Since returning home from his last tour of duty to become a school principal, Ray Vargas has fought his attraction for his employee, the sensual woman who’d once been the girl next door. But the Llorona Killer will not stop until he claims his final victim—Johanna—and Ray will do anything to protect the woman he’s come to love.
With a serial killer out to prove the curse is real, will Ray and Johanna’s future be drowned in the ghostly waters of the past? Or will the power of their love give them the strength to stop a killer…and heal their wounded hearts.
As it often did, his gaze hitched at her full, red lips. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d kissed lips like that. Maybe never.
The sliver of skin showing between her sweater and her pants drew his eyes. She looked far hotter than any teacher had a right to—certainly hotter than any teacher he’d ever had. Thank God, or he’d never have graduated.
He felt his eyes pinch and blinked hard to break the drugged feeling that suddenly slid over him. He’d done his best to steer clear of her for years, and after this conversation, he’d go back to staying away.
“Who is this? What do you want?” Johanna’s voice held fear, tinged with anger.
That was not a tone Ray associated with Johanna. He froze in place. He’d been trained well by the Army. Freeze first. Assess. Decide. Then move.
She spoke again, her voice rising in pitch. “Would you just stop calling?” she demanded, her voice shaking.
Distressed. Johanna was distressed. Time to act. Ray moved then, coming into the classroom, bumping a desk as he came toward her, startling her.
She whipped around, gasping as she saw him. Her face paled, and a second later she dropped her cell phone on her desk. She speared her hand through her hair, her fingers bending until they looked like claws digging into her scalp.
His heart pumped hard. What the hell? “Johanna,” he said, aware his voice was gruffer than he’d intended. “What was that about?”
She stared at him, her eyes wide, like a damn deer caught in the headlights. One second. Two seconds. Three seconds.
“Prank caller,” she finally said, snapping out of her trance.
Ray ran the pads of his fingers over his goatee. Prank caller, my ass. She’d been engaged in that conversation, had been responding to the person on the other end of the line. But her eyes stayed wary and he decided to let it go. He was here for a purpose. Marianne’s murder needed his attention, and he wanted to know Johanna’s secret.
“Sorry for barging in,” he said, “but I’d like to continue the conversation we started back in my office.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “You mean about Marianne? Are the deputies coming back?”
He shook his head. “They’re gone.” She looked puzzled as he continued. “You brought up la Llorona.”
“Yes,” she said flatly.
Her voice had lost the shaky edge it had held a moment ago on the phone. Hell, now it almost sounded like it could freeze water. Her own form of self-preservation, he supposed. “You wrote your master’s thesis on her?”
Johanna slumped against her desk and ran one hand over her face, down her neck, let it settle on her chest. “Yes.”
She hesitated, and for a moment looked like she wasn’t going to respond. Then she spoke, her voice softer, more thoughtful. “My mother believed in her.”
Odd. Johanna had placed a strange emphasis on the word believed. Hadn’t her mother simply known about the story? Why would she believe in a ghost tale? “La Llorona is a legend,” he said.
“A legend based on a real woman who lived five hundred years ago.”
“It’s a kid’s story. Like the boogieman and the chupacabra.”
Johanna shook her head. “My mother believed la Llorona was real. Because of that, I’ve always been…curious…about the legend.”
She started when her cell phone rang. Her sudden jerk sent the tips of her fingers slipping under the vee of her sweater. His eyes followed the path as her hand settled on the swell of her breast. He swallowed, narrowing his eyes as he forced his gaze back to her face. Her phone, playing a traditional cumbia rather than a regular ring tone, continued for a full ten seconds while she stood frozen. She didn’t even look at where it sat on the desk.
He tried not to think about whatever might be going on in her personal life that warranted heated phone calls. A bad break-up, maybe? He hadn’t heard she was dating anyone, but she might be. Much as he hated to admit it to himself, he didn’t want her to have a personal life. It messed with his fantasy.
Enough. He had to get his head back in the game. Had to focus on why he was here —and that reason was not to stare at her breasts or get jealous over imaginary lovers or remind himself of the fantasies he’d had of her—fantasies featuring her naked. Her hot mouth on his. Her skin sliding sinuously under his.
