Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Tank: Chapter Sixteen, Part Two

Notes: Anton reveals all! One more full chapter to go after this, darling ;)

Title: The Tank: Chapter Sixteen, Part Two


Chapter Sixteen, Part Two

The entire room went silent. Anton was very aware of the fact that the reactions of the men around him were vastly different, ranging from dismay to curiosity to cold appraisal, but he didn’t let himself respond. It was time for them to come to him, to see that he had something to bargain with. It wasn’t what he wanted to do, but he wasn’t going to let Caroline be murdered for her own foolishness, either. She would pay a price for getting caught as a spy when she returned to England, he was sure of it, but by God she would return to England and be there for her family, and for Anton’s mother, who Caroline loved like her own.

“To my knowledge, you’re not an engineer,” Lord Jourdain said at last. “Nor are you a weapons expert of any kind. Your gifts are solely thaumaturgical—indeed, you specialize in spells relating to the dead. Your skillset seems irrelevant in the theater of war.”

“So are your tanks,” Anton said bluntly. “They’re little more than firework flingers right now, as I understand it. They can’t fire solid shot, and you don’t have the facilities up and running to make shells that they can fire. You’re looking at the prospect of a slow but seething revolt, one that will attract all manner of people to its banner, and your show of force is utterly ineffective. It won’t take long for people to realize that they have nothing to fear from your tanks.”

Lord Jourdain folded his hands. “We will have new models and sufficient ammunition developed within the year.”

“Developed, but not in mass production,” Anton countered. “Not in the numbers you need. You need something quickly, that can get the point across to your enemies that you’re not to be trifled with. Something powerful, that strikes fear into their hearts. You thought that something was the spell Montgomery carried around in his head, a weapon that always kills, bullets that never miss their target. I say you are not being imaginative enough.”

“And you are?”

“I am.”

“Anton, no,” Camille said softly behind him. Against his better judgement, Anton turned and looked at his lover. His handsome face was exquisitely pained, like Saint Sebastian pierced through the heart by arrows fired at his emperor’s orders. “Don’t give them this. They will only corrupt it.”

Anton opened his mouth to speak, to defend himself, but the truth was that Camille was right. The empire would take his spell and use it, and it would bring them victory. It would also cause a terrible amount of pain, of mental and emotional agony to those who witnessed its effects, and possibly bring about a number of deaths on its own.

But what would the Dévoué do, as they sought to amass their own power? What would the bored, unruly aristocrats who longed for conflict do? How many deaths would they bring about as they sought to throw down their emperor?

In the end, Anton had no way of weighing the balance of the lives that would be changed by his decision. All he was certain he could do was save one life, one person. He would do that, and gladly be damned.

“Let me show you.” He reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a small wooden sphere. “Or at least, let me show you, Dr. Grable. The lords, given their afflictions, will not see what we see, but you will be able to recite the truth of it to them.” He looked at Lord Jourdain. “Has anyone ever died in this room?”

The man’s flinch was slight, but decidedly there. “Yes.”

“Then here will work fine.” Not giving himself a moment to reconsider, he twisted the globe in his hands, feeling its heat expand against his fingertips as the chemicals inside mixed together. He dropped it on the floor, and a second later his alchemical equation flared to life across the surface of the wood, a brief burst of glowing silver. A second later the ball dissolved completely, particles of ash and metal and blood rising into the air. For a moment, nothing happened. And then…

The woman who swirled up out of the smoke was beautiful, but her face was anguished. She knelt on the floor in front of the desk, facing away from it, holding a small paring knife or letter opener in her hands. She opened her mouth with a despairing scream, and a moment later drew the blade across her own throat.

It seared like fire, and Anton clutched his neck with a gasp. Dr. Grable did the same. She bled and bled, crying but unable to moan with her ruined throat, and in under a minute she was dead.

“Good God in Heaven,” Dr. Grable murmured, his face as pale as chalk. “I have seen spells like this before, Seiber, with the freshly dead, but never felt them like this before. How is it possible?”

Anton coughed a bit, just to remind his body that his throat still worked. “A happy accident, one that won’t be easy to reproduce without my assistance,” he said hoarsely. “And I won’t give it unless Caroline is freed and allowed to return home.”

Lord Jourdain looked at Dr. Grable with surprise on his face. “What did you see?”

“A woman slitting her own throat,” Dr. Grable growled. “When did that happen?”

Lord Jourdain went very still for a moment. “Almost a decade ago,” he said at last. “This spell replays deaths? Even ones as old as that?”

“Even older, depending on the strongest miasma in the area,” Anton confirmed. “Death leaves a much more powerful trace than most people give it credit for.”

“And you contain that spell within your simple wooden ball?”

