Chasing the Dollar
By Ellie Ashe
Giveaway: 5 Print copies of Chasing the Dollar. Please use the RaffleCopter below to enter.
Crystal: Today I have the chance to ask Ellie Ashe a few questions as part of this tour. Welcome Ellie! Thank you so much for stopping by today. I'm so happy to have you here. Would you share a little bit about yourself with us today?
Ellie: Hi Crystal. First, thanks for having me! I’m Ellie Ashe, lawyer by day, writer whenever I can fit in time to scribble. I’ve been writing fiction for about as long as I’ve been reading it, but Chasing the Dollar is my first published work. I live in California with my husband and a growing herd of cats.
Crystal: Do you have a favorite scene you would like to share with us?
Ellie: There are a few that are near and dear to my heart, but one in particular stands out. I really enjoyed writing the scene where Miranda sees Jake for the first time while she’s out celebrating with her best friend, Sarah. I love the friendship between Miranda and Sarah, and the chemistry Miranda has with Jake.
Looking over her shoulder, my gaze met that of a man sitting alone at the bar, a plate of food in front of him. He had a funny half-smile on his face, seeming amused by my encounter with the Mexican food. Sarah followed my gaze and turned to look at him.
She turned back and gave me a huge drunken smile. “Go for it, Miranda. He’s hot.”
My tequila-addled brain scrambled to keep up with the rush of hormones that the man had triggered. He was good looking—broad shoulders, wavy dark brown hair and intense dark eyes. He was still watching me, but now he was watching me study him. I gave him a smile and turned my attention back to my dinner.
I declined another margarita. It was only a three-block walk home, but any more alcohol and I’d probably head in the wrong direction. Sarah leaned back after polishing off her plate and one of my tacos. She ate like a linebacker. Damn her metabolism.
When the check came, Sarah grabbed it out of my hands and slapped a credit card down.
“My treat,” she said, putting the folder in the waitress’s hands. “We never got a chance to celebrate our win. Plus, I’ll probably throw up later, and you’ll end up holding my hair. So we’ll be even.”
I knew better than to fight with her, so I thanked her and glanced again toward the man at the bar. He was still there, lingering over a drink. He was watching me in the mirror behind the bar now, and I caught his eye again. This time, his expression was serious instead of flirty, and my brain woke from its boozy slumber and started sorting through memories trying to place him.
My smile faltered as the recognition clicked into place. His hair was shorter then, and he had been wearing a dark blue windbreaker with FBI emblazoned on the back. His strong hands grabbed mine, pulled them behind me, and snapped a pair of handcuffs on my wrists. Later, in a tiny room at the federal building downtown, he sat quietly taking notes while another man, the lead investigator, questioned me about the Sahara Fund.
“Miranda? Are you okay?”
I snapped back to see Sarah, leaning toward me, concerned. My throat closed, and the blood drained from my head.
I stood quickly, knocking the table with my leg. Sarah caught it and stood, too, grabbing her purse off the back of her chair.
“Let’s go,” I said.
Sarah waved toward the waitress and retrieved the check to sign the credit card receipt. I mumbled something about waiting outside and wobbled toward the door. Leaning against the stucco wall, I gulped down the still-warm evening air. My heart thundered and my hands shook.
“What’s wrong? Is it the tequila?” Sarah said, joining me outside and putting her hand on my arm.
I looked at her, then past her as a shadow passed over the screen door and paused, the tall outline of the FBI agent silhouetted against the bright lights of the kitchen behind him.
“I’m fine. Let’s go,” I said, turning abruptly.
Well, it was nice being normal while it lasted.
Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for your current release?
Ellie: I’m a total news junkie. Last year, I read a fascinating article about an unsolved murder that involved financial fraud and espionage. (And so much more! Here’s the link: http://www.salon.com/2012/12/02/better_than_bourne_who_really_killed_nick_deak/) There was one paragraph that really stuck in my mind.
