CAUGHT BY A CLOWN's author Sandra Crowley is being interviewed on TRR's website. The book's characters wanted their chance to speak. This seemed the perfect place for undercover FBI agent David Graham and freelance journalist Stacie Monroe to share their comments on the romantic suspense story:
Stacie basked in the warm glow of a floor lamp situated behind her overstuffed leather armchair. David's spicy aftershave drifted to her from where he sat directly across from her. "It's fun being on this side of an interview," she told him. His lips twitched in an abbreviated version of a smile that she'd grown to love. She laughed, curled into the soft cushions, and fingered her purple blouse's cowl neck as she collected her thoughts. "I arrived at Arizona's premiere nudist resort on a mission of mercy--find my friend's missing brother, Alan. But the moment I stepped inside the office, I discovered its owner faced a desperate situation of his own. His receptionist had been out with the flu for days. Phone calls had piled up. Guests were threatening to leave. He needed help. Helping him might also help me. It turned out that I only stayed for a day, but what a memorable day."
The tissue box on her desk shifted. Stacie kept her gaze on the colorful page filling her screen while the tropical scent of sunscreen blended with the faint tang of a citrus and spice after-shave lotion. Oh no, another dangling dandy hung too close for comfort.
A long, slow rasp warned her someone was easing a tissue upward. With a sideways glance, she spotted a man's blunt, tanned fingers spreading the blue tissue to its widest, highest extent, yet leave it anchored in the box. This man cloaked in secrecy what others at the resort openly displayed. She assessed thick wrists and an athletic build that registered in her drool range. Stacie sat straighter and focused on his hands. No ring bound his finger. No pale circlet of skin betrayed the recent removal of one. Looking up, she saw a square jaw shadowed by dark blond stubble. Thick lashes fringed gray eyes. He wore his blond hair long and pulled back, the complete opposite to her riot of short black curls.
"He can't be David Graham. I am. Always have been."
Snapping back to reality, Stacie realized the new hero of her dreams thought her guess about Alan changing identity was wrong. She agreed with him. Seeing David Graham in the flesh, yummy hunky flesh, proved he looked nothing like Alan Walsh.
"Why do you think he's me?"
"It doesn't matter." Concerned she'd upset a legitimate member, she introduced herself and offered a warm smile.
"What does this Alan Walsh look like, Stacie?"
A distinct tan line slashed low across the man's abdomen, dividing sun-gilded skin from virgin white. A faint alarm sounded in her mind.
"Maybe I've seen him and could point you in his direction."
His fidgeting hands and taut body mirrored her reaction to public exposure. Stacie relaxed. She would have signed using a fake address and name if she'd come as a guest. He probably thought helping her would ease him into this new and daunting experience.
"Alan has cinnamon brown hair. Styled, not cut. The hundred dollar appointment kind instead of the twelve dollar walk-in type."
Graham's attention remained intent without a hint of reaction.
"He's five, maybe seven years younger that your...thirty-three?"
Graham shifted his weight from one foot to the other, but he stayed silent.
"Shorter by several inches than your...what...six-three or four...?"
A tight smile pulled his firm lips. "Some people think I throw a long shadow."
She figured they should be more worried about the heavy muscles that slabbed his arms, shoulders, and chest. "Where you're built like a weight-lifter, Alan's a long distance runner."
"I know the type."
David Graham's flat comment implied it fit Alan's personality as neatly as it did his body. Goose bumps prickled Stacie's arms for the second time that day.
She looked at him without attraction fogging her senses. What was an intensely private man doing in a nudist resort? One possibility chilled her. Mick Caputo had sent him to kill Alan.
"I had to know, David." Stacie lowered her feet to the floor and glanced at him sprawled in his matching camel-colored chair.
"Yeah." He leaned forward, knees spread, elbows planted on the rounded chair arms. His black jeans and t-shirt stretched tight across his shoulders and legs. He grinned. "You had to know more about me." He clasped his hands. His lips straightened. A frown creased his brow. "You had to stick your nose in my case. You sensed a story. Something you could sell to some news magazine."
She shook her head. "My friend needed help. Her brother needed my help."
David shot back, "You should have left finding Alan to the authorities, but you don't bother to think things through and you never know when to quit."
Stacie pressed into the soft refuge of her chair. "I learned."
"Not fast enough." David rose and crossed his arms. "You pushed me and yourself from one screw-up to another, from one place to another, until we ended up halfway across the country."
She stood to face him. "We had to follow Alan. We had to catch up with him." She winced, and then drew a deep breath. "You're right. It was entirely my fault I fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road, stranding us in the middle of nowhere. We were lucky to stumble across that derelict motel."
He gripped her shoulder. "Stumble is the word. You were too exhausted to take one more step or I would have insisted we move on. Anything would have been better than that dive."
Stacie caught his hand. "You changed that. Remember? You lit those candles." She inhaled. "I can smell them. Jasmine and ginger. You can, too. I know you can. You invented them." She leaned close and whispered in his ear.
He entwined his fingers with hers. Memory carried him back:
"I have a special place in mind for you," David said, holding her in his arms.
"You do?" Stacie replied.