“I do.” He looked Lord Jourdain straight in the eye. “Will you trade a useless spy for ammunition that will allow your tanks to function as intended now, today even? I have more of these in my holdall. With proper packaging, they could be deployed over very long distances. And when they land…” He shrugged. “It isn’t physical annihilation, but it’s certainly incapacitating for a time.” And horrifying.

“You agree to stay here and work with us on this matter until we are secure in the results and manufacture of your spell and do not require your continued services?” Lord Jourdain asked.

“Within reason, yes. I won’t stay here forever.” Except he might, if it meant Caroline going free, but he wasn’t going to admit that yes.

“Nor would we want you to,” Lord Jourdain said dryly. “You’ve proven far slipperier than I ever imagined when I first set eyes on you. God only knows what you could get up to here on a permanent basis.” He sat back in his chair. “Agreed. In exchange for your spell, and your assistance in adapting it to suit our tanks, I will have Lady Cuthbert on a ship back to England within a day’s time.”


“Unharmed, naturally.” Lord Jourdain smiled. “Welcome to your life for the foreseeable future, Mr. Seiber.”

And what a future it is.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Tank: Chapter Sixteen, Part One

Notes:  The big reveals, the little reveals, the cliffhanger reveals! Three more weeks and we're done with this one, darlins. Buckle up!

Title: The Tank: Chapter Sixteen, Part One


Chapter Sixteen, Part One

It was only Anton, Lord Jourdain, Dr. Grable and Camille who met in the administrator’s office a short while later. Lord Atwood had lost all interest in the proceedings once the death had been meted out, and Caroline was escorted to her own rooms, to be held under lock and key until Jourdain made decision about her. At least it wasn’t the Hole, but Anton wasn’t inclined to be charitable at the moment.

“What does he mean by assistance?” Anton demanded of his mentor as soon as the guards left. “What did you have to do with this charade? How long did you know this was going to happen?” A sudden thought left him cold. “Did you…have you been planning this since Zurich? Did you know what was going to happen on our journey?”

Dr. Grable held up peaceable hands. “I had no notion back then,” he insisted. “I truly thought we were coming here to assess the production and figure out where the saboteur was here. I wasn’t brought fully on board until a short time ago.”

“But there was no saboteur.” Anton turned to Lord Jourdain. “There wasn’t really a saboteur, am I right? It was part of your ruse.”

“Indeed,” he said, as unruffled as ever as he sat down behind his large, mahogany desk. It was topped with white marble, struck through here and there with gold veins. Suitable for a child of the emperor, Anton thought, because that was who he was seeing here. Not a simple lord, not a societal outcast, not even the powerful keeper of the empire’s intellectual secrets. This was a man who bowed to very few people, and certainly no one in this room. This was a man secure in his personal importance, so secure that he hadn’t hesitated to manipulate them like pawns on a chess board. Or perhaps, more aptly, daisies in a daisy chain, because Anton certainly felt all knotted up right now.

“I needed to accomplish several things in short order,” he went on. “First and foremost, I needed to unseat the simmering rebellion rising in the aristocracy’s ranks, fomented by none other than the more military-minded Vicomte Voclain. To do so, I needed an excuse to get him here. I was going to use the tanks as my lever—he has been asking about them for months, and his brother didn’t see fit to check him—but then, well, Wilhelm was murdered. It was unplanned, but  most convenient.”

“You knew about the cardinal, then,” Anton said. “What he thought about you, what his plans were.”

“Of course. Anyone who’s ever met dear Hrym knows the boy is terrible at keeping secrets. It was simplicity itself to coax the content of his confessions out, and coupled with other things I’ve heard and seen in these corridors, it was no surprise. I was a bit shocked he took matters into his own hands,” Lord Jourdain added, “but then I met the cardinal’s chosen assassin and, well. He made a grave mistake there.”

“But what does this have to do with Caroline? Or me?” Anton asked. “Or, or Camille, for that matter?”

Lord Jourdain sighed, and Dr. Grable winced. Anton couldn’t see what Camille did, since he was standing behind him, but he assumed it was similarly pained. “You really must learn to be more discreet,” Lord Jourdain admonished. “Calling him by his given name? Far too familiar. If Cardinal Proulx could see through your façade, imagine what someone with direct authority over you might do.”

“It’s not my business,” Dr. Grable said in a kind tone that grated on Anton worse than a harsh warning would have. “But you really should take more precautions if you’re determined to carry on with a man, especially one as scrutinized as a lumière.”

Still nothing from Camille. Anton ignored the silence for now. A revelation was brewing inside of him, something big—something that Camille knew to be wary of. Anton just had to figure out what that was.

“Honestly, it all had very little to do with you,” Lord Jourdain said. “Certainly, it was a stroke of luck your knowing Lady Cuthbert, but that is down to the foresight of your mentor, not any of my doing.”

And suddenly Anton knew. He knew what Camille had been doing in Zurich. He turned to look at him, and received a carefully blank face in return. Anton wanted to knock the moustache off this cold, calculated man.

