Chapter One of Lucky Save

chapter1teaser

So, here is chapter one of Lucky Save for your reading pleasure! Keep in mind, it hasn’t gone through a final check from my editor yet, so any mistakes are all mine.

I hope you enjoy it! The book is only a few weeks away, but hopefully this will tide you over until it’s released. 🙂
Happy Saturday, all!

—————–

CHAPTER ONE

LUCKY SAVE

 

“Come on. Please, please, start.”

She turned the key again, but the engine only stuttered and whined.

“Son of a bitch.”

Penn slammed her fist down on the steering wheel of her yellow Beetle. Swallowing the bitter bile rising in her throat, she peered out of the windshield at the empty blacktop that stretched on for miles.

Stranded. In the middle of the Nevada desert on Highway 50.

“No wonder it’s called the loneliest highway in America,” she muttered. She hadn’t seen another car yet, and she’d been here for at least a half an hour.

Grabbing her ancient cell phone from the passenger seat, she checked again for a signal.

NO SERVICE.

“Shit.” Not that she was really surprised out here in the middle of nowhere. Disgusted, she shoved the useless phone back into the pocket of her denim skirt.

This was bad. She was still hundreds of miles from Las Vegas.

This trip was supposed to be an escape from the shit storm she’d been through lately. All she wanted was to have a nice relaxing drive from Washington to Las Vegas. Then she could kick back, relax, and spend quality time with her best friend. She’d been planning this vacation with Holly for two months.

She needed this vacation.

Instead, here she was-stuck. It was a total representation of her life lately. Trying to move forward, but spinning her wheels and getting absolutely nowhere.

The heat was merciless as the afternoon sun beat down on her little Beetle. Keeping both doors open and the windows rolled down wasn’t making much of a difference. All she could do was drape a t-shirt over the seat to keep her legs from burning.

Though it was stifling inside the car, being outside wasn’t an option, either. She’d burn in a matter of minutes with her fair skin.

God. This was so, so bad.

Peeking into her cooler, she did a quick inventory. Two bottles of water, one sandwich, two chocolate bars, and a bag of chips. Of course, the one time she’d forgone getting snacks and drinks at a station, this happens.

She’d been so careful to plan and prepare for this trip. Gas stations were few and far between out here, so she’d put an extra canister of gas in her trunk just in case. She’d even had her car checked out before leaving Washington, and it had been purring right along without a hitch.

Until, of course, it hitched.

Blinking back tears, she took a deep breath. She needed to stay calm and rational-hell, she was known for being calm and rational. But it didn’t take a genius to see this situation was dangerous, and getting worse by the minute.

She glanced into her rearview mirror, praying to see another car, a truck, or any sign of life. But just like all the times she’d checked before, the road stayed empty.

If someone didn’t show up soon, she was completely screwed.

#

West turned right into the tiny Nevada service station and pulled the truck alongside a fuel pump. It was a long way to the next station on Highway 50, and he didn’t want to chance running out of gas in the middle of the desert.

At the pump opposite his, a beat-up blue van sat idle. Whispers from that direction caught his attention.

A middle-aged couple stared at him from the front seat. The blonde female nudged the driver, a big guy who squinted at him through the windshield.

“I’m sorry for bothering you, but are you West Keller?” the female called, hanging out of the open window.

“Yeah, that’s me.” How in the hell had he gotten recognized out here in the middle of fucking nowhere? If this place wasn’t close to the ends of the earth, nothing was.

“I knew it!” The woman climbed from the van and sauntered over to his truck. “I told my boyfriend it was you. You can’t miss all those tattoos. Billy, come down here!” she hollered over to the van.

West winced. Her voice could shatter every windshield within twenty feet.

She stared up at him, her hands on her hips. “Boy, you’re tall. And built. Wow. So, what is the goaltender for the Las Vegas Kingsnakes doing all the way out here, anyway?”

“Just driving back to the city from vacation.”

Billy stepped down from the van. “Stop bothering the guy, Kara. Jesus Christ. He’s going to get soaked from you drooling all over him.”

