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Birth of a Snarky Spy

October 2, 2017

A Note from Nancy Northcott

Nancy Northcott


Today I’m celebrating the release of a new book. It’s a new series with new characters, and that’s always exciting for me.

The idea for The Deathbrew Affair came to me in a way I’d never experienced with a book concept. Usually, I get a flash of a scene, of people doing something important. Then I have to figure out who they are, why this is important, and what they ultimately want.

In contrast, Casey Billings, the heroine of The Deathbrew Affair and the series it launches, popped into my head and started talking to me. Kind of like Athena bursting from the head of Zeus, but, luckily for me, not breaking my skull open. We were on a plane over the Smoky Mountains, heading west to visit family in Colorado, when she started talking in my head. She told me her name, where she was from, and what she liked. Then she clammed up and vanished.

I had an AlphaSmart (remember those?) with me, so I pulled it out and wrote down everything she’d said—a long paragraph—and the snarky way she’d said it. I had a chance to print it out and read it over that night. When I read it, I instantly knew I could run with this.

But Casey needed a hero. Someone she could love, someone who would love her…but there had to be enough conflict to sustain a series. So I matched my improvisation-loving heroine with a dedicated planner. Because of her experiences growing up in a mill town, she doesn’t trust authority and is uneasy around what she sees as the social elite. Her job in a covert, multinational intelligence agency that was created to evade the rules fits her perfectly. So naturally, her hero had to have authority and come from a wealthy background. Because I’m an Anglophile, he’s an earl, Jack Basingstoke, Lord Bainbridge, who secretly works for the British government.

Set mostly in England (Anglophile, remember?), the Lethal Webs series centers on Casey and Jack and the growth of their relationship, tentatively projected to develop over ten books. Their adventures feature intense action, suspense, and hot romance.

I’ve read a number of great mystery and suspense series that develop the two lead characters’ relationship via romantic subplots in each book. This is not that. In The Deathbrew Affair and its forthcoming Lethal Webs siblings, the romance and the action-adventure elements are equally important. It’s a mixture I love, and I hope you’ll love it, too.


Lethal Webs #1

The Deathbrew Affair

He’s The King of Control Freaks.
I’m the Queen of Winging It.
Together We’ll save the World…
Unless We Kill Each Other First.

I’m Casey Billings, an American operative in the London office of a covert, multinational agency. I’m working with an MI5 officer, Jack, Lord Bainbridge, to bring down a bioterrorist who plans to unleash a pandemic. We’re posing as newlyweds to infiltrate the community that’s a cover for the bioweapons operation. Unfortunately, we don’t play well together, and not only because of Jack’s distracting, off-the-scales hotness.

I grew up poor in a mill town, and he’s an aristocrat with more money than a Third World country. Besides that, I fly by the seat of my pants while Jack lives by his plans for every contingency and takes charge of everything. Including me. Or so he thinks.

Basically, we’d like to strangle each other. But we have a pandemic to stop first.

Then all bets are off.

Romance Suspense [On Sale: September 30, 2017, e-Book, ISBN: 2940154750155 / eISBN: 9781540111609]


This is from Chapter 2 and has been slightly condensed. Casey has just returned from the mission that launches the story. She has an injured knee and is grungy from a swim in a polluted river but has reported to her boss, Arachne, immediately, as per procedure. They’re discussing the information Casey uncovered….

Papers littered her desk, most likely intel from around the world. She folded her hands on top of them. “Our analysts concur with your assessment and Miss McIntosh’s,” she said. “Apparently, Jones-Demerest has opened a private community in Yorkshire. Under the cover of research laboratories he supports, he has also bought everything he needs for a bioweapons factory. We plan to investigate that.”

“I hate bioweapons.”

The silence lengthened, but I set my jaw. Better not to push too soon. Let her be the first to speak.

“You’re one of six field agents, only two of whom are female, with the proper training to read the relevant lab reports.”

A concession? Did that mean—?

“You’re also the right age, if your knee recovers in time.”
“The right age?”

“To work with the MI5 officer assigned to this problem.” She pressed a button on her telephone. “Martin, send in Lord Bainbridge.”

I had the job. Hooray, but…lord? MI5? “Uh, not to look gift horses in the mouth or anything, but I prefer to work alone.”

I especially didn’t need some effete, spoiled Lord Whoever in my hip pocket. I’d had enough of to-the-manor-born princelings by the time I finished elementary school. Which Arachne knew. Nor did I need anyone to watch out for again. I try to learn from my tragic mistakes.

“This is MI5’s patch, Miss Billings. We include them, or they’ll try to exclude us. I’ve no time for interagency squabbling.” Her stern expression warned me not to argue.

I’m stubborn but not crazy, so I shut up. Maybe I could still work this to my advantage.

Someone tapped on the door. She called, “Come in,” and I stood politely to greet my new colleague.

He had to be the guy from the outer office. Tall, broad-shouldered and rugged, he could’ve been a pirate in spite of the fine suit and navy silk tie with narrow, pale blue stripes. A visitor badge dangled from a lanyard around his neck.

I recognized the level I am the boss look in his gray eyes from my mirror. It made me suddenly conscious that my hair reeked of L’Air de River Muck and my borrowed clothes didn’t come close to fitting.

Nothing about him said effete, for sure, but I didn’t feel any better about this pairing. Me and Lord Pirate working together would be like two guys waltzing, both trying to lead.

Still, I pasted on a smile and stuck out my right hand. “I’m Casey Billings. Pleased to meet you.”

We clasped hands. My pulse did a funny little hop before it settled. Too briefly for me to read, something glinted in his eyes.

“Miss Billings.” He had a firm, fast handshake, with none of that silly I can break your fingers garbage. His glance noted my scuzzy appearance, but he didn’t comment.

He took the seat Arachne indicated, in the armchair next to mine. I caught an appealing whiff of cedar as he sat.

“Arachne, good morning,” he said, his deep voice damnably smooth and warming, like good brandy going down. “Just so we’re all clear, Her Majesty’s government has directed me to head this operation.”

He wasn’t one to waste time. Despite wishing him off my case, I had to admire that. But why the hell did I feel so…conscious of him?

My boss’s smile would’ve chilled a tarantula’s blood. “Having spoken to the home secretary, I’m certain we’ll have no difficulty working together. That’s why you’re here.”

“That’s settled, then.” He nodded as though he’d expected as much. Could MI5 really pull our strings that easily?

She ignored the gesture. “You’ll be working with Miss Billings. As you are, she’s rather an independent sort.”

To put it mildly. I gave His High-Horse Lordship my Prom Queen smile. The one that shows lots of teeth. “I’m sure we’ll get along famously.”

If I had to label his answering smile, I’d call it Courtier Patronizing. “I’ve no doubt,” he said. He glanced at Arachne, then cocked an eyebrow at me. “If you can restrain your impulsive tendencies and follow my lead, you’ll make an ideal wife for me.”

If you would like to read Chapter 1, you’ll find it here:   Chapter 1

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