Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Nine, Part Two

 Notes: More Rivalries! Are you ready to cathart? Let's have some catharting! *consults dictionary* Wait, that's not what it's called? Let's have some CATHARSIS!

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Nine, Part Two


Chapter Nine, Part Two


A firm damper was put on any idea of fun the moment Charlie approached Principal Cross after school that afternoon. Johnny had already texted him to say that court had been “frenetic” and he was running “super late, please tell me you don’t have PT today.” Charlie didn’t, fortunately, and he didn’t have much else waiting for him either except for a call with Huda and Ari tonight, so it seemed like a good time to get the formalities with the equipment usage out of the way. Not that he’d anticipated there being a problem, but it paid to be polite.

Turns out he should have just kept his fucking mouth shut and taken the stuff behind her back.

“Absolutely not,” Principal Cross said, folding her hands on her desk and staring at Charlie severely from behind her spectacles. “That equipment is solely for the use of Euryale students. That was the mandate for its original funding, and I won’t break that trust just so a group of interlopers can use and potentially damage it without having to pay for replacement.”

Charlie was dumbfounded for a second there, but he recovered quickly. “These kids are technically Euryale students now,” he said, following the letter of the law as he understood it from the memo that had turned up in everyone’s school inbox that morning. It had been the chilliest “welcome” letter imaginable. “Isn’t that what you said?”

“I said they were to be treated as our students, but obviously that treatment only goes so far.”

Charlie decided to try another tack. “I understand that Euryale has hired a private instructor for its dueling club.”

Principal Cross’s eyes narrowed. “That’s correct…”

“And I believe that instructor also provides their own gear for the few kids in this academy who don’t already own a set.” An interest in dueling usually developed pretty young, and that meant indulgent parents were buying their kids sets of specialty gear along with their first bikes, in some cases.

“Yes, that’s true.”

“So the equipment in that cupboard is currently unused, and likely has been for a long time. It doesn’t make sense to leave a valuable resource like dueling gear there to rot when it could be going to good use with other students.”

“Absolutely not. I told you, it exceeds the mandate that precipitated its purchase in the first place.” She pointed a finger at him. “And if you need to consider use in order to be happy, then let me assure you that on the admittedly rare occasion when a student forgets their gear or a new student joins the club and our outfitter isn’t prepared, we let them have access to our stores. So it is getting used, just not as frequently as you would apparently like.”

Principal Cross folded her hands again, her gaze icy. “Let me be clear. Stheno students will not be using any of Euryale’s privately-funded equipment for dueling, for swimming, for basketball, not even for chess club, do you understand me? If it was really important to them, they would have gotten their own equipment out of their school before the site was shut down for construction.”

Right, because that made sense. Get the kids out before the roof comes down on their fucking heads, and oh yeah—don’t forget the dueling gear and basketballs!

Charlie could see he wasn’t going to get anywhere arguing about it, though. Shit, he might even get the Stheno kids banned from using the gym if he wasn’t careful. He gritted his teeth and stood up with a slight wince—he was getting more and more sore as the day went on.

“And do try to look more respectable when you come into work tomorrow,” Principal Cross added as he turned to leave. “Less like you inevitably lost a bar fight, at least.”


Leaving was hard, but staying would have meant giving her a piece of his mind and definitely losing his job, so Charlie walked away. He walked and he walked and he didn’t bother to stop by his office because why should he, when he didn’t have to pick up his car keys because, oh yeah, he didn’t have a car anymore because he’d had a god damn panic attack when he had to be around a group of adults. Jesus Christ, his fucking life.

He walked all the way out to the baseball field, abandoned during this part of the year, and gritted his teeth as he felt his knack roil to life inside of him. The energy practically crackled from nerve to nerve, there was so much of it. He was desperate to use it, to raise his arms into position and send a shield out into the world that would knock away everything trying to hold him back, to hold him down, to make him hopeless. He wanted to be, he wanted to use his knack and he couldn’t, and it was going to drive him up the wall if he let it.

