When I started writing When Danger Calls, I knew I was introducing a covert ops team. I had a basic idea for my hero, but I didn't know anything about the heroine. Sometimes, the best way for me to meet my characters is to start writing. The following is an early 'get-acquainted' chapter. The kind I write for me. As a matter of fact, the file name in my computer is "Meeting Frankie."

Lights flashed on her phone like lightning bugs on steroids. Frankie pressed the intercom button. "Judy, I've got to get this proposal finished for Mr. Davidson. Can you handle these calls?"
Damn, Frankie missed Sandi. Consoling herself that her efficient and unflappable secretary hadn't quit and would be back in two more weeks, Frankie kept most of the aggravation out of her tone. "Did you tell them I'd get back to them?"

"I'm sorry Ms. Castor. I know you said not to disturb you, but they insisted it was important. I tried saying you were away from your desk, like you told me, but they kept saying they'd hold. Like they knew I was lying."

Which, she thought, they most certainly did. The kid couldn't stretch the truth, much less lie, even over the phone. Judy seemed on the verge of tears. Again. That's what Frankie got for letting Human Resources send her a wet-behind-the-ears temp instead of finding someone inside the company to fill in while her secretary was away. So what if it was her honeymoon. Sandi Gunther, who was officially Sandi Hamilton now, should have been able to predict that March would be hell month before she picked her wedding date.

Frankie took a cleansing breath. "Okay, Judy. Who do I have waiting?"

There was a shuffling sound, as if Judy was consulting her notes. Good. At least she realized her memory wasn't reliable.

"Mr. Holland, Miss Breckenridge, Mr. Dalton and … and someone named Claire who said you'd know who she was and to put her right through. I told them all you'd call back, but they—"

Shit. Claire? Calling her at work. Frankie's thoughts flew straight to her mother. She stared at the flashing lights. "Which line is Claire?"

Silence. Then a quavering voice. "Two? No, three. Three. I think."

Frankie punched line three. "Claire. What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry, Frankie. This is Dave. We need to go over designs for the Cresswells. How about over dinner tonight. Santini's. Seven o'clock?"

"Dave. Sorry. I'll have to get back to you." She punched two, more hesitant about trusting Judy's memory. "Frankie Castor."

"Frankie. You've got to help me out."

Claire's tremulous voice tightened a band around Frankie's chest. "Is it Mom?"

"Sort of."

"Hang on a sec." Frankie hit the intercom again. "Judy, please take numbers for all but line two. Take messages. Tell them I'll call them back. Don't back down. Remember, you're in control. You've got the power."

"Yes, Miss Castor. The power." The intercom clicked off.

"Okay, Claire. What happened? I'm kind of swamped here."

"I know. I know you've got the big important job in Boston, and I'm just a housewife in Broken Bow, Montana."

Frankie bit her lip. There was no hurrying her big sister. Never had been. Claire had missed the geometry class that said the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. Frankie picked up her coffee mug, found it empty, and rummaged in her desk drawer for a Power Bar. "Go on, Claire. Mom?"

"Mom's okay. Sort of. I mean, she's slowing down, but that's to be expected."

Some tightness left Frankie's chest. "If you need to hire a nurse, I can pay for it."

"No, she doesn't need that kind of help. Yet."

"Okay, then why the call?"

"It's more about James."

"Something happened to James? Come on, Claire. Spit it out. Please?" Claire's husband was a rock. Ex-football, ex-track, ex-everything, up to and including the chess and debate teams.

"He's fine. It's his job. He got a huge raise, and a promotion."

Frankie stared at the phone, with the single steady light on line two. A glance at her watch told her she'd have just enough time to get to Ben Davidson's office with the proposal before she had to leave to get Molly from after school care. "I'm so happy for you. Thanks for calling. Tell James congratulations for me."

A pause. Claire was the queen of pregnant pauses. "The job's in London. We leave in two weeks. You've got to move out here and take care of things. It's your turn." The words came out in a rush, as if she'd practiced them until she could spew them forth like water from a geyser.

"Claire, I can't just up and leave. I have a job, Molly's in school here. I have a life in Boston. You said Mom was doing okay."

"Well, physically, she is. Mostly. Look, it's complicated. I'll explain everything when you get here. Just make it soon."


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