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Struggling to pay her late husbandâ€™s debts after he drowns in the Atlantic Ocean, Victoria Wells rents a room in her home to an ex-con who served time for killing his wife. As if thatâ€™s not enough, her husbandâ€™s unctuous lawyer is putting the moves on her. Her daughter, fleeing an abusive relationship at college, returns home, emotionally unstable and unpredictable. And Victoria realizes she is being stalked.
Someone wants a valuable object her late husband acquired by questionable means, but she has no clue where -- or indeed what -- it is. When she stumbles upon the body of a woman who resembles her, itâ€™s obvious someone will kill to get it.
Too many clues point to her boarder. Has she made a fatal mistake in allowing this brooding, volatile stranger into her home?
Telling herself that Carla was an adult who could handle herself, Victoria changed into her sweatsuit and sneakers, got her red parka, and slipped out the garage door.
The forest beckoned. Eagerly she entered its quiet environs. Although she liked spring best because of its surge of rejuvenation, winter held a peculiar thrall. Leafless trees yielded gnarled branches to her gaze, some twisted together like entwined snakes slithering upward. Red berries appeared vivid as drops of blood on withered vines. The carpet of dead leaves had decayed to the point where her footfalls were soft as a catâ€™s.
As Victoria rounded a particularly large evergreen, her eye was drawn to the smooth bark of a copper beech ahead. Someone had carved initials in it many years ago, and as the tree grew and expanded, the letters had spread to fat blurs.
She fingered the shallow grooves. Life was like this, she thought. No matter the trauma, the devastation, one had to keep going. Sheâ€™d lacked the courage to leave Rudy. Now that she was forced to be on her own, she had to find the courage to survive, to face up to Carla, even though the concept of tough love was diametrically opposed to Rudyâ€™s let-my-darling-do-anything mentality that had so alienated Carla from her.
Seeing a big splash of red on the forest floor caused Victoria to frown. No patch of flowers bloomed in February. No vivid autumn leaves could possibly remain on any low shrub. Approaching cautiously, she spied a fluffy ball of white near the red. The ball had short, bloated legs jutting out at odd angles.
The saliva in her throat disappeared. She stopped her advance, fighting a panic bubbling up inside her. The blotch of red looked like a jacket, with an arm flung out as if reaching for help. The red was subtly contoured, as though underneath, it clothed a back, hips, buttocks--
Her mind refused to finish the thought.
Below the jacket, half hidden by undergrowth, was a pair of sweatpants-clad legs, spread slightly apart as though a puppet had collapsed there. When the three-dimensionality of it penetrated her brain, Victoriaâ€™s skin ran as cold as if sheâ€™d plunged into a meat locker.
She was afraid to come closer, subconsciously knowing what her conscious mind was denying, yet she forced herself forward. Hadnâ€™t she just bemoaned her lack of courage? Wasnâ€™t this the time for courage? What if that person was alive? How could she live with herself if she just turned and ran like the coward she knew herself to be?
Fifteen feet away, then ten feet, five feet as Victoria propelled herself nearer, one fainthearted step at a time. Her heart thrummed like a tympani. Shudders jittered down her back.
From its size, Victoria guessed that it was a woman, lying face-down in the dead leaves, her short blond hair falling forward over her temples. Fighting the sour taste of sausage backing up into her throat, Victoria forced herself to kneel, to search for a pulse in the carotid artery. She inched her shaking hand forward to the space under the chin.
Instead of the smooth column of a neck, Victoriaâ€™s fingers grazed the jagged edge of hacked skin, the crumble of coagulated blood. She bolted to her feet. She felt the hair on her arms stand up like porcupine quills. A scream began to build in the back of her throat.
Her mindâ€™s eye played across her brain a series of unbearable flashes: Short blond hair. Red parka. White sweatpants. Trashed house. Attacker at the ATM machine. Wild driver in parking lot.
Had someone thought it was her?
