Saturday, May 18, 2019

Excerpt from Rivers of Red: Luke Saunders

   Howdy, Readers. It's been a while. The finale of the Red Wolf Saga, Rivers of Red, is currently out to beta readers, and I have re-activated my blog in order to provide information leading up to its publication. I'm going to start by offering an excerpt from Part One.
   Remember Luke Saunders, the private investigator hired by the vampire Roland Trudeau to spy on Clifford Crane and his Uwharrie pack of werewolves? In the last novel, Red Wolf Rising, Luke had finally had enough of Trudeau's  evil machinations, betraying him by going to Clifford to reveal his employer's plans to lay a trap for the wolves.
   Knowing Trudeau would not take the betrayal lightly, Clifford offered Saunders protection, but Luke declined, choosing instead to take his chances on his own. Using skills obtained through decades of PI work, he attempted to hide from the vampire by dropping off the grid.
   Let's see how that's going for him, now.

Monday, June 27, 2011 7:15 pm
Luke Saunders glanced at the clock on the wall behind the bar and panicked. Oh, fuck, it’s almost sunset. I gotta get home.
“Jeez,” he said to the woman who’d distracted him with conversation for the last forty minutes, “I completely lost track of time. I have to be somewhere before sunset.” He dropped a wad of cash on the bar and signaled the bartender, indicating he was paying for both their drinks. “It was really nice talking to you.”
The young woman looked genuinely disappointed. “Oh, yeah, it’s been nice. You’re easy to talk to.” She placed a light touch on his hand, her fingers sending a thrill up the entire length of his arm. “Do you really have to go?”
He glanced briefly at the clock, then back at her. She wasn’t really his type. She had short hair, dyed an unnatural shade of red, with pale skin that was covered with more tattoos than clothing. She had a piercing on one side of her nose, inset with some blue stone he didn’t recognize. Around her neck was a wide choker, the same shade as her hair. Usually, he hated that kind of shit, but not on this girl.
Maybe it was the two margaritas talking, but there was something extremely compelling about her, right now. Vampire, his mind suddenly warned. But, no. Her touch had been warm, it was still a while before sunset, and this little corner of paradise was as free of the bloodsuckers as any he could find. “Yeah,” he nodded, “Sorry, I do have to be somewhere.” At home. Always safely at home, before the sun goes down.
She dipped a finger in her drink and gave the liquid a few half-hearted stirs. “You’re going home,” she whispered, then cut her eyes at him, “Alone?”
Fuck, she read me like a book. He swallowed. “Um, yeah.” He shrugged.
She nodded. Holding his gaze, she raised her glass to her lips, drained what was left, and set it on the bar. “Can I come?”
Adrenaline coursed through him. It would be a violation of the rules, but they were his rules, after all. Hell, what was the use of living in paradise if you couldn’t enjoy it, now and then? Still, he hesitated. “Um...”
“Hey,” she said, “if it’s an inconvenience…”
He detected hurt in her voice and reacted quickly. “No, it’s not that. I…uh…you just caught me by surprise. I don’t usually do…this.”
Her eyebrows rose. “This? You mean, picking up a girl in a bar?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, “kind of. I mean…”
Her hand was back on his arm, cutting him off. “Hey, it’s okay. I never do this. But, I’m on vacation, and I figured what’s the use of being in paradise if you can’t enjoy it?”
He grinned. “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Well,” she smiled, “you have to admit, it’s a pretty good argument. Is your place far?”
He shook his head. “Just up the beach a little.”
“Good,” she said, gathering a small purse and sliding off the bar stool, “a walk on the beach sounds nice.” She reached for his hand and entwined her fingers with his. “Ready?”
He was, very much so. Her hand was warm, her touch promising. They left the bar via the beach entrance. She guessed the direction correctly and hooked her arm through his as they ambled towards his cottage.
Walking along the water’s edge, she kept a running commentary, her voice barely audible over the crashing surf. Although she said nothing that required a response, he was forced to lean close in order not to miss her words. Her scent was intoxicating.
“Oh, my God,” she gasped, bringing them both to a halt, “that’s so beautiful.”
He followed her gaze to the horizon, where the deep red of a spectacular sunset colored a low line of clouds. “It is,” he agreed.
They watched for a time, as the red deepened to violet and the last tip of the orb disappeared into the ocean. She turned to him in the fading light and lifted her lips to his, pulling him into a deep kiss. Her breath tasted faintly of cinnamon, eliciting a vague question in his mind as to the identity of the drink she’d had back in the bar.
She pulled her lips off his, encircling her arms around his waist and resting her head against his chest. “That was nice,” she sighed. “I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry?”
She pulled back and looked up into his eyes, frowning. “Really, it’s nothing personal.”
“What?”
She took a few steps back, looking down and away. Luke’s stomach turned to ice as a cold voice spoke behind him, “Good evening, Mr. Saunders. You’re a hard man to get hold of, after sunset.” An icy hand clamped down on his shoulder and the voice chuckled, “Get it? ‘Get a hold of?’”
Luke tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. The choker! I should have guessed. I’m so screwed. “You’re a fucking pet,” he accused the woman. She didn’t answer, only lowered her head further.
“Not exactly,” said the cold voice. “Chelsea is very much her own woman, I assure you. By the way, thank you, my dear. You gave your usual stellar performance. Your fee has already been deposited in your account.”
Chelsea raised her head but did not look at either one of them. “I can leave now, then.” Her tone was so flat, Luke couldn’t tell if she was stating a fact or asking permission.
