Collaboration. It’s a word we use a fair amount around here and I’m here this morning to prove it.
Saturdays, K. R. Brorman, S. A. Young and I take turns writing about our collaboration on a series of three (so far) contemporary romantic suspense novels1. K. R. Brorman is the lead author of the first in the series, Eden’s Fall.
In the following scene, we introduce you to two of our three Male Main Characters (MMCs): Lt. Colonel Lucius Chaerea and Mike Chapman. Luc Chaerea is the MMC for Eden’s Fall. (FYI, Mike Chapman is the MMC for book 2, Winter’s Thaw. Book 3 — Venus Rising? That would be William “Will” Faraday MacKenzie.) K. R. and I have worked and reworked this scene a few times and, we believe, it’s gotten better with each iteration. For kicks, we thought we’d share it with you today.
And, if you’d like to act like beta readers for the day, we’d love to get your feedback (not proofreading, although that serves a worthwhile purpose, too) — does this scene hold together? Are the characters believable? Are they interesting at all? Is the dialogue okay? Can you tell who’s talking and when? Does this scene make you want to read the next chapter? Let us know in the comments.
We hope you enjoy!
Mike Chapman strolled up the steps to an innocuous brownstone just a few blocks away from Embassy Row. He didn’t bother removing the ball cap or even flashing credentials. The door buzzed open before he had the chance to ring. He shot a grin at the inconspicuous camera notched into the old limestone medallion over the door. Being recognized and admitted before asking was impressive, but really was just part of the protocol. The efficiency of the operation satisfied his own need for discretion.
When he’d first met Lt. Colonel Lucius Chaerea in Afghanistan, the man’s ability to read and know people on first acquaintance was disconcerting. Having been in and out of this team’s operations over the past few years, he’d come to understand it was an inherent element of Chaerea’s leadership style. All his life and starting with his father, Chapman had witnessed, or been subjected to he thought with a wry half-smile, the typically authoritarian style of “leadership” promulgated by the US military. Nothing patriarchal about Chaerea, he mused. The men and women in his organization knew what their mission was and each one felt like they were an integral part of something important. They didn’t wait to be told what to do. They weren’t just allowed to question, they were expected to do so. When he started to recall the blind obedience his father, the Marine Corps Colonel, not just expected, but enforced, he cut himself off. No point going there.
“Rainsborough,” Chapman acknowledged the stern man seated at the ground floor desk. “Am I waiting down here or can I go up?”
“He’s in the office.” Thomas Rainsborough cleared his throat.
“Seriously?” Chapman asked with feigned innocence even as he reached into his back holster.
“You know the rules, Chapman.”
“And you know I had to try. I was armed around the Colonel for eight months in the Sudan. I oughta be an exception to the rules,” he kept grinning his boyish smile, aqua eyes twinkling, but turned over his weapon without rancor.
“Only a fool would go unarmed in the Sudan. Still, you know there are no exceptions in the residence.”
Chapman chuckled, “Always the hardass, Rainsborough. Griffin and Mac around?” He was suddenly all business, “I think you all are going to want to hear this.”
Thomas pressed a button and, within moments, both Ellis Griffin and Mac appeared from a door behind the staircase. McMurtry “Mac” Summers, named for his father’s favorite author. An aficionado of cigars and Western books and movies, and Luc’s opponent in the never ending debate over which was the better version of the John Wayne-drunk friend-young man-hot babe movie formula — El Dorado or Rio Bravo.
“Chapman,” Mac flashed his wide grin. “You selling Girl Scout cookies?”
“Better,” Chapman said over his shoulder, his long stride eating up the Persian runner carpeting the staircase up to Lucius’ office. “Big fat gopher poked his head up out on my golf course.”
Mac bunched his fists, rolled massive shoulders in gopher dance moves while singing, “I’m all right. Nobody worry ‘bout me.”
He might be affable, though huge. His grin, infectious. But, if one really looked at his hard, brown eyes, his dark danger was obvious. Mike played along, but wasn’t fooled.
