Exclusive Excerpt and Q&A: Carla Neggers on Liar’s Key

Carla NeggersWe love a good romantic suspense — The danger! The excitement! So we’re pretty excited about the upcoming seventh installment in Carla Neggers’s Sharpe and Donovan series, Liar’s KeyOut tomorrow, this RT Top Pick! follows Emma Sharpe as she prepares to get hitched — only a case gets in the way. We talked to Carla about her latest, and we have an excerpt for you to check out! 

What do you love about the romantic suspense genre and what are you hoping to see for it for the future? 

I love the intertwining of an engaging romance and nail-biting suspense! Whether it’s a standalone novel or part of a series, romantic suspense has been a go-to genre for me since I was a kid. I’m writing my seventh Sharpe Donovan novel and the eighth story overall (there’s a prequel novella), and I’m as excited as ever about this world I’ve created. As a reader, I always look forward to what’s out there!

What impact are you trying to make on the genre with your work?

When I sit down to write, I focus on the story at hand and put everything else aside. I write the best book I can at that moment, every time.

Liar’s Key takes us to Boston, Maine and Ireland. What are your favorite aspects of these locations and how do they enhance the story? 

I know all these places well and return to them often. Boston is my city! I went to college there, lived there, spend a lot of time there. My kids are there. It’s a natural for Emma and Colin’s small FBI unit and close but not too close to their small hometowns on the southern Maine coast. Emma’s grandfather was born in Ireland and lives in Dublin, and we have a whole cast of Irish characters—whiskey makers, a detective, a priest, an artist, a hotelier, a farmer. To me, each setting is almost a character in itself.

What have been your favorite parts of writing the Sharpe and Donovan series and the most challenging? What do you want readers to take away from this series? 

Emma and Colin are fun together—I love writing about them! Some of my favorite scenes are when they’re with their friend Finian Bracken, an Irish priest and a whiskey expert with a tragic past. The biggest challenge almost always has to do with sequencing of events, but it’s a fun, absorbing challenge. Sometimes it’s like doing a Sudoku puzzle—two 8s in the same box, and you have to get out the eraser.

You also write contemporary romance. What is the process like switching from high-stakes action to modern-dayLiar's Key by Carla Neggers love stories? How does your writing process differ for each genre? 

The switch feels very natural to me. While I’m working on one book, the next book I’m writing “simmers” in the back of my mind, so I’m always ready to dive in. My writing process doesn’t change that much, but each book is different, whatever the genre. I often rewrite the opening to my suspense novels but rarely do with my contemporary romances. Not sure why.

And now let’s check out the excerpt! 

Gordy ate another handful of ibuprofen as he walked up Newbury Street, crowded with shoppers and diners on the beautiful May afternoon. He figured Claudia planned to blow him off but he needed a place to crash for a couple of hours. He was dead on his feet. He didn’t have any water to go with the ibuprofen, but he didn’t mind. He’d practically drowned himself sucking down two bottles of water after he’d gone back to his hotel to collect his suitcase. He was well hydrated. He had no interest in shopping and he was still full from lunch, which had been a bad idea, anyway, given his physical state. Hip or not, his burger had turned his stomach on top of the Kit Kat, coffee, water and being back in an FBI office. Matt Yankowski had his own little kingdom on the Boston waterfront. He needed to catch some serious bad guys or the new director would shut him down in a heartbeat.

But Gordy wasn’t a part of all that any longer.

He turned down a side street, his stomach lurching, his head throbbing. He needed to give the ibuprofen a minute to start working. He wanted a cigarette. He’d quit smoking at forty and hadn’t looked back, but he’d been tempted a couple of times since retiring. First time had been after his mother-in-law’s funeral last summer. His wife had cried her heart out, and his brother-in-law had been a horse’s ass, picking fights with everyone. Gordy had gone out for a pack of cigarettes. Emotions. He’d never been good at them. At least he wanted a cigarette now because he’d had his ass kicked.

He should be skipping the Sharpe open house and leaving Claudia to her own devices. At most, he could have shared his concerns with Emma over the phone. Claudia obviously had been taken aback when he’d turned up in London. She’d all but shut her door in his face. He’d checked into a hotel. He should have forgotten her and invited Joan to join him for a few days instead. They could have toured palaces and gardens, shopped at Harrods and dined at interesting restaurants. Be a normal couple in early retirement.

He walked down a residential stretch of Beacon Street, parallel to the Charles River. It was mostly apartments and condos but with a sprinkling of single-family mansions. He hadn’t spent much time in Boston. It was an attractive city, good for walking, and packed with history.