“Not yet, please,” said the voice. “I have some questions for Luke, here.”
“I don’t want to watch this,” she said. Her tone was now more animated, and Luke’s testicles drew up to join the knot in his stomach.
The cold voice behind him became irritated. “You won’t have to, if you can help me get some answers,” it said.
“It doesn’t always work, you know,” she complained, “especially if…” She took a deep breath. “Under torture, people’s minds go in directions I can’t always follow.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to try.”
Chelsea ground her teeth a moment before nodding. “Very well.”
The voice waxed sarcastic. “So accommodating of you. I found the perfect spot on the very deck of Mr. Saunders’ cottage, overlooking the ocean. I’ll go get him ready. Take your time.”
Luke felt himself suddenly whisked off his feet and carried swiftly over a stretch of dunes to where his beach front cottage stood. When he regained his equilibrium, he found himself on his back deck, securely tied between the hooks where a hammock had been strung before he’d left for the bar earlier that afternoon.
Before him stood a tall, pale man, unmistakably a vampire, regarding him purposefully with half-lidded eyes. “I know you don’t want to answer my questions,” he explained, “so I’m going to have to use my venom to put you…in the mood, so to speak.” He rubbed his chin, speculatively. “This is not an exact science.”
A shudder ran through Luke’s body before he found his voice. He reached for as much defiance as he could muster. “You think your saliva can get me high enough to tell you anything?”
The vampire’s lips spread in a wide, humorless smile. “No, I don’t. If Roland Trudeau had wanted you turned into a compliant pet, he would not have sent me. You see…” He was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs from the beach. “Ah, she’s here. We can get started. How close do you need to be, Chelsea?”
Luke craned his head around as Chelsea reached the top step. He watched her take a seat on a low bench built along the railing. “I’m fine over here,” she stated.
“Okay, then,” continued the vampire, turning back to Luke, “as I was saying…hey, hold on there, what are you doing?” The vampire’s finger was suddenly in Luke’s mouth, pressing his tongue away from the tooth Luke had been working at, the tooth the vampire was now holding in front of his face, between two fingers.
“Tsk, tsk, Mr. Saunders. Nice try. You really are a clever fellow.” The vampire sniffed at the tooth. “Cyanide?” He looked at Chelsea, frowning, “You didn’t pick up on that?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I was…getting ready.”
The vampire crushed the false tooth between his fingers and wiped the residue on his shirt. “Let me know when you are ready,” he told her.
“Go ahead,” she sighed. “Let’s get it over with.”
“Humph,” the vampire grunted, turning back to Luke, “why does everyone have to be in such a hurry all the time?” He grasped Luke’s chin, moving his head back and forth to inspect his neck. “You’re an unusual man, Mr. Saunders, having been closely associated with our kind for this long without being bitten. I understand there is a clause in your contract for the ongoing investigation into the activities of Clifford Crane that specifically states you are not to be turned into a pet. For some reason, Trudeau has chosen to honor that contract, despite the fact you have broken your end of the bargain.” He frowned. “You know how a pet is made, don’t you, Mr. Saunders?”
His chin still in the vampire’s iron grip, Luke could only cut his eyes at his captor in response.
“Well, let me explain. Vampire venom contains a paralytic poison designed to immobilize a victim during the feeding process. The poison is so fiercely painful, however, that our original creators mixed with it a pain killer that relaxes the victim, so that the human adrenal system won’t kick in, rendering our meals…unpalatable.”
The vampire raised his eyebrows in a question. Luke didn’t notice, however. His eyes were wide, casting desperately in every direction. They settled on Chelsea for a moment, begging. She shifted uncomfortably and looked away.
The vampire cleared his throat, unnecessarily. “Ahem. Anyway, the pain killer has a euphoric effect that is extremely addictive, or so I am told. If bitten more than a few times, a victim will develop such a craving for the high that they’re pretty much willing to do anything, or say anything, or betray anyone, just to get another fix. It’s sad, really, but very effective. We call these addicts ‘pets,’ a rather demeaning term, if you ask me. You know, it says something about you and your skills that Trudeau chose to ensure your compliance with a contract rather than…you know, our usual methods.” He leaned close, positioning Luke’s head so he could look in his eyes. “Based on the trouble I’ve had to go through to find you, I’d have to agree with him.”
The vampire released Luke’s chin and straightened to his full height. “But, I digress. Let me get to the point. A small percentage of humans lack a certain chemical substance in their systems, called…sorry, I can’t pronounce it…but, it’s the same thing that makes them immune to such plants as poison ivy, sumac, that sort of thing? If one of these humans is turned to vampirism, their venom lacks the pain killer that would allow them to create a pet. In fact, their bite is so painful that it is best to kill a victim quickly and feed later, which is not as enjoyable a meal as it could be. Or, so I am told.” He sighed. “I am one of those unfortunate individuals with no pain killer in my venom.”
He shrugged. “Oh, well. I don’t enjoy feeding as much as my brethren.” He leaned closer, again, and smiled. “But, I really…really enjoy inflicting pain.” He straightened and turned to Chelsea. “Have you gotten anything, yet?”
She shook her head.
He grinned, turning back to Luke. “Good. Let’s get started, then. This may hurt a little.” His jaws opened wide, his fangs clicking into place. He sank them deep into Luke’s neck, oh so slowly.
       Luke’s screams carried on the breeze, past the surf and out to sea, where no one could hear.

