Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Coming Soon: The Art of Possession

And now, just because I can--The Art of Possession will be re-released soon on Amazon! Do you want to hunt across the globe for stolen treasure with a disgraced archeologist and a wary Black Ops soldier? Darlins, this is the book for you :)


Preorder here: Art of Possession


When a treasure-hunting black ops soldier and a disgraced, reckless archeologist team up in search of a priceless artifact, they might get more than they bargained for.

Ever since leaving the Green Berets to work in private security, Alex Tucker has longed for some excitement—and he’s about to get his wish.

Archeologist Malcolm Armstrong needs the chance to prove he isn’t a fraud. Along with Alex, he’s hired to track down and authenticate a valuable scepter, in a hunt that turns deadlier than either of them imagined as they search dangerous locations across three continents and try to stay ahead of the factions who want the treasure for themselves—and Malcolm and Alex dead.

Just as they realize the feelings between them transcend convenience and the thrill of the chase, a rival reemerges, threatening everything.

The Tank: Chapter Thirteen, Part One

Notes: Oooh, finally getting to the title pieces! We're about to have some fireworks, friends--literally!

Title: The Tank, Chapter Thirteen, Part One

***


Chapter Thirteen, Part One



The new vicomte did, in fact, apparently demand an audience with Lord Jourdain immediately, but it wasn’t granted. Instead, Lord Jourdain cited protocol and the fact that he had other guest in residence at the Institute and insisted they sit for a meal before he made time for Ludwig, which had clearly incensed the man striding through the broad doors into the dining hall. He was taller and broader than his brother, less fine-featured and genteelly attractive, but far more active-seeming. He was accompanied by two men in matching dark brown livery, and the looks on all three of their faces spoke of suspicion, anger, and disdain.

All conversation stopped as the three men made their way to the head of the table, where Lord Jourdain was speaking quietly with Cardinal Proulx. “This?” Vicomte Ludwig Voclain denounced in enormous tones as he swept his arm toward Anton and the rest of his party. Camille was here as well, but a little ways apart—it wouldn’t do for him to be seen as getting to close to one of the visitors he’d rescued from the mountains. “This is the reason you put me off, these people? Commoners, tricksters, and judging from the style of her dress—” he looked at Caroline with an expression of pure distaste “—even a foreigner? Are you a fool, to be inviting a wench like that here, or just besotted?”

“Neither, I assure you,” Lord Jourdain said, his voice polite but tone as dry as dust. “Please, be seated to my right, my lord. Now that you’re here, our meal may begin.”

“No need to insinuate so delicately that I’ve kept you waiting,” Vicomte Voclain sneered, but nevertheless sat down. “It doesn’t bother me in the least. Why should it, when you’ve had my brother’s body on ice for two days already?”

“Two days, given the distances at hand, is as nothing, my lord.” Lord Jourdain looked around the table to make sure his guests were seated before finally joining them. Anton, next to Caroline, looked into her smooth, calm face but saw the roiling rage in her eyes of a woman who’d been put down by a man she despised. He knew she could control her reactions to such affronts—she’d done it enough times during her tenure at Oxford, certainly—but he hated seeing her have to.

“Far from nothing when the circumstances surrounding his death are so clouded,” Voclain said, spearing a sausage onto his plate and following it with a freshly baked roll. He tore into both of them with his fingertips, breaking them apart and smashing them together again like a young child just learning to experiment with food. He looked toward Camille. “What do you have to say for your silence thus far, Lord Lumière?”

“I can certainly assure you that I’m exploring every possible avenue when it comes to your brother’s unfortunate death,” Camille replied.

“That sounds like a heap of nothing wrapped around a pile of shit.” Voclain threw his manually macerated food back onto the plate with a huff of disgust. “Why not just say that you have no interest in finding the truth of my brother’s murder, because you are worried it will inconvenience you?”

“It will do no such thing,” Lord Jourdain assured him.

