Raining Love

He’d changed from the khaki pants and crisply creased button-down shirt he’d worn before and instead, wore a pair of jeans, the only other clothing he had since his beautiful suit had been ruined. Atop his deep, chocolate, rippling chest with the small dragon tattoo, he wore what I called a white vest, but which he referred to by the horrid name of a wife beater. Ça alors! Quelle romance.

“Come with me,” he said, taking my hand. As soon as I passed through the doorway, he stopped, bent, and removed my shoes. “Sorry, I didn’t have time to find rose petals for you to walk on.”

I took a step but he swept me from my feet and into his strong arms. I laughed. “Why did you take off my shoes if you weren’t going to let me walk?”

“I like your feet,” he said, giving me a sly smile.

We went up the steps, past the small bedroom in which I always slept, and past the larger one that I had assigned to him in order to avoid questions from curious sisters and children. Similarly, my emotions were on a path as well, traveling past excitement, then past disappointment, and now only at curiosity. Before I could ask him where we were going, he turned into the guest bathroom. Jette’s home is a real French farmhouse, exactly as Grand-père built it. The bath was little more than a wood-paneled room, well-lit from natural light, with a small sink, toilet, mirror, a bench for dressing and applying makeup, and in the center, a large, steel, oval tub with overhead shower and a detachable wand for washing by hand. Around the tub, on the bench, and on the counter were candles., Curling rivulets of steam rose to the ceiling, fogging the skylight and further muting the light. It was perfect.

Foss set me down.

“I thought if the cigarette smell is my problem, then I should be the one to fix it.”

“It wasn’t you. I know you don’t like smoking. I shouldn’t have.”

He shook his head. “You are a grown woman, and my job isn’t to tell you what to do.” He came closer and I thought he would kiss me. I closed my eyes, but instead, he reached around and pushed shut the door.

“We’re alone here,” I said. I felt my cheeks pull into a broad smile.

“I know, but it’s going to get chilly in a second.”

I frowned, not understanding what he meant, but before I could even move, he reached to my waist, and with a single motion, pulled my blouse over my head.

“You have beautiful breasts.” He was looking not at my chest, but into my eyes.

“You can’t even see them. I’m wearing a bra.”

“I’ve seen them before.” He nodded ever so slowly. “Trust me, I have them memorized.”

My breathing hastened.

In contrast to the swift removal of my top, he took forever to remove my jeans. First, he unlatched my belt, then unfastened the top button. He bent to me, gave me his tongue and tasted mine. And while they reconnected and fell there, lovingly, slowly, deliberately, he unzipped my pants as if I were a ripe banana to be unpeeled. I pulled back, gasping for air. It had been a long time, too long. I was still panting when I felt cool air against my exposed legs. My knees buckled.

“Are you hurting?” he asked.

“Oh, oui, I am. I have been hurting since the day we met.” I pulled his wife beater and together, our tongues entwined, we beat the hell out of that wife until I was spent, breathless, and gasping for more lips, tongue, love, always. I could see colors dancing before us and between us that would intensify whenever we touched. There was a vague buzzing, like electricity,that I’d never heard before, but I knew instantly that it was our connection finally being closed.

Foster kissed my cheek, my shoulder, slid off the strap, kissed the other, repeated the gesture, kissed my breastbone and reached around, unlatching the bra so that it fell silently to the floor. Precisely as my nipple was freed and hardened against the cool air, he slipped his warm mouth over it, tasting me for the first time and warming my breast and heart. My eyes glued closed but still I could see the purple flare of him. He fell to his knees, somehow still erect there before me like a knight waiting to be crowned. He waited until I met his eyes and then slowly, painfully, teasingly, removed my panties—inch by inch.

By inch.

By inch.

I tried to step out but he stopped me. “From now on, all the work is mine, love.” It was the first time he said that word since we met, and it stopped me. After five seconds, I remembered to exhale.

“Do you love me, Foss?”