Was someone out to kill her?
Victoria collapsed to her knees on the rotting mulch, bent over almost to the ground, and retched until she felt as though sheâ€™d vomited out all her intestines. And still she knelt, a horrified paralysis numbing her brain and her body.
When my first husband died of cancer at age 39, so much grief and anger boiled up inside me that I started recording these feelings in a diary in order to exorcise them. Eventually, I began constructing scenes using the powerful emotions I had experienced. Throwing the protagonists into life-threatening situations and watching them cope helped me cope. Thus my affinity for romantic suspense was born. My first three books with Wings ePress were romantic suspense. However, the characters in WILD NATURE told me that their story was a mainstream romance, so thatâ€™s how I wrote it.
My personal story does have a happy ending. I had met my second husband through a camera club. To get me out in the world again, Ed offered to teach me macro (close-up) photography. I think he taught me very well, as witness the photo of a calopogon orchid I took that graces the cover of DARK LEGACY (July 2002, Wings ePress, Inc.) We now reside in a small Pennsylvania town along the Delaware River.
An administrative assistant, I unwind after work by tending an eye-catching perennial garden in warm weather, and when snow is on the ground, I browse through garden catalogs. Having honed my craft for a dozen years before seeing my work published, I encourage writers not to give up. I enjoy writing for the sheer adrenaline rush I get when the characters take over the story and I simply have to find out how they get out of trouble. I love to hear from my readers. Please visit my website, www.christinejanssen.com and sign my guestbook.
Christine Janssen delivers romantic suspense with sizzle! Her richly realized characters will capture your imagination and your heart. Enjoy!" -- USA TODAY bestselling author SUZANNE FORSTER
"A new author who's skipping straight to the head of the list. Watch for great things from Christine Janssen." -- HOLT Medallion winner SHIRLEY HAILSTOCK
"Ms. Janssen delivers compelling suspense." -- Darlene Kendall, SIMEGEN
"Her talent will take her to the top of the list." -- Deborah Brent, WordMuseum Star Reviews
"Four stars. Christine Janssen challenges stereotypes by delivering a multifaceted heroine whose emotional and physical challenges will inspire readers.â€ Jill Smith, Romantic Times
"Four stars. Ms Janssen has crafted a complex, fast paced murder mystery. Her talent will take her to the top of the list. It is comparable to Linda Howard at her best.â€ Deborah Brent, Word Museum Star Reviews
"This book is a top rate mystery/whodunit as well as a good romance novel...the story is very well written with subtle curves and bends in the plot that will keep the reader transfixed to the very last page!â€ Venetia Foo, Simegen
"With STAND ON YOUR OWN, Christine Janssen has woven a wonderful romance out of a difficult subject. She took a tragedy and made it a triumph, and with no excuses or explanations. I proudly applaud the book and the author.â€ SHARON SALA, author of Remember Me
"STAND ON YOUR OWN is a terrific read, a sexy, romantic mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end.â€ CHRISTIANE HEGGAN, author of Moment of Truth
"Wow! Do not miss this earthy, engrossing, exciting novel. STAND ON YOUR OWN does!â€ Suzanne Forster, author of The Morning After
WILD NATURE - "Tender, steamy and full of surprises.â€ â€“ Christiane Heggan, author of Moment of Truth.
WILD NATURE -"4 stars. Ms. Janssen takes the villain from her previous book and manages to redeem his tattered soul.â€ â€“ Jill Smith, Romantic Times
WILD NATURE -"4 stars. The heroâ€™s pain and guilt can be felt throughout this touching love story.â€ â€“ Darlene Kendall, Simegen
WILD NATURE -"I donâ€™t think I have ever read as emotionally gripping and emotionally wrenching a story as this.â€ â€“ Marsha Briscoe, author of A Still Point In Time
Book Publisher: Wings e Press
No. of Pages: 340
Paper Weight (lb): 14.2
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