Omega Sector: Under Siege- Book 1
by Janie Crouch Genre: Romantic Suspense
He was a man on a mission, one that included a beautiful woman and a little girl he'd die defending…
What a serious case of mistaken identity. Ashton Fitzgerald is no unassuming handyman but a highly trained sharpshooter intent on protecting Summer Worrall and her baby daughter. The Omega SWAT member has a debt to pay and he isn't about to let Summer out of his sights.
For someone else has set their own sights on the lovely widow. Her unexpected relationship with Ashton has put Summer and her child straight into a madman's line of fire. Suddenly a mission to make amends becomes Ashton's quest to defend this little family with his very life.
“Ashton, it means the world to me that you would come here to fix this first thing in the morning.”
Ashton Fitzgerald, top sharpshooter for Omega Sector Critical Response Division’s SWAT team, had his head and half his large torso under the kitchen sink of a condo unit in Masking Ridge, a community just south of Colorado Springs.
He knew Summer Worrall, owner of said sink, didn’t expect much of a response from him, so he just grunted as he put a little more elbow grease into a stripped nut on her piping.
“I don’t know when it started leaking, but it was definitely bad when Chloe got me up this morning.”
As if in agreement, nineteen-month-old Chloe began gurgling in her mother’s arms and clapping loudly. She obviously wanted to be let down onto the floor to play with Ashton, but Summer was keeping her out of the way.
“It’s no problem,” Ashton muttered.
Actually, it was a problem. He was going to be late into Omega Sector’s SWAT training facility. Not that there would be any true harm in that; the team was just running exercises today unless something real came in. But as soon as they realized why Ashton was late, because Summer Worrall thought he was the maintenance man again, they were going to tease him mercilessly. Again.
They all knew or at least knew of Summer and Chloe. Her husband had been killed in a hostage situation gone wrong nearly two years ago. Then she’d been kidnapped by a psychopath eight months ago in another incident involving the Omega Sector’s Critical Response Division, an elite interagency task force with some of the country’s best agents.
So no one on the team actually begrudged Ashton helping out the young widow. What they found so hilarious was the fact that Summer thought he was the handyman for the entire condo complex.
And Ashton could admit he was a pretty mechanically minded guy. Growing up on his parents’ farm in Wyoming had given him a lot of skills with his hands. He could fix most household problems, given the time and tools.
“I think I’ve got this under control,” he said. “It’s nothing big, just some piping that needed to be realigned and tightened.”
“Oh good. I didn’t want to turn a big, formal request in to Joe.”
Joe Matarazzo, the main hostage negotiator at Omega Sector, who also happened to be a billionaire, owned the condos in which Summer and Chloe lived. That’s how this crazy misunderstanding had started in the first place. Summer had needed a handyman and called Joe. Joe had said he’d send someone trustworthy right over.
But then Joe had an emergency with Omega and asked Ashton if he could take care of Summer’s problem. Instead of calling someone, Ashton had just gone over to Summer’s home himself. He’d had no intention of misleading Summer. Had even introduced himself as Joe’s friend.
Evidently she’d taken that to mean Joe’s handyman friend.
When he’d given her his number, telling her to call him if anything else came up, Summer had taken him up on that offer. Eight times in the last few months.
Now Ashton had no idea how to tell her the truth.
And that wasn’t even the worst secret he was keeping from her. He grimaced and worked his way out from under the sink.
“Okay, I think I’ve got it all fixed under here. I just need to turn your water back on in the basement.”
Ashton pulled himself the rest of the way out from under the sink and stood. He smiled at Summer, trying not to let himself be taken aback again by her beauty. Petite, with rich auburn hair, pale skin with freckles dusting her cheeks and nose. It was colder weather now, but Ashton knew from the tank tops she wore in warmer temps that her shoulders were dusted with freckles, also.
But he definitely did not want to be thinking about her bare shoulders or how he’d love to play connect the dots on them with his fingers or—even better—his lips. Summer wouldn’t be interested in any law-enforcement lips after what she’d been through. Especially his.