He stood, meeting my gaze with intense, brown eyes. “Baby, I love you rivers, love you heaven and stars and all the galaxies beyond. I love that the sun waits to rise until you smile and refuses to set until he sees you’re safe. I love the day you were born and when your mama was born and grandma was born and when the first woman was born, all of them proud, knowing one day they’d evolve into you. Honey, I loved you the moment we met and every crazy minute since, and I promise you, when we’re done here on earth and it’s time to rejoin the heavens, I’ll still be loving you.”

It began to rain outside with the droplets’ tapping on the clay roof tiles making a perfect percussive accompaniment to my tears and to my Foss, who lifted me, placed me upright in the tub, and began washing me. He explored my curves, starting at my neck, and then to my shoulders, back, and bottom. He washed my breasts, gentle with them, saying nothing and not meeting my eyes, but focused on the soft cloth and my skin. When I was lathered, my curves sudsy and my secret places clean, he took a steel pot that sat nearby, and instead of using the shower’s wand, he rinsed me by hand, slowly, sensually, tenderly. I remember thinking, even now, that until that moment, that magical night with Foss, I had never been washed before. When I was clean and rinsed, he sat me in the tub. The water was no longer hot, but still warm and soothing. He lifted my right leg, held my ankle, washed my foot. On the left, he repeated the process, but carefully, minding my hip.

“Lean back,” he said, and I did.

He washed my hair, using only my shampoo and his strong hands, and to my dismay, I had my first orgasm there, just then, as he held me with one arm around my chest and the other rinsing shampoo from my hair. I had heard stories of women who could climax with a kiss or a touch, but never from a good shampoo. I was like a silly schoolgirl, wishing for longer locks so that the washing, and my orgasm, would last. When we were done, he sat me on the side of the tub and toweled me dry with one of the enormous red flannels that Jette loved so much. I wrapped it around myself like a cocoon.

“You look great in red,” he said. “You should wear it more often.”

“I will if you wear jeans more often,” I said.

“It’s a deal.” He sighed and sank to the floor.

“Tired?” I asked.

“Uh-uh. Just content, for the first time in … ever.”

“Then, I guess you wouldn’t want to risk spoiling it by making love to me,” I said. I had been waiting for him since the day we met. I will never understand shy American men.

“Oh darling, I plan on spoiling it all night.”

“Good. I haven’t made love in years.”

“Me either.”

I laughed and hit him. “Liar!” It was sweet, but seeing how women were drawn to him, I knew it wasn’t possible. Besides, he had a fiancée when we met.

“No, I mean it. Remember, you said, ‘love.’ ”

“Love, oui.”

He kissed me—then, later, all night long.

Wordaventing

Charlie’s longboat pitched and yawed, rolled port and starboard, rose and fell, while the rest of the lagoon stood as serene as a glass sculpture. I wish Robin would sit still just this once. Knowing he could no more control his best friend’s actions than he could the weather, he focused his attention away from the girl’s insane dancing and to the vista before them. Long, tree-born shadows stretched across the broad lake, interspersed by bright stars of sunlight that danced through their leaves. Beyond the shoreline, a long arc of snow-capped mountains scraped the underbellies of clouds until they surrendered, fell as fog, and began to obscure the mountains’ peaks.

The mountains must not want to be here either.

The springtime trees that dotted the mountainsides were populated with the bright lavender of new foliage. The air was thick and humid, though not unpleasant. It was nearing dusk and the waning sunlight painted the sky a muted pink that was reflected in the mirror-like lake. Away from the westward sky, the landscape had already changed to midnight purple with thick fog roiling down the mountains and drifting over the treetops. It gave the lagoon an odd duality, with half the countryside brightly cheery and half dark and ominous.

Charlie sat in the boat facing the dark half. Robin, by contrast, was standing, dancing in a frantic circle, her head tilted toward her lovely pink sky. She was tall and lean, already five foot seven at age fourteen, with her blossoming body hinting at the woman she would become. Thirteen-year-old Charlie barely watched her, though she fascinated him.

“You’re all gloominating my dream, Dimple Boy,” she said, barely pausing to look at him. “Cheer up,”

“That’s not a word,” Charlie said. “You’re always making up words.”

