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Last teaser chapter for Bite Back 6

Absolutely, positively the last teaser chapter of Inside Straight. A short one.

I’m nearly there with the ‘ready for editor’ draft, and Lauren has booked it in for the 6th July. Gulp.

Watch this blog or Facebook for publication news, or sign up for a book alert.

Previous teaser chapters start at:
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/christmas-wishes-and-bite-back-6-teaser-chapter/
and each teaser episode has a ‘next’ link at the bottom.

 

Chapter 8

 

We’d been lucky. We’d been caught in a trap where we were helpless, and it’d been my fault for charging in without assessing the risks.

Maybe I wasn’t as recovered as I’d thought I was, back in LA.

“Sorry,” Flint said. “She really caught us out.”

“We need to move away,” Kane said, helping his fellow Adept to his feet. “This is all in her zone.”

We trotted back to where we left the car, increasingly nervous as we approached the Schown Apartments. There were people around now, cars, normal things. No witches appeared out of sudden snow clouds.

“What’s the time?” I asked as we got in.

I had a clock in my head I could usually rely on, but being hauled off into the spirit world by the Hecate’s coven had screwed with it. My head was telling me it was early evening, but my eyes said it was too light.

Early evening would be another major disaster of a completely different type. It would mean I was late for Mom’s dinner.

“It’s five,” Yelena said. “It feels wrong, no?”

“Time passes differently in the spirit world,” Kane said. “Sometimes really differently. We need to check what day it is.”

“Oh, God, no.”

My cell said it was still today, but his comment spooked me.

Please, I’m not a day late for Mom’s party. Please, please, please.

I dialed home.

Alex answered. “You okay?”

“Yeah. What day is it?”

“Same day it was a couple hours ago. You sure you’re okay?”

“I’ll explain later. We’re on our way back.”

Great. He probably thought I’d got a concussion or something. I could just see his expression when I told him I’d been away with the fairies.

Traffic was light and Yelena was driving, leaving me to puzzle over what the Hecate had said.

Kaothos was a friend. A strange kind of friend to have, but still. Not a devil.

What had the witch expected to gain by calling her that?

Why was she so insistent she had to speak to a ‘devil’?

Just as urgent, how exactly was I going to explain to Skylur that there was a huge association of Adepts who’d been sitting quietly right under his nose.

I could predict his reaction—he’d want to know how to get them into the Assembly.

What if Kaothos was what it took to get them on board?

What exactly was it about Kaothos they wanted?

Jen called on the cell, breaking my train of thought.

“What’s this about not knowing which day it is? You do remember—”

“We’re off to my mom’s. Yes. It was just some Adept weirdness. I’ll explain later.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’m really calling to warn you Bian’s here. I’ve tried explaining that we’re due to go out, but she wants to know what’s happening.”

“I get to tell you both at the same time.”

“Hmm. Going to happen while we’re getting dressed then,” she drawled. “We are not going to be late for this one, honey.”

I swallowed. My wife, my husband and I would be naked, or partly naked, in the same room as Bian. Who was my husband’s one-time lover and who had, several times, told me and shown me, she was keen to get in my pants too. This was shaping up to be… awkward.

 

It turned out to be more of a problem for Alex and me than for Jen. Bian was her usual self—at one moment all business, the next casting smoldering looks at one of us, or all three of us at the same time.

Jen took it in her stride. She got Bian to help with zippers, asked her opinion on lipstick shades, made her dry my hair after my shower.

I put it to one side and concentrated on getting as much information across about the Hecate, and the Adepts she claimed to represent.

“If the Northern Adept League stretches from the Lakes down to New Jersey, then there should be some in New York,” I said. “Skylur might be able to learn a bit more about them there.”

Bian nodded. “Believe me, I’ll make the point to him when I call later.”

She stopped fussing my hair and rested her hands on my bare shoulders.

I tensed, expecting some of Bian’s questionable humor, such as kissing me in front of Jen and Alex, but she didn’t.

Her voice was serious: “Tell me again this Gwendolyn’s exact words about why she was here.”

“She said she wanted to talk to me and Diana: Here, in Denver. Not because we think Altau is here, but because this is where Diana and the dragon will return.”

“So she knows that Diana and Kaothos aren’t dead, and that we put on a smoke and mirrors show for the Empire. And that Diana’s coming back here. And she knows Skylur isn’t going to be here. That’s a lot of inside knowledge, Round-eye. A lot of very up-to-date inside knowledge. For example, Skylur took the decision to go straight to New York yesterday.”

“Well, they’re obviously powerful, this league,” I said.

“More powerful than the Empire’s Adepts? Really? Or do they just have better intelligence?”

