Haunted by the death of her child and stalked by a killer, romance author Dani Gwynne wants to want to live long enough to testify. And then her protection details is compromised. She’s on her own in the mile high city of Denver, trying to figure out who to trust.
And why she’s trying so hard to live…
Deputy US Marshal Matthew Kirby knows he’s the good guy. And this is simple. She trusts him and he stops a lethal hit man for good. End of story.
With the clock ticking down on a macabre game of hide and seek with hit man, the romance author must find her will to live and love again. And the Marshal must learn that nothing is simple in life, in death, and particularly in love.
Fear followed Dani Gwynne out of sleep, drying her throat to parchment, turning her muscles to wood and digging up her longing to go fetal and whine.
Where—? Oh yeah. The safe house. In Denver. Colorado. Dani took an unsteady breath. Water would restore the moisture to her throat, but fetal and whining had to be reburied. Things like that got recorded in “The File.” After eight months in protective custody, Dani was suffering from an acute case of lost privacy.
“You awake?” Peg’s husky murmur drifted on the same cooled air that circulated the smoke from her cigarette. The Deputy US Marshal had gone from occasional to chain smoker in just over two months, but Dani would bet money that wouldn’t make it into “The File.”
“Yeah.” Dani rubbed her face. “Another bad dream?” Peg sounded sympathetic. Bad dream? The hired killer, Dani called him Dark Lord forREAD MORE
lack of a real name, did a brief encore inside her head. She gave a slight twitch. Not a good dream, but at least it hadn’t been the one where he held her head under a sea of blood until her lungs exploded. That was a bad dream.
“I just need to pee,” Dani said. Dreams made it into the file, peeing didn’t. She hoped.
The Deputy US Marshal, a dark silhouette against the drawn drapes, gave a tiny, skeptical cough as she checked her wrist- watch. “Bang on five a.m.”
Smoke made lazy spirals toward the ceiling from her ciga- rette, then did a sharp right turn when it strayed into the A/C current that had just kicked on. The low hum gave a questioning voice to the waiting silence.
Peg lifted the cigarette and inhaled it, then released more smoke from her mouth and nose in a weary sigh. “I’ve started setting my watch by your bladder.”
“My parts and I are glad we could help.” Dani sat up and peeled the sheet off her sticky body. She felt like she’d run a mar- athon instead of survived another night’s sleep in protective cus- tody. Her body was too stiff to get vertical without help.
The book-loaded night stand was all there was, so she used it. The flimsy wooden pedestal rocked, then sent her stack of books tumbling to the floor. The Two Towers, second in Tolk- ien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, landed between her feet with a symbolic thump.
Dani had enjoyed the books more when she’d had less in common with the sturdy, stalked hobbit, Frodo. Not a good idea to name the man who hunted her after Frodo’s Nemesis with the sun playing coy in the East.
In her own home, back in the days when no one wanted to kill her, Dani would have stooped to pick up her books. She wanted to be that person now. She hated this drop in standards almost as much as the endless waiting, but bending wasn’t on her op- tion list this morning.
She plowed through the mess. In the bathroom she groped for, then found the light switch, flinched as light flooded the small space. The mirror gave back her reflection without mercy. Ouch. In the old days, a good day and the right light helped her pass for attractive. She touched the lines around her eyes. Bad day, wrong light.
Life was hard enough without the added stress of being hunt- ed like Bambi’s mother, though it was a good way to lose weight. Yesterday she’d seen her hip bones for the first time in years. They didn’t look as good as she’d remembered.
“Note to myself,” she muttered, “never again make a note to myself to lose weight even if it kills you.”
If ever there were a time to be in denial, this was it.
Dani draped a towel over the mirror and turned her atten- tion to what had brought her into the bathroom.
Physical relief achieved, she turned on the water, washed her hands, then filled two glasses and carried them back into the bed- room. One she handed to Peg, the other she lifted in a mocking toast. “To the dawn. May it come quickly.”