“You were there for Caroline.”

Camille shook his head. “I was there on a personal matter—”

“You were there for Caroline! You knew, somehow you knew that she was a spy and you were following her even then!” It was the only explanation Anton could think of that made sense.

No, Anton.” Emotion finally cracked through Camille’s stiff exterior—regret, pain, unhappiness. Anton stuffed his urge to comfort down deep inside. “I was there to see you.”


Camille sighed. “A personal matter, I said. Remember? I had not seen you in nearly a year, I had just finished a hellish stint chasing Montgomery and his ilk through countries and across mountains, and I…I wanted to see you again. Lady Cuthbert’s presence was entirely coincidental.”

Anton stared, stunned and disbelieving, at Camille. He stared back grimly.

“It appears Mr. Seiber isn’t the only one in need of a reminder on how to remain discreet,” Lord Jourdain said dryly. “Brother, really.” He straightened some papers on his desk. “Your personal quandaries will have to wait. There is still the matter of what to do with Lady Cuthbert.” He smirked, just a hint of it around the lips, but more than enough to set Anton’s blood to boiling. “She is a comparatively decent prisoner for trade, but given that she was betrayed by someone on her own side, well…” He shrugged slightly. “Perhaps she would best serve as a warning.”

Anton felt his blood go completely cold. “You can’t mean killing her.”

“I can, and I do. She is a spy and a thief, Mr. Seiber.”

“She is a mother, a wife, a member of the peerage!” Anton protested. “She is precious to them!”

“Not as precious as she is to you, perhaps.” Lord Jourdain tilted his head slightly. “Another lover?”

“No! Not anything like that. Just an old friend.” Anton swallowed hard. “My oldest friend. You must let her return to England.”

“Absolutely not.” His voice was final. “There is nothing you could offer me to allow that. She must pay, one way or another, for her attempt on our sovereignty. She will stay here for the time being, while you and Dr Grable go—”

“I can fix your tanks.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Blog Story Post: Actually a New Release Excerpt

Hi darlins!

So, guess what we've had here for the past three days? Snow! Plus sub-freezing temperatures! Guess who can't run her kid around and exhaust her when it's so cold outside and there's no place indoors to go? Me! Did I have time to write the next exciting part of The Tank this past week? No! And I'm sorry about that, but honestly, bad nap for her=poor productivity for me. So instead, I'm posting an exclusive excerpt (almost exclusive, the people in my FB group are getting it too) of Cuddly Behavior, Book 5.5 in my Bad Behavior series with L.A. Witt! There is a cat, two cops, and so many ways things can go wrong. The short story comes out tomorrow, if you're interested ;) I'll add a link up here before posting the chapter.

Thanks for your understanding, and I hope you're all as well as can be.


Chapter 1

“Come on. It’s only for a few days.” Darren was shamelessly deploying his puppy dog eyes, which was ironic, given that he was trying to persuade me to let a cat stay in our apartment. “She has nowhere else to go!”

I gave my husband my most exasperated glare, but if there was one thing I’d learned since we’d been together, it was that the puppy dog eyes always won. It was like a bullshit version of rock-paper-scissors, except I hadn’t figured out what beat puppy dog eyes yet.

With a sigh, I shifted my glare to the creature in question, which had—in the ten minutes since Darren had opened the cage—made itself at home on the couch. In my spot.

And I’ll be damned if the cat didn’t look right back at me with a glare of its own. As much as I really, really didn’t want a cat even on a short term basis, I had to admit I was impressed by how much contempt radiated from such a small package. Well, “small” compared to a person, maybe. I knew nothing about cat breeds, so God knew what this thing was. Whatever breed could be described as “enormous pile of gray fluff with a pair of disdainful yellow eyes.” I didn’t think cats wagged their tails when they were happy, so the sharp swishing next to its huge body probably didn’t translate to any particular giddiness about being here.

“Is it even friendly?”

“Uh, I think so?” Darren watched it too. “I mean, she was kind of friendly whenever I went by to fed her while Mark was in the hospital. And the whole reason she needs a place to go is because she jumped on him after he got home and messed up his stitches.”

“So does that mean it’s friendly?” I shifted the glare back to him. “Or that it was trying to murder him?”

The faintest smirk played at his lips. “Which version will make you say yes to keeping her?”

I exhaled hard. I wasn’t winning this. I’d known that the moment Darren had told me there was a cat in our living room and a litter box—a fucking litter box!—in the laundry room. “Okay. Fine. But only until Mark is healed enough that it won’t try to murder him.”

“Awesome!” Darren’s face lit up, and it wasn’t just glee because he’d won. He seemed genuinely excited about this fluffy interloper’s presence. “Mark sent over some food and treats for her, so I’ll—”

“Please tell me it doesn’t eat canned food.”