I blinked.

“The grey pants, Alex, they show off your ass better,” she said over her shoulder.

Jen laughed and handed Alex the grey pants. He put them on.

Wise choice; Bian was right.

I got dressed as I thought through what she was saying. I knew Bian well enough to follow which way her mind was working on the Adept league, ignoring the distraction about Alex’s ass.

“Have I mentioned recently, you’re paranoid, Pussycat?” I said.

“This morning, in fact. Come on, tell me what I’m thinking.”

I sighed. “There is one person who is not Athanate, and not in this room, who knew exactly what was going on and why and where. The only person, apart from Diana, who knew Skylur was going to New York even before you did.”

“Precisely. See? This paranoia is catching.”

“But you don’t like her. You’ve always had reservations about Alice Emerson. I remember you telling me she deserved to get thrown off the Mayflower.”

“So I’ve always been right. You blaming me for that?”

I had no answer. I liked Alice. And Alice was the Adept responsible for the magical shields that were hiding Diana and Kaothos from the Empire. My gut said she wasn’t working against us, but that wasn’t the same as not having any conflict of loyalty. And surely Skylur had bound her?

“Oh,” I said, remembering something else. “Alice was working with the Warders before. Skylur sort of adopted her when they were expelled after the Assembly at Haven.”

“You’re getting there, Round-eye.”

“The Warders’ mantle was New York. It’s a reasonable guess that’s where Alice is from. The Hecate said the Northern Adept League covers New York. Which would make it likely Alice is from the League, or has ties to them.”

“You get your paranoia gold star.” Bian clapped her hands.

“And we will lose all gold stars if we don’t get out the door now,” Jen interrupted.

“But we haven’t talked about what the Hecate said about Kaothos—”

“Not my monkey. That’s your domain,” Bian said, urging me out of the bedroom. “You have to work out which of Kaothos or Gwendolyn you believe in. My domain is security and paranoia, and I have my hands full.”

She demonstrated with Alex’s ass, which he totally enjoyed, the traitor.

 

 

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May teaser and update

Another teaser chapter, but no competition this month. Again, the teasers are only a way to urge me on. You may get another teaser next month, but that will be it.

As I say, no competition, but on the other hand, if you’re from Denver, or you’ve followed my previous posts carefully, you’ll be able to tell me what the picture is and why it’s significant in Bite Back…

My writing is up to the 75% point approximately, and the beta readers have read up to the 50% point approximately. I have a couple of scenes to rework based on feedback, but I’m focused on (1) getting the beta readers to the 75% point and (2) writing the last quarter (often the quickest), and then getting the book to the editor.

Previous teaser chapters (in order) are at:
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/christmas-wishes-and-bite-back-6-teaser-chapter/
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/bite-back-6-teaser-chapter-2/
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/update-and-question-for-you-and-a-chapter-teaser-from-inside-straight/
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/march-update-quiz-question-and-a-teaser-of-chapter-4-from-inside-straight/
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2019/04/30/update-quiz-and-teaser/ 

 

Chapter 7

 

I was lying in the dirt. I must have hit my head. Badly. Passed out.

I shook myself and stood up. No dizziness.

Also no Denver. No roads and buildings. No snow.

Strong, clear sunlight. Warm wind. Flat, dry scrubland, dropping away westwards to a barely visible river.

What the hell?

Yelena was standing next to me, blinking. She was dressed in old-time buckskin, her hair in plaits, with a turquoise bead choker around her neck and moccasins on her feet.

From the way she was looking at me, I was dressed the same.

I almost wanted to laugh, but for the seriousness of what had just happened.

What the hell didn’t seem strong enough.

There was no sign of the others.

“Flint? Kane?” I yelled.

A glossy raven floated down out of the impossibly blue sky and landed on my shoulder.

Flint. The Raven. I just knew it was him. I could sense him now.

Kane is near the river, watching her.

…and I could hear him, in my head.

“What the hell happened? Where are we?”

She tricked us. The raven shuffled its weight from side to side. She has a whole coven here.

“Where?”

I looked around. There was no one else.

The raven danced some more.

Not here, exactly. In Denver, near where we were. We’re physically here, they’re physically there, but the worlds are spirit-close. I think they’re in that apartment building we passed, shielding themselves somehow. Showing just enough of themselves to lure us down there.

“So where are we?”

This is the spirit world, as she has drawn it. A Denver without people. The same place, just… shifted a bit.

“In summer.”

The bird gave a little half-flap of wings, like a shrug, like I needed to concentrate on important things.

“Can we get back?”

Yesss.

It wasn’t the most confident of replies.

