When I first began writing romance, one of my early stories involved a hero who was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). I entered the first three chapters of the manuscript in the Golden Hearts contest and sat back to await the phone call telling me I’d placed in the finals.
Alas, it never happened. Instead, I received back several copies of the manuscript covered with various suggestions and critiques, as this was in the days when you had to send physical copies of the first chapters of the manuscript. The comment that really shocked me read: “I am so tired of heroes who are from the FBI or CIA.”
The CIA? There wasn’t a single mention of the FBI, or the CIA, or spies, or any kind of criminality in my manuscript. I wondered if the judge had even read the story! After all, I had made it plain that he was an accountant, the kind who possessed advanced certification and usually operated out of his own office.
Or was it possible the judge actually didn’t know what a CPA was? You’d think such a level of ignorance was impossible in these days of enormous reams of IRS rules and regulations in regard to income taxes. Even a person who files a 1040EZ every year is bound to need a CPA when an inheritance rolls in or if something esoteric happens with her income stream.
I still don’t know whether that judge was blessedly ignorant in regard to tax forms and IRS-speak or she had just glanced through the story and saw the capital C and A and automatically assumed it was CIA without reading the story closely enough to realize the hero obviously wasn’t your everyday CIA agent.
All this was naturally on my mind when I plotted out the events in my current release, The Texas Takedown. That’s why I was very sure to mention, right up front, that the hero, Tyler Reid, is an accountant who “knows his way around a chart of accounts,” and that if the heroine got herself into trouble with her plan to discover who murdered her brother, he would come running with a dozen sharpened pencils to use as weapons.
Accounting fraud abounds these days, and we read all the time in the business news about how some CEO or other came up with a scheme to funnel all the company’s funds into his personal bank account. Enron and Bernie Madoff come to mind as fairly recent examples, although every city and town in America has likely experienced something along these lines.
Everyday fraud usually involves funneling company money into the fraudster’s own hands, but there are some frauds that don’t fit into that category. Every now and then a fraud is perpetrated that is designed to achieve something else, such as reflect some sort of glory on the fraudster. Accounting fraud is probably like any other criminal act; it can be thought up and carried out because of some really strange reasons.
What would happen if the heroine, Berry Challoner, stumbles over a really spectacular and peculiar kind of fraud? She would think she found the reason for her brother’s murder, right?
But what if the murder wasn’t related to the company fraud at all? What if the reason for the murder lies a lot closer to home, and Berry is next in the killer’s sights?
I had a lot of fun writing this story, but I’m warning all readers right now that if I get any comments about the overuse of CIA operatives in romances, there will likely be all kinds of murder and mayhem!
“You want me to what?”
Tyler Reid regarded the woman sitting on the other side of his desk with the expression he usually reserved for discrepancies in financial records. Perhaps the afternoon heat had affected his hearing. It was early June and already sweltering, but he’d thought he was well adapted to the Houston weather.
“You heard me,” the woman repeated, enunciating clearly. Her knuckles were white from her grip on the arms of her chair. “I want you to help me find out who killed Daniel.
It’s been almost six months and the police still haven’t arrested anyone. Somebody has got to do something.”
She meant him. Tyler still couldn’t understand it. He was an accountant, for Pete’s sake, not a television private eye. He knew his way around a chart of accounts, but he lacked even a rudimentary knowledge of crime detection. Anyone else would have known and respected that fact, but apparently not Berry Challoner.
Her brother, Daniel Challoner, had been Tyler’s college roommate and best friend. Though they’d been complete opposites in temperament, each felt he had found a brother.
That was, up until six months ago, when Daniel had been found shot to death in the doorway of his apartment. Police investigators found no clues that would explain
Daniel’s untimely death. The official explanation was that the murder was probably a case of mistaken identity. Although Tyler understood and sympathized with Berry’s distress at the lack of action from the Houston Police Department, he wasn’t crazy enough to try and take the case out of their hands.
He regarded her in frowning silence. He recalled Berry at Daniel’s college graduation ceremony. She’d worn a hot pink dress made of some floaty, gauzy material. He was surprised to realize how many conclusions he’d drawn about her because of that dress, considering he was usually such a logical and unimpressionable sort of man.
She looked different now. The wide, feathery brows still gave her face an exotic look, and her thick, shoulder-length, black hair called attention to a pair of large gray eyes that still managed to sparkle with life. But her smooth, golden skin looked sallow against the stark white blouse and navy skirt she wore.
The outfit was one Daniel would have approved of, but Tyler wished Berry had stuck with hot pink. It would have suited the passion and enthusiasm she projected much better than the clothes Daniel had always advocated for women in the business world. Daniel had believed strongly that women in business should avoid bright colors and feminine fashions because they distracted people from doing their jobs.
Berry’s gray eyes blazed with fiery determination. She was not noticeably daunted by his lack of reaction. “There’s something evil going on at that company where Daniel worked,” she said. “I intend to find out what it is.”
She sat on the edge of one of his leather office chairs, digging short, unpolished nails into the upholstery of the chair arms, and fairly glowed with determination and zest in spite of the drab clothes and the grief that still shadowed her expression.
Tyler had never seen anyone like her. No matter which of her emotions won out in the end, he had a bad feeling about whatever her “plan” entailed.
“I’m glad to hear somebody’s going to do something,” Tyler said diplomatically.
“Would you mind telling me one thing?”
She studied him suspiciously. Tyler could think of no reason why she should be suspicious of him. He was a man made to be walked on by women, and they usually figured that out within five minutes of meeting him.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Did you dress like that because you thought it would help me agree to your proposition?” He indicated her skirt.
Her soft mouth with its upturned corners tightened, then relaxed. “I have no idea what you mean.”
But she did. She swept him with a glance that held as much self-castigation as it held irritation.
Tyler abruptly realized he was failing to play the part of the stuffy accountant. He wondered what on earth she wanted him to say then decided to go with the truth.
“I liked you better in that shocking-pink floating stuff,” he said.
Kathryn Brocato is a lifelong reader and writer of romance who lives with her husband, dogs, and chickens in Southeast Texas. Learn more about her at www.kathrynbrocato.com, and visit her Facebook page.