Thanks for dropping by our Romantic Suspense week! Today I'm sharing with you an excerpt from my July release, THE FIFTH KINGDOM. Here's what RT Book Reviews had to say about it:
4.5 Stars: “This story is an Indiana Jones-style thrill ride infused with just the right amount of romance and sexual tension…The mystery, the family dynamic and the love story all blend together perfectly in this delightful adventure. Who needs Harrison Ford when you’ve got a tale like this?”
And now for a little teaser...
Dr. Deanna Vasquez hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, not since the renowned archaeologist abandoned her family in her quest to find the lost tomb of Montezuma. When CIA agent Bill Santana shows up in her classroom with the news that her mother has been abducted by terrorists, Deanna has to help in any way she can.
Bill needs Deanna’s expertise to determine the location of her mother’s latest find, before her kidnappers do. He fears whatever mysteries the tomb holds could be deadly in the wrong hands. In an effort to make contact with the terrorist cell, Bill accompanies Deanna to Mexico posing as her fiancé—a ruse made doubly dangerous because of the very real heat between them…
Excerpt from THE FIFTH KINGDOM
A man in black at your door was never a good thing, Deanna Vasquez thought as she watched her students shuffle past the brawny man with the nearly black buzz-cut hair stationed at the entrance to her classroom. He had one hand clasped over his wrist and resting on a lean midsection in a classic pose. When coupled with the midnight-colored suit, it screamed law enforcement.
Handsome in a deadly and dangerous kind of way, she supposed, as she examined him from the corner of her eye. His face was all sharp lines chiseled into granite. His creamy skin showed traces of a heavy beard and his eyes were the color of the ocean during a tempest.
That stormy gaze never shifted from her as the teens filed by and shot him a combination of amused and uneasy looks.
She was certain her own features reflected her discomfort when she finally gave him her full attention.
“May I help you?” she called out.
“May I come in?” he asked, his voice a melodious baritone that might have been pleasant in some other situation. She ignored the way the low timbre of it strummed alive something within her.
“Would it make a difference if I said 'No'?” she asked and arched her brow in emphasis.
“No,” he said with a rueful shake of his head. He walked into the room, his strides purposeful. When he reached the edge of her desk, he once again stood there, hands held before him, everything about him outwardly calm and yet shimmering with ominous energy below the surface.
He was lethally large, with thick muscles through his shoulders and chest, and big powerful thighs. The suit hid most of his midsection, but she imagined it would be as solid as a tree trunk given the rest of him.
She was used to slighter, more scholarly, sorts and his size intimidated, but she suspected that's what he wanted. It was probably what he needed to deal with most of the people he met in his line of business.
She pulled her attention away from the bulkiness of him and concentrated on filling her briefcase with the end-of-year essays her pupils had turned in at the beginning of the class.
“Dr. Vasquez, I presume,” he said and finally held out his hand. Big, blunt-fingered and powerful. A large crescent-shaped scar marred the skin on one knuckle.
Swinging the now bulging briefcase from her desk, she stared down at his hand for a long moment, but didn't shake it. Not a fan of authority figures, she had no desire to make his acquaintance in any way, shape or form.
He finally dropped it and once again assumed his militarily precise posture. Hands steady. Legs braced slightly apart. Back ramrod straight. His posture communicating that he had no intention of going anywhere until he was good and ready.
Lifting her gaze to meet his since he was a good six inches taller than her middling height, she asked, “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Are you always so distrustful?” he stated blandly, although his mouth quirked with a hint of dissatisfaction.
She tried to brush past him, but he lifted a rock hard arm the way a barrier might snap down at a toll plaza. Following the line of his arm up along the clean dark fabric of his suit, she realized that much like the toll, her freedom would require some kind of payment.
“How can I help you, Mr...?” She paused, waiting for him to identify himself.
“Special Agent Santana,” he said, dropped his arm, reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a badge which he flashed in front of her face.
She peered at the shiny badge, noting the emblem with the eagle and multifaceted star along with the words Central Intelligence Agency. On the other side of the badge wallet was a laminated ID with his name. Guillermo Santana.
He shut the wallet with a loud snap and tucked it back into an inside jacket pocket, revealing the dull black handle of a gun secured in a well-worn leather holster.
“What can I do for you, Special Agent Santana?” she asked, returning her gaze to his face. A hard face, she acknowledged, although there were some features which softened its harshness. Long thick lashes framed inquisitive gray eyes flecked with blue. His mouth, which had appeared judgmental earlier, was full-lipped and she imagined he might have dimples should he ever smile.
She didn't imagine that he smiled very much, which was evidenced by those full lips tightening into a thin line as he said, “Is there somewhere private where we can talk?”
“My office is just down the hall.” She motioned to the door of her classroom.
