Giveaway – The Freedom Broker by K J Howe @KJHoweAuthor @SDSXXTours

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Everything about The Freedom Broker by K J Howe speaks to me.
Soooo….let’s check it out, shall we?
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The Freedom Broker
by KJ Howe
Genre: Thriller
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MY REVIEW
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Everything about The Freedom Broker by K J Howe, spoke to me. I am always on the lookout for strong female characters that are different, that walk to the beat of their own drum and Thea does that in spades. The thrills and chill begin early and never let up.
 
I don’t feel I did this book justice in my review. For some reason, the words won’t come for the level of feelings I had for some of the characters…not the rich and famous…but the ones caught up in the maelstrom, for the sense of truth I felt throughout the story, even though I know it’s fiction. The level of brutality someone can callously inflict on another is indescribable.
 
All hell breaks loose in Africa.
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We have action from the beginning…a hostage to be rescued in Nigeria.
 
Kidnapping is big business. Thea is one of the top negotiators in the world and the only female. Her team is the best of the best. When her father is taken, she will pull out all the stops to save him. There is no way she will step aside and let others run the investigation.
 
Thea is not so much flawed or disabled, she just has to stay in tune with her body. She has diabetes, but it doesn’t stop her from trudging through jungles, fully geared up, fighting alongside men twice her size.
 
Bullets are fired, throats are slit, bombs are exploding, bodies are literally falling off the cliffs, a plane crashing, and as the body count rises, so does the mystery for those investigating Christo Paris’ kidnapping.
  
The brutal torture, starvation and filth the kidnapped endure is only compounded by the mental isolation and helplessness. Professional kidnappers, terrorists, political agendas.
 
I was stunned at Ares’ true identity. He is wanted worldwide for gun trafficking, kidnapping and murder. This is really bad. Every time HE comes near Thea, I fear for her. When she does figure it out, I wonder what will happen.
 
Every time I begin to relax, trying to put the pieces together, some danger rears its ugly head and more people die.
 
An aura of danger permeates every page. We have many convoluted machinations within multiple factions, each with their own agenda. Betrayal…that word does not begin to describe what happens. I keep waiting…waiting…waiting…for her to learn the truth.
 
The Freedom Broker by K J Howe is one of those books that reads like a true story filled with death and danger. The research K J Howe has done shines through.
 
I voluntarily reviewed a copy of The Freedom Broker by K J Howe.

Animated Animals. Pictures, Images and Photos  5 Stars

 
KIDNAP & RANSOM
IN-DEPTH RESEARCH FOR CANADIAN AUTHOR’S DEBUT INTERNATIONAL THRILLER
There are twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world. Only one is a
woman. And she’s the best in the business. Meet Thea Paris in THE
FREEDOM BROKER.
With over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year—which
translates to five people every hour
—the
world of kidnap and ransom is taking on a newsworthy role across the
globe. Displaced military and police in third world countries have no
way to put food on the table, but they do have security skills, so
they have turned to kidnapping as a way of making a living. Also,
terrorists are using kidnapping as a fundraising enterprise, filling
their coffers with over 125 million dollars since 2009. Kidnappers
used to only abduct high net-worth individuals and executives of
multi-national organizations. Not anymore. Journalists, aid workers,
and family members of executives have now become high value targets.
Kidnapping is a growing international crisis. What tools do we have to fight
against this increasing threat? There are twenty-five elite kidnap
negotiators who travel to the globe’s hotspots to bring hostages
home, through negotiation or recovery, and they are called response
consultants or freedom
brokers
. Local to Toronto, author K.J. Howe has immersed herself in the world
of kidnapping for the last three years, interviewing kidnap
negotiators, former hostages, kidnap and ransom insurance executives,
hostage reintegration experts, psychiatrists specializing in the
captive’s mindset, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver
ransoms and execute rescues.
Howe’s research culminates into her debut thriller, THE FREEDOM BROKER,
published by the Hachette Book Group under the Quercus imprint in the
US, Canada, U.K. and many foreign territories. The book has reached
attention North America wide, and has led to reviewers such as #1
NYT Bestseller James Patterson
calling
it “fact and fiction at its best.”
 
 
K.J. Howe’s novel has received positive and international acclaim from some of North
America’s most influential mediums and authors including:

TIME Magazine called the book a “Dark Delight.”
 

#1 NYT Bestseller Lee Child endorses
the book: “Razor sharp and full of you-are-there authenticity—a
superb thriller.”
 

NYT Bestseller Linwood Barclay shares, “Breathless
action, great characters, and convincing details make Howe’s debut
a surefire rocket to the top of the lists.”
 

In The Providence Journal,
USA Today Bestselling author Jon Land reviews,
“The
Freedom Broker is a blisteringly original, superbly crafted thriller
that promises to be one of the major debuts of 2017. K.J. Howe’s
gut-wrenching foray into the world of hostage negotiation turned
upside down propels her straight into the league of Linda Fairstein,
Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Scottoline, and Karin Slaughter, thanks to a
tale framed by an emotional complexity and structural elegance both
rare for the genre. As riveting as it is bracing, this is reading
entertainment at its absolute best.”
 
EXCERPT
CHAPTER ONE

500 feet above Kwale, Nigeria
November 1st
2:30 a.m.

Thea Paris knew the drill.

If the mission failed, no one would retrieve her body. She’d be left to rot in the jungle, unidentified and forgotten. And that wouldn’t do. She couldn’t miss her father’s 60th celebration.

Her gloved hand glided over her flak jacket and M4 with practiced ease. Night vision goggles, flares, grenades, extra magazines—all easy to access. The weapon had been tested, cleaned and oiled, ready to combat the humidity of the jungle. Pre-mission checks done.

The hypnotic purr of the resurrected Hughes 500P helicopter set the tone for the operation. Black, in every sense of the word. Sound, movement, light, all kept to a minimum. They were flying Nap-of-the-Earth; low, utilizing the terrain to stay below the radar.

As operational commander, she’d led her seven-man team through endless rehearsals, using a model of the targeted area. Now it was time for execution. Brown listened to Hendrix in his earbuds, his way of psyching up. Johansson stared into space, probably thinking about his pregnant wife who wasn’t happy he’d accepted this mission. Team A, following behind in the other gutted chopper, consisted of twin brothers Neil and Stewart—yep, born in Scotland—and a wizened former French Foreign Legionnaire named Jean-Luc who could outshoot them all. She’d handpicked each one from the pool of operatives at Quantum International Security.

Except Rifat Asker, her boss’ son.

Who was staring at her. They’d known each other since they’d been kids, as their fathers were best friends. Rif had serious combat skills, but they often locked horns on methods of execution. She traced the S-shaped scar on her right cheek, a permanent reminder of Rif clashing with her brother Nikos.

She pressed a special app button on her smartphone. The glucose monitor read 105. Batteries were fully charged. Perfect. Nothing screwed up a mission more than low blood sugar. She slipped her phone into the pocket of her fatigues beside her glucagon kit. Rif’s assessing gaze still focused on her. Did he suspect she had diabetes? She’d done her best to keep her illness under wraps. Competition was tough among this elite group, and she didn’t want anyone thinking she wasn’t up for the job.

The pilot’s voice crackled in her earpiece. “Three minutes to touchdown.”

“Roger that. We’re green here.”

The second helicopter followed somewhere behind them, but the stormy sky obliterated all evidence of its existence. She wiped her damp palms on her fatigues. Rain rattled the chopper’s fuselage, and the turbulence unsettled her stomach. Flying had never been her strong suit. The reduced visibility worked in their favor, but the cloying humidity and heat degraded the airtime and performance of the chopper. To compensate, they’d reduced their fuel load to stay as light as possible, but that left only a minimal buffer for problems.

Rif shifted to face Brown and Johansson. “Okay, boys, let’s grab this ‘Oil Eagle’.”

The hostage, John Sampson, an oil executive based in Texas, earned high six figures to visit remote drilling sites and increase their output. Sampson had two kids, and his wife taught third grade. He coached baseball every Thursday night, but he’d missed the last ten weeks because he’d been held captive in the swamp by MEND—Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta. Seemed like every terrorist group had some catchy acronym, like they’d hired PR firms to come up with them.

