Flashpoint, Book One of the Guardian Series, is now available for pre-release on Amazon! It will be priced at only .99 until its official release date on March 13th when the price will return to $2.99. Technically, it went live yesterday, but I was just too darn excited to sit down and hold still long enough to write this post, so I’m a day late on the trigger here and still over the moon excited! The book kicked off its first day of pre-release with sixteen preorders. Sixteen!! I couldn’t be happier 🙂
To celebrate the book’s big debut on Amazon, I thought I’d give back a little bit to you all and release a sneak peak of Flashpoint, Chapter One. So thank you for all the amazing support right out of the gate, and I hope you enjoy the preview!
Flashpoint: Chapter One
The Erilaz made his way casually through the room, the well-to-do party guests that milled about completely unaware that a killer walked among them. Clean cut, handsome, blue eyes, strong jaw, expensive clothing. By design, he fit in better than some of the actual guests did.
The runes that cloaked him and put the people around him at ease were invisible to the human eye, but Ash knew they were there. She could feel her own eyes wanting to slide right past him, her brain wanting to ignore his existence, but she forced herself to look at him. It never was easy spotting an Erilaz who didn’t want to be spotted, but this one had made a mistake.
Yes, he looked the part, but it was his actions that gave him away. He didn’t mingle, didn’t even pretend to sip the drink that Ash knew had long ago grown warm in his hand. He moved about just enough to prevent any attention being drawn his way, but his gaze followed his target relentlessly. He was either cocky or new. Or stupid. But Ash had yet to come up against a stupid rune master so her bet was on cocky or new.
His drink switched hands and he casually wiped a sweaty palm on his pant leg. He was nervous. So new then. This might have been good news if Ash didn’t know the Guild would never send a new Erilaz out on his own. Their clients were far too important and paid far too well for them to risk a blown mission on a trainee.
The over-sized conference hall was packed wall to wall with all of the world’s best, brightest and richest patrons of green energy. The Guild’s pockets were lined with the money of big-time oil tycoons so it had been to no one’s surprise when the Agency had received the intel that a hit had been contracted out to the Guild for Gregory Beckman. Beckman was the poster-boy for the uber wealthy and the host of tonight’s gala. Rumor had it that his green energy conglomerate was on to something big. Something that might put an end to the world’s reliance on oil.
Otto’s strong arms encircled Ash a little more comfortably than they should have as they moved slowly among the other dancers. Later, if she mentioned it to him, she knew he’d say that he had just been playing the part, but he wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all her.
Ash leaned forward onto her tiptoes so that anyone watching them would think she was whispering sweet nothings into her lover’s ear, but her soft message was not for him alone. His blond hair stirred beneath her breath like wheat grass in a breeze as she spoke, “Erilaz, Beckman’s four o clock.” His dark blue eyes flicked over her shoulder.
Otto spun her in an elegant twirl, and she scanned the room. Kade stood stoically at his position on the second floor balcony overlooking the festivities. His face was almost too boyish to pass for security, but give him a gun and a suit and he was passable. No one had questioned him yet. He blinked once.
Fletcher, posing as a bachelor trust-fund baby, laughed charmingly at something an attractive brunette in a red dress said. He was both cocky and good-looking enough to pull it off every time, and he never got tired of the part. It suited him. He ran a hand along the back of his neck.
Mateo was positioned at the head of the hall where he stood slightly behind Beckman. It hadn’t been hard to work him into Beckman’s personal security detail for the night. He was built for the job as thick chested as a bull and as laconic as a monk. He moved a hand to rest at his lower back.
The message had been clear.
Around the room, brightly colored dresses stood out against a sea of dark suits. Jewelry and watches glinted, champagne sparkled, business cards flashed from hand to hand. Waiters moved as gracefully as professional dancers through the throng, bearing silver trays of drinks and gourmet hors d’oeuvres. Most of the delicacies were vegan appropriate, of course, to accommodate the environmental hyper-friendlies attending the event. Nothing seemed out of place.
