Isn't it gorgeous? I can't wait for you all to read this one. It will be released in May 2014 and is Captain Reed's story.
Here's a look at the series covers all together. *stares at screen* I have so loved writing these books!
And just because I love you and I'm so excited about cover reveal day, I'm going to give you a sneak peek of the first chapter of Ring Around the Rosie. Let me know what you think!
Ring Around the Rosie
by Julie Coulter Bellon
Every time a hostage walked away from a situation unharmed it was reason for the Hostage Negotiation Team to celebrate.
Today was one of those days.
Captain Ron Reed, head of Hartford’s Hostage Negotiation Team, couldn’t stop smiling. Coming off today’s case where three lives were saved gave him a rush he’d never experienced any other way. His team was well trained, worked hard, and were good at what they did.
But they were celebrating more than a job well done. Claire Michaels was his best negotiator, had saved three people’s lives today, and she was getting married tomorrow. That thought made him slow his steps as he walked out of the station to the street. I’m not losing anyone just because Claire is getting married. She’ll still be part of the team, he told himself for the millionth time. But deep down, he knew everything would be different after today. The team dynamic would change no matter what anyone said.
Picking up the pace again, he crossed the street to Eli’s Diner. How many times have I made this trip? The twenty-four hour diner had been a refuge for Ron after tough cases and tiring days. It had been more than just somewhere to get good food, but surrounded by his team, it had been a place to recharge as well. Up until now, the team had all had empty homes waiting for them at the end of the day, so they’d gathered here for meals as often as they could. The diner grounded them and gave Ron a way to have a pseudo-family. And Claire, Colby, and Bart had become his family.
He’d been a bit surprised when Claire had suggested having a little get-together of their team the night before her wedding, but he’d been glad she was feeling sentimental, too. Their “family” was expanding and tonight was their last chance to be together, like it always had been, just one more time.
He entered the diner and the old-fashioned bell chimed to announce him. He loosened his tie a bit and shrugged out of his jacket. It felt odd not wearing a heavier coat in March. Mother Nature was teasing him with warmer than normal days one week and chilly winter days the next. Today had been warm, but consistent spring weather couldn’t get here fast enough for Ron.
“Be right with you, Captain,” Cecily, the main waitress, said over her shoulder as she grabbed two plates and carried them to the front counter to serve a young girl and her mother.
“Hey, I thought we agreed you’d call me Ron.” He smiled and took his usual seat at the end of the counter where he had a view of both exits. His eyes were drawn to the back of the diner covered in plastic sheeting. Drywall dust peeked out from underneath and hammering noises came from the area. “When did Eli decide to renovate?”
Cecily came over with her order book in hand. “It was the strangest thing. Day before yesterday Eli tells us he’s got a guy coming in to rewire the place for WiFi, renovate his office, and maybe knock out a wall to give us a little more seating. It was so out of the blue.” She shuddered. “The contractor guy gave me the creeps, though. I’ve steered away from the whole mess.”
“Maybe you should introduce us. I’ll put this guy on notice that Eli’s diner is special to a lot of cops in Hartford.”
“I just might do that if he gets any weirder. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
“Yeah, thanks.” He turned his attention to the little girl sitting a few seats down from him. Her mother was talking on the phone while the girl twirled on her seat. Every time she came around one full rotation, she giggled.
“Beth, stop that,” her mother commanded, pulling herself away from her phone conversation for a second. “We’re in a hurry, so eat your fries.”
The way the little girl’s face fell made Ron want to ask the mom to let her do it, but he kept quiet. Who was he to contradict a parent? He’d never had children of his own. The memory of his ex-wife Sarah and the one chance he’d had to be a father wormed its way into his mind, but he quickly pushed it back and locked it up. He couldn’t allow himself to go there. Today was a happy day and he was determined to keep it that way, focusing on the family he’d built from his coworkers, not the one he’d lost.
Cecily brought his coffee out, and he busied himself with adding the cream. “You must be glad for a little lull before the dinner rush,” he said, nodding to the nearly empty diner.
“You have no idea. It gets crazy around here.” Cecily brushed an escaping bit of hair back from her face and tucked it in her ponytail. “I heard tomorrow is the big day?”
“Yeah. Today was her last day of work before she gets a week off for her honeymoon. That’s where they all are now, finishing up some paperwork from a big case we worked today and making sure Claire is set to go.” Ron smiled and leaned forward on the counter. “That’s one of the perks of being a captain. You can farm out the paperwork.”
“Claire sounded so happy when she called earlier to make sure we had plenty of Dutch apple pie,” she said with a wink. “And promised me a front row seat to the wedding if I had banana cream, too. Eli has spent every moment baking since then. Well, when he’s not with that contractor.” She smoothed down her apron. “Can I get you anything else?”
“No, thanks. I’ll just wait for everyone else.” She nodded and disappeared into the back.