Surprise and pleasure sang in her words and doubled his resolve to reinvent their surroundings. Hopefully, she'd play along with him. He snagged his towel off the door handle while she tucked the condom package under the elastic of her thong, grabbed his pack in her hand, circled her other arm around his neck, and kissed him during the short trip into the main room. When he reached the far wall, he cushioned her back with the folded towel. "Do you like the candles I lit around the room?"
"Candles?" She looked over his shoulder. "What can...? Oh." She smiled at him. "Thooose candles."
"Yes," he whispered, then skimmed his tongue over the rim of her delicate ear. "Thooose candles. The flames have warmed the wax. Do you recognize their scent?"
She inhaled. "Ummmmm, jasmine."
Stacie tipped her head, exposing the line of her neck. He trailed kisses to her collarbone and relished the sensual aroma of her hair, a promise of hot, humid nights amid tropical flowers. He tucked away the information for later use.
"There's ginger, too," he added.
"You like ginger?" She traced her fingertip along his jaw.
"It's spicy. Like you." Her stroke brushed across his whiskers and arrowed frissons of excitement to his core.
"That's excellent." The kiss she initiated sucked his tongue deep and hardened his body beyond memory. When she released his mouth, he hauled air into his lungs. It caught there when she pushed his shirt to his armpits and ran her hands over his chest.
"Not fair. I can't take off your top."
Dim pulses of light seeped through the curtains, illuminating her as she stretched her arms above her head. Her graceful hands trailed down her arms and their slow, teasing descent reminded him of her skin's luxurious texture. She dipped one shoulder, letting that set of straps escape to curve at her elbow. He hitched her higher...
She laughed and wrinkled her nose. "You're one hell of a man, David."
"I'm glad you don't give up easy, woman." He brushed her lips with his.
Stacie cocked her head. Curiosity overrode the heat his kiss always generated. "Will you ever tell me what happened to the money? I thought when we caught up with Alan at the clown school in Florida..."
Alan covered his eyes with his hand. His shoulders sagged. "I already let it slip. You'll take the money away from me eventually."
Money, Stacie mouthed to David, hoping he was as pleased as she felt. Alan lowered his hand. She schooled her face to imitate David's blank expression.
"When I left the club, one of Caputo's bag men was arguing with his woman. I didn't pay attention except to notice she was yelling and stomping around and his car was a twin to mine. I was rounding the front of my car when he tossed his briefcase over his shoulder, saying something like take care of this. The case landed in the back seat of my convertible. The guy's idiot driver sat there staring at my back seat. I jumped in and hauled out while the soon-to-be-dead-man argued with the bitch."
"How much was in the briefcase?"
"Over a hundred grand."
One hundred thousand dollars, Stacie clarified in her mind.
"Enough to finance my escape at Caputo's expense. Seemed like poetic justice."
"Where's the money?"
"I'm not going to tell you until I get what I want, protection and my story published."
"That's fair, isn't it, David?" She tried to plead with her eyes.
David shrugged. "It can slide for now."
She beamed at him. "Will you uncuff him, too?"
"Absolutely not. The odds are against his staying alive, and he knows it. He might rabbit again."
She turned back to Alan "How did you get away?" She took another sip of her drink.
"I kept turning north and west, never doubling back. Couldn't afford to run into them. I saw a bus picking up people and realized I was in a slum area like where I grew up. I ditched the car and jumped on board."
His eyelids drifted low as if he replayed the scene on their backs.
"Punk hoods started stripping the convertible before I sat down. I changed buses until I found one going out of town. An hour or so later, I saw a sign for an airport. I paid cash for a charger to Phoenix. Boosted a car there in case they followed me that far and hid at the nudey place." He fidgeted in his chair. "How did you find me?"
"The torn page and Deby's picture." Stacie remembered the smile displayed in that memento. The excitement, confidence, and hope radiating from it had meshed with similar emotions in her, the original basis for their friendship. One Stacie's family hadn't understood, but she'd proudly proclaimed, to the delight of Deby's foster parents.
Alan nodded. "What about you?" he asked David.
"No way, man, the pilot didn't know where I headed."
"Paying cash tipped him off to the chance of bigger bills later when someone came looking for you. While you slept, he snooped. Your sweaty hand smudged the resort's ad."
The information Alan spouted next contained no value to David's investigation. He checked Alan's restraint and motioned to Stacie that he was going to leave for a minute.
The hall lay empty but he could hear a conversation between at least three teachers in one of the rooms. David finished his soda and dropped the can in the trash. Better to move to the auditorium as originally planned. He returned to the classroom. Stacie listened attentively to Alan.
"You can finish that in a minute," David said. "We're moving to the auditorium."
"Why?" she asked.
He started to tell her to do what he said, but she deserved to know she had limited time left with Alan. David explained the situation.
"I need more than another twenty-five minutes for a decent interview."
"I can't give you more time."
"Can't or won't, David?"
Learn who's CAUGHT BY A CLOWN:
Available at The Wild Rose Press in print http://bit.ly/i63Ds5 or ebook http://bit.ly/ecClR8 AND at Amazon in print http://amzn.to/hQQW9E or ebook http://amzn.to/efcJPV .
Check out www.sandracrowley.com for more information on Caught by a Clown and its author, Sandra Crowley.