   Stay tuned for more, readers. Feel free to leave a comment below.
   And, thanks.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

For the Love of Minor Characters

Ever fall in love with a minor character? Someone captures your imagination, or you identify with them in some unique way, and you want more of them, but, alas, it is not to be. The classic example, for me, is the postman in Stephen King’s Cujo, who the reader comes to love by way of several pages of wonderful character development, only to have his throat ripped out by the book’s protagonist minutes later.

Such a waste.
I have a minor character in the Red Wolf Saga whom I’ve come to love. Luke Saunders, the reluctant private eye employed by the vampire Roland Trudeau to track the comings and goings of the werewolves during daylight hours, has continued to delight me with his occasionally documented antics over the course of three novels. His life has hung in balance the entire time, and his fate remains undetermined primarily because the author (me) has such affection for his character.
I just completed a re-edit of all three Red Wolf novels in preparation for an upcoming new-editions release and giveaway through Amazon, and when I ran across this scene in Red Wolf Rising, I just had to share it with you.
Setup:
Luke has determined it’s time to break his contract with Roland Trudeau, take the small fortune he’s amassed, and go into hiding, somewhere far away “with beaches, long days, and short nights.” But, in response to an increasingly guilty conscience, and against his better judgment, he’s decided to confess to the red wolf, Clifford Crane, what he knows of Roland’s evil plans…

