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Authors: Adrienne Giordano

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Negotiating Point

BOOK: Negotiating Point
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Dear Reader,

June is a good month for us here at Carina Press. Why? Because it’s the month we first started publishing books! This June marks our two-year anniversary of publishing books, and to celebrate, we’re featuring only return Carina Press authors throughout the month. Each author with a June release is one who has published with us previously, and who we’re thrilled to have return with another book!

In addition to featuring only return authors, we’re offering two volumes of Editor’s Choice collections. Volume I contains novellas from three of our rising stars in their respective romance subgenres: Shannon Stacey with contemporary romance novella
Slow Summer Kisses,
Cindy Spencer Pape with steampunk romance
Kilts & Kraken,
and Adrienne Giordano with romantic suspense novella
Negotiating Point.

From the non-romance genres comes
Editor’s Choice Volume II,
and four fantastic novellas: paranormal mystery
Dance of Flames
by Janni Nell, science-fiction
Pyro Canyon
by Robert Appleton, humorous action-adventure
No Money Down
by Julie Moffett, and
Dead Calm,
a mystery novella from Shirley Wells.

Later in June, those collections are joined by a selection of genres designed to highlight the diversity of Carina Press books. Janis Susan May returns with another horror suspense novel,
Timeless Innocents,
following up her fantastic horror debut,
Lure of the Mummy.
Mystery author Jean Harrington offers up
The Monet Murders,
the next installment in her Murders By Design series
.
And the wait is over for fans of Shawn Kupfer’s debut science-fiction thriller,
47 Echo,
with the release of the sequel,
Supercritical.
Rounding out the offerings for mystery fans, W. Soliman offers up
Risky Business,
the next novel in The Hunter Files
.

Romance fans need not dismay, we have plenty more to offer you as well, starting with
The Pirate’s Lady,
a captivating fantasy romance from author Julia Knight. Coleen Kwan pens a captivating steampunk romance in
Asher’s Invention,
and fans of m/m will be invested in Alex Beecroft’s emotional historical novella
His Heart’s Obsession.

If it’s a little naughty time you’re longing for, be sure to check out Lilly Cain’s
Undercover Alliance,
a sizzling science-fiction erotic romance.

We’re proud to showcase these returning authors, and the amazing books they’ve written. We hope you’ll join us as we move into our third year of publishing, and continue to bring you stories, characters and authors you can love!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Foreword

When we decided to do a collection of novellas to celebrate Carina Press’s second anniversary of publishing books, and to showcase the diversity of our catalog, I had a hard road ahead of me. How would I choose from the amazing selection of talented authors we’ve worked with over the past two years in order to create this collection?

In some ways, the first author was an easy choice for me. I’ve been working with Shannon Stacey in an editorial capacity for nearly a decade, and her book
Yours to Keep
was the first book I’d had hit the
New York Times
and
USA TODAY
bestseller lists. It was only natural that I’d want to showcase her talents in our anniversary collection.
Slow Summer Kisses
is a contemporary romance novella representative of what Shannon’s writing has always been in my eyes: smooth, terrific, character-driven romance with hints of humor, family and relatable life experiences. It’s always been an irresistible combination and this story is no different!

In selecting the other authors I wanted to work with, I knew I wanted to highlight a steampunk romance story. I was an editor asking for steampunk submissions long before other publishers and editors had ever heard of it as a genre. I remember sitting on an editor panel well over five years ago, saying I wanted someone to write some steampunk romance, and everyone on the panel—and in the room—looking at me and asking, “What’s steampunk?” Once I realized I needed a steampunk romance for this collection, Cindy Spencer Pape was the easy choice. Her Gaslight Chronicles series has been incredibly well-received by fans, and it was as if this niche had been created for her voice. I wasn’t disappointed when
Kilts & Kraken
showed up in my inbox. It has all the hallmarks of what I’ve come to expect in Cindy’s steampunk romances: an incredibly fun world, with stubborn heroes and heroines who have dynamite chemistry, and a fantastic cast of secondary characters who support an engaging plot and story.

Last, but not least, I turned to Adrienne Giordano to round out the selection of novellas. A romantic suspense author, Adrienne first truly came to my attention with her amazing attitude and drive to market, promote and grow her career. An enthusiastic participant in every stage of the writing, editing and selling process, it’s impossible not to want to introduce Adrienne and her books to as many readers as possible. Working with her on this romantic suspense novella also showed me her innate ability to take editorial direction and make her story even stronger. In
Negotiating Point,
we meet two strong-willed characters faced with a task that seems impossible: negotiate the release of their boss’s pregnant wife from the men who’ve taken her hostage. Even in the midst of a tense, dangerous situation such as this, it’s hard for them—and for us—to ignore the sexual tension sizzling between them!

