Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: Nocturnal Origins (Page 1 of 3)

Six Years

I don’t usually look at the “memories” Facebook seems to be putting at the top of my feed each day of late. But today’s caught my attention. It was six years ago today Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1) was first offered for sale. Back then, it was only my second book published. Since then, there have been other books, including three others in the Nocturnal Lives series as well as a novella set in the same universe. There have been other books as well and other series but it is Mackenzie Santos and friends that keep calling me back. So much so that I had to stop a couple of weeks ago and get down the first quarter or so of Nocturnal Rebellion, the next book in the series. I’m looking forward to getting back to it once I finish the final edits on Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2).

If you enjoy urban fantasy and police procedurals, please give Origins a look. Thanks!

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

Halloween Reads

Halloween is just around the corner and whether your taste in reading runs to the truly scary, funny scary or something in between, there are a number of books out there for you. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be highlighting some books I’ve enjoyed as well as some of my own books (I know, but a writer’s got to promote).

First up are a couple of books by Kate Paulk.

ConVent (The Vampire Con Series Book 1)

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

Impaler

Impaler by Kate Paulk revisits the tale of Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. This is the tale of historical fact mixed with fiction and a touch of fantasy. But this is most definitely not the tired tale of vampires skulking in the night, lying in wait for innocent victims. Impaler tells the tale of a man devoted to family and country, cursed and looking for redemption. December, 1476. The only man feared by the all-conquering Ottoman Sultan battles to reclaim his throne. If he falls all of Europe lies open to the Ottoman armies. If he succeeds… His army is outnumbered and outclassed, his country is tiny, and he is haunted by a terrible curse. But Vlad Draculea will risk everything on one almost impossible chance to free his people from the hated Ottoman Empire.

Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1)origins cover

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1)

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

When a book becomes a series — Nocturnal Lives

Yesterday, I started a series of posts on how I wound up writing four different series at once. It wasn’t something I did by plan. It just happened. You see, my muse is an evil creature who likes to torment me by enticing me with one book and then, as that book nears its end, letting me know that it really is just the beginning. The first time it happened, I figured it was a fluke. Boy was I wrong.

The first time it happened was with Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1). That book was born out of the desire to write a police procedural/mystery but with a supernatural element to it. Unlike so many urban fantasies and paranormal romances, the existence of shapeshifters was not known to the public-at-large. The main character, Mackenzie Santos, thought they were nothing more than things of bad Hollywood movies. Even after she is attacked one night and “died”, only to wake up in the morgue several hours later — almost scaring the poor morgue attendant to death in the process — she didn’t think she was anything more than lucky. Then, when she started waking in locations different from where she went to sleep, and without any clothes on, she wondered if she was losing her mind. Even when she realizes that she is turning furry and there are others like her, she’s not completely sure it isn’t all some madness induce nightmare.

But through it all, she has a duty to perform. A serial killer is hunting on the streets of Dallas and it’s her job to find him before he can kill again. When that serial killer turns out to be another shapeshifter, well, life just go real.

When I first finished Origins, indie publishing hadn’t really taken off. So I went the way so many authors have over the years. I sent it off to agents and publishers. There were the usual rejections. They hurt. No one likes hearing their baby isn’t beloved by all. But there were others who were interested. However, they always had something they wanted done to the book, something I wasn’t willing to do. One wanted more sex. Even then, this particular editor felt that if you had a shapeshifter, sex had to play a prominent role in the book, whether it progressed the plot or not. It didn’t matter that Mac had more than enough on her plate just trying to come to terms with what she had become. The last thing she needed just then was to get involved with someone. Another editor wanted me to completely rewrite the book, going from third person limited to first person point of view. Everything else was just fine. All I had to do was make that one “minor” change. Not only no but hell no because there was no guarantee of a contract after making such a drastic change.

Long story short, I brought Origins out with a small press and later, when the rights reverted back to me, I re-released it. Not once have I regretted those decisions.

However, once Origins was finished and I started trying to shop it around, I realized that Mac’s story was far from over. All I had done woith Origins was bring her to the point where she was beginning to accept what she was. But there were a number of questions raised in it that still needed to be explored and answered. That’s how Nocturnal Serenade (Nocturnal Lives Book 2) was born.

Yes, it was still a police procedural. There were still crimes to be investigated and solved. But also introduced Mac’s mother and grandmother, both of whom have a great deal to explain — like why they never told Mac she came from a long line of shapeshifters. This book also gave more of an insight into pride dynamics. In other words, Mac’s world was expanding and that, in and of itself, needed to be told.

Along about this same time, I wrote a novella using Mac and company. While their shifter natures were mentioned and they were able to use some of their enhanced senses, the focus of the story was the crime and solving it. I wanted to see if I could write a police procedural without relying on Mac changing into a jaguar to take down the bad guy. Nocturnal Haunts (Nocturnal Lives) was that novella. It may, at some point in the future, be expanded into a full novel but I’m not sure.

Mac wasn’t done, not by a long shot. One of the main points Mac made in both Origins and Serenade was that their kind had to be more careful now than ever before. In this day and age of smartphones and Youtube and security cameras everywhere, one slip was all it would take for their secret to get out. Add to that the advances in forensics and, sooner rather than later, someone would realize shifters existed. That meant they had to be prepared. Would they allow themselves to become the victims of a modern day witch hunt or would they start preparing the way for them to reveal themselves under their own terms and in such a way a panic didn’t result?

Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives Book 3) begins to answer those questions. What neither she nor those closest to her know is that a group of shifters has already started making those inroads. Unfortunately, there is another group with another goal in mind. When their kind goes public, they want it to be in such a way that shifters become the predominate species. That puts the two groups on a crash course and Mac finds herself smack in the middle.

As with the other books in the series, there is a crime to solve. Only this one hits closer to home than ever. At a time when Mac should be celebrating one of the happiest times of her life, she returns home from a well-deserved vacation to discover that her partner and best friend has been abducted. Worse, Pat is only one of several, most of whom Mac knows, who have gone missing while she was gone. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then discovers that her own squad had been ordered not to tell her what happened. Needless to say, Mac is not happy and she is soon digging into what happened.