West chuckled. “It’s fine. No bother.”

“We’re big Kingsnakes fans.” Billy hooked a thumb toward Kara. “This one didn’t like hockey much at first, but she got into it after we went to a few home games.”

“Can I get a picture with you?” Kara asked. “My friend Lydia is going to totally freak. She’s so in love with you. She has your jersey and everything.”

“Just a minute.” He put the nozzle back in the holder and screwed on the gas cap.

Billy snorted. “Yeah, sure, Lydia is in love with him. Don’t act like you don’t have his jersey, too.”

Kara elbowed Billy in the ribs. “Oh my god. Shut up.”

West brushed his hands off on his jeans. “As long as someone has my jersey, it’s all good.”

“You guys came so close last season,” Billy told him. “That was a brutal loss. You’ll come back stronger in the fall, though. I know it.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the plan.”

The Kingsnakes had lost in overtime to Los Angeles during game seven of the Western Conference finals. It had been an incredibly difficult loss to stomach. He’d really thought they’d make it to the Cup finals, and he’d finally get a chance to lift that big silver trophy over his head.

Instead, they’d headed back to the locker room in stunned silence, their dreams going up in smoke and their season over.

Fuck, it still hurt.

He shook the disappointment from his mind and forced a smile. “Ready for that photo?”

“Heck, yes!” Kara cuddled into his side and placed her hand just above his ass. Her hand sank lower with each photo Billy snapped. Another second and she’d be squeezing the goods, boyfriend or not.

West gently extracted himself from her python-like grip. “I have to get back on the road. Make sure to come see some games next season, okay?”

Billy nodded. “Thanks, Keller.” Kara gave him a flirty wave and a wink.

He climbed into the cab, gave them a nod, and pulled back onto the empty highway.

It surprised the hell out of him to get noticed all the way out here, so far from the city limits. Still, that meant the Kingsnakes were expanding their fan base throughout the state, and that was good.

This summer, he’d really needed a break from Nevada. He loved the energy of Vegas, but he got recognized there every day. He’d retreated to a former teammate’s beach house in California, and ended up staying for the better part of a month.

From there, he’d headed up to British Columbia for a week to fish and enjoy some solitude. It had been just what he’d needed to clear his head.

Some days, like today, he just wanted to be anonymous. Not West Keller, professional athlete-just West Keller, guy on a road trip.

He punched down the accelerator and let his thoughts drift as he rolled down the highway. Out here on the open road, behind his sunglasses, that’s exactly who he was.

#

Unable to deny her growing thirst any longer, Penn uncapped one of the water bottles and took a long swallow. She glanced into her rearview mirror for what seemed like the millionth time in the past twenty minutes, and caught sight of a massive black truck barreling down the highway.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gasped, scrambling from the car. Charging to the side of the road, she hopped up and down, waving her arms. “Stop, please! Stop!”

The truck slowed and rolled to a stop twenty feet away, its Nevada license plate glinting in the sun. The driver backed the truck up in front of her Beetle and killed the engine.

Penn let out a huge, relieved sigh, grateful to finally see another human being. The feeling was immediately followed by a sharp pang of fear.

She had no choice but to accept help from a complete stranger. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to put the brakes on all the scary scenarios dancing through her overactive imagination.

The driver, a man, stepped from the jacked up truck and walked toward her. A gray t-shirt clung to his upper body like a second skin, emphasizing his lean, muscled stature. Snug blue jeans hugged him in all the right places. He pushed black sunglasses farther up the bridge of his nose.

“Well. Aren’t you in a hell of a spot.” His deep, rumbling voice sounded amused.

Her breath caught as she stared up at him, speechless. He towered over her, standing at least 6’5″. Larger than life didn’t seem an adequate way to describe this guy.

Colorful tattoos completely covered both of his arms, disappearing beneath the sleeves of his shirt. He tossed his too-long, light brown hair out of his eyes with a jerk of his head.

He looked dangerous.

Utterly, completely gorgeous, but dangerous.