“Ah-ta!” Little Chloe squealed and threw herself forward from her mother’s arms, reaching for Ashton. He caught her, taking her from Summer and pulling her to his chest.
“Sorry,” Summer murmured.
“Don’t worry about it.” It happened every time he came by. Little Chloe loved to see him. Not able to say the word Ashton, she’d taken to calling him Ah-ta last month.
“Hey, gorgeous.” He smiled at the baby. “You shouldn’t be so quick to jump out of your mama’s arms.”
He knew he wouldn’t be.
Chloe put both her tiny hands on his cheeks. “Ah-ta.”
“Yeah, but I might not always be there to catch you.” He adjusted his tool belt so her little feet didn’t get snagged on anything. The belt didn’t bother him at all. It was quite similar to the SWAT utility belt he wore in other circumstances.
“Ashton, thanks again for making this your first stop. I’m sure you have other places to be. Other units higher on the priority list than mine.”
He shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. It was no trouble coming by here.”
Summer’s green eyes filled with distress. “You mean you only came here for me? You’re working out of another complex today? I’m so sorry.”
Ashton never knew what to say, so he said as little as possible. “Yeah, I’m working at another complex today.” That wasn’t technically untrue; the SWAT training facility was definitely another complex. “Don’t worry. I never mind coming by here.”
Ugh. Now he sounded like he was about to ask her out for a date. He was sure she’d shut that down real quick.
“I-I just mean…” he trailed off. Was he actually stuttering now? She must think he was a complete moron.
She touched him on the arm. “I understand and I truly appreciate it.” She reached over and tickled Chloe. “This little wiggle worm does too. She always loves to see you.”
“I’ll just take her downstairs with me to turn the water back on. Is that okay?” Chloe was currently playing with his ears. Pulling on them with her surprisingly strong little fingers.
“Sure,” Summer smiled. “Give my arms a break for a few minutes. I’ll put this stuff back under the sink.”
Ashton turned with the baby and began walking down to the basement. He knew where it was from a hot-water-heater problem a few months before. As a matter of fact, for a newer condo, this place tended to have a lot of issues. But he definitely wouldn’t complain.
It gave him a chance to see Summer. Even if it was as the handyman.
Little Chloe began jabbering to him in her baby language, laughing as he bounced her as he went down the stairs. He didn’t know why the little girl liked him so much, but he would take it while he could.
Someday she would find out Ashton was the reason her dad had died. Then neither she nor her mom would want anything to do with him.
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Janie Crouch writes what she loves to read: romantic suspense, heavy on the romance.
Janie recently relocated with her husband and their four teenagers to Germany (due to her husband's job as support for the U.S. Military), after living in Virginia for nearly 20 years. When she's not listening to the voices in her head (and even when she is), she enjoys traveling, long-distance running, and movies of all kinds.
Her favorite quote: "Life is a daring adventure or nothing." - Helen Keller.
What genre have you not yet written but really want to try?
Romance and romantic suspense are my passion (pardon the pun), but I think I will dabble in paranormal and/or fantasy someday. I love the thoughts of other realities and special powers and massive evil forces. It’s not surprising that The Avengers, The Matrix and Guardians of the Galaxy are among my favorite movies of all time.
As a matter of fact, I just finished writing a book entitled PENUMBRA. It’s not really paranormal or fantasy; it’s more of a romance dystopia. This book, and I consider it to be my best work ever, is currently being polished and hopefully sold to a publisher. We’ll see what happens. Here’s the tag line: In a world where the only people left are the genetically modified, a warrior falls in love with the woman he’s been programmed to kill.
But no matter what other genres I write, my books will always have a love story at the heart of it (pun again! sorry). Two people falling in love – that moment when they realize they can’t live without the other person – that’s almost addictive to me. I love to read it in books. I love to watch it on films. I want to write it in my novels.