 “Oh no? What if the finger ends up pointing at one of your esteemed members? Or one of your guests? Are you certain that the woman over there is not the killer? Or one of those…other people?”
I’m sure of nothing but that we will find the culprit, and we will bring him or her to justice,” Camille said.

“Be of good faith, my son,” Cardinal Proulx added, leaning forward a bit as he earnestly addressed the vicomte. “There will be no rest for any of us until your brother’s killer is brought to justice, but in the meantime, life must go on for the living. That means continuing to work, for what better balm is there for misfortune than the solace of work? Is it not written in the bible that ‘This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.’ We all must continue in our lots, my son.”

“Who here toils?” the vicomte asked savagely. “I don’t speak of you, Father, I know you saw war, but who else here has done the same?”

“In fact, Doctor Grable has—”

“I mean true war, the war of men against each other, not a war of magic against men,” Vicomte Voclain interjected with a sneer. “None of you, I wager. You sit in this ivory tower and scheme of ways to wreak horror with your gifts, while those of us who live in simpler, darker places must contend with battle every day of our lives. Who here has encountered the Dévoué more than I and my stout-hearted men? None of you. Not one.” He shook his head.

“You set yourselves up in a place of power and peace and consign the rest of us to a fight we may not be able to win. We are your guardians whether we will it or no, and what do we get in exchange? A few new spells here and there? Not worth it. We need more, and although my late brother was unable to impress that necessity upon you, I won’t be taking no for an answer.”

He leaned forward and locked eyes with Jourdain. “I want your tanks. I want to see them work, and then I want them in my province, in my city, defending my people against the Dévoué. I want them delivered immediately, and if they aren’t, then I’ll be speaking with the emperor next. And if he refuses to listen to me?” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “I’ve made a great number of friends over the years, in very high places. Some are in charge of several large contingents of our empire’s military. I daresay their word will carry more weight.”

With that threat lobbed into the center of the table like a mortar on the verge of exploding, Vicomte Voclain got up and walked out of the dining hall. His men, and everyone else’s words, seemed to walk out with him.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Tank: Chapter Twelve, Part Two

Notes: Back in the saddle again! We're starting to both ramp up and wind down, so...yeah, get ready to have some fun!

Title: The Tank: Chapter Twelve, Part Two

***


Chapter Twelve, Part Two



The impending arrival of the new vicomte had the institute running at breakneck pace that morning. Anton and Camille didn’t stay in bed together for long—there was no way they really could, what with the ringing echo of feet pounding through the corridors and the brisk rap of knuckles against doors, reminding guests and residents alike that it was time to wake up, time to be about their mornings, time to get ready. No one entered their room, of course, but the noise and commotion was enough to make Anton nervous, and he was up and dressed before he could fret too much.

“Who is this new viscount, exactly?” he asked, sitting in a chair against the wall as he watched Camille lazily emerge from bed and begin to wash up. “Why does he seem to produce such a furor here, when the last one was very clearly on the institute’s side?”

“Why do you say he was on their side?” Camille asked as he wiped a wet cloth over his groin. Anton forcibly kept his eyes on his lover’s face—if he let his desire get the better of him now, he would never be out of here in time to breakfast with Caroline and Dr. Grable, which would lead to questions he didn’t want to have to talk around.

“Well, he was a member of the party sent to persuade Dr. Grable to come to the institute in the first place. That means that he had knowledge of their worries, the fear of a saboteur working against them from the inside. That must mean that he was trusted, because it’s a rather important piece of information to entrust to someone not otherwise associated with the place.”

“And did he appear to be a gifted elocutionist to you?” Camille pressed. “The sort of man one would want to send to represent them and be a persuasive force on their behalf?”

“Well…” Now that he mentioned it… “No, not really. He seemed mostly very self-absorbed, and a bit, um, light when it came to the actual substance of his conversation.” Caroline would have had a carnival working on a man such as that, if he had survived.

