Romance writer killed in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) - Viewed through the prism of her murder Saturday night, the purple prose still hovering on Nancy Richards-Akers' Web site Monday acquired morbid new meaning.

''There's more to a romance writer's life than devastatingly sexy, handsome Irish warriors, more than poetry and poets, more than romance...,'' the 45-year-old novelist wrote about herself. There was also trouble, the kind that family and friends don't always know much about until it's too late.

At about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, police found Richards-Akers slumped in her Jeep, dying from gunshot wounds to the head. The Jeep was near the home she once shared with her husband in one of Washington's fanciest neighborhoods, said Metropolitan Police Sgt. Joe Gentile.

She had told friends in her literary circle that she was going through a difficult divorce from attorney Jeremy Akers, said two sources in the romance novel industry who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police say that a man they believe to be Akers, 57, shot himself in the head two hours after her murder as he saw officers approach him at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. Gentile said police located the man after Akers, a former Marine, called a friend from a phone near the memorial; police later traced the call.

Police said a neighbor took the couple's children from the Georgetown-area house after the shooting. A grief counselor was summoned Monday to Our Lady of Victory Elementary School, where the Akers children attended the fourth grade and fifth grade classes.

Prominent among a cybercircle of novelists and their fans who thrive on daydreams, sweetness and love, Richards-Akers wrote 16 historical romance novels, including ''Devil's Wager'' and ''Miss Wickham's Betrothal.'' Her latest was ''So Wild a Kiss.'' Her 1997 book, ''Wild Irish Skies,'' was named one of the top 10 romance novels of that year by The Washington Post.

Richards-Akers was working on a new book, tentatively titled, ''Lady of the Tower,'' at the time of her death, according to Joan Schulhafer, vice president of Avon Books. It was to be the first of a trilogy set in Scotland during medieval times and is still scheduled to be released next year, Schulhafer said.

On her Web site, Richards-Akers gushed about her family, her life and her love of ''Irish warriors, blanket bogs and miracles.'' Her biography describes first jobs in Washington as a speech writer with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and political consultant Bob Squier.

Politics, Richards-Akers said, is ''a tragic waste for a chronic daydreamer.''

The ''little girl with curly hair and an overactive imagination'' who had spun fantasies about love and wanted to be an actress felt more at home as a grown-up writing about love and adventure. Her death jarred the close-knit cyberworld of romance novelists.

The Avon Ladies chat room, which crackles with talk of romance and writing, was abruptly consumed by the news shortly after it trickled onto the Internet on Sunday night.

Just before 8:31 p.m., the messages shifted jarringly from one author boasting about an interview she had given over tea and chocolate to another chat room participant who posted an early newspaper report.

''Please tell me this is not true!'' the participant, ''Shocked,'' pleaded in the first message of Richards-Akers' death.

''God, it is true.... Here's the rest of the article,'' replied another participant, named ''Stunned,'' at 10:18 p.m.

From then on, the community of writers turned to mourning the true-life death of a romantic apparently murdered by her own husband. ''Nancy's death is truly a tragedy, moreso in juxtaposition to her life, which I believe she lived to the fullest every single day,'' her editor, Lyssa Keusch, said in a statement.

''Whatever their marital problems might have been, Nancy didn't deserve this. She was entitled to live a rich and happy life. Her husband stole that from her in the cruelest of ways,'' said best-selling romance novelist Nora Roberts. ''My heart breaks for her children. Just breaks.''

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