This Nigerian militant group wouldn’t budge from a three-million-dollar demand, and Sampson’s kidnapping insurance topped out at one mil. That left one option. Rescue. But one out of five was the success rate for extractions.

“One minute until touchdown,” the pilot warned.

She slipped on her night vision goggles and clutched the straps anchored to the cabin walls.

“You sure there’s no leak?” Black camo paint emphasized the tension in the lines around Rif’s eyes.

“Roger that.” She concentrated on the positives—always better than bleak thoughts when descending into hellfire. They should have the element of surprise, and she’d selected a crackerjack team. Every member would put his life on the line for the others, and their combined combat experience read like the Ivy League of special ops.

The pilot threaded the riverbed using the narrow view provided by the FLIR camera mounted near the skids. Flying into the thick jungle on a moonless night was far from optimal, but their intel was time sensitive. They had to get Sampson out tonight.

“Thirty seconds.” The pilot’s warning was like a shot of caffeine injected into her veins.

They’d arrived at a small clearing in the triple canopy jungle two miles from the rebel camp. A film of perspiration coated her back. Her body tingled. Alive, awake, adrenalized.

“Ten seconds.”

The pilot raised the bird’s nose, flaring to a hover, then settled onto the grass. She nodded to her team, and they hit the ground and rolled away from the chopper. Heat emanated from the rotorwash, as their transport rose up and away.

A moldy stench flooded her mouth and nose, the residual effect of endless rainy seasons. They huddled in the thick bush while the other Hughes dropped off Jean-Luc and the two Scots. She scanned the area. The choppers faded into the distance, their peculiar silhouettes showcasing the modifications for stealth.

Night sounds returned. Crickets chirping, water gurgling from the nearby river bed, the ominous roar of a hippo. She checked her GPS, signaled Rif, and entered the dense foliage. Forty-two minutes to execute the rescue, rendezvous with the helicopters, and get the hell out of here. She circumnavigated the heaviest brush, then froze.

A sound. Scuffling in the bushes. Her hands tightened on her M4. A sentry so close to their launch point?

She glanced over her shoulder. Rif’s large frame crouched two feet behind her. Brown and Johansson squatted beside him while Team A covered the rear. The shrubbery to their left rippled in the brisk breeze.

Silence. A mosquito implanted itself in her neck. She ignored the sharp sting.

A branch snapped. She flicked off the safety.

Crunching footsteps. A shrill cry.

She scanned right, left. Movement flashed in front of them at ground level.

Her finger hovered beside the trigger.

More footsteps.

A porcupine scurried across their ingress route, its quills in full attack mode.

She exhaled a long breath and gave Brown a half-smile. Dammit to hell. She’d almost shot the prickly creature, which would have blown their cover. Brown touched the rabbit’s foot around his neck and nodded. Good luck charms were an operational must. She always wore the St. Barbara silver pendant her father had given her on her twelfth birthday. It hadn’t let her down yet.

The two teams traversed the unfriendly terrain, minimizing any disturbance of the bush. Animal sounds punctuated the night, the rainfall a constant backdrop. She scouted the path, moving cautiously in the darkness. At the edge of the ridge, she paused. Faint flames from a fire kicked her heart into overdrive. The outskirts of the MEND camp lurked below.

She scoured the area. No sign of sentries along the bluff. She squeezed Rif’s arm, signaling him to lead Team A down the escarpment. They’d have a rough time of it. The earth was thick, muddy, slick.

Thea, Brown, and Johansson remained on the curved ridge. As commander, she needed a bird’s eye view. Brown and Johansson flanked her, positioned to counter any patrolling rebels.

She cloaked herself in shrubbery and settled into her hide. They’d mapped all the major landmarks from satellite images: the rebels’ weapons hut perched beside the acacia trees, a large shelter to the west sequestered in the jungle, and five small buildings rooted in the southwest quadrant. Outbuilding Tango held their hostage, a quarter mile away.

She waited and watched for what seemed to be an eternity, rain seeping into her shirt mixing with sweat, leaving her skin clammy and cold. Her mind went to the weirdest places during missions—she pictured this sodden landscape as an ideal backdrop for a waterproof mascara ad.

A tiny shiver darted across her shoulders. The world was preternaturally still, quiet—like death had already arrived. Twenty-five precious minutes had evaporated. Not good.

Precise and measured, she nestled her rifle into the overhang. Her breathing slowed. She scanned the area, pursing her lips, the familiar taste of camo grease comforting her.

A soft hiss whispered in her earpiece, then Rif came on. “Going for the Eagle.” Team A hovered on the outskirts of the camp.

Muffled laughter echoed in the distance. A few rebels huddled by the campfire, undoubtedly trying to ward off the dampness with some kai-kai, a local palm liquor.

“Six hostiles by the fire with AK-47s. You’re good to go.” Her voice was barely audible. They had to assume MEND had guards posted. Double-crosses dominated the rebels’ lives, making them especially paranoid.

Footsteps sounded nearby. She froze. Definitely a human cadence. The soft glow of a cigarette caught her eye. A rebel headed straight for her.

Time for cocktail hour. She eased her hand into her pack and pulled out the tranquilizer gun, her fingers brushing the ballistic syringe loaded with an immobilizing drug.

The rebel cleared his throat and continued his patrol, oblivious. She waited, keeping her breath even, her body motionless. He stepped into range. In one motion, she twisted her body, lifted the tranquilizer gun, and fired. The rebel grunted and slapped at his neck, as if swatting an insect. Seconds later, he slumped to the ground.

She scrambled over to him and poked him with the toe of her boot. No response. She crushed his cigarette into the wet earth and secured his hands and feet with plastic cuffs, slapping duct tape on his mouth. They should be long gone before he woke.

Thea’s skin was slick as the rain continued to batter the earth. She glanced at her stopwatch—another four and a half minutes had passed since Team A had entered the camp. Glancing to the southwest, she waited for Rif and his team to return with the hostage, anxious to hear the code “gusher,” meaning the hostage had been found.

Minutes ticked by, and nothing. Her nerves were tighter than the strings on a Stradivarius.

Her radio buzzed. Rif’s measured voice came through. “Dry well. The Eagle isn’t in Tango.”

She sucked in air. Intel from two hours ago had confirmed Sampson’s location in that outbuilding. He must’ve been moved.

“Abort.” It killed her to do this, but she couldn’t endanger her team members’ lives by ordering an exploration of the camp. There wasn’t enough time. They’d tried—and failed. The intel was bad. End of story. End of mission.

Silence greeted her. Dammit. Rif was a pro; he knew to respond to her command.

“Abort mission. Confirm.” She scanned the camp. A few more rebels joined the group around the fire.

Rif’s voice filled the silence. “Give me three minutes, over.”

No way. Three minutes was a lifetime. They needed to leave immediately to meet the choppers.

“I repeat, abort mission, over.”

Silence.

Her earpiece finally crackled. “Wait, out.” Operator speak for bugger off, I’m busy. Rif had spent years in Delta Force, but this wasn’t the U.S. Army. She was in charge of this mission, and he was defying orders.

Before she could respond, shots fired below at the base camp. No more hiding in the shadows. Time to bring it.

“Go active,” she commanded her team.

The men from the campfire scrambled for their weapons while Brown and Johansson blasted their M4s from their positions on the ridge. Figures dropped to the muddy earth. Bullets ripped through the night, and the scent of gunpowder flooded her nostrils.

“Brown, take your shot.” He was responsible for disabling the rebels’ ammo hut with the grenade launcher.

“Eyes shut,” Brown warned, protecting the team’s vision from the bright lights of the explosion since they all wore night vision goggles. Seconds later, the building erupted in a burst of crimson flames.

The sound of metal hitting rock sharpened her focus. Bullets showered the area around her. She pressed her chin into the mud, flattened her body, and returned fire.

A group of rebels stormed toward the cliffside, but the team’s NVGs made the figures easy targets. Blasts reverberated across the valley as muzzle flashes flared.

“Return to home base, over.” Her voice remained calm, but four-letter words ricocheted through her brain.

Where was Rif?

She spotted rebels at the base of the hill, the men cutting off Team A’s egress route. Dammit to hell. Well, “all in” was obviously the theme of the day.

