nowhere, cutting through the cool shadows of the waning afternoon. Hannah Cooper glanced at the rental car’s speedometer needle, which hovered just under sixty. The speed limit was sixty-five on this stretch of Wyoming’s Highway 287, so she wasn’t speeding.

Maybe he just wanted her to move aside to make it easier to pass her on the two-lane highway. She edged the Pontiac toward the narrow shoulder, but the car behind her slowed as well, making no attempt to go around her. The driver waved out the window for her to pull all the way over.

Damn it. She released a slow breath and looked for somewhere to pull to the side. The highway shoulder barely existed on this stretch of winding road, the grassy edge rising quickly to meet the dense stand of pines lining the highway. Hannah spotted a widening of the shoulder a few yards ahead. She slowed and pulled over, cutting the engine.

Tamping down a nervous flutter in her belly, she lowered the window with one hand while pulling her wallet from her purse with the other. Outside the window, footsteps approached. She turned to face the lawman. “Is something wrong?”

She got a brief glimpse of weathered jeans and a shiny silver belt buckle before the man’s hand—snugly tucked into latex gloves—whipped up into the window and sprayed something wet and stinging in her face.

Her gasp of surprise drew a spray of fiery heat into her mouth and throat, and her eyes slammed closed, acid tears seeping from between her lids. Pepper spray, she realized, gagging as fire filled her lungs with every wheezing breath. Coughing, she tried to reorient herself in a world turned upside down.

She felt a rough hand on the back of her neck, pushing her forward toward the steering wheel with a sharp thrust. She threw herself sideways, avoiding all but a glancing blow of her cheekbone against the steering wheel. The shock of pain faded quickly compared to the lingering agony of the pepper spray. Panic rose as she felt the man’s hand groping for her again.

Don’t ever let them get you out of the car.

The warning that filled her foggy mind spoke in her brother Aaron’s voice. Aaron, the cop, who never let pass any opportunity to give her advice about personal safety.

If they get you out of your car, you’re dead.

The man’s hand tangled briefly in her hair then retreated. A soft snapping sound outside the car made her jerk her head toward the open window, and she forced her eyelids open, blinking hard to clear her blurry vision. Through a film of white-hot pain, she saw her assailant’s right hand sliding something black and metallic from a side holster.

Gun.

It snagged coming out of the holster, giving her the distraction she needed. Spotting his left hand resting on the car-door frame for balance, she rammed her elbow on to the back of his hand, crushing his fingers against the door. Something hard and metallic cracked against her elbow bone—a ring? It sent pain jarring up her arm, but she ignored it as he spat out a loud curse and pulled his hand free, just as she’d hoped.

She turned the key in the ignition. The rented Pontiac G6 roared to life and she jerked it into Drive, ramming the accelerator pedal to the floor.

The Pontiac shimmied across the sandy ground, the right back wheel teetering precariously along the edge of the dipping shoulder, but she muscled it back on to the highway and pointed its nose toward the long stretch of road ahead.

She groped on the seat next to her for the bottle of water she’d picked up from a vending machine at a gas station a few miles back. Grappling with the cap, she opened the bottle and splashed water in her eyes, trying to wash out enough of the burning spray to help her see as she drove. It helped the stinging pain in her eyes but did nothing to stop the burning on her skin and in her nose and throat.

Think, Hannah. Think.

She felt for her purse, which held her cell phone, but it must have fallen to the floorboard. She couldn’t risk trying to find it. Though she could barely see, barely breathe, she didn’t dare slow down, taking the curves at scary speeds. There had to be civilization somewhere ahead, she promised herself, shivering with shock and pain. Just another mile or so….

She peered blindly at the rearview mirror, trying to see if the car with the blue light was following. She’d rounded a curve that put a hilly stand of pines between her car and the waning daylight backlighting the Wyoming Rockies. Behind her, night had already begun to fall in murky purple shadows, hiding any sign of her assailant from view. Maybe she’d bought herself enough time.

She just had to keep going. Surely somewhere ahead she’d run into people who could help her.

She wiped her watering eyes, trying to see through the gloom. More than once over the next endless, excruciating mile, she nearly drove off the road, but soon the highway curved again, and the mountains came back into view, rising with violent beauty into the copper-penny sky. And just a mile or so ahead, gleaming like a beacon to her burning eyes, a truck stop sprawled along the side of the highway.

She headed her car toward the lighted sign, daring only a quick glance in her rearview mirror. She spotted a car behind her, a black dot in the lowering darkness. It seemed to be coming fast, growing larger and more threatening as the distance between her and the truck stop diminished.

Heart pounding, Hannah rammed the accelerator to the floor again, pushing the Pontiac to its limits. It shuddered beneath her, the engine whining, but the distance to the truck stop was yards now, close enough that she could make out men milling in the parking lot.

Behind her, the pursuing car fell back, as if he realized the foolishness of trying to overtake her so close to a truck stop full of witnesses. Shaking with relief, she aimed her car at the blurry span of the truck-stop driveway.

The sun dipped behind the mountains just as she made the turn, casting a sudden shadow across the entrance. The unexpected gloom, combined with her blurred vision, hid a dangerous obstacle until it was too late. Her right front wheel hit the rocky outcropping that edged the driveway and sent the car lurching out of control.

Fighting the wheel, she managed to avoid a large gas-tanker truck parked at the far edge of the truck-stop parking lot, but a scrubby pine loomed out of the darkness right in her path. She slammed on her brakes, but it was too late.

She hit the tree head on, and the world went black.
Copyright © 2010 by Paula Graves
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. 

