Click on the cover to buy Red Leopard from Ellora's Cave
Back Cover Blurb
Calli Munro, American, soon-to-be-economics-professor and single by choice, arrives in Vistaria during La Fiesta de la Luna, a combination of Mardi Gras and Carnival. Calli's here to keep her sex-kitten cousin, Minnie, out of trouble. When she meets Nicolás Escobedo, the bastard half-brother of Vistaria's president, she realizes she is the one in trouble. Their attraction is instant, powerful and mutual, but to give in to it will open the floodgates of bloody revolution in Vistaria, and not even the shadowy mysterious man known only as The Red Leopard can stop it.
I loved this story. I was enthralled with Tracy's writing style, it's almost lyrical. There were several passages I had reread just because of the sheer beauty of the language. It was such a romantic
love story...and very sensual too, and the action wasn't bad either <g>.
We have a country on the verge of revolution, and two lovers for whom common sense dictates should stay far apart from each...and they try their hardest to be oh so sensible...but lucky for us they fail miserably.
Tracy, here's hoping you do more contemporaries..particularly a sequel to this one soon!
Maryam...off to savor this story again.
Calli gripped the prison bars and looked out upon the carefree people celebrating the festival fifteen feet below her, all of them totally ignorant of her plight. It was La Fiesta de la Luna, which Vistarian citizens celebrated for the three nights of the first summer full moon. Calli was not Vistarian, she was American, and twenty-four hours ago she had been sitting in her apartment in Butte, Montana. The glorious republic of Vistaria had welcomed her onto the main island a scant five hours ago, and for the last three hours and twenty-five minutes she had been in this jail.
She turned back to face the bars of the dingy cell she stood in. It wasn?t really a cell at all. Two short walls of bars keeping her penned in a cramped corner of the roomit was really a cage, not a cell. But when she looked out at the rest of the room, she welcomed the bars.
The dingy holding cells of the Lozano Colinas city police barracks were on the second floor of an adobe building on a large public square. The walls of the room, once white, showed a dirty yellow gray now, with the combined effects of years of dirt and smoke brushing against them.
Five men occupied the room, all wearing army green uniform pants with red stripes up the legs and white collarless dress shirtstheir uniform jackets hung over the backs of chairs. Clearly they resented being on duty during the first night of the festival, for they were holding their own party.
Bottles of whiskey and black rum with colorful labels dotted the big round table with the battered wooden top. Between the bottles laid half a dozen old tobacco tins being used as ashtrays for the cigars and thin yellow cigarettes with the harsh tobacco they smoked.
Four of them sat at the table playing cards, laughing and talking in loud voices. From their gestures and expressions Calli guessed their conversation was ribald. Many times the comments were about her. They would speak, glance at her in her corner, then comment in the bastardized Spanish that was common here. A deep belly laugh would follow. Their thick cigarette smoke fogged the air, and the big multi-colored Vistarian currency liberally covered the table.
In the opposite corner to her cell the leader of the group, possibly a sergeant, sat on a stool with a woman on his knee, his big hands about her waist, as he whispered things into her ear. She was dressed like many of the women had been dressed that Calli had seen in the few short minutes she had been on the public streets tonight: a white off-the-shoulder blouse, a dark cummerbund about the waist and yards and yards of long skirt in panels of glowing, gloriously colored silk that floated about their legs. With their dark straight hair tied in buns low on the back of their necks, a spray of the odd blue-colored wisteria she had seen everywhere tucked behind one ear and hoop earrings, the women looked wonderful. They moved with the sophisticated confidence of sensual, mature women, their hips swinging invitingly. It was an art Calli had never mastered, that confident poise.
The soldier?s hand slipped inside the neck of the woman?s blouse, and beneath the cotton Calli could see the shape of his hand cup her breast, the thumb moving as if he stroked the nipple. The woman gave a small low laugh, her shoulders arching back a bit, easing his access to her breast.
Calli swallowed dryly. It seemed La Fiesta de la Luna shared Mardi Gras?s lack of inhibitions.
Then the thought struck her like a gun shot: Is that why the soldiers are staring at me that way? She looked back at the table again. Another furtive glance towards her. Another comment and the chuckle that moved around the table.
Yes, she decided reluctantly. That?s what they were doing. Sizing her up.
She brushed at the jeans she wore, wishing mightily she had chosen to wear sackcloth for the journey. The jeans and tee shirt had felt perfectly respectable in Montanathe low rise waist-band that sat around her hips was far more conservative than the pants some of her students wore.
But now she was uncomfortably conscious of the band of flesh that sometimes appeared between her tee-shirt and the jeans, and that the tee-shirt, even though it remained her favorite, fit a little snugly from too many washings.
She turned back to the tiny window with the bars, willing to watch the endless carousing on the street for hours if it meant she didn?t have to look at the soldiers around the table. She didn?t know anything about Latin American countries except what she had read in books, but she knew in her gut that watching the soldiers would be inviting trouble.