By the end of the book, she knows more about the two sides than she ever wanted. She also has to make a choice, one that will impact not only herself but those closest to her. She can choose to do what she has advocated all along, that the shifters find a way to ease their way into the public eye or she can sit back and go along with the powers that be. The former is, in her mind, not only the right thing to do but the smart thing. However, it also is a step that doesn’t just toe the line of shifter law but steps over it. But the other would seal the death warrants on an untold number of both shifters and normals. That’s something she can’t do.

Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4) is the latest book in the series. It continues the conflict set up in Interlude. Choices are made and there can be no going back. Even as she knows she is doing the only thing she can and still live with herself, Mac wishes things could go back to the way they were before that fateful night of her birthday celebration when she’d been attacked. A nice murder without any sort of supernatural element to it would be great. That’s especially true when it comes to the politics of the job. Screw up there and she could get fired. But screw up shifter politics and she could die.

If Interlude hit close to home, Challenge walks through the door and sets up house. Even as Mac and the others wait to see if Pat and the others who had been kidnapped will survive the injuries inflicted on them by their captors, Mac is faced with trying to keep her family safe. That includes her younger brother and sister. Like their mother, they have not shifted and they don’t really understand the danger they all face. Thinking she knows better than her older sister, mother and grandmother, Abby leaves the safe house and falls into the hands of the enemy. Let’s just say a pissed off big sister who also happens to shift into a jaguar isn’t someone to mess with.

There will be at least one more book in the series. The plot is already talking to me. It is my hope to have it out by the end of the year but it may be the first quarter of next year. In the meantime, the other books are available in digital format from Amazon, with no additional drm added, and can be ordered in print format from most booksellers (note: the last two titles will be available later this month in print format).

Endings and beginnings

coverThose of you who follow this blog know that I published Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) this week. Usually, once a book goes live, I give myself at least a couple of days — and preferably a week — to decompress and get my head into the next book in the queue. This time, I haven’t had that luxury. Myrtle the Muse is an evil Muse and she loves to make my life interesting. Add to that Spring in Texas which means storms and the first of what will most likely not be mornings when I wake up to find one of the bedrooms and bathrooms flooded.

The flood is actually the easiest to deal with. Pre-coffee this morning, I had moved furniture, pulled back carpet and padding — making the decision that when it comes time to replace the carpet, something else is going down because this got old years ago — and setting up the fans to run after wet vaccing the area. Once the area is somewhat dry, I’ll be pulling the wooden “floor” of the built-in clothes hamper to make sure no water is standing under it. Then I’ll pull baseboards and start the dry, seal and paint for them. Oh, and then there is the window that has to be checked for leaks and the windowsill to be stripped, sealed, painted and sealed again. Since I know what usually happens when I get this detailed with the work, it will wind up with the bedroom, dressing room and bath being repainted as well.

Oh, and let’s not forget about pulling up and replacing the tack strips for the carpet.

Yep, wood floors or even just sanding and sealing and staining the slab is looking better and better.

Now, all that is doable and, frankly, welcome because I do most of my best plotting when doing physical labor.

Myrtle the Muse, on the other hand, is the problem. I had gotten a very good start on Nocturnal Challenge. Almost 15,000 words done in a day and a half. The voice was there. The plot was there. I was excited to see what was in store next for Mac and company.

And then Myrtle reared her twisted muse head and everything came to a screeching stop — again. Why? Because Myrtle decided I needed to go straight into Dagger of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). When I tried telling her that I needed to finish both Challenge and Honor from Ashes, she smiled and crossed her arms and shook her head. Nope. She wasn’t going to let me. No how and no way.

So I argued and begged and pleaded and my evil muse refused to be moved by my tale of readers waiting for their next UF or mil-sf fix. No, I needed to write fantasy and this fantasy in particular. Finally, after more pleading and whining and not a little whinging, she relented just a little. She will let me work on the other projects but only on the weekends. I have to work on Dagger of Elanna during the week.

Then the storms hit last night and I swear Myrtle had something to do with it. There will be no writing for at least most of today and all of tomorrow because of what needs to be done to clean up after the water. Worse, I can see her smiling and there is something she’s muttering about knowing Mother Nature and I’d better get used to not trying to fool with her.

Help! I’ve fallen into a bad remake of an old commercial.

Any way, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Help this beleaguered writer by buying one or more books. I have paint to buy and windows to seal. Oh, and cats to feed. Mustn’t forget the cats.  😉

 

Promotion

(This is a repost of today’s Twisted Writers entry.)

I remember when I was younger, there was a locally owned bookstore that I loved to frequent. The owners were always there. The employees knew the stock and could carry on an intelligent conversation about books. They knew the different genres and could make informed recommendations about what to read. After your first visit or two, when you returned, you would be greeted by name and whoever was on duty at the time would ask if you had read the latest in your favorite genre.

But there was something else about the story that stands out. This little hole in the wall often had well-known authors in for book signings. I didn’t think much about it then but now, as a writer, I do. Back then, I simply appreciated the fact I would get to meet a favorite author and have her sign a book — or three. Now those memories are merely a sign of how things have changed in the publishing industry.

Word of mouth in publishing is just as important, maybe moreso even, than it is in any other industry. You see, when a publisher says it will promote your book, tat doesn’t mean you get to go on a book tour or that you will have TV and radio ads or even print ads. Not unless you have been tapped to be the next Stephen King or you are already a best seller. What it means is there will be the basic information sent to the buyers for bookstores and maybe a few trade ads and reviews. A number of authors I know have had their publishers say they want the author to go on a tour but that it will be on the author’s own dime.

That is one reason why, as an indie author, I tend to smile and shake my head when someone tells me I would get so much more promotion for my work if I went the traditional route. I know better. But it does leave me, and all the others like me, having to find ways to get that word of mouth going. The problem is, I would much rather be writing.

Fortunately, Amazon has offered writers a couple of ways to promote our books. The only catch is that the title has to be exclusively on Amazon for it to qualify. If a title is enrolled in the KDP Select program, those Amazon customers who are members of the Kindle Unlimited program can borrow our books for free. The nice thing about this is, we still get paid as long as the customer reads a certain percentage of our book. The icing on the cake is that some of those customers will turn around and purchase the book, so we get paid twice.