There are more Cooper Justice stories coming in August and September of 2010, and I hope there’ll be at least three more Cooper family stories to tell in 2011.  I hope you’ll check out the first two Cooper Justice books, coming from Harlequin Intrigue this month and next.

I’ll be drawing a name at random from the comments to receive an autographed copy of one of my books, so don’t forget to leave a comment!  Ask questions about the story, tell us about your crazy family–it’s up to you. Then check my blog, Spinsters and Lunatics, tomorrow evening to see who won.

15 Responses to The Inescapable Pull of Family

  1. Linda Henderson

    I can’t wait to read these books. I love connected stories and I’ve been reading Intrigues for years. I’m glad it’s a large family, that way there are plenty of stories to tell. I enjoy learning what’s happened to the family in the upcoming books, that’s one reason why I enjoy series books.

  2. Becky Ward

    I enjoyed reading this post. These books sound good and I can’t wait to read them. I love reading a romantic suspense story.

  3. Paula Graves

    Thank you, Linda and Becky. I’m very excited about these four books, and I’m also planning a little something different for the final three Cooper Justice books—a miniseries within the miniseries, with three connected books with an overarching mystery story. Each book will stand alone just fine, but if you read them all together, they’ll be even better. At least, I hope so!

  4. MJ Fredrick

    I have all your books and love them! I’m looking forward to the next!

  5. Angela

    I can’t wait to read this one. I started reading Cowboy Alibi last night and couldn’t put it down.

  6. Kelsey Browning

    Hi, Paula!

    I’m a huge fan of stories connected through siblings or friends. I’m curious how much you know about subsequent siblings when you beging writing the first book. With seven in the family, that must have been quite a character chart!

    I’ll look forward to picking one of these up soon.

    Best,
    Kelsey

  7. susan leech

    These books are what I love best. Being abandoned by both parents I know how it feels not to have a family..I mean a true family. I made y own family has years went by and friends became my adopted family. You do what you have to do some days. I still have no idea about a real family but I am okay with what I did to make family for myself. Bless those who were willing to treat me like one of their own. susan L.

  8. Genia Shipman

    Loving that little taste, Paula – can’t wait for the full course! The family connection is one thing I liked about the “Forbidden” stories, so I’m sure the large Cooper clan will draw me in too.

  9. Pam Keener

    Wow what a ride. I loved the excerpt made me want to go right out and order it.
    Thanks for the blog.
    Love & Hugs,
    Pam

  10. Paula Graves

    Kelsey, it WAS quite the character chart! I didn’t know everything about each character before I started. Sam Cooper, the hero of book two, was actually the first character I “met” when I started thinking about the series. I actually started his book first, but when Hannah’s story started to develop, and I realized I was going to pair her with Riley Patterson, who’d been a minor character in my last book, COWBOY ALIBI, I convinced my editor to switch them out and let me write Hannah’s book as the debut story.

    I’m four books into the seven book series (two more come out in August & September 2010), and I still don’t know everything about the last three brothers, whose stories will finish out the series. I’ll be pitching the proposal for the last three books soon, and in the process of working up the outlines for their stories, I’ll learn a lot more about each of the Cooper brothers in question. But even then, I won’t really know them until I’m in the middle of their stories. That’s when I get to see how they really react to the story problems I throw in their paths.

    Susan L – I’m so glad you’ve created a family for yourself. I really believe that people are drawn to connections like that, and it’s wonderful that you’ve overcome the obstacles to create that kind of bond with people who may not be related to you biologically. It’s inspiring to see, and you’re blessed.

    Thanks, Genia! I really enjoyed, in the FORBIDDEN SERIES, giving Lily, Rose and Iris that family bond. I think it helped deepen each characters to have those interactions to build on. It gives them a life outside the boundaries of the individual story, if that makes sense.

    Thanks, Pam! I hope you like CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING! Riley and Hannah were interesting characters to write.

  11. Mariska

    I love the little taste of CASE FILE: CANYON CREEK, WYOMING, can i have more ? 🙂

    i hope i’m not that last person that haven’t read any of the your book Paula, coz i admit you are a new for me author.

  12. Paula Graves

    That’s okay, Mariska–I’m relatively new. CASE FILE is just my fifth book, and with category-length books, you have to snap them up fast or they’re off the shelves, so it’s easy to miss a new author. Two books is the most I’ve had out in a year before now. I’m hoping my four new books in 2010 will introduce me to a lot of people who haven’t read my work before now.

    You can still find some of my backlist here and there, mostly used. And, of course, the four upcoming books should be easy enough to find. I’d love it if you’d check them out and let me know what you think.

  13. Tracey D

    Your a new author for me so I look forward in reading your works.

    Thanks.

  14. Quilt Lady

    Hi Paula, I know I am late posting but I just wanted to say I love your books. I love the Intrigue line of books, keep up the good work.

  15. Paula Graves

    Thanks, Tracey–I hope you enjoy them! And Quilt Lady, thank you so much. I hope you’ll like the two new books coming out this month and next as well.

    I mentioned that I’d post the winners of the book on my blog last night. Oops! Well, here you go…the winner of an autographed copy of the book of her choice from my backlist is…drum roll…Susan Leech!

    Susan, if you’ll visit my website and click on the “contact” link, it’ll open an email to me. I need your mailing information and which of my books you’d like to have. Thanks, everyone, for commenting! I hope you’ll visit my blog, Spinsters and Lunatics (http://spinstersandlunatics.blogspot.com) to visit me again!

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