Charlie tried to calm the energy, tried to take deep breaths like his shrink had taught him, but there was no easy fix for the rising tide of magic within him. It burned, burned in every bruise and ache and cut, burned the broken flesh like acid, made Charlie wish he could have just died instead of becoming a one-armed Shield who didn’t even know how to make his own knack work for him anymore!

He did shout now, opened his tightly clasped teeth and shouted as loud as he could while he dropped to one knee and slammed his good hand against the plate of home base. He wasn’t really hoping it would feel cathartic, but he’d settle for feeling slightly less pathetic.

Catharsis definitely happened, though.

Home plate exploded, sending Charlie straight up into the air with the reverberation of his massively powerful shield. He fell a moment later into a soft earthen pit, where dirt and grass rained down on him for a few more seconds, covering him from head to toe in filth. He dazedly lifted his head and looked around—yep, he was in a crater about three feet deep in the middle, and ten feet around. It was a rookie error when shielding, not properly directing and controlling the force of the knack. Usually, when you pushed your shield too hard into the earth, you left a dent in it. Earth was a lot harder to move than water, and water was hard enough.

He had just made a fucking crater in the ground. He hoped to god that the baseball field didn’t have any security cameras watching it, because he was definitely fired if it did, but still…

Charlie started to laugh. It was slightly hysterical, the sound of a man on the edge, but he felt like he’d actually pulled back from the brink. He could shield. He could honest-to-god make a shield again—a horrible, powerful, sloppy, terribly dangerous shield that could have gotten him killed, but a shield nonetheless.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so happy.

His phone began to ring. Charlie was mildly surprised it still worked. He fished it out of his back pocket and looked at the caller. Johnny. Oh, that was okay. “Hey.”

“Hey! I’m in the parking lot, where are you?”

Charlie started laughing again. “In a hole in the ground,” he got out after a few seconds of wheezing chortles.

“Um…okay, wait, is this a metaphor for something?”

“No, I’m literally in a hole in the ground, on first base.”

“What, in the baseball field?”

“Yeah.” Charlie stared up at the sky, gray and rainy like usual, and thought he’d never seen a more beautiful one. “Can you come meet me here? I’m not sure if I can stand up.”

“What the—yeah, I’m coming, are you okay? Do you need anything?”

So many things, but not the one I thought I’d never have again. “No. I’m good.”

Reality could catch up in a minute. For now, he was unbelievably good.

Monday, October 26, 2020

New Release: The Lost Ship of the Tucker Rebellion

 Hi darlins! 

It's finally here! My sci-fi book with Marie Sexton is out in the world, at last. If you love narrow escapes and exciting adventures IN SPACE, plus a dash of m/m romance, plus the world's cutest robot sidekick, this is the book you've been wishing for.

Amazon.com: The Lost Ship of the Tucker Rebellion


Alien invasion has rendered Earth uninhabitable. Now, humanity survives in settlements on Mars, the moon, and distant space stations around Jupiter and Saturn. It’s all people can do to eke out a living from mining, salvage, and scrap.

Twin brothers Denver and Laramie Clayborne’s salvage operation is a small one—just them, their friend Marit, and their quirky ‘bot, OPAL. Their lives are simple and they like it that way, even though they barely earn enough to pay for Laramie’s expensive, life-saving medications. They make do, just like everyone else. It’s all they can do.

Until the day they find something big floating in the wreckage of a battleship graveyard. Something so rare, so precious, it could change their lives forever. Trading it would make them loved. Selling it would make them rich. But keeping it might make them heroes. They have a chance at a whole new world, if they’re brave enough to grasp it.

And if Mars doesn’t catch them first.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Nine, Part One

 Notes: Back to Rivalries! We're about to sink our teeth into the meat of the story, so get ready. Soon there will be...dueling!

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Nine, Part One


Rivalries: Chapter Nine, Part One


It was a good thing that Charlie’s day had started off surprisingly well with Johnny, because it seemed destined to go downhill once his classes got going. The knack classes for the two schools weren’t being taught together, although Debra had been nice enough to send on her lesson plans and Charlie was damn well going to study them when he wasn’t nursing a headache from hell and almost more bruises than he had skin.