Penn took a step back, putting space between them. It didn’t escape his notice, and one side of his mouth curled into a half-smile.

“What’s the problem, sweetheart?” He removed his sunglasses and gave her a slow, lingering once over. His deep gray eyes reminded her of the color of the sky just before a violent thunderstorm.

Heat crept into her cheeks as his gaze strayed to her legs. Why hadn’t she worn something less revealing for the drive into Vegas? She tugged on the short denim skirt.

“I’m not sure.” She nodded toward the Beetle. “It started sputtering, then it just shut off. You’re the first person to stop. Actually, you’re the first person I’ve even seen. I would have called the auto club, but my cell phone isn’t getting a signal out here. I guess that’s common in the middle of nowhere.”

God, she was babbling away like a teenager. If he would just stop staring at her, maybe she could gather her thoughts.

He kicked the tire with his white sneaker. “What year is this car?”

“Seventy-one. It’s a Super Beetle.”

“A classic.” He rubbed a hand over what appeared to be at least a month’s worth of beard. “Engine’s in the back, as I recall. You want to pop the hood for me?”

“Do you know anything about cars?”

He flashed a grin. “I might know a thing or two.”

I just bet you do.

She leaned inside and pulled the lever in the glove compartment, popping the hood.

“Let’s see what we got.” He lifted the metal hood with the corner of his t-shirt. “Well-maintained,” he said, looking down at the engine. “Start it up so I can hear what’s going on.”

Penn turned the key, leaning out of the car to watch as he stared down at the motor. He listened to the noise, watching the engine sputter and whine for a few moments before it quit. He leaned in and poked around, having her start it up a few more times before giving up.

“Sorry, kid. It’s nothing obvious, which means it’s probably an expensive fix. Anything on a vehicle this old is going to be an expensive fix.”

“Comforting.” She placed one hand on the back of her neck and sighed. Thank god she had a shiny new credit card to pay for the repairs. Hopefully she’d soon have a shiny new job to go along with it.

He slammed the hood and placed his foot on the bumper. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Penn Foster. Damsel in distress and all that.”

He frowned. “Penn? What kind of name is that?”

“It’s short for Penelope, which I’m not that fond of. And you are?”

“West Keller.” He stared down at her, like he was waiting for some kind of reaction. What kind of reaction, she didn’t know.

She crossed her arms. “Hmm. And you’re questioning my name…West?”

He hesitated a moment, then grinned. “Fair enough. West is my mom’s maiden name.”

“Well, anyway, I appreciate you stopping to help, Mr. Keller.”

“Just call me West.”

Her stomach flipped and fluttered under his intense gaze. She wasn’t sure anyone had ever looked at her quite so intently before. Plus, he was so attractive, it almost bordered on ridiculous. He was, as her friend Holly would say, smokin’ hot.

He slid his sunglasses back on. “Here’s the deal, Penn Foster, damsel in distress. You’re about ninety miles away from the nearest town, which is where I’m staying tonight. You can grab a ride with me and get a hotel room for yourself. My buddy, Adam, works for a garage in Vegas. I’ll get him to transport your car there. I’ll try and get you the best price I can. Deal?”

He obviously liked taking charge. While she appreciated the help, she hated feeling like she had zero say in the matter.

“Does your cell phone have a signal?” she asked. “If it does, I can call the auto club and get them to come pick me up.”

He pulled an iPhone from his pocket and held it out to her. Just as she suspected-no signal.

Penn rubbed her temples. This day couldn’t possibly get any worse. “Can’t your friend tow my car to the closest town and have them fix it there?”

“It’s a classic car, doll. You’ll need to get parts in the city.”

“I’m on my way to Vegas for a vacation anyway, but I’ll have to find a way to get there.”

“I’m heading into Vegas tomorrow morning,” he told her. “I can give you a ride. Problem solved.”

“No, problem not solved, Mr. Keller.” She put her hands on her hips and stared up at him. “I don’t know you. You could be a highway serial killer for all I know, chopping women up and leaving their body parts scattered throughout the desert.”