How the hell was she going to get out of this mess? They certainly hadn?t offered her a phone call before they?d thrown her in here, and she hadn?t seen a single sheet of paperwork. Would anyoneMinnie, Uncle Joshknow she was even here? Surely some sort of alarm must have gone up when she didn?t show up on schedule. With the festival in full swing would they be able to trace her movements?
For a long while she watched the dancing and merriment down below. The heart of the festival appeared to be in the square itself. The hundreds of people down there appeared to be ready to party all night.
At least she would have something to look at while she idled her night away here. She certainly wouldn?t be sleeping.
He entered the room so quietly that at first she didn?t notice him. It must have caught the soldiers off guard, too, for the first hint she got was an overly loud ?Atención!? followed by the sound of men scrambling to their feet, knocking over their stools in their haste. Grunts of effort and an alarmed cry sounded.
She turned, alert.
He wasn?t in uniform. He didn?t even look Latino. Dark red hair and midnight blue eyes, with the pale skin that went with that coloring. He looked more Irish than her great-grandmother, who came from county Kildare.
American? she wondered. Help, at last?
But no, they stood rigid, waiting. The sergeant, the big soldier in the corner, now stood with his hand locked into a salute, quivering with perfect attention. The woman next to him leisurely pulled her blouse into place.
The man looked about the room, sizing the men up. What had the soldiers called him? It had sounded, amongst the gibberish of mongrel Spanish, like the name ?Roger? had been spoken.
He looked at the woman, and gave a little shake of his head. ?Rosali?? and he spoke to her.
She gave a shrug and a smile and moved slowly to the door behind the man. He patted her shoulder as she went. She shut the door behind her while the man looked around again.
Not one of the soldiers had moved an inch. He spoke a quiet word, and they relaxed, but none of them sat down again.
He spoke to the sergeant then, in the same quiet, understated way. He didn?t use his hands, either. In this land of flamboyant gestures and uninhibited volume, he was icily contained, controlled. His hands stayed relaxed at the sides of his dark, modern suit.
The sergeant rattled off a stream of words. Explanations, she realized.
They had been royally busted?so who was this guy?
When the sergeant had run out of words and fallen silent, the man studied him for a thought-filled moment. Then he spoke a few words.
The sergeant quailed and nodded eagerly. He spoke to the other men, who scurried to clear the table and go about their business.
The man in the dark suit turned then, finally, to look at Calli for the first time.
It felt like being pinned down by lasers. His direct gaze, the unflinching eyes, locked onto her face. The blue seemed almost black when he stared at her directly that wayas if a trick of the light made them appear that dark indigo blue only when reflected correctly.
He slid a hand into his pants pocket. ?You have been in the country for less than five hours Miss Munro, and already you are in trouble. It does not augur well for the remainder of your stay here, does it??
His English was flawless. His voice had a gravelly quality that reached out and caressed the back of her neck. Calli shivered.
?It?s not my fault I?m here. There were three of them, and I kept saying no??
He considered this. ?Then you very forcefully backed up your ?no? by breaking one nose and leaving various cuts and bruises for them to remember you by.?
?How many times do I have to say no before it sticks?? she asked, trying to keep her voice sweet and reasonable.
Again she got the thoughtful silence. ?This is not Montana, Miss Munro. This is Vistaria, in South America, during the Luna festival. Americans here are treated with suspicion and prejudice. You should make allowances.?
?Like they did for me?? she asked, appalled to realize her voice was rising. What allowances had the men who had come up to her tonight made? They had appeared out of a dark side street as she had been making her way towards lights and civilization and scared her silly. They had been in the mood to have some fun, and now she thought about it, she recalled that ?Americana? had dotted their talk as they had surrounded her, laughing and pushing playfully. She had shaken her head, repeated ?no? a few times while trying to slip out of their little circle. When one hand had briefly cupped her buttock, she had reacted. Three years of karate had paid off?sort of.
But the man did not appear to agree with her point of view.
?You are a visitor, Miss Munro. Things are different here. You cannot demand the same rights that you are used to in the States.?
?You?re not American,? she judged.
He seemed a little amused at that one, for his mouth curled up at one corner. Just a little. ?No, I?m not American.?
?Don?t I at least get a phone call?? she asked.
He once again appeared to consider her request seriously, carefully. He took a step or two closer to the cage. Calli already stood close to the bars and his paces brought him much too close to her for comfortshe didn?t like to have to tilt her head up to look someone in the eyes. But she held her ground, unwilling to show him by stepping backwards just how much he had disturbed her.
His gaze dropped to the ground. He spoke barely above a whisper, but each word reached her with crystal clarity.
?Miss Munro, you are an American, and your nationality is declared by your hair, your skin, your very demeanor. You come to my country dressed in provocative clothes, during the festival when inhibitions are loosened, and complain when you are subjected to unwanted attention.?
She pushed at stray locks of hair that had fallen around her face, suddenly conscious of their golden wheat color and their wild disarray. Somewhere along the way they had escaped the long braid she normally wore. ?I didn?t go looking for trouble,? she said, in the same whisper. The whisper seemed appropriate.