Thursday, June 9, 2011, 3:19 pm
Luke Saunders tried to swallow in a dry throat. He thought about asking for a glass of water, but suppressed the urge. He figured there was a fifty-fifty chance he was going to die within the hour, and he didn’t want to make the odds any worse by being an inconvenience to the others in the room, in any way whatsoever.
I’m surrounded by werewolves, he reminded himself, be cool.
Easy for you to say, Himself answered.
Searching for calm, he took a deep breath. It dried his mouth out worse. He tried again to swallow and gagged, drawing stony, silent glances from a few of the men who stood towering over him, their huge, ripped upper bodies barely contained by the thin gray t-shirts they all wore, with SECURITY stenciled across the chests.
Their silence increased his anxiety. Once in a while, the men would glance at each other and smile or frown at some unshared thought. Unshared with Luke, at any rate. He reminded himself that these men were half animal, and that animals were supposed to be good at non-verbal communication, so maybe that’s what was happening.
Or, maybe they’re communicating telepathically?
Don’t be a dick, he told he told Himself, that’s impossible.
As impossible as turning into a huge, snarling beast capable of ripping your throat out?
I see your point. Whatever. Anyway, the silence was the worst part of this.
No, Himself reminded him, it’s the fact that we’re about to die.
To say he was having second thoughts about being here was an understatement. What had happened to his plan to get out, to cover his tracks, run from the vampires, and never look back? That had been an excellent plan. Instead, he’d driven right out of the frying pan and into the fire, presenting himself at the front gate of the Alligator River Werewolf Pack’s secret compound.
What had he been thinking? He was lucky they hadn’t torn him apart on the spot.
They probably want to make it a slow, agonizing death, Himself interjected.
Before Luke could answer himself, the security guys suddenly stood at attention.
Something’s up.
Sure enough, the door swung open, and Clifford Crane swept through followed by Nicole Black and – Luke hadn’t expected this – the tall Chinese werewolf who’d visited the club in Ocracoke the day before.
Was Crane’s army going international?
Good, he thought, the more, the merrier. Maybe the wolves would be able to exterminate the vampires. Just don’t kill me first.
Crane’s gaze fell on Luke immediately, but before the werewolf leader said anything his attention was diverted by something Luke didn’t see. Both Crane and Nicole looked for a moment at the one who’d brought Luke in from the front gate. (The guy hadn’t offered a name, but he’d seemed to be in charge, and Luke figured he was the head of security, or something.) Crane looked in Luke’s direction, sniffed the air, nodded, and turned back to the man.
Still think they’re not communicating telepathically? It was Himself again.
Crane walked over to where Luke sat and extended his hand. “Luke Saunders, is it? I’m Clifford Crane.”
Luke stood. Several of the men stepped forward threateningly, but Crane waved them off. Luke cautiously took the proffered hand. Crane’s grip was firm, dry and…calming? Luke could have sworn his blood pressure just dropped a notch.
A puzzled look crossed Crane’s features as they shook. “I’m sorry, Mr. Saunders, but I don’t recall…have we met before? At a meeting, or something?”
Luke withdrew his hand and cleared his throat. “Luke,” he corrected, which brought a smile and a nod from Crane. He took a deep breath, plunged his hands into his back pockets, and sighed. “I’m not really a Friend of Bill’s,” he said. “My father was, though. I just thought it’d be the best way to say, ‘I come in peace.’ Actually, I work for…” He held up a hand. “…used to, that is…Roland Trudeau.”
There were a few growls in the room. Crane rolled his eyes and looked around. “Come on, guys,” he murmured. The others fell silent. “Go on,” he said to Luke.
Luke swallowed. Strangely, although he figured he was even closer to his imminent death, his mouth was no longer dry. “I just now quit,” he elaborated. “Trudeau doesn’t know it, yet. He’ll try to kill me when he finds out.”
“Try?”
Luke wasn’t sure who’d said it. He looked around, but couldn’t locate the source. He turned back to Crane. “Well, yeah, most likely he will kill me, but…shit.” The pressure behind his eyeballs – unshed tears - caused him to lose his voice for a moment.
Crane motioned for him to sit, and Luke plopped back down in his chair with a sigh. Crane pulled a chair up to the table opposite him. “Luke,” he said softly, “no vampire can touch you here. You’re safe.”
“Safe? Really? You haven’t heard what I have to say.”
“Shit,” Crane muttered, then louder, “Don’t worry, you’re safe from us, too.” He looked at Head-of-Security. “Right?”
“If you say so, sir,” grumbled the big man.
“I do,” said Crane. He turned back to Luke. “Go on,” he said, “tell us.”
Luke looked around nervously. “Man, I’m not sure where to begin. Look, I can’t blame you for being pissed, but I swear to God I didn’t see this coming. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.”
Crane just nodded.
“Right. Okay. I’m a…was a…still am, I guess…a PI…private investigator? Had a nice, low-key service operating out of Durham for almost ten years. Not getting rich by any means, mind you, but built up a pretty good rep. Anyway, this guy shows up one day. Says he represents a group of investors in Charlotte who are looking into opportunities in the Uwharries. Gives me a list of names, folks living in and around Troy. Wants to know as much about them as I can find out, what connections they might have with each other, what they do together, etcetera. He’s heard I’m from the area – I am, by the way, grew up there - and he figures I’d be a good choice for the job.
“And he offers cash, too. Lots of it. Should’ve raised a red flag, but like I said, I’m not getting rich, so…” He sighed, looking around at the others. “Don’t worry, I’ll get to the point soon.”
He turned back to Crane. “The Feltons are on the list, which makes sense, since they own a lot of land around there. So is “J.B.” Covington, who has the Ford dealership, so I figure this is all about money. But some of the other names, the Blacks, the Lamelles, the Barnes, the Olenas, they don’t necessarily fit the profile.”
Crane nodded.
“But, it’s weird. There is a connection. And the more I dig, the more I find. And when I give my first report to this ‘representative,’ he tells me his boss wants to discuss my findings in person. So, he sets up a meet.”
Luke took another breath. “This boss turns out to be Roland Trudeau, who offers me a long-term contract to work for him exclusively. Again, it’s too good to be true, but I accept. I mean, I didn’t think twice about it; the guy’s so persuasive. Only later do I start to understand how he got to me so easy.”
There were grunts from a few in the room. Crane nodded again.