Peg obliged by clicking her glass against Dani’s, before edg- ing back the blinds just enough to study the sky. “It’s already getting lighter.”
“That’s good.” Dani accepted the lie, despite a brief glimpse of blue velvet untouched by light. She sipped the water, her hand not quite steady. The sense of menace felt sharper tonight, as if Dark Lord had tapped into her fear and was using it to track her.
It’s just your imagination. Dani took a long drink of water. They call it a safe house, remember? She lifted the glass, a sip this time. It didn’t erase the acrid taste of fear from her mouth or ease the dryness in her throat and it tasted flat to a palate conditioned to a Diet Dr. Pepper wake up call. A pity she drank the last can yesterday evening. Neuman, the special agent-in-charge, had promised to bring her some when he and McBride came back. She frowned. Odd they hadn’t returned yet.
She lowered her glass and found Peg watching her. This wasn’t unusual. They all watched her, their eyes reflecting varying de- grees of professional worry and distant pity. Probably looking for signs she was about to break.
I bend, not break, she could have told them, if they’d asked. Breaking wasn’t an option until after her day in court. She’d made a promise to a dead woman.
Dani dropped into the desk chair, propped her elbow on the smooth faux wood surface and cradled the cool glass against her aching temple. The furtive light winked off Peg’s glass as she took a drink, her hand quivering from the effort.
They made quite a pair. The romance writer and the Mar- shal. Brought together by capricious fate. Too bad Peg had the misfortune to look enough like Dani to be her sister, though her recent visit to the ER had made that resemblance a twin sister. The dim light deepened the hollows in Peg’s cheeks and washed out all color but the bruising under her eyes. How did Peg do it, Dani wondered? How had she puked her guts out, then dragged her butt back here to play decoy for a killer one last night?
It’s my job, wasn’t enough of an answer. Peg didn’t have to be here. In a few hours Dani would be transferred into the care and keeping of the Denver Marshals district. They’d have responsibility for getting her safely into court next week. Peg could have stayed in the hospital. She’d done her duty, above and way beyond.
Instead she’d come back a couple of hours ago, claiming her multiple hurl had been caused by the Chinese they’d had for their last supper together. Even the original OJ jury wouldn’t have bought a selective food poisoning theory.
Not that Dani wasn’t grateful. Would’ve been harder to face the dismal dawn with just the men for company. They were good guys and reassuringly competent, but there was something to that “community of women” thing.
“You gonna make it ‘till Neuman and McBride get back?” Dani asked.
“Yeah, sure.” You’re okay. I’m okay. We’re all okay--and Clin- ton didn’t inhale. “You shouldn’t have come back.”
“I’m fine,” Peg insisted, looking at her watch before taking another drag on her cigarette.
“You didn’t tell Neuman, did you?” Dani almost envied her that cigarette. Popping an M&M didn’t have the dramatic ef- fect of blowing smoke, which was the international symbol for waiting.
“He’ll find out when he comes.” “He’ll be pissed.” Dani didn’t mind Neuman getting pissed.
She didn’t mind anything that relieved the monotony. Who would have thought trying not to get killed could be so boring?
“He’ll get over it.” Peg hesitated. “And it’s only for a few more hours.”
“Yeah, a few more hours.” Dani set down her glass, splash- ing water perilously close to her lap top. Surprised at her lack of precision, she moved the glass onto the window sill, then dabbed at the damp with the corner of her tee shirt.
The Velcro edge of her money belt scraped her wrist with yet another reminder of how far from home, how far from normal she’d come. Was it petty to miss her purse with all its useful and useless bits and pieces? To sweat the myriad of small things she couldn’t do until she did her thing in court? To be so weary of this portable existence she almost didn’t care anymore?
Easier to sweat the small things than contemplate the big ones. Like dying before she made it into court—
“So what are you and Neuman going to do once you’ve hand- ed me off?” Dani hurried into speech again.