?You have to understand this country, Miss Munro, if you are to have a peaceful stay here. Americans are not loved. They are looked upon with suspicion and dread, and you have been subject to some of the prejudice that fear engenders. You would do better to spend your time here being as insignificant as possible. The political situation in Vistaria verges on explosivewe have guerillas in the mountains just waiting for an excuse to swoop down on the capital, and an?incident would be all the excuse they would need.?
She licked her lips. ?You mean rebels, don?t you? They are rebels in the mountains.?
He smiled a little and looked at her with that same direct glance. ?Touché, Miss Munro. You have revealed my own prejudice.? The smile was deprecating, with a touch of wry humor. It reminded her that he was only a man, after all. A man with weaknesses?and passions.
He stood much too close, she decided. Despite the bars barely two feet separated them. She could almost feel the heat of him washing against her. A masculine, strong scent curled around her, evoking a sense memory of being wrapped in a man?s arms, his warm long body against hers. A picture flashed into her mindfirm flesh, heat, moisture, the caress of a hand along her bare hip.
The man stared at her through the bars of the cage, not moving, his gaze as fixed as a hunter?s.
The pit of her stomach rolled over slowly and the old familiar ache awoke.
?Do you know me?? she asked, her voice husky.
?Yes.? The answer was low, a verbal caress as beguiling as his scent.
Her heart gave a little leap and thudded hard against her chest. ?I mean?? She cleared her throat a little. ?You know my name.?
?I know all about you, Miss Callida Munro.? He pulled his hand out of his pocket. Her passport was in it. He pushed it through the bars towards her. ?Take this. Keep it safe. Keep it on you. In a while, after I?m gone, you will be released. Your uncle, Joshua Benning, will be waiting for you downstairs.?
She took the passport with a small sigh of relief, and pushed it into the back pocket of her jeans. It was warmfrom his body heat.
His hand had returned to the pocket.
?Do you have anything else of mine in there?? she asked, nodding towards his pocket.
?Should I have?? He seemed surprised.
?They took my handbag, my luggage??
?The soldiers. The police. The men who arrested me.?
?This country is run under a military junta,? he said politely, as if he informed her of the weather.
?I?m sorry. I?m woefully ignorant of your country and I feel like I?m insulting you.?
?You are no worse than most tourists here,? he said.
?But I?m usually much better prepared. I?m a college professor, for god?s sake, and you?re making me feel like a big ugly American blundering around and tripping over her own ignorance. I came in a hurrythat?s my only explanation.?
?Just as I have asked you, I too, am making allowances.? He gave that same little lift to the corner of his mouth. ?And you are not a college professor quite yet.?
?How on earth do you know that??
?The internet is available in Vistaria, too, Miss Munro. I looked up your college website.?
?Dry reading for a festival night.?
?On the contrary.? He took his hand out of the pocket. ?You may or may not get your belongings back. I will see what I can arrange. Count yourself lucky regardless of what is returned. Good night, Miss Munro.?
She grabbed the bars. ?Wait a minute,? she said quickly.
He swiveled a little to look at her, and one brow lifted in query.
?Are you going to tell me who you are??
He barely paused. ?No.?
?No name? Nothing??
?No, wait!? she said, lifting her voice a little more.
He turned back to face her, stoic patience in every line of his body.
She swallowed dryly. ?This is wildly inappropriate, and I don?t know how to do this in a way that doesn?t sound totally forward?but?can we?can I?hell?? She cleared her throat again.
Curiosity show on his face, then dawning understanding. She recognized it as clearly as if he had spoken, for her whole body took an internal leap and suddenly her heart really was in her throat, choking her. Throughout their short interview, the expression in his eyes had not changed from the cool assessing look. But now she saw heat flicker there, just for a moment.
?You have not had your fill of Vistarian men?? he asked softly.
The look in his eyes, the knowledge, made her heart hurt. Her whole body tingled in response, and it killed any finesse she might have used under normal circumstances. She had run out of time, anyway. He wanted to leave. She shook her head. ?Not you,? she said, just as softly.
An entire world of conversation lived in that breathed response, and Calli knew she caught only part of it. She heard understanding, pleasure?and regret.
His hand lifted to where hers clutched at the bars, the right hand hidden from the soldiers by his body. The long fingers rested against hers, and the touch thrilled her. The tip of one finger slid against the very tender flesh at the side of hers, and she shivered as a little ripple of pleasure swept through her.
He watched her, recording every minute reaction. When she focused on his face again, he gave another of those little half smiles. The regret lingered in his eyes. Moving his head by only a fraction, he shook it.
She let her hands fall away, and this time when he turned to leave she did not stop him...
A Note from Tracy
As I write this, Red Leopard is in final editing stage and is tentatively due for release in April, although there are editorial rumblings at Ellora's Cave that hint it might be released earlier than that. Because it is the latest book I have written, it's currently my favorite, although that will likely change once I have begun the next story (Solstice Surrender, for the Winter Warriors anthology, due out Christmas 2003 at Ellora's Cave).
Red Leopard has the distinction of being the first book I've written where one of the secondary characters became as endearing to me as the central characters, and I'm itching to write the sequel, which is scheduled for the not too distant future. I won't mention which character it is here, because I don't want to spoil the book for you.