KDP Select also allows us to offer our books for free or put them on what Amazon calls a countdown program for up to five days every three months. While I don’t recommend putting the same titles on sale or for free that often, it is a good promotion tool. It can help spur lagging sales and it can help by allowing you to temporarily drop the price of a book when you have a new book in the series coming out.

So now I can hear you asking why I’ve taken time to tell you all this. Well, that’s simple. This is my word of mouth to you. I currently have three books I’m doing a promotional deal on. The deals run through tomorrow. Each of the three are first books in a series. Each series will have new titles coming out between now and the end of the year. Besides, after Tax Day, I figured everyone needed a break  ;-)

HuntedHunted (Hunter’s Moon Book 1)
(Written under the pen name Ellie Ferguson)
Free through Sunday

When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what. Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous?

nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewNocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1)
(Amanda S. Green)
99 cents through Sunday

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

coverforvfaVengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1)
(Written under the pen name Sam Schall)
99 cents through Sunday

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back. Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long. But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Weekend Promotion

I haven’t done a promotion for awhile, so I thought this weekend I would. The first books of each of my three series are available at discounted prices. If you like paranormal romance/suspense, urban fantasy/police procedural or military science fiction, there is something for you.

HuntedHunted (Hunter’s Moon Book 1)
(Written under the pen name Ellie Ferguson)
Free through Sunday

When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what. Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous?

nocturnaloriginscoveralternatenewNocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives Book 1)
(Amanda S. Green)
99 cents through Sunday

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

coverforvfaVengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1)
(Written under the pen name Sam Schall)
99 cents through Sunday

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back. Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long. But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Setting Goals

One of the things I’ve noticed with a lot of writers, myself included, is that all too often we don’t set hard goals for ourselves. We have the best of intentions. We’re going to finish that book or story we’ve been working on. We’re going to submit to X-number of markets and to to Y-number of conventions. Some of us even set word count goals. We’re good about sticking to these for a bit and then, slowly but surely, those goals begin to slip and we fall back into the old habits.

Over the past nine months, I’ve been working hard to set and keep certain writing-related goals. As a result, my productivity has increased and, along with it, my sales. Both are very good things. But it has also been difficult, especially because there have been a number of external forces doing their best to keep me not only from meeting my writing goals but my work goals as well. So the goals sometimes get pushed back — but only temporarily. And, more importantly, now that life seems to finally be getting back to normal (knocks on wood), I can see the light at the end of the tunnel on work goals and that means the writing goals will be able to fall into place as well.

So, what are my writing goals?

I almost hate to put them down because, sure as I do, something is going to happen that will throw a wrench in the works. However, I’ve learned something else the last few months. If I share my goals and let other people help hold me accountable for them, I do tend to get back on track quicker than when it was just me. It’s not quite as easy to procrastinate when people are asking what the status is on a certain project.

My first goal is to finish Hunter’s Pride, the third book in the Hunter’s Moon series written under the Ellie Ferguson pen name. Pride is currently 3/4 finished and should be going out to beta readers and my editor in a week or so. This book is a bit different from the others in the series and that’s made it both more difficult and more fun to write.

After that is the sf/space opera I’ve been snippeting here. My best guess on it is that it is 2/3 finished. Yes, I’m working on them at the same time and, yes, there is some mental whiplash but so far it is working. This particular project is the one that has me scratching my head though. I’m torn between putting it out on my own or through NRP. Another part, the fangirl part, wants to submit it to Baen and take my chances there. So, I’m probably going to ask my mentor and a few others what they think when I finish the rough draft. There are pros and cons to both approaches but, as I’ve said here and on Mad Genius Club many times, Baen is the only traditional publisher I’d consider right now. The others I’m watching to see how they adapt to the change in market.

I estimate the space opera will be finished in another month to six weeks.

After that, I will probably go back to writing something under the pen name. There is a real mental switch I throw between writing as Ellie and writing as myself. (Hey, I’m a writer. I’m allowed to be a bit weird.) Besides, my editor — more precisely, the treasurer for NRP who also happens to be her husband — wants me to do a follow-up to Wedding Bell Blues. WBB was written basically on a dare and has been both the bane and the blessing of my writing life. It proved to me that I can write outside the sf/f genres I had been doing and tossing under my bed for years. It also proved that I could make good money as a writer. But romantic suspense with a touch of humor was a stretch for me when I first did it. However, I know I can do it now. It’s just putting butt in chair and doing it.

The problem comes in with deciding if I want this third book in the year’s goal to a true sequel to WBB or just a “related” book. My gut feeling right now is to make it a “related” book where the lead characters from WBB are walk-ons only and not the main characters in this new work. I even have the first 100 pages or so of something already written than could be adapted. Yes, one of those popcorn kittens might actually find a home with this.

The final book I’d like to finish before the end of the year is the follow-up to Nocturnal Interlude. For one thing, I have already been threatened with bodily harm if I don’t bring the next book out soon. For another, I want to write this book. This whole series has been a project of my heart. It is the one series that, while it sometimes throws me for a loop as I write the books, it isn’t a chore to write. That’s not to say I didn’t fight Interlude more than the other titles in the series. I did. But that was because I didn’t want to follow my gut on it and that is never smart. I’m starting to understand that there are times I just have to trust myself and my muse and quit second-guessing everything as I write.

I can hear some of you thinking I’ve lost my mind. After all, I’m proposing writing somewhere between 300k-400k words this year. When you put it that way, it does appear to be a daunting task. However, when I have a plan and I have a feel for a book, it is very doable. In the last two and a half weeks, I’ve written 57k words on Hunter’s Pride in only a few hours a day.  A lot of it has been written in waiting rooms and other places that aren’t my normal workspace. Then there’s the fact that I am 65k words into the space opera. Those are huge chunks out of my goal already.

More importantly, I’ve discovered that doing this blog daily has helped my word count as well. It is as though it has become the jump start to my day. I can do a 1k word post in half an hour or so — it depends on how many interruptions I have and how often I have to get up to let the dog in/out/in and get more coffee.