Ron’s gaze fell on the little girl now watching him. She had ignored her mother and her fries were still untouched. Her mother was still on the phone begging someone to babysit for her. He gave the girl a smile. “Hey there. Do you like pie?”
She just watched him for a moment, her brown eyes measuring him before she nodded. “Banana cream is my favorite. Is that a real policeman’s badge?” She pointed to his badge on his belt.
Ron looked down and lifted the corner of the badge to the light. “Yes. My name is Captain Reed, what’s yours?”
“I’m Beth and I’m five.”
She started to say something else, but her mother got off the phone and stood between them, her back to Ron. “Beth, why aren’t your fries gone? I told you we’re in a hurry today. I’ve got to get you over to Dustin’s. He said he’d babysit you until I get home tonight.”
“No, Mom, please don’t take me to Dustin’s.” He couldn’t see Beth anymore, but he could hear how small her voice sounded. What doesn’t she like about Dustin? With his job he’d learned long ago to listen to children when they used that tone of voice.
“It’ll just be for tonight, sweetie, then I’ll work something else out. Now hurry up, we’ve got to go.” She leaned over the counter to call to Cecily. “Miss, can I get our check please? Right away?”
“Sure thing,” Cecily said coming back into the dining room. “I’ll be right with you, ma’am.”
Ron took a sip of his drink while he watched Cecily get the mother’s check ready. Beth was eating her fries slowly, her long brown hair covering her face like a curtain as she looked down at her plate. Such a difference from the giggling girl who’d been in that seat a few moments ago. Her mom impatiently watched her eat the last fry. “Come on, baby, let’s get out of here,” the mom said, as she helped Beth down from her seat.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” the little girl said the moment her feet touched the floor. It was obvious she was doing all she could to postpone their departure.
The mom sighed dramatically before hustling her to the back of the diner. “Can we hurry, please?” she said to her daughter as they passed the sheeting.
The bell over the door chimed and Ron turned to see his team of Colby, Bart, and Claire walk in. Claire was between the men, laughing. She looked so peaceful and on a hostage negotiator, that look was something rare. He was glad to see it. Ron smiled and tapped his watch as they approached him. “You’re late.”
Bart ran his hand over his unshaven jaw and shook his head. “But we got all the paperwork done like you asked, Cap’n, and with what happened today, you know we worked a miracle on that.”
He fist-bumped Colby, the stress of the day dissipating into the diner’s atmosphere. It wasn’t just today, though. Bart had been different since his trip to South America and his father’s death. It was like he’d laid some ghosts to rest and was more comfortable in his own skin. Open to really being himself. It also probably helped that Lucy was becoming a permanent fixture in his life lately.
“We’ve been so busy lately,” Colby added as he moved around the stool and sat down next to the captain. “Hopefully nothing goes down tomorrow that would affect the wedding.” He gave Claire a teasing sideways glance, barely suppressing a laugh.
“Don’t even joke about that,” Claire admonished, rapping the wooden underside of the counter. “You’ll jinx it.” She sat on the other side of Ron and took the clip out of her hair, letting it fall down her back. “I’m just glad we’ve made it this far. We’re headed down the home stretch.”
“Rafe would take a priest hostage to make sure Claire marries him,” Colby said, reaching across Ron to pat her hand. “I think the second we’re all in the church he’ll bolt the doors so no one can go in or out until you’re officially his wife.”
Claire swatted his arm. “Believe me, he doesn’t have to take hostages to get me to marry him. Now, you on the other hand, might need to resort to extreme measures to get Sophia in the same place as you are for more than a day or two.”
Bart’s laugh turned into a groan. “I can’t believe you just said that. Let’s not have anyone take hostages for any reason okay? Deal? We want a crisis-free wedding day.”
Colby grimaced, all teasing gone. “Well, she’s right about one thing. Long distance relationships suck.”
“It’s only been a couple of months,” Claire pointed out. “And you guys visit every other weekend.”
“It’s not enough,” Colby frowned. “I want her here. Close.”
“Believe me, we do, too,” Bart said with an arch of his eyebrow. “We’ve had to put up with you after a weekend of visiting her. Your mood when you come back to work isn’t pretty. Like you don’t even want to be there or something.”
“I’m not moody,” Colby protested with a dark look and they all laughed, especially Ron. Colby had been a bear to work with the last little while. “Well, that will all change when she moves down here in a few weeks,” he amended.
Ron leaned back and looked at the three members of his team laughing together. He wanted to imprint this moment on his memory forever, their teasing, their bond. He was realizing more and more that he needed to cherish the happy times¾and remind himself that he wasn’t losing another family he’d built.
The bell on the door rang again, interrupting his train of thought, and Ron glanced over to see a woman walk in and head straight for them. He stood, blinking twice. He’d just been thinking of family and loss and his ex-wife appeared? What kind of karma was that? “Sarah?” Her named rolled off his tongue easily, as if they still talked every day and part of him still wished they did. The fact was, they’d barely spoken in five years.