“Cover me, Brown.” She jumped up from her hide and ran down the slippery hillside, her footing uncertain in the muck. Before the rebels could react to her presence, she pressed the trigger on her M4, rattling off round after round. She slammed in a fresh magazine and kept firing. Several men fell, others ran for cover. She continued the barrage. The egress route was clear. At least now Rif and the others had a chance of getting out.

Her radio buzzed. “Bravo four, hit.” Johansson’s voice was reedy. He’d been shot.

The northeast wasn’t covered, and Rif was AWOL. It was up to her to help Jo.

She pressed the talk button. “Coming, Jo. Brown, watch my back.”

Sprinting back up the hill, she traversed the ridge toward Johansson, mud sucking at her combat boots.

Fifty feet. She pushed harder.

Thirty.

Ten.

Bullets peppered the air around her. She dove behind the tree.

Her forearms bore the brunt of her landing, the pain rumbling up to her shoulders. She scrambled forward on her belly and checked Johansson. Blood seeped from his shoulder. His face was ashen, his eyes unfocused. She grabbed a quick clot from the first aid kit in Jo’s backpack and placed it on his wound. “I’m too scared to face your hormonal wife alone, so keep your shit together.”

He gave her a weak smile.

She secured the morphine syringe from his front pocket and injected him. He’d be lost in the hazy world of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon soon enough.

A group of rebels climbed the embankment. Brown maintained his disciplined fire, but couldn’t keep up. She aimed at the oncoming attackers and pressed the trigger. Several men fell. She shoved a fresh magazine into her M4.

Figures appeared in the mist, the heat of their bodies a hazy green through the night vision goggles. She counted them. Four. The tallest one, Rif, had a body slung over his right shoulder. Sampson. They’d found him, but she couldn’t tell if the hostage was dead or alive.

“Jo, Team A’s back. Can you walk?” Her breath was rapid and shallow.

“Hell, yes.”

Not sure she believed him, given he was on morphine. She was strong for a buck thirty lightweight, but couldn’t run while carrying over two hundred pounds. They’d be an easy mark for the rebels.

Rif’s team had reached the ridge.

“Stand up, Soldier.”

Johansson groaned. “My wife’s going to kill me.”

“No time for marriage counselling.” She helped him to his feet. He stumbled, unsteady in the mud. She wrapped his arm around her shoulder, supporting his weight. “Let’s get you home, Papa-To-Be.”

The faint sound of incoming rotorwash spurred her. They only had a few minutes to reach the clearing.

A burst of nearby gunfire startled her. She looked up, prepared to shoot, but she recognized Rif’s lanky frame running across the ridge. He joined them behind a massive tree. Rain had smeared the black camo paint, giving his face a sinister look. “Team A’s headed back to the clearing with Sampson.” He slung his rifle across his back and hoisted Johansson over his shoulder. “Cover me.”

She stormed after them, heart and rifle on full auto. The rebels dove for shelter as she and Brown laid down suppressing fire. She shouted at Brown. “Chopper!” All of her teammates needed to be on the Hughes before she would jump in.

The three of them sprinted for the clearing as another onslaught of bullets barraged the surrounding trees. She used a large mangrove for cover and returned fire, giving Rif time to help Johansson to safety.

She zigzagged across the open field. Her chopper rested in a valley a hundred meters away. The other Hughes holding Team A and Sampson lifted off into the rain. Bullets whipped by. A sharp sting flared in her arm as she plowed through the thick underbrush. She ignored the pain and ran faster.

She scrambled down the gorge and dove inside the chopper. Johansson, Brown, and Rif were already on board. She ripped off her night vision goggles and grabbed her headset.

“Go!” she yelled at the pilot.

“Hold tight.”

The winds gusted from the east, which meant they had to power up while heading straight into the barrels of the rebels’ AK-47s. The rotorblades strained as a group of armed men ran toward the Hughes. Come on, come on. Her fingernails dug into her palms. They plunged straight into live fire like a flying piñata.

She kept her gaze straight ahead, willing the chopper to reach 60 knots so they could turn. Seconds felt like hours as they finally accelerated and swerved away from the camp. She glanced into the cockpit. The pilot’s shirt was soaked.

Rif glanced at the blood on her sleeve. “You hit?”

“Just a graze.” She stared at the holes in the fuselage, realizing just how close a call it’d been—and how Rif changing the plan mid-mission could have cost her teammates their lives.

“Is Sampson okay?” After all this, she prayed the hostage was alive.

“He’s dehydrated and a bit roughed up, but he’ll make it.”

“Amen for that.” Saint Barbara had done her job again. Thea slumped against the fuselage, grateful the rebels didn’t have an RPG. She checked her phone. As expected, the intense stress had skyrocketed her blood sugar levels. But the insulin would counteract that soon enough.

She inhaled a deep breath. Another hostage safely returned by Quantum International Security. Looks like she’d make Papa’s party, after all.

 

 
 
 
 
 
Born in Toronto, Canada, K.J. enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle during her early
years, living in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean,
which gave her an insider’s view into many different cultures.
While abroad, she read every book she could find, which triggered in
her a desire to create her own stories.
She attended Salzburg International Preparatory School, Neuchâtel Junior
College, and Albert College before earning a Specialists Degree in
Business from the University of Toronto. K.J. found success in the
corporate world, but her passion for travel, adventure, and stories
drew her back to school where she earned a Masters in Writing Popular
Fiction from Seton Hill University. She also won several writing
awards, including three Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in
Mystery and Suspense.
While honing her fiction skills, K.J. worked as a medical, health, and
fitness writer. She then became involved with the International
Thriller Writers as the executive director of ThrillerFest, the
organization’s annual conference held every July in New York City.
In preparation for writing THE FREEDOM BROKER series, which focuses on
elite kidnap negotiator Thea Paris, K.J. spent extensive time
researching the dark world of kidnapping. She has interviewed former
hostages, negotiators, hostage reintegration experts, Special Forces
operatives, and K&R insurance executives.
K.J. is an avid tennis player, cyclist, and swimmer. Travel and adventure
still rank high on her priority list. She has had the pleasure of
riding racing camels in Jordan, surfing in Hawaii, zip lining in the
Costa Rican jungle, diving alongside Great White Sharks in South
Africa, studying modern combat in the Arizona desert, and
working with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but
she is often missing in action.
K.J. Howe is available for interviews and appearances along with
presentations about kidnapping and travel safety. For media
appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and/or book review
requests please contact [email protected] by email or by
phone at 403.464.6925.
 
 
 
 
 
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Giveaway – Hunted Fate by Jennifer Derrick @BluEyedReindeer @XpressoReads

Hunted Fate
Jennifer Derrick
(Threads of the Moirae, #3)
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: July 24th 2017
Genres: Mythology, Romance, Young Adult

Alex and Atropos have taken refuge at an abandoned mountain resort compound. Atropos is a wanted woman in hiding, and the downtime with her soul mate is a nice change of pace. But the peace will be short-lived. The authorities are after her for her role in the attack on the city of Charlotte. Zeus has put a bounty on her head. There’s also a war to prepare for—and if she wins, the gods will be deposed once and for all. But first she needs to track down Gaia, and even that won’t be simple. Gaia resides at the bottom of the ocean, and the humans and gods are already hot on Atropos’ trail…

A heart-pounding romantic adventure where Greek mythology and modern-day life collide, Hunted Fate is the third book in the epic Threads of the Moirae series by Jennifer Derrick.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

Previous books in the series:

Grab book 1 – Broken Fate – for FREE!

EXCERPT:

“We need whoever provides security around here. Or Hades. They’re bound to be the ones who can open this. If we can find them, we can drag them down here and slap their hand on this thing to get it open,” Alex says.

“We need another way,” Sara says, shaking her head. “We haven’t seen a single person since we got here. It’s too time consuming to track them down. And we’ll never get Hades.”

“Anyone know of any other ways to crack a palm plate?” I ask.

“Short of finding a valid fingerprint and going through an awful lot of steps to create a fake finger, the only other way is to break down the software controlling it,” Alex says.

“Are any of you hackers?”

Alex raises his hand.

“You can hack this?” I ask. “I didn’t know you were a hacker.”

“I’m not. But there isn’t a lot to do when you’re stuck at home with a terminal disease or trapped in a crappy boarding school. I taught myself a few things, made a few online friends who were a little shady. Depending on how sophisticated the software is, I might be able to crack it.”