So, what is my standard day? I get up, pry the eyes open, check the news — after getting coffee — and then do my post. The next few hours are spent on work for NRP. Then I sit down to write. Around five (sometimes sooner depending on housework needed, errands to run, etc), I stop for the day and spend the evening with family. After everyone goes to bed, I write or edit for another hour or so. I haven’t changed my sleep patterns nor have I given anything up. In fact, I am doing more and getting more accomplished by setting goals and routines.

Here’s crossing my fingers to hope I can keep up with it.

 

Believability

No, I’m not getting into the debate about whether or not an author can create a believable character simply because the author isn’t female or gay or non-white or whatever. No, this is about making sure your characters and their motivations are believable in the world you create in your novel or short story. It started when I was reading a series of reviews on Goodreads about 50 Shades of Grey and it became fodder for the blog when I was reading a book description this morning.

At the risk of insulting a lot of folks out there, let me begin by saying I hated 5o Shades. I found the books poorly written and even more poorly edited. I couldn’t stand the main characters. Worse, I couldn’t believe in them. It wasn’t that Anastasia was still a virgin when she graduated college. No, it was that she could barely use a computer and iPod. She’s sheltered and sexually naive and yet she falls into a relationship with Grey that would have most women running for the hills. As for Grey, well, that man needed to be in intensive therapy for years. Beyond that, as much of an ass as he was portrayed to be, can you really tell me some gossip rag wouldn’t have outed him for what he was years before Ana came into the picture?

In other words, I couldn’t believe their characterizations or motivations.

Then there was the book description I read this morning. It was for an urban fantasy, maybe a paranormal romance. I’m not sure because I didn’t even finish reading the blurb. It was enough to know that the main character is a vampire who, for whatever reasons, is out there hunting down her own kind to protect humans. There’s nothing to allude to the possibility that she does so because she has some honor-bound duty to or even because if vampires are allowed to “breed” unchecked, the humans will soon become extinct and then what will the vamps do for food? No, all we’re told is that she does this and now the vamps and werewolves are looking at forming a truce of sorts and that mustn’t be allowed at all.

So right off the bat, I don’t know what the character’s motivation might be. Without even a hint of what it might be, I don’t want to read the book because it doesn’t make sense. Even in a blurb, there has to be that element of believability to pull your reader in. Just putting in conflict isn’t enough — at least not for me.

That’s an issue I faced when I started writing Nocturnal Origins (and the subsequent books in the series) and then again in Hunted and Hunter’s Duty . I had to figure out how to make the main characters seem like they could exist in our world and yet have these extraordinary things happen to them. With Origins (as well as Nocturnal Serenade and Nocturnal Interlude) it meant finding a way to have Mackenzie Santos realize that her life and her world have been turned upside down and will never be the same again. It isn’t an easy transition for her, especially since it means she finds herself having to find a way to reconcile the “monster” she’s become with her duties as a cop. She wrestles with the possibility that she’s simply losing her mind in the first book. After all, people don’t turn furry on nights of the full moon, at least not without donning a costume. Even after she begins to accept her shapeshifter nature, she has to deal with a sense of betrayal because her family hadn’t warned her. What she doesn’t do is automatically accept and revel in what she is becoming nor does she forsake the oaths she took and still holds dear. Instead, she does her best to find a way to hold true to those oaths without bringing danger to herself or the others like her.

The Hunter’s Moon series is a bit different, hence the pen name, in that it is closer to paranormal romance than straight urban fantasy. The characters in the first two books have been raised knowing they are shapeshifters. They know there are others like themselves. And, as with the Nocturnal Lives series, the world-at-large is unaware of the existence of shapeshifters and that is how the shifters would like it to stay, at least until they find a way to reveal their existence without sparking a war between shifters and normals.

In the Hunter’s Moon series, the challenge has been not to fall into the trap so many authors have when it comes to paranormal romance — my characters having sex just because it’s expected. The books are far from a series of sex scenes being tied together with a little bit of plot. I’ve worked hard to make the main male and female characters be complements of one another. Both are strong, in their own ways, but also have faults and weaknesses. More than that, they have motivations that most of us can understand — the need to keep your word after saying you’d do something, doing your job and duty, protecting those who aren’t able to protect themselves, family duty and honor.

If I can’t believe in a character or her motivation, I’m not going to enjoy the book. So, if you have a vampire out there killing her own kind, give me a reason. I know why Blade was out there hunting the vamps. It made sense. Don’t give me broken characters with broken motivations that could never exist more than a few days in this world without either breaking down completely or being splashed across the gossip columns for all to see.

Edited to add:

Many thanks to Jason Cordova and the rest of the Shiny Book Review folks for their review of Nocturnal Interlude today.

 

Monday Morning Links

I’m more than a bit under the weather this morning and I do NOT have time for it. I think it’s mainly allergies but right now I want to claw out my eyes, rip out my sinuses and freeze my scratching throat. The result is that I’m not functioning well enough to formulate a coherent post this morning. However, since this is a holiday for those of us in the U.S., I thought I’d post links to some books you might like.

Cedar Sanderson is one of my fellow bloggers at Mad Genius Club. She is also one of the best new voices in fiction that I know of right now.
Pixie Noir

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down…

Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…

“They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”

Another member of the Mad Genius Club is Kate Paulk.


ConVent (The Vampire Con Series)

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

If you like historical fiction or if you are a fan of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, check out Sarah A. Hoyt’s No Will But His.

Kathryn Howard belongs to a wealthy and powerful family, the same family that Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s great love originated from. From a young age, her ambitious relatives maneuver to make her queen. Brought up in a careless manner, ignorant of the ways of the court, Kathryn falls victim to her kind heart, all the while wishing she could be the wife of Thomas Culpepper.

Dave Freer, another of the Mad Geniuses, is one of my favorite authors. He spins wonderful tales and I have never been disappointed by anything he’s written. If you like satire, urban fantasy and detective stories, check out Bolg, PI: The Vampire Bride.

A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.

Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds himself called on undertake paranormal cases: in this case tracing the Vampire bride’s absconded or kidnapped groom.