“Means no?” Yelena said. She was picking up stones. That was a good idea. Low tech but very unpleasant to be hit by a heavy, well-thrown stone. “Means Hecate-bitch can keep us here? Where is she?”

The raven cawed and flapped.

As soon as one of the coven falters, we can get back, he said. Or we can undermine her channeling of the energy that weaves the spirit world here and pulls us into it. Until then…

He faltered.

“What?”

This weave is hers. While she and her coven are fresh, and we’re here, she’s really powerful. She could have killed us all, the moment we got here. Still could, maybe. And…

“And what?”

We’ve just figured something out. Up in Michigan, Wendy had the covens surround House Prowser’s mansion, waiting for Prowser to hand Kane and me over. Amanda drove out the front with Scott while we sneaked out the back way. We didn’t think Wendy knew that we’d become Amanda’s kin, so when Wendy asked where Amanda was going, she just told her. Didn’t seem any reason not to.

Which cleared up one mystery. Gwendolyn hadn’t needed to follow them. She’d flown down, with her coven, in whatever comfort as you could get on a short-haul airplane, arranged an apartment and waited for House Lloyd to arrive. Then lured us here.

My stomach sank.

“Hecate-bitch is two steps ahead of you,” Yelena said.

Not the real point, though. If she knew we were kin, she probably could have caught us in Michigan by taking Amanda hostage. And if she’s gotten this powerful, she could have killed us there. Or she could have killed us here when she brought us here, into the spirit world.”

“So… she hasn’t killed us. Yet.” I thought about it.

Did it mean she didn’t want us dead?

Or she wanted to play with us a bit first?

I didn’t voice that thought.

“Why?” I asked instead.

Kane and I think she wants to be here in Denver for some reason, and she wants to talk to you, House Farrell, more than she wants to kill us.

“And so we should see what she wants?”

The raven bobbed its head.

I had the feeling he was hugely embarrassed to have been tricked and kinda surprised to be alive. And very curious, which was a good thing, sometimes.

I sighed, trying to pretend this whole thing hadn’t scared me. “Point me in the right direction. And you…”

The raven cocked his head, one beady eye fixed on me.

“Crap on my shoulder and I’ll make a headdress out of you.”

 

Kane was half way to the river bank. His coyote fur was tan and orange, which matched the ground. He was almost invisible until he stood and gave himself a dusty shake.

She’s sitting down beside the river, he said. Just waiting.

“Well, if she wants to talk, let’s go talk.” I kept my voice down. “But if you two can manage to get us out of here, I’d rather talk to her on my ground.”

Understood, Flint said. But…

She may not hear us speaking like this, but anything you say aloud in the area, she’ll be able to hear, Kane added.

“Great.”

I walked on to where the ground dropped and became uneven. The river in spate had eroded the banks, leaving a margin of naked rocks and channels of collapsed earth.

This wasn’t some half-imagined virtual world. This Colorado was, for want of a better description, real. Just without the city and the people.

The Hecate was close to the flowing water, sitting cross-legged, with her back propped against a large boulder, hands folded in her lap. She looked comfortable, her whole body relaxed. Not as if she was about to turn me into a toad and squash me.

I climbed down cautiously and sat opposite her, with Yelena on my right. Flint remained on my shoulder. Kane sat between Yelena and me, tongue hanging out and attention focused on the Hecate.

She was still wearing the black leather duster. It seemed she’d been waiting for us to join her. As I watched, her whole appearance changed slightly. Her skin became darker, her hair became light brown and wavy. The eyes warmed to hazel instead of that chilling, bottomless blue.

I’d seen werewolves’ faces shift between human and wolf, and if they could do it, I guessed an Adept could as well.

Why would she do it though?

The new face, although almost completely the same, was softer, less stiff. More… human somehow.

I imagined she thought it made her less frightening.

She was wrong. Whatever she looked like, there was an aura of eerie threat coming off her.

I’d been too dazed by being kidnapped so suddenly to be really scared, yet, but watching her change, watching her sitting so completely relaxed and in control made me realize how powerless I was here, even with a pair of Adepts and Yelena.

And in contrast how powerful she was.

Not a good idea to let her realize how scared I was.

“We change clothes or bodies and you just change your face?” I asked.

Her lips thinned, slightly lop-sided.

“This is just me, as I am, without the Aspect of my spirit guide,” she replied. “As for your clothes, this substantiation of the spirit world is not purely mine. As I drew you in, three of you interacted with it, modified it a little to include some of you. What other forms would Raven and Coyote take but their own? And you, it appears, subconsciously mix your Native American heritage with your expectation of the spirit world.”

Her voice remained the same, very quiet and precise.

“I’ve never been here before,” I said. “I have no expectation.”