“Would it be controlled from the computer out front?”

“It might be. Or it might be controlled from a central server that’s who knows where. No way to know without looking,” he says.

“That computer is password protected. If you try to force it, you may set off alarms.”

“Then I’ll have to be careful,” he says, heading back to the lobby.

We follow and gather around the desk while he works. The keys clack under his fingers as he mutters instructions to himself.

“Okay, I’m in the system,” he says. “While I’m here, I’m going to shut down those security cameras. No need for everyone to know where we are.”

The TV feed blinks and is gone.

He keeps typing and clicking and muttering. The rest of us sit down on the floor and wait. There’s nothing we can do.

“Huh. That could be tricky,” he says.

“What?” I ask, getting up and going around the desk so I can see his screen. Not that the gibberish there means squat to me.

“The system that controls the fingerprint scanners also controls the card locks. Worse, it’s not separated by floor. I’m not good enough to bring down only one piece of the system. It’s all or nothing.”

“What’s the problem?” I ask.

“It means that the only thing standing between us and whatever is behind those cell doors is the hope that none of them try the doors. If the inmates figure out the doors are open, then security will be the least of our problems. All of them could walk right out of here.”

“Do it,” I tell him. “It’s not like we’ll be broadcasting the locks are down. No one will notice. Hopefully.”

“Okay,” he says and goes back to pounding on the keys.

After a few minutes, the computer beeps and Alex pushes away from it.

“Done,” he says.

The words are barely out of his mouth when a series of small pops echoes around the room. They sound like they’re both surrounding us and simultaneously heading away from us.

“Aw, shit,” I say. “The locks. We forgot they make noise! We are idiots. Come on,” I say, racing for the doors on the right.

We slam through the doors and pull up in front of door number four. No one is coming into the hall yet. I’m hoping the inmates think it’s a trap and are too intimidated to try their doors. Either that or they didn’t hear the locks release. Please, just let me get out of here before hell literally opens, I think.

 

Author Bio:

Jennifer is a freelance writer and novelist. As a freelancer, she writes everything from technical manuals to articles on personal finance and European-style board games. Her interest in storytelling began when she was six and her parents gave her a typewriter for Christmas and agreed to pay her $.01 per page for any stories she churned out. Such a loose payment system naturally led to a lot of story padding. Broken Fate, her first novel, earned her $2.80 from her parents.

Jennifer lives in North Carolina and, when not writing, can often be found reading, trawling the shelves at the library, playing board games, watching sports, camping, running marathons, and playing with her dog. You can visit her at her official website:www.JenniferDerrick.com.

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Giveaway – The Caging at Deadwater Manor by Sandie Will @SandieWillBooks @YABoundToursPR

 
The Caging of Deadwater Manor by Sandie Will has a fantastic cover that makes me want to visit the manor. How about you?
 

The Caging at Deadwater Manor
by Sandie Will
Genre: YA/NA Psychological Thriller/Suspense
Release Date: March 31st 2017

Summary:


Time is running out for Jeannie, a young girl taken against her will by staff at Deadwater Manor – a psychiatric hospital with an unscrupulous past. Inspired by true events, this is a captivating story where Jeannie shares her heart-wrenching experience while undergoing treatments that will make you cringe.

On a cold, January evening, fourteen-year-old Jeannie Kynde is told that her beloved mother drowned in the murky waters along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Her distraught father turns on Jeannie, no longer the caring father she once knew.
Four years later, Jeannie is finally old enough to escape her father’s clutches, but he has different plans. He imprisons her at Deadwater Manor, a psychiatric hospital with an unscrupulous past.
Will she be locked away forever? Or can she fight against the nightmare that has now become her world?  
 
 
Buy Links:
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XRJMJBB
Universal ebook link (international): books2read.com/u/me0vgZ

Note from the Author:
Hi everyone! I am a thriller/suspense Indie author. I write primarily in the YA/NA genre. My debut, The Caging at Deadwater Manor, was just released on March 31 and was written for mature young adults (16+) and older. This book has been professionally edited and the cover was done by a professional artist. I strive to provide high-quality books that stay with you – so I hope you’ll find it an enjoyable read. The story evolved from experiences my dad had during short periods of his career at psychiatric hospitals. He shared patient routines, treatments, hospital layouts and stories, but the book primarily evolved from a discovery he made in the atticsomething that unnerved me enough to bring this book to life. Though the story is fiction, I’ve intertwined much of the information shared by my dad and research I performed while writing this book.

Excerpt:
I smile as I think of her, until my concentration is interrupted by footsteps coming down the hallway. I quickly look over to see if it’s my aunt.
It isn’t.
Instead, a male attendant greets me. His name badge identifies him as Drake.
“You’re Jean Kynde?” he inquires.
I nod.      
“Follow me, then.”
I follow him down the hallway to the wooden door I saw earlier and enter. This room is much larger than the reception area with pink walls and white accents. To the left is a glass office; a semi-circle nurses’ station. A couple rows of tables with metal chairs are scattered about, and a steel water fountain is stationed at the other side of the room.
Drake pulls out a chair for me and assures me he’ll be right back. As I wait for my aunt, I try to imagine how it would feel to be locked up with a guard on every corner.
I wonder if my aunt feels like a prisoner. Why in the world did she agree to come here?
My attention is soon drawn to a commotion outside the same door I entered. I listen, but all I can hear is some mumbling, perhaps arguing.
Eventually, another man comes through the door. He appears to be older, with gray hair and eyebrows and sagging skin on his neck. As he approaches, I can see the script writing on his lab coat.
Doctor Garrett Wiggins; this is Dad’s friend. Okay, so I’m in the right spot.
“Jeannie, correct?”
“Uh, yes. I’m here to see my aunt. Have you talked to my dad?”
“Yes, he’s been telling me about some issues.”
“Yeah, well, I guess my aunt had a nervous breakdown.”
“Aunt?”
“Yes, Lesley Odell. You have her chart there, right?”
He looks at me for a few seconds and then looks away, unable to find words. He pauses. I’m not sure what is going on, but I don’t like the uneasiness I’m feeling right now. I’m getting that gut feeling that something is wrong.
Did she die?
He pulls his chair closer to me like a true friend would. In a caring voice, he says softly, “Your aunt is not here.”
I stare at him blankly for a second and then ask, “What? What do you mean? She’s gone already or—or worse?” The reality of the situation starts to take hold as racing thoughts of never seeing her again start scaring me.
He touches my arm for a second and says, “Jeannie, listen to me carefully.” I try to focus more on his mouth, since my difficulty in hearing is worsened by the tall ceiling in the room. “Your aunt was never here.”
The racing thoughts stop. I look at him dead seriously, trying to figure out what the hell he’s telling me.
Is she dead or not?
I look toward the table for a minute, not sure what he’s going to tell me next.
She’s dead? She’s alive? She’s somewhere else? She’s a fucking FBI agent? What’s going on?
“What do you mean? Where is she?” I finally manage.
“I don’t really know. There’s no record of her here. What I want to concentrate on is you, now. How do you feel about this?”
 I frown and mumble, “Confused.”
He nods and says sincerely, “It’s understandable especially with the recent loss of your mom.” At least, I think that’s what he said.
I watch him, trying to figure out why we’re having this conversation. I don’t know how my dad knows this doctor, but his fake sincerity is not calming me. I glance over to the wooden door, and there are now two guards standing in front of them, one of which I recognize as Drake. Another door on the opposite side of the room opens, and two more guards move in.
This definitely doesn’t feel right.
“Hey, they’re just here for your protection,” the doctor says. I lean back in my chair, as he moves forward and whispers, “No worries.” His breath puffs across my hair, leaving me with a gift of strong cigarette stench. I try to lean back more but feel pinned. This guy does not know his boundaries. He starts stroking my arm in what seems like an attempt to comfort me, but it only makes me panic more. I can feel my palms moistening with every word.
“Is it okay if we talk for a while? I’d like to get to know you a little more, Jeannie. I’ve always heard your dad’s side of things, but the opportunity to hear your side is what’s important now. Why don’t we have you go relax in another room, and then you can come into my office a little later?”
I try hard not to show the panic that’s now taking over, hiding what I can of my heaving chest. It feels difficult to breathe with the short, shallow breaths that are now uncontrollable.
I’m going to have a panic attack.
I’m so screwed.
I look over to the guards, begging them not to force me behind the walls that will separate me from the rest of the world. I frantically search for a way to get myself out of what I know is inevitable, but it’s useless with all the guards.
I’m going to become the prisoner. I’m going to become the next rumor throughout the school.
It’s all part of a calculated plot my dad would be proud of. This is his victory—a victory that includes my never leaving Deadwater or having a life, even if he won’t be a part of it. As long as he knows where I am, he’ll be happy. I close my eyes in disgust, concerned about what I’m about to endure. I hate the unknown, but this is way beyond what any eighteen-year-old should have to experience.
“Jeannie, you still with me?” the doctor asks.
I look up at the cohort who is now starting to tug at my forearm.
“I think we need to get you comfortable.”
I frown between the doctor and the guards. They both come forward to “help” me. Gasping for air, I throw my chair backwards to try the only path of escape I can think of, but they’re too fast and catch the chair before I hit the ground.
“No! I am not going anywhere with you! I’m not a minor and my dad can’t institutionalize me without my consent. Let me out of here!”
“Well, Miss Kynde, you just signed all the consents. There’s nothing illegal here.”
What starts as a rational protest spirals out of control quickly. Panic sets in. I’m crying, screaming, and clawing at them. I try to kick their groins, but they predict that move and easily pin my legs to the chair.
I start breathing heavier now. Panic takes over, and I’m quickly losing control.
“Get the syringe!” orders Doctor Wiggins, pointing to the table next to the water fountain.
Drake holds out one of my arms and lunges backward for the syringe with his other arm, knocking the table over.
Oh, God! Get me out of here!
Drake is grasping for the syringe on the floor, so I take the opportunity to bite his forearm, causing him to bleed and withdraw his clutch. This does nothing but make things worse for me, though. Drake leaps toward me, pinning the back of my head against his stomach muscles. My free arm flails back and forth, as I try to reach something to use to hit him.
It’s no use.
Frantically, the doctor kicks the syringe toward Drake, and I watch in horror when the needle roughly enters my vein.