While it was difficult to narrow down my choices to just these three authors and their novellas, I believe readers won’t be disappointed with the selections. I hope you enjoy this small glimpse into the variety of romance subgenres we have to offer. Though it was impossible to showcase them all, I think you’ll find Carina Press romances run the gamut from erotic to sweet, historical to fantasy, suspense and everything in between.

I also hope you’ll check out
Editor’s Choice Volume II,
which features a selection of novellas from the Carina Press non-romance genres!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

Negotiating Point
By Adrienne Giordano

As a hostage negotiator for Taylor Security, Gavin Sheppard has just been given the toughest assignment of his career: securing the release of his boss’s pregnant wife. He’s uneasy negotiating a rescue without the involvement of the police, but with the life of a woman and her unborn child on the line there’s no time to play by the rules. He’ll have to work closely with the one woman who could prove to be a distraction…

Janet Fink, the agency’s tech geek, is conflicted about working alongside the man she’s irresistibly attracted to. Though she’s determined not to risk her career by getting involved with a coworker, especially a superior, she can’t forget the passionate kiss they once shared…

With the kidnappers’ deadline fast approaching, Gavin and Janet must combine their skills to bring the missing woman home alive. But their undeniable chemistry is making it difficult to keep their relationship purely professional…

25,000 words

Chapter One

At 10:20 a.m. Gavin stepped into Mike Taylor’s office and found his boss sitting at his pristine, glass-topped desk, his sleeves rolled to his elbows and his dark hair sticking up in the back.

He checked his watch. Yep. 10:20.

I’m screwed.

The man’s appearance was typically as neat as his office. His hair sticking up? This early? In Mike’s OCD world? Unacceptable.

Whatever Gavin had been summoned for had to be a disaster. Stabbing pin pricks crawled up his neck. He shifted his gaze left. Vic Andrews, Taylor Security’s executive vice president, leaned against the window sill with his arms crossed, eyes narrowed and a general I’m-pissed-off-at-the-world aura.

Screwed.

Gavin stepped forward. “What’s up?”

Mike held his hands prayerlike in front of him, his fingers mashed together until his veins popped.

Screwed in a big way.

Vic boosted off the window sill. “Roxann has been kidnapped.”

Bam!
Forget the warm-up. Gavin threw his shoulders back and those pin pricks turned to dagger stabs. Had he heard right? He shifted to Mike. “Your Roxann?”

Mike nodded.

“Have they made contact? Ransom?”

“Not yet. I got a call a few minutes ago. They said no cops and to expect communication in the next hour.”

“Where’d they grab her?”

Mike looked down, shook his head and scrubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t know. We left together this morning. She was heading to the lake house to get ready for the Fourth of July party on Saturday. I’ve got Gizmo getting me a trace on her car.”

That wouldn’t do them any good. Even the most inexperienced kidnapper would know a high-end Mercedes would have factory-installed tracking. Couple that with the car being owned by the man who ran not only Chicago’s, but one of the nation’s most elite private security companies and it was a no-brainer they’d be able to locate the car. The kidnappers probably abandoned it somewhere. Mike knew that and Gavin wouldn’t voice it.

“Are you considering calling the FBI?”

Vic moved to the side of the desk. “No feds.”

Gavin ignored him. “Mike?”

“No FBI.”

Lost that round.

“The FBI,” Mike continued, “has to play by the rules. We don’t. I want my wife back without having to deal with red tape.”

“Damn straight,” Vic added. “We got everything we need. We find her and we go in and get her. End of story.”

Gavin finally looked at him. “End of story? What’s wrong with you? You and your merry men charging in there with your flash bangs and weapons will escalate the situation.”

“Screw that,” Vic said. “These assholes won’t know what hit them. Once we find her, we’ll be in there so fast they won’t have time to draw on us. Besides, what the hell do we need the FBI for when we have you?”

Gavin breathed deep. A sound argument considering, prior to six months ago, he’d spent the last twelve years as an FBI hostage negotiator. “Has it occurred to you that we are not in some war-torn country? You’re talking about doing a takedown on U.S. soil. In case you weren’t aware, if someone gets shot, there are laws against that sort of thing.”

Mike put both hands up. “Enough.” He dragged his gaze from Vic to Gavin. “Look, Gavin, all due respect, I’m not calling the feds.”

“Thank you,” Vic said.

“But we’re not going tactical either.
Yet.
Gavin will negotiate her release.”

There it was. The assignment of his career.

“Mike,” Vic said. “Why waste time trying to head-shrink our way out of this?”

Jab number one. Gavin folded his arms, let the anger inside flash and burn before reacting. Considering Vic was married to Mike’s sister and his own emotions were likely in play, he’d give him a pass on the head-shrinker comment. “We’re not
head-shrinking.
We don’t know who these people are or what they want. Let’s figure that out and then make a plan.”