As Kuhlmann traveled the world trying to repair relationships, trace lost assets and solve the mystery of Deak’s murder, he descended ever deeper into a rabbit hole. One of his stops was in Macau, where Deak’s office manager vanished without a trace after the collapse. Kuhlmann entered the paper-strewn offices to find the manager’s girlfriend sitting at her boyfriend’s old desk. She opened a drawer and pulled out a photo she’d found there: a grainy black-and-white snapshot of Nicholas Deak, lying bleeding on his office floor, just minutes from death. [/quote]
I could not stop thinking about that woman in the office, her missing boyfriend, and the mysterious photograph. The what-ifs kept running through my mind… What happened next? Where had the office manager gone? What happened to the woman? Did she ever find her missing boyfriend?
The image of the ransacked office stayed with me and I kept jotting down notes about what could have happened. What I came up with has nothing in common with that article, though, other than a scene set in an abandoned corporate office in Macau.
Crystal: What are you currently working on?
Ellie: I just wrapped up a novella, Chasing Tinsel, that will be in my publisher’s holiday anthology. Cozy Christmas Capers will be released December 1 and will include short holiday-themed stories by many other authors from Gemma Halliday Publishing. Chasing Tinsel picks up a couple months after Chasing the Dollar as Miranda uncovers trouble at her seasonal job. Now that the novella is done, I’m deep into the next Miranda Vaughn mystery, Dropping the Dime.
Crystal: Do you have any special routine that you follow when you are writing?
Ellie: Because I work full-time, I don’t have a daily writing routine. I tend to write in bursts, usually on weekends and evenings. I’m a fast writer, especially once I’ve nailed down an outline, so I can make up for the time during the week when I have to tend to my day job.
Crystal: Did you have to do a lot of research for this book or any other? If so do you have a fascinating fact that you have learned you would like to share with us?
Ellie: I didn’t have to do a whole lot of research because I have a thorough understanding of basic white-collar crimes (not as a criminal). But I did do enough research on overseas tax havens that I’m probably on someone’s watch list. And I read a ton about the government’s nonprosecution of HSBC, which admitted to laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for drug cartels, terrorists, and Russian gangsters. Here’s a great story on it (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/gangster-bankers-too-big-to-jail-20130214). You’d think that would be a boring financial story, but it’s fascinating! Really!
Crystal: Who are some of your favorite authors that you like to read?
Ellie: I’m a voracious reader, so there are a lot! For contemporary romance, I love Victoria Dahl, Julie James, Liliana Hart and Zoe York. For romantic suspense, Toni Anderson is always a good bet. I loved The Graveyard Queen series by Amanda Stevens. Cornelia Read is awesome and you should read A Field of Darkness. I’ve loved all the cozy mysteries I’ve read from my fellow Gemma Halliday Publishing authors, including Jennifer Fischetto, who co-writes the Jamie Bond mysteries with Gemma Halliday, and Gin Jones, who writes the Helen Binney mysteries. There’s more, but since I blog with the GHP ladies, I’ll keep my cheerleading to a minimum here.
Crystal: Is there any genre you haven't written that you would like to try?
Ellie: Yes, paranormal! I love ghost stories and slightly spooky tales! I would love to write something with a supernatural element.
Miranda Vaughn has spent the last year and a half fighting for her freedom. Arrested for a fraud scheme involving her supervisors, she's lost her job at a prestigious investment firm, her fiancé, and her reputation. She walks out of the courtroom a free woman, only to find that life has a few more curve balls to throw her way. The jury may have found her not guilty, but Miranda is broke, in debt to her beloved aunt, and can't find a job because of the cloud of suspicion still swirling around her.
She can't move forward with her life until she finds out who set her up. Buried in the evidence against her, Miranda finds a larger scheme, one involving far more money than the $37 million her boss fleeced from unsuspecting investors. Determined to uncover the truth, Miranda begins her own investigation—leading her to Macau and Belize, and into the arms of one sexy FBI agent, who has his own agenda. When the danger heats up, Miranda finds herself in a race against time to find the person behind it all. Before he finds her...