 

About the Author
Sandie Will is a young adult novelist who lives in Tampa Bay, Florida and works as a manager and geologist by day. She has written two novels and is currently working on her third. Her first novel, The Caging at Deadwater Manor, is a young adult psychological thriller that will be released on March 31, 2017. Her second is a time travel and her third will be another psychological thriller. She has been married to her husband, Charlie, for 30 years and they have two sons. Their home has been blessed by many laughs, hugs and one-too-many beer pong parties with college friends.
Author Links:
        

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Giveaway – Dark Romantic Thrillers by Abbie Roads @abbie_roads @inkslingerpr

We’re so thrilled to share this sale with you! All three books; Race the Darkness, Hunt the Dawn, and Saving Mercy are on sale for 99¢ (reg $6.15).

 

RACE THE DARKNESS

Series: Fatal Dreams Series, Book 1
Genre: Dark Romantic Thriller

Cursed with a terrible gift…

Criminal investigator Xander Stone doesn’t have to question you-he can hear your thoughts. Scarred by lightning, burdened with a power that gives him no peace, Xander struggles to maintain his sanity against the voice that haunts him day and night-the voice of a woman begging him to save her.

A gift that threatens to engulf them

Isleen Walker has long since given up hope of escape from the nightmare of captivity and torture that is draining her life, her mind, and her soul. Except…there is the man in her feverish dreams, the strangely beautiful man who beckons her to freedom and wholeness. And when he comes, if he comes, it will take all their combined fury and faith to overcome a madman bent on fulfilling a deadly prophecy.

Buy Now

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Excerpt

Her gaze locked with his—locked so hard the entire world vanished and all that existed were her and him and his hand feeling the steady beat of her heart. Whatever the fuck she was about to say, he was gonna believe her. She could tell him he was a two-headed, purple squirrel, and he’d go out, find a nut, and climb a tree.

“Xander. I vow to protect you from pain. I vow never to leave you unless you want me to leave. I vow never to hurt you the way Gran hurt your father. Because hurting you would be hurting myself. Your pain is my pain. And my pain is yours. But together we are strong and invincible. Don’t you feel it when we touch? It’s all I can feel. All I want to feel. You and me. Us. Together.”

Her words did more than enter his ears; they melded into him as bone-deep truth. He’d never do anything to hurt her and—damn—he trusted that she wouldn’t hurt him. As sick as it sounded, maybe his faith in her was born from the suffering she’d endured. She understood pain. Understood the depth and damage pain caused in a way few others ever would. That kind of knowledge made her incapable of wounding anyone else.

“Say something. You’re looking at me funny.” Her voice trembled just a bit. He could practically hear her doubting whether she should’ve spoken the words of her heart.

“What you said… Those words…” Christ. He didn’t have experience talking about his feelings. “Everything.”

She cocked her head to the side, questions wrinkling her forehead.

He was screwing this up. “Your words mean everything to me.” He could show her easier than he could tell her. He slid his hands up her neck, framing her face, staring at her, absorbing every detail. “You’re my…” Fearless. He caught himself before he said the word. To base how he felt on a story wasn’t real. She was real. And the emotions warming him were real. “Everything.”

He lowered his mouth to hers. She tasted sweet, of cinnamon and sugar, and for some reason, his heart ached with a fullness of feeling it had never experienced before.

He scooped her up in his arms, cradling her to his chest, his mind flashing back to the day he found her—and to holding her this same way. God, she had weighed so little, had seemed so fragile, but she was strong. Stronger than he’d ever be. Knowing what she’s gone through, what she’d survived—yeah. Strong was too weak a word to describe her.

He carried her up the stairs to his bedroom, his mouth never leaving hers. With a gentleness born of reverence, he settled her on the bed. He broke the kiss to stare at her once more. Her eyes were closed, her face relaxed, her lips deliciously puffy and pink from a good kissing. He fucking loved pink.

 

HUNT THE DAWN

Series: Fatal Dreams Series, Book 2 (stand alone)
Genre: Dark Romantic Thriller

Out of darkness and danger…
You can’t hide your secrets from Lathan Montgomery-he can read your darkest memories. And while his special abilities are invaluable in the FBI’s hunt for a serial killer, he has no way to avoid the pain that brings him. Until he is drawn to courageous, down-on-her-luck Evanee Brown and finds himself able to offer her something he’s never offered another human being: himself.

Dawns a unique and powerful love

Nightmares are nothing new to Evanee Brown. But once she meets Lathan, they plummet into the realm of the macabre. Murder victims are reaching from beyond the grave to give Evanee evidence that could help Lathan bring a terrifying killer to justice. Together, they could forge an indomitable partnership to thwart violence, abuse, and death-if they survive the forces that seek to tear them apart.

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Excerpt

While he hauled his motorcycle onto the road, he didn’t look away from her. She stood bereft in the middle of the pavement, staring out over the pasture. Emotions infused the air around her. Shame. Hate. Embarrassment. Sadness. Fear. Desperation.

He recognized that tangled combination of scents. Knew them intimately. Knew the feeling of being hurt and vulnerable and powerless to stop the pain. Knew how memories, like the one he witnessed, had left wounds on her soul and Junior had just ripped off all the scabs.

She was raw, bleeding emotionally in front of him and yet holding it together by a spider’s thread. He could see the effort in the way she stood straight and stiff.

Fury simmered low in his gut. After he got her squared away, maybe he’d pay a visit to Junior. Show the asshole what it felt like to be the victim.

He walked the bike to her. After he straddled the seat, he held out his hand to her. She grabbed him, her grip hungry.

“Climb on up.”

She tossed her leg over the seat, using his hand to balance her weight.

He sat at the same time she did, her body settling against his back.

Holy Jesus. He couldn’t activate the ability to think—his brain short-circuited from her nearness. Everything disappeared but the feeling of her open thighs wrapped around his ass with nothing but a tiny pair of black shorts and his jeans between them.

Her sweet musky scent, almost like honey, but better—way better—folded around him like a celestial pair of wings. The scent of her entered his nose, flowed into his lungs, then out to his extremities, spreading a cooling wave of solace that he wanted to savor, but couldn’t. Not with her perched behind him, waiting for him to drive down the road.

