When I received a contract for Irons in the Fire from New Concepts Publishing, the editor told me to cut the prologue. Deleting my precious beginning hurt, but I did it and dropped the information throughout the rest of the story. Nevertheless, the Advanced Reading Copy contained the prologue and with it the book received a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award nomination.
I made the Advanced Reading Copy which I sent to Romantic Times for review. That copy was later put up for sale on Amazon. :-) I made it with my own two hands and decorated the cover with a sprig of yarrow from my garden. It was beautiful!
So for those who still think prologues can be a nice addition to a book, I give you the original beginning of Irons in the Fire.
Catherine Mullaney knew she couldn't expect a party on her sixteenth birthday. Still, she walked home from school in a bleak drizzle dreaming of a frothy, white-iced cake with pink roses and blazing candles. And butter pecan ice cream, too.
Before she reached home, the drizzle changed to rain and soaked her jacket. Shivering in the hall outside the apartment, she stood with her hand on the knob and took in a ragged breath. Why couldn't somebody else's father have Alzheimer's disease? Why did it have to be her father who acted like a stranger? She never knew what to expect when she walked in the door.
Fighting back a wave of despair, she squared her shoulders, deciding that if Dad could simply remember who she was, that alone would make the day special. However, what she saw as she stepped into the room made her gasp. Their once neat and orderly home looked as if a burglar had ransacked it. Her backpack slid out of her grasp as her gaze swept over the destruction. A pain squeezed at her heart. Where was Dad?
Magazines, cushions and newspapers lay scattered in every direction. Even lamps and chairs had been overturned. Heart thundering, she picked her way through the chaos. When she heard a furious muttering coming from the corner behind the upended sofa, fear knotted in her stomach.
Barely breathing and moving with feline stealth, she inched closer to the sofa. When she peered around the edge and saw her father on the floor methodically ripping apart a wicker basket, a sense of relief flowed through her, though the little comfort she found in his presence was tinged with sorrow. Once he had been Ed Mullaney, the famous syndicated columnist, loved by the American people, a sensible voice in every crisis whether political or mundane. Now, weakened and sick, there seemed little left of him except the shell.
"Daddy?" She patted his shoulder, but he didn't look at her. He continued to tear the basket to shreds. Her throat tightened, and tears pricked at the back of her eyes.
"Witches," he muttered. "Witches and hands. Terrible bloody hands."
A shiver went up Catherine's spine. "Daddy, what happened?"
His hands stilled above the shredded ruin of the basket. He frowned and turned his gaze on her, his eyes wide and staring. "Fiona!" he roared.
"I'm not Mama!" Catherine backed away, tears spilling from her eyes.
Her father struggled to his feet and snatched at her hands, squeezing them until they hurt.
"Fiona!" He howled like a wounded animal.
"Stop it!" Catherine fought to get her hands free of his strong grip. "Let me go! I'm going to call Uncle Mike." She broke away and dashed for the telephone. Her father came after her. When she picked up the receiver, he lunged at her.
Dodging him, she ran out of the apartment. Despite the driving rain, she kept on running, not caring anymore, trying only to rid herself of the anger and hurt.
By nightfall, soaked to the skin and numb, she huddled in the shadows of an old pier. Across the Hudson River, the lights blinked and went out on the Jersey side. The rain stopped. She glanced up at the clouds racing along toward the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. With the moon behind them, the clouds looked like blue ghosts.
She stared into the black gloom around her. Nobody. Even New York's homeless people had vanished with the rain. She felt tired, cold, and hungry; but she couldn't go back--ever. It hurt too much to know that Daddy would never be the same again. A fresh torrent of tears rolled down her cheeks. Uncle Mike would have to find someone to look after her father.
She rubbed her arms and decided to search for a better shelter. A few blocks away, she discovered a dumpy restaurant that still had all the lights burning. She reached into her pocket and drew out four dollars, enough for a bagel and a hot cup of tea.
As the only customer, she sat on a stool by the counter.
"You run away?" the owner asked in heavily accented English. The gaze from his almond-shaped eyes fastened on her.
"No." She smiled, hoping he couldn't heart her heart pounding. "I'm in a Broadway show."
"Broadway...hmmm." He wiped the counter top and grinned.
Her stomach tightened. The man didn't believe her. She moved over to the next stool, closer to the window that looked out onto the street. In the dim light she watched as another man slid a steel cover over the front of the pharmacy next door, closing up for the night.
With the hot tea warming her, she recalled her last visit to the clinic with her father. She had questioned the doctor about a new experimental drug for Alzheimer's patients. She'd read about the treatment in the New York Times. The doctor had informed her that her father had progressed too far in the disease and had refused to prescribe it.
