Released this week as an eBook in all formats is my novel Hearts in Ruin, a contemporary romance about two archaeologists at a southwestern dig that is turning up human artifacts of controversial age. Including glimpses of a paleolithic culture previously unknown, Daniel and Andrea struggle against each other in their approach to the site, and face career-ruining opposition from known and unknown antagonists.
Hearts in Ruin has been described already by readers as "very refreshing" and, on Amazon, "a delightful romantic romp through an archaeological dig. The author has successfully melded a serious story with a wry sense of humor that keeps it a light and happy romance. Use of details about how a dig comes about and is managed entertain and move us through the plot to become an integral part of the story."
The book can be purchased at most major eBook outlets, including the following:
It sells for $4.99. It has a "spicy" heat rating, which means something like around PG-13.
The feedback from readers has been very good. Please Here is the prologue and the first chapter for your review:
Despite the warm evening wind, Tala drew her knees close and shivered. Under the starlight, below the community’s terraced crops, mastodons filled the valley, their footfalls echoing in the dirt. But above, the Fire Star grew.
Not a good sign.
“I have something for you,” said Bin. He crouched near her on the grassy hill. “Close your eyes.”
She inclined her head. “What is it?”
“Hold out your hands,” he prodded.
She complied. A cold weight pressed down upon her palms. “Can I look now?”
Her breath caught in her throat. His gift was a beautiful bowl, bright and colorful with intricate, flowery designs. Around its interior were three words.
Bin loves Tala.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
She didn't know how to respond. It was very sweet. But now? The Fire Star loomed. They faced imminent change—a shift that would unbalance everything.
Still, this simple display pierced those concerns.
“I want you and no one else,” he said.
He frowned. “You feel that way, too…don't you?”
Tears welled. She glanced at the Fire Star.
He followed her gaze. “That's a good sign,” he assured her. “It means we will be happy.”
He extended a hand. She drew a deep, slow breath, accepted his hand, and stood. The bowl slipped from her lap and cracked against a stone.
His eyes widened. His Adam’s apple bobbed. An intense remorse swept through her, momentarily eclipsing her fear of the Fire Star. She had to make this right.
She placed her hand on his chest and held his gaze. “I do love you, Bin.”
She kneeled and lifted the bowl and a fragment that had fallen from it. “This is a good sign. The words are intact.” She then handed the piece to him and arranged his hand. She held the bowl and placed it with the shard in his hand, matching. “This is yours.” She motioned. “And this is mine. It means we belong together.”
She watched his expression shift from despair to joy. He smiled and wrapped his arms around her. His eyes sliced to the Fire Star and back. He flashed a cocky smirk. “Everything will be fine,” he crooned. “You'll see.”
She pressed her face against his chest. No, she thought. It won't.
Bin lowered his mouth toward her ear. “We have everything we need. Nothing can change all this.”
She squeezed. He was right about how she felt. She would accept him into her heart. She saw no reason to deny that. But he was wrong about everything else.
Things would not be fine.
They would not last.
At least they had each other—even if only for now.
Three unexpected visitors waited at the summit overlooking the New Mexico high-desert site. Wind whipped at them. Crouched near the center of the dig, Daniel recognized only one—his friend, Sammy Bia, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.
The others wore suits.
Daniel groaned. He dropped the unusual artifact he'd been examining into a plastic bag, scribbled a precise location with a fading pen, and stuffed the sample into his shirt pocket. He did not need a distraction. Just yesterday he rid himself of the pesky Spring-semester team. The next batch had to be better.
Daniel climbed the makeshift walkway to greet the trio. He didn't want them tromping all over the excavation.
One stranger, a silver-haired man wearing a tan suit over a light blue, open-collar shirt, seemed from the tribe—not particularly out of place. The thirty-something blond fellow with him was another story. No hat. Tailored, grayish suit. Expensive tie. Soft pale skin that should burn after five minutes of sunlight.
He did not belong, and wherever he did belong was somewhere Daniel would avoid.
Be polite. They'll be on their way soon enough.
Daniel removed his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “What's up, Sammy?”
“Doctor Daniel Fuchs,” Sammy said with an introductory gesture and an uncharacteristically formal tone, “this is Deputy Chief William Tso.” The Deputy Chief gave a curt nod, which Daniel returned.
“And this,” Sammy continued, “is Benjamin Keller—”
“—from the university,” interjected the young man, stepping forward and extending a hand. “Special Counsel for Southwestern Polytechnic's Board of Trustees, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Daniel gripped the bony hand. “A pleasure,” he said, anxious to retract his hand. Keller's smile was the grimace of a viper.