And frankly, maybe the knack classes should be taught together in the future, because his students were turning out to be a bunch of judgy little shits who could stand to be taken down a peg.

That’s not fair. They’ve been raised in this weird, hypercompetitive bubble all their lives. They don’t know much about the rest of the world. Charlie had seen people from Euryale Academy in the army, a few of them coming into the special programs that he was sent through, and without exception they all broke down the first week, gone from “special” to “just another grunt.” They were mostly able to get back up again, learn from the experience, and keep going, but some of them didn’t.

“—don’t know why they didn’t put them somewhere else,” one of his juniors was opining just as class began. The freshmen and sophomores, at least, had a modicum of curiosity about the newcomers, but the upper levels didn’t seem to feel much other than disdain. “It’s not like they’re going to get much out of being here.”

“Why is that?” Charlie asked, blatantly interrupting his conversation in the way only a teacher could.

The kid, a boy named Ryan if he remembered correctly, looked slightly ashamed but held his ground at Charlie’s question. All of the kids had been staring at him while trying to seem like they weren’t, undoubtedly wondering about his banged-up state of affairs, but they hadn’t outright asked about it yet. Which was good, since he didn’t plan on telling them anything. “Because…they’re not used to our school.”

“It’s only been half a day,” Charlie pointed out. “I daresay they’ll get used to it in time.”

“They’re not used to the way we do things.”

He scoffed. “What, with overhead projectors and laptops for all instead of blackboards and pencils? They come from a less privileged school, but they’re not living in caves.”

“They’re probably not as far along with their knacks,” another kid piped up. It was Dahlia, who Charlie was trying hard not to encourage in her attitude of casual superiority—something that a lot of Persuasive knacks shared. “I mean, they have a kid who literally shook his school apart. Does that sound like control?”

“What if I told you that control is overrated?” Charlie asked.

Dahlia frowned. “But you said that knacks, especially knacks like mine, have to be controlled.”

“They do.” Charlie nodded. “Legally speaking, ethically and morally speaking, they do. But sometimes a knack is expressed as a means of self-defense, even without conscious volition. When that happens, the people who know the person with that knack need to sit up and pay attention, because it could mean something bad is going on in their lives. Do you think that kid wanted to break his school? That he’d want the negative consequences from that? And there are a lot of negatives, let me tell you. It’s not very likely.”

“So something bad was happening to him?”

“Was he being bad touched?” one of the boys said with a laugh. To Charlie’s mild surprise, a few of the girls in class shot him some sharp glances.

“I’d break every window in this fucking school if someone started bad touching me and nobody wanted to do anything about it,” one of the girls snapped. She had a vibration knack, one that was especially transformative on glass and its alloys. Charlie was sure the military would be happy to snatch her up for the chance at training her in espionage, but she’d already said she was planning to go to MIT and study materials science.

“I don’t know what was happening with him. It’s not really for us to know, either, but it is important that the adults in his life who have a chance of helping him know. You can’t bottle up your knack,” Charlie finished. “Control it, yes—bottle it up, no. Knacks are there to be used, so its our job to figure out how best to use them and then to do so responsibly.”

“How do you use yours?” Ryan half-asked, half-demanded. All the kids knew Charlie was a Shield by know, and the ones who knew a little more than others understood that with only one arm, casting a shield had to be done differently.

Charlie smiled. “With difficulty,” he said. He wasn’t about to tell them that that he hadn’t followed his own advice on this particular front. “Now, let’s talk about the case studies I assigned last week.”

The seniors, coming in last, were surprisingly easy today. This week was devoted to padding their extracurricular resumes, so mostly they worked by themselves, occasionally coming up and asking questions about correlating an activity they participated in to their knack, or figuring out how to cast their interests in the best light. It was downright refreshing to be surrounded by silence for once.