“Do? Neuman and I? What do you mean?” Peg’s voice sound- ed a little too noncommittal.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice the hearts and flowers around whenever you and Neuman are in the same room?”
“I suppose you can’t help seeing romance everywhere you look.” Weary gave way for ironic in Peg’s eyes.
“It’s one of the main requirements for writing it.” Dani turned sideways, trailing her hands across the quiescent keyboard of her lap top. From habit her fingers settled in home position on the smooth, cool keys. The dark screen looked naked without her words scrolling across. The words that kept her sane and paid the bills after her marriage fell apart. The stories that gave her a place to escape to in the past few months.
“Did you get your story sorted out?” Peg asked. “I was hop- ing I could read the last two chapters before I leave.”
“Like the real people in my life, my characters are proving difficult.” A wan smile edged Peg’s mouth. “I expect you’ll have them
whipped into shape before your deadline.” “I expect I will.” Dani realized she was tapping out an “SOS”
on the keyboard and jerked her hands back, but not before Peg heard the soft sound of the keys.
“You can’t start writing now. They’ll be here soon. I’m not hanging out that stupid boa,” she said, referring to the joke gift the guys had given Dani for her birthday last month, a gift that Dani had converted into a “do not disturb” sign while working against the double deadline imposed by trial and editor.
Dani grinned. In the past eight months, the guys had given up a lot of preconceptions about romance writers. Like the one about them working naked except for a strategically placed boa. Dani had felt obliged to point out that naked was very cold and most women didn’t like uncovering what time and gravity had done to their parts.
They gave her that one, but clung to their conviction that ro- mance authors were sex-starved idiots, this despite the fact that she’d failed to jump any of their bones or the long hours she put in at the keyboard. They did seem surprised she could do it un- der the circumstances.
Even with “The File,” they didn’t seem to understand she’d never missed a deadline. She wasn’t about to let a hired killer or her murderous ex-brother-in-law make her miss this one. Besides, it gave her something to do in-between getting grilled by Richard’s slime ball defense attorney. He’d stopped short of accusing her of the murder, but she expected to be trying on gloves and Bruno Magli shoes when Richard’s trial finally got under way. If—
“I’m not planning to work,” Dani said in a rush. “So, what are you doing?” “I’m—” not about to admit she was SOS-ing, Dani improvised, “thinking about going online. I could check out the chat lines, see if my favorite ex-spy is around.” He and her other on- line friends had, in a strange way, kept her anchored to the real, been her lifeline to the normal. “I’ll never understand that online crap.” Peg shook her head
wearily. “And if Neuman finds out about your little incursions into cyberspace, it’ll be my butt–”
“He won’t find out. Besides, he’s too hot for your butt to care.” Dani flipped on the power, waiting for the machine to complete the booting up process so she could access her online program. When she was in, she hit the dial command. “Why don’t you lie down? Catch a few Z’s? Nothing happening for a few more hours.”
“Not when I’m on duty.”
“You’re not on duty. You’re not even supposed to be here—” Dani frowned at the screen. “That’s odd.”
“I’m not getting a dial tone.” Dani tried the dial command again. Still nothing. “Is something wrong with the phone?” She looked at Peg.
Peg hesitated. In that tiny moment of silence, they both heard a muffled thud in the next room.
on Midwest Book Review:
THE LAST ENEMY
Author(s): Pauline Baird Jones
1999 – Best Electronic Book winner
Pauline B. Jones is back with another terrific tale that will make readers want to savor each and every line. More suspenseful than her first book, THE LAST ENEMY still contains a large element of humor that really spices up this dynamite novel
on Under the Cover Reviews:
"I very much enjoyed Ms. Jones' blend of romance, suspense, and comedy. Her characters are very dimensional. The hit man still haunts me because of the way his depth is revealed as the story unfolds. Action and comedy are smoothly written, making it easy to watch it as a movie in your head. But, don't count on intermissions, you'll want to read it straight through."
