Update and excerpt
Well, it’s December.
WILD CARD PROGRESS
Not quite finished yet. The good news is I have only 3 scenes left to write, and they’re well sketched out in my mind. The bad news is that my editor, Lauren Sweet, has sent the third section of the book back to me with a LOT of edits to do. I’m still intent on publishing Wild Card by Christmas, but I will have to put in the hours to fix the bits that are wrong in section 3.
Part of what’s wrong with section 3 is my need to tie things up and link them together. That’s made section 3 long and not tense enough. The edits will remove some of that, so that it may be logically a little less tidy, but shorter and more compelling. I may be reducing the total length of the book closer to 160k than 180k.
The run up to Christmas is a slow period for ebook sales and I haven’t spent time marketing, so it’s no surprise that sales are sluggish, with daily average sales falling to 6 for SoH and 5 for HT. RD is averaging just under 14 daily downloads.
In total, SoH has over 18,200 sales, HT has 12,800 and RD has 18,100 downloads.
I’ve included the short first chapter of Wild Card. As with the rest of my books, I tend to throw readers into the deep end and explain things later. Maybe.
That’s certainly the way with Wild Card. It makes much more sense with another couple of chapters
It’s the Monday after the Assembly that ended Hidden Trump. Amber should be getting some rest, taking some time to recover, but she knows the world doesn’t owe her that. Life, and death, go on.
She walked bravely for a woman who was going to her death.
She was dressed simply, with a warm ski jacket, and jeans tucked into flat-heeled boots. Her platinum blonde hair was caught up in a pony tail, which swung jauntily, jarringly at odds with her situation.
It took tremendous courage or bewildering stupidity to do what she was doing.
It was 3 a.m., the streets were empty and this was not one of Denver’s thriving areas. Some of the streetlights still worked, edging everything in baleful, sodium yellow. Small businesses lined the street, bolted and locked down, steel shutters like indifferent eyes closed against the night. Telephone wires, draped from pole to pole across the road, swung idly in the wind. Dark alleys sighed with fetid smells, trash spilling out into the hard light. Only two cars had passed in the last ten minutes, and no one else was on the streets.
Not a place for a woman to walk on her own.
But she knew she wasn’t alone, of course. She’d been instructed to walk without looking back, so she would know someone was behind her. And she knew who it had to be. She knew she was being stalked by a monster.
What could she possibly want that was worth the risk?
Or was this another trap?
If it wasn’t, I would listen. I had promised; I would listen first. My nails dug into my hands. My boot heels clicked on the sidewalk.
And if it was a trap, I’d take them to hell with me.
Meanwhile, I listened to the voices whispering in my head. Just sounds, I said to myself, not people, not anyone who might end up dead on my watch. Between the hissing came street names, junctions, all within a block, keeping pace with us.
Enough. It was time.
“Call it,” I whispered, and my voices answered.
“Clear on your two.”
A pause. My adrenaline surged, but eventually the report came. “Clear on your six and two in place.”
“Clear eight,” followed immediately.
“Clear twelve.” Even through the comms, the last voice was smooth and deep, like rocks in a river rolling together. I could banish the images of everyone else, but Victor Gayle’s voice was too demanding. It didn’t bring to mind the image of him now, somewhere out in front of me, ghosting through the night and seeking out the trap I feared must be there. It forced me to see the image of him earlier, sweat and tears glistening on his dark skin, comforting the families of Reynolds and Zimmerman while the sheriff’s people argued with the FBI over jurisdiction of the bodies. Two of his men who’d died trying to protect Jennifer Kingslund, when Frank Hoben and his gang broke into Manassah. Two whose deaths I might have prevented.
After that, I felt sick over asking him to provide people tonight, but not only did he do it, he insisted on coming as well.
“We good to go?” he asked me.
“Go,” I said. I called the woman’s cell, watched her reach into the pocket of her ski jacket, hold it to her ear. My voice thickened until I had to force the words out. “A van will pull up. Get in the back. Do what they say.”
The van rolled past me, glossy midnight blue, its powerful engine muted, quieter than the rumble of the tires. A block ahead, it slowed alongside her.
The door opened. For a second, she held off, as if she’d started to have doubts. It was way too late for that. Arms snapped out, catching her, and she vanished inside. The van accelerated away just as a Dodge pulled alongside me.