“They're here about the excavation,” Sammy offered.
Daniel shrugged. “Okay. What about it?”
“More specifically,” Keller corrected, “the excavation's budget, Dr. Fuchs.”
Daniel's stomach tightened. The budget? Here? Now? “We've gone a little over,” he admitted.
Keller smirked, drilling his eyes into Daniel's. “You've exceeded it by two orders of magnitude.”
Daniel returned the glare. The man was a trained verbal combatant. Daniel wanted to match him, blow for blow. But the topic seemed so far from significant, Daniel wondered what he could say.
The budget…the budget…
He felt the dig pull at him. That was where his attention should be.
“Um, look, Mr. Keller”—Daniel reached for a voice brimming with nonchalant confidence, but felt himself fall short—”project budgets are really Dr. Lassiter's domain. He's the department chair. Shouldn't you take this up with him?”
“That's two decimal places,” Keller said.
Daniel stiffened. Don't get angry. Budgets and administrative drivel were a waste. That's why he always let Lassiter handle it—even though they never saw eye to eye, especially about the project.
“Like I said, I don't really—”
“We did take it up with your department chair,” Keller interrupted.
“He stands by the original budget.”
Of course he does. The coward. “I'll revise it for him.”
Keller feigned an exasperated sigh. “Dr. Fuchs, the university is an institution of limitedfunds. Approved budgets can't be ignored.”
“Tell it to the football program.”
Keller shook his head. “Carbon dating of the minutest scraps, chemical fingerprinting of soil strata, computer modeling of alternative climate scenarios—”
“The list goes on. And most of it conducted by labs and outside vendors neither approved nor recognized by the university administration.”
“I understand. But we've made breakthroughs.” Daniel waved an arm toward the site. “We've found multiple epochs of occupation. There are artifacts here that pre-date Clovis points. It's astounding, really.”
Keller stepped closer. His condescension was palpable. “It's not astounding, Dr. Fuchs. Mummies in gold-lined tombs with jewel-encrusted sarcophagi…that's astounding. This is,” he flipped his wrist toward the site, “well” he chuckled, “this is Native American early Stone Age. It doesn't pack people into museums, it doesn't impress alumni or patrons, and it doesn't excite the board.”
Daniel clenched his jaw. Keller knew nothing about real archaeology. Deputy Chief Tso stood stone-faced, completely unperturbed by Keller's casual dismissal of ancient North American culture. At least Sammy seemed uncomfortable with the conversation.
The jerk was wrong.
Daniel shook his head. “No, the university supports exactly this type of work. That's why it funded the project in the first place.”
Keller's expression hardened. “The university funded an outing, Dr. Fuchs, for educational purposes; a chance for students to get their hands dirty in the field. But this? You've turned a field trip into a major investment—one that can't pay off.”
Daniel drew a breath. He wasn't going to win this argument. Keller was a lawyer. He wouldn't change his mind. He didn't have a mind to change. He had marching orders, and Daniel's budget was toast. He would have to fund the labs some other way.
So be it.
“Fine,” said Daniel. “I'll cut the outside labs…tighten the budget. Lassiter will sign off and we'll be square.”
Keller shoved his hands into his pockets. “Professor Lassiter will not sign off. We've already discussed it. The project is canceled. You have four hundred dollars and one week to shut this site down.”
Daniel blinked. He couldn't possibly have heard right.
Keller nodded to the deputy chief. “The board's decision is final.”
Daniel glanced at Sammy, who shrugged. Keller excused himself and left down the slope, followed by the deputy chief. Sammy lingered.
Daniel frowned. He turned and surveyed the excavation. “Did that really just happen?”
Sammy drew a deep breath. “Sorry about that. I tried to call.”
“I'll find alternate funding,” Daniel squinted against the sandy wind, “if it takes twenty years.”
Sammy shook his head slowly. “You don't have twenty years.”
Daniel cocked his head. “Why not?”
“The tribe wants to develop this land.”
“There's not even a decent road.”
“Tso hasn't shared the details with me.”
“But this is an archeological site,” Daniel explained. The whole conversation seemed ludicrous. “It's protected.”
“It's tribal land,” corrected Sammy. “It's not on the National Register.”
“I sent you the forms.”
Daniel's heart fell. The papers stacked on his desk at the university.
