Today, author K.J. Gillenwater is guesting. She’s here to talk about her latest release Illegal, a romantic suspense. Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.
A news story inspired me, plus my own background and experiences. I read a news story about a young man who had been deported to Mexico. He’d lived most of his life in the United States, but had been born in Mexico and had been brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. He was struggling to survive in a country that he had no memories of and in which he had few connections. I couldn’t even imagine being in his situation and thought about how I would handle such a shock.
In college, I was a Spanish major and had studied at La Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico for a semester. So I have an affinity for Mexico and did a lot of traveling by bus all over the country when I was there. I seem to be drawn to Mexico as a setting for my books…as I have another contemporary romance set in Acapulco. I imagined a story that would intertwine this immigration theme with some of the other problems Mexico currently suffers from…the drug trade, cartel wars, police corruption. It had all the elements of a really suspenseful story.
After I wrote most of the book, I wanted to find out more about our immigration laws, how that affects people here in the U.S. and what their options are to become legal citizens. I enlisted the help of a really lovely immigration attorney from southern California to ensure the details of my book were accurate to the laws we have now.
My hope is that readers will be entertained by my story of Selena and Wyatt, but also learn something in the process.
What you can expect from K.J. in the future:
I currently am working on several projects at once, as my mind wants to jump to the next new thing. It’s fun to juggle projects, so I never get bored of a story. I can always write a scene in a book that my creative self wants to write and then write something else in another book as the muse directs me.
My main projects are:
The Genesis Machine. This is a work of serialized fiction that will be available in the new Kindle Vella app that will be coming online soon. I describe it as: ‘when NCIS meets the X-files.’ It’s a science fiction technothriller with some romance.
Aurora’s Winter. This is a sequel to my book Aurora’s Gold. It takes place in Nome, Alaska and features an underwater gold dredging heroine who falls in love with a damaged Navy veteran with a past. Its part adventure, part suspense, part romance and will be a trilogy of books when I’m done. This book should be out by the end of 2021 if all goes according to plan.
Revenge Honeymoon. This is a contemporary romance with a rom-com feel to it. A woman gets left at the altar and decides to take her maid-of-honor on the honeymoon cruise she’d booked for her and her fiancé. The cruise is for honeymooners only, so there are some misunderstandings and fun things that will happen as these two women come to grips with their love lives and their decisions. And, of course, we will have a cute romance!
Alone, desperate, and beautiful. When bullets fly, she must rely on a handsome stranger or face death. Together, they will risk it all for love.
Blurb: Her whole life was a lie…
After discovering she was brought to the United States illegally as a young child, Selena Hernandez decides to do the responsible thing and return to Mexico, her country of origin. Selena vows to become a legal immigrant.
When she asks for help with a visa at the US Embassy, she meets attractive Wyatt Demko, a helpful embassy employee. But they are surprised to discover shocking details about her past and connections to a notorious drug cartel.
Wyatt escaped a painful upbringing in a Wisconsin trailer park for a stable career with the State Department. A chance meeting with Selena reveals an instinctual desire to help. But falling for a beautiful girl with dangerous enemies on her trail complicates his meticulous plans.
Wyatt knows he can’t afford to trust Selena. Still, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe and win her heart before time runs out.
But Wyatt and Selena only have a few days to accomplish the impossible: hide from the brutal drug cartels and corrupt law enforcement to make a daring getaway that will take them from the streets of Mexico City to the sandy beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula.
“Documentos, por favor,” a loud voice demanded from the front of the bus. “Passaportes, documentos.”
A man in a dark green uniform that appeared to be the police stood next to the bus driver.
The passengers grew silent. Chattering, excited voices were replaced with a serious quiet that unnerved her.
People in the front rows handed the man their papers. As he reviewed them, he looked up every now and then searching faces on the bus.
Selena’s gut clenched.
She dug through her bag to find her Arizona driver’s license. The couple across the aisle from her were young, indio, and serious. They held IDs ready to comply.
The officer stepped closer. He scanned each item the passengers submitted.
Selena wished her new friends, the Brewsters, were on board. They could’ve helped her navigate the situation. She glanced out the window one more time. Her stomach full of acid.