Of course, that meant it was time for a knock on the door. Charlie glanced up apprehensively—he really didn’t want to talk to Principal Cross right now—but it was Debra Jones instead. “Excuse me, Mr. Verlaine,” she said, glancing at the students before looking up at where he sat behind his desk. “Got a minute?”

“Sure.” He followed her out into the hall, leaving a crack so he could hear inside the room. “How can I help you?”

She got right down to the point. “You knew my classes are set up in the gym, right?”


“I was setting up my office today—I think it’s a repurposed janitorial closet, actually, it smells like pine and bleach—and I noticed a whole heap of dueling gear in the corner. Do you ever use that stuff?”

“No.” Charlie didn’t even know they had some stowed there—all he knew was that their dueling club was outsourced, and not, as Principal Cross had haughtily informed him, something for him to concern himself with. “Is it any good?”

“Fairly basic, but in better shape than what we had back at Stheno,” Debra said. “You think anyone’s going to mind if I let my kids use it? We’ve got some kids who are really good, and I don’t want their training to lag just because they’re not in familiar surroundings.”

“I don’t mind at all.” The next words came out of his mouth before he had time to really think about them. “Do you want help?”

Debra looked a little surprised. “I certainly wouldn’t mind it, but don’t you have your own students to teach?”

“I’m not allowed to do hands-on dueling practice with them.” He gave a half-smile. “I’m just a temp, after all.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Black-ops trained, and they passed on the chance to have you show these kids the ropes? Seems poorly thought out to me.”

If only she knew…it was a nice sentiment, though. “I’ll make sure it’s all right to use the equipment and find a good space for practicing,” Charlie volunteered. He was actually kind of excited at the thought of getting involved in a dueling club. Despite how things had gone with him and Johnny back in the day, he’d loved it.

And hell, things weren’t so bad now, lacerations notwithstanding.

“Well hell, Mr. Verlaine.” She held out her left hand. “I’ll take it.”

They shook. “I’ll make it happen.” He let go and grinned. “This will be fun.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Chapter Excerpt: 2nd Chance

 Notes: Hi darlins! Between the holiday, no daycare, and enormous revisions coming my way for a holiday romance due way too soon, I've got no blog story this week. What I've got instead is the original first chapter of the aforementioned story, which has been completely rewritten multiple times at this point and no longer bears any resemblance to this, but it still gives you a feel for the book that will be coming out. So...yes. Have half of a chapter of a new contemporary romance! FYI, Patreon followers get the whole thing ;) They get all the good stuff, join me there! https://www.patreon.com/Cari_Z




It all started with a suit.

My first day as a newly-minted lawyer with Staller, Weisz and Coast, I wore the wrong suit to the office. I didn’t know it was the wrong suit at the time—I only ever wore one back in Edgewood, a gift from my parents on my sixteenth birthday for when I needed to dress up for my dad’s political events. By the time I finished law school, I had a few more, but possession didn’t do much to mitigate my ignorance.

I walked into the corporate office in a black suit and tie—not charcoal, not grey, not navy—black. Shiny black shoes and a white shirt with French cuffs rounded out my look. I thought I was dapper. The man who hired me, Marcus Staller, took one look at me as I walked into his office that morning and immediately shook his head, got up from his desk, and asked his secretary to hold all his phone calls while he “dealt with this abomination.”

“Max,” he said to me, looking me up and down with a frown on his face. “There’s only one time in a man’s life when it’s acceptable to wear a black suit in the daytime, and that’s at a funeral.”

I frowned. “The guy at D and G said it was fashionable.”

Marcus scoffed. “Dolce and Gabbana make most of their money selling to G-men. Do you want your corporate clients to think you’re representing the government’s best interests, or yours? No.” He took me into his closet—it made my eyebrows rise, having a closet in your office, but that was before I knew about the kind of hours lawyers kept—and loaned me a midnight blue, pinstriped Canali. It was slightly too big, but “better than what you have on, son. You don’t want the other associates poking fun at you all day.” No, I damn well did not.