The groom should have been a troll by the name of Billy Gruff, the manager and owner of the Ricketty-Racketty Club – a topless bar and nightclub. Bolg finds himself, and his client embroiled in murder, extortion and a Celtic wizard. The latter is supposedly helping him, but wizard’s help is not always what it you think it will be.

Finally, there is the self-promo. You knew I couldn’t close without mentioning my own books.

Nocturnal Origins (Nocturnal Lives)
(Book 1)

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

Nocturnal Serenade (Nocturnal Lives) (Book 2)

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Interlude (Nocturnal Lives) (Book 3)

Lt. Mackenzie Santos swears she will never take another vacation again as long as she lives. The moment she returns home, two federal agents are there to take her into custody. Then she finds out her partner, Sgt. Patricia Collins, as well as several others are missing. Several of the missing have connections to law enforcement. All are connected to Mac through one important and very secret fact — they are all shapechangers. Has someone finally discovered that the myths and bad Hollywood movies are actually based on fact or is there something else, something more insidious at work?

Mac finds herself in a race against time not only to save her partner and the others but to discover who was behind their disappearances. As she does, she finds herself dealing with Internal Affairs, dirty cops, the Feds and a possible conspiracy within the shapeshifter community that could not only bring their existence to light but cause a civil war between shifters.

Enjoy and I’ll be back tomorrow!

Friday Snippet

nocturnal interludenewAs I announced Wednesday, Nocturnal Interlude is now available on Amazon as an e-book and will be available in print in a couple of weeks. (YAY!) The book was both a joy and a pain to write. I love the characters, even when I want to hit them over the head, but the plot of this book in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Yes, I did have a general plot in mind when I started it. But that plot quickly went out the window, down the street and over the hill as I began writing.

Fortunately for my continued sanity, Sarah A. Hoyt and Kate Paulk held my hand — metaphorically speaking — and listened as I plotted at them. They have been there throughout the series, helping when needed and more often kicking me when I’d doubt myself too much. So, for their continued support, I offer a huge “thank you” because without them, I’m not sure this book would ever have been finished.

Below is a widget that will take you to the product page for Interlude and, at the bottom of the page, is another widget that you can use to check out all the titles in the Nocturnal Lives series. I’d appreciate it if you’d click on the widgets — and I’d really appreciate it if you’d buy the book. The dog needs kibble and the cat needs more kitty litter — because I do get a bit more that way.

But this is Friday and that means I owe you a snippet. Because Interlude is out, I’m going to start snippeting something I’ve been working on off-and-on for some time and have decided I’m going to go ahead and finish. It’s my first attempt at space opera and this is a very rough draft. For those of you who followed the blog earlier, you may recognize the snippet — I think I’ve posted it before.

***

Chapter One

“Prisoner Four One Niner Baker One-A, prepare for transfer,” a disembodied voice said from the overhead speaker.

Lips pulled back, teeth bared in an animalistic sneer, the prisoner sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. As she stood, she turned away from the cell door. Her hands automatically went behind her head, fingers lacing. Almost without thought, she sank to her knees, legs spread, ankles crossed. Then, realizing what she had just done, she cursed silently, hating herself and those responsible for bringing her to this state.

Two years. Two very long years of Hell had taught her how to act. Her body responded automatically to the commands barked at her. Only when she allowed her mind to surface, to let herself fully experience what was going on around her, did she hesitate. But not this time. There was no reason to disobey, no threat yet to meet.

Those years may have taught her all too painfully how to act, but they hadn’t broken her. Not yet at any rate. But they had come close to it. Two years cut off from those she cared for, from almost all human contact. Stripped of even the most basic of human rights and dignity, she knew she was little more than an animal to break and tame to those in charge. She knew it just as she knew she could do nothing about it.

The soft swoosh of the heavily armored door sliding open broke the silence a few moments later. With her back to the door, she couldn’t see who entered, not that she wanted to. One of the first lessons she’d learned after arriving at the Tarsus military penal colony was not to look. That had been a very painful lesson, one that had landed her in the prison’s infirmary for several days. It was also a mistake she’d never repeated.

That had been one of many lessons she’d been forced to endure since arriving there. With the commandant’s tacit — hell, as far as she knew it was his overt — approval, the guards could be as sadistic as they wanted. Correction for even the most insignificant infraction might take the form of a rifle butt to the ribs or kidney, and that was if she was lucky. If not, the beating that followed would leave her hurting so badly she could barely move. Even then, the guards wouldn’t send her to the infirmary. After all, it was so much more fun to watch her suffer, reminding her that she alone was responsible for what happened.

She swallowed hard, forcing her mind away from past horrors, as boots clomped across the small cell in her direction. A rough hand grabbed her right arm, twisting it painfully behind her back. She flinched as a security cuff was locked tightly around that wrist. Her breath hissed out in quick pain as the process was repeated with her left arm. Moments later, similar restraints were fastened about her ankles. Then a gloved and closed around her left arm and jerked her to her feet.

Guard Captain Gavin Haritos spun her to face him, grinning sadistically. His fist caught her with a vicious backhand. With a sharp cry of pain she staggered back, the short chain connecting her ankles tripping her. Only the man’s quick grab at the front of her jumpsuit kept her from falling. He pulled her forward and, with the ease of much practice, draped a heavy hood over her head before she could react.

Haritos’ cruel grip on her arm kept her on her feet as he hauled her out of her cell and down the long corridor. Blood pounded in her ears, almost deafening her. Fear and hatred raced through her, sparking every fiber of her survival instincts. She knew this was going to be bad, very bad. It always was when the guard captain came for her. But she could do nothing to stop him, at least not yet.

“This is your lucky day, bitch.” Haritos shoved her into one of the three lifts at the end of the corridor and she heard him slam his fist against the control panel. A moment later, the lift gave a slight lurch and she felt the car start downward. “You’re being transferred, Shaw, but that doesn’t mean the rules no longer apply because they do. If you’re smart, you’ll remember those bastards sentenced here with you. Everything you say and do from now on impacts them.”