“Precisely. The late Victomte Voclain was a self-serving, overly indulged, small-minded wastrel of a man.” Camille said it like it was nothing, like he casually insulted members of the aristocracy every day. Given his position, he probably did. “He was a useful rube that Jourdain kept on call for two reasons. One, the emperor’s cronies don’t trust anywhere that is beyond their easy comprehension, and having a man like Wilhelm associated with this place was enough to soothe them. He was intensely one of them, a member of court who wanted nothing more than to increase his standing in the eyes of his peers. He could be trusted with valuable information simply because it was in his best interest to know things that other people did not, so that he could lord his superiority over them.

“The other reason he was such a useful man to have here was because Wilhelm’s younger brother, Ludwig, is increasingly ambitious. He was born the third son of the old vicomte, and it was expected he would go into the military, which he did. The middle son, Jacob, managed the estates and household while the eldest went to court. Two years ago, Jacob died, and Ludwig ended his military career to return and take charge of the family estate in Strasbourg. His antipathy against his brother Wilhelm was well-known, and Wilhelm did nothing to shield himself against it through kindness. As long as Wilhelm had a concrete task to perform in service of the emperor, he was protected from his younger brother’s machinations.”

It sounded like a terrible mess in the making to me. “What do you think will happen, now that Wilhelm is dead? It sounds as though Ludwig wasn’t close to his brother, so perhaps he regards it as a boon to be elevated to a loftier position than that which he was born into.”

“I’m certain he does,” Camille said as he pulled on his shirt. “But this is a golden opportunity for him to request a favor from the emperor, and to demand compensation from the institute.  He won’t let it pass by without taking full advantage. What manner of advantage that is remains to be seen, but the truth of the matter is, Jourdain won’t be able to refuse him much. If Ludwig decides to make a menace of himself, with his popularity in the military he could very easily do so in such a way that the emperor himself has to sit up and take notice. If efforts have to be directed away from the Dévoué to handle this, Napoleon will not be pleased.”

“What are you going to do about it, then?” Anton asked.

Camille glanced at him as he tied his cravat. “What makes you think I’m going to take any role other than determining the late vicomte’s killer?”

“Because if it were as simple as that, someone of your skills wouldn’t be necessary. It would be so easy to blame it all on the Dévoué,” Anton pointed out. “This case could be considered solved right now if you blamed it on the Dévoué, and that would redirect the new vicomte’s anger in a direction that’s useful to the emperor. So there must be a reason for not doing it, something I can’t quite see.”

Camille’s expression was a bit hooded. “You think I would lie about a case?”

“I think you would be driven to find the truth,” Anton said, considering his words very carefully. The last thing he wanted was to get into another intractable argument with Camille. “But I also think you already know the truth. You know who killed the vicomte, or at least you have a strong idea of it. How could I now know that, when you’ve had me keep that stasis spell going since we got here?” He pointed at the holster on the bedside table. “But that evidence isn’t something you’ve dealt with since then, so whatever it means, you’re not ready to reveal it. That means there’s more going on here than bringing a murderer to justice, and knowing what kind of place this is now and how much it means to Lord Jourdain and yourself, I think that you would be far more interested in bringing down a grand conspiracy than solving one murder.”

For a long moment Camille simply stared, and Anton began to wonder whether or not he’d genuinely overstepped. But then his lover grinned. “You know me better than I thought. There is, indeed, something unsettlingly vast at work here. How long it will take me to get to the bottom of, I don’t know, but time is of the essence.”

“What can I do to help?” Anton asked.

“Nothing, directly. Continue working with your master, continue to conduct yourself in a manner that does not draw attention to you. Don’t let on that you know more than you should.” His smile faded away. “I don’t want any more harm to come to you.”

Anton was about to press him on what sort of “harm” he thought might rain down, but a blast of trumpets from the walkway outside startled him.

Camille walked over to the curtain and glanced outside. “Ah. The new vicomte is here early.” He looked back at Anton. “We’ll be meeting with him over breakfast, then, if he doesn’t demand a private audience with Jourdain immediately. I suggest we hurry and get a good spot at the table.” He turned his attention back outside. “I have the feeling it will be a very interesting meal.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

QUERYING BEGINS!