"A highly suspenseful, should-be-a-movie, totally entertaining tale of derring-do, the Last Enemy defies categorization--at least by me. All I can tell you is: I enjoyed every word and was sorry when I reached the end. If you really liked the movie, Romancing the Stone, then you will absolutely love The Last Enemy and be clamoring at Hollywood's gates to make this book into the next "really great movie." Very Highly Recommended
"Jones pulls together many different elements and story lines in her skillfully written novel and combines elements of flowery romances, suspenseful thrillers, and hard-boiled mysteries to create an engaging, fast-paced story full of unexpected twists and turns."
The (mostly) true story behind the writing of The Last Enemy
Me: Pauline, it's finally time to talk about your award-winning novel, The Last Enemy, the beginning of your Lonesome Lawmen series. This is a special book for you in a lot of ways, isn't it?
Myself. Yes, it is. Like Pig in a Park, it was a book I had to write, but unlike Pig, it was a very different process in the writing.
Me: How so?
Myself: Well, for one thing, it was darker in tone right from the beginning than either Pig or Do Wah Diddy Die. And it started with this tiny seed of an idea and grew into something that still surprises me. Talk about the weird ways of the subconscious!
Me: Oh, do tell us about the seed, please!
Myself: (laughs) Well, you know I like talking about my books, so here goes. I'd just ventured out into the internet after attending my first contest. It was much wilder, woollier and hard to figure out back then, but what quickly struck me was how intimate it also was. I joined the Writer's Board at GEnie, where a lot of authors got their internet feet wet and quickly made a lot of friends there and just thought it was very interesting. I'd also just seen The Fugitive and became fascinated by the idea of writing a book about my own Deputy US Marshal.
I did some research and realized that the Internet might add a confusing twist to a US Marshal hunting a missing witness...
Me: Which it did. <g>
Myself: Oh yeah. Poor Matt. I'd also been "inducted" into the world of romance writers and found them gutsy, bright and underestimated. Being the kind of person I am, I thought what fun it would be to pit a romance writer against a US Marshal.
Me: You had way too much fun with that.
Myself: I know. It was a hoot taking all the misconceptions about romance writers and using them against my poor hero.
Me: So where did the totally creepy, ex-spy Spook, come from?
Myself: (shudder) My family would like to know the answer to that, too. <g> Like the story, he grew out of the events I set in motion. I liked the idea of the hero finding himself attracted, totally against his will, of course--
Me: Of course. <g>
Myself: --to a woman he believes is already dead. I found I couldn't sustain it for long, just because my guy was so darn smart, but that meant I needed a killer with a twist, someone who could, at least for a short time, muddy the crime scene.
Me: You muddied it all right! That was one creepy crime scene! So how did you get the idea for Spook and Dani to know each other online?
Myself: It was one of those flashes of inspiration when I was looking for a way to up the stakes and make it all more personal. By bringing my villain in closer to Dani, it upped the stakes for both of them--and provided a nice twist. I particularly liked the way Dani's strength--her ability to reach out and connect with people--became a weakness when Spook got factored into the story. It also changed the ending from the traditional, taking it in a new direction.
Me: Yeah... straight up! What made you decide to give Dani a fear of heights?
Myself: I'm a bit afraid of heights myself and one night I had this very vivid dream about a wacko forcing my dream character to face her fears out on this ledge. When I originally started the story, it was set in New Orleans, but I needed a place with a FreeNet (at the time) to make the story work.
Me: And Denver had one?
Myself: And Lots of "up" for Dani to be afraid of. Of course, by the time I finished rewriting the book, technology had changed so much, she didn't need access to a free net to do what I needed her to do. I had this whole, hilarious scene with Dani in a library that I deleted. And another where she dressed like a man.
Me: Maybe you should post some of those deleted scenes? <g>
Myself: laughs) Might be fun, but, well, unlike the movies, deleted scenes are...deleted. <g>
Me: True. So tell us about Denver's "up." You had some real serendipity there, didn't you?