He laughed, the sound rich and deep. “I promise you I’m not, but you’re just going to have to trust me, aren’t you? Because you’re out of options at the moment, darlin’. This heat is miserable, and no doubt you could use some air conditioning. Any longer out here and you’re going to turn to ash. We both will.”

She tugged on her skirt again. It didn’t help he kept openly ogling her legs while he went on about trust. He was probably used to women happily doing anything he wanted.

West gestured at the empty highway. “If you don’t mind burning alive out here, I guess you could take your chances with the next person who passes by, whenever that is. Maybe it will be a trucker looking for some company. Or a car full of guys on their way to Vegas for a little fun.”

He cocked his head. “Then again, there’s the off-chance no one will come by for hours. Or if someone does, they might not stop. Not many Good Samaritans these days, you know?”

“Ugh, I get it, okay?” She peered down the long, empty stretch of road again, sweat trickling down her temple.

He was right, getting back inside her Beetle and baking away in the afternoon sun wasn’t an option. And if she stood outside any longer, she’d be burnt to a crisp.

Pulling her phone from the pocket of her skirt, she snapped a photo of his license plate, then turned and snapped another one of his face.

“While I appreciate your help, Mr. Keller, you need to know that if you try anything funny, I will kick you in the nuts and scream my face off. Then I will send these photos to the Nevada police. Understand?”

He peered down at her. “How will you do that? I thought you said your phone didn’t have a signal.”

She tipped her head back and groaned. “Son of a bitch.” This guy didn’t miss a beat.

“Relax, little pixie. I know you’re nervous, but I’m not going to hurt you. That’s not my deal.”

It better not be, because she had pepper spray hidden in her purse and wouldn’t hesitate to use it and slam him in the jewels if he made one wrong, creeptastic move.

“Let’s get your stuff, okay?”

She shoved her phone back in the pocket of her skirt and walked back to the car. “Alright.”

“This is all you have?” He looked down at her tiny suitcase and duffel bag.

“Besides my cooler and my purse, yes. I’m only going to be in Vegas for a week. Not much else fits in this trunk, anyway.”

“Most women I know can’t go on a trip without three of these, at least.” He lifted the suitcase from the trunk.

She grabbed the duffel bag. “Then I guess I’m not most women.”

“You’re probably right about that.”

Penn glanced over at him, expecting to see a teasing expression on his face, but he didn’t look like he was joking. Slamming the trunk lid closed, he nodded toward his truck. “Ready?”

She hoisted the duffel bag over her shoulder and shrugged. “As I’ll ever be, I guess. Let’s go.”

Copyright 2015 Jennifer Lazaris

 

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Adventures in self-publishing.

I always love hearing about how writers became writers. I love reading “call” stories, hearing about routines and learning what makes writers tick. How did they get there? What did they do? I thought I’d share mine, if anyone is interested.

I’ve been writing stories since I was in kindergarten. My mom saved the first story I typed when I six years old. Years later, I’d hide in my room reading Sweet Valley and Norma Klein books. I’d scribble my own stories in a big red binder.

During high school and college, I wrote every single night, because I had to write. The stories had to get out or they would drive me crazy. Still, I never considered it a true career path because it seemed so out of reach.

I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in my lifetime. I’ve been a graphic designer, a web designer, a retail sales person and an office administrator. I liked those jobs, but never felt satisfied. So, I would come home and sit at the computer and write. It was my stress relief and my joy. I bought a ton of “how to” books on writing romance. I belonged to RWA off and on during the years, both the national and local chapters, and I took editing and writing classes.

Still? I had a lot of trouble finishing a manuscript. I was afraid. That if I finished writing a book, I’d have to actually do something with it. What if it was hopeless drivel? What if I totally sucked at this? I was SO afraid to fail.

So, I procrastinated. I hemmed and hawed and did everything except finish the damn book. I’d start writing new books, saying *this* one would be better than the last. I wasted a lot of time doubting myself. It would have been a different story if I felt I wasn’t ready. I knew I was ready, I just refused to take action.