“Not here exactly.” She pursed her lips briefly again. “But I understand you’ve called up a substantiation of your own while helping the Were cubs who had trouble shifting. I’m impressed, by the way.”

I shook my head to clear memories she called up, of dancing through clouds of smoke from bonfires to the rhythm of stamping feet. That wasn’t like this.

“I doubt I would magic our pistols away,” I said.

“No. But things like that generally don’t exist here.” She paused. No fidgeting, no movement, other than her face. Complete, concentrated stillness. “I am not your enemy.”

“I hope not. I didn’t suspect Adepts as a whole were my enemies.”

I spoke carefully. The Taos Adepts who’d kidnapped Diana had certainly been my enemies. The Hecate had kidnapped me now, but this was nothing like as painful as what had happened to Diana.

I’d take what comfort I could from that, in the circumstances.

I went on. “When I felt your call, I knew I had to come and talk to someone about Kane and Flint.” I looked around. “And here we are.”

“Yes, of course you wanted to talk. You’ve given sanctuary to House Lloyd, haven’t you? So you all come as a package now.”

Her eyes flicked from Raven to Coyote.

“Yes. I’ve taken House Lloyd as a sub-House, which means that they’re all under my protection, and therefore also under the protection of House Altau.”

I needed to get that in. Flint and Kane seemed to think she could kill me here with no more effort than a blink of her eyes, but she wouldn’t if she made an enemy of Skylur by doing that.

I hoped.

Wind blew strands of hair across her face. She ignored them. Her eyes returned to hold mine.

“And when you took House Lloyd’s oath, did she tell you her kin were under sentence of death?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“They have explained I could have killed you all when I brought you here?”

“Which would have started a war with the Athanate.”

“Maybe.” Her nose flared. “Maybe not.”

She didn’t seem concerned about the thought of a war with the Athanate, which was chilling in itself. Or just maybe she regarded it as unlikely to happen. If all four of us disappeared without trace, what was Skylur going to do? Start a war with the Adepts in full view of humanity? On the suspicion some Adepts might have killed us?

The Athanate codes of behavior were written up in the Agiagraphos, the closest thing to a holy book the Athanate had. But in this instance, there were two rules that applied. One rule demanded that the responsibility for protection of members of a House was shared all the way up the chain of association. House Farrell was a sub-House of Altau, so Skylur was responsible for the safety of my House members as much as I was, and Skylur could command the entire Athanate population of North America.

But… the rule that overrode all other rules in the Agiagraphos was to hide our presence from humanity. Skylur was going to break that rule, but he wanted to break it when he judged the time was right, not when one of his inexperienced sub-Houses got caught up with Adepts who had their own rules and concerns.

Emergence was more important to the paranormal community than me and my House.

On the other hand, Skylur had a long memory. I was sure once Emergence was out of the way, questions would be asked and Athanate honor satisfied. Not that it would be much comfort to me if I was dead.

She surprised me with her next comment. “You don’t approve.”

What?

I scrabbled to work out what she meant. “You mean I don’t approve of it being a death sentence for Adepts not joining in your covens? No, I don’t.”

“I see. Tell me, House Farrell, what the Athanate do with rogues?”

“We kill them. And call me Amber.”

“Why do you kill them? Why is it justified?”

I wanted to say to protect innocent humans, but I knew that was false.

“They threaten our existence.”

“Yes. Your Agiagraphos laws. A rogue could go on a spree, killing humans indiscriminately, and leading humanity to discover the Athanate. Leading to an almost certain disaster for the rest of the Athanate.” She sighed and looked upwards. “So it’s justified to kill rogue Athanate.”

“Make your point.”

“You accept the justification for your treatment of rogue Athanate. Given you’re a hybrid Were, I imagine you probably accept the same treatment of rogue Were. Yet, you don’t accept that Adepts might have similar burdens and responsibilities put on them.”

Damn. It was a good argument.

“Okay. But not in all cases, and not in this case. These guys aren’t rogue. They’re…”

I was going to say that Kane and Flint were the Adept equivalent of diazoun, that they were simply unaffiliated. But that was a trap, because Skylur had decreed that there were no diazoun allowed in North America any more. And in the end, he’d enforce that the same way he had to enforce the laws on rogues. The Hecate could have some similar argument.

I changed tack. “They’re not going around killing humans, like rogue Athanate or Were would.”

“A valid point, if the purpose of the laws were to protect humans, but it’s not, it’s to protect the paranormal community.”

Arguing with the Hecate felt like I was in quicksand. I had to admit, to myself, she was right. I’d accepted the laws about rogues with false justifications that made my human side happier.

