Here’s chapter 2 of Inside Straight.
I’m NOT intending to publish this book all on the blog, and it’s structured as a novel rather than episode-ending-on-cliffhanger, so you should regard these chapters as teasers. It’s just intended to keep the blog ticking over with a chapter a month, and I sincerely hope to be publishing before we even get to the quarter point.
You will note in these chapters that there are references to what happened in the novellas: The Biting Cold, Winter’s Kiss and also Change of Regime. These novellas are part of the overall Bite Back story from different viewpoints and take place chronologically at the end of Angel Stakes and beginning of Inside Straight. TBC and WK are set in Michigan, CoR is set in New York.
As I’ve posted on Facebook, the publication of A Threat Among the Stars has been a disaster, for whatever reason. I’ve relied too much on word of mouth perhaps, and I need to get much more serious about advertising on Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub etc.
Anyway, first priority is to get Inside Straight completed.
Chapter 1 is at
There was, and the distraction was welcome.
It was Mykayla. A few months ago, she’d been a happy-go-lucky Denver girl who liked raves, and had a crush on me and Bian, not in that order. Now she was Bian’s kin, and an Aspirant—a human training to become Athanate. Diana had chosen Mykayla as the first person she wanted me to infuse, to test out whether my infusion would actually reduce crusis, or turn people into hybrids. Or something else entirely. It might even kill.
Mykayla, crazy girl, had actually volunteered.
She was training this morning: Aspirants go through a vigorous physical program, so that when their time comes to be infused, they’re at the very peak of condition. It helps with the dangers of crusis.
What state would House Lloyd’s dying kin be in? What if…
I pushed the thoughts away and concentrated on Mykayla.
I hadn’t been monitoring her progress while I was away in LA, so I was surprized by the change. Her exercises on the training mats and the sleek look of her body impressed me. Let alone the dedication to get up this early to work out.
She wasn’t alone. Haven was busy, even the gym, even at this hour.
Colonel Laine had recruited soldiers from our old battalion, Ops 4-10, after the whole Ops 4 group was disbanded. They’d started out based in Wyoming, but as of a few weeks ago, Haven was their HQ. They were working directly for House Altau now and they were taking their new role as seriously as I would expect from former Ops 4-10 personnel. It wasn’t just people in the gym at strange hours, there was a new multi-channel comms system covered the area, patrols 24/7 with staggered shifts, biometric monitoring of active personnel and surveillance of the locality across the spectrum.
I could see they were just begging Basilikos to try attacking Haven.
It was intended that small teams of former Ops 4-10 would be sent from here to just about every House in North America. Skylur had declared that North America was his territory and he intended to strengthen his sub-Houses so that there was no weak point for Basilikos to exploit.
Colonel Laine looked to have that objective all in hand.
Keith had wandered off to find breakfast and any familiar faces from Ops 4-10, leaving me alone when the training ended.
Mykayla came bounding over.
“Hi yourself. You’re looking good, girl.”
“Yup! I’m ready.”
I didn’t need to ask what she meant she was ready for. The girl wanted to start the process of transformation by being infused by me.
“You’re ready when Bian says you’re ready,” I said and sat back down on the bench.
“Come on! Tell me I’m not in top condition,” she insisted. Her face got a little sly look to it. “Get a load of these abs.”
She opened her gi and lifted her sweaty shirt.
Yeah, great abs, and an entirely intentional opportunity to appreciate the cutest little pink-nosed puppies too.
I snorted and grabbed her by her canvas training pants, lifting her up as she squealed and depositing her next to me on the bench.
I was laughing, and after a little pout, she joined in.
“Bian put you up to that, didn’t she?” I asked.
“Either she did or she didn’t. Come on, Mykayla, spill.”
“She bet me. Said if I got you into bed, she’d agree I was ready to be infused.”
I laughed harder and gave her a hug. That was typical Bian, but Mykayla hadn’t quite seen all of it.
“Could have been a double whammy,” she said indistinctly and sighed, her face pressed against my shoulder.
“Congratulations,” I said.
She leaned back and looked up at me suspiciously, as if I were teasing her some more.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Bian might have a horrible sense of humor, but look at it this way: do you think she’s irresponsible?”
Mykayla frowned. “No. Not at all. I don’t understand.”
“Hundred percent responsible?” I prompted her. “Ninety? Eighty?”
“Hundred, of course.”
“So, let’s say you aren’t ready to be infused, but there was a chance, oh, one in ten, say, that we actually ended up in bed. That’d make her only ninety percent responsible, unless…”
Mykayla frowned again before suddenly it dawned on her. “Oh! Unless it didn’t matter. Unless she thinks I am ready, and getting me to try and seduce you was a joke.”
“Congratulations,” I said again.
“Oh, Amber!” she leaped up from the bench and did a handspring followed by cartwheels in a complete circle so she ended up back in front of me.
“Today? Now?” She bounced on her toes.
My fangs were throbbing with anticipation, which was distracting, but I managed a shaky laugh. No matter how eager my Athanate was to infuse someone, I needed help to go through the process, and I wasn’t in any hurry. No one knew what would happen when I infused someone.
The thought of it scared me.
“When Bian sets it up,” I told her, and sent her off to shower.
She disappeared, and on cue, Bian came into the gym, her brow furrowed.
I leaped up from the bench.
“What’s up, Pussycat?”
She gave me a distracted cuddle.
“Skylur says it’s all our call, Round-eye: granting House Lloyd sanctuary, infusing her kin, the whole thing.”
“What? But we wait for Diana at least before trying that infusion, yes?”
I really didn’t want to try this without my Mentor, Diana. Using eukori, she could guide me through infusing Scott and Mykayla. Diana was the Kumemnon, the eldest living Athanate. If anyone had a chance of ensuring things didn’t go wrong, it was her.
“Maybe not,” Bian said and sighed. “That’s part of what’s so worrying. There’s been a change of plans. Diana’s still on the way with Alice in the van but I’ve got no way to contact them because Skylur’s already in New York. The situation there is more urgent than originally thought.”
“Apparently, there’s a large group of diazoun Houses who’ve been hiding out in Long Island.”
I frowned. New York state had been the territory of the Warders, prior to their dissolution at the last Assembly. The Warders had claimed their domain as independent, while secretly cooperating with Basilikos.
A strong and secure Athanate House might decide to allow one diazoun House to sit on its borders. Two, if they were very quiet and respectful. But a ‘large group’ of Houses?
“The Warders let them?” I asked.
Bian snorted. “Not really. Apparently, the Warders just didn’t have a clue what was going on. Naryn stopped there on the way to his new domain in Boston, and the leaders of the diazoun presented themselves to him, figuring they’d never get away with hiding in Skylur’s territory.”
“They got that right. Well, I guess they all give him their oaths or go to Ireland. Simple. Isn’t it?”
The Irish Athanate had declared themselves independent from all Athanate politics and Ireland itself was open to any as a refuge.
Bian wrinkled her nose. “If it’s so straightforward, then why is it urgent for Skylur to go there rather than making sure Diana gets here safely?”
“Skylur didn’t explain?”
Stupid question. Bian snorted.
“On the other hand, he did mention a bit of background,” she said. “It was your supplicant, House Lloyd, that started the process which ended with House Prowser finding out the location of the slave auction in LA.”
That rocked me. If that was true, why hadn’t it come up in the telephone call with Amanda Lloyd? I owed her. She had to know that, and yet she hadn’t tried to cash it in.
I searched my memory. “When Prowser spoke to me in LA, she talked about a sub-House and a court case or something…”
“Yeah. That’s the one. Anyway, the good news for you, I think, is that House Prowser has given up any claim to House Lloyd as a sub-House and waived her rights to Blood payment or feud with you.”
I swallowed. Athanate politics was prickly, and frankly, given my own response to thinking of someone taking any of my House away, I could understand why.
So why would Prowser give up part of hers?
Maybe I’d got lucky. Maybe I hadn’t.
“You’re not sure it’s good news?” I asked.
“You mean why did she do it?” Bian smiled. It was an evil sort of smile. “Maybe she knows something about House Lloyd that we don’t?”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re paranoid, Pussycat?”
“Yeah, lots of people, but they’re all dead, because they didn’t see it coming.”