“It was after I signed the contract that he starts feeding me this story about a…a pack of werewolves. I…I actually laughed in his face.” Luke stared inwardly as he recalled the event. He emitted a nervous chuckle. “Haven’t done that since.”
He leveled his gaze at Crane. “He showed me who…what he was, then. Made it clear what the consequences would be if I broke my contract.”
“Which you’re doing now,” Crane interrupted, “out of desperation, I assume.”
“Oh, I’m way past that point.” Again the nervous chuckle. “Mr. Crane…”
“Cliff.”
“Right, uh…Cliff, I’m not one to take sides. You have to be nonpartisan in my profession.” He threw up his hands. “And, God knows, I don’t want to get in the middle of what’s going on between you two…groups.” He swallowed. “But I can’t be a party to the things Trudeau is doing anymore. No amount of money…even my life…is worth helping him to…to… Cliff, he’s got Grady Rush, and…”
Clifford groaned, propped his elbow on the table, and rubbed his forehead into his palm. Nicole gasped, “Oh, Cliff!”
Luke turned to her. “Ms. Black, he’s got Janine Unger, too. And her husband. And…her two little girls.”
Before he could blink, she’d crossed the room and was right in his face. “Where?” she demanded. “Are they okay?”
“Depends what you mean by ‘okay.’”
She grabbed him by the shirt and literally jerked him out of the chair. “Tell me where they are,” she growled.
I’m gonna die now, thought Luke. Surprised I made it this far, really. Jesus, the little slip of a girl was strong. And the thing inside her was close to the surface, he could tell. Don’t look her in the eye. Never look them in the eye.
Clifford gripped her arm. “Nicole,” he admonished.
She shook him off, inadvertently letting go of Luke, who grunted as he flopped back in his seat. “He’s got to tell us where they are,” she said. She pointed a finger at Clifford. “And don’t say ‘I told you so,’” she threatened.
“I wouldn’t,” he answered. “Jeez, give me a break. And give him a break, okay?” He indicated Luke. “He’s here to help. Let him.”
She glared at Clifford before taking a step back. “Sorry,” she muttered, in Luke’s direction.
“It…it’s okay,” said Luke. I’m still alive. He could feel himself shaking as the adrenaline rush subsided. “I understand how you feel. Well, not exactly how you feel, since…I mean…you’re a…and I can’t imagine what that feels like, but I…you know…” Jeez, I’m babbling.
Clifford reached across the table and placed a hand on his arm. Again, that feeling of calm swept over Luke. The shaking stopped. Wow. Luke was sure about it this time. Crane spoke in even tones. “What more can you tell us?”
“They’re alive…unharmed, for the most part.”
“For the most part?”
“Well, he and that vampire chick you used to…uh…ah…be with.”
“Danielle?” Clifford clarified, pretending not to notice the exchanged glances around the room.
“Right, Danielle…Anderson. She and Trudeau are keeping them all sedated on vampire venom. No plans to turn them, as far as I can tell. But Rush and Ms. Unger are addicted, for sure. And Rush is under Danielle’s thrall.”
“So that’s what this is about,” murmured Crane.
“What?”
“Nothing,” said Crane, waving a hand in dismissal. “Go on.”
“Okay. Well, they’re keeping them in the guest house at the mansion in Mathews. I…I think you could get them out.”
“How?”
“Well, security’s pretty tight there, as you know. But, I think Trudeau is away right now.”
Head-of-Security broke in. “You think?
Luke turned to the big man. “Right, I think. He was scheduled to go to Atlanta yesterday. I’m supposed to meet with him tomorrow night, but I don’t think he’s back, yet.” He turned back to Crane. “If you hit the place tomorrow, say, right after dawn?” He looked around. “It wouldn’t be any trouble. Not for you guys.”
“Whoa. Hold on.” It was Head-of-Security again. “It could be a trap. It’s probably a trap, just the kind of thing Trudeau would come up with.”
Crane shook his head. “I’m guessing Danielle’s behind this. She’s probably acting on her own and Roland doesn’t even know about it.” He dug his phone out of his pocket. “I bet if I just give him a call, we can straighten all this out without causing any…”
“No, don’t!” Luke was vehement. “This is all Trudeau’s doing, swear to God. He sent Danielle after Rush, and he took the Unger woman himself.”
“You’re telling the truth,” whispered Clifford, incredulity in his voice. “But, it doesn’t make sense. Why would he…”
“Why doesn’t it make sense?” Head-of-Security interrupted.
“Because Roland’s always been…I mean, I know none of you guys trust him,” Clifford said, looking around, “but he’s actually been pretty helpful in the past.”
“What?” Luke was taken aback. “The dude turned your girlfriend into a vampire, for Christ sake!”
“To save her life, after he rescued her from the Draculata Nest,” Clifford argued. “And it was her choice.”
Luke shook his head. “You never figured that out? Come on, man. Trudeau didn’t rescue Danielle Anderson from shit. I know. I was the one who delivered her to Ms. Black’s house the morning before y’all cleaned out the Draculata Nest,” he said. “The girl had been at his mansion for days. The Draculata Nest never had her, didn’t want her, never even knew she was there.”
“Oh, my god,” gasped Nicole, “That’s why exterminating the entire Draculata Nest had no effect on Danielle. Roland was the one who bit her in the first place!”
Clifford was stunned. His face dropped into his hands. When it came back up, he looked like he’d swallowed something vile. “Damn. I don’t believe it. He…he used her…me…” He looked around the room. “…hell, all of us…” He stared inwardly. “…even Kent? Sacrificed him? Jesus, just so he could become maior of the Queen City Nest?”
“Nuh uh,” said Luke, shaking his head, “that’s not all he wants. The Queen City Nest is just a stepping stone to…I don’t know…bigger things.”
“Bigger things?”
“Yeah. He’s been meeting with other maiors and some…higher-ups, setting himself up as the resident expert on red wolves, and…”
“What higher-ups?”
“I don’t know, but I get the impression they’re badass, ‘cause he’s extra careful dealing with them. He’s afraid of ‘em, I think. But, whatever, he’s got ‘em convinced he’s the best choice to lead this vampire army they’re all putting together.”
An uneasy tension spread through the room, and Luke took note that everyone seemed to take a few steps away from the big Chinese guy, like the dude had passed gas or something. Clifford didn’t seem to notice. Neither did Nicole Black. Curious.
“What’s he want with Grady and Janine?” Clifford speculated. “Obviously not hostages, since he didn’t contact us with demands. Are you sure this isn’t just Danielle’s doing?”
“I’m sure,” said Luke. There was now a note of condescension in his voice. “Spies, man. He wants spies. Danielle’s no good for that now that y’all are…split up, or whatever. So now he’s got Grady Rush in thrall, grilling you about plans to attack Atlanta…”
“Oh, fuck,” Clifford groaned. Indeed, Grady knew as much about the Atlanta campaign as anyone at this point.
“…so I suspect he’s planning the same for Janine Unger eventually, to try and get information out of Ms. Black.”
“We have to get them out of there, Cliff,” Nicole said.
Head-of-Security was emphatic. “It’s a trap, sir.”
“I don’t think so,” argued Clifford. “Luke here’s obviously telling the truth.”
“He believes he’s telling the truth,” Head-of-Security clarified.
Luke felt a rising panic. Fuck. He hadn’t considered the possibility that Trudeau might have set him up, that he might have sent him into the wolves’ den with some post-hypnotic suggestion or something. He wouldn’t put it past the blood sucker. “You think I might be in Trudeau’s thrall, too?”
“Are you?” asked Head-of-Security.
“I…I don’t…I didn’t think so,” Luke stammered. He straightened as an idea occurred to him. “But we can find out, can’t we?” He looked at Clifford and swallowed with determination. “Just do to me whatever you did to those chicks at the Davy Jones in Ocracoke. You did do something, right? Do it to me.”
“He shouldn’t have to,” said Nicole. “He’s already touched you. That’s all it takes.”
“No shit?” Luke’s eyes went wide. He looked at Cliff. “Is that all?”
Clifford nodded, shrugged.
Luke looked at his right hand. “I felt something, when we shook, and then again just now, when you touched my arm. Damn, that’s incredible! And, it means you can really help them…those two little girls. You have to go save them.” His shoulders sagged. “Except…”
“…except, it’s a trap,” Head-of-Security finished for him.
“Yeah, it could be,” admitted Luke.
Clifford shook his head. “We don’t know that.”
“The hell we don’t,” Head-of-Security insisted.
“We have to do something,” Nicole said. “And we have the advantage of knowing it’s a trap.”
“That’s an advantage?”
“It has to be some advantage. Cliff, we need to get them out of there. Cliff?”
Clifford’s face was buried in his hands again. He looked up. “What?”