How do you come up with your characters’ personalities?
They come from everywhere! Some are my own. For example, in Infiltration (Omega Sector Book 1, which released in 2015), the heroine suffers from an almost crippling case of claustrophobia. That’s me. I don’t suffer from it quite as badly as the heroine, but tight spaces are not pretty for me.
I try to include humor in my characters’ personalities, even if it is wry or dry humor, as much as possible. Because I’m writing romantic suspense, I have very little silly humor, but love clever quips. As a matter of fact, I keep a list of funny/quirky sayings that grab my attention that I hope to use in one of my books someday. Here are a few: Any zoo is a petting zoo if you're not a coward. I have neither the time nor the crayons to explain this to you. How bad is this guy on a scale of 1-Terminator? My idea of “help from above” is a sniper on the roof. He’s like Off my lawn! old .
Thinking back to the way beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?
Don't wait for the *lightning of inspiration* (aka: angels singing, a muse dancing around your computer, etc.) to strike in order to write. Instead, find a routine and stick to it. A lot of what you write in a first draft will be utter junk... that is not only okay, it's healthy. Resist the urge to continuously rewrite the first couple of chapters. Instead, finish what you start. You'll be amazed what you can do in editing. Done is better than perfect. Routine is better than inspiration.
There's a quote I have sitting on my desk that friends gave me for my 40th birthday:
"She believed she could, so she did."
That's so beautiful and I love it. But.... I’m sort of the exact opposite of that. I didn’t wait until I believed I could do something to start. If I did, I would've never started at all. Instead, I just did it. One step at a time, however many it took. Then afterwards I tended to look back and say “oh, I guess I could do that." Definitely true with writing.
How do you come up with your character names?
Coming up with character names is one of the most fun aspects of writing, but can sometimes be the most difficult. I love to name a character after a friend or family member. To me, it is the ultimate tribute. Three out of the four heroines in the original Omega Sector books were named after three of my best friends: Sophia, Megan and Shelby. Super exciting to give these heroines quirks and strengths that reminded me of my besties!
But naming a character can also be difficult sometimes. For instance, for Omega Sector Book 3: UNTRACEABLE I didn’t want to name the heroine after anyone I knew because of the character’s particularly traumatizing past. I found it difficult enough to write about things like that happening to a fictional stranger. The thought of linking that past to someone I knew was just too hard. Thus, Juliet was born, since I knew no one with that name. Juliet developed her own grit and strength throughout the story and became one of my favorite characters of all time.
My heroes? Honestly, I’m just looking for strong, alpha male names: Cameron, Sawyer, Evan, Dylan, Conner. Love them all. I have borrowed last names from friends: Branson, Perigo, Karcz.
As for other characters, all I can say is watch out if you’re one of my Facebook friends or someone connected to me on Twitter. Without fail, scrolling through those sites are where I get 90% of my supporting character and villain names.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not writing?
Well, I have four teenagers so most of my spare time is spent just being mom (driving to soccer, basketball, drama, etc). Our house is rarely ever quiet (except for when the kids are in school), but it’s usually fun.
In 2015 we relocated to an American Army base in Stuttgart, Germany after living in Virginia for twenty years. That change was a huge adjustment! Trying to learn enough German to get through basic life, plus a new currency, friends and ways of living, took up a lot of time! But now we are settled in and love it here. The kids attend an American DoD school (so they still get to do things like football, cheerleading, etc.) but we’re so close to so many different countries we travel all the time. We’ve been to over 20!
What techniques or tools do you use to keep yourself (and your story) organized?
Writing the first draft of a novel is basically a “choose your own adventure” story. At any given point, decisions characters make lead them down certain paths that will create changes in the story.
I am a plotter, so I like to know where I’m going with a story (so I don’t accidentally write myself into a corner I can’t get out of). To keep myself on track and avoid writing unnecessary scenes that end up cut later, my greatest organization tool is a large sketch pad and markers. I sketch out (in flow-chart fashion) the story line, so I spot potential dead-ends ahead of time. My sketch sheet sometimes ends up looking like a formula for future time travel, but it has worked well for me thus far.