At what point in your life did you realized that being an author was no longer going to be just a dream but a career you were going to turn into reality?
I started writing in earnest when I was on maternity leave with my second son. I was home with two young children, missed work (middle school English/Language Arts teacher), and wanted to write for my students. This was way before the big YA revolution, so there wasn’t a whole lot available for middle school kids. I wrote and fell in love with the process. I loved that book (an historical time travel), but ultimately, I found my voice in adult fiction. My first book, Living the Vida Lola, is a caper/mystery that is full of chick lit fun. When I started writing about Lola I knew this was what I wanted to do!
Which of your characters is most like you?
I like to say that Lola Cruz is my alter ego—if I were a sexy, Latina private eye! Truthfully, each of my characters has a bit of me rolled into them. I think in a lot of ways, they are better versions of myself. They get to do and say the things I think about, but decorum or political correctness stops me from doing. ;)
If you were stranded on a desert island, which character from Curse of Passion would you want with you?
Ray Vargas, of course!
Where do you write?
I have a little office off our master bedroom. It’s small, but it’s all mine!
Do you have any “rituals” you go through before you write?
Alas, no. I’m pretty ordinary in that way. I just get my ice water or coffee or whatever I feel like drinking, settle down, and dive into my stories.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) of Curse of Passion to write and why?
The culminating scene at the river in the little cabin was one of my favorites. It started with a picture I’d seen of shoes lined up and that sparked the idea of the trophy the killer would keep. It happens so organically and I love the way it all comes together there.
How did you come up with the title?
Actually, that was the editorial director of the line at the time the book was acquired!
What would YOU like your readers to know about this book or you in general?
I think the reason most writers write is to share their stories and to evoke emotion. I hope my readers feel the passion between Johanna and Ray, feel the suspense I’ve created through the Mexican legends and la Llorona, and that they feel the book long after they’ve closed the last page.
What's one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?
Never Give Up! It’s trite, but true.
Do you have a favorite author?
Not one favorite. I have many that I love and I read widely across genres, so I can never pinpoint just one favorite!
What is your favorite quote?
“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.” ~Audrey Hepburn
What genre of books do you read for pleasure?
I read a little of everything. I really am starting to like memoirs and biographies. I love women’s fiction, and of course mystery!
What’s the most amusing thing that’s every happened to you?
Oh, gosh, I admit, I lead a pretty ordinary life. I can’t even think of anything overly amusing that’s happened to me!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Yoga. Cooking. Sewing. Crafty things relating to decorating my house J
If all TV shows were real, what show (all time) would you most like to live in?
That’s a tough one! I think Once Upon a Time would be fun. Project Runway, although I’d probably be voted off early in the game.
Party dress or blue jeans? Blue jeans
Plotter or Panster? A little of both
Print or e-Book? E-book
Coastal walks or extreme sports? Coastal walks, for sure J
Cookies or cupcakes? Cookies, hot from the oven
Super hero or super villain? Super hero
If I had a free afternoon I’d . . . Make an apron!
Peanut Butter: Crunchy, Creamy, or I hate peanut butter and am addicted to Nutella. Creamy!
You suddenly realize you live in a haunted house. Do you:
- Run screaming for the door.
- Bravely go to a church, load up on holy water and try to get rid of the ghost.
- Set up ghost hunting equipment to capture phenomenon.
- Call in the Ghost Adventures crew so that you can ogle the lead guy Zac’s amazingly stiff hair when you’re not ogling his….physical attributes.
- Deny you have a ghost and just let it scare the bejesus out of your visitors.
Could you tell us five random facts about yourself?
- I have 5 children
- I got a B in creative writing in college
- I love yoga but often have to force myself to go to class
- Sometimes I want to cut off my hair, ala Sharon Stone. Don’t think I have the courage to do it, though!
- I love old houses (we just bought one built in 1900 and I’m in loovvveee)
She is the Marketing Director with Entangled Publishing, is the founder of Books on the House, the co-founder of The Naked Hero, and is the author of the Lola Cruz Mystery series with St. Martin’s Minotaur and Entangled Publishing, and A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series with NAL. She also has two romantic suspense novels, and is the co-author of The Tricked-out Toolbox, all to be released in 2012/2013.