To Catherine, even a little improvement in her father's condition would be a miracle. She couldn't understand why the doctor didn't agree with her. A risky plan of action began to form in her mind. It seemed her only hope.
When the restaurant owner lugged out his garbage for tomorrow's pickup, Catherine pocketed a knife from the counter and hopped off the stool. She dashed to the back of the restaurant. Pushing open the heavy steel exit, she stepped out into a small yard littered with debris. Sharp slivers of glass sparkled in the light streaming through the restaurant's back window.
She heard an ominous click as the door behind her automatically locked shut. Her knees went weak as a wave of doubt swept over her, and she leaned back against the door for support. She intended to commit a crime to get the new medication that the doctor would not prescribe. If she wanted her father to be well, she had to go against the law to help him get better.
She looked up into the midnight sky and fought back tears. "I'm doing this for you, Dad."
A chain link fence separated the restaurant's backyard from that of the pharmacy. Drawing in a deep breath and thankful that she'd worn her jeans, she climbed over the fence. She tugged at the back door to the drug store. Naturally, it didn't budge an inch. She stepped back to study the situation. There had to be a way in, and she had all night to find it.
The squeaky hinges on the restaurant door sent her pulse thundering. She scurried for cover behind a wall of cardboard boxes.
"Hey! Little lady!" The restaurant's proprietor called out. "Is not allowed to go back here!" The man muttered to himself in his native tongue. She heard the crunch of the broken glass and the rattle of the chain link fence. Curling up as small as she could behind the boxes, she held onto the Celtic cross around her neck and said a prayer.
When the restaurant door slammed shut again, Catherine peeked over the edge of her hideout. He was gone. Weak with relief, she heaved a sigh.
She began a thorough inspection of the pharmacy. The fire escape loomed way too high. She tapped the steel doors that covered the entrance to the cellar and smiled when they shook slightly. Kneeling down, she used the knife to try and wedge the lock open. However, the knife kept slipping in her cold hands.
Icy water from a small hollow in the doors trickled onto her fingers. Unexpectedly, the metal of the lock gleamed with an eerie brightness as the last of the clouds fled from the face of the moon.
Catherine turned to look at the glowing orb and felt a strange dizziness take hold of her. She turned back to the puddle, touched it with her hand, and saw the moon's reflection ripple in the water. An odd shiver ran through her with lightning speed, numbing first her hands, then her arms, until finally, her entire body froze in a rigid grip of terror. The world about her was replaced by a dark, empty void. A roaring filled her ears as she felt herself sucked backward through space.
Then the spinning stopped. Although Catherine couldn't see anything, she sniffed the aura of musty wool around her. Her pulse beat frantically. Where was she? She put her hand out and felt a stucco wall and the shapes of hanging clothes. She was in a closet. The closet in the cottage--in Ireland--and she was two years old.
She hated the closet. She hated the dark. And she hated Mama's screams. Frightened, Catherine wanted to cry, but Mama had told her to be quiet. A small stream of light came from a crack in the door and she knelt down to look out into the room.
There was a man in the room with Mama, but it wasn't Daddy. The man hit Mama and made her cry. He hit her again and again. Mama screamed and Catherine wanted to scream, too, but when she opened her mouth no sound came out. Then Mama's screams stopped.
The air in the closet grew stale. Catherine pushed her hand against the closet door. It opened a little and she saw the man with blood on his hands. He cursed and put his hand up against the side of his head. Part of his ear had been cut off.
The man cursed again, louder. Catherine sank deep into the closet. Through the crack, she could still see the man. He picked up Mama and carried her out of the house.
Everything became very quiet. Catherine wanted Mama. She cried but Mama didn't come. She crawled out of the closet. The floor was covered with red. And in a basket by the door, she found Mama's hands.
Wailing, like the high-pitched keening of the banshees surrounded her. Fear spiraled in her. She wanted to escape, to leave the horrible nightmare.
Then the vision faded. Blackness swallowed her up and hurled her back through the terrible void. She collapsed, weak and trembling on the cold, steel doors behind the pharmacy.
Confused about what had happened, Catherine thought she must be going crazy, too, just like Dad. Her stomach churned as a sob lodged in her throat. She bit down on her lower lip to stifle any sound. She had to get that medicine. If the drug couldn't help her father, maybe it could prevent her from coming down with the same horrible illness.
With a wildness born of desperation, she grabbed the steel bars that covered the window and shook them. They didn't budge. She yanked at the bars, and slammed her body up against them. Finally, she took the knife and hacked at the wooden sill.
The tinkling of glass warned her. She whirled around and froze. Her heart stopped as she stared down the muzzle of a gun in the hands of a very big cop.
"Put your hands up. Slowly," he said.
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