Aaand I didn't think this would happen to me again, but I've got a bunch of queries to prepare the second the showcase ends, and I can't. Stop. Fiddling with them. The query letter, the synopsis, the excerpt, the pitch--it all has to be just right. The excerpt I ended up using for the Pitch Wars showcase (which ends now, basically) took my mentors and I maybe seven or eight back-and-forths to make sure it was what we wanted? The process, darlins. The PROCESS.

In case you're interested, here's what we came up with for the showcase. Also, here's a link to my FB Author page, which is...sparse right now. But so it goes. There's a free story there for those of you who like me ;)

https://www.facebook.com/carizcrew/

Pitch Wars Showcase excerpt (and an aesthetic my mentors made me):


Pitch:

Ghostbusters meets CSI. Who needs Slayers when you can combat the supernatural with STEM? Nadege “Dodge” Michaels dreams of revolutionizing the magical hazmat business with science. When her unsanctioned field work lands her in the crosshairs of a ruthless supernatural drug dealer, Dodge must use her forensic-style approach to bring the perp to justice, before she becomes his next victim.

Excerpt:

Few things in life are certain, but one of those things is this: no matter how well you explain it, your intern is going to make you repeat yourself over and over as you drive to your first magical crime scene.

Yellow and black tape festooned the door of Manny’s Reptile Emporium, its name spelled out in big green letters shaped like snakes. I grumbled under my breath as I parked the van—this wasn’t the kind of job I liked. No need for forensic analysis or investigation. Nothing to prove my worth to the council. No hope of cutting my year-long probationary period short.

Just a ‘scrape and scrap,’ and this particular scene was a doozy. When Dispatch called me to report the incident, I knew we were in for a hell of a day. Mongolian Death Worms are good at three things: killing their prey, eating their prey, and making me wish I’d been born without a sense of smell.

“Are we really needed for this, Dodge?” Jared asked again.

“Crime scene tape is a good indicator there’s work to be done,” I said. There was a lot, too. The slayer—I mean, operative—assigned to deal with the illegal cryptid had gone hog wild. They weren’t leaving things to chance with bystanders.

Jared eyed the tape, and I hoped he wasn’t about to bolt. Having an intern was essential. Without one, the council could revoke my license to operate.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Tank: Chapter Twelve, Part One

Notes: New story post! It's a good means of taking my mind off tomorrow, lol. Enjoy what is probably the final calm before the storm ;)

Title: The Tank: Chapter Twelve, Part One

***


Chapter Twelve, Part One



Anton hadn’t known a night of slow, quiet passion with Camille since their affair began. Circumstance rendered every moment they had together fraught with concerns of timing, location, and speed. Even though none of those things were pressing upon them right now, they came together like a lightning strike, fast and frenzied. The truth of it was, Anton didn’t know how to slow down with Camille. He had never had a lover he could take his time with, and he didn’t feel at ease here, in this house of wondrous invention and desperate lies.

Camille knew what to do, though, how to handle Anton, how to gentle him through the first clash of ardor and into something more relaxed. Anton had his first orgasm almost fully clothed, biting his lip to keep himself from speaking in tongues. He went to return the favor, but Camille distracted him with the promise of a shower. Showers, ones with actual hot running water, were a marvelous luxury, and Anton thought there was a decided chance he would fall asleep in this one if Camille weren’t in there with him.

As it was, there was no sleeping, but they did stay in the shower long enough for Anton’s toes to prune and his voice to go hoarse from the pleasured sounds he made as Camille took full advantage of their privacy. By the end of it, Anton could hardly dry himself with a towel, much less stagger to the bed, but Camille was there holding onto him, supporting him. Anton’s last thought as they fell asleep together, his head cradled against Camille’s chest, was that the smallness of this world, this hidden refuge and prison, might not be so hard to endure if you could do so with the ones you loved.