Well, that’s probably more than enough, for now. If you want to read the rest of the scene, by all means, click on one of the links in the My Books tab, and purchase a copy. But remember, I’m having a massive giveaway on Amazon soon for Kindle users, so if you want to save $2.99, you can wait a few weeks.
        Meanwhile, happy reading!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Unfinished Series Series, Vol III

   Okay, one more rant and I’ll drop the subject, I promise. But, really, don’t you just hate picking up a new book touted as first in a series, and you really, really like it, and then when you finish you find the next book has yet to be written?
   I do.
   I can’t stand it. Now, I’m hooked, and maybe there’s not even a clue when the next book will be available. Plus, the wait-read cycle could repeat itself over quite a few years. It takes time to write, edit and publish a book. Even the most prolific writers can’t fulfill the need I have for instant gratification once I’ve become a fan.
   The series I’m most anxious about at the moment is a delightful dystopian/sci fi offering by my favorite paranormal author, Richelle Mead.

   We all know Mead from her popular YA novels that sprung from Vampire Academy and its spinoff, Bloodlines. If you’re lucky, you’ve read her debut adult series featuring the reluctant succubus, Georgina Kincaid.

   Mead has become a master at putting together a tight, six-novel series that features a feisty heroine you’re guaranteed to fall in love with, surrounded by a supporting cast of interesting friends, lovers, vampires, demons, etc. They’re fast-paced and written mostly in first person from the perspective of the single main character.

   But, in the midst getting out the last few Bloodlines novels, Richelle snuck in a couple of gems, Gameboard of the Gods and The Immortal Crown, the first two in a series she’s named, the Age of X.
   Age of X represents a definite departure from the norm for Mead. She’s abandoned the first person, single character POV for a third-person narrative, and the perspective flips back and forth among three main characters. Mae and Justin have all the depth and breadth you need in adult protagonists, and even the culture-shocked teen genius, Tessa, has enough baggage in her short past to balance the scales of the multiple plot lines.

Gameboard of the Gods (June,2013)

The Immortal Crown (May,2014)



   I love these books. I love the post-apocalyptic world Mead has created for the backdrop. I love the eclectic palette of dystopian societies she uses to color the stories. I love that she’s created a series that allows her to indulge her love of world religions and cultural mythologies, bringing in the gods themselves as characters.
   What I don’t love is that, although it was only twelve months between publication of the first two books, it’s now been fifteen months since The Immortal Crown, and we haven’t a clue when The Eye of Andromeda will be out. I check Richelle’s website regularly, and the answer to that burning question has been for a while, and still remains, “Release Date TBA.”
   Arrrgh! I want it now!
   Life is so hard, isn't it?

