My newest book is Smudge. A different book for me. The protagonist is female and there is no male lead character. It has a smidgen of romance but is mainly an action adventure. Trish Morgan a small-town paralegal goes to her ATM one nasty night and wipes a smudge off the screen. It's blood. She hears a moan and discovers a dying woman in the alley next to her bank. The woman sneaks a DVD into Trish's purse and the next day the murderer calls Trish at work, demanding the return of the DVD or else. What does she do? Go to the police? She lives in a small town where two officers make up the entire force. Why not just turn it over to the guy on the phone? It's not that simple. And could her husband really be involved?

Here's What Barbara D'Amato says about the book:

Trisha Morgan is a great character, believable, strong, yet vulnerable, and her buddy Heather is a hoot. The reader is rooting for them both in this fast-paced story.

This book is now available from Wild Rose Press. I'm thrilled to have them as a publisher.

Here's Chapter One:

Tonight of all nights, why is the traffic so heavy? How can there be a traffic jam in a town with only 1,241 residents? Twelve hundred forty-one and a half, now that Mrs. Purvis has entered her second trimester. Get out of the way, Mr. Lavery. Pay attention. Seems like everyone in Millvale, Ill., and two surrounding counties wants to be downtown at 8 pm.

            Trisha Morgan flashed her lights and pulled around John Lavery's car, giving him a half-hearted wave. She continued to the only ATM in town to grab enough money to cover tomorrow's breakfast with the girls. All were employees of Spitzer, Walters, Walters, and Sloan, the premier law firm in town. Okay, the only law firm in town.

            Each Friday morning Trish and her friends Joan, Charity and Shaniqua met at Jan's Java Hut to rehash the oddities and inequities of SWW&S. The small coffeehouse refused to take credit cards, which necessitated her trip to the cash machine. No reason other than the weekly date with good friends would get her to make a side trip to the bank. The tests at the doctor's office had taken longer than she had anticipated.

            Well, isn't that amazing? A parking spot right in front of the bank.

            Trish signaled and eased Jim's car into the space, cringing at the scrape of the wheel against the curb. Thankfully, the curb didn't gouge the side of his new Jaguar. She shivered and tried not to think of the consequences of causing damage to her husband's newest plaything. With her Escort in the shop again, she had been allowed to borrow Jim's car - but only for the day.

Grabbing her umbrella, she cursed as the release button refused to operate. Damn, just long enough for the rain to cause her mascara to run. Finally it opened and she splashed through puddles, across the sidewalk to the front of the Citizens' National Bank of Millvale.

As usual, the light over the ATM had not been replaced, so she dug her small flashlight out of her purse and approached the open-sided kiosk. Juggling umbrella and flashlight in one hand, she inserted her card and waited for the machine to activate. She swiped a smudge off the screen with her hand so she could see to enter her PIN.

Ugh!  Wet and sticky. Dropping the umbrella, Trish rummaged a tissue from her purse and quickly scrubbed her hand. She shined the light on her palm, revealing a dark red smear.

Oh, my God!  It's blood!  Her thoughts stalled as the ATM ate her card for the second time in two weeks.

The moan seemed to come from beneath her feet. Trish's head swiveled left and right. Just darkness and rain drenching her good Nike sweats. Traffic trickled past. She cocked her ear, straining to hear any noise. Nothing.

            "Hello? Someone there?" Silence. Maybe the sound wasn't what she thought. Trish looked over her shoulder hoping to see someone she could call on for help, but the sidewalk was deserted. She wanted to find the source of the groan, and then again, she really didn't. Someone may be hurt and needs help. She picked up the umbrella and willed her feet to move toward the corner of the bank building, her reservations replaced by concern. Squeezing her flashlight in a death grip, she let the light play out on the sidewalk and into the darkness between buildings.

An alley ran between the bank and the drug store. Trash cans and debris littered the interior as far as she could see in the limited light. Trish listened, hoping the moan had been a figment of her imagination. She took baby steps through the wetness and strewn garbage.

            "Help ... me." A barely audible plea came from beyond an overflowing container in front of her. Trish looked behind her once, praying someone familiar would appear. No one came. She wanted to run. Get the police. But she couldn't make herself move.

            "Is someone here?"

            A whisper came from the side of a huge green dumpster. "Please ... help."

Trish crept toward the voice. There. Light from her flashlight shone on a woman lying on her back. Then Trish saw the pool of blood near the woman's head.

"Help."

Trish dug for her cell phone and hit the 911 speed dial.

"911, emergency."

"Help!  Someone is injured in the alley beside the Citizens' National Bank. I need an ambulance here right away." Trish gave her name and answered the rest of the dispatcher's questions quickly.

"Hold on, miss. The ambulance is on its way."  She tucked her cell phone into her jacket pocket and dropped her purse next to the injured woman. Trish slipped off her jacket and then her cardigan. Draping the sweater over the woman's chest, she wriggled back into her jacket and knelt beside the woman. "Help is coming. Hang in there." Trish leaned the umbrella so that it partially shielded the woman from the steady drizzle. There was so much blood! Where was the ambulance? What could have happened? 