She didn’t waste time with a greeting. “Why couldn’t you have just done all this through email?” She stood in front of him, calm and collected, her eyebrows raised while she waited for his answer. When his tongue refused to work and he didn’t reply right away, she added, “We could have met somewhere and discussed Grandma’s will like adults. I don’t like being summoned to bring the Corvette all the way down here. I had to push back a client just to meet your time deadline.”
“What are you talking about?” She wasn’t making sense. Looking at her, not a hair out of place, with a white blouse and navy pants as starched as her expression, part of him was tempted to try to provoke her out of that calm state she was trying so hard to maintain. He knew what was under that orderly exterior¾a passionate woman that he still loved. And that was why he needed to stay away from her. She didn’t know it, but she still held his heart and had the power to hurt him. That was enough reason for him to back away now. With that thought, Ron retreated until his leg hit the stool behind him.
She stared up at him, her blue eyes narrowed, the tips of her short blonde hair brushing her chin. “You know how much that car means to me. I really think we could have discussed this in a civil manner. Come to an agreement of some kind.”
He reached out and took her arm, then pulled back at the zing he felt when his fingers touched her. It had been so long, but the connection was still there. He scrambled for something to say to cover his confusion at that fact. “I’m all for civil discussion. But I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She adjusted her purse on her shoulder. He knew it was probably heavy since she kept so many odds and ends in there. He’d jokingly called it her “just in case” bag when they’d been married.
“Ron, I’m still on billable hours. And while I know my job as an accountant isn’t as exciting as you chasing down the bad guys, my time is valuable. Don’t play games with me. I got a message that you wanted me to bring the Corvette to the diner parking lot by 5:00 sharp.”
Ron took a careful breath. He didn’t want to do this in front of his team. He didn’t talk about his ex-wife much and they were staring in curiosity. “How about we go to my office and talk about this in private?” He turned to grab his jacket off an unoccupied stool. “I’ll be right back, Claire,” he said in a low voice. “You guys go ahead and start without me.”
Sarah moved between him and Claire, pressing her lips together as she took in Claire, Colby, and Bart sitting behind him. “Am I interrupting a ‘work’ meeting for you?” She folded her arms, watching him carefully. “Why would you call and interrupt my work day when you’re obviously busy yourself?”
Leaning down to be eye level with her, he counted to ten. “Sarah, I didn’t leave any message for you. I have no idea what’s going on. I just want to talk about this privately. It has nothing to do with interrupting anyone’s work day.”
Sarah’s head dipped to her chest as she inhaled slowly. When she raised her chin, she exhaled with a little puff of air. “I know your job and your ‘people’ always come first, before anything. Nothing ever changes. But I have a routine now that I like to stick with, okay?” She waved her hand between them. “Let’s settle the issue with the Corvette so we can both get back to our lives. My schedule is already way off now that I’ve got a dinner client to finish up with that I wasn’t expecting to have this evening.”
Ron clenched his jaw. “I’m sorry, but that’s not my fault. Besides, having flexibility in your schedule is a good thing.”
“Not in my book.” She stared back at him with a mutinous expression, her slight pout showing her mask of calmness was slipping.
He stared, tempted to reach out and touch that lower lip. She was still so beautiful. His hand started to rise, nearly of its own volition.
“So can we hurry this up?” Sarah said, glancing down at her watch.
Ron quickly put his arm at his side, ignoring the stab to his heart. What am I thinking? Since the divorce she’d kept her distance, but that had made it easier to keep her in the dark about what she still meant to him. Leading separate lives helped make the confusion and pain better somehow¾at least that’s what he told himself.
“Fine, let’s go to my office and get this over with then.” Ron strode past her toward the door, deliberately not noticing little wrinkle in her brow she always got when she was puzzling something out in her mind and had questions. How many times had he smoothed that little wrinkle with his thumb, right before he kissed her questions out of her? He shoved the memory away. Well, she didn’t want his touch anymore and it stung like a face slap when she was standing right in front of him.
He reached the hostess podium and turned back to look at Sarah, not far from his friends. His straying thoughts took in the fact that, right then, everyone he loved most in the world was gathered in the same place for the first time. And probably the last.
Sarah caught up with him, pulling her purse up on her shoulder again. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but¾”
Her words were cut off by a blast of hot air and fire, an explosion so large it blew them all backward. Ron hit the floor hard and lay there dazed and groggy. Glass and debris rained down. Confetti-sized menus and napkins floated like snowflakes in slow motion all around him. For a second the entire world was a silent tunnel with him at the end of it. It would be so easy to just close his eyes and let the blackness suck him down into unconsciousness. But he couldn’t. Not yet. Get up. Get everyone out.
(If you want to read more of the chapter click here)