For a long time, I've been fascinated with the idea of power corrupting even the most idealistic of souls. Television shows like House of Cards and Scandal lure me in with the concept that those who wield power get away with murder--literally. With enough money and connections, the corrupt manipulate and abuse justice to serve their own agenda.
Which brings me to my newest release, One True Thing, where I use the idea of a corruption and political power to create a world where Vanessa Warren is being hunted to be used as a pawn against her very powerful family. Where in the world can you hide when you don't know who's hunting you? Is there anywhere that is truly safe when your face is famous and your name is notorious? When you know your family's policy is to "never negotiate with terrorists" yet your world is crumbling all around you, how do you keep the hope alive?
I loved creating the action-packed story of One True Thing mainly because it allowed me to explore those questions in depth while coming to the realization that, at the end of the day, only one thing matters. Strip away the fame, the fortune, the connections, and only one true thing remains: love.
I hope you enjoy this new release. Here's an excerpt:
The house was mostly glass, like an ice cube perched on top of a hill. Although that seemed charming, it made hiding a challenge. Vanessa flattened against the wall, faced the pool, scanned the bushes for sign of an oncoming assault, and listened to him greet whomever stood outside in Spanish.
"Dominic Varga? We need you to come with us," a man's voice, one she didn't recognize, boomed through the room.
"Why? If this is about my hotel, I was just about to leave. I can meet you there."
"This is about your involvement in the disappearance of Vanessa Warren."
Silence. A beat too long.
"May we come in?"
"No. I'm just leaving. What do you mean about my involvement?"
She dared a peek around the corner and saw Dominic standing in the doorway effectively blocking two Spanish policeman and one tall man in a suit who looked vaguely familiar. Had he been with Cleo last night when she had left the house? Vanessa squinted from where she peeked, certain he had been one of the men with Cleo.
"The men who attacked the gallery were found in your hotel, in the room exactly beneath hers. The threats inside the hotel—taped to a wall on her floor, the notes say—had to be put there by someone close." The tall man in the suit pushed his way around Dominic and walked inside. "Is this hers?"
"Her leather jacket?" Nic cleared his throat. "It is, yes. She's my girlfriend—"
"Then why was she staying at the hotel during the renovations of her home and not in this nice house with you? There seems to be conflicting information about the nature of your relationship with Ms. Warren." The taller man tapped his fingers against the interior wall behind her head as he walked. "Pamela Dennison claims that your relationship with Warren is a lie, yet Vanessa's assistant claims you have been with her for six months. What is true?"
More footsteps on the floor, more shuffling of fabric as the police stepped further into the house and closer to her.
Vanessa flattened against the wall again, eyes scanning the room in front of her for a better hiding place. Open space, very little furniture, all white backed by walls of glass with a view of the pool and a manicured yard lined with trees and flowering bushes. She felt like a bug in a display case.
She held her breath.
If she were brave—if she were half as badass as she'd pretended to be all these years—she'd step out and tell them all to fuck off. But her feet wouldn't move. Maybe they weren't police, maybe it was a trick.
She couldn't trust anyone anymore. No one but Nic.
And, she realized, if he were arrested as a suspect or even taken in for questioning, whoever pulled the strings behind the scenes of this fiasco would make sure she had no one, not in Barcelona anyway. She'd be forced to act, to go where they assumed she'd go. Her friends, her grandfather...suddenly both options felt off-limits.
Her blood ran cold. Hair on the back of her neck and on her arms stood on end. These men weren't law enforcement...or, if they were, they were definitely on someone else's payroll or being manipulated like puppets.
Maybe I'm being too paranoid.
Maybe I'm not paranoid enough.
"We've taken a statement from your parents. They indicated that you and Warren spoke privately before she disappeared, that the restaurant had been cleared of the public, that—"
"Wait, what is this about? You can't possibly think that I'd hurt her?"
"Her assistant claims that all of the threats began when you allegedly entered her life. Can you deny that?"
"Are you planning on meeting her in Paris?"
"Why would you think that? According to you, Cleo, and apparently my parents, I have her stashed away somewhere." Nic didn't bother to conceal his annoyance. "Let me guess, next you're going to accuse me of blowing up my own hotel? Why would I do such a thing?"
"Yes, why would you?"
Nic appeared, leaned his shoulder against the corner of the wall where she hid and faced the police who now wandered into the kitchen. His back effectively hid her as long as no one came any closer.
"I have no motive for hurting or kidnapping anyone," he said.
"Not that we can tell, no." The tall man's reflection showed in the glass as he tapped his fingers against the kitchen counter and stared at Nic.
Until then, she hadn't considered the fact that her reflection might be seen as well.
Show yourself, just go with them, stop anyone else from being sucked into this. Surrender. She squeezed her eyes closed and willed herself to move.
"Cleo Morgan also states that you were present yesterday when the threat in her home was located," the tall man continued. "She also has a theory that you inserted yourself into her life quite mysteriously, away from the people who knew her well, and that you are manipulating Vanessa Warren, that you've somehow convinced her to go along with your plan to save someone else, someone like her brother or grandfather? Who is paying you, Varga?"