Lucius opened the door as they approached, “Let’s play through gentlemen,” gesturing for all four to have a seat inside.
Chapman flopped down on a large leather sofa, parking a size 13 trainer on a faded, denimed knee. Mac took the opposite corner. Griffin, lean and graceful, an unconscious mimic of Lucius, sank into an arm chair. Rainsborough remained by the door and Lucius leaned on the desk.
“Tee up,” Lucius said.
Feet hitting the floor, Chapman leaned forward, elbows on knees, “Remember a few weeks ago when your girlfriend and her buddies were playing Nancy Drew?” Everyone nodded, Mac chuckled and Lucius even managed a cautious turn at the corner of his mouth. “Well, because we have search alerts on you and everyone on your team, their Googling and poking sent up red flags, of course,” he shrugged, “I put a tag on you that would trace back to whoever might be ‘researching’ you,” he made air quotes.
Lucius folded his arms over his chest and shot a look at Griffin, “There was to be no tracking of Kenna.”
Chapman’s hands went up. “Nothing like that. We just kept the parameters open in case there was more digging. On you.”
Everyone waited. Even the air conditioner seemed to grow quiet, sensing something ominous in Chapman’s tone.
“This morning, we got a hit. And it wasn’t your girlfriend. It took my man until an hour ago to trace the IPs. I mean this guy was pinging off everybody around the world more times than we could count, but it kept coming back to Istanbul before winging off…”
“Lazarashvilli,” Rainsborough stated.
“But,” Griffin mused.
“Yeah,” Chapman cocked his head to Lucius. “‘Nothing matters before the but’,” he echoed one of Chaerea’s often stated truisms. “We finally pinned him,” he and Lucius locked eyes.
“Where,” it wasn’t a question.
“An internet café on the Lower East Side. Half a block from Mr. Ping’s Chinese.”
Lucius thought the blood had frozen in his veins, but not a single man in that room could see the sheer terror this revelation inspired. Kenna had kept him at arms length for a few days, and it took great personal restraint not to bring her into the safety of his home right then.
Chapman pulled his smartphone out of his shirt pocket and thumbed in his pass code. He scrolled to a grainy image he’d saved and handed the device over to Lucius. “One more thing. Homeland Security facial recognition got a hit on this guy coming into JFK last night. Known associate of your David Lawrence, aka Davit Lazarashvilli. They have his luggage, but he was in a car and gone before they could lay hands on him.”
Gazing at the image on the small screen now glaring up at him from his palm, Lucius curled the long fingers of his other hand into a fist he pressed to his lips to still the imperceptible tremor.
“Thank you, Mike.” And Chapman damn near felt warm and fuzzy at the familiar use of his name. “I assume you are willing to go on the clock until further notice,” he held up a hand before Chapman could protest. “This is too big for a favor and I can’t change anything internally without letting them know we know. Could be a diversion. The friend of our friend may be in town on business, and rattling my cage is a distraction from the real purpose.” He dearly hoped so.
“I’ll reach out to the Feds and NYPD in case they are trying to ship women in or out,” Mac volunteered. A nod from Lucius and he was out the door.
“Thomas, cover safe houses and shelters. Tell them not to wait if anyone disappears. Don’t worry about immigration, we can help with that if it keeps them off an auction block.”
Chapman drummed his fingers on his thigh for a moment analyzing the tension rolling off Lucius. “Well, I guess I’ll get back to it.”
“Mike,” Lucius was nodding his head, agreeing with his internal counsel, “add Kenna to your watch. Keep your distance, but if Lazarashvilli or his men have her scent or get close…”
“I know what to do,” he took this seriously but part of him rejoiced that the Colonel was so crazy about a woman. About time, he thought.
Chapman stopped in the open doorway and looked at Lucius.
“Keep a watch on Kenna’s friends as well. Candace Fisher and Francesca – Frankie – Winslow.”
1 Well, sometimes you get treated to a Random Act of Fiction like the latest installment of K. R. Brorman’s short story, Stay.