Wyatt, where are you?
At the very last minute, she changed her mind. She dug in her bag for her birth certificate. That should work, right? A Mexican citizen riding the bus. No crime there.
The officer leaned over her. His shadow made her shiver. “Documentos, señorita.” He held out a hand. His thick mustache twitched.
She froze. The woman back at the embassy—Antonia—she’d recognized the Rios name on her birth certificate. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Wyatt had said the police were dirty—controlled by the cartels and bribes.
She pulled out what remained of her cash. A few twenties. American. They liked American dollars, right? She’d never bribed anyone before, she didn’t know the procedure. Shoving the wad into the officer’s thick-fingered hand, she begged, “Por favor.” She had no words in her head—in English or in Spanish—to get across her desperation, her willingness for him to do almost anything to skip her over, let her go, ignore her.
The officer slapped her hand and tore into her with a flood of Spanish.
Her insides grew cold.
She’d made a terrible mistake. “I’m sorry. Here. Here.” She handed him her driver’s license. What an idiot. What a fool. She’d come to this country so damned naive about everything.
Memories flooded back. An experience she’d spent her youth tamping down, forgetting about, leaving as far behind as she could. The day all the kids laughed at her and called her stupid because her English had been poor in kindergarten. Spanish she no longer remembered. She’d felt the humiliation of being different, which had made her feel inferior.
And here she was again in a similar situation she where knew no one and didn’t speak the language. An authority figure loomed over her, demanding she comply. He let go a stream of Spanish words she couldn’t understand.
Where was Wyatt?
Panic spread like wildfire throughout her body. She willed Wyatt to appear from behind the bushes. He’d fix this. He’d straighten it all out.
The couple across from her interceded, realizing her predicament. “Americana?” the woman, dark eyes wide, asked.
“Sí!” Selena said.
Okay. She’d be okay. This woman would help her. Everything would be fine.
The woman spoke in rapid Spanish to the officer, who held onto both seat backs, allowing no one to pass.
The uniformed man listened, raised an eyebrow, and a slow smile came across his face. He took Selena’s driver’s license, scanned the info on it, studied her, and handed it back.
“Gracias, señorita.” Instead of continuing down the aisle, the officer turned on his heel and headed to the front.
Selena let air out of her lungs. Her limbs trembled. She tucked her driver’s license into her bag. Her hands shook. She leaned back in her seat and then twisted her hair into a knot on her head. Sweat beaded on the back of her neck. Wyatt would be back any minute, and she could eat something. That would help.
The officer in green leaned in close and spoke to the driver. The driver looked over his shoulder, met Selena’s gaze, and quickly glanced away. The officer handed him a roll of bills. The driver swept it into his jacket pocket.
When the officer stepped off of the bus, the driver closed the door with a rapid hiss.
The bus driver, sans his driving partner, pulled away from the curb and sped up to get back on the highway. A rumble of displeasure ran through the passengers. Most were on board, but not all. A few were still in line at the food stands.
Wyatt, Selena thought. What about Wyatt?
She stood. She wanted to scream at the bus driver to stop. What was going on? Why were they leaving?
The woman across the aisle grabbed her arm. “Siéntese. Siéntese. Los carteles.” Then, she shook her head, a grave look on her face.
Selena swept her gaze across the passengers who rode with her, hoping for someone to be her champion. To stop the bus. Let her off. Let her get away.
The bus fell silent. Once friendly faces turned to stone.
She’d been handed over to the cartel right under Wyatt’s nose, and no one could help her.
K.J. Gillenwater has a B.A. in English and Spanish from Valparaiso University and an M.A. in Latin American Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara. She worked as a Russian linguist in the U.S. Navy, spending time at the National Security Agency doing secret things. After six years of service, she ended up as a technical writer in the software industry.
She has lived all over the U.S. and currently resides in Wyoming with her family where she runs her own business writing government proposals and squeezes in fiction writing when she can.
In the winter she likes to ski and snowshoe; in the summer she likes to garden with her husband, take walks with her dogs, and take trips into the Big Horn Mountains nearby. She has written multiple books, including several short story collections.
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