He nodded, giving her the go-ahead to leave, but was right on her tail as she walked into the hallway and down the short distance to her room.
Some might have called her office space small, but she preferred to think of it as intimate. CIA Agent Santana clearly thought of it as puny based on the look he shot her after he assessed the book-lined walls and squeezed himself into the creaky wooden chair in front of her desk. To be honest, his immense size diminished the space, making it almost claustrophobic, especially after she closed the door to give them the privacy he thought they needed.
She dropped her briefcase beside her desk and sat down, mimicking the pose he had adopted. Fingers twined, hands resting on his midsection. Legs crossed at the ankles in a deceptively casual posture.
“So what can I do for you, Special Agent Santana?” she asked again.
Bill Santana had met some hard cases in his life, but he suspected that Dr. Deanna Vasquez was going to be as difficult as any of them.
Maybe more so.
“I understand you're the daughter of Dr. Miranda Adams.”
An immediate change came over her. She sat upright in her chair and stiffened. “Miranda and I —”
“Are estranged. I know that, Dr. Vasquez. But I understand from your father —”
“My father divorced my mother —”
“When you were thirteen. It must have been difficult for you to lose your mother at that age,” he said, well aware of the effect such things had on people. His own life had been a story of such loss.
She shot forward in her chair and the movement had her chestnut shoulder length hair shifting from the force of it. She splayed her hands across the smooth leather blotter on the surface of her desk, her seductive hazel-green eyes darkening with indignation. “If I wanted to be psychoanalyzed —”
“You were at age fourteen, I believe, but you're right. I'm not here to find out what makes you such a hard-ass.”
She sucked in a deep breath, held it and seemed to center herself before she released the breath slowly. “Why are you here?”
“The better question might be why you're here,” he said, motioning with a flip of his hand to the bookcase-lined walls filled with an assortment of tomes with titles that would likely bore most people to death.
His question ignited her anger once again.
“Here?” she said and her voice escalated in volume with each word that followed. “As in teaching history—something that I love by the way—at one of Manhattan's premiere prep schools?”
While he had to acknowledge that Halcyon Prep was certainly that, her credentials and background were better suited to an Ivy League college, making him wonder why, if she loved history so much, she chose to hide here.
“You've got several doctorates and are one of the foremost authorities on Mesoamerican cultures. Not to mention that you're the daughter of Gonzalo Vasquez and —”
“Miranda Adams. It seems like we've come full circle back to my mother once again.”
“Yes, we have. Inevitable since your mother is the reason I'm here,” he finally admitted.
She plopped back into her chair and steepled her fingers, brought them to her lips. Her fingers were long and elegant despite the fact that her nails were short and plainly done. She bounced her fingers against her full lips, clearly considering his words before she said, “As I mentioned before, my mother and I are estranged. I haven't spoken to her in some time.”
He nodded, but as he did so, he pulled his notepad from his suit jacket pocket and flipped through the pages until he got to the notes he wanted. Notes that said otherwise about when she had last spoken to her mother.
“Cell phone records show that your mother placed a call to your apartment two weeks ago. It didn't last very long — approximately two minutes —so I assume your conversation was a short one.”
“Our conversation was nonexistent. My mother left a message on my answering machine,” she advised.
There was no hint of deception in her tone, Bill decided. “Did you listen to the message?” he asked, although he knew what her likely answer would be. If things were as bad between them as her father had said during their earlier conversation, he suspected Dr. Vasquez had deleted the message as soon as she had realized who had left the call.
Deanna shrugged and the shoulders on the overly large suit she wore on her slender body barely moved. She surprised him by saying, “Miranda was carrying on about a discovery. She sounded almost manic about it, but that's par for the course. I didn't listen to the whole message.”
“You call your mother Miranda?” he pressed, which just earned him an annoyed glare.
“She stopped being my mother some time ago.”
The quaver in her voice confirmed to him that a great deal of upset remained from that event, but he pressed on, although something almost made him regret the hurt he was causing her.
“Yet she called you and your father about this supposed discovery. Did she say what it was?”
She surged forward in her chair, apparently having reached the limits of her patience. “Special Agent Santana. I have a lot to get done today, so I would appreciate it if you could cut to the chase. What kind of trouble is Miranda in?”
Bill considered his options, but knew he would get nowhere unless he told her the truth. “We believe your mother has been abducted.”
I hope you've enjoyed this sneak peek into THE FIFTH KINGDOM. To find out more, you can visit my website at www.caridad.com, my Facebook Fan Page at www.facebook.com/caridad.author or follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CaridadPineiro.
Also take a moment to check out the video trailer for THE FIFTH KINGDOM at my video channel at www.youtube.com/user/CaridadPineiro.