His excitement faltered, and he shot me his please don’t fuck with me look. “Would you stop calling her ‘it.’”

“What am I supposed to call… uh…” I glanced at the cat, and I swear to God it—she—lifted her chin like she was daring me to call her the wrong thing.

“Her name is Harley.” Darren leaned over the back of the couch to scratch behind her ear, which earned him a swat by a giant paw and a look that screamed contempt. He jerked his hand back. “Okay, okay. Jesus.”

“So, friendly, eh?”

Darren rolled his eyes. “I’m going to go get the rest of her things out of the car.”

“The rest of—how much stuff does she have?”

He met my gaze, his expression one of pure innocence. “What? You don’t want the six-foot cat tree in here?”


He snorted, gave my arm a squeeze, and continued toward the door. “I’ll be right back.”

The door shut behind him, and it was just me and Harley in the apartment. We stared at each other.
Then she sat back, jutted one of her back legs into the air, and started licking her asshole.

“Seriously?” I grumbled.

She looked up at me, tongue still sticking out.

Rolling my eyes, I left her to it and went into the kitchen. So we were cat caretakers for the next, what, week? Two weeks? How long did Mark need to recover before his cat wouldn’t fuck him up?

I’d have bet money he was loving this, too. As much as we’d settled the shit between us, there was probably some part of him that still wished he’d been right when he’d tried to burn me. No Internal Affairs detective liked getting bested by the cop he was trying to investigate. We had a truce now, but yeah, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was laughing over the idea that his cat would be shitting in my house for a while. Well, laughing as much as a man could while he was recovering from bullet wounds. Especially after said cat had apparently dive-bombed him.

Darren and I had floated the idea of getting a pet at some point, but the discussion had always involved a dog. There was a week or two in there where Darren got it into his head that a bird might be fun after we’d searched a house containing a very animated and foul-mouthed cockatiel, but that hadn’t lasted. My father-in-law had graciously informed Darren of how much damage a bird could do to a person’s fingers, and suddenly we were talking Black Labs and Golden Retrievers again.

We both liked my daughter’s dog, Scruffy, and we’d have happily let him stay here whenever she did if our apartment allowed it. Unfortunately, this landlord had a policy of no dogs. Cats were fine, though. Lucky me.

I was just opening a beer bottle when the door opened again, and plastic bags crinkled.

“No, no, you can’t go out—no!” More crinkling, plus some shuffling. The door shut harder than Darren usually shut it, and he muttered, “Your dad says you’re an indoor kitty. You can’t go outside without your leash.”

Leash? I mouthed into the silence. Dear God. What had Darren gotten us into?

I took a swig of beer, then moved to the living room, where my usually rational husband was explaining to that furry stack of sentient anger that she was allowed on the couch and the chairs, but that the coffee table was off limits.

He pointed at the floor. “Down. Kitties don’t belong on tables.”

Her tail swished violently, knocking a few file folders and magazines askew. Maybe cats did wag their tails when they were happy? Because she seemed pretty happy about staring defiantly up at him.

“Harley. Get down.”

Swish. Swish. Swish.

I pressed my shoulder against the door frame and brought my beer to my lips. “How’s that working out for you?”

He glared at me, still pointing at the floor as if the cat might respond. During his moment of distraction, she reached up and swatted at his finger.

“Ow!” He jerked his hand away from her and shook it. “Listen here, little missy…”

I choked on my beer.

“You deserved that,” he muttered, inspecting his finger.

“So did you.” I leaned into the kitchen to put the bottle down—I didn’t dare set it on the table next to the fluffy poltergeist—and crossed the floor. “How bad did she get you?”

“Eh. It’s not bad.” He shook his hand in the air and gritted out, “Just like a paper cut. Hurts like hell.”

“Bet she’s pleased with herself, too.”

We both looked down at her.

Yep. That cat was spectacularly pleased with herself.

“Oh God.” I shook my head. “What did you get us into?”

“I don’t know.” Then he grinned. “But I live with you, so I can handle a foul-tempered cat.”


“What?” He touched my cheek with his uninjured hand. “Don’t act like it isn’t true.” Before I could comment, he pushed himself up and kissed me, and damn it. I was almost as much of a sucker for that as I was for his puppy dog eyes.

“You’re lucky you’re cute, you know that?”

“Oh, I do.” He grinned. “I definitely—”

A thump turned both our heads, and I looked just in time to see a fluffy tail disappearing past the couch.

“Do I want to know where she’s going?”

“Probably not, but I think we better find out.” He stepped past me and jogged after her. “Harley? What are you getting into?”

“If she answers,” I called after him, “she’s going home right now.”

She didn’t answer, though, and neither did he.

But then something crashed, and Darren swore.

Oh for fuck’s sake.

What had we gotten ourselves into?