Anton dreamed too much, ghostly fire licking at his brain as he relived some of the deaths he’d seen over the years. It was a common refrain for his subconscious, but this time the corpses and their residual spirits were people that he knew. A man who had hanged himself back in London, after illness had taken his children away—he became Dr. Grable. Gaily Gertrude, the poor whore who had been dragged through the streets of Zurich until a false step crushed her into the cobblestones—Caroline. Viscount Bonaparte, the odious cousin of the emperor who had inadvertently been the means of bringing Anton and Camille together, was replaced with a man much less deserving of murder—Camille himself, his eyes open, one hand pressed lightly to the bullet wound in his chest, as though willing himself to investigate his own murder.

The worst of it, the worst thing of all, was that in each of these reenactments, Anton saw himself as well. He saw himself as the murderer: the heartbreaking sorrow, the bloodthirsty john, the Dévoué devotee. He was there, and he persisted even after the death was done. He hated it, wanted to die, wanted to kill himself but he couldn’t, not when there were other deaths to live through again, not when—

His eyes opened, but not a muscle in his body twitched. That was just as well, for he and Camille had switched places during the night. Now Camille rested against Anton’s chest, his arm thrown across his waist, a position of uncommon openness.

Camille accepted Anton’s affection, cradled it delicately, treated it with respect, but he seemed less prone to prolonging their touches, more inclined to let one embrace end and move on to something else. Him lying here like this, was…novel. Endearing. Addicting. Anton deliberately slowed his breathing and relaxed, willing Camille to stay asleep. He wasn’t ready to let go of him yet. Even in this place, he’d have to before long, but until then he would do everything he could to treasure the moment.

They’d forgotten to pull the curtains all the way closed. Traces of light crept into the room, heralding the start of another day. This day would be different, though. Today was the day an outsider—another outsider—came to the Institute. The new Vicomte Voclain was coming to claim his brother’s body, and from the way Lord Jourdain had seemed to seethe slightly at the mention of him, Anton figured that it wasn’t an occasion for lightness and levity. People would be nervous, be on their guard…it might, actually, be an excellent time to check in with Hrym and see what he made of it all. He was too unique a mind to be affected by things in an expected way, and Anton was sure something could be gleaned from him just by being with him and seeing him react to change.

Anton tried to keep his mind on the task Dr. Grable had set for him. It was a nice, concrete thing, a task of discovery, complicated but not devilishly so. Far better to focus on that then to think back to what he’d learned last night, everything Camille had revealed.

For the love of God…too late, now he was thinking about it and it seemed absolutely bizarre that he, of all people, should be in possession of information that was so incendiary it would make the Dévoué seem like a minor problem. His bedmate was a soulless, bastard prince. The emperor was cursed. Lord Jourdain should have been the Dauphin, and had ended up the organizer of his own potential for salvation. It was ludicrous. It was terrifying.

Think what Caroline would do with this information, his traitorous mind suggested to him. It wasn’t something Anton wanted to consider, but there it was, popping up like a cork in a stream and unfurling into a future he’d given up on so long ago. They would take me back, the Order of Thaumaturgy. They would race to throw honors at my feet, do everything in their power to keep me close and comfortable, because I might in turn be a danger to them if they let me go. I would be able to ascend the ranks of British thaumaturges, put ponces like Montgomery and his ilk in their places, be able to care for my mother the way she deserves…

Seductive, so seductive, but ultimately useless. Anton couldn’t betray the man in his bed like that—he was already skirting on the edges of what was morally possible just by staying silent about Caroline. Was she getting what she wanted?

“Mmmm.” Camille stirred, and Anton realized that his heart was racing. With his head so close against Anton’s chest, undoubtedly Camille felt it too. Sure enough, a moment later he lifted his head. His auburn hair was smushed up on one side, his moustache was bent down on the other side, and his eyes were still blurry with sleep. “What’s wrong?” he managed, and Anton smiled at him.

“Nothing but a bad dream,” he promised.

“How late is it?”

“Not late enough to get out of bed.” Anton stroked his fingers down Camille’s arm before kissing his temple. “We have some time yet.” Not enough—never enough—but some.