A soft moan escaped her lips before she could stop it and fear raced like an open current through her. No matter how many times she’d been in this position before, she couldn’t help it. A transfer could mean almost anything, none of it good. Not that she could do anything about it, at least not as long as the survivors of her unit were still on Tarsus.

To her surprise, Haritos said nothing more. That was unusual for him. Whenever he’d come for her before, he’d taken perverse pleasure in detailing what horrors awaited her. The fact he’d gone silent worried her. Could he finally be leading her to her death, despite the fact her sentence was for only five years?

Dear God, what was going to happen?

Haritos remained silent as he forced her off the lift. Doors opened and closed behind them. She didn’t know how to react when, for the first time in months, she felt the sun beating down on her. They were outside. Where were they going?

It hadn’t taken long to find out. Haritos led her up a ramp. The hood might have obscured her sight, but she could hear the muffled sounds of a crew working to prepare a shuttle, maybe even a courier ship, for launch. Haritos pulled her to a halt and told her to stand still. Then he released his hold on her arm and she sensed that he had moved a short distance away. There were muffled voices. Straining to hear, she only caught a few words. Transfer. . . prisoner. . . dangerous. . . .

Dear God, was she actually being transferred out of the Tarsus penal colony?

Hope flared only to die as quickly as it had been born. She had a feeling she was the only prisoner in the staging area. That meant her people, those few who had survived the ambush only to be betrayed by those who should have stood for them, were being left behind. Was that what Haritos meant when he told her to remember them?

No!

Before she could do anything — not that there was much she could do, bound and hooded as she was — Haritos was once more at her side. She stumbled forward as he grabbed her and led her further up the ramp. With one last warning not to be stupid, he’d turned her over to someone else. Flanked on both sides by unseen guards, she was led into another lift. A few minutes later, her restraints were removed and then her hood and she found herself standing in the center of a small cell. She didn’t need to hear the announcement for all hands to prepare for departure to know she was on a ship. But a ship to where?

And what about those who’d been sent to the penal colony with her? Where were they?

Now, two days later, she stood in yet another cell, this one planetside, and fear warred with anger. She’d overheard enough from the guards on the transport to know that her fears were true — the others had been left behind on the penal colony.

That’s when an anger so great it overrode the fear of the unknown had flowed through her. For the first time in two years, she’d been separated from the survivors of her company, those poor, brave souls who had fallowed her into Hell and back only to find themselves brought up on charges right next to her. It didn’t matter that the commandant of the penal colony hadn’t let her see her people. She’d managed to get word of them from time to time and that had been enough to let her know they were all right — or at least as all right as anyone could be on the Tarsus penal colony.

It really was amazing how the prison grapevine managed to keep tabs on everyone and pass along information. It might be inconsistent, but it was there and it had been all that kept her sane. She’d never thought herself a social animal, but two years of rarely seeing anyone but her jailers had been almost more than she could handle. Thank God for the grapevine and the bits of information it brought her.

During transport from the penal colony, no one had told her anything. She’d been held in the transport ship’s brig. A guard brought her food and drink at regular intervals but he never said anything that wasn’t necessary. He certainly hadn’t volunteered any information. Still, she’d managed to work out that she was alone in the brig by the way his steps never stopped before he appeared at her cell door and she never heard anyone else trying to make contact.

She’d just noticed the slightest change in the rhythm of the ship’s engines, indicating it had assumed orbit somewhere, when another guard arrived with a change of clothes for her. She’d looked at the plain black jumpsuit with suspicious eyes. Nothing about it marked her as a prisoner, but nothing about the guards indicated she was about to be freed either. That had been the closest she’d come to breaking her own rule of “never ask a question you don’t know the answer to”.

Half an hour later, she’d been seated on a shuttle. The guards had secured her hands behind her back but they hadn’t hooded her. They obviously weren’t worried about her recognizing where she was. Of course, the only way she could do that was if she could actually see something of the lay of the land. So she’d craned her neck in an effort to see into the shuttle’s cockpit. One corner of her mouth lifted ever so slightly at the sight of the high rises ahead of them. Her heart beat a bit faster as she recognized the skyline of Fuercon’s capital city. New Kilrain. She was home. But why?

Now, after being processed back into the same military brig where she’d been held during her trial, she still didn’t know why she’d been brought back home. It couldn’t be good. They may have taken away her prison issued jumpsuit, but she’d still been brought there shackled and had been processed into the brig as quickly as humanly possible. It had almost been as if they were afraid word of her return might leak out. But why?

Damn it, what was going on?

Of course, there’d been no explanation, not that she’d asked. She’d learned very quickly after her conviction not to ask about anything. Too much talking, too much curiosity was a bad thing that often resulted in punishment, usually of the painful kind. Not that that sort of thing was officially sanctioned. But that didn’t stop it. After all, who policed the jailers? No one, at least not on Tarsus.

Fortunately, she’d heard the horror stories before arriving at the penal colony. That had helped prepare her for what she’d face. Still, it had been a shock the first time one of the guards beat her down for asking what would have been a simple question on the outside. That had been enough to convince her to keep her mouth shut. That wasn’t to say there weren’t times when circumstances forced her to break that rule and she bore scars as a result. All she wanted now was to get through her prison term. Survival was the first goal. Vengeance would come later. Not for her, but for those who’d followed her despite her protests and who had paid the ultimate price as a result.

Now, freed of her restraints and alone in her new cell, she looked around. One cell was pretty much like any other. Across from the door was a narrow bunk. Hygiene facilities were at the foot of the bunk. Exactly like her cell back on Tarsus. Nothing she could use to escape and nothing she could use to kill herself, not that she planned on that. At least not anymore. No, there were others that needed to die before she did.

“Prisoner is secured,” the guard who’d brought her to the cell radioed as he stepped back.

Ashlyn Shaw, former Marine captain, didn’t move. Instead, she stood in the center of the small cell, her brown eyes focused on some point beyond the guard, her hands behind her back even though the restraints had been removed. As the security field across the cell door activated, she gave no sign of realizing it even though the faint, high pitched hum was something she’d learned to listen for over the last two years. That sound, like a distant bunch of angry bees, meant she’d fry her nervous system long before pushing through the field. Freedom might look close, but she’d be dead — or worse — before she actually found it.