He placed her hand against his stomach, pressed it tightly to him. His abdominal muscles twitched under her touch.

“Hold on.” He let go of her hand and she slid her other arm around his waist. She pressed her front to his back, holding as tightly to his body as she’d held his hand. She was a clingy little thing. Not that he minded. Her touch felt like—what was the word he wanted to use—kismet. Exactly as he’d always imagined a lover’s touch. Two pieces fitting perfectly together.

He kicked the machine in gear, trying to ease it forward instead of his normal burst of speed. She rested her head on his spine, nestling her cheek across the fabric of his shirt before settling.

His heart grew, straining against his chest wall, threatening to come up his throat in a shout of

absolute ecstasy.

 

SAVING MERCY

Series: Fatal Truth Series, Book 1
Genre: Dark Romantic Thriller

He’s found her at last…

Cain Killion knows himself to be a damaged man. His only redeeming quality? The extrasensory connection to blood that he uses to catch killers. His latest case takes a macabre turn when he discovers a familiar and haunting symbol linking the crime to his horrific past—and the one woman who might understand what it means.

Only to lose her to a nightmare

Mercy Ledger is brave, resilient, beautiful—and in terrible danger. The moment Cain finds her the line between good and evil blurs and the only thing clear to them is that they belong together. Love is the antidote for blood—but is their bond strong enough to overcome the madness that stalks them?

Buy Now

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Excerpt

The rain came down gray and thick as a shroud, blurring his vision of the world. He flipped on the wipers and pulled out of the hospital parking lot onto the road. Fat blobs of smacked the windshield loud as marbles being tossed against the glass. Was that hail? As if it mattered. His car was trashed.

Cain had covered the passenger seat and all Mac’s blood with a blanket he kept in the trunk. Even though his view of all that crimson was blocked, his mind knew it was there and his eyes kept wandering to the blanket, calling up the image of the dark stickiness coating the seat and the floor. All that blood was playing touchy-feely with his sanity. And he wasn’t in the mood for games.

He drove past a gas station, a fast food restaurant, a person walking alongside the road. His foot hit the brake before his brain had a chance to talk him out of it.

Mercy.

Her hair was slicked to her skull, her clothes—his clothes—were sucked to her body, doing a shitty job of hiding her curves. At least the T-shirt she wore was black, not white. He pulled over to the berm and watched her in the rearview mirror.

She stopped walking, stared at the car—knew it was him—but didn’t move. Could he blame her for not wanting to be around him after what he’d said to her? Not really. And yet, he couldn’t leave her alone and walking in the rain with Payne still out there. Not to mention that she didn’t have anyone or anywhere to go.

She still hadn’t moved from her spot. He left the car running, opened his door and got out. The rain slapped him—frigid, bordering on icy, soaking his clothes and dripping in his eyes. The pressure of it hitting the wounds in his bicep and shoulder made him wince. But that was all the attention he’d give to the pain.

“Get in the car.” The words came out harsher than he’d intended.

She crossed her arms in front of her chest, lifted her head, and somehow managed to stare down her nose at him even though she was almost a foot shorter. “No.” She said the word as if it didn’t matter that they were standing in the middle of a downpour.

“Get in the goddamned car.” This time the words came out loud and angry sounding. Like that was going to win her over. What was his problem?

“Fuck you.” She looked miserable—all wet and shivery and yet feisty and taking none of his crap.

He should soften his tone. He should try to be nicer. He should, but his inner asshole seemed attracted to her inner bitch. “Where are you going? No where. You don’t have anywhere to go. You don’t have any money. You don’t have friends.” His voice softened and filled with some emotion he couldn’t name. “You don’t have anyone looking out for you, caring for you, able to help you in a pinch. You got no one.” He sucked in a breath and when he spoke next his voice was soft and pleading. “Except me.”

The moment he finished speaking he wanted to retract every goddamned one of those words he’d spoken. “I’m…Shit…” He ran a hand through his soaking hair. “Goddamn it. I’m a dick. Okay?” He softened his tone. “Now will you please get in the car?”

Her shoulders straightened, her chin lifted, and she walked forward without looking at him. He expecting her to stomp past the car, but she yanked open the passenger door and got in. Seconds passed where he just stood here, getting even more wet, and staring at the back of her head poking above the headrest.

“Now what?” He asked himself. Just what was he going to do with her? Drop her on Dolan? Yes. No. Yes. No. No. No. The last time he tried dropping her on someone she’d almost gotten hurt. If Mac hadn’t been able to keep her safe, he sure as shit wasn’t going to trust Dolan with her.

He got back in car. Every inch of him soaked. He brushed his hair back off his face and wiped the water from his eyes.

She stared out the passenger window, refusing to look at him. He reached over and touched her shoulder. Underneath his hand, her body tensed, then trembled. Shit. Was he scaring her?

He wrenched his hand off her and wanted to use the damned thing to slap himself around a little. Maybe then he’d get it through his stupid brain that she was fucking frightened of him. Too many words flooded his mind and he didn’t know which ones to say. The I’m-sorry ones. The I-won’t-hurt-you ones. The I’m-an-asshole ones. The I-don’t-know-what-to-do ones.

She turned to him. Rain slicked her cheeks. Or was that tears? Her beautiful eyes were the color of tropical waters—deep and fathomless. He held up his hands in a show of surrender and she flew across the console at him.

He closed his eyes, braced for the blows, but none came.

Instead, slender arms wrapped around him, her hair, cold and wet dripped against his chest, but her cheek over his heart was warm—so warm.

Maybe he’d had a stroke or something because this felt like she was hugging him. And that couldn’t be. Could it? He opened his eyes and looked down at her.

Yep. She was wound tight around the front of him. And suddenly his brain let him feel the total sensation of it. Of being held tight as if he mattered to her. He let his arms fall around her and squeezed, pressing her tighter to him. Damn, this felt good. She felt good. It was oddly comforting to have her clinging on to him so tight.

He closed his eyes and memorized the pressure of her arms around him and the way her hands pressed into his back. The way she felt in his arms, the subtle ripple of her spine and ribs underneath his fingers, the way her skin felt warm against his when every other part of him was cold.

If he’d been given a Stop Time button. This was the moment he would’ve used it. Here, holding her—the gentle lullaby of rain playing in the background—was the only perfect moment of his entire life.

About Abbie Roads

Abbie Roads is a mental health counselor known for her blunt, honest style of therapy. By night she writes dark, emotional novels always giving her characters the happy ending she wishes for all her clients. SAVING MERCY is the first book in her new Fatal Truth Series of dark, gritty, romantic suspense with a psychological twist.

Follow Abbie

Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

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Giveaway – Slivers by Fiona J R Titchenell & Matt Carter @FJR_Titchenell @MCarterAuthor @YABoundToursPR

 

Slivers (The Prospero Chronicles #3)
by Fiona J.R. Titchenell & Matt Carter
Genre: YAHorror/Scifi
Release date: June 20th 2017

Summary:

Ben

Growing up is hard, and growing up in Prospero is even harder, but I think we manage. I mean, yeah, my friends and I spend more of our time fighting a race of shapeshifting aliens than we do hanging out, but we have our fun. We go to parties, help each other with our classes, maybe even fall in love…

I’ve no illusions that we live ordinary lives, but they’re our lives, and I’m going to make sure we make the most of them whether the Splinters want us to or not.

Mina

The truce is temporary. We will not humor the Splinters forever. It’s only until the Slivers can be stopped, until the army of Shards being planted among our classmates can be disassembled, until we get our hands on the thing I’d almost given up believing in.

The humanity test.

For the chance to know, once and for all, who can be trusted, some dealings with monsters must be excusable. Inevitable. Just like this feeling between Ben and me.

And that has to be temporary too.

