From her aunt's cryptic phone message, "Don't worry, dear, we have not been kidnapped by terrorists...", to the tall, dark "suit" waiting at the Yellowstone Park entrance, cop-loathing Megan Davis smells a rat and all her instincts go on red alert. After a run-in with the press nearly kills his career, F.B.I. Special Agent Ryder McCall is banished to the wild west of Wyoming. He resents having to prove himself by pursuing an elusive busload of Branson, Missouri's oldest citizens: the Daughters of the South, allegedly held captive by ecoterrorists calling themselves the Boychicks In The Hood. He didn't count on crossing paths and matching wits with Megan, a sexy, sassy, smart, all-around-pain-in-the-posterior reporter. To rescue the dainty, southern matrons, archenemies Megan and Ryder begin an energetic game of hide and seek in which their lives and hearts are turned upside down!
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Writing as Diana Hart, the 1992 Golden Heart Finalist and author of LIES AND SHADOWS, Pam Hart has teamed up with Preditors and Editors #2 Best Electronic Fiction in 1998 author, Diana Kirk to pen the first of four books set in Wyoming--UNFRIENDLY PERSUASION, BAD MEDICINE, WYOMING WILDE, and PARTNERS IN CRIME.
Pam Hart started her writing career as a paper published author. She taught writing at a local University and during her two year tenure as president of her RWA chapter. In October of 1998, HSWF celebrated the re-release of her Meteor-Kismet novel LIES AND SHADOWS, a 1992 Golden Heart finalist.
In her multi-checkered career, Hart has been a social worker, juvenile probation officer, high school social studies teacher, and currently teaches criminal justice at an area college. Recently, she's acquired a fascination with crime scene investigation and police procedurals. Of all her positions, however, her favorite is author.
"If you like puzzles, laughing out loud, sizzling romances, and multiple happy endings, don't miss Unfriendly Persuasion. Like me, you'll be persuaded that Diana Hart knows how to cook up a story that will leave you hungry for more. There will be more, won't there, Ms. Hart?"Pauline Baird Jones -- author of Pig in a Park
"If you're looking for a fast-paced story with fun, quirky characters, a humorous mystery, and a good dose of romantic sizzle thrown in, you MUST read Unfriendly Persuasion! I flew through it and didn't want to put it down. Aunt Chelsea and her cronies are absolutely delightful. It's a keeper!"Karin Story Dearborn -- eBook Connections
"If you've been hearing about eBooks and would like to try out one on your computer or that fancy new electronic reader you got for Christmas, this jolly diversion is a fine place to start. Megan Davis is a sharp reporter; Ryder McCall a press-shy FBI agent banished to the boonies. They meet cute when Megan's elderly aunt and a busload of seniors are held captive at Yellowstone National Park by a band of ecoterrorists calling themselves "the Boychicks in the Hood." There are echoes of lots of other genre favorites, from Carolyn Hart to Janet Evanovich, but also enough originality and wit to make this a very pleasurable outing."Dick Adler's March Picks -- Crime Watch
Megan Davis tucked the telephone receiver between shoulder and chin listening to her voice mail. "Megan, dearest," came her aunt's voice. "How are you? Yellowstone is magnificent. It's everything we hoped it would be."
There was a long pause, a hesitation in words from a woman who had never hesitated about anything in the seventy plus years of her life. "In fact, it's even... oh, my... How do I put this... More than we'd hoped for. You may hear a strange story in a day or two, but don't believe it. We were not taken hostage by anyone, let alone terrorists. We did meet some men, though--very nice ones and our age. We're going to take a side trip with them to see if we can help save some birds and things. Of course, it's like Charlotte says, 'These men are probably more endangered than any species we might encounter.' Anyway, sweetheart, I just didn't want any strange stories to worry you. There's absolutely nothing out of the ordinary going on here. Believe me. We're not being kidnapped and we're not with terrorists."
Her aunt paused theatrically. "However... I'd like you to come here and help us out. Please, dear. We'd really appreciate it. There's a place that shares the same name as your mother's great, great paternal grandfather; I'll meet you there in two days. Oh, and by the way, I'm having a wonderful adventure here. See you very soon."
Shaking her head, Megan hit the reverse key and listened to the message again. And again. Kidnapping? Terrorists? Stories? What in the world was going on? Meet Aunt Chelsea at a place named after some great-great progenitor? She'd have to look up the family tree to even get a hint at what name that could be.
Still... if Aunt Chelsea wanted her to go all the way up to Yellowstone, something must be up. That little steel magnolia had a penchant for getting involved in some major predicaments. Miss Marpole had nothing on Chelsea Davis.
