You may have seen the first paragraph of the prologue for Inside Straight on the Facebook page as a teaser – here it is in full below after the cover images for Hidden Trump.
I’m in the depths of editing.
In the first draft, I went straight into Amber kicking her heels at Haven, waiting for an answer from Skylur about whether she should accept House Lloyd’s request for sanctuary. Lauren (editor) gave me a boot in the behind and pointed out the ‘obvious’ stuff: (1) that Inside Straight is about getting Tullah back, so I needed to reconnect with her immediately, and (2) a call in the middle of the night (from House Lloyd to Amber) is dramatic and should appear as it happens rather than as recalled and narrated by Amber. So the book now has a prologue and chapter added to the beginning (among lots of other tuning changes).
I enjoy prologues, because you can do things a bit differently. I hope you like this one and any feedback is welcome.
However. the main purpose today is to reveal the cover for book 2, Hidden Trump. And to get feedback on that, too!
First, the full image which will be used for the print book
And the eBook image
Midnight in the heart of the Painted Desert, and the tattered dead rise up like the dust of dreams behind her whispering feet.
Their features are blurred, the many dead; all the once-proud edges have been caressed into soft, uncertain shapes, the way stone is carved by centuries of wind and rain. Moonlight flows through them as if through troubled water, and they raise a million tangled, untold stories to fly like banners behind them.
They’re called here, the dead, from their silent graves along the countless sorrowing trails. Here, where the mountains still breathe and the rocks talk. Here, where rain is a blessing on the seared earth, and the sun looks down on the yellow corn as it dances to the desert’s tune.
Here, where they may find those who may listen, in this sacred place.
Tullah listens as she steps the circle through the cold depths of the night. Every night. It’s her choice. Her atonement. In exchange, the dead swirl behind, obedient to the summons, and their spirits cloak the kiva in which her family and friends sleep underground.
She can feel the searchers she hides them from; great, blind monsters snuffling over the hills and through the valleys, flickering spirit tongues testing the city airs, cold spirit hands like spiders creeping across the plains.
As the days have crept by, there are more of them, instead of less.
Her family and the others are safe, so long as the legions of dead surround the kiva—around, above, below, and make it a place between the physical world and the spirit world. The searchers slide over them, oblivious, unable sense the kiva and the people within.
This masking is Chatima’s working, a powerful working, shamanic and obscure to the searchers, and without it they would have found her long ago. It is a spell of strange and awful beauty, locked here around this place of power. Tullah maintains the working, treading the circle every night, and takes some pride that she does it well.
But it cannot last forever. They have reached a point of balance between the dangers of staying here and the dangers of moving.
She has discussed this with Chatima and with her parents. They’ve waited as long as they dare with the spirit world pressing in so close. Being with the spirits takes its toll: the sun-struck lethargy; the night-long, dreamy disconnection from the physical world; the feeling of being more spirit than flesh.
Not for the first time, Tullah thinks of the kiva as a grave.
Much longer inside and it will be; their spirits will untether from their bodies.
Even before that, the fragile tether to her dragon spirit guide will part, and prevent her from ever getting Kaothos back.
The thought of that sinks claws into her chest, making it difficult to breathe. If that happens, she might as well become one with the spirit world.
But not the others. They shouldn’t suffer.
It’s her the searchers are looking for, because they think she still has Kaothos. Not that it would be a good idea to point out their error: being caught without Kaothos is even worse. They’ll know that they could use her as a way to draw Kaothos into a trap. It would actually be safer for them to do it that way.
She has to leave. She has to evade the searchers. She has to return things to the way they were before.
The rest of them won’t be in danger for long, once she’s gone.
She must prepare herself. She can’t perform Chatima’s workings on her own, nor can this working be moved from this sacred place, but she has some of her own that might do for the time it takes to get back to Denver. Matt says that’s where Kaothos and Diana are heading right now.
She must go soon. She must go alone. All thoughts of the deadly situation aside, her crippling shame is infecting everyone. Even Matt.
As the moon slips across the night sky, someone walks beside her on the circle path.
The dead sometimes do that, so it takes her a while to notice it’s Chatima.
Whether she’s in her body or she’s spirit walking, Tullah is not entirely sure. Here, in the place between, it’s not always possible to tell.
“There are many paths to go forward, but none to go back,” Chatima says, as if she hears the thoughts in Tullah’s mind about returning things to the way they were before. “And every path bears death and sorrow and pain and loss.”
Tullah’s tears fall to the dusty path, to be lost among the dreams of the dead.
“All the things I’ve ever done,” she whispers. “In balance with all the things I will do. I will make this right.”
“The world is a maze, child. The way is never straight. But look up sometimes, for the sky remains pure.”
Tullah raises her eyes. Chatima is right; the light of the crescent moon has a silver purity. It’s calming.
The shaman Adept is no longer beside her when she looks back down.
“All the things I’ve ever done,” she repeats to the listening dead. The words seemed so simple when Amber spoke them. She’d heard them with her ears, but she’d not felt them in her heart. The words had seemed so light.
Now they are like draglines on her soul.
The dead do not shy away from her shame. The dead stay with her.
Their thousand, thousand voices rustle like dry leaves. If she let them, they would leech the shame from her. It would be so easy; spirits hunger for the emotions of the living. Yes, it would be so easy to let them feed, but they would take all. And when they finished, she would be one of them.
Thoughts like that come to her. It’s not a good place, this between, not for anyone, and especially not for her.
Alongside the thoughts, she sees visions and hears voices.
She sees Evans sometimes. The man she killed in the battle at Carson Park. Her hands tingle and she feels the snap as his neck breaks, all over again. The sickening, appalling moment of savage pleasure and the following flood of shame and recrimination.
It’s not about him. He deserved to die. It’s about you.
It feels as if Amber herself is speaking the words to her, and they do help.
Sometimes the visions are a comfort as she walks: the cougar, down off her lonely range; the bear, awakened from her sleep; the buffalo, up from the grasslands. The coyote. The fox. The snake. The owl. The raven.
Sometimes it’s not a comfort: her dragon walks silently with her, a vision of all she’s lost. And often, when the dawn breaks, the strange wolf will stand on the cliff with the rising sun behind her, a vision aflame. Chatima is uneasy about the wolf, though she tries to hide that. Openly, she says it signifies redemption, but in her heart of hearts, Tullah knows that for her, it’s a vision of shame, and a symbol of forgiveness denied.
What do you think?