Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Tiny Bit of the Existential Flu

Hey darlins,

Sooo...my book came out, which is great. I'm happy it's out in the world and to those of you who've bought it, THANK YOU so much for your support, I love you. What I don't love right now? My productivity.

Handle With Care was the last book I managed to complete before the baby got here, and you know how many books I've finished since she arrived? None, for myself, excepting my last coauthored book with Lori. I've been spending most of my free time writing for other people, and while that's important because it pays the bills (mostly) it doesn't do anything to set me up for success with my own career. I feel creatively, mentally, and physically drained.

A lot of this is because I spend all day with a delightful handful of a baby girl, who is close to walking and looking less like a baby and more like a child all the time (OMG I'm not fucking ready for that, noooooo!). Some of it is because I'm having trouble with my two biggest personal projects, an urban fantasy and--you guessed it--Mutable. Neither is done yet, and in Mutable's case, I know where I need to get to but not how, and it's taking a toll. Basically, I feel like I've been spinning my wheels, trying so hard to do more and get more and be more, and not really succeeding. Blah.

Everybody goes through times like this, I know. It's been quite a while since I published anything personal on this blog, though, so here--have some of my minor angst! While we're at it, let me think of something cool I can share, hmm.

Okay, this is neat. Last weekend I got to be involved in filming another episode of The Best Defense, which my knife fighting instructor is a co-host for. Last time was a mass shooting scenario, in which I played a terrorist and got shot in the head. This time it's a school shooting scenario, and I play a teacher who--yep--gets shot. I'm sensing a theme. It was really fun, though!

I guess that's it for now. I'll post more Mutable next week, and as soon as I get out to see a movie again (whenever my parents get back from Germany and can babysit the wee one) I'll put up a review. I hope you're all doing well, and are as happy and healthy as possible.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Nineteen, Part One

Notes: You know what we haven't seen in a while? Cas being a badass. So in this chapter I send us off the rails and propel him into a situation where he gets to be as awesome as he actually is. I'll get us back on track later ;)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Nineteen, Part One

***


Chapter Nineteen, Part One



In his two and a half decades of life, Cas had endured physical and mental torture at the hands of his enemies, his instructors, and even his phage. He’d suffered through the deaths of his parents and the murder of his younger brother. He could handle extreme privation, and had stared death in the eye without blinking.

Another day of no one else to bleed off Lilah’s ire might just do him in, though.

Things had gotten…tense, in Obsidian. Cas had expected Rone to be busy attending to military matters, but he hadn’t expected the riots that started only a day after his arrival.

“It’s got nothing to do with either of us,” Rone had assured him in the morning before he left. “Not really. These riots happen every year on the anniversary of the monarchy’s inception. They don’t tend to last all that long.” Only these ones were going on three days now, fueled by rising expenses in the capitol and an especially bad volcanic eruption that necessitated everyone going out in face masks. Additionally, the atmospheric and electrical disturbances caused by the ash in the air and the tremors that shook the foundations of the city made the ever-present monitors meant to identify people as they walked about malfunction. Violence and looting became simple, for the first time in a long time, and the citizens of Obsidian took full advantage.

The troops were called out to police the streets, and all members of the monarchy—and most of the nobility as well, every lord and lady of Metal and Mind—were encouraged to confine themselves to their homes until the situation was under control. All members except Rone—he was out running patrols with the rest of his people, including Fillie and the rest of the household’s usual internal security force.

Which meant Cas was alone with the kids, with no time to research Christala, do anything about his medical problems, or have a moment to rest the phage other than during lightning-fast showers or in the darkest art of the night, when he was certain the children were asleep. And by the third morning of no Rone except for vid calls and no time outside to burn off her own energy, Lilah was downright caustic.

“No!”

Cas stared at the mess on the wall where Lilah’s bowl had hit it, her casserole spattered across five square feet. A bit of noodle hit the ground with a sad plop.

“I just asked if you wanted something different for lunch.”

“And I said no! I don’t like your lunch, and neither does Shar!” She reached for her brother’s bowl and prepared to throw that too.