Daniel's mind spun. He pictured bulldozers scraping his site; he saw backhoes scooping buckets of artifacts only to discard them crushed. The expanse of the New Mexico desert closed in around him. This was too important. He needed manpower and funding—a lot of both—and fast. “I'll get you the paperwork.”
Sammy nodded. “And then what?”
Daniel swallowed. He had absolutely no idea.
* * * *
Andrea Hollister parked down the block from the professor's house.
“No, Mom,” she replied to the phone on speaker mode in her lap. “I can't. I'll be in charge of the dig this year.”
The Iowa sky was clear—a perfect day for the end-of-semester department barbecue, and a great opportunity to firm up commitments from her volunteers.
“Maybe before the dig,” offered her mother. “Just for a week or two.”
Andrea closed her eyes and drew a counting breath. After eleven long years at Horvath Levy College, scraping and clawing to earn a Ph.D., and finally to have it within grasp, just a dig and a dissertation away—why did she have to explain its importance again? It obviously trumped a side visit to meet her mom's new boyfriend, Randy, who she did not care to see sitting in Dad's old chair acting like he belonged—no matter how nice he was supposed to be. But Andrea wasn't going to dump that problem on her mother. Mom, I'd rather you were miserable and lonely, was not an option.
“I have a lot of work to do before the dig,” Andrea insisted.
“We've kept your room just the way you like it,” her mother pleaded.
Andrea cringed. When she was fifteen, maybe.
“Sorry. Maybe September. We'll see. Now, I'm at the department barbecue, so I've gotta go.”
“But you're supposed to take your Aunt Cheryl to the airport.”
“In two hours, Mom. Not now.”
“You have to get her there two hours early.”
“This isn't Minneapolis, Mom.”
“But you promised.”
“Don't worry. I'll handle it. But I'm at the barbecue now. I've gotta go. Bye.”
She touched the red icon and pulled her keys from the ignition. Maybe that was rude, butJesus, really? What did her mother expect?
Andrea stepped around the house to the backyard. It was spacious and surrounded by trees. Most of the professors were here already, some of the staff, and a few students.
Time to mingle.
Andrea made her way through clusters of people. You belong here with these people.Having done her time, and being the leading Archaeology Department doctoral candidate this year, she felt certain this school and this gathering should be hers.
Andrea first graced each faculty member with her presence and blunt charm. These people love me. She chatted with the dean, the three bearded anthropology professors, even the incredibly stuffy Professor McGregor, who was clearly overdressed for a backyard barbecue. The dean introduced Paul Werdegar—a sixty-something fellow with a receded hairline and an important, east coast air about him.
“Dr. Werdegar is with the Archeology Foundation of the Americas in D.C.,” said the dean, as if it were a badge of pride he could personally claim.
Andrea nodded. She knew of the Foundation. Its focus was North and South American excavations and it provided partial funding for all of the university’s summer digs. The man had clout, and this conversation was leagues above her grade. But no matter. Charm was in order, and she could certainly manage that. Andrea smiled and shook his hand. “It’s a pleasure. Your foundation does wonderful things.”
“Thank you,” he said. She liked his voice and kind demeanor. It reminded her a little of her long-departed father.
“Dr. Werdegar is an old friend of Professor Dougherty,” the dean added.
“Oh, really?” Andrea tried to imagine this gentleman and her absent-minded advisor together in their youth.
Dr. Werdegar laughed. “Yes, we go way back.”
“He’s a great professor,” Andrea granted.
“If only he would stick to American digs,” Werdegar complained.
Andrea frowned. “Well, he is. I mean—”
Professor McGregor called for Dr. Werdegar. The man politely excused himself and Andrea spun to survey the backyard. Where was Professor Dougherty?
Strange. It had been a few days now. She thought certainly she would see him here.
She shrugged. It was time to get commitments for the dig. Forget waiting for the formal announcement. Time was fleeting.
She made rounds through the undergrads. They trickled in, two and three at a time. She talked up the excitement of an archaeological dig—the camaraderie, the experience, the resume value.
She was doing well. It would be a good dig.
“It will be six weeks, July into August. You'll learn a lot. And it's my turn to run it, so it'll be fun.” She smiled at the young freshman, Nancy.
Andrea glanced at the contents of her red plastic cup—about three ounces, not yet warm. She lifted it to her lips, finishing it in one motion.
“I don't know,” Nancy equivocated.
Andrea smiled and stepped closer. “You just declared archaeology as your major, right?”