Myself: Massive understatement! My husband had a business trip to Denver, so I asked him to check out the area, scope out the Federal building (which got him in a spot of trouble with some real US Marshals <g<) and he was most thorough about it. Being a National Park addict, he made his way to Rocky Mountain National Park and brought me back info on Long's Peak--the only "teener" (Peak 13,000 ft above sea level) that you can actually hike up. It was perfect for my (and Spook's twisted) purposes.
Me: You actually hiked part way up...
Myself: Yeah, it about killed me--coming from sea level like we did, but it was fun. Even without making it, I had such great resources, I felt like I knew every inch of that hike. Someday I'd like to finish my hike--but only after acclimating myself to the altitude!
Me: There's another reason why this book is dear to your heart, isn't there?
Myself: Yes, it was first step into finding some emotional resonance in my writing. Prior to this book, I'd been too busy being funny for angst and was not that comfortable with it, but all of my main characters had things they were dealing with. This gave me a chance to try out my emotional "muscle" and find my own heart (and learn to trust it!) and the hearts of my characters. It was an important step in my maturation as a writer, I think.
Me: You sometimes talk about writing in layers. Can you explain that a bit?
Myself: While I'm a lousy painter on canvas, I do think of a book in those terms. I start out with broad strokes. What is the story about? Who inhabits this story? Then, as I move in closer, I focus on one character, or possibly two at a time, building and developing them, adding characters as needed, but leaving them as shadows to be filled in later. Then when I know the structure is right and the pieces are in place, I go back and focus on the smaller characters, working to paint them in, too. Only when I've focused on every character do I consider the story "finished." (To the point I can do it alone at that time. I also go back when I have enough distance and find all sorts of new insights.)
Me: You tried to sell this story to traditional publishers, didn't you?
Myself: I got a lot of requests for it, but I had two things going against me in the mid-90's when I started marketing it. The first was the market. It was going through a shrinking period. Fewer books were being published and fewer books by new authors were being picked up, especially books that straddled genres like my book did.
Me: And the second?
Myself: I submitted it too soon. I need to let it "cure" for a bit and look at it again. This was only my third book, my second finished. I did get some valuable feedback from my rejections, though some, I think, were off the mark.
Me: Such as?
Myself: The editors that said humor wasn't appropriate in a suspense novel. This not only went against everything I felt, but against my experience with women. We always use humor to deal with our hardest trials. It is how we cope. This book was my tribute to those gutsy, funny women. And they told me that no one would buy a romance author heroine.
Me: Well, despite the naysayers, it is a book that has done well. It is the first ebook to win a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award and has received some other honors, hasn't it? And it was your first book to be published in hard cover?
Myself: <g> I'll be interested to see how it does in trade paperback. Hard Shell Word Factory has just recently started filling orders for that, though it's been on preorder since last August (2001). The demand has been so great for all HSWF books in paperback, that my publisher was a bit overwhelmed by it all. And the reader feedback on it has been great and the sales, in ebook and hard cover...not enough to give up my day job, but satisfying.
Me: The Five Star cover is a mini-story in and of itself, isn't it?
Myself: Yes, the picture of the mountains was taken by my husband on that survey trip and is the actual Long's Peak. He also took the picture of the woman in the cameo--who happens to be my lovely sister-in-law, Ana. 🙂
Me: One last question: when you were writing it, did you know it would turn into a three book series?
Myself: I didn't. In fact, I went back and added a mention of Jake to the book after I'd finished it, when I started writing Byte Me. In the original, Matt only had the one brother, Luke, but when I finished it, I hadn't used all my research or my interest in the US Marshals--who I think are very cool.
Me: I share your admiration. <g> So, are you done with the US Marshals?
Myself: Uh, no. <g>
Me: I'd like to thank myself for this interview, but it seems kind of silly, so I'll just add that next time we'll be discussing the story behind the story of Byte Me, the second book in the Lonesome Lawmen series.