   Hey, if you want to get hooked on an unfinished series yourself, check out the My Books tab at the top of my blog. Happy reading!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Unfinished Series Series, Vol II


So, I’m continuing my complaint about getting hooked on a series of books that hasn’t been finished yet. Can you relate? I mean, it really sucks to read that book (and maybe there’s even a cliffhanger ending), and you’re ready to find out what happens next, but you know it’ll be at least a year until you can find out.
Ugh. Life is so hard.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by growing up with TV. The longest I’ve ever had to wait to watch the next episode of a show is maybe three months over the summer, waiting for a new season to begin. It’s different with books. Very few authors crank out a whole novel in three months. It took me nine months to finish my first, almost two years for my third.
Case in point…

Like many others, I discovered J.K. Rowland’s Harry Potter books when only three of the eventual seven had been published. By the time the final book was out, my infant son had grown up to be reading them himself, there were movies made and planned for, and a whole pop culture grown up around the phenomenon. I stood in lines at book stores and paid way over top dollar for hardback copies of the last three, which, had I been able to wait a few years to read, could have purchased the whole series for my Kindle at a fraction of the cost.
It’s not fair.
Well, here’s another one… Australian author Kristy Berridge’s unfinished series featuring the sassy, headstrong vampire/werewolf hybrid teen, Elena Manory. I stumbled onto The Hunted back in early 2012. I impatiently drummed my fingers for about a year waiting for the Kindle edition of The Damned to come available in the States. Then, I twiddled my thumbs in exasperation while the author went out on a tangent writing Diary of a Teenage Zombie before I was able to download a copy of The Aligned a few months ago.
Here’s the problem. The books are gooooood. And I have no earthly idea when the next one’s coming. Check ‘em out…


The Hunted (from March, 2012)

I became aware of this author through several Facebook groups, where her posts caught my attention as occasionally witty. I likewise found her blog posts enjoyable, but was hesitant to purchase this paperback because of the hefty price tag. I couldn't bring myself to pay over $18, but I jumped at the chance to get it for half that when it finally became available for Kindle.
  I wasn't disappointed. Berridge has created an interesting universe with some unique twists on the origins, traits, and capabilities of her vampires and werewolves. The book is generally well-written. It was easy to immerse myself in nearly every scene, and there is lots of action. By the time I was two-thirds through the book, I found myself unable to put it down - one of those ones I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finishing.
  Several things prevented me from giving it five stars, however. I did not find the main character particularly likeable, nor the inevitably hunky vampire love interest. And the propensity for Berridge to dump pages of backstory upon the reader at inconvenient times also put me off. The preface and the first chapter contain enough background information to spread over several novels, and Berridge chooses to reveal much of it while her character muses between steps as she stalks two werewolves in the opening scene, which effectively kills the suspense.
  Despite those few drawbacks, The Hunted was a good read and I plan to read the next in the series, at the right price. My rating? Four stars.

 

The Damned (August, 2013)
I lost patience somewhere over the 16 months I had to wait for this sequel to The Hunted to be ready for my Kindle. And now it’s even worse, because now I have no idea how long it will be before the third book is available and I can find out how Elena’s going to get herself out of… Oh, wait. No spoilers here!
The Damned is a great second offering in this series. It starts with the introduction of a new villain and a brief warm-up/update of what’s been going on since the last book, then takes off with non-stop action until the final page. Elena has matured some over the last six months, but not enough to keep her out of immediate trouble as she tries to keep her family safe by leaving home and placing herself in the custody of the Protectors in Bucharest.
“Custody’ turns out to be the operative word, because she quickly realizes that, instead of being protected, she is actually a prisoner. She manages to exacerbate the situation further by alienating almost everyone with her snarky attitude and sarcastic comments. To make things worse, everyone is out for her blood… literally.
I was intrigued with how the story expanded in this book, in which more of the secret of Elena’s origins are revealed and some older, more powerful characters are introduced. Of course, there are more gorgeous, hunky male vampires (a necessary evil in these types of novels, I suppose) to create plenty of sexual tension, which makes for nice reading but emerges as a theme I’m sure will be more explored as Elena approaches her eighteenth birthday, where I bet the excrement will really hit the fan.
I was also happy to see that Elena’s brother, Lucas, remains in the picture and that he will obviously play a larger role in the saga as they both deal with the ultimate betrayal. And I’m hoping there will be more of Lucius, a character I particularly bonded with, to come in the third book.
Which brings me to the final negative aspect of this whole thing. I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy, and I anticipate a long wait for book three. That’s not fair, because I’m ready now. Oh, well. Kudos to Ms. Berridge on this one and a resounding five stars.


The Aligned
(April, 2015)
I’m not complaining (Okay, yes, I am), but I had to wait nearly two years between the release of The Damned and The Aligned, the third novel in Kristy Berridge’s Hunted series. Now, after devouring the latest installment in the saga of the werewolf-vampire hybrid, Elena Manory, I’m already chomping at the bit, ready for another.
It’s problematic reviewing this book, because although there is plenty of everything I love in a middle-of-the-series novel – non-stop action, sexual tension, behind-the-scenes characters revealed, and emerging powers…uh…emerging, I can’t think of a way to elaborate on any of it without creating spoilers.
Suffice it to say, you should read this entire series. If you haven’t already, go back and get The Hunted and The Damned. Afterwards, get The Aligned as fast as you can. Then, sit back and chew on your nails with me until the fourth book is out!