Not only was she winning the argument, she was seriously unsettling me. She still hadn’t stirred: apart from her face, she might have been a statue. Everyone twitches and gestures. As a human, I’d learned to read the body’s movements and posture, which give me an insight into that person’s thinking. Hell, I depended on those skills playing poker in the army. And now, as an Athanate, I could hear her heart beat, I could smell her stress levels, I could sense the changes in temperature of her body, but I was getting none of the information I depended on when dealing with people.

Her heartbeat was slow and regular, her temperature even, her bio-signs neutral.

It was really unsettling.

Worse, I suspected she knew it.

“We nullify or kill wild talent for the same reasons you kill rogue Athanate and Were,” she went on. “An untrained or insane Adept has far greater potential to reveal the existence of the paranormal community, and is potentially far more dangerous to humanity than any single Athanate or Were.”

“And yet, these two haven’t offended, that I’m aware,” I said, hoping desperately that was true. I really should have interrogated them before bringing them out here.

“Not excessively. Lucky for them. But in any event,” she said, “I’m not here to discuss the politics of how Adepts govern themselves. Not for this instance anyway. Your House Adepts are safe from me, now that the Athanate rules about revealing paranormals to humanity apply to them. I’m not sure they thought this through yet, but they should start to worry about you.”

Damn.

Again, she had a good point. If Flint or Kane behaved in a way that threatened to expose the Athanate, it had become my problem to deal with. Up to and including killing them.

Flint shuffled on my shoulder and Kane’s head dipped.

I changed tack again. “You seem to know a great deal about me and about Athanate business. I know nothing about you. Who are you? Who do you represent? If you say they’re safe from attacks by you, does that extend to the Denver community?”

“That’s all one question. Or two, maybe. I won’t answer for the Denver community, yet. I represent the Northern Adept League, what you’d think of as an association of covens in Canada, Alaska, the Great Lake states and eastern states down as far as New Jersey.” She paused and her hazel eyes sharpened until I could see the icy blue showing again. “You know nothing about us because we have chosen, until now, that the Athanate should know nothing.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

Hell, I have to warn Skylur. A whole Adept association right under his nose that we know nothing about?

“So what’s changed?” I shrugged like it was no big thing. “All of a sudden you’re going to talk to us? And you come to me?”

“Oh, yes. Very specifically to you. And here, in Denver. Not because we think Altau is here, but because this is where Diana and the dragon will return.”

Shit! How the hell does she know anything about Kaothos?

“That’s why we have to talk to you. You and Diana may have fooled the Empire, Amber, but you haven’t fooled us. The point is, you have no idea what you’re doing and we need to talk about the dragon before…”

Beside me, Kane suddenly shivered and rocked backward and forward. His paws planted themselves on my thigh and Yelena’s. I recognized the skin prickling. My Adepts were about to try to get us out.

Now.

The sensation was like diving into water from a height—a rush, felt over my whole body, my eyes blurring, pressure, disorientation and then suddenly it all cleared.

We were sitting on the bank of the South Platte, in the snow. In our normal clothes. Kane and Flint in their human bodies. Denver skyline behind us.

I leaped up. I could feel the weight of my HK in my holster, but I had a horrible thought that this might be another Denver. One that only looked the same.

“You got us back? This is home?”

“Yes.” Flint looked pale. Whatever he’d done had taken a toll.

Beside us, just a pace or two away, air seemed to boil.

Yelena and I drew our weapons.

The Hecate appeared as we’d first seen her—the shock of white hair and those cold, cold blue eyes. Except this time she sort of ended at about the waist. Her legs were visible, but faded into a blurred shadow.

“Well done,” she said. “I congratulate you on the acquisition of a powerful pair of Adepts, Amber. May they bring nothing but good to your House.”

“Thank you, I guess.”

Would a bullet kill her, if she attacks? Is she even there, or is it just a projection?

But she hadn’t directly threatened me. I kept the HK Mk 23 pointed at the ground.

The Hecate not overtly threatening and even wishing my House well somehow scared me more than if she’d spat curses.

“We were nearly finished for today anyway. There’s probably only so much you can take in at once. We will speak again soon. I have two last things for you to think about,” she said, and her eyes seemed to glow. “First, as I’ve said, the Athanate will have to talk to me about the dragon. I will demand this, and I can back up my demands, so prepare Diana when she arrives. Second, you should know in the human myths, there are sometimes glimpses of the truth. Glimpses even of the nature of Adepts and Athanate and Were. And of dragons.”

I gave a hum. More I hear you than actual agreement.

“Do you know the background of the name Dracula?”

That caught me by surprise. I laughed nervously.

“Yes. Dracul means dragon. Dracula means child of the dragon.”