Pushing out of her chair, Megan approached her editor's desk. "Uh... Fred, I'm going to have to take a few days off."
Fred Chase, the barrel-chested, bushy-haired editor of the Branson Times-Herald scowled at his number-one investigative reporter. "Just like that? Bing-bang-boom and I want off, kiss my butt, good-bye? What's going on?"
Megan steeled herself to show nothing. If Fred thought she was onto something big, which if Aunt Chelsea was involved, it might be, he'd put her on assignment. "I just need a few days off, that's all."
He glanced at her suspiciously. "Horse hockey. You've never 'just needed a few days off.' Not in the past six years."
Megan blinked in feigned surprise. "Has it been that long?" she asked in a voice she hoped sounded astonished. "Good grief, how time flies."
"When you're having fun?" Fred asked, his scowl deepening.
"Of course," Megan said with a smile.
Fred scratched behind his ear. "I don't trust you, Megan."
She lifted her chin and speared him with a no-nonsense look. "I don't care. I need some time off and I'm taking it."
"What about the article on the burglary ring?" he asked, referring to the tie-up article on a case she'd helped to break. "Is that done?"
"It's not due, yet."
"So it's not done," he said. "Then you can't go."
"I mean it. You can't leave with a story like that hanging out. If you do, I'll--"
"You'll what?" she asked. "Fire me? I doubt it. I'm the only workaholic you've got."
Fred leaned back in his overstuffed leather chair. They both knew the truthfulness of her words. Megan and Fred had worked side-by-side, their mutual love of journalism and newspapers driving them to work fifteen hour days when necessary. Like mirror images, they ate, played, and slept their work. Fred's marriage had broken up over it; Megan had never wandered down that particular path and had no intention of ever doing so.
"You're on to something, Davis. I know you too well not to know the signs when I see them. Now, what's up?"
Megan shrugged. "Nothing. Honestly." At least nothing she could put her finger on at this point. "If I run across anything, you'll be the first to know."
Fred grunted. "Where you going?"
"I don't know," she said. "I'll probably lay around home and recharge my batteries."
"Like hell. Like I can picture you lying around anywhere for more than ten minutes." Fred shook his head at her. "What was the phone call about?"
"Nothing. I haven't spoken to anyone, yet, this morning." She avoided his prying gaze. The man was uncanny and noticed everything. They'd worked too long together not to pick up on the subtle nuances of one another. It was generally amusing. In this case it was annoying.
Fred tapped his steepled fingers against his upper lip and stared at her as though trying to figure her out. She held his gaze to convince him he was wrong, that she wasn't on to anything--and she wasn't, at least not yet. Staring him down calmly and coolly without giving herself away was a trait Megan had honed to perfection. Her bulging poker money stash was evidence of that.
Finally, Fred sighed and waved her away. "Okay, fine, go. What the hell do I care? Leave me alone at the mercy of these educated idiots," he said, referring to the recent college graduates he'd hired.
"Give 'em a break, old man. They haven't had time to build up a crusty exterior like yours, yet."
"Yeah, yeah, like we haven't had this conversation a thousand times this year."
Megan smiled at him. "And the burglary piece is done and at copy as we speak."
Fred brightened. "That's my girl. And before you go, run this over to the courthouse." He handed her a cashier's check. "You know who to give it to."
She frowned at him. "Yeah, but why--"
"Do you want the time off or not?"
"Of course, but--"
"Then make nice for the boss before he changes his mind. I am still the boss, remember?"
She bowed, then bowed again and again as she backed out of his office. "Yes, master."
"And don't forget it," he called after her.
Megan grabbed her purse, then paused at her desk. She should erase Aunt Chelsea's message before--
"Get moving, Davis," Fred bellowed from his open office. "I mean now."
She headed to the elevator and out to her car to deliver the goods. Several stories above, Fred watched her out of his window and nodded with satisfaction. "Good girl." Seating himself at his desk, he picked up his phone and dialed the switchboard. "Sandy," he said, "what's Megan Davis's phone password? She's off for a few days and was expecting a tip from an informant. I told her I'd pick up her messages."
He cradled the receiver against his ear and reached for a pen. "Yeah," he said, quickly scribbling the numeric code. "Great. Thanks."
It was underhanded at best, unethical at the worst. Still, Megan was his number-one writer and no matter what she said, she was definitely up to something. He'd made up his mind to find out what.
Several numbers later, he listened to her Aunt Chelsea's message. "Terrorists? Kidnapping?" He tapped his pen against the desk. Megan had called that nothing? It didn't figure. Not at all.