“Uh-uh,” Cas said, his voice as stern as he could let it be without tipping over into angry frustration. “That’s not yours. If Shar doesn’t like it, that’s one thing, but you don’t get to make that choice for him.”

Lilah narrowed her eyes. She hefted the bowl, then drew her arm back and threw it toward the wall.

Cas was already there, though, as fluid as a decopus, catching the bowl with one hand and spinning to keep the food inside of it. He set it back down in front of Shar, who stared at him, clearly impressed.

Lilah, on the other hand, looked furious. “You cheated!”

“I told you not to throw it.”

“You—you—cheated—how—”

“No throwing food, especially not your brother’s,” Cas repeated. “That was the rule, and you broke it. Go to your room.”

“But I’m hungry! And Daddy promised to take us to the arcade and it’s been so long since he got home and we still haven’t gone!”

The arcade again. “You had your chance to eat and you wasted it, so nothing else until dinner. And it isn’t safe for us to go outside yet. If it was, your daddy would be back already. When he comes home and says it’s okay, we can go to the arcade. For now, go. To. Your. Room.”

“I hate you!” She stalked off in tears, and Cas watched the door shut behind her with a sinking feeling. Rone wasn’t going to be impressed with him when he came back. Not even close.

“Some job looking after the kids I’m doing,” he muttered, then looked down at Shar, who was calmly eating his casserole. “You don’t mind me though, right?”

Shar grinned, then turned his bowl upside down, emptying the rest of its contents out over his tablemat. He wiped his hands on his shirt, then followed his sister into her room.

“Or I guess you do.”

It would be undignified to throw his own food around in a fit of disgust—the house AI was still monitoring them, after all, and Cas knew that meant that Rone could look in on them and see everything they were doing at any time, except—ostensibly—in Cas’s own room. Bad enough he was using his enhanced reflexes to catch bowls of food, for fuck’s sake.

He’d give Lilah a chance to calm down before trying a different method of distracting her. They’d played every game he could think of and some he’d never heard of before, including so many rounds of hide and seek he felt like he’d learned every nook and cranny of the house where a child might fit. They wouldn’t sit still for a vid, they wouldn’t settle for a story—Lilah was leading a charge against her father’s absence and Shar was drifting along in her wake, happy to let Cas try to entertain him but just as happy to side with his sister when she got to her most ornery. Cas and Rone had spoken every evening, and he’d talked to the kids as well, but it wasn’t the same.

Cas methodically cleaned up lunch, then went to the bathroom and checked his face. He was doing it more and more frequently here—the phage felt unpredictable, too ready to move of its own volition. It made him nervous, and that was something the parasite would take advantage of if it could. Cas had to master it, to clamp down on it. Anything else invited failure.

“It’s two kids,” he told his reflection. “Just children. His children. You can do this.” You have to do this. He was invested, signed on, determined. For better or for worse, he had to figure out how to handle Lilah and Shar.

“AI, give me the childrens’ status, please.”

“Status unavailable.”

Wait. What? “AI, give me the location of Lilah and Shar.”

“Location unavailable.”

What the everfucking fuck? Cas charged out of the bathroom and toward the childrens’ suite, through the door and into their rooms. Nothing, in either of them. “AI, where did the kids go?”

“Information unavailable.”

That wasn’t the right tack to take. He tried again, still searching high and low in every hiding place he’d spent hours identifying. “AI, report the last known whereabouts of the children.”

“The closet in Miss Lilah’s room.”

No, I’ve already checked the closet… But had he checked closely enough? A cold chill radiated down his spine as Cas ran back to the closet, searching the floor, then the walls. It had to be here, there had to be a—

A push against the mid-level set of shelves moved them back and in, dropping them down to floor level.

There was a hidden passageway in this house. One that the kids knew about. One that Rone had forgotten or neglected to tell his husband about.

That knowledge could have been enough to send Cas into a spiral of self-doubt, but he had bigger things to worry about right now. Like the fact that the children were running from boring safety into exciting danger.