The advice began with suits, but it didn’t end there. Marcus was one of the founding members of the firm, a lawyer with thirty years of experience operating out of Manhattan, and he helped me navigate the waters of everything from surviving the cutthroat associate’s pool, to the best restaurants a lawyer on a budget—ie, me—could afford to take a client to, to how to identify cases that looked too good to be true.

Mass torts and class action lawsuits are the devil’s workshop,” he opined over lunch one day after news broke that a competitor of ours had just filed for bankruptcy. “Most lawyers aren’t good enough businesspeople to handle the nuts and bolts that go into developing portfolios for that kind of work. They get lured in with promises of big money and get in over their heads once half their cases get thrown out for lack of a decent work-up. Stick with corporate law, Max. You’ll get wealthy without losing your shirt.”

I’d taken Marcus’s advice to heart, and dedicated all my time and energy to Staller, Weisz and Coast. After three years, it was beginning to pay off. I was taking the lead on cases, starting to court my own clients. I was also the second in command when it came to any of Marcus’s personal cases, including a big merger he was overseeing personally between two of our clients, each with a lot to gain if things went well and a lot to lose if they didn’t. Once this case was in the bag, I’d have a bonus big enough to put a down payment on an apartment. In New York City, this was saying a lot.

The black suit, my first suit, the one I’d bought with my signing bonus, went to the back of my closet where I kept my other fashion mistakes, like the football jersey I didn’t have the shoulders to pull off and the sparkly mesh top I’d never been bold enough to wear out clubbing. I forgot about it, had a dozen other suits with the Marcus Staller seal of approval, and that was all I needed. I’d found a mentor who respected me, who put energy into me, who wanted to see me succeed. The work was hard and the hours were insane, but I didn’t mind. The only people I wanted to see outside of work were my best friend Hal and his family, but they lived far enough away that I could plan for those visits well in advance. My life felt narrow, but I didn’t mind that.

Then, two weeks before Christmas, I came into the firm early one morning and found Marcus lying on the floor of his office. I ran over and checked him, called his name, but from the moment I saw him I knew he was gone—too still, too silent. Dead.

It felt like a window I hadn’t even know was in my head suddenly shattered, letting all the old, anxious thoughts I thought I’d exorcised mingle with the rest of my mind. Marcus was dead, and I knew that nothing at the firm would ever be the same for me again.

I wore my black Dolce and Gabbana suit to Marcus’s funeral, five days after his fatal heart attack. It was a morning service, all indoors thanks to the winter weather outside. I sat through the service led by his priest, the eulogies given by the other two named partners in the firm, listened to his children cry, and kissed his widow Clara on her pale, thin cheek after she lifted her black veil out of the way.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her, feeling useless just for saying it but not knowing how to say anything else. I’d learned a lot from Marcus over the years, but his off-the-cuff lectures on case law and haute couture and fine food hadn’t extended to how to grieve.

“Thank you, Max.” She dredged up a smile for me as she took my hand between her elegantly gloved ones. “Oh, Marcus was so fond of you. He always said you were the only one of the junior associates who didn’t make him want to tear his hair out.”

I smiled weakly. “High praise.” Marcus had been so proud of his full head of hair, barely graying at fifty-five.

“I was going to ask him to invite you to our place for Christmas this year. He said you never go home for Christmas, that you always spend it alone.”

That was true, but… “I’ve got friends here in the city I’ll stay with.” Kind of. If meeting a bunch of other single associates for racquetball on Christmas Eve morning could be considered “staying with.” It wasn’t even something I wanted to do, more of a “show up or shut up” kind of deal.

“That’s good.” She glanced over at Marcus’s coffin, lying just below the altar at the front of St. Thomas’s Church. It was a beautiful casket, sleek and shining but not ostentatious. He would have approved. If he wasn’t dead. Fuck. “I hope that your friends make you happy. I hope you—you get some happiness this holiday season, because you never—God, you never know when things will change.” Her eyes were wet, her expression haunted. “Remember to be with the people that you love, Max. Be with them before it’s too late.”

