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My facebook followers know that I placed a bet with the brilliant Kate Aaron to write 15,000 words a day for three days over the holiday weekend. There has been much trash talking and cheerleading, and as of the writing of this post, I’ve written 24,635 words in just over two days. I’ve been close-mouthed about the project on which I’m working, but I did promise, at the end of the weekend, to post a scene flash for those who’ve tolerated my chatter over hourly word counts, Red Bull consumption, and in general, my attempts to make what amounts to me sitting in front of my computer for 12 hours at a time, interesting. Kate finished a book on day 2 and picked up the threads of another one that had lain dormant for months. I started a new book and have set aside everything else while this story has taken over, demanding to be written and written now. 

So without further ado, here’s the first chapter, unedited and unbeta’d, so errors are mine.

Chapter 1

An elbow to the side wasn’t the most pleasant way to wake up, but it was damned effective. The phone’s ringing took longer to break through my annoyance, but once it did, I reached for the bedside table, searching. Well, fumbling anyway. A book, my reading glasses, and an empty tea mug cascaded to the floor before I found the offending device.

“‘Lo?” I made no secret of my sleep-addled state. It had been a long time since my phone had awoken at… 2:18 am.

“Gavin?”

I shot straight up, ignoring the ache in my muscles. There was no mistaking that tone. Fear. Barely controlled panic. Desperation.

“Cole? What’s wrong? Is the baby okay?” Beside me, Ben rolled over and put his hand on my hip, instantly alert.

“She’s fine. It’s Myah.” He choked, his voice faltering as ice slithered over my scalp, advancing down my face, neck, and chest, to take up residence in my heart.

“Myah? Cole, talk to me.”

He sobbed, once. I could almost hear him regaining control, at least enough to spit out two heart-stopping words. “She’s missing.”

 

***

The ghosts of cases past whispered haunted greetings as I pushed through the glass doors of Second Precinct half an hour later, Ben hot on my heels. It was an odd role reversal, since I was usually the one at his heel. He was my Dom, but in this moment, he was my partner, my rock, and my safety net. We’d hastily thrown on clothes, grabbed jackets, and rushed into the inky silence of a chilly October night, intent on one goal: get to my brother and find out what he meant by Myah, his wife and my former partner, was missing.

I spotted Cole with his head down sitting in one of the chairs next to a sympathetic looking detective I didn’t recognize. Not surprising. I hadn’t been on the force, or at this station, for a year and a half.

“DeGrassi,” my former boss, Sergeant Kittridge, called from his perch on the desk beside the dejected statue that was my youngest sibling. I strode over, yanking Cole’s arm until he stood and throwing my arms around him, letting him take my warmth and my strength.

“What happened?”

Cole pulled away and cleared his throat, his voice rough and raw. “The babysitter called me at half past six tonight asking if Myah was getting Bobbi or if someone else was coming for her.” Bobbi, short for Roberta, was Cole and Myah’s four-month-old daughter. “I said Myah was supposed to have been there half an hour before, but probably just got held up at the grocery store or something. When I called her cell, I kept getting voicemail, so I had Ma pick the baby up and left work. I thought maybe Myah had a flat or a fender bender and didn’t think it was a big enough deal to call me. She said she had to get diapers and stuff for dinner, so I followed her usual route and found her car in the parking lot at the store.” His eyes filled with tears and he looked away, fighting for composure. “The driver’s door was wide open and her purse was on the seat, a couple bags in the backseat. But she was nowhere. I went inside and had the store manager page her, but she didn’t come.”

“Did you try calling her again?”

Cole glared at me for asking something stupid. “Of course I did,” he snapped. “Her phone was in her purse in the car. With the door wide open, not cracked. So I called it in and requested Eric to the scene to process it.” I wondered if he realized he was sinking into cop-speak. Eric Poulson was his most trusted CSI tech, usually lead on the cases Cole was not assigned to, and one of the most competent men I’d ever worked with during my tenure as a homicide detective.

“Did they find anything?”

He squeezed his eyes shut and a lone tear tracked down his cheek, into the stubble I rarely ever saw on him. “One of her shoes was under the car. No prints, no other signs of a struggle, nothing stolen from her car or purse.” I sucked in a shaky breath, and Ben put a hand on my forearm, sliding his other hand into mine to entwine our fingers, his grip fierce. It was both a comfort and jarring, him trying to steady himself on me as much as hold me in place.

“We have a unit over there still processing,” Kittridge said, his calm efficiency in great contrast to Cole’s barely controlled panic. “The store’s management was quick to turn over the closed-circuit video of the parking lot, and Sugar is going over it now.” Sugar Kingsbury was the best computer tech in all of the St. Louis metro area, often being called to consult with other municipalities when there was particularly tricky data recovery required.

“If there’s anything on those videos, Sugar will find it,” I reassured Cole, pulling him with one arm into another hug. He clung to me, his hands clenching into fists around the fabric of my jacket.

“We don’t have time for that!” he yelled, but his voice was muffled in my shoulder. “She’s been gone for hours. Whoever took her could be anywhere by now!”

Kittridge pulled Cole from my embrace, putting both hands on his shoulders and looking him square in the eye. “Son, we will find her. There’s no way they’ve gotten very far with her in this amount of time. As soon as we knew she didn’t leave the store by choice, we put a notice out at the airport and issued a BOLO—” a be-on-the-lookout “—for all patrols. Every cop in this city is searching for her right now, and no one got her on a plane in that small window. She’d have made a scene if they’d tried.” Cole only glared at him. “Cole, you know better than anyone what our team’s capable of. What your people do on a daily basis. Trust us. We’ll get her back.”

My brother’s shoulders slumped, and he whispered, the words so shaky they were almost indecipherable, “Eleven months, Sarge. We’ve been married eleven months. I’m supposed to grow old with her.”

Ben slid up beside Cole and put a supportive arm around his waist. “You will. We’ll all see to it. But right now, your people need to do their jobs. We all want her back, and won’t stop until she is.”

 

 

In anticipation of the questions that will arise, I do not have a definite release date. I hope to finish the book this summer, and with Fen’s editing schedule, have it released late summer or early fall. This will be the final book in the Power Exchange series. I’ve said before there wouldn’t be a 3rd book, but that obviously changed. I’ve been saying Ben and Gavin are quiet in my head, but what I never said was Myah was being rather insistent, and I ignored her. And ignored her. And ignored her, until she punched through my denial, took over my muse, and pretty much flung my other projects off my table and got in my face, yelling, “Write this or else!” I’ve told people “never say never” about a sequel to Safeword, and this is why. It’s happening and I’m basically along for the ride as the story writes itself at a breakneck pace. I almost can’t keep up.

So if you’ll bear with me, by the end of this year, Power Exchange will become a trilogy. I hope it’s a satisfying end to the story of a beloved group of characters that feel as natural to me as any I’ve ever written. Ben and Gavin are special to me, but especially Gavin, as the voice of the first book I’d ever finished. In this effort, I hope to do them justice and give them back just an iota of what they’ve given to me with regard to my dreams of being a writer.

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