Once I’m actually writing, I use Scrivener for my word processing. It allows me to keep all my notes, pictures, research and actual writing in one place. It allows me to look at things in regular or “bulletin board” view, and switch order of files easily. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a writer.
I also use this little free online app called Word Keeper Alpha (wordkeepalpha.com) to keep track of how much I’ve written. I can put in the book’s due date and its required length, then Word Keeper tells me how many words I need to write per day to meet my deadline. Quite helpful for looking at overall progress of a project and when it comes down to crunch time.
What book are you currently reading or what was the last book you read?
At any given time, I can be caught reading up to half a dozen books. I have couple by my bedside table, one or two open on my Kindle, one in my car, one in my purse, one on my phone… I’m a quick reader so I’m usually able to get through all of these before the story lines get confused.
Currently, I’m reading Scarlett Cole’s Second Circle Tattoo series. Steamy, romantic suspense – got to love that! The Strongest Steel (book 1) was a RITA finalist (like my book Overwhelming Force), which is pretty much the highest award a romance novel can be nominated for. Great series!
Also, because I’m traveling to Everest Base Camp (that’s right, Mt. Everest –although not the dangerous parts) with my daughter this December for a 14-day hike, I’ve been reading about that like crazy! Right now I’m concentrating a lot more on blog posts than books (suggestions, packing lists, what to expect, etc.) in order to be prepared. But, of course, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is required reading when you’re talking about anything Everest.
And for research, I’m constantly thumbing through 400 Things Cops Know by Adam Plantinga and Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland for agent-type stuff. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi is always sitting next to me when I’m writing a novel. One of the most useful books I’ve ever found.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what do you like to listen to?
In a house with four kids, I regularly need to put on my noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music while I write. Particularly my first draft when I’m not necessarily trying to get the perfect words down, I’m just trying to get the skeleton of the story written. (For my later drafts, when I’m tightening sentences and attempting to find the perfect words for what I’m saying, I need complete quiet, not music)
I have a go-to playlist on Spotify entitled “Writing Suspense”. It’s made up of mostly of instrumental tracks specifically chosen from different films (Ironman, Ender’s Game, Captain America, The Avengers, etc. – yeah, I definitely have a “type”). I find this category of action-fueled music helps get me into a fast-paced mood (my books, because of their shorter length requirements, are more fast-paced than many single title romantic suspense novels). And there are no lyrics to distract me. I also have a romantic playlist (entitled “Feelings”) that helps set the mood for my love scenes.
In the not-so-rare-occasions when one of my teenagers boot me off of Spotify because they’ve taken control of our joint account, I switch over to Cody Westheimer’s website. This guy is talented – oh, the feels!! Be sure to check him out at codywestheimber.com
When you got that first phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react? How did you celebrate?
For anybody interested in writing (romance in particular) I highly suggest getting involved with the Harlequin Discussion Forums online. Harlequin, more than perhaps any other traditional publisher, is looking for new authors all the time. They hold contests multiple times a year which allow you to get your work in front of an editor, something not guaranteed with many other publishers. One of those contests is how I got my start.
About five weeks before I received “the call” I had received an email from my (now) editor telling me she was sending my book onto the Intrigue line’s senior editor. I knew that was a good sign (although not definite), but I didn’t know when I would hear anything. I carried my phone with me every single moment of every single day for a month.
Finally, I decided I couldn’t let that rule my life. Our family (made up of myself and our four kids) decided to travel to Washington DC for a short family trip.
Sure enough, I got “the call” while standing under the T-Rex of the National History Museum in DC! It was difficult to hear and talk to my editor (kids and people were running around everywhere), but we managed. The important thing was: I was going to be a published author. They wanted to buy my book! Then I was the one running around the museum like a little kid.
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