I was driving home today from my first-ever presentation with Yosemite Romance Writers (awesome group, btw!) and found myself in Los Banos, a little central valley town of California--a town where I set part of my debut release, FEVER. I got all nostalgic, just like a good mother should, which prompted me to share this excerpt from the novel.
Setup: Teague has escaped from prison and has Alyssa hostage, but he still thinks she's his bargaining chip, Hannah. Earlier in the evening, Alyssa (aka Hannah) was cut in a knife fight that errupted between local gang members and Teague and his accomplice/co-escapee, Taz--a fight in which he saved Alyssa's life. Now, Teague has dropped Taz off to blow off some steam while he picks up supplies to patch Alyssa's wound.
They are traveling through California's central valley on their escape route and stop at the Wal-mart in Los Banos.
“Oh, God,” Hannah whined. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Her tortured voice brought Teague’s attention around. The color in her face had paled several shades in the last hour. His gaze drifted to the bloodstains on her shirt, which made him realize there was no real decision to be made. He pounded the gas and headed toward Wal-mart.
“You need something in your stomach,” he said.
“Yeah, like stitches.”
Teague’s mouth quirked. With Taz gone, a level of relief settled in. One less wild card to worry about. “I was speaking of food and water, but stitches would be good, too.”
“If I eat, I’ll throw up.”
Teague sighed and rubbed at the stubble on his head. He hadn’t shaved his skull in a week, and the new hair growth made his scalp itchy. “Do you argue with everyone or am I just lucky?”
“You’re about as lucky as I am.”
“That’s not a good sign.”
“Tell me about it. Where did that jerk go? You said he’d be gone tomorrow morning.”
Teague was too tired to make up a lie. “He went to get laid.”
His statement was met with extended silence.
“He has a girlfriend here?” she finally asked.
Another silence. Then, “Why didn’t you go get laid, too?”
He darted a look at her, surprised by her candidness. And irritated with the zing of heat in his groin. “Because I have more important things to take care of.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “There’s a man on the planet who believes there is something more important than sex?”
Teague shifted in his seat. Twisted his lips. Bit the inside of his cheek to fend off the growing lust her flippant discussion of the subject elicited.
He pulled into the parking lot of Wal-mart and parked the truck at a respectable distance.
“You really did want to go to Wal-mart? I thought that was a code name for something.” She turned confused eyes on Teague. “This is the last place on earth I’d expect you to stop.”
“Where would you expect me to stop?”
“I don’t know, a liquor store, local drug dealer’s house, a McDonald’s drive through…”
“I didn’t eat McDonald’s even before I went to prison.”
Her lips turned, just barely. The lids of those sultry eyes lowered, almost imperceptibly. The effect a little dreamy. Extremely sexy. “Then you’ve missed out on the best French fries on the planet. Mmm.”
His throat squeezed. Mouth went dry. That hum nearly popped the button on his damn jeans. Fuck, he so didn’t need this. “You don’t look like you’ve ever eaten a fry in your life.”
“I just don’t eat them all day, every day. Why are we here again?”
Hell if he knew. All his blood was somewhere below his belt.
“We need supplies.” He pressed his fingers to his eyes and forced his mind clear. “I think I can get them all here.”
“How long have you been in prison?”
He dropped his hand, opened his eyes and stared out the windshield, half-sure he’d imagined the question. But when he looked at her, she peered back with such keen interest, Teague was sure she was waiting for an answer. In a sick way, he was glad she’d asked, because every degree of heat she’d fueled, immediately chilled.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Or think about it. Or remember all the unbearable details.
Teague pushed the driver’s door open, dropped to the ground and rounded the truck. He opened Hannah’s door and settled a serious look on her. “Here’s the deal. You stay close to me. And I mean close. If you try to get away or make any stupid move, like scream, complain, fake injury, whatever, I’ll make sure Taz knows not only where you live, but where every member of your family lives as well.”
He paused, waiting for that information to sink in then put the punch behind the statement. “He murdered his baby sister for sleeping with a Mexican. He tied them both up, took them into a lettuce field, threw them into the dirt and ran them over with a discer while they were still alive. Do you know what a discer is?”
Her big eyes glazed with shock. “I…I don’t think I want to—“
“It’s a tractor with a couple dozen rotary blades on the back. Each blade is the size of a semi’s tire. They’re used to till fields.”
Hannah’s face scrunched as if she were in pain again. And he knew just how she felt. The stories Taz boasted had caused Teague nightmares for months. But in this case, he needed to make a point, and she needed to get it.
“They were picking up pieces of them both for weeks,” he continued. “The coroner came out to the farm with a bulk supply of evidence flags and stuck one where they found every body part—“
“Okay.” She closed her eyes and held up her hand. “Okay. I get it. Jesus, you’re lucky I haven’t puked on you yet.”
“With my luck, that’ll change soon, won’t it?”
FEVER is available for pre-order now and releases February 28, 2012