“Indeed. There it is in the old Athanate, and filtered through the millennia into modern Romanian. I bet the dragon told you herself.”

I nodded, wondering if this apparition could actually see me.

She could apparently: “I also bet she didn’t tell you the root of the word.”

I frowned. “No.”

“The oldest word, from which the others descend, is drac.” She faded, and her last words whispered through the air as she disappeared entirely. “And drac means devil.”

 

Update and question for you and a chapter teaser from Inside Straight

I’m about half way through Inside Straight at the level I think of as ‘Ready for Editor’. (ish). Tomorrow (Friday 1st) the first quarter (15 chapters – 28k words) will go to the beta readers, and unless there need to be a lot of changes, the second quarter will go to the beta readers as soon as feedback on the first is in.

There’s more written than that, but I’ve written in isolated scenes, which means the connecting flow sections and segues need to be put in. When they get put in, I find the scenes often need to change slightly.

I’m continuing to put out teaser chapters as below. These aren’t complete episodes, so the chapter will not feel like an episode from Change of Regime or A Name Among the Stars.

Speaking of the ‘Among the Stars’ series… after 2 months Amazon support have finally identified why the series title does not appear on the Amazon book page. So, what I designed (according to all the Amazon help files) was for the book page to be headed ‘A Name Among the Stars (Among the Stars Book 1)’ and for the books to be linked as a series. A month after launch I finally managed to persuade them to link the two books as a series. They claimed undocumented publishing rules prevented that, and just doing what it said in the help documents and emailing them to ask wasn’t enough. I actually had to note in my bio that the two books were part of a series!

Now they have told me another undocumented rule is that the series title cannot be contained in the book title. So the series cannot be called ‘Among the Stars’ because that’s part of the book name ‘A Threat Among the Stars’. Now, there are lots of series on Amazon which avoid this by adding the word ‘Series’ to the series title. So, potentially, the full name + series name would be ‘A Name Among the Stars (Among the Stars Series Book 1).

Here’s your question: do you think ‘Among the Stars Series’ is a good name (even if other books in the series don’t have ‘Among the Stars’ as part of the title), or should I go for something completely different? In the books I talk about humanity’s ‘Expansion’. Do you think ‘Expansion’, or ‘Humanity’s Expansion’, or ‘The Fourth Expansion’ would be better titles? Or something completely different? Suggestions?

What is the effect this has all had?

It’s difficult to *know* what happens in Amazon promotions, because Amazon aren’t telling. Amazon claims it will automatically prompt you, the reader, if there’s a new book from a writer you’ve read before. It claims it will prompt you if there’s a subsequent book in a series you’ve read. It claims it will prompt you if you’ve clicked on the ‘author follow’ button and there’s a new release from the author.

One of my beta readers has read every single book of mine, including A Name Among the Stars, and has followed me on Amazon. He just received an email telling him about A Threat Among the Stars last week, two months after it went up on pre-order. Others still haven’t had any notification.

As you’ll know if you follow my occasional posts about marketing, the first month after release is vital for a new book, and A Threat Among the Stars has suffered, for whatever reason. I can’t claim it’s all about Amazon. I simply don’t know. Once I settle the series title issue, I’ll have to start marketing (including giving money to Amazon for stuff they should have done anyway). Worse, advertising has to be created, which takes time, just like writing. So more marketing means less writing.

Anyway… teaser time.

Previous teaser chapters are at:
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/christmas-wishes-and-bite-back-6-teaser-chapter/
https://henwick.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/bite-back-6-teaser-chapter-2/

 

Chapter 3

 

Keith was driving us home fifteen minutes later and I was even more restless, twitchy and uneasy. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.

Catching Bian’s paranoia?

Or worried about Diana and Tullah?

Or infusing Scott and possibly killing him?

Or is it only the thought of seeing Kath again at Mom’s dinner tonight?

My cell pinged, startling me. A text message from Yelena.

 

Landed at Centennial. On way home.

No problems. Tove is a mess.

 

Well, everything was a mess. Where had the relaxing Christmas holiday with my House and family gone?

I texted back.

 

We have a situation.

Diazoun House seeking sanctuary with complications inbound.

Talk to Pia.

 

I glanced at the clock on the dash. In twelve hours and change I had to be ready to turn up at my parents’ house in Aurora, looking presentable. No excuses.

What was the timing looking like?

Amanda Lloyd had called before entering Colorado. That was Athanate etiquette, though she should have called Bian, not me, before crossing into the territory of House Trang.

Given the time I’d spent getting Bian’s reponse, Keith and I might arrive back at Manassah just as House Lloyd turned up.