“Wordaventing is what we poets do,” she said. She punctuated her statement with a pirouette, then sat facing him. “I’m here because you asked me to help you use your imagination. Now you’re complaining that I’m using mine.”

“I-I wasn’t complaining, just …”

“Envious?”

Charlie looked up at Robin and was surprised to see she was smiling at him. He had never known her to make fun of anything that troubled him, which meant either she could not tell how much this bugged him, or … “You’re about to say something you think is brilliant, right?” he asked.

Her grin broadened, and she poked him in the shoulder. “Quit reading my eyes, that’s cheating,” she said.

“I wasn’t. It’s too dark out here. They just look gray.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be dark if you’d cheer up.”

Charlie looked around, noticing once again the fog seemed to thicken as his mood darkened. “I can’t help it. I hate writing stupid poems.”

Robin grinned wide enough that Charlie was tempted to cup his hands, in case all her teeth sprang from her mouth. He hoped her braces would not cut his hands.

“That’s my idea,” she said. “I want you to close your eyes and just make up a word. Then we’ll just let the dream decide what the word means.”

“What? What’ll that do?”

“De-gloominate the place, hopefully. And it might get you started on this poem you have to write.”

Charlie sighed and face-palmed. The sound of his hands slapping against his forehead echoed over the quiet lake.

“The phrase you’re looking for, I think, is ‘liven up.’” The voice came from a small canoe about ten feet away from them in which sat a fifteen-year-old boy with black-rimmed glasses and slicked-back hair. He looked remarkably like Charlie, except that he was dressed in a white collared shirt and red bowtie. Even bobbing along in the canoe, he managed to look as if he were preparing to lecture a class on algebra.

“I beg your pardon,” Robin said.

“You cannot just go around modifying the English language as it suits you,” the boy responded. “It makes no sense to invent a word for a thing that already has one.”

“Wordavent,” she answered. Robin cupped her hands to her forehead and squinted. “Do I know you? You look awfully familiar.”

The boy barely glanced in her direction, having lost interest in the conversation. He was now maneuvering a pair of oars and was straining toward the darkened end of the lagoon. A vein bulged in the center of his forehead.

“Dude,” Robin said. “You’re gonna give yourself a stroke.”

He did not respond, but continued pulling at the oars with all of his might. Seated opposite him was a girl who appeared to be around seventeen. She too looked very much like Charlie, with long, curly brown hair, caramel skin, and full lips that were pursed in a tense frown. She was rowing just as hard as the boy, but in the opposite direction. They were, not surprisingly, going nowhere.

“Charlie,” Robin whispered. “I think that’s your sister.”

Charlie’s eyes shot open, and a look of horror crossed his face.

Oh God, no. This place is nuts enough without Layla invading my dreams.

Charlie and his sister Layla loved each other, deep down someplace. It was very deep down, however, and Charlie often couldn’t find an emotional shovel powerful enough to reach that well of love. Her moving out to live with his father had been a joyous occasion for him. He was certain he would eventually miss her, though it hadn’t happened yet. He looked over to where Robin was pointing, and his expression turned to a scowl.

Falling in Love with a Story

I know when a book is working because I stop being the author and become a reader. This book, I like to read.

Dark Hat

After an hour of pointless ranting, Hardesty had convinced me he thought everyone in Northern Africa was potentially part of a Muslim plot. I’d have considered that racist, but the man thought pretty much the same about everyone in North America too. To his reckoning, our little Seize Mai contingent was no more than a fingerprint away from an Al Qaeda plot. It’s one thing to be a racist. It’s another, wholly indigestible subhuman trait to be despicable simply because no one ever taught you not to be a schmuck. Kevin Hardesty was a schmuck.

“Cain, you and your partner are interfering in a United States Government Operation.” I was no synesthete like Dark, but I could hear the capital letters in that declaration. I almost saluted out of habit.

“Boss, I keep telling you, we aren’t working on or interfering with your case in any way. Rather than come back home, me and Dark took a holiday in beautiful Casablanca.”

He bellowed some epithets that I was glad Dark couldn’t hear through the glass door. He went silent then, except for slurping on what had to be his tenth cup of Joe of the day. Actually, it was a Starbucks Tall Latte Mocha Something-or-Other, but I was in Casablanca and found myself channeling Bogart’s Rick Blaine by the minute. To me, Hardesty was no longer my obese Government COR, he was Kev Hardass, my stout Fed Bureau Chief, sipping on his cuppa Joe and trying bring his rogue agent, namely me, in line. I sort of sympathized with the poor sap, especially since he was knee-deep in a D.C. snowstorm while we were luxuriating in a Mediterranean clime and I knew there was nothing he could do about our actions short of creating an international incident by sending the troops into a friendly country.

“Cain, for the last time, tell me the truth. What the fuck are you doing in Casa, and how the hell did you know to go there? If you have someone here leaking you TS-SCI info, friend or not, I will have your ass and theirs.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I had zero idea to that point that the man considered me his friend. I can be as stubborn an ass as anyone, but I’m a sucker when it comes to loyalty. I’d started to fold just as Dark reentered the room. “Kevin, I promise, no one on the inside told us anything. Dark figured it out from some clues that Danni Rudenko dropped us.”

“Oh là là là là,” Dark said, throwing up her hands.

“What clues?” Hardesty asked. I gave Dark the hush sign, received the fuck-you sign in return, and then recapitulated the highlights of our interview with Danni, while my partner stood scowling at the phone with her arms crossed. When I’d finished, Hardesty said, “You’re in central Casablanca based on that meager information?”

I looked at Dark who called Hardesty something that sounded unconscionably harsh in German before stalking out the room’s front door. “I will see you downstairs,” she said and slammed the door behind her. That made me reconsider. She flat out didn’t trust him; friend or no, if Dark was suspicious then I needed to tread lightly.

“Cain, did you hear me?”

“No, sorry. Dark just stuck her head in to tell me we have an appointment.”

“I was saying that I don’t know how that woman does it, but she hit the nail on the head. Tell her I said she can work for me anytime.”

Shut Up and Rub Me

An excerpt from my current work-in-progress, Jeanne Dark.

Dark CoverThe bathroom door opened and steam roiled out, bathing the room in warm, damp air. From its dark midst emerged Jeanne, lit by the flickering light from the living area as if she were a chimera, or perhaps a wounded angel, defrocked and sent limping to Earth. She was dressed in a flowing, white robe with her hair wrapped in a towel. It was ordinary hotel attire, yet she wore it as if she were an ancient Persian Princess and I her faithful servant. I’d doused the lights in the hotel room and substituted them with candles that were bright enough for her to see her way to the bed, but little else. I’d just turned off the lamps, and my eyes were still adjusting to the darkness when she approached. I regained my vision in time to see the creamy outline of her flesh through the sheer robe. I swept her up with my eyes, and for a moment, she met my gaze and the fog was no longer in the room, but in my mind, clouding out the thoughts I’d had of our case, our agreed professionalism, my reason. I realized, too late, that I’d not thought the setting in the room through. Behind me, Coltrane and Ellington conspired in playing “My Little Brown Book,” which added just enough heat that I feared the room might melt. That woman and her jazz were going to be the death of me.

“Merci pour l’éclairage,” Dark said, taking my hand so I could help ease her onto the bed. “It was very thoughtful.” My elementary French told me she was thanking me for dimming the lights. I breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t think the setting was as full of romance as my thumping heart was telling me that it was. Dark removed her sunglasses once again. Even in the dim light, the gloriously large olive orbs were breathtaking. She lay on her side, briefly looking me in the eyes, and smiled. “You are full of compliments tonight,” she said.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Oui. You said plenty.” She turned on her stomach, reached underneath and undid her robe. My brain reminded me for the second time I hadn’t thought the scenario through. It was, however, way too late to turn on the lights and the television to break the mood. She pulled the robe over her shoulders and lifted her chin to me. “You can help, you know.” I gingerly eased the garment off her shoulders, to her mid-back, stopping at her hips. I could see a strap across her back that looked like a … “Do you like my bikini?” she asked.

The question startled me, because for a moment I thought the woman could see me out the back of her head. It would have been a natural evolution from her current set of gifts. I managed to stutter out a query as to why she had a bikini in London.

“I bought it the day we met, when you promised me a massage. I was beginning to think I’d never wear it.”

I settled in over her and began at her shoulders. Her fragrance stopped me. “Why do you smell like oranges and vanilla?”

She gave a throaty laugh. “Do I make you hungry?”

I muttered my answer under my breath. “You have no idea.”

I resumed work on her shoulders, but she turned, looking at me. “Is the rest of me too damaged for you to massage?”

“What? No, of course not.”

“Then, if you don’t mind, I’d rather you start with the bottom and work up. All the pain is from below the waist.”

“Should I pull your robe back up?”

“If I am ugly, oui.”

I pulled the damned thing the rest of the way off, revealing her slender frame, delicate skin, and slim legs. From head to toe, she smelled of the attar of orange petals. “Yeah, my pain is from below the waist too,” I said.

“Shut up and rub me,” she said. I could hear the smile in her voice.

Excerpt from Awakening: The Backwards Man

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I’m almost through my revision/tightening of Awakening, the 2nd book of The Stream, which I’ve tentatively retitled Grandfather Time. Since I’ve reached it, I thought I’d share my favorite scene.


Behind them, approaching from the lighted room, was a bizarre vision of a man being led by twin horrors. The man was tall and thin, his features concealed by a loosely fitting, hooded tunic. He wore likewise loose-fitting pants tied with a rope belt made of twisted gold strands. Both the tunic and pants were amethyst, giving him the bizarre appearance of a purple monk. On his head he wore a wide-brimmed hat, despite already being shielded by the hood. The hat rose into twin peaks, as if the hard leather had been placed over horns. The round brim stood as wide as his shoulders. Though standing in the lighted room, his face was concealed in shadows. As he moved forward into the darkness, the shadows grew, seeming to envelope him, as though he had become one with the surrounding murkiness.

His head, torso, and arms all faced forward, towards the group of rescuers as they rounded a turn and out of sight. Grotesquely, his hips, legs, and feet faced backwards toward his group of sycophants. He led a strange cortege of hook-nosed women with aggressively protruding breasts; the too tall, too thin, or too bent; human pincushions; and the diseased, dripping with open sores. All wore brightly colored clothing that was covered in drab brown robes or shawls. These beings marched in asynchronous, ludicrous fashion behind a small company of addled bodyguards dressed as harlequins with capes and long baggy robes. The guards held long, bent spears that ended in razor-edged points. At purely random increments, they would slice or stab one of the followers, or each other, eliciting both yelps of pain and a tittering chorus. As a result, none of the followers seemed to be actually watching Charlie or the backwards man, but were engrossed with mindlessly torturing each other.

The backwards man strode in the direction of what should have been forward but which appeared to be rearward, in pursuit of Charlie and his group. The hooded figures bony arms were extended, restraining the two snarling beasts that tested their iron chains. Each monstrosity had a broad chest and sturdy legs that ended in wide, padded feet that allowed them to move silently across the concrete floors. Their chests were no more than eighteen inches above the floor, but due to their enormous frame, the beasts stood five feet at the shoulders. Their heads were equally massive, with reptilian features that ended in a wide mouth full of two-inch teeth. The beasts were dull brown, with red striations on the sides of their heads that made them appear even angrier than their snarling, drooling demeanor asserted. They looked as if some hellish breeder had managed to graft a small Tyrannosaurus’ head on an oversized, lizardized bulldog’s frame.

“Fetch,” the backwards man said, in a voice that was simultaneously deep and effete. He released the hellhounds from his scrawny hands, and they bolted in snarling pursuit of Charlie’s group, their chains clattering behind.

Excerpt from Awakening

Here’s a quick excerpt from Awakening, in Chapter 22, “Henchen Henceforth Penchen.” The chapter’s title is the name of a pet rooster, named after my mom’s own pet rooster from her childhood. Fortunately, her childhood was different from my characters’.


The family stopped at a dingy, little shop off the main highway to pick up supplies they needed, while her dad talked to the locals and enjoyed a smoke outside. When he had finished smoking, he went inside, leaving the girls alone in the barren parking lot. They stopped on every weekend trip at Dusty’s Rhodeside Supplies, where Jimmy LeBeaux had become something of a regular. The two girls paced back and forth, idling in the desert heat, until their father had finished his business, along with his usual two more cigarettes and as many “cold ones with the boys” from the small fridge that Dusty kept hidden behind the counter next to a loaded shotgun. The girls were alone except for the occasional tumbleweed or roadrunner that eyed them warily from a distance. After twenty minutes, Jimmy called in Reyna to show off how pretty his daughter was. Robin followed her in, although she wasn’t certain her dad remembered he had a second daughter.

“Yeah, she’s a looker, Jimmy,” Dusty Rhodes—his actual name—said, giving the thirteen year old Reyna an inappropriate leer. Reyna drew in her body tensely, as if his eyes could actually touch her skin, and made a sour face. “You’re gonna be chasing the boys off’n her with a shotgun in a couple years.”

“Hell no I ain’t,” Jimmy said. “Ain’t nobody gonna mess with my baby girl. Ain’t nobody that stupid.” He laughed and placed his hand on Reyna’s shoulder. Reyna stiffened, but did not otherwise react.

Robin stood in a corner of the cramped store, pretending to be interested in the merchandise on the shelves, but, in actuality, was just enjoying the limited cooling ability of the big swamp coolers nearby. Her dad’s truck had air conditioning, but he refused to use it, claiming it burned too much gas and overtaxed his diesel engine. As she watched her sister looking as if she were caught in a poacher’s trap, she realized how obviously Reyna hated being there, and wondered why her dad never seemed to notice. Then again, she figured, noticing his daughters’ needs was never one of her father’s strong suits.

Finally, when the beer ran out, Jimmy LeBeaux wrapped his bony arm around Reyna’s waist, and announced they had to get to work.

“Why don’tchu brang that pretty wife of your’n down sometime, Jimmy?” Dusty asked. “Me and the wife would love to have y’all over. The wife makes a mean pot roast, and I know for a fact you’re sick of all that damn Mexican food.”

“That’s for damn sure,” Jimmy said, his tobacco-stained teeth showing.

“We’ll cook you up some good ole Texas chili—get you some American food for a change.”

Robin glared at Dusty and considered telling him that she was pretty sure that Albuquerque, her mom’s birthplace, was still in America, but caught Reyna’s cautionary look, and held her tongue. She expected her father to come to her mom’s defense—after all, she and Reyna were part Mexican themselves—but Jimmy only laughed.

“We might do just that some time,” Jimmy said laughing. “I’ll bring you some green chiles so you can spice that Texas chili up New Mexico style, he said. Me and the girls are gonna be harvesting real soon—looks like no more’n a couple of weeks.” He walked to the door, and gestured for Robin and Reyna to go out to the truck. As Reyna turned, Jimmy playfully patted her on her round butt and said, “See, she gets that from her mom. Being Mexican does have some usefulness you know. I sure have me some fun with her mom, if you get my drift.” He and the men all laughed as Jimmy joined his daughters in the dusty parking lot and loaded the rest of the supplies in the bed of the large truck.

As they started on their way, Robin offered from the back seat, “Tio Carlos always says that if you’re part Mexican, you’re all Mexican. He says that once you’re part of a Mexican family you belong 100 percent. So, that means that me and Reyna are Mexican too. Even you, Daddy.” Robin hoped that her logic would persuade her father to not associate with men who seemed to dislike her people.

To her disappointment, but not surprise, he said, “Your ‘Tio’ Carlos is an idiot.” As he said “Tio,” he made quotation marks with his fingers, two of which held another cigarette. The gesture made Robin nervous, as he took both hands off the steering wheel to do so.

“Tio Carlos has a law firm, Dad, and he makes more money than, like, all the LeBeauxes put together,” Reyna said in his defense.

Barely looking, Jimmy LeBeaux reached over and slapped Reyna on the side of her face. “Don’t smart mouth me, little girl,” he said, exhaling acrid smoke in her direction. Robin jerked back in her seat with a start and began crying. Reyna however, kept her eyes fixed on the road ahead and neither moved a muscle nor made a sound.

“You shut the hell up back there, little girl, or I swear to God we will be eating roast rooster for dinner tonight.”

Robin began to weep harder, but had enough experience to do so silently. She wished to herself that she could be as strong as her big sister, who was surreptitiously soothing her younger sister by reaching back and stroking her leg.

Game of Sevens

I recently got tagged on Facebook with the “Game of Sevens” wherein you’re supposed to go to page 7 or 77 of your latest manuscript, then go down 7 lines and copy and post the next 7. Then, of course, you tag 7 more folks.

The thing is, I don’t know 7 writers on FB with whom I interact, and I never tag people I really don’t know. Still, it got me wondering about my two open manuscripts, both detective stories written in the 1st person. Were the two narrators different? Can random excerpts really give one insight into the books? Being intrigued, here’s my Game of 7s Experiment.


 

The Brooklyn Trace

 Narrated by Eddie Daley. Eddie is handsome and a bit of an imp, though with a kind, true heart. He’s not one for flowery language, though nor is he the typical noir hard case.

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Tanya said, “You aren’t fighting very hard.”

“What makes you think I’m trying to win? You’re actually turning me on a little bit.”

“Ew,” she said and twisted her body. She managed to get me in an arm bar. When I tried to counter she released it, grabbed my right hand, and torqued it behind my back. I calmed again and she took the other one and locked it.

NShw_7

Albuquerque and Boulder come close, but Flagstaff’s prettier, like it’s been frozen in time. Albuquerque’s like a stain somebody spilled in the desert. Still, adopted home or no, I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. I think Apache felt it too, even though this was his first time in Flagstaff. I could tell, because he was pissing on the floor of the Camaro even more than normal. I was going to need to get it professionally cleaned. No self-respecting girl was going to be seen in a classic convertible that smelled of chicken grease and puppy piss.


 

Jeanne Dark

Narrated by Foster Cain (and his partner, Jeanne Dark, though not in these excerpts). Whereas Eddie is comfortable in either a suit or jeans, Foss likes to relax by loosening his $80 tie. Eddie’s more down-to-earth, and Foss is educated, lyrical, and more serious. The one thing they have in common: women dig ’em.

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I knew she was a naturalized U.S. citizen with family still overseas, and I learned she absolutely refused to renounce her French citizenship, which is a requirement for gaining both a U.S citizenship and a TS/SCI clearance. That gave me two important bits of insight: one, she was stubborn to a fault, as are most brilliant or successful people, and two, whatever her skill set, the U.S. government was willing to break its own security protocols to obtain her services, or at least keep them away from its enemies. I presented my assessment to my Government contact, Hardesty, who grunted an affirmation and added that Dark was being considered for some work, which I wasn’t cleared to know, involving people who were none of my business. However, it wasn’t difficult to figure it involved covert ops in the Intel sector. For them to bring me in meant they were targeting her for a very risky operation—one that required a steady hand—and they needed to know if she was stable. To be fair, that was a pretty easy guess. It was pretty much my entire job.

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Behind her, Hardesty snickered. He had good reason to. I stood, impressing her with the full volume of my indignation. Even in her she-wolf cloak of measured indifference, I could tell the lady dug the way I was built. It was mutual, and I was hoping her alpha female ego would require her to stand in defiance against me. She did, and we stood that way, toe to toe, glaring. Were it not for Dark, I’d have asked Hardesty to step out into the hall for a few minutes while Samuels and I worked things out.