At least they didn’t close the physical door. For the first time in what had to be months, she could look beyond the confines of her cell. Of course, this wasn’t the same cell she’d occupied since her conviction. Hell, this wasn’t even the same planet.

As the guard disappeared from sight, she continued to stand there. She listened, counting as his footsteps slowly faded. When she’d been escorted to the cell, she had focused on what was directly in front of her. She had not wanted to give the guards on duty the satisfaction of seeing her look around in curiosity. Now, with only silence filling the air, she allowed herself to relax a little and her thoughts once more drifted back to the events leading up to her transfer

Once convinced the guard was gone, she moved to the door, careful not to get too close to the security field. Looking down the corridor, she couldn’t tell how far away he might be. All she knew for certain was that her cell was located at the end of the corridor, the door situated so she couldn’t see much beyond the far edge of the cell. So there might be any number of other prisoners close by but, for all intents and purposes, she was alone — again.

That was fine. Alone meant fewer chances for anyone to figure out what she planned. But it also meant she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let them guess what she had in mind. So she lay on her bunk, her back to the doorway. She wouldn’t let those she knew were watching over security monitors see her curiosity or her concern. More importantly, she wouldn’t let them see her planning. This was as close to home as she was likely to get in a very long while. If the opportunity to escape presented itself, she’d take it and be damned with waiting on the military courts to finally get it right.

*     *     *

The two followed the guard down the long corridor. Bare white walls intersected by six reinforced doors on each side marked their path. Silence, broken only by the sounds of their steps, enveloped them. This wing of the security complex felt deserted — which it was with one exception. There hadn’t been a need to use the high security cells for a long while.

As far as the tall redhead was concerned, there was still no need to — even considering just how special this particular prisoner happened to be.

Admiral Miranda Tremayne (ret.)  and Admiral Richard Collins were there with one purpose. They had to find a way to convince Ashlyn Shaw to trust them enough to listen. That was their first hurdle. The second would be harder. Somehow, they had to persuade her to work with them again. If she agreed, they’d secure her immediate release. It was a long shot, Tremayne knew, but they had to try. Not only for the prisoner’s sake but for the sake of so many more.

Their escort stopped before the last cell and nodded. Like every other cell along the corridor, this was a high security cell. Thick, reinforced walls with only a small opening, just wide enough for a single person to step through. That opening could be secured with a reinforced door that slid firmly into place when activated. But for now that door was open, the security field active.

Directly across from the door was a single cot. On it lay the prisoner. Her back was to them and nothing about her revealed whether she realized she was being watched or not. But Tremayne knew better. She’d known the prisoner for years, most of the younger woman’s life in fact. She had no doubt Ashlyn Shaw, decorated Marine captain and now convicted war criminal, was well aware of the fact someone was there, even if she might not know who.

“On your feet, prisoner!” the guard barked. “I said, on your feet!”

Tremayne watched Shaw as the guard pounded his stun baton on the side of the cell once and then again. Nothing seemed to phase the young woman. Only the slight tensing of her muscles, so slight Tremayne almost missed it, betrayed the fact that Shaw even heard the guard. Interesting. The young woman had always possessed great self-control. Clearly she’d honed it to a new level during her incarceration.

“Damn it, Shaw, on your feet. Don’t make me come in there,” the guard all but growled.

Tremayne frowned. The last thing they needed was to further antagonize the young woman. Besides, were their roles reversed, she’d probably be doing her best to show as much indifference as was the young woman. Even so, she could understand the guard’s frustration. He was under enough pressure just escorting the two of them through the security wing. Collins was First Fleet’s commanding officer. Then there was Tremayne herself. So-called war hero, not that she thought of herself as such, and now a member of the Senate. To have a mere prisoner ignore his order in front of such “luminaries” had to be not only frustrating but humiliating as well.

Of course, there was nothing “mere” about Ashlyn Shaw and there never had been.

“Ma’am, I can go inside.”

The guard sounded unsure, not that Tremayne blamed him. She doubted there was anyone on the planet who didn’t know who Ashlyn Shaw was as well as her war record. Whether they believed the charges that had been leveled against her or not, they’d know she wasn’t someone you wanted to cross.

Tremayne frowned and shook her head. This wasn’t the way to proceed. If the prisoner wouldn’t respond to the guard, it was time to try something else.

Carefully judging the distance, Tremayne stepped forward, coming so close to the barrier that she could feel the energy dancing across her skin.

“Out of that rack, marine, and on your feet!” she snapped in her best command voice.

Her order met with a more pronounced physical reaction from Shaw. This time there was no mistaking the way the young woman’s muscles tensed, as if preparing to sit up. Holding her breath, Tremayne waited. Would Shaw respond or would she force herself to return to her relaxed pose on the bunk?

Several long seconds passed as they waited, but to no avail. The prisoner continued to ignore them.

Damn it.

“Admiral, let me call for backup and then we can go in.” Before the guard could reach for his com, Tremayne’s hand closed over his arm.

“No.” Most definitely not. But they had to get through to her somehow. Maybe it was time to put aside rank and go to the personal. “I know you can hear me, Shaw, so I’m just going to talk. I hope you’ll listen.”

God how I wish the last two years had never happened. Everything would be so much easier.

“Things have changed since you were brought up on charges. Those responsible are no longer in power, either in the government or in the military chain of command.” She paused, watching, hoping for some reaction. Was there a hint of tension easing in the prisoner’s body? She wasn’t sure. All she could do was continue and hope for the best. “Some things haven’t changed however. We’re still at war. It doesn’t matter that we’ve technically been sharing a truce with the enemy. All it did was slow hostilities. The fact is things are about to get bad again and you know what that means.”

Surely that would get through to the young woman. In all the years she’d known Ashlyn Shaw, there’d been one thing she could rely upon — Shaw’s sense of duty. She just hoped the last two years hadn’t destroyed it.

“Shaw — Ashlyn.” She reached out, the palm of her right hand almost touching the security field separating them. As she did, she sensed the guard tensing, ready to pull her back before she made contact with the field. “We need you. Please.”