At which point, I had a three-way decision to make: drag her and her kin out to Haven and let Bian imprison her, or offer simple sanctuary, or take her oath as a sub-House. Because Bian had handed it over: ‘our call’ had become ‘my call’.

My fangs throbbed.

Who am I trying to kid?

I’d already decided, unless something went very wrong in the next hour: if she was willing to give an oath, I would accept it.

Which meant I had to start thinking of how much metaphorical baggage House Lloyd was bringing with them, apart from some lynch-mob of northern Adepts.

For example, House Lloyd was diazoun, an outsider. She wouldn’t have contact numbers for the Athanate territories she’d passed through, and, as diazoun, possibly didn’t think it mattered if she passed through another House’s territory. I had to address these potential problems, because if I accepted her as a sub-House, they became my problems.

I knew highways were open to Athanate, but what if they’d stopped somewhere for food?

Or Blood?

I called Pia.

“If they stayed on the highways and she didn’t feed, there’s no issue,” Pia said.

“Otherwise?”

“Well, unofficially, no harm, no foul. A written apology citing urgency would cover it. If she caused a problem anywhere that reflects on the resident House, all bets are off. And none of that covers House Prowser’s claims. What did Skylur say?”

“That Prowser’s okay with it,” I said. “And we have the go-ahead to accept Lloyd as a sub-House and try out my infusion on her kin, if we think we’re up to it.”

Pia was quiet. Like me, she was probably adding up everything that could go wrong. She was my zamenik, in charge of all the process around infusing new Athanate in my House and then guiding them through crusis. Pia would be the new Athanate’s Mentor, and her kin would help provide the training on feeding. Once I bit House Lloyd’s kin, theoretically, he would become mainly Pia’s responsibility.

And all of which assumed my bite would work. I had accidentally and partially infused David and that worked out okay, but he’d been infused by Pia before me. No one knew what would happen with a completely new infusion, let alone the complicating factor of a kin who hadn’t gone through rigorous preparation, and was about to die anyway.

“Okay, Boss. Well, it’s your call then.” There was a noise in the background, David’s voice, and Pia spoke again. “David’s talking to House Lloyd now. They say they’ll be here in five.”

“Make them comfortable in the sun lounge and leave them alone.” I glanced out of the car. We were just coming up to the Platte River crossing on 6th, and traffic was quiet. “I’ll be there in ten.”

The cell was beeping, telling me there was a second call.

My mother.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hello, Amber,” she said. “This is a pleasant surprise. I was expecting to get that rude foreign woman again.”

“Yelena?”

“That’s the one. Always telling me I can’t speak to you. Has she got the day off?”

No. She’s bringing a drug-addicted prostitute from LA to live with us.

I decided I wouldn’t share that news with Mom.

And, yes, Yelena probably was a bit abrupt with everyone calling me whenever she took charge of my cell. She’d told Felix, the Denver alpha werewolf, to ‘fuck off’ once. I hoped she hadn’t said that to my mother.

“Hello?”

“Sorry, Mom. Distracted. Is everything okay for tonight?”

“I was calling to make sure you remembered.”

She was calling to make sure I turned up. She knew I didn’t forget things, but family life had been difficult recently.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I said.

“Kathleen will be here with Taylor,” she said casually.

It was anything but a casual comment, and that was partly my fault. Partly Kath’s as well, maybe even some of Taylor’s too. Her fiancé had certainly gone along with her craziness.

“Good,” I said, tamping down all my other feelings. “I’ve been wanting to… re-build bridges.”

It sounded lame, and it was. I could barely keep the tremble from my voice.

In my head, I was back at Jen’s ranch, high up in the Rockies, looking at the video cassettes that Special Agent Ingram had just given me. The cassettes that Forsythe used to record his rapes. There was one cassette that recorded my rape, neatly labelled with my initials. And one more. In the lighting, the letters written on the front were dark, like blood under UV.

KF.

Kathleen Farrell.

I’d run away. I’d left my sister behind in Denver with that monster and that was the result.

“Amber? Are you all right?”

“Sorry,” I said again. “Mom, I’m going to be busy right up until it’s time to come over.”

She wanted to talk. Wanted to talk to me alone about Kath, but she was so nervous I’d make up an excuse not to come, she let me go. We’d have to talk sometime. Tonight, I’d be there with Jen and Alex. Kath would be suspicious if Mom and I disappeared off together, so it wasn’t going to be tonight.

I could guess some of the things what Mom might want to talk about: Kath’s alcoholism, her erratic behavior, or the split between us.

I’d intended it to be permanent: the last words I’d said to Kath had been designed to hurt.

I had a little sister once, I’d said. I loved her with all my heart.