Gemma Halliday Publishing
Romantic Mystery @75k
Pre-order Buy Links: Kobo Nook iBook Smashwords Amazon
Excerpt: (Chapter 1)
The two words sliced through the thick atmosphere in the courtroom, and my heart leapt. The boa constrictor of stress that had been wound around my body for the last year and a half eased a tiny bit. Next to me, my attorney, Robert Fogg, tensed. We weren't remotely done, his body language warned.
"As to Count Two, wire fraud, the jury finds the defendant—"
A pause. Why was the clerk pausing?
The breath escaped my lungs, but Rob put a cautious hand on my arm warning me not to get too excited yet. He'd spent much of the last fourteen months explaining the odds, explaining the process that I'd face if I insisted on going to trial, comparing the risk I'd face with the known quantity of the plea offer—a mere four years in prison if I agreed to a plea deal and admitted to defrauding clients of the investment bank where I'd been an analyst, compared to ten years or more I risked if I was convicted at trial. And I'd almost certainly be convicted, Rob had assured me. Even if the witnesses against me were convicted felons, liars, conmen who would say anything to get a break on their own prison sentences. The documents were undeniable, incontrovertible evidence of my guilt.
"As to Count Three, wire fraud, the jury finds the defendant—"
Damn her, why the dramatic pause?
"Not guilty," she finished.
This time I glanced over at the jury and made eye contact with several of them, my heart still in my throat. Instead of the impassive expressions they'd worn in the last two weeks, they looked relaxed. Friendlier. Less scary. And they were looking at me.
That was one of the signs Rob told me might signal a favorable verdict. If the jury walked in and wouldn't look at me, they probably had convicted me. When they had filed in with their completed verdict forms, I was too nervous to look in their direction.
"As to Count Four, wire fraud, the jury finds the defendant not guilty."
No waiting this time. The clerk flipped the page to the next form and continued reading, her pace picking up. She must have realized that if she kept pausing before the big reveal on each charge, we'd be here until dark.
"As to Count Five, wire fraud, the jury finds the defendant not guilty."
I couldn't relax yet, not quite yet. There were still ten more opportunities to hear I was going to prison.
Fifteen fraud charges. Fifteen chances to hear the clerk announce that the jury had believed my former boss, his former boss, and the government's accountants and investigators who had testified that I, Miranda Vaughn, participated in a conspiracy to defraud banks and investors. That I, with my business degree from a state school still freshly inked, managed to find a way to outwit regulators for the entire six years I worked at Patterson Tinker Investment Strategies to reap huge profits at the expense of the most established investment advisors in the industry.
Rob's hand gripped my arm, and I realized that the clerk was done reading the verdicts. The room was blurry, and I felt the wet tears running down my cheeks for the first time. The stress of holding those tears back in the last year had caused me to lose sleep, lose hair, and develop a nasty habit of grinding my teeth when I finally managed to close my eyes at night. But I knew that if I had let loose those emotions, I'd never be able to rein them back in and would have ended up in a stark white room with no interior door knobs where I'd spend my days rocking back and forth and waiting for my next round of pills.
"We did it, Miranda," Rob whispered, putting an arm around me in an awkward hug.
I looked up to see the judge watching me. Instead of the stern glare I had grown accustomed to, he was almost smiling at me. I blinked. It must have been the tears in the way. But when I wiped my eyes, there it was—Judge Smith's softening expression, looking like someone's granddad instead of the dour arbiter of my fate.
The judge addressed the jury, thanked them for their service, directed them to the jury commissioner's office to turn in their parking passes, and then looked back at me.
"The bond is exonerated. You're free to go, Ms. Vaughn. Court is recessed."
He stood, and everyone in the room followed suit. The jurors filed back into their room off the side of the courtroom to collect their belongings. Several of them smiled at me, and I smiled back but could feel my lips start to tremble. I swallowed hard and tried to pull myself together. Rob began gathering the legal pads that littered the defense counsel table.