Here’s an interview with the author I found on YouTube…



And, if you really want to get hooked on an unfinished series, check out the MY BOOKS tab at the top of my blog. It’ll probably be another year before Rivers of Red is out.

Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Unfinished Series Series, Vol I

   I’ve been in love with books written in a series for as long as I’ve been a reader. Beginning with L. Frank Baum’s Oz books as a child, through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan series or Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy as a “tween,” all the way through Richelle Mead’s Succubus books and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels in my later years, I’ve relished finding multiple novels by an author that follow the same character, sets of characters, or an imagined universe, over time. I relish closing the cover on one book and opening another into that same wonderful universe right away.
   But, it’s a mixed blessing finding a great book that turns out to be the first in a series, getting hooked on the characters, the premise, or the background story, and then finding out the sequel has yet to be written. That’s a huge disappointment for me as a reader.
   Now, as an author of my own series, I’m getting to experience the anxiety from the other side of the coin. Along with every compliment I get from readers of my Red Wolf Saga the question that follows is, “How soon until the next one’s ready?”
   The reader in me winces. I want to tell people to wait and read my books when the series is finished. Hey, the price might even come down a little.
   But, I can’t do that!
   Instead, I’m going to pay homage to some other authors who have some great unfinished series in the works. I call it my Unfinished Series Series. It won’t solve the problem, but the pain should be lessened through commiseration with reader and writer alike.
   So, where to start?
   I know!
   A few weeks ago, I woke up to the following Facebook post:
   “You haven’t truly lived until you’ve considered whether or not you should give a chicken an enema.”

   That post could only come from the mind and keyboard of Red Tash, author of the delightful Trollogy, A Fairy Wicked Tale. The “trollogy” is a coming-of-age story as much as a dark fantasy, and follows the character of Roller Deb as she comes to terms with growing up issues such as her sexuality, her obsession with skating, and her heritage as a fairy warrior.
   Red Tash gets points not only for being a great writer who publishes under various names across a number of genres, but also for one of the most clever series of titles I’ve ever run across:
   Book 1: Troll or Derby
   Book 2: Troll or Park
   Book 3: Troll or Trash
   Get it? Ain’t it great?
   Yeah, it is, except for the fact that only the first two have been published. My reviews of those follow. I loved them. I recommend them highly. And, I welcome you to join the rest of us who are waiting impatiently for the final episode.

   Troll or Derby is Paranormal Americana at its best. It starts out at a dead run as teenaged Roller Deb rescues her older sister from a meth lab fire and the pace only increases from there. Ms. Tash is a former journalist, and it shows. There is not a wasted word in the whole story. There’s no time for background explanations or character development. You need to keep your head up and your eyes and ears open and get ready to duck ‘cause the next thing’s coming at you already. Yet somehow, amidst all the chaos, I came to know the characters and their world pretty well by the end of the book and am eagerly awaiting the sequel.
   This is an action book and to describe any more of it would risk spoiling something for the reader. But aside from the pace there were two particular things I liked about the book that bear mentioning. The first is the author’s talent for saying a lot in few words. Here’s an example, where Deb sums up her relationship with the evil April, “My heart both longed for her and ached for its own stupidity, at the same time.” Man, it would have taken me half a chapter to say that!
  The other thing I liked about the book was the very natural, off-hand treatment of Deb’s sexual orientation. It’s an important element of the story, but at no point does it become the central theme. This is the way it should be, and in my opinion does more for gay rights than any amount of preaching from the soap box, which I’ve done more of in the last sentence than Tash does in the whole book.
  I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more roller derby action, something I was expecting from the title, but that was not enough to keep me from giving Troll or Derby five stars. And the author has promised us more derby action in the upcoming sequel, Troll or Park. Dollar-for-word, this is the best thing I’ve read all year.
   The second book in the trilogy (excuse me, trollogy) involving Roller Deb, Harlow, and the various supernatural creatures living among the loveable rednecks of Laurents County, is finally out, and it was worth the wait.
   Just like Troll or Derby, Red Tash opens Troll or Park with a bang. Whereas the first book had Deb rescuing her sister from a meth lab fire, this one has her deflecting an angry mob from going after her well-meaning friend Derek, who has accidentally burned down the Legion Hall with a fireworks display gone awry.
   But that’s just a wake up and warm up to the non-stop action to follow. Deb must fight off evil fairy witches, dragons, and usurpers to the local Troll throne while simultaneously dealing with feelings for Harlow, the troll she may or may not be falling in love with, who is currently in the thrall of a seductive female troll who has him addicted to a mysterious honey concoction that seems to have magical origins.
   Not wishing to address her feelings about Harlow, Deb attempts to lose herself in her first love, the Derby. She joins a roller derby team and heads to Las Vegas for a very special tournament. But, her attempted escape turns out to be a trap. Powerful forces are at work in the world of the Fae, and some of them look on Deb as the key to success for their nefarious schemes.
   Red Tash, an excellent writer across a number of genres, has the ability to create characters, no matter how unlikely, that draw you into their world. I’ve come to love Roller Deb, and I can’t help but root for her and Harlow. Red’s writing style will delight you. I can’t wait for the final book. Five stars.