 
 
Buy links: AmazonBarnes & Noble (Nook) | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords | Indigo

Excerpt:
1. Sabotage
 
 
Ben
At the time, my instincts told me that jumping onto the hood of a moving SUV was a brilliant idea.
After half a second of trying to find something to hold onto, I told myself I’d reconsider my instincts when I got out of this.
If I got out of this.
A voice in my ear—I hadn’t lost my Bluetooth after all. Haley’s voice, by the angry sound of it.
“Ben, what the hell are you doing?”
“I have no idea!” I yelled back, finally grabbing the roof rack with both hands and holding on for dear life, doing my best to block the windshield. The driver accelerated down the empty suburban street, jerking the wheel back and forth, trying to shake me off. I knew behind the tinted glass of this anonymous, plateless SUV were the gray faces of Slivers. Today they were supposed to be kidnapping one of Prospero High School’s nicest teachers from her home, and we were going to stop them. It wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but we’d done it before and should’ve been able to do it again.
I looked to the sidewalks, trying to spot any other members of the Network.
There was a heavy blow against the windshield near my chest. The tinted glass spiderwebbed beneath me. The Slivers were trying to break through.
Not for the first time, I cursed The Owl.
“Everybody close on the house! They’re still on the move!” Courtney called over the party line.
“Where’s that spike strip?” Haley asked.
“About twenty feet behind Ben before he decided to go Shatner on us,” Greg answered.
The spiderweb of glass expanded as the Sliver continued to force its way through.
The next voice was impossibly calm. “If we can stop this vehicle, there’s every chance we can capture multiple Slivers at once in addition to preventing Ms. Craven’s abduction. Ben, do you think you can slow them down?”
Mina Todd.
She always asked for the impossible so reasonably.
The windshield broke open in front of me, safety glass exploding outward as a long, muscular arm with a seven-fingered, clawed hand burst through. It raked back and forth, opening up a large gash in the glass that allowed me to see the three Slivers inside. They were of slight frame with gray, hairless heads and bulging black eyes, and they had begun sprouting extra limbs and tentacles to better mangle me.
“I’ll try,” I said, diving into the jagged hole where the windshield used to be.
Their brief, startled pause before attacking was all I needed.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out one of the cheap stun guns Mina loved to make out of disposable cameras and jammed it into the driver’s chest. The creature shuddered violently, jerking the wheel to the side and stomping on the gas reflexively.
I forced the gearshift into neutral and pulled on the parking brake. The SUV lurched to a violent stop in the middle of the street.
So far so good.
Less good was the sound of snapping wood that came from the passenger seat as its occupant’s body began to shift. Its rib cage broke open into a giant, vertical mouth full of jagged teeth and swirling tentacles. The tentacles lashed out at me, wrapping around my arms and neck, and squeezed. The Sliver in the backseat joined in, grabbing the leg I tried to anchor myself with against the dashboard and forcing me closer to that terrible maw.
The passenger door flew open. The Sliver let out a howl of pain as Julie buried a large meat hook in its back and began pulling it from the car. Courtney wrapped her hands around Julie’s on the hook, throwing her track team muscles into the effort and hardly wincing when the gelatinous Splinter blood began to soil her neatly pressed blouse. The tentacles released me, and soon enough the two girls wrestled the Sliver from the vehicle and tased it.
One down.
The driver’s mutated arm reached across my chest and pulled the door shut. It looked deep into my eyes with those empty, black orbs. Its narrow mouth curled into the faintest of smiles as it held me pinned to the seat with that monstrous arm. Though its face was formless, its flesh waxy, I couldn’t help but feel something familiar in that smile and those soulless eyes.
“Soon,” it whispered to me in its chittering, popping voice.
A new arm burst from its shoulder, splitting into two insectoid hands that allowed it to shift gears and disengage the parking break simultaneously. I watched helplessly as Greg and Kevin finally caught up to us with the jury-rigged spike strip we’d built for just this occasion, tossing it uselessly to the ground just as the driver swerved out of the way.
I didn’t know if the Slivers were still going to try for Ms. Craven or if they would content themselves with taking me instead. Would they try to drag me to their Warehouse (assuming the Slivers had a Warehouse) and replace me, or would they kill me as soon as they found a nice, quiet place to pull over?
They weren’t slowing down. If anything, they seemed to be speeding up. They swerved down the street, aiming for the side of an old duplex. Ms. Craven’s duplex.
I took advantage of the driver’s focus to pull one arm free, fasten a seatbelt around me, and brace myself.
The SUV slammed through the duplex’s wall with a crushing impact that knocked the wind out of me and whipped my neck forward. The unsecured driver flew through the jagged remnants of the windshield and landed in what used to be Ms. Craven’s living room. The passenger from the backseat climbed over me with spindly spider’s legs, following the driver out the windshield.
A woman screamed inside.
Slowly, painfully, I undid my seatbelt and crawled through the windshield, landing on the floor in a dazed heap.
Somehow I stumbled to my feet and pulled the mini flamethrower from my back. It wasn’t much—just a kitchen lighter duct-taped to one of those recalled aerosol fire extinguishers that Mina had stocked up on, but it did the job. Flicking the lighter on, I lifted it high.
The driver had Ms. Craven wrapped in a set of tentacles and interlocking claws, lifting her off the ground. Ms. Craven looked at me fearfully, trying to cry out through the tentacle lashed across her mouth. The flamethrower wouldn’t do much good at this range, standing as much a chance of burning Ms. Craven. I was going to have to wait for backup.
“Let her go,” I said shakily. All of my experiences with Slivers so far had proved that they loved to talk. I only had to stall them long enough for Mina and the rest to get here.
The driver looked to the passenger, exchanging a low series of pops and clicks. The passenger nodded, calmly raising one of its three arms and pointing the hand at me, flat. Just like the driver, a small, frightening smile crossed its face.
I lost all feeling beneath my waist, my legs giving out beneath me. Then I could feel again—too well. It felt like every nerve in my body had burst into flames. Violent waves of nausea hit me, and my muscles no longer seemed to be my own.
Two realizations hit me at once.
First: they had a Shard we hadn’t documented yet.
Second: this Shard had remote control of human bodies.
There was shouting, and then Kevin and Greg slid through the massive hole in the wall, brandishing their flamethrowers and Tasers. Less than a second later, a sliding glass door opened in the next room, and Mina and Haley ran in to join us.
Only Aldo, Julie, and Courtney had yet to catch up.
The two Slivers looked at each other, then at us. They could have taken me easily, maybe even two of us. But five of us, well-armed as we were—that gave them a moment of pause. The driver dropped Ms. Craven roughly to the floor. Both of the Slivers raised their arms, and the driver looked at me, curling its lips into that faint, unpleasant smile.
“Soon,” it said again.
Long spikes of bone erupted from each of their chests and backs. They both began to laugh—a raspy, choking sound—as the base of each spike began to pulsate.
“DUCK!” Mina blurted, falling to the floor.
Everyone dropped, dozens of bony spikes narrowly missing us as they erupted from the Slivers’ bodies, lodging in the walls and shattering windows.
By the time we regained our feet, the Slivers were gone.
“Is everybody all right?” Mina asked.
There were murmurs of assent. Ms. Craven was on the floor, sobbing.
Finding out about Splinters is never easy for people to deal with under the best of circumstances, much less while being kidnapped by the extreme anti-human cult of Splinters that we’d taken to calling “Slivers” last fall.
Not that getting kidnapped by regular, garden-variety Splinters was all that much better.
I was confident that Ms. Craven would come out of her shock soon—she’d always struck me as pretty tough. Once this wore off, we’d be able to tell her the truth. Maybe even make her a part of the team.
Assuming, of course, she was really human.
Haley examined my scratches and scrapes. Content that I must have been okay, she smiled and threw her arms around my neck, hugging me close. I don’t know what was more uncomfortable, Haley’s weight against my aching ribs or the look of annoyance on Mina’s face.
“I’m fine,” I assured Haley, pulling away, “though that Shard they have sure did a number on me.”
“One of the ones The Owl showed you?” Haley asked.
“No, this one’s new,” I said.
“Dammit, I hate Shards,” Greg said, shuddering. I didn’t blame him; the last time we’d gone up against a Shard, it had made him feel a swarm of spiders crawling beneath his skin.
“Tell me about it,” I said.
“Hey, guys?” Aldo said over the group line.
“Did you secure the other Sliver?” Mina asked.
“Yeah, we got her. No problems there. What about yours?” Aldo asked.