I nodded numbly, then stepped out of the receiving line and headed outside. I probably should have gone up for one last look, like so many of Marcus’s other friends, but I couldn’t. Seeing him dead once was bad enough—putting myself through it a second time was impossible.

I needed air. I needed some way to avoid the tsunami of pain that was about to wash over me. I stepped through the front door of the church into the bitter winter air and made it two steps before I doubled over, hands on my knees, and forced myself to breathe. This was the wrong place to be weak, but right now I didn’t care who saw me.

Marcus was gone. He was gone. No more late-night pizzas while we fought to find precedent, no more booming laugh and funny anecdotes about all the places in Manhattan where he’d met a client, no more tips and hints about how to put my best foot forward in the sea of blue-bloods I was now swimming with. Marcus was dead, and he’d left a loving wife and two teenage boys behind. I didn’t have any children, or a wife—I didn’t want a wife either, given how firmly planted I was on the gay end of the spectrum—but there were people I loved. People I hadn’t seen in person in way too long.

As soon as I caught my breath, I pulled out my phone and called Hal. Pick up, pick up… He did, on the third ring. “Max? Hey, it’s kinda early for you to call. What’s up?”

And suddenly I didn’t know what to say. How did I explain that I’d been forced into an epiphany by tragedy, that I only wanted to see him and the girls right now because I was having a panic attack over the possibility of dying alone and unloved? I couldn’t speak, just breathed for another minute, and Hal, God fucking bless him, let me. He knew my moods—he’d been putting up with me since middle school, after all. He made light conversation about his work, about his kids, and graciously didn’t mention his own personal tragedy lately, the impending divorce.

As soon as I found my voice, I choked out, “Can I come and stay with you for Christmas?”

“You…yeah, of course. Really?”

I couldn’t blame him for being surprised. I’d had him and his family out to visit me half a dozen times over the past decade, but I’d never, ever considered going back to Edgewood. Hal knew that, and he’d never pushed.

“Really. Please.”

“Max.” Hal used his gentle voice on me, the same one he pulled out when one of his girls had a problem. “You’re always welcome with us. We’d love to have you here for Christmas, Marnie and Steph have been bugging me for months about seeing you again.”

The thread of anxiety spooled tight in my chest began to slowly unwind. “You’re sure I won’t be in the way? I can sleep on the couch in the living room, it’s—”

“You would kill your back the first night, not to mention ruin whatever fancy-pants pajamas you wear to bed with crumbs and icing and whatever else the thing’s stained with,” Hal said matter-of-factly. “It’s fine, you can take Christine’s room. She’s staying with her host family in Florence for the holidays.”

Oh, right. Hal’s little sister was doing a year abroad in Italy.

“And Nicky’s got his own place now, so no need to worry about him. Come, stay. We’d love to have you.”

I exhaled and ran a hand through my hair. It was stiff with product, the stuff I secretly hated but wore because slicking it back made me look more intimidating, apparently, and I needed all the help I could get with that in the courtroom. Too pretty to be a shark, I remember some of my classmates saying when they found out where I was interning. More like a goldfish. “Thank you, Hal.”

“You gonna come now, or wait until closer to Christmas?”

“I—” That was a good question. I had plenty of vacation time saved up—I hadn’t taken more than a day here and there in my three years with the firm, and all of Marcus’s cases were on hold over the holidays while the named partners figured out which senior associates to give them to. My skin suddenly itched with the need to get out of here, out of Manhattan, out of the city entirely. “I’ll be there by tonight.” Edgewood was only a four-hour drive. I could arrive before dinner.

“Sounds good, but be careful, okay? We’re supposed to get another few inches in the next couple of hours.”

“I’ll be fine.” I actually felt like I would be, now that I had a plan. I was going—not home for Christmas, not exactly, but as close as I wanted to get. We said goodbye and ended the call, and I practically ran back to my apartment and started throwing things into a bag.