"That old woman has a vivid imagination," Nic muttered. "She's also giving me too much credit. I'm a construction guy, a developer, what do I care about international politics?"
"You're an international developer, yes?"
"Didn't you travel to Dubai recently, Mister Varga?"
"I was looking at property there, haven't made a commitment yet, though. I am always moving from one property to the next, working on multiple projects at once. That is what I do. How else could I have built seven resorts in eleven years?"
"Yes, how could you? Maybe you have secret partners? Who did you meet with? How much money were you offered to betray her?"
Our lie is being used against him, someone's turning him into the fall guy. She cringed.
"What are you implying?" Dominic asked.
"Isn't it true that you've held a personal vendetta against the Warren family?"
She held her breath.
"No, not at all." Dominic cleared his throat.
"According to your partner —or assistant, I'm not clear what her role is in your company— your late wife blamed the Warrens for losing her job as a realtor when the market crashed a decade ago, when President Paul Warren was in office, isn't that right?"
Dominic said nothing.
"She killed herself...and your child...and you blamed the Warrens for the loss of your family, isn't that right?"
"None of what you're saying is true. No one knows why Cynthia did what she did —is there a reason that could justify it? I have no idea why Pam would say such a thing." Dominic's voice grew louder and angrier.
"Cleo Morgan, Ms. Warren's assistant, said they didn't find the connection on their first background checks, but then after Vanessa's disappearance, they dug deeper. Isn't it true that—"
"None of that is true, it's all manufactured bullshit!"
"Where is she? Why did she board a train for Paris? Did she get off somewhere else? Or did you trick her, tell her to board the train, and then have your people—"
"—Waiting to snatch her away while you had an alibi with everyone seeing you at your hotel?"
"Okay, get the hell out. This is absurd. You have no right to be in my house asking me this crap. Who are you anyway? Those credentials don't mean anything to me."
"Where is Vanessa Warren?"
Dominic paused a heartbeat too long before saying, "If you're really the police, then why aren't you arresting me and taking me somewhere? You need to leave."
Heavy silence followed by more shuffling.
"We will speak with you later in the day after you've had time to check with your staff at the resort. Have a good day, Mister Varga."
When she heard the door slam, she knew Dominic must have seen them out. She slid down the wall and pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes. They'd be waiting down the hill at the end of the driveway while she hung out in a glass cage.
They were getting close. If they'd seen her, would they have taken her? Would they have hurt Dominic? Were those men the kidnappers or just some hired henchmen sent to search all probable locations? Or were they truly law enforcement being manipulated by her loving and devoted assistant?
All my fault. She breathed in, held it, slowly exhaled. All my fault.
When sunlight dimmed suddenly, she pulled her hands away from her eyes and noticed the windows had shaded themselves from between the panes of glass. Dominic walked past her and closed the doors leading to the pool. She noticed then that they had become dark as well.
"We can't stay here," he said after a long silence. "You were right, they knew where to look and it seems I'm a suspect."
"You didn't know me two days ago—"
"I know you now, we're lovers now and the lie has become the truth so let it go." He shoved his hands through his hair and looked at the floor. "I'm the one who suggested we make up some story to stop my parents' matchmaking, which, if I'm really honest, was just a lame excuse to convince you to go with me because..."
He met her gaze and shrugged. "Seeing you on the stairs made me wish you were mine, that you'd always been mine. I," he looked away, "broke my own rules and let down my guard, and allowed myself to have a good time."
"We definitely had a good time." She stood and walked toward him. "We were equal partners in this from the moment you asked me. I could have said no. My feet were killing me and I was starving, but I wanted to play pretend with you."
"We're too old to be playing pretend, Vanessa."
"Umm...never call me old. I don't care if a woman is eighty years old, you don't call her old." She stopped a few inches away from him and motioned toward the windows. "Cool trick with the shades."
"I'm a cutting edge architect and brilliant resort developer"
"You need to work on your self-esteem issues, Dominic."
He smiled then. "Just because I like restoring old places doesn't mean I don't enjoy modern technology."
"You went out on your own instead of doing anything the traditional way, didn't you? No internships for you."
"How'd you know?"
"You strike me as the type who doesn't like being bossed around." She cleared her throat, uneasy with the degree of intimacy they were developing at break-neck speeds. It's like their entire relationship had been born on the back of a rocket that refused to slow down.
The problem with rockets, though, is that they eventually exploded or fell out of the sky.
He pulled out a chair from around the dining table and sat down with a sigh. "I don't think Simon or Don are in on any of this, I honestly don't."
"Do you think I should go back?"
"No." He shook his head and met her gaze. "You were right about leaving and throwing them off their game. It's good that no one knows where you are. We need to keep it that way."
She pulled out the chair opposite him and tapped her fingers against the table. "Cleo and I have always butted heads, but why would she do this?"
He propped his chin on his fist and studied her through the half-light filtering in through the now shaded windows. "Do you really have sixty grand in that bag of yours?"
