When I first wrote Reading the Signs, it had a prologue that consisted of two parts. Of course, neither of these scenes needed to be in the book. They were just backstory (with flashbacks of more backstory!) and I worked them into the story in other ways. But, just for fun, I’ve put them here in case you’re curious.
Las Vegas, Nevada — Spring, 1985
Brooke glanced at her watch. Dang! She was going to be late for work. She jumped off the city bus and headed for the office building where she was the executive assistant to the president of Platinum, Inc. In her ten months on the job, she’d never been late and she hated being late now. Her job was awesome and she liked her boss, even if he had been really distracted lately. Maybe she’d get lucky and he wouldn’t notice she was fifteen minutes late. Still, she was usually a very steady employee and she knew her boss relied on her. He often told her she was solid.
She entered the office building and caught the elevator to the top floor. If truth be told, she didn’t feel very steady— or solid—lately. Not since she’d met the man of her dreams. Drew was the head of security at Platinum, so their relationship had to be top-secret. It might be the ‘80s, but prudes still existed. With the recent explosion of sexual harassment lawsuits, she knew it would mean her job if they were discovered. But he was just so . . . totally rad! She couldn’t help herself.
Her mind wandered back to the previous weekend. They’d been dating for several months, but last weekend had been something special. When Drew picked her up, he said he had a surprise for her. She was stoked because she loved surprises.
And my man delivered!
He took her to a fancy hotel room with a mondo jacuzzi tub and huge windows that spread the view of the Las Vegas Strip at their feet. They shared champagne from the same flute and nibbled appetizers from each other’s fingertips. All the while, Drew held her close—as if he never wanted to let her go. If she hadn’t already been head over heels for the guy, the look in his eyes and the way he held her would have done it.
Then, the most amazing thing happened. As she gazed into Drew’s jade green eyes, he professed his love and begged her to marry him. Marry him! Everything inside her had just melted. Her head spun as he danced her in circles to the bed and, well, the rest just made her blush to think about. She couldn’t believe she was going to marry the man she loved beyond reason, a man who loved her right back. The fact that he’d been an incredible lover only added to her happy buzz.
Nothing could kill that buzz, not even the bombshell he dropped on her the next morning. She still wasn’t sure what to make of his revelations. Drew claimed to be some kind of undercover federal agent. She shook her head a little thinking of all the things he told her. It was all so overwhelming. She knew she would have to be brave and trust him. After all, that is what he asked her to do. But for right now, she just wanted to focus on the fact that he loved her and he wanted to marry her. They would sort out the rest later.
She stepped off the elevator and breezed into the outer office to her desk. She knew her boss had already arrived because the door to his office was ajar. She dropped her jacket on the back of her chair and glanced at the coffee pot on the credenza behind her. Hmm, that’s odd. It was empty. Usually her boss made coffee when he arrived before she did. She started a pot and picked up the phone to retrieve the overnight messages. She called a good morning to her boss, but he didn’t answer. That wasn’t good. She hoped he wasn’t going to have a cow over her being a few minutes late. Oh, well, if Drew’s revelations couldn’t ruin her happy buzz, she wouldn’t let a surly boss ruin it either. She decided to take him some coffee when she apologized.
She poured a cup and carried it carefully to his partially open door. She tapped the door but, again, he didn’t answer. She peaked around the doorframe. He was sitting in the tall leather chair behind his desk and he was turned so his back was to the room. He loved that chair. It had been a Christmas gift from his wife and son last year. She cleared her throat to get his attention, but he still didn’t answer.
He wasn’t on the phone because she could see the receiver resting in its cradle on his desk. She walked into the room. “Excuse me, Jim?” No answer. She walked to the desk. She opened her mouth to apologize but froze instead. Something was wrong. Very wrong. The hair on the back of her neck prickled. Her boss was unnaturally still. Apprehension filled her, squeezing her lungs, making it difficult to draw a breath.
She had no idea where the courage came from, but she reached across the desk and spun the chair around. Her boss’s feet dragged on the floor and stopped the chair before it made a full turn, but it was enough. She thought she was going to be sick. Her boss’s head was tipped to one side, his mouth hung open and his dead, glassy eyes stared right at her. There was a bullet hole in the center of his forehead.
Then she saw the blood and brains that had been blown out of the back of his head along with the bullet. The gore was splattered on his beloved chair and fanned out around his head like a macabre halo.
She stood paralyzed, coffee in hand, staring at her boss’s gruesome face. Alarm bells rang in a small, detached part of her brain, but the rest of her was unable to respond. Her boss was dead. Jim is dead. Something in her mind finally snapped and reality crashed in. She began screaming, dropped the coffee mug and backed away from the desk. She turned to run from the room as questions flooded her mind. Was the killer still there? Was she in any danger? What should she do?
It wasn’t until hours later, after she had tried and failed repeatedly to contact her fiancé, that she began fear the worst. As an undercover federal agent, was Drew somehow involved with the murder?
Las Vegas, Nevada — Two years ago
Kate stretched and opened her eyes. She smiled as she felt her husband (yes, her husband!) snuggle up behind her in his sleep. She carefully rolled over to face him. He was so handsome with his thick blonde hair sticking in a million different directions and his lean, strong chin somehow softer in sleep. Best of all were his laughing, warm, chocolaty eyes she knew were full of life and love . . . when he was awake. She still couldn’t believe such an incredible man loved her. And she loved him back . . . passionately, with every fiber of her being. When he touched her, her body sang, and when he loved her, she experienced the entire chorus, over and over again. It was overwhelming, it was beautiful, it was all-consuming. He was her life and she reveled in that fact.