At the end of 2013, I lost one of the people I was closest to in my life.  When she passed away, it was one of the most awful times I’ve ever experienced. But, it was also eye-opening. We don’t know how much time we have on this big blue marble.  And, all the time I was wasting by procrastinating and putting off what really made me happy? Well, that had to change. I had to give it a shot. I wanted to prove to myself that I could finally finish a book and send it out into the world, failure be damned.

I had nothing to lose, really. I’d been freelancing after being laid-off from my administration job. Funds were tight. (Oh, how funds were tight!) It was now or never.

I gave myself a New Year’s Day deadline. Then I sat down and wrote furiously. Then I wrote some more. I made the ebook cover myself. I taught myself how to format the book and I wrote the blurb. I stayed up all hours of the night and barely slept for three months during the entire process.

Laundry piled up. My poor husband ate a million frozen pizzas. And the apartment? Well, I wouldn’t use a white glove to test for dust, that’s for sure.

The overwhelming doubt during this process was almost too much to bear. I read the story backwards, forwards and aloud. The night I uploaded the novella to Amazon, I sat down and had a huge cry from the overwhelming doubt and the months of stress.

When I finally did hit upload the book, it was five-thirty in the morning, and I was alone. All I could think about was that I’d done it. No, I didn’t do things the traditional way, but still, I had done it.

I finished the book, and entered the world of self-publishing.

Honestly, the support and interest in the novella has been more than I could ever hope for, especially as a new author. It’s been the happiest time in my life, and I don’t regret it for a second. So much of it is a new experience. Your first sale, your first rating, your first great review and your first bad review. All of it has been exhilarating and overwhelming. I am in love with the entire process.

The romance writing community has been overwhelmingly supportive and so incredibly helpful. Both self-published and traditionally published authors have offered insight, advice and support.

I have a long way to go, and LOT more to learn. There’s stuff that I’d change, and things that I wouldn’t. Overall, the experience has been the best one of my life.

So, if you’re a writer, keep writing and finish the manuscript. If you hate it, write another one. Make sure you finish that one, too. You can’t know what it’s like to go through the process until you write an entire book. Don’t give up on your dream. Take classes, learn your craft and keep working. We are never done learning.

Finish that book.

I chose self-publishing because it was a personal goal to finish a project by a certain deadline. If you want to be traditionally published, pursue it. Don’t ever give up. Write.

One of the best things about writing romance is that I get to give my fictional people their happily-ever-after.

I didn’t think I’d give myself my own in the process.  Dreams do come true.

Write on,

Jen 🙂

My hockey romance, Getting Lucky,  is available at: AmazonKoboBarnes & Noble, and iTunes.

Balancing the sports and romance in Sports Romance books.

It’s no secret I love athlete heroes and heroines. I wouldn’t write hockey romance if I didn’t.

But, lately I’ve discovered that some people are on the fence a bit about reading sports romance. When I ask why, I usually hear, “Well, I don’t know too much about XYZ sport, so I’m not sure I’d like it.” They may be sports fans, but not of a particular sport, so they might be hesitant to take a leap into reading about a sport they aren’t familiar with. Granted, this isn’t *everyone*, but it does happen.

It made me think back to the various sports romances I’ve read. The  level of sport involved in the actual books seems to vary widely.

Some authors mention the hero or heroine play the sport, but really send the details into the background. You don’t really see them play. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of that tactic. I usually crave more detail and want to see the hero (or heroine) in their element. I’m not knocking anyone for their style, but personally, I like to see the sport woven through the book.

However, I’m not a fan of overdoing it either. Especially if new readers are to be attracted to this particular niche. We don’t want to overwhelm them with too many details they don’t understand. We also need to respect the reader and why they bought the book in the first place. And that’s for a good romance. It’s a delicate balancing act for authors.

Personally, I like to make the action relatable to what’s going on in the plot. For instance, in the first part of Getting Lucky, the heroine is at a hockey game for the first time. You “see” the action going on around her and in front of her, but it’s all flavoring for what she is dealing with at the moment: she’s not only having a bad day, she’s having a bad birthday.