He could call Rone and pass the responsibility to him, leave him culpable for not telling Cas about the damn escape routes in the first place. Time was already wasting, though. “AI, inform Rone of what’s happened and let him know I’m going after the kids. Tell him to get his soldiers looking for them as well.”

“Affirmative, Beren.”

Cas grabbed one of Lilah’s long-sleeved shirts from a shelf, then crawled into the tunnel.

At least he had a damn good reason to go wandering in the city now.

New Release: Handle With Care

Hi darlins!

Before any blog posts go up (and yes, there's more Mutable today and it's a crazy one, be prepared) I'm pleased to introduce my newest release, Handle With Care! It's a friends-to-lovers road trip romance that's out as of today. What there isn't: bombs, gunfights, explosions that aren't emotional (I know, whaaaat?). What there is: a delicious slow-burn romance, junkyard car racing, bad strip club etiquette, an uncomfortable wedding reunion.

This is the sweet, fun contemporary novel that I wasn't sure I had the ability to write, and I hope you'll check it out!



A fragile heart needs extra care.


Burned-out social worker Aaron McCoy is on vacation for the first time in years—boss’s orders. Road-tripping to his brother’s wedding with his best friend, Tyler, seems a fun way to spend the mandatory two-week leave, and they set out for Kansas—and a difficult homecoming.


Aaron’s mother was a drug addict, and his adorable younger brother was quickly adopted, while Aaron spent his childhood in foster care. As Aaron mends fences, Tyler hopes to show him that this time, he won’t be left behind to face his problems alone.


Aaron’s opening up to how right it feels to be with Tyler and to the possibility of taking the leap from friends to lovers. But along with the wedding celebration comes a painful reminder of the past. Aaron’s heart is still breakable. Can he put it in Tyler’s hands?


https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/handle-with-care-by-cari-z-9908-b

Handle With Care on Amazon

Handle With Care at Barnes amd Noble

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Eighteen, Part Two

Notes: Nighttime confessions before daytime excursions.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Eighteen, Part Two

***


Chapter Eighteen, Part Two



After all his declarations, it would have been strange for Cas to balk at going to bed with Rone, even though all he wanted to do now was stay up and work through every bad option facing him and pick the least damaging. So he got ready for sleep, settled onto one side of his husband’s massive bed, then snuggled close enough to feel Rone’s warmth as he feigned sleep to help make Rone more comfortable.

Rone’s breathing evened out, his heartrate steadied, and after five minutes he was under. Cas rolled onto his back, stared up at the ceiling, and sighed.

There was nothing for it. He didn’t even know where the damn medical center was in this damn city, and he wasn’t equipped to track Weiss down on his own yet. He’d just have to hope the malformations were dismissed. If he was called in for more tests, well…then he’d act. There were some brute-force ways to get a mark to make a change—he couldn’t set pieces of his phage loose in someone and control them from a distance like Christala apparently could, but much like making a decoy from his own flesh that would fool a simple machine, he could make a parasite that was capable of nudging its host in the direction Cas wanted—for a while. A very little while. It was exhausting, and he wouldn’t do it unless he had no other choice.

Don’t exert yourself too much. You’ve got to save as much of the phage’s energy as possible for finding Christala. Christala, who knew he was coming. Christala, who had to know he’d figured out her identity here. It was going to be like finding a black diamond buried in coal. And if he didn’t get her first, she’d get him. He was sure of that.

It was almost, in a way, tempting to let her. For all that he had his goals, for all that he’d given himself a mission, in the end the only thing driving him was revenge. And that was a hot, powerful, sharp emotion, but he was compromising his will by cozying up to Rone. This all would have been so much easier if they’d just let him on board as a regular refugee. He could have laid low, taken a long view, coddled the phage more instead of working it constantly. Everything would have been so simple, and now it was so complicated. Now he wanted more than just murder, and that was dangerous. That want was going to get him killed.

