I 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.
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.