Her aunt was President of the Daughters of the Southern Revolution, a widow of Jefferson Davis's great-grandson. It sounded like she was up to her southern belle eyelashes in a peck of trouble. Around Branson, she was well known as a feisty septuagenarian. Maybe that's why she hadn't sounded too upset. Still, he couldn't let Megan deal with kidnappers and terrorists of any kind, not on her own. She was good, but she wasn't that good.
He picked up the phone and dialed a private number to a top contact in the local FBI field office. The line was picked up on the third ring.
"Johnny," Fred said. "How the hell's it going, you ugly old son?"
Johnny returned the masculine greeting in kind and Fred got down to business.
"I've got a reporter headed up to Yellowstone," Fred said. "Something about a kidnapping and terrorists. Sounds like a group of our Daughters of the South may be involved. Do you have someone discreet who could check it out? I don't want my star reporter out of commission."
"Yeah, John, I'm short handed, too, but -- Okay, I'll take whatever you can spare," Fred said. "And thanks. This time I owe you one."
Megan dropped the check off and headed home to pack for the trip to Wyoming.
Something in Chelsea's story didn't compute. The idea of a busload of Branson's most endearing senior citizens kidnapped and sitting hostage in a national park was ridiculously rich. She almost laughed out loud. Even if her aunt and friends had been kidnapped, with Chelsea leading them, they'd drive a sane person nuts in no time flat. It wasn't that they were difficult; they just didn't have enough to do and her aunt kept getting into trouble, locally. Seventy-year-old women could not be mystery sleuths, no matter how romantic the notion. Still, Megan couldn't deny that her aunt had helped a local private eye solve a fairly big case or two.
If Chelsea happened to be in trouble, it wouldn't be a laughing matter. But it would be more than a little rare to have a whole bus load of well-meaning busybodies kidnapped. Actually, it would be a skit straight out of Monty Python. Either way, there had to be a story behind this, and knowing Aunt Chelsea, it would be a whopper.
Don't believe any stories you may hear...
Megan shook her head, then pressed the speed dial on her cell phone for her office voice mail. With quick efficiency, she erased her aunt's message and relaxed. From here on out, everything was under control. She had time off from work and had just erased the only message that even hinted at anything untoward going on with the holy Daughters.
Even if they had been kidnapped, the kidnappers must be bunglers. Chelsea's message had gone on and on. Not to mention her happy, almost giddy, tone of voice. Nevertheless, with Aunt Chelsea, one could never tell. She was southern gentility and manners to a tee. She'd probably be courteous to her own executioner.
Fred had to let Megan take the whole ten days of vacation, if necessary. After all, she thought with a wicked smile, she knew where all his skeletons were buried. He'd do anything she asked, but she'd never push their working relationship, one of equal parts mutual admiration and mutual distrust.
She turned into her driveway and scampered up the steps. She just had time to phone her travel agent. "Hi, Lois," she said, "listen I need a big, big favor. I have to get to Yellowstone ASAP. What do you suggest?"
Megan took the cordless phone along with her, alternating nodding her head and filling up a suitcase. "I know all about tourists. Yes, it's imperative. Pull any strings you can."
On the other end Lois punched in keys and murmured to herself. Megan rifled through her closet, folded clothes and filled the suitcase efficiently and succinctly.
"Megan?" Lois asked, "I've got you a flight into Jackson Hole, the usual rental will be waiting and I have no idea how it happened, but the Old Faithful Inn just had a family reunion cancel out -- gives you ten days, if you want."
"I'll take it," Megan said with a smile. "I guess this trip is meant to be."
"You just live right, girlfriend."
Megan locked her suitcase and started filling a duffel bag with toiletry items. "What time's the flight?"
"You've got exactly one hour. It's an electronic ticket--"
"I know the drill," Megan said. "Thanks, my friend, you're a real gem."
"Yeah, yeah, so why don't you pay me in diamonds? Never mind. You're already into me for so many favors, I've lost count."
"Put this one on my tab. Gotta run," Megan said. "You're a dear." She hung up, grabbed her luggage and dashed out the door. She was good at her job, even if she was hiding out in the drinkwater community of Branson. It was big enough to give her anonymity, but small enough to make her feel claustrophobic. Fred had known from her credentials that he'd gotten a live wire. There was nothing she liked more than unraveling a story and she always stuck to it until she got to the cold, hard bottom of things.