I stood next to the table, still stunned and unsure what I was supposed to do now. Part of me expected to be found guilty, even knowing that I hadn't done what the prosecutor accused me of. I had prepared myself for that. Studied the post-conviction proceedings, the deadline for filing a notice of appeal, researched sentencing procedures and even federal prisons. I hadn't planned what would happen if I were acquitted of all the charges, and I was at a loss as to what to do now.
Turning to the nearly empty courtroom, I saw my lone supporter. The entirety of my cheering section was blowing her nose noisily into a hankie. She came toward me, pulling me into a warm hug over the low railing that separated the gallery from the attorneys and defendants.
"Aunt Marie, when did you get here?"
She gripped me harder. "Somewhere around count seven," she said. "Rob sent me a text when the jury came back. I hot-footed it right down here."
I relaxed into her embrace. The familiar scent of Chanel and baked goods that always permeated her clothing soothed me and took me back to the safety of my childhood. She had come straight from work because she was still wearing her apron with the Sugar Plum Bakery logo.
"Miranda, I'll take care of the bond paperwork," Rob said, interrupting our family reunion.
I pulled away from Aunt Marie and nodded. Rob's face was flushed, and he looked two decades younger than his sixty-three years. He seemed incapable of suppressing the huge grin on his face. Suddenly I felt awkward, unsure how to tell him how grateful I was.
"I don't know what to say," I said. "Thank you, Rob. Thank you so much."
The words were inadequate. During the fourteen months since my arrest, I always felt that he believed I was guilty of something, but despite that, he had done an admirable job defending me. He gave me a crooked smile.
"You're welcome," he said. "We'll talk soon. I'm going to see if I can catch a few of the jurors and talk to them. Come by the office later. We'll celebrate."
He leaned across the railing to shake Aunt Marie's hand and was pulled into a tight embrace. When she finally released him, he gave her a kiss on the cheek and smiled as he gently wiped a tear from her face. Then he turned back to the counsel table and continued clearing it of folders and notepads and his laptop computer, sliding the whole mess into the large black case that he'd been wheeling into court every day of the trial. He zipped the case, gave me another quick hug, and walked over to the other counsel table.
I turned to see how the prosecutors were handling the news. My tormentors—an older, brittle veteran prosecuting attorney named Donna Grayson and Matthew Reese, her younger co-counsel, a clean-cut young man who looked like he was my age. Neither of them would look at me, and their expressions were grim as they shook Rob's hand.
Finally, Matthew Reese made eye contact with me and gave me a nod.
"Good luck to you, Ms. Vaughn," he said.
I almost believed his words were sincere, but then I remembered three days earlier when he called me a thief in his closing argument. I returned the nod without a word, not trusting myself to hold back if I spoke to him—something I'd been forbidden to do for well over a year.
I slipped through the low swinging gate and took Aunt Marie's arm, leading her out of the dark courtroom into the bright, wide and empty hallway. When I had been arraigned on the fraud charges in this courthouse, the hallway had been packed with reporters clamoring for a comment. But since then, they had lost interest. The prosecutor's office wouldn't be putting out a press release on the loss, and I wondered if anyone would even care that I had won. That the woman the government had called "a slick con artist and one of the masterminds of the greatest financial fraud ever seen in this state" was walking out of court and not heading to prison.
I was free to go. No longer facing a decade in prison. Not under a cloud of allegations that had cost me my career, my good name, and my peace of mind. That had driven off friends. Led to the break-up of a five-year relationship. Cost me every last dime of savings and most of Aunt Marie's retirement as well.
I walked up to the wall of windows and looked down on the city, the busy intersection by the federal courthouse, the people jaywalking to get to the Starbucks across the street. A normal day, with everyone bustling about in the bright afternoon sunlight, enjoying a typical California summer day.
I was free to go.
To go where?
About the Author:
Ellie Ashe has always been drawn to jobs where she can tell stories—journalist, lawyer, and now writer. Writing quirky romantic mysteries is how she gets the "happily ever after" that so often is lacking in her day job.
When not writing, you can find her with her nose in a good book, watching far too much TV, or trying out new recipes on unsuspecting friends and family. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two cats, all of whom worry when she starts browsing the puppy listings on petfinder.com.
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