“I did a dig my freshman year. That's why I'll be the project leader this time. And Professor Dougherty is terrific to work for. He knows everything but doesn't interfere. It's great. Trust me.”
Andrea raised an eyebrow.
“Okay.” Nancy smiled and her pale cheeks blushed. Andrea added “lots of sunscreen” to her mental list of supplies for her dig.
“Welcome aboard. You'll love it.”
With most of her team set, Andrea approached the sadly underused keg bucket under the pergola at the side of the yard. She slowed her pace only slightly to give Kirby Johnson the chance to reach it first—and therefore the chance to fill her cup for her.
“Hey, Andrea.” Kirby lifted the tap.
“God, who invited you?” She thrust her cup forward.
He took the cup and shrugged. “They didn't warn me you'd be here. I would've gone bowling.”
“Very sophisticated of you,” she said. “Where's Donna?”
Kirby carefully minimized the foam head. “Um…shopping.”
“Her dime or yours?”
Kirby smirked. “I'm as dimeless as you.”
“Technically.” Andrea took the cup. Kirby didn't have his own money. But his parents were loaded.
Andrea liked Kirby—as a friend. Shacking up junior year was a mistake. He was still a boy. And the breakup?—Well, she learned how whiney and annoying boys could be that semester. But that was four years ago. Kirby was with Donna now, who was much better for him. Thank God. The kid was growing up.
Kirby peered over Andrea's left shoulder, “Hello, Dr. Fuchs.”
Andrea knew everyone at Horvath Levy College. Who was Dr. Fuchs?
A calm, male voice responded, “Kirby, right? Everything coming together okay?”
Andrea turned. Wow. Dr. Fuchs was definitely a newcomer. He was about her age. Tan, outdoorsy skin, a sinewy rock-climbing frame, sandy hair a little looser than the local style. His intense, blue-gray eyes landed on her.
Now she regretted dressing hastily. Safari pants, faded tank top, hair pulled into a quick bunch—no style, no class. She broke her stare, wrestling for composure.
“Doctor…Fuchs?” She extended a hand and squinted inquiringly. “I'm—”
“Andrea Hollister,” he said with an easy half smile. His grip was…just right.
And he knows me?
“I've been looking forward to meeting you.”
This was just too much. Something was up. And Kirby knew this fellow. She sliced her subtlest I'll-kill-you-later dagger at Kirby, whose expression telegraphed feigned confusion and an it's-not-my-fault plea. Then the bastard slinked away, leaving Andrea face-to-face with Dr. Fuchs, alone at the keg.
“I'm afraid I don't—”
“First, call me Daniel.” He reached for a cup.
“Okay,” she said. She detected the scent of Professor Dougherty's greenhouse on him. A small scar on his chin added an extra layer of ruggedness.
He cleared his throat. “Frank Dougherty asked me to oversee this summer's dig. I think we'll be working together.”
The dig?…My dig?
The expansive backyard seemed to spin and shrink. Who was this Daniel Fuchs, and what in holy hell was he talking about? She turned to retrieve Kirby, but he was now mingling at least twenty feet away. Shit.
“It's an interesting site,” Dr. Fuchs observed. “Are you familiar with it?”
Familiar with it? Miller's Bend was her pick. She'd worked it three different summers. “Uh…yeah. I know it well.”
He smiled. “You do your homework. Professor Dougherty said you were good.”
Andrea felt like she'd just stepped through the looking glass. Something was wrong here, but she did not know what. What question could she ask without looking like a completeidiot?
“I'd like to set up a meeting next week,” he continued.
She blinked. “Are we talking about—”
“Dr. Fuchs! There you are,” interrupted Maria McGregor.
The woman took the red cup from his hand. “You don't have to bother with that. We have a fine chilled Chardonnay for faculty. Come, have you met Dr. Werdegar yet? He's highly connected and an expert in domestic archaeology. Isn't that one of your interests? You simply must meet him.”
Daniel Fuchs smiled at Andrea apologetically.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, as Dr. McGregor whisked him away.
Just as well. She preferred solid ground, and that conversation was anything but. Andrea scanned the yard for Kirby. He was now suspiciously out of sight. She looked again for Professor Frank Dougherty—the man she definitely wanted to speak with before starting another discussion that dropped her into The Twilight Zone. He was still not present.
And for that matter, where had he been for the past week?