The friends’ apartment was only another half a block. Thankfully. He needed to take a leak, puke and regroup, preferably in that order—although he hoped to skip puking.

The walk to the apartment didn’t kill him, but he figured the hike up the two flights of stairs with his suitcase would. Only when he reached the landing, huffing and puffing, and got the key in the door did he notice the elevator tucked in the far corner of the hall.

He was rusty. No question.

By Boston standards, the apartment was a palace, located on the top floor of a former single-family mansion. The front windows were bowed, looking out on a shade tree with spring leaves fluttering in the sunlight. For what Claudia’s friends paid, Gordy figured he could have a second home at the beach. Maybe two second homes plus tuition for the grandkids. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could afford a condo much less a single-family home in posh Back Bay.

The living room had high ceilings, original dark woodwork, a formal brick fireplace and traditional furnishings, including a bust of some Greek god that he assumed was a copy. He left his suitcase by the coffee table and located a half-bath down the hall and made urgent use of the facilities. He checked his reflection as he washed his hands. Not great but not awful.

The urge to puke passed.

When he returned to the living room, he noticed shelves crammed with books and framed photographs of ancient sites and yellowed maps of long-gone empires. Gordy doubted Claudia’s friends had a clue she had been a reluctant informant for the FBI.

For him.

He sank onto the leather sofa in the living room and took a few minutes to indulge his pain, self-disgust and self-hate. Then he sat up, leaned forward and dug out the envelope from the front pocket of his suitcase. He still didn’t want to open it, but he knew he couldn’t let fear and denial get the better of him. He’d already held back too much with Emma Sharpe.

With a heavy, resigned sigh, he ripped the top off the envelope and dumped the contents onto the coffee table.

Three four-by-six photographs landed face up.

No note, no phone number to call, no commentary of any kind, but he wasn’t surprised. Words weren’t necessary. He got the message. Back off or these go public.

Same message as from his attacker last night, except this time the threat wasn’t limited to him.

Gordy blinked, his eyelids heavy with fatigue and pain. His head ached as he stared at the photographs. One mistake in his career—one mistake in his marriage—and someone had proof of his screw-up and was using it as leverage. Had his visit to London and Claudia prompted the threats? Running into the MI5 agent and this Oliver York character? His call to Emma?

Questions were easy. Answers, not so much.

The woman’s features weren’t clear, but she was unquestionably not his wife. The long legs, the shape of her hips, the glimpse of her breast…

No, not middle-aged Joan Wheelock.

Pain shot through Gordy’s eyes. He half-hoped it was the start of a stroke, but if he died, there’d be a death investigation. The Boston police would find the photos. They’d call the FBI. Emma Sharpe would find out. Yank, that sanctimonious bastard.

“Save the stroke for after you figure out this mess,” Gordy muttered.

One memorable, mind-blowing, short-lived affair, never to be repeated—except in his mind. He loved his wife, but not a week had gone by since he’d ended things and retired that he didn’t remember the long, insane, perfect nights he’d had sex with beautiful, brilliant, slightly shady Claudia Deverell, breaking every personal and professional rule that had guided his life for decades.

Gordy had been harassed and threatened from time to time in his career, but never like this—never over something stupid and embarrassing. He’d had grandkids two years ago. What the hell had he been thinking?

And he loved his wife. They’d been going through a rough patch last year, both of them figuring out retirement, where to live, what to do. He had a feeling she’d stepped out on him—but he’d never asked. Didn’t want to know.

Joan wouldn’t want to know about this. They didn’t need a private truth-telling session and certainly didn’t need to be dragged into a public one. She liked being married to an FBI legend with a spotless record.

The only positive about the photos on the table in front of him was he looked pretty good. If whoever had delivered them went public, Gordy figured at least he could console himself that he’d been a hell of a stud right up until his retirement a year ago.

He grabbed the photos and returned them to the envelope. He gave himself a minute to calm his breathing, let his head and stomach settle down, and then leaned forward again and shoved the envelope back into the outer pocket of his suitcase.

He emptied the last of his ibuprofen bottle into his palm, downed the three pills and decided a nap was in order. He needed rest, a chance to clear his head.

You’re not as young as you used to be, Gordy. You injure more easily and heal more slowly.

His doctor, not two weeks ago.

Gordy hated his doctor. Hell, right now he hated everybody.

He kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the couch. 

Sleep, then it was time to start thinking again like an FBI agent.

Liar’s Key is out tomorrow, August 30! You can grab your copy here: Amazon | BN.com | Kobo | iTunes | GooglePlay | All Romance. Digital copies start at $9.99. And for more suspense love stories, go here

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