I also like to show the hero or heroine in different aspects of the job, such as practices and away games.  Usually, in those situations, they are going to be dealing with a problem, or thinking about something that relates to the relationship or other issue within the book. This isn’t always the case, but I like to keep moving the story forward. I don’t want to waver from what’s really important in the book, and that is the romantic relationship.

The sports action, well, all of it is just sauce for the goods, really. Yes, we always want to see our fictional teams and heroes / heroines win it all, but in the end, winning the girl (or guy) is what it’s all about. The rest is gravy.

What do you think? What’s the right balance for sports romance books? Do you prefer a really detailed account of the sport, or barely any? Or do you like a happy medium?

My hockey romance, Getting Lucky,  is available at: AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleiTunes.

Another snippet from Getting Lucky

I don’t know about you guys, but I am so ready for the weekend! Though I’m not sure how much fun it will be, as this cold or flu thing is making the rounds around my house. I’m hoping to dodge it with lots of Lysol wipes and hand washing.

In honor of it being *almost* Friday, here is another snippet from my new book, Getting Lucky. Hey, it’s as good of an excuse as any. Happy reading! – Jen 🙂

“Thanks for letting me stay with you. It’s very kind.”

He winked. “I can’t leave a damsel in distress, can I?”

“I guess it would make the white knights of the world look bad.”

Her stomach hadn’t stopped fluttering since she’d stepped into his vehicle. If he hadn’t been the cause of all this emotional upheaval, she’d think she had an entire swarm of butterflies taking up residence in her belly.

Ryder took her hand and brought it to his lips, placing a gentle kiss on her fingers. His dark blue eyes smoldered as he watched her. “We can’t have that, m’lady.”

Her breath caught in her chest and she froze, unable to tear her gaze away from his face.

A moment later the look disappeared, and he grinned. “I always wanted to do that.”

“Does the sexy, smoldering thing you just did work on all the girls you rescue from bars?”

“I don’t know. Did it work on you?” he asked, looking amused.

She stared out the passenger side window. “Yes,” she replied. “I’d say it did.”

Getting Lucky is available at: AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleiTunes.

Hockey Romance. It’s a thing.

I was on a popular social media site the other day and giggled at a conversation I “overheard.” A woman said she liked hockey romance books, and her friends innocently asked, “Wait…so hockey romance books are an actual thing?”

Yes! They are *so* a thing. The first romance book that I read with a  hockey player hero was Rachel Gibson’s “Simply Irresistible” back in 1998 or 1999. Oh, I fell in love with that book. Finally, an athlete hero! (They were probably scattered around and available here and there, but this was the first one that I discovered)

I was a tomboy and played deck hockey in leagues for years, so all of the guys in my life (aka boyfriend / guy friends) played hockey. These were guys that taught me how to play the game, showed patience, and were always willing to help me improve. Sure, they weren’t in the NHL, but I wanted to see those qualities come to life through a hockey hero in the romances I devoured every week.

When Rachel’s “See Jane Score” came out, I was hooked! From then on I hunted for hockey-themed books. I bought all of Rachel’s books, plus Deirdre Martin’s hockey series, as well as other Harlequin authors who had started prominently featuring hockey players or athletes in their books. For me, it was a natural evolution to want to read about athlete heroes. I sought out that theme in the romance books I loved so much.

Now, romance books with hockey heroes (and baseball, football, etc) are really starting to come into the limelight. Authors like Jaci Burton, Kelli Jamieson, Cassandra Carr, V.L. Locey and Kate Willoughby, as well as countless others, are feeding that love with hunky hockey guys in their books, and we can’t get enough.

So my question is, why do *you* love hockey romance? What makes these athletes so damn fun to read about? Did you play hockey? Are you a mad hockey fan? Let me know. 🙂

My hockey romance, Getting Lucky, is available now, so you can snag it at any of the following places:  AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleiTunes.