(I’m not putting out these chapters as teasers really, so much as a monthly nudge for me to be making bigger strides with writing)
The beta readers have read about the first third of Inside Straight, and I’m overdue taking them up to the half way point. There’s more written than that, but in isolated scenes that need a lot of joining up.
I’m still in limbo with the Among the Stars series. Amazon continue to refuse to allow the series name, despite allowing other series to break the ‘rule’ that they’ve quoted to me. While this is going on, I can’t really progress with marketing or even getting the second book into print, so the series isn’t moving well.
The Amazon marketing machine has now just started to market ‘A Threat Among the Stars’ to me. Lol.
Okay, not easy this one. Probably need someone who lives in Denver, or someone quite skilled with Google.
Take a look at the photo on this post. What is the name given to this restaurant in the Bite Back series?
Prize for the first to answer correctly? Your choice: Signed copy of any one of my print books… or name a character to appear in Inside Straight.
On with the teaser
(Previous teaser chapters (in order) are at:
They were waiting in the sun lounge as I’d asked.
Yelena went in first. She’d caught a serious case of Californian biker chic from the girls of the Belles werewolf pack in LA. She was head-to-toe in mean, sprayed-on, black leather, and with sunglasses, in Denver, in winter, pushed up onto the top of her head.
I was right behind her in my cowboy boots, jeans and an oversized winter jacket I’d ‘borrowed’ from Alex.
Probably neither of us exactly what House Lloyd expected to be wandering around in Jen’s upscale mansion.
Good. I didn’t know what to expect from them either.
And even better, with Yelena looking like that, no one spared me much attention, which gave me a chance to develop some impressions of them.
It was a shock; such a jumble of sensations.
Their scent. My nose flared, caught the usual Athanate copper base but overlaid with something floral and appealing.
House Lloyd herself had a sensitive, intelligent face, dominated by gray eyes that were wary and watchful. A hand’s width shorter than me in height, maybe five-five. Blonde hair pulled back hard and tied. Trim. Wearing casual clothes that suited her, and still looked good, despite probably being what she’d lived in for a couple of days.
She projected a sense that she was all tightly buttoned down.
Two tall men were standing with her. Very attractive, tall, dark men. Hmmm. Down, girl. Jeans and handmade buckskin jackets. One had his hair braided up in a complex knot that ran in a thick rope back over the top of his head. Both Native American. These were the Adepts. I could feel that, flowing off them, like silk brushing against my skin.
I guessed Yelena made an impression, the way the two guys were trying to edge protectively in front of House Lloyd.
She wasn’t allowing that, which made me smile.
An older kin, another handsome man in a dramatic Old World way, lay on the sofa. He was unconscious. That had to be Scott.
A sensation filtered through my Athanate senses of Amanda Lloyd’s age. I knew many older Athanate, but they toned it down. House Lloyd didn’t. She was older than Yelena, Pia or Bian. I wasn’t good enough to make an accurate guess. Not really old. Not like Skylur or Diana. Younger than Naryn or House Prowser. But a helluva lot older than me.
“Is House Farrell back yet?” she said.
Her voice was smooth, accentless, but beneath that control there was the whip of adrenaline, and elethesine, the Athanate equivalent. My eukori opened and tasted it.
Yelena didn’t reply. She was doing her job as Diakon in an uncertain situation. She was there to meet any threat, not to answer questions. But we sensed no threat here, and she moved aside without complaint when I touched her arm.
“I’m Amber Farrell, House Farrell,” I said. “Please, just call me Amber.”
I’d surprised her, but she replied automatically. “Amanda Lloyd.” She seemed to collect herself and added: “House Lloyd.”
She stepped forward for the formal Athanate greeting, and we met in the middle, taking hold of each other’s forearms.
She was shivering. Black swiftly chased the gray from her eyes.
The purpose of the Athanate laimia, the greeting by kissing each other’s necks, is to allow both parties to gauge the state and mood of the other. I hardly needed that; I could see Amanda Lloyd was only just under control.
I went ahead and kissed her neck, breathing deeply.
Coppery, as I’d already noted. I concentrated on the remainder: gardenia and a beautiful note of springtime peony. As Athanate scents went, House Lloyd had one of the most attractive I’d ever come across.
Very, very attractive.
My instincts were way ahead of my head. They had progressed from the unfocused desire to build my House, mingled with the gut reaction to House Lloyd’s desperation. And now the voodoo Athanate senses got involved: every Athanate’s marque identified her, revealed her mood, but it also acted as an instinct-level advertisement to others of her potential as an Athanate associate.
Oh, my God.
My fangs started to ache with need. They wanted to erupt and claim her for my House now.
Her marque scent was delicious. Addictive. I gasped and took a second deep breath of it.
Also rude in Athanate manners, but Amanda wasn’t complaining.
The polite, forearm-gripping embrace changed. Flowed into something tighter. Closer. Her lips and nose brushed my throat as she took her second breath of my marque as well, and I felt her reaction mirror mine.
Thrills chased goosebumps over my skin and I felt a shiver in response from Amanda.
The intensity of it scared me—I was being rushed into decisions by reactions that worked at some deep level I couldn’t control.
I forced myself to step a little back, cleared my throat in embarrassment.
“Thrice welcome,” I said in Athanate, as we straightened up, back to holding each other’s forearms. We both needed the support.
My voice was hoarse, my throat dry.
She blinked a couple of times and then she swallowed. Her face steeled.
I opened my mouth to suggest we sit, but she moved before I could: she knelt at my feet, taking my right hand in hers, her head bent.
“House Farrell,” she spoke quietly, her voice ragged, “I beg sanctuary for all of House Lloyd. And I beg—”
I pulled her back up onto her feet.
“We don’t do kneeling for petitions here,” I said.
My Athanate was responding to it though. Mine. Mine. Mine. My whole jaw throbbed in sync.
I could feel Pia enter the room. I could feel her caution reaching out to steady me but I knew, deep down, that my instincts had just picked a direction and sent me on a runaway train. Every worry or reservation in my head was being battered aside by a desire to take House Lloyd into my House.
“Yes,” I said quickly, before Amanda could start again, or Pia could interrupt. “I grant sanctuary, and on your own head, I will attempt to infuse your kin.”
She blinked again, her tightly-bound eukori opening.
“But sanctuary is a short-term solution,” I went on immediately. “What I want is your oath of association.”
She flinched, and her eukori cooled.
“I understand.” She took a step back. “You must have heard that my Blood may be valuable. I still need to explain about that—”
I stopped her. “No idea what you’re talking about, Amanda. I grant you sanctuary because you asked for it. I will infuse your kin for the same reason. I’m warning you, again, about the dangers. I’m a hybrid and I’ve never infused anyone before. It might be dangerous. But there’s no further obligation for those gifts.”
“Sanctuary is not a long-term option if you want to stay in America after the infusion. What you decide to do is up to you. Ireland accepts diazoun. What I’m asking is for you to stay.”
I felt my face flush.
Pia murmured. “Boss, taking on a sub-House should really be a process with a careful, informed decision. Discussion on both sides.”
My Athanate was past caring.
“I’m asking you to become my sub-House,” I said to Amanda. My words were sounding more and more clumsy to my own ears, but I pushed on. “I want you as part of my House.”
I could feel her eukori unfold and let it sink into mine.
Good. She’d know I was speaking the truth.
“But why?” she said. “Just because our marques… Well, you hardly know us, and there’s all the…” She stopped and gave a short, embarrassed laugh. “I got all worked up to make my case and here I am rather arguing against it.”
My Athanate desire to take her into my extended House was based on the balance of intangible Athanate perceptions and needs. I hadn’t really thought about whether I would like her as a person, but I found I did.
Still, why was a good question for her to ask, and one that Pia answered for me, having given up on cooling me down. “My mistress relies a lot on instincts. They have served us well,” she admitted as she came and stood by me.
Pia was right. Things had worked out okay.
We’d probably been lucky once or twice. Maybe even a few times.
The trouble was, it wasn’t really a strong argument for House Lloyd to agree to become a sub-House, if all she had been readying herself for was to argue for sanctuary.
Unless it was good enough for her.
“Yes,” she said, and I felt a fierce pulse of Athanate joy course through me and come to rest in my jaw.
Then she ducked her head. “But I need to be sure you understand all the problems.”
“House Prowser has given up any claim,” I said, liking her even more, despite my Athanate impatience.
Some relief showed in her face. Obviously, that was one ‘problem’ down.
“And you’ve told me these young men are Adept outlaws in Michigan,” I went on, looking the two of them over. Dammit, they were attractive. That attractiveness wasn’t quite so distracting that I didn’t get a hint of unease coming off them.
“About that…” Amanda said.
One of the Adepts cleared his throat. “It may not be just in Michigan.”
It was the whipcord-wiry one, with long hair braided into a sort of rope that ran over the top of his head.
“I’m Kane,” he said. “Thing is, we may have pissed them off one time too many.”
“I can imagine.” I smiled. “Any of these pissed off people in Colorado?”
All three exchanged glances.
“We’re not sure,” the big guy said. “I’m Flint. Thing is, we’ve always found that just moving out the area makes them lose interest. We’ve really moved this time. Never been this far south before, but…”
“Somebody’s taking an interest down here,” Kane completed the sentence.
“Local Adept, or someone from Michigan has followed you?” Yelena asked.
“Difficult to tell,” Flint said.
“More a case of that someone-looking-over-your-shoulder feeling,” Kane said.
Which was pretty much exactly the feeling I had as well over the last day or so.
Was I picking up some kind of Adept vibe?
Still, as far as I knew, Adept communities didn’t really interact much. If it was just the local Denver community, well, they already had a beef with me, so taking on House Lloyd wouldn’t make it worse, would it?
However, if I was going to be facing trouble not just from Denver, but from groups of Adepts in Michigan that co-operated with each other, that was a different level.
I let it sink in, tasted the thought.
It didn’t change my mind.
“I accept there may be some trouble from the Adepts. We’ll discuss it as a House, along with everything else,” I said firmly. “Later.”
Amanda had gone very pale, but she nodded once, short and sharp.
“Diakon Vylkove, Zamenik Shirazi, attend,” I said. I needed witnesses.
I reached out and took Amanda’s hand. Her eukori unfolded sweetly.
She trembled, but her voice was strong. “I petition, for all House Lloyd, association and acceptance to the mantle of House Farrell. I offer our Blood, lives, loyalty and obedience to House Farrell. We will honor the obligations and responsibilities of the House and submit always to the absolute rule of the House.”
The words echoed through me. Fangs threatened to erupt again, but I needed to speak clearly first. I hoped I remembered the responses right. “Under the authority invested in me as House Farrell, I accept House Lloyd within my mantle.”
Letting my hand go, Amanda reached out to her two Adept kin. “I swear, on my Blood, my House will honor this association, and return oath for oath, faith for faith, Blood for Blood, life for life.”
“I grant the rights and privileges within my gift.”
“My Blood is yours,” she said.
“It is done,” I finished.
“So witnessed.” Both Yelena and Pia spoke softly.
With our eukori open, I could feel the oaths bind themselves around our hearts. And I knew the oath was sufficient, but the fangs didn’t care. I wanted Blood.
“Mistress,” Amanda said as I gathered her in my arms.
“It’s Amber,” I replied, licking her throat in preparation for biting.
“Or Boss.” Yelena laughed as she and Pia enjoyed hugging the Adepts in welcome.
My eukori unwound over all of them, deeper and deeper. Our Carpathian Athanate heritage enabled Yelena and me to sweep them all into one complete communion of sensation and emotion.
And that was what stopped me in my tracks.