“They’ve retreated. They haven’t doubled back your way?” Mina asked.
“No, we’re clear,” Aldo said. There was something held back in his voice I didn’t like.
“What’s wrong, Aldo?” I asked.
“Uh, I think you need to see this one for yourselves.”
“We’re on our way,” Mina said. “Haley, Greg, keep an eye on Ms. Craven.”
“I got some stuff that might calm her down,” Greg said, patting a pocket on his old army jacket.
“Don’t,” I said.
Greg shrugged. “More for me then.”
I followed Kevin and Mina out the front door. By force of habit, I looked up and down the street, hoping by some miracle that we hadn’t been spotted—or heard, for that matter. It was early Sunday morning, so the streets were mostly deserted. Typical abduction timing. The cops would be here eventually—a vehicle crashed through the side of a house has a way of summoning them sooner or later—but given the Prospero Police Department’s closeness with the main Splinter Council, this would all no doubt be hushed up pretty quickly.
“You’re gonna have to spend some quality time with Mina’s first-aid kit, brother,” Kevin observed.
“I’ve looked worse,” I said.
“You’ve looked better, too,” Mina interjected coldly.
“What’d I do?” I complained.
“You nearly ruined the operation. This didn’t go half as smoothly as our other interceptions,” Mina shot back.
I didn’t have a good defense for that. Ever since she’d started receiving those messages from the Owl, giving us the Slivers’ plans for abductions, we’d had a pretty good (though not perfect) track record of intercepting and stopping the Slivers before they could take their intended targets. Over the previous month and a half, we had managed to save the mayor’s son, Sheriff Diaz’s wife, and the head of the PTA from being taken without their ever knowing anything was going on. Things could have gone better this time, I knew that, but they also could have gone a lot worse.
“I didn’t have a choice. They know what we’ve been doing, and they’re being more careful. I did what I had to do,” I said.
“You could’ve been killed.”
“But I wasn’t!”
Kevin squeezed his way between us and put an arm around each of our shoulders.
“Let us not forget, my friends, that we did stop them from replacing Ms. Craven. It may have been sloppy, and she may have been needlessly introduced to our world, but we saved her. We did a good thing; the forces of evil are in check for another day. We should be celebrating!” Kevin said, smiling that easy smile he always used to defuse tense situations.
Mina sighed. “Please try to avoid unnecessary risks in the future.”
“Will do,” I said.
“There, isn’t that better than fighting like a couple o’ freshmen?” Kevin said.
“So says the senior commencement speaker,” I replied, punching him in the ribs softly.
“Hey, I’m as surprised as you guys are that I actually got the gig,” Kevin said, grinning.
“Right… so how long have you had that speech written?” I asked.
“Seventh grade, give or take a month.” Kevin laughed. “Come on, it’ll be my last chance to try to change a few minds here before I move on to the real world.”
“Freshmen don’t fight any appreciably more or less than any other students,” Mina said as if she’d missed half the conversation, looking a bit lost in thought.
“Really? Maybe we should ask Aldo,” Kevin joked.
Tall tales about Aldo’s secret second life, or third life in our case, had become something of a running joke among the Network, given his habit of accumulating even more scrapes and bruises than the rest of us in spite of spending most of his time behind the scenes, digging for information or tinkering with the equipment.
Underground cage fighting and undercover spy operations were common speculations.
This conversation did lead to one topic that had been eating at me lately: the passage of time. Of the eight members of the Network, Kevin and Courtney were both seniors and were going to be moving on from Prospero within the next six months. I didn’t know how we were going to keep the fight going without them. We would find a way to manage, Mina always had in the past, but it would be rough without Courtney’s organizational skills and Kevin’s ability to put things in perspective.
Julie, Courtney, and Aldo had dragged their captive Sliver to the privacy of Courtney’s backyard, a good five blocks from Ms. Craven’s, and by the time we caught up with them, they already had it tied up in copper wire and were threatening to touch the wire to a car battery. As usual, Julie (her jet black hair streaked with hot pink and red for Valentine’s Day coming up) smiled at us perkily beneath her thick goth makeup.
“Ya all right, Ben?” she asked, eying the scratches on my face.
“I’m fine.”
Aldo’s concerned expression was unsettling. Ever since our fight with Robbie, Aldo had assumed a bravura I’d never known he had in him. He was the first to cheer any victory lately. If he wasn’t smiling…
“What is it?” Mina asked, looking down at the Sliver, which looked more human now despite the few extra limbs it still possessed.
Courtney held the end of the copper wire above the car battery with a plastic pair of tongs. “Show them again.”
The Sliver hissed something in its chittering language that must not have been kind. Courtney and Mina exchanged a glance. Mina nodded. Courtney dropped the wire onto the battery’s contact.
The Sliver screamed too humanly as it shuddered and arched what could best be approximated as its back, and the wire sparked violently. When Courtney took the wire away, it reluctantly took the face of its true, human form with a look of pure spite.
It was the face of Ms. Claudette Velasquez, my calculus teacher. That she was a Splinter was not news; we had known this for a few months.
That she was working with the Slivers was a surprise. The last time we had seen her, she had a seat on the Splinter Council.
“What are you waiting for? Kill me. That’s what you want, isn’t it?” she challenged.
“We’re not that stupid,” I said.
Ms. Velasquez looked at the battery with a mix of anger and fear. “Then what is your plan for me?”
“You’re going to tell us everything you know about the Slivers’ plans,” Mina said simply, taking the tongs from Courtney and holding them a little closer to the battery. “And when we’re convinced you’re not holding out, we’ll hand you over to the Splinter Council.”
Ms. Velasquez’s eyes went wide with genuine fear. “And if you’re never convinced?”
“We turn you over to them anyway, only we don’t tell them how remorseful and cooperative you were.”
Ms. Velasquez’s eyes scanned us, probably trying to gauge whether or not Mina was telling the truth. She must have believed her, because her body visibly slumped.
“Fine. I will cooperate. Just don’t—”
She let out an ear-splitting scream, her eyes bulging—then fell still with mouth agape. We stared, trying to figure out if it was a trick, when the flesh began to melt from her bones in thick gray rivers.
“What the… no, no…” Aldo muttered, trying to scoop bits of dissolving Splinter into one of his specially rigged containment boxes, watching with confusion as the liquid continued to evaporate after the box was sealed.
The entire Splinter corpse down to the bones was deteriorating into nothingness as the raw Splinter matter became incompatible with our world.
“What the hell just happened?” Courtney asked. “She was going to talk!”
“Was she?” Mina asked doubtfully.
“Well she sure as hell wasn’t going to die!” said Aldo, staring at the last vanishing remnants of the body. “Splinters just don’t do that spontaneously.”
“They might if they got one of those in ’em, brother,” Kevin said as he pointed to what was left of Ms. Velasquez’s deteriorating bones.
What looked like a foot-long, white caterpillar made of tumors and small air sacs disentwined itself from around her spine. Slowly, it walked away from the dissolving remains of my math teacher, shaking off bits of gray slime.
Then it started to glow a faint, pulsing white, lifting off the ground and beginning to float away like a plastic bag in the breeze. Mina grabbed it with her tongs.
“That a Splinter?” Kevin asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” Mina said.
“Then what is it?” Aldo asked.
The answer hit me before Mina could say it out loud.
“A game changer,” I said. “If they’ve got themselves some sort of alien suicide pill hiding inside them to keep them compliant, we might have to reconsider our capture strategy.”
Capturing a Sliver for information had been one of our dreams ever since we started receiving information from The Owl.
Just when we thought we had the Slivers figured out, they had to come up with something like this.
I would’ve laughed if it weren’t so damn depressing.
 
Previous Books in the Series (click on image for Goodreads link):

 

 
About the Authors
Fiona J.R. TITCHENELL is an author of young adult, sci-fi, and horror fiction, including Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of). She graduated from Cal State University Los Angeles with a B. A. in English in 2009 at the age of twenty. She currently lives in San Gabriel, California, with her husband, coauthor, and amazing partner in all things, Matt Carter, and their pet king snake, Mica.
Connect with Fiona J.R. Titchenell on:
Her blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest

MATT CARTER is an author of horror, sci-fi, and yes, even a little bit of young adult fiction. He earned his degree in history from Cal State University Los Angeles, and lives in the usually sunny town of San Gabriel, California, with his wife, best friend, and awesome co-writer, F.J.R. Titchenell. Check out his first solo novel, Almost Infamous, or connect with him on:
His blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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