Finally, a reaction. A slight tremor ran down the prisoner’s back. Then a bitter laugh filled the cell. Tremayne bit her lower lip to hear it.

“You seem to forget that I still have three years to serve on my sentence, Admiral. Not much I can do for you while I’m a prisoner. So, unless you’ve brought a pardon — for not only me, but for my people as well — you can go to Hell.”

“That’s enough, Shaw!” Collins snapped. “You may be a prisoner, but you’re still a Marine and you’ll respect the rank, if nothing else, and listen to what we have to say.”

“Respect the rank!” Fury filled the young woman’s voice as she rolled over and surged to her feet.

Tremayne gasped in shock. Gone was the promising young officer she’d known. In her place was a hard, scarred woman, a veteran of battles that had killed so many. But there was more. Her face showed scars that hadn’t been there when she’d been sentenced to the Tarsus military prison. What in the hell had happened to her in the last two years to bring her to this?

And would it prevent her from helping them, even if they managed to arrange for everyone to be pardoned?

“Ashlyn, please, just listen,” Tremayne said softly.

“I listened once before, Admiral, and it cost most of my people their lives. Those that survived found themselves brought up on charges, just like me, and sent to that hellhole of a military prison. But maybe you’ve forgotten that.”

Tremayne closed her eyes and breathed deeply, struggling for calm. She hadn’t forgotten. She’d kept the memory of that betrayal close to her. It had been why she’d retired from the military and had run for office. She’d known she needed to work the system to get those brave souls freed and their names cleared, not that she’d expected it to take this long.

She still remembered all too clearly the events that had led up to Shaw’s court martial. Shaw had done nothing wrong. She’d done her duty. She’d followed orders, despite her misgivings — misgivings she’d voiced not only to her immediate commanding officer but to the sector commander and to Tremayne as well. And what had it gotten her? Her company decimated in an ambush and the rest of them, Shaw included, court martialed and imprisoned and all in the name of face-saving by some damn-fool politicians and senior officers.

Worse, Shaw’s family – and the families of the other survivors – had also paid the price. Those in government service who hadn’t been willing to condemn their relatives had seen their jobs disappear. There had been other pressures brought to bear on those in the private sector. That could no more be forgiven than what happened to Shaw and her people, as the next round of elections had proven.

“Ashlyn, I can’t undo what happened. I wish to God I could.” Tremayne waved Collins back as he stepped forward. The last thing they needed was him losing his temper, not that she blamed him. It was his fleet about to head to the front lines, his people who would be the first to die. More would die if they couldn’t convince Shaw to work with them. “All I can tell you is that things have changed since then. Fleet leadership has undergone a turnover the likes of which you wouldn’t believe. What happened to you and your company became a rallying cry at the last elections and those politicians responsible were voted out of office. There is no chance of a repeat of what you went through ever happening again.”

“At least until the next election.” Shaw shook her head and ran a hand through her short cropped, dark hair. “Sorry, Admiral, unless and until you can tell me my people have been pardoned and are safely away from Tarsus, I’ve got nothing more to say to you.”

“Ashlyn, at least listen. Please.”

“Not until I know my people are free.”

With that, she returned to her bunk and once more turned her back to them. There’d be no getting through to her. Between past betrayals and whatever Hell she’d been forced to endure the last two years, she’d changed. But she’d given them a lever they could use, one Tremayne had already considered.

“Ashlyn–”

“Admiral, all I want is to finish serving my sentence. Then, maybe, I can finally bury my dead.”

“Please, just think about it.”

Tremayne turned and retraced her steps down the corridor. She’d realized it would be difficult to convince the young woman to trust them. As far as Shaw knew, they’d accepted the way she and her people were offered up as political sacrifices just as most of the military leadership had. She didn’t know all Tremayne and so many others done to fight to gain not only their freedom, but to also clear their names.

What she hadn’t anticipated was the change in Shaw. Something had happened to her during her incarceration. The physical scars were proof of that. But what had happened and how badly had they damaged the young woman? Obviously, she had her homework to do before she next tried to talk to Ashlyn Shaw.

“Miranda,” Collins began, his frustration clear.

“Later.” She needed to think before discussing what happened even with him.

*      *     *

The sounds of footsteps grew fainter. Part of her wanted to call Tremayne and Collins back, to ask all the questions she’d had no answers to for so long. But the other part, the part that had learned how to survive in the military prison, held her back. She’d trusted them once and that trust had cost her and her command dearly. It would take more than their assurances that things had changed for her to trust them again.

It was difficult to stay where she was, to stay quiet. Swallowing hard, she squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself not to react. Just because the admirals were gone didn’t mean she wasn’t being watched. She was damned if she’d let anyone see how badly this had shaken her. She hadn’t known what to expect when she’d been brought back to the capital, but this certainly wasn’t it.

A moment later she drew a shaky breath and held it. When she slowly exhaled, she forced herself to relax. So many emotions raged within her, too many. Among them was hope, something she hadn’t felt in a very long while. But she couldn’t allow herself the luxury of experiencing any of them and especially not the latter. Emotions were a weakness to be exploited. She might not be at the penal colony any longer, but she was still a prisoner. She’d give her jailers nothing they could use against her. Indifference was her only defense just then.

But it was hard, so very hard. Dear God, when she’d heard Admiral Tremayne’s voice, she’d thought for one moment she’d finally lost her mind. Tremayne had been the one person in the military she’d always been able to count on. She knew Tremayne had tried to speak on her behalf at that farce of a trial but the military judges hadn’t let her. Tremayne had been on her side then, just as she’d always been.

But now the admiral was asking her to help them despite how she and the remainder of her company had been betrayed. Had she been wrong all this time in believing in Tremayne? Or had the admiral really been telling her the truth when she’d said things had changed?

She couldn’t think about that, couldn’t hold out hope. Not when her people were still on Tarsus. At least she’d been able to warn the admirals — if they understood. They had to understand. Or they had to at least wonder enough about what she’d said to start digging.

Dear God, let me be careful though.

Otherwise, she’d be joining those dead she’d talked about and, despite everything, she wasn’t ready to die. Not yet. She still had vengeance to mete out first.

***

 

 

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