“Call it,” I said again as I got into the Dodge, and the voices whispered the even stations of the clock, still all clear.
Then a final, “Tango secure. Comms and tracking clear,” from the van. Target secured—restrained in the back of the van. No suspicious activity on comms channels. Apart from ours, of course. No tracking devices found on the target.
She was clean and we were clear.
“Team Sierra, go home,” I said, and felt the pressure lighten as the outriding scouts disconnected and went away.
We stopped to let Victor swap with the Dodge’s driver, who walked off briskly without looking back. There was no sign of a trap yet, but regardless, that was one more safe. One less to worry about, I hoped.
“Hey,” Victor said quietly as we pulled away.
I reached over and squeezed his thick forearm. I said into the comms, “Phase one, complete. Phase two, green.” First part of the mission successful, target secured and scouts away, phase two commencing. I took a deep breath and picked a number. “Mike Papa three, in five. Out.”
I watched silently as Victor hauled the car around.
Just before the Platte River bridge, we pulled off into a side road lined with commercial properties. My randomly selected meeting place, the third of four possibilities I had set up. We turned in at a fading ‘For Rent’ sign and parked around the back. Two minutes later, the van pulled in alongside us.
Hillary Clinton and George Bush came out the side door and helped the driver swap the plates.
We got out; they tossed their masks and the old plates into the Dodge’s trunk. Victor gave them a nod as they took our places. We watched them drive away.
The van sat there, engine turning over. It looked crouched over its wheels, squat and dark, pointing down a path I hadn’t wanted to take. My heart rate was already climbing. I rubbed my hands together, feeling as if I needed another shower.
“You sure?” Victor said. His hand rested on my shoulder—the right shoulder, fortunately. The left shoulder was still recovering from Hoben’s bullet at the factory in Longmont. At least the Kevlar vest had absorbed most of the damage.
Victor was frowning at me. I could feel all the questions building behind the concern, and I could do nothing about it. Not now; maybe not ever.
My stomach was churning, but I nodded. “Platte River Road,” I said. “Up and down. Nice and slow.”
River one side, industry on the other. No one to hear. No one to see. No one to know.
I slid the panel door open and stepped inside, slamming it closed behind me. It was pitch black and she was effectively blind. Even the Athanate would have difficulty seeing in here, but I wasn’t just Athanate, I was becoming Were as well, and werewolf abilities were bleeding into me. I could see a little into the infrared spectrum. Certainly I could see well enough to know she wasn’t struggling as she lay there, trussed up like a chicken. It wasn’t that she was calm. She was scared, as she should be—her breath shallow around the gag and her heart racing—but she knew struggling wasn’t going to achieve anything, and Ops 4-10 kept no dummies.
The van rocked on its stiff suspension as Victor drove us out, back onto the road.
I sat facing her, cross-legged on the floor, waves of anger flowing through me.
My old covert army unit, Ops 4-10, had come after me. The same unit I’d given heart and soul to for ten years. They’d sent a team with Keith, my former boyfriend of all people, to snatch me off the streets last Friday and take me back to their scientific group, Obs. As far as Obs were concerned, once I’d been bitten by what they still called a vampire, I’d become a freak, an object to study, and I didn’t need basic human considerations.
They’d have my old cell ready for me, a bleak, windowless cubicle, where I’d never see the sun again. I’d sworn I wouldn’t go back, and when Keith’s team tried to catch me, I’d called in the FBI. They had a team investigating military units where the Defense Department had lost oversight, and Ops 4-10 had become exactly that. Or worse.
Keith and the rest of his team had been rounded up and were guests of the FBI.
And now this. Another member of Ops 4-10, trying to draw me out.
The wolf had become very strong in me. Last week I felt the first ripples of the potential to change form when I’d been attacked in an alley. Now? Now, it felt like there were claws scratching at me from the inside. I wanted to growl; I wanted to seize her by the throat, bite hard and taste her life blood.
I was fighting myself to hold it together, to push the wolf back down.
After a long couple of minutes, I felt stable enough to reach out and remove her gag.
I took a breath, forcing my voice to stay calm and even. I still sounded like a complete stranger.
“Hello, Julie,” I said.