Worst of all, he’d put Rone and his family in harm’s way. Cas was pretty sure that his husband could take care of himself—he couldn’t forget those violet eyes, the way Rone had moved, the reputation he’d built. But the children…they had nothing to do with any of this. Lilah might hate him and Shar might not know what to make of him yet, but as far as Cas was concerned, their safety was equally important as his end goal.

The best way to protect them is to strike first, and fast. There had to be a better way to track her. He had access to military hardware, to money, to medicine—he’d find a way. At the very least he’d come up with a proximity alert that would let him know when another phage was near. Something subtle, though. Maybe—

“Mmm, Beren?” Rone rolled to face him, his eyes hazy. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Why?”

“Sweetheart.” He nodded down toward Cas’s hand, which had found its way to Rone’s wrist and was gripping it so tightly that it left fingernail marks.

“Oh!” He tried to loosen his grip, but the phage surged up inside of him again, pressing and pining and trying to keep holding on for all it was worth. “I’m so sorry.” He closed his eyes and focused his will on the phage, and made it loosen its presence in his hand. He pulled away from Rone and tucked his hands under his pillow. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

“Nightmare?” Rone asked, still facing him. The kindness in his voice was like an invitation, one that Cas didn’t quite know how to turn down. He didn’t want to, either.

“Something like that.” He sighed. “I’m having trouble turning off my thoughts.”

“What are you thinking about?”

“You. Us. Your children and keeping them safe.”

“What makes you worry about their safety?”

“It’s just…a feeling.” More like a premonition, but then again, the children were royalty. Surely Christala wouldn’t risk the kind of investigation that would come from harming royalty. Imperians had technological wonders at their fingertips, and if they knew what they were looking for, they’d find her. Cas would tell them himself, if there was no other way out of it.

“The kids are well-protected,” Rone promised him. “I don’t expect you to have to worry about their safety.”

“I’m going to anyway,” Cas said. “I can’t help it. Kids were a big deal to us, back on Leelinge. Infant mortality was high in the caves, so whenever a child was born, we went to ridiculous lengths to get them through the first year. That was when their immune systems were most vulnerable to infection, which is how most of them…” He remembered Beren getting sick, actually, at five months old. Cas hadn’t been sure whether his baby brother would survive. He’d only been a child himself, but he’d stayed at his brother’s side while his parents worked, monitoring his breathing and temperature diligently. Beren had recovered, of course. He’d hardly ever gotten sick again, not for the rest of his too-short life.

“You’ve seen a lot of bad things in your life.”

Cas laughed before he could stop himself. The phage prickled through his veins, every inch of his body too-warm with longing. “That’s an understatement,” he said. “And I haven’t just seen them, I’ve—I’ve done bad things.”

“You grew up in the middle of a war, of course you did.”

The urge to confess was almost painful. “You don’t understand, I—”

“Tell me about it someday,” Rone interjected. “But not right now. Right now, your life has been torn apart and all the pieces turned upside down. You’re in pain. You’re worried. You’re wounded. Let’s treat the new wounds before reopening old ones, okay?” He set a hand on Cas’s shoulder, drawing him in close. Cas went, and the phage stopped making him quiver as soon as he was flush to his husband’s side.

“Tomorrow I have to split my time between my commanders and my brother. You and Private Fillie will have the kids, along with the security contingent. Will that be all right with you?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“Lilah will come around,” Rone promised. “She gets nervous when things change, even if the changes are for the better. It’ll just take some time.”

“We’ll have plenty of that.” Or almost none of it, depending on what happens in the next few days.

“Mmhmm.” Rone kissed his forehead, then his cheek. Then, very tentatively, he hovered his lips over Cas’s mouth until Cas took the hint and closed the distance.

It was like every ounce of tension in his body melted. Cas was almost afraid his face had fallen off, and touched his temple with one hand, just to make sure Beren was still there. He was—the phage was holding. It was just…happy?

Happiness wasn’t supposed to be in its purview. What the fuck?

Rone pulled away and Cas followed him for a second, still hungry but content as well. “Can you sleep now?” Rone asked.

“You’re asking a lot, but I’ll try.”

He was out first this time.