Andrea checked her welling panic. She floated through several underclassman conversations, struggling to sort a blur of emotions. Everything was fine, she told herself. She had misunderstood. “Oversee” is a vague word. Nothing is amiss.
But what else could it mean?
After the tenth or twelfth inane conversation, Andrea gave up on the party. Dougherty was not coming, and Kirby was long gone. She slipped away and tried Professor Dougherty's cell—a long shot, she knew. It rolled immediately to voicemail. “I need to talk to you.” She knew it was probably futile, given that the man regularly left the device off for days.
* * * *
The next morning, Andrea finally spotted Professor Dougherty in the Science Building parking lot, bending into the back seat of his car and pulling a stack of cardboard from his backseat.
“Professor, we need to talk,” she said, approaching him at an aggressive clip.
His arms embraced a stack of cardboard. His glasses hung barely at the end of his nose. “Andrea.” He turned, losing his grip on part of the stack. His gray-white hair flopped in the wind. His reddish skin brightened with the physical effort.
Andrea sighed. “Here, let me help you.” She gathered most of the cardboard stack into her own arms.
He thanked her, shut the car door with his hip, and started for the building.
“Aren't you going to lock it?” she asked. She knew the answer before he said it, but always felt compelled to at least try.
“If someone wants it, they're welcome to it.”
“You don't mean that.”
“Try me,” he offered, “take it.”
Andrea glanced back at the twenty-year-old blue-and-rust Volvo with bald tires and a broken antenna. Nobody in their right mind would want it. But still, to leave it open? “You're just asking for trouble doing that.” They climbed the stairs to the faculty floor.
“Well I'll keep that in mind,” he chuckled, huffing up the stairs.
“About this Dr. Fuchs,” Andrea ventured. Enough small talk.
“Oh, you met Daniel. Good! Nice fellow, don't you think?”
They approached his office door. “Would you get it please?” he asked.
Andrea rolled her eyes, fumbled for the door, and pushed it open with her foot. “It's just that—”
Andrea lost her sentence. The office, usually messy and cluttered, was filled with boxes—packed boxes. The bookshelves were mostly empty, stacks of books and papers covered the desk.
She stepped in. “What are you doing?”
“Two years in Pakistan,” he said.
She considered the stack in her arms—empty boxes…What the…
Did he say Pakistan?
Professor Dougherty authored several papers on ancient Indus civilization. Andrea did most of the research and half the drafting on at least two of them.
“Indus?” she asked.
“That's right.” He plopped his boxes down and lifted one to assemble it.
“I had no idea.” She struggled for more to say, but it didn't come. How could Dougherty be going to Pakistan? The most important dig there was Jurgenson's dig. Dougherty was too old for that kind of thing. He hadn't even left the States for the past five years. Pakistan? He hadn't said a word about it. Ever.
“An opportunity,” he explained. “Rory Jurgenson is taking a leave. I was offered…”
Andrea brightened. “Well I could do that.” She dropped her boxes. “How do I get on board?”
He made a helpless half-shrug. “There are no funded positions open.”
“Oh.” So that was out. Andrea could certainly not afford to send herself to Pakistan.
“Now, you mentioned Daniel?”
“Um…yes.” She blinked. “Yes. He said something about overseeing the dig this summer.”
“Yes!” Professor Dougherty beamed. “Isn't it wonderful? I met him when I did a symposium at Southwest Poly. Quite a prodigy he was. He has a wonderful mind and he's quite an accomplished archaeologist. It's a great opportunity for you.”
“But this summer is supposed to be my dig,” she protested.
He seemed dismayed. “Did I say that?”
Andrea opened her mouth to speak but stopped. He hadn't. Not exactly. But so what? It was tradition. Everyone knew it. The leading grad student always led the dig—every summer. “I'm your only Ph.D. candidate this year. It's my turn.”
His face drooped in contemplative concern. “Andrea,” he said carefully. “It doesn't work that way. The department has to—”
“The department always picks the student closest to the doctorate!”
“Well, perhaps for the past few years.” He was nearly stammering. “But that's been coincidence…Andrea, you can still prepare your thesis and earn your Ph.D.”
She heard his words, but she could not believe it. This was her year. She worked hard. She earned it. She had a right to it. She wanted to grab his lapels and yell that he wasn't being fair, that nobody had considered her. But all she could manage was a low, shaky voice.
“Everybody expects me to lead this year.”
“This was the only way to get Daniel to fill my position for the next two years.”
“He's taking my place,” he repeated. “He'll be your final advisor for your doctorate.”