And I’d walked out of her house, not wanting to see her ever again.

She’d been awful to me. Evil. That wasn’t my fault. What Forsythe did to her—that wasn’t my fault either, any more than it was my fault what he did to me.

And yet, and yet. I ran away. If I’d gone straight to the police…

Then his family’s lawyers would have made it look as if I was to blame. They’d have claimed I was drunk. I wanted it. I encouraged them.

But Kath would have believed me, back then. Without question. With the result that she’d never have fallen for whatever line he’d come up with.

So it was my fault.

Why had my mother even let her out with Forsythe?

But I couldn’t have that conversation with Mom. I couldn’t have that conversation with Kath either.

Yet.

Jen and Pia had made me agree—first rebuild the relationship, then review how to fix the damage.

How high was this mountain?

“Boss, Julie and I…” Keith stuttered, breaking into my thoughts. “We understand how this Athanate thing works. Sort of. I mean…”

He was floundering even more than I just had with my mom. I raised a brow at him.

It was difficult. Keith and I had been an item back in Ops 4-10, before I’d been bitten and infused. By the next time I saw him, he was married to my friend Julie, also Ops 4-10. And not long after, I’d nearly gone rogue and bitten him. Now he was part of my House. Mine. As far as Athanate rules went, I could have his Blood anytime I wanted. And by Athanate customs, his body as well. Same for his wife’s.

Yeah. Made it a little awkward.

Maybe Keith was bringing it up now to distract me from my dark thoughts.

“Your body is probably safe from me,” I said, putting on a husky voice as I ran a fingernail down his arm. “I don’t think I can manage any more than Jen and Alex at the moment. Your Blood, now. Hmmm.”

He twitched and I watched the pulse in his throat pick up.

Joking aside, it made my jaw throb in time.

Keith stayed silent.

“Thing is,” I went on, “the Athanate rules say I should bite everyone in my House to ensure they’re bound to me.”

Keith swallowed.

“But you and Julie are Yelena’s kin, and she’s bound to me, so I don’t need to check the pair of you out…”

“Copy that,” he said quickly.

“Course, I might do it for fun anyway.”

He knew I was teasing him then, and he laughed. It was good to hear that sound. There hadn’t been much of it back in LA.

“Yelena has bitten you, hasn’t she?”

I walked my fingers up to his collar and edged it aside. No scars.

“Yes, Boss.”

He was blushing already. That was so cute.

“Just not on the throat,” I said.

He coughed. “No.”

Not on the wrist either. The bite scars generally healed to invisibility in a week, but there had been none on display. I could smell he and Julie had been bitten by Yelena, but I wasn’t going to say that.

“None of my business, really, where she bites you,” I said, thoughtfully. “Might be your upper arm. She bit me there once, you know.”

He went a shade darker.

“But, as I understand it, for a real… intimate bite there are only three places. Throat, wrist and—”

“Okay! Okay. Yeah. She bit us both on the thigh. Happy now?”

I smiled. Oh, yes.

Julie would blush too, probably even more than Keith, when I brought it up. And I was going to bring it up.

In the meantime, we’d successfully distracted me and we were back at Manassah, where the car Yelena had been using was parked alongside a Volvo with Michigan plates, brick-red under the road dirt of a long trip. House Lloyd’s car.

 Back to the present. Mind in gear.

In the next few minutes I had to decide about House Lloyd and infusing her kin, based, as ever, on my gut instincts, which were being inflamed by Athanate desires I really didn’t control. And a constant, looking-over-my-shoulder feeling that I was missing important things that had already gone wrong.

 

No episode of ATAtS this weekend :-(

The weekly episodes of A Threat Among the Stars have been removed in preparation for the release of the book on Amazon in January 2019.

My Amazon page:

US https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
DE https://www.amazon.de/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
FR https://www.amazon.fr/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/

A Threat Among the Stars – Episode 9

The weekly episodes of A Threat Among the Stars have been removed in preparation for the release of the book on Amazon in January 2019.

My Amazon page:

US https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
DE https://www.amazon.de/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
FR https://www.amazon.fr/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/

A Threat Among the Stars – Episode 8

The weekly episodes of A Threat Among the Stars have been removed in preparation for the release of the book on Amazon in January 2019.

My Amazon page:

US https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
DE https://www.amazon.de/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
FR https://www.amazon.fr/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/

 

A Threat Among the Stars – Episode 7

The weekly episodes of A Threat Among the Stars have been removed in preparation for the release of the book on Amazon in January 2019.

My Amazon page:

US https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
DE https://www.amazon.de/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/
FR https://www.amazon.fr/Mark-Henwick/e/B008SBO5YK/