Blood covered the left side of the woman's face and head. Trish wished she could remember her first-aid training class from several years ago. She glanced down once more and watched the huge sad eyes close as the woman lost consciousness.

Thirty seconds later the distant wail of a siren drifted through the darkness. The ambulance arrived, followed by a Millvale police car. And, oh gosh, it was Bob Jenkins. Not that he was a bad cop or anything. In high school they had dated and were a hot item for two years. That had been over fifteen years ago.

With bustling efficiency the EMTs took over, and Bob, who constituted half of the entire Millvale police force, greeted her. He escorted her away from the emergency workers.

They stopped at the ATM. "Okay, Trish, what happened here?" 

"I don't know." Her hands shook and she gripped her purse to steady them. Both purse zippers gaped open and she fumbled sliding them shut. "I was just here to use the ATM and heard moaning."  She opened her palm to him. "And I got blood on my hand." She stole a quick glance back toward the alley. "I went to investigate, then called 911."

The EMTs rolled a gurney out of the darkness and toward the ambulance. An IV drip hung from a man's outstretched hand as he pushed the sheet-draped stretcher. Trish looked away. "All that blood. I thought I was going to be sick for a minute there."

"Let's get you out of the rain. You're soaked and probably cold. My car's just over there." He followed Trish and opened the rear door for her.

Trish thankfully sank into the stale-smelling back seat and shivered.

Bob closed the door and Trish watched as he scanned the entire area, and moved to the back of the squad car. He removed a blanket from the trunk, opened the back door once more and draped the blanket over Trish.

Grateful for the added warmth, she wrapped the coverlet around her as tightly as she could. "Thanks."

He still had that same George Clooney smile. "Forgive me for not getting you out of the rain sooner. As far as crime goes, Millvale's normally a pretty quiet town. I guess this kind of spooked me. Wait here for a second."

Trish watched as Bob unrolled a line of yellow and black crime-scene tape and attached it in a semi circle around the ATM. He stopped once and picked up what appeared to be a credit card off the sidewalk directly in front of the ATM. He took out a plastic bag, dropped the object inside and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. Then he headed back down the alley.

Trish checked her watch. Oh no. Jim's going to be royally pissed that I'm so late. She fished her cell phone from her jacket and called home. She waited for the answering machine message. "Hi, we're not home right now. Leave a message and if we recognize the name, we'll call back." Jim was proud of that message. He felt it conveyed humor and let people know they were a fun couple. Like that was true.

"Jim, I got delayed and I'm not sure how long I'll be. I'm okay, just had some trouble at the ATM. I'll be home soon."

Bob appeared at the corner of the building talking to old Doc Winters. The silver-haired family doctor had brought most all the Millvale residents into the world. He served as the local MD and coroner for Millvale. They finished, and Bob waved after doc, who shuffled toward his 1982 Buick.

Bob returned to the squad and got into the front seat. Leather upon leather creaked and he handed her the umbrella she'd been carrying. She nodded thanks. He picked up a clipboard and began writing.

"Do you think she'll be okay?"   

Bob turned and propped a leg on the seat. "Doc says she has a probable concussion. Head wounds always bleed like hell. Do you know her?"

"Never saw her before. At least I don't think I know her. With all the blood and everything, it's hard to tell."

"Her name is Elizabeth Thompson. I found her ATM card in front of the bank."

Trish shook her head. "Nope. The name's not familiar."

"None of us recognized her, either. Well, the chief'll want you to come to the station tomorrow and give a statement."

"I guess I could stop by on my lunch hour. About noon okay?"

"Fine." Bob paused and shifted his position. 'Trish, think back. Did you see anyone lurking around or a car take off quickly when you pulled up?"

"Nothing at all. There seemed to be a lot of traffic for this time of night and in the middle of the week. But nothing else out of the ordinary. Didn't notice any unfamiliar cars." Trish laid the blanket on the seat. "Is that all? I really ought to get home."

Bob nodded. "That's it for now."

She got out of the car, flicked the button on her umbrella and it popped open.

Jenkins exited and touched his cap. "Till noon tomorrow. Nice to see you, Trish. You still look great." Without waiting for a response he turned and hurried back to the crime scene.

Trish stood frozen in her tracks. How could he say that? I must look like a drowned rat. As if to provide evidence, a rivulet of rain rushed down her face. It tasted of hair spray.

But she had to admit Bob looked great, too. His hair still black and wavy. No hint of gray and, just like in high school, a few uncooperative locks spilling onto his forehead. She flushed and scolded herself for even having such thoughts. She was a married woman. Gosh, I almost said happily.

On her way to the Jag, her mind wandered back to high school with the captain of the basketball team and the first love of her life. What had happened to cause their breakup? She couldn't remember. Even though she'd seen Bob around town from time to time, they barely acknowledged each other. They would nod or wave. What was different about tonight?

Well, why worry about something that can lead nowhere? Might as well go home, since the ATM is now guarded by crime scene tape. Nuts, I can't go to breakfast tomorrow, and during lunchtime, I have to go to the police station. That'll be a waste of time for sure.

Climbing into the Jag, she couldn't help wondering if Bob would be at the station tomorrow. She glanced at her watch. Crap, Jim will be furious.