Whether in Chicago, Branson, or Jackson Hole, she always got her story. That's why Fred had let her go; that's why Lois had broken her backside to get the reservations she'd needed. Loyalty, that's what it was all about. One hand washed the other and everyone came out smelling like the proverbial rose.
Speeding toward the airport, the instinctive prickle of anticipation crept up her back and down her arms. Next stop, Jackson Hole...wherever in Wyoming that was.
Jackson Hole was about in the middle of nowhere. The flight seemed interminable, although a direct flight kept her in the air for only a short time, anticipation had driven her into a frenzy of impatience. Inside the rented sedan, Megan rubbed her neck and glanced out across the expansive panorama. Naked, rocky towers rimmed the sky while fluffy cumulus clouds nestled between towering peaks of the Grand Tetons. Just about picture perfect, but she wasn't a photographer.
No one had warned her of the meandering two-lane roads crisscrossing the state. Nor had they mentioned traffic jams. Who'd have thought there could be such a mess out in the wide-open spaces with bumper to bumper traffic? Now there was an oxymoron.
From the postcard she'd picked up in Jackson Hole, Old Faithful Inn was richly decorated and made out of gigantic logs. It certainly was expensive. Situated right in the middle of the park, it would be perfect for launching her investigation. Expensive was one of The Daughters of the South's favorite words -- right after "sale."
The first thing she had to do after settling in was check with the park rangers. Surely, they must have seen a busload of dainty, blue-haired ladies each with a southern drawl so thick it could only be cut with a machete. Then, she'd work the tourist traps, and the hotel. Someone had to have remembered the group and she was just the person to find them.
The prickle on her back and arms had returned. Instinct was kicking in, again. Megan's pulse raced. Usually that meant she was on to something big--super big. Not that she was surprised to find Aunt Chelsea smack dab in the middle of it. If there was a Civil War re-creation, Chelsea would be in on it. If someone wanted to save the South American tree frog, she'd be in on that, too. If there was a cause celebre of any kind, her aunt would be right in the middle of it, or die trying.
Proceeding along Highway 71, the majestic Tetons shaded the way. On her right, massive lodge-pole pines stretched to the sky. Directly ahead, a long line of summer tourists waited to gain entrance into the park. Car by car, she crept closer, her patience stretching thinner. The hold up was two men who stood and greeted each car. Surely they didn't welcome each and every family to Yellowstone. That would be too time consuming.
One man wore a traditional park ranger uniform. The other, tall, lean, and well built, didn't just wear a suit, he was a suit. She could spot 'em a mile away.
From the tip of his regulation dark glasses, down his navy Brooks Brother's suit, to the toes of his high gloss wingtips this guy was a government agent. Heck, the government owned the look. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. What did he want? Some serial killer traipsing through national parks these days?
She despised him immediately. She had no use for federal agents no matter which of the alphabet soup law enforcement letters followed their names: FBI, DEA, ATF, INS. Suits, every blasted one! They were all the same.
She couldn't see his shaded eyes, but knew they were just as hard and cold as his outside demeanor. None of them had a heart, just a slab of granite under an icy exterior. Suddenly chilled, she pulled her sweater around her shoulders.
Ryder McCall eyed the stream of cars stretched out ahead of him like a long black whip. He'd been here over five hours and had found nothing so far. From his superior's report, this Megan Davis was about five foot six, slender with long, dark hair and pale blue eyes. Of course, sitting in a car, he'd have no idea about the height, but the hair and eyes...
Car after car drove past. A few drivers occasionally complained about the request for I.D. and Ryder's cheeks now ached from smiling so much. Fake smiles always pinched more. He squeezed the bridge of his nose and rubbed his eyes.
This Fred Chase didn't just know people in high places, he had several screws loose. First, who'd kidnap a bunch of old people? It was insane. Too many arthritic bodies to keep track of. It didn't make sense.
He scanned the serpentine line of cars and their scowling occupants. According to Chase, Davis's flight should have arrived in Jackson about two o'clock and this was the only entrance between him and his target -- when or if she ever decided to show up.
He glanced at his watch. Seven-thirty. It would be just his luck if she decided on a shopping trip while in Jackson Hole. Then again, she was a reporter, closer kin to a diamond back rattler than a female. If she didn't show tonight, he'd call his supervisor and call it a wild goose chase. None of it was logical, anyway, and he was dying for a hot shower and a good meal. Yellowstone closed at 9:00 p.m. Then his shift, and hopefully the case, would be over.
A movement three cars ahead caught his eye. A green Volvo with Wyoming license plates carried a dark-haired woman, and he instantly knew it was Megan Davis. How, he'd never be able to say, but it had to be her.