"I do." She smiled slowly and shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a spoiled brat."
"What does your family do besides politics?"
She tilted her head to the side, intrigued that he didn't know all the details. "My great-granddad was heavy into real estate investments, our family still is. Start-ups, buy and sell companies, takeover those that are struggling...big business."
"My uncles and brothers — except Chris — keep the company flourishing in Boston and New York. Despite you being a self-proclaimed recluse, I'm sure you've heard of WW Investment Corp."
His eyes widened and he nodded slowly. "I had no idea..."
"Cleo's sharp. I would bet you big money that your wife's real estate firm was bought by WW somewhere along the line and she's using that to her advantage now."
"WW has their fingers in a lot of pies, not hard to tie someone to them if they look hard enough." He averted his gaze at the mention of his late wife. "Too bad I wasn't as squeaky clean as you thought I was when you agreed to go to that party with me."
"Oh, honey, I never would have gone if I'd thought you were squeaky clean." She laughed and reached her hand out to the center of the table, palm up.
He curled his fingers into hers and looked her in the eye. "Want to get the hell out of here?"
"Yes, but how? Whoever those men are will be watching us leave."
He squeezed her fingers. "Willing to ride in the trunk of my car out to that run down ruin of a place where we first met? We can steal Pam's Fiat. She's driving another car in the city, think it's one of mine now that I think about it."
"You got it out of the ditch?"
"I'm a man of many skills." He winked.
"Aren't you afraid of being on the open road with me?"
"We're both free to do what we want, when we want. Just because the world doesn't know where you are doesn't mean you're missing or breaking any laws. I'm not kidnapping you...I assume you're willing?"
"More than willing."
"And you trust me?"
"Then don't go to Valencia." He squeezed her fingers hard. "Let the kidnappers look in the expected places with all the usual people while we find someplace unexpected to wait this out."
She was torn between doing exactly that and turning back to Barcelona and trusting that Simon and Don were truly the good guys.
"Are you sure Cleo still works for your family?"
"Then why is she doing this to you? Is it possible that—"
"Don't say it." She released his hand, unwilling to think anymore about conspiracies and motives. "I told Christopher my suspicion when I left him a message earlier. He'll trust me. He'll alert someone in Washington."
"Are you sure that was a good idea?"
"Of course. He's my brother."
"He's in a tight race for the nomination. I looked online while you were out here scheming with calls and plans." He tapped his fingers on the top of the table. "This latest catastrophe has instigated an outpouring of sympathy for him and your family. You underestimate how much people adore you...and your friend Michelle." When she raised an eyebrow, he shrugged. "I decided I needed to do some research and it wasn't hard to find. Americans have a soft spot for the youngest Warren sibling and her illustrious friends."
She squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the top of her nose. "We don't need to talk about this now, we need to be getting out of here."
"If not now, when? Remember what you told me in the shower yesterday morning?"
She opened her eyes and stared him down. Anxiety gripped her chest like an iron corset. "No matter what I said, wouldn't this be an over-the-top election strategy? He told me that he's being pressured to drop out."
"And you know damn well he has no intention of doing that," he said quietly without breaking eye contact. "The power of the White House is at stake. What would anyone sacrifice to be President of the United States?"
Think of the greater good, Cleo's words whispered through her mind.
"I get it, I do. I'm a pawn in someone's sadistic game, but that doesn't mean my own family is orchestrating mass chaos," she whispered.
"Doesn't it? You thought so yourself only twenty-four hours ago."
"There is a part of you that doubts them, which is why you're here with me and not in your house surrounded by Secret Service."
Because she could neither confirm nor deny his theory or provide an alternative one, she walked away from the table, moved through the shadows flickering across the room from the shaded windows, and quietly gathered her things. Heartbeat rushed through her ears like an endless whooshing of fear. Sweat lined her palms.
She waited for Dominic in silence, almost too scared to breathe, and watched the shadows of palm trees swaying against the floor, the knowledge that the glass house could shatter at any moment growing like a crescendo in her mind.
From the back cover...
Power...it's a heady drug.
Vanessa Warren is America's favorite rebel. Daughter and granddaughter of US Presidents and sister to a future one, her family connections and notoriety are seen as leverage for manipulating the White House—if she's captured.
One little lie leads to a whole lot of trouble.
Reclusive international resort developer, Dominic Varga, needs a date to ward off his matchmaking parents. When he persuades the notorious Vanessa Warren to play his girlfriend for the night, he has no idea he's stepped into the crosshairs of kidnappers who will do anything—destroy everything—to get to her.
One true thing...
Trapped in a rapidly escalating international terror plot, Dominic and Vanessa's lie becomes the only real thing in the midst of betrayals, conspiracies, and murder. As their world falls apart, they suddenly only have each other to rely on against ruthless people who will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. Who can they trust? Who is behind the plot—her own family, a political rival of her family's, or a terrorist organization? How far will the kidnappers go—what will they be willing to sacrifice—to control the power of the White House? Is there anywhere in the world where they can find safety?