A ding sounded from Mike’s email. He spun to the laptop, shook the mouse and stared at the screen. The muscle in his jaw throbbed. “Here it is.”

Gavin swung around the desk to read over Mike’s shoulder. Within the email was a link. No message. Mike clicked the link before Gavin could warn him about possible computer viruses. Not a top priority when the man’s wife had been kidnapped.

A video popped on the screen and Roxann’s classically beautiful face—the blue eyes, the perfect cheekbones, the blond hair, appeared. The background was a white wall, no markings or hanging artwork. No intel there.

Before clicking the play arrow, Mike blew out a heaving breath that sounded like it had stripped him raw. Probably had.

Gavin touched his shoulder. “Let me do this. Take a walk or something.”

Mike shook him off, clicked the button and they watched Roxann glance beyond the camera. “Now?” she said.

True to her legendary control—or maybe it was her experience with running a major market newspaper—her voice stayed steady and direct. Roxann Taylor might be a rock star when it came to putting on a brave face, but he’d spent last weekend with this couple. He’d seen her relax and banter with her husband over his goading, teasing comments. The stoic person on this video was indicative of Roxann Taylor the controlled executive. Not Roxann Taylor the loving wife.

That alone ripped into Gavin and his chest ached for the man sitting in front of him.

Someone must have signaled Roxann because she looked down, her blond hair falling in front of her face as she read from notes. The video had a grainy quality to it. Cell phone. Had to be.

“My captors are part of the Freedom Today group. Their leader, the most-esteemed Jackson Spelling, is wrongly incarcerated for plotting to murder a judge. Mr. Spelling is innocent and the Freedom Today group demands his release. Further, the group expects my husband to use his government contacts to help with Mr. Spelling’s release. The group also demands that my newspaper run a front-page story on Mr. Spelling’s wrongful conviction. You will be contacted again at noon today with instructions.”

The screen went black. A breath-stealing silence hung heavy in the room, the energy shot through with nervous tension. “Play it again.”

Vic waved a hand, the white of his dress shirt flashing in Gavin’s peripheral vision. “Mike, go for a walk. We’ll deal with this.”

“I’m fine.”

But he didn’t move and they continued to stare at him, waiting for him to play the video. Gavin followed Mike’s gaze to a solid crystal paperweight that looked heavy enough to split someone’s head.

Gavin reached for the rounded crystal which, indeed, packed some heft and handed it to his boss, who glanced up at him, his eyes hard.
Yes, I’ve “head-shrinked” you.
“Go for it. Let loose so you can focus.”

With that, Mike jumped out of his chair and launched the paperweight against the wall with the force of a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball. Upon its booming impact, the paperweight shattered, spraying shards of pulverized glass over the sofa and floor. Helluva mess there. “Better?”

Mike sucked in air, held it a minute and let it go. “Yes.”

“Good. Play that video again.”

Mike clicked the button and the video started. Nothing. No car horns. No television or radio in the background. Just Roxann and a drab off-white wall.

“Okay,” Gavin said. “Can I bring Janet in on this?”

Janet Fink. Resident tech geek. The woman could do things with computers that nearly gave him an orgasm.

“Of course,” Mike said. “We’ll use every asset we have.”

Gavin reached for the desk phone and dialed.

“Hi, Michael,” Janet said.

“It’s Gavin. In Mike’s office. Can you get here ASAP?”

“On my way.”

Two minutes later she rushed through the door, her hesitant gaze blazing around the room to the three of them.
Welcome to the nightmare.
She must have sprinted up the two flights of stairs, but her shoulder-length honey-blond hair remained secure in a hair clip. The look only accentuated her softly rounded face and big brown eyes. She wore a sleeveless blouse and snug-fitting pants that emphasized her petite frame. The woman couldn’t be more than 105 pounds.

Avoiding his gaze, she turned to Mike still sitting at his desk. “What’s happening?”

Gavin took that one. “We have a situation. Roxann has been kidnapped.”

Janet’s dark eyes finally shifted to him.
“Kidnapped?”

No one answered. She accepted the silence as affirmation and faced Mike. “My God. I’m so sorry. What can I do?”

Gavin waved her behind the desk. “Take a look at this video. I think they used a cell phone. Can you get me the number and location?”

She slid around the desk and Mike signaled her to his chair. “Watch the whole thing. We’re gonna need you to work your contacts for info on this group.”

“While she’s doing that,” Gavin said, “how do you want to handle the request about the story in the
Banner?

Mike shook his head. “Roxi would never go for that.”

“Not a chance.” This from Vic. “She won’t be bullied into a story.”