Slowly Mark opened his eyes. A lazy smile spread across his lips as he pulled her firmly against his bare chest and kissed her slowly, lovingly, tenderly.
“Good morning, Darlin’, how did you sleep?”
Kate smiled. “You know very well I didn’t. Someone kept me up all night.”
He kissed her on the tip of her nose. “Well, what’re we going to do about that? Do you wanna sleep some more? Or do you wanna repeat performance?” He nuzzled Kate’s neck.
She laughed and tapped him on his perfect butt. “You shouldn’t make offers you can’t fulfill. You have to go to work today, remember? It’s almost 9 o’clock now.”
At that, his eyes popped open and he pulled back a fraction of an inch. “Oh, crap, I forgot.” His eyes turned apologetic as he continued, “I’m really sorry Darlin’, can you give me a rain check?”
Kate laughed and sat up. “Of course, just hurry home to me. I’ll be unpacking boxes and missing you every minute you’re gone.”
Mark jumped out of bed and walked around to her side. He pulled her up off the bed and into a full body hug. His arms wrapped around her waist and the two of them were pressed together all the way from their noses to their knees. His eyes blazed into hers. “You can count on it, Darlin’, nothing could keep me away.” His lips descended to hers in a fast, hot kiss that left her breathless. Mark reluctantly released her and headed to the shower.
Several hours later Kate was singing along with the radio and unpacking the last of the boxes. Both she and Mark had just graduated from law school. Mark had grand plans to put away all the bad guys, but she just wanted to help ordinary people. Because they had both been students their entire adult lives, neither one of them had nice furniture or many possessions. All they owned fit into a small U-Haul they drove from Omaha, where they were students, to Las Vegas, where they planned to start their life together. In fact, Mark would begin his professional journey in just a couple of days, when he started his job at the district attorney’s office. Today’s required office visit was to get oriented, meet his boss, and fill out the necessary paperwork. Kate thought she was luckier. She didn’t have to start her job as a litigation associate at the largest law firm in Nevada until after the bar exam in July.
Kate smiled when she found her diary in the box she was unpacking. She flipped through the pages and caught Mark’s name. She read the entry for September 9th of last year, the day she met Mark. It had been pouring rain and Kate wanted something hot and comforting for lunch. Unfortunately, so did the entire student body because the cafeteria was packed. She finally found room at a table crowded with people, and she scooted into place in the only empty chair. The man next to her was Mark, and he introduced himself. As soon as she glanced up, his warm, laughing, chocolaty eyes snared her and she was lost. That was it. Love at first sight. Thank God it was mutual.
They were nearly inseparable after that. They ate all their meals together, studied together, attended each other’s student functions, and fell completely, hopelessly, and thoroughly in love. Mark proposed over spring break in front of a roaring fire during an Omaha blizzard, and they were married right after graduation, only two weeks ago. Now, here they were in Las Vegas, a city Kate had never visited, let alone planned to live in one day. She couldn’t believe they were here. It had been a whirlwind.
Kate broke down an empty box and placed it with the rest ready for the trash. Mark was late, but she wasn’t too worried. There’d been a blurb on the radio about a big accident on the freeway, so he was probably delayed in traffic. It was late afternoon, and he’d planned to be back a couple of hours ago.
A knock on the door startled her. She looked around to check that the apartment was in order. All the boxes had been unpacked, so it looked presentable for company. She walked over to the door just as a knock sounded again. She wasn’t surprised to see Tom, her father-in-law, standing in the doorway. He was the only other person she knew in Las Vegas besides her husband. However, the look on his face stopped her cold.
“What’s wrong?” she cried as apprehension washed over her. Tom stepped into the apartment and grabbed her arms in a tight grip. He stared right into her eyes. His were desolate, lost, grief-stricken.
“There’s been an accident, Katie. Oh, God! They just called me! There’s been an accident. Mark was killed in a car accident this afternoon.”
Kate’s mind whirled, she felt sick, the room swooped, her vision narrowed. All she could see was her father-in-law’s face. How could this be? She was waiting for Mark to come home—he would be home any minute. His father must be mistaken. Mark would walk in the door soon. Tom would see . . . Mark was just late.
“Did you hear me, Kate? Mark’s dead. Oh, God, he’s dead.” Tom’s voice broke and tears ran down his face. Kate’s whirling mind, full of dread, finally fastened on to what he was saying. The pain on his face, the finality, the certainty, the horror finally penetrated her numb mind. No.
“No.” She shook her head. This couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be. They loved each other, they had plans to start a family. They’d just gotten married! If she didn’t have Mark, she didn’t have anyone. She couldn’t face that fact.
“No. NO! NOOOOOOOOOO!!”
As she screamed her denial, she struggled, trying to push Tom away. Despite her efforts, Tom managed to wrap both his arms around her. Suddenly exhausted, she finally stopped her struggles and collapsed against him, sobbing. He held her tightly and whispered words of comfort Kate couldn’t comprehend. As she stood there in Tom’s arms, crying with him, reality crashed over her again and again in ever increasing waves of pain. Just when Kate thought she could take no more, she found relief in black oblivion as she fainted into her father-in-law’s arms.