“Do the executives at the
Banner
know about this?” Gavin asked.

“Only her secretary. Rox was supposed to stop at the office on the way to the lake. When she didn’t show, Mrs. Mackey called me. I had to tell her.”

Vic straightened. “Let’s wait for the call and tell them we’re sending a reporter. We’ll send one of our guys in. He can report back and we move. Done deal.”

Again with going tactical.
Pain in the ass.

“No,” Gavin said. “You want to send one of your guys in, fine. I can use the intel for negotiations.”

“Listen, head-shrinker.” Vic jabbed his finger. “I’m not dicking around with you. We need to get her out of there.”

Yeah, hello.
The head-shrinker thing was starting to piss him off. That would be a fight for later though. “I’m not risking her getting hurt when you knuckle-draggers bust in there and cause panic. We have no idea what we’re dealing with. We don’t know what kind of weapons they have or if they’re capable of using them. Let me get information first.”

If the knuckle-dragger comment had even dented Vic’s buzz-cut blond head, it didn’t show. Mike once again held his hands to them. “Gavin is right. We need information. Let’s get that and decide on a plan.”

“Mike!” Vic hollered.

Mike spun on him and, despite being a few inches shorter than Vic, he had a way of getting large with people. “We’re doing it Gavin’s way. She’s pregnant. I can’t take a chance.”

And, whoa, everyone stopped moving. Including maybe Gavin’s heart.

“Holy shit,” Vic said.

Mike puffed out his cheeks and blew air. “I didn’t want to tell you that way. I found out this morning. We wanted to tell everyone this weekend.”

* * *

Janet’s fingers trembled as they flew over the keyboard. What did one say to a man who found out he would be a father on the same day of his wife’s kidnapping?

Congratulations?

I’m sorry?

No idea. But she could keep working this video and hope the owner didn’t turn off the phone’s geotagging function. Geotags would tell them where the video was shot and that was what she needed.

“Jesus, Mike,” Vic said.

Janet glanced up at him, hoping he wouldn’t be his typical free-wheeling self and mouth off. She went back to the screen in front of her.
Come to Mama.
“Got it!”

“Where?” Vic said.

“Keep your shorts on, boss, and I’ll get an address.” She went to a map, typed in the long and lat. “Denson, Illinois. By Kankakee. Major farm country there.” She jotted the address.

Vic snatched the paper from her. “I’ll check it out.”

“Let’s not do anything stupid,” Mike said. “I’d go with you but the next call will come soon.”

“I’m good. If I can verify she’s there, we’ll know where to start and head-shrinker here can do his thing.”

Janet sighed. “You know, that head-shrinker thing is just rude.”

His response was an out-of-character—at least when it came to her—glare and she curled her toes inside her ballet slipper shoes.

“Take it easy, girlfriend. We’re all on the same team. Besides, he can take it.”

With that, Vic walked out leaving Michael shaking his head. “Gavin—”

“Forget it, Mike. Bigger things to mess with here. Vic and I will work it out. Eventually. Janet, if we confirm her location, we’ll set up a command post and you’ll need to get us wired.”

“No problem. I’ll head downstairs and get what we’ll need. I’ll make calls, see who knows what about this Freedom Today group. If they’re a major player, my contacts at the CIA will have them on a list somewhere.”

* * *

An hour later, with Vic on speakerphone, Gavin stood next to Mike’s desk counting down the eighteen minutes until their next communication from the kidnappers. Janet sat in one of the leather guest chairs in front of the desk, notepad in hand.

“What have you got?” Mike asked Vic.

“It’s a farmhouse. There’s a car parked in the driveway. No activity outside. Shades are pulled. I got a plate number for the car. And relax, head-shrinker, I didn’t go near the house.”

Pain in the ass.
“So, no way to tell if Roxann is inside?”

“No.”

Janet raised her hand to get their attention. “When they call, why don’t we have Mike ask to speak to Rox, then I can get a location for the phone. If the address is a match for the farmhouse, we know that’s where she is.”

“Beautiful,” Vic said.

Love this woman.
Maybe they’d get Roxann and her unborn baby released unharmed. “Vic, check the area for somewhere to set up a command post.”

“On it.”

“We’ll keep you posted.” Mike disconnected, ran his hands over his face and sat back. “Now we wait?”

Gavin nodded. “Now we wait.” He turned to Janet. “How confident are you that you can grab the phone’s location?”

She glanced at Mike, then back to Gavin. “In my downtime, I’ve hacked into the top three cell carrier’s systems. If the phone is part of one of their networks, I can get its location. I retrieved the number from when they sent the video. All I’d have to do this time is check the location of the phone they’re talking on and make sure it matches.”

BOOK: Negotiating Point
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