A shock of adrenaline jolted Ash’s system as the nervous Erilaz sidled up next to Beckman. The rush heightened her senses and Ash became aware of every beat of her heart against her ribcage, every breath that filled her lungs. He was quick. She hadn’t even seen him cross the room. Had the others? “Mateo,” Ash whispered on an exhale.
Mateo was already moving to intercept. The Erilaz made as if to go around Mateo, but Fletcher, who had extracted himself from the brunette, moved to box the Erilaz in from the other side.
Irritation crossed the would-be-assassin’s face. Otto pulled Ash in close as the Erilaz turned to scan the crowd. If they were caught paying attention to him, their cover would be blown, but as Otto’s heart beat quickened against her chest, Ash couldn’t help but wonder if Otto hadn’t been waiting for just such an opportunity.
Ash felt the Erilaz’s glance pass over them, just one more love-struck couple lost in each other’s arms. When Ash and Otto had completed their spin, the Erilaz was gone. Mateo and Fletcher stood empty-handed as they searched the crowd with quick eyes.
“Three o clock, Ash,” Kade’s voice was as light as a feather through the noise of the party. She glanced casually to her right. She saw a blur of movement as the Erilaz disappeared through a doorway, the steel door swung closed behind him, the sound of metal on metal lost to all but Ash and her team.
She released herself from Otto and began to head briskly towards the door. As briskly as she could manage at least. While her blue dress had been carefully designed not to inhibit her movements, high heels would always be high heels, no matter how tailored or customized, and the ones she wore now did nothing to ease the process of pursuit.
“Stick to Beckman. Watch for others. This guy can’t be operating alone.” Ash didn’t wait to confirm the others had heard her. No time for that. She pushed through the steel door and kicked off the heinous heels. Bare feet on a foreign floor was never her favorite thing, but for Ash, mission completion trumped personal comfort every time.
“Where’d he go?” Otto asked as he followed her out from the party hall. Even though he was speaking quietly, the vibrations of his deep voice filled the empty corridor. He stood at her side, one hand reaching for the handgun concealed beneath his suit jacket.
A flight of stairs elbowed off directly to their left. Stairs going up and stairs going down. Past the staircase, the hallway continued straight and branched off to the right about halfway down. To the right of their doorway, the hallway continued for a few yards before stopping abruptly at another steel door. No windows, no way to know what was on the other side without going through. No sign of the Erilaz.
Damn. Ash held up a hand for silence. For three long beats, Ash and Otto stood perfectly still, not even breathing. The air quieted around them and lay thick with stillness. And then there it was. A shift in the air caused by movement from the lower staircase. Otto stiffened beside her and turned to face the stairs. He had felt it too. Ash pulled her own compact pistol from its holster around her thigh and started down the steps with Otto close on her heels.
Ash didn’t hesitate at the bottom. She gripped the door handle and flung it open. Otto was first in. He peeled off to the left. Ash followed him in and veered right. The barrels of their weapons swept across what looked to be some sort of basement storage area. Tall steel-frame shelves stacked with boxes and antiquated equipment formed aisles down the room. A card table occupied by only a dingy ash tray and a thick layer of dust sat in a corner nook off to the left, and the smell of nicotine lingered in the stale air. The door swung shut behind them, cloaking the room in darkness.
Ash hesitated. No doubt the Erilaz had some sort of rune for seeing in the dark, putting them at a clear disadvantage. With her left hand, she felt along the wall next to the door. Right as her fingers found the hard plastic of the light switch, a jolt of blue lightning sizzled out from the darkness. Ash cried out in alarm and dove for the ground.
Even the little static shock charges that zapped at her from door knobs was enough to set her skin crawling. A full on lightning strike? Hell no. That was not how she was going to die.
Ash fired a round at the shadows filling the spaces between the shelves. Her bullet sang the hard song of metal on metal as it bounced off the steel shelving. Behind her, Otto fumbled for the light switch and then with the loud snap-sizzle of a bulb bursting, the dingy incandescent lighting flickered to life overhead. The few bulbs that remained cast the room in a weird, shadowy, twilight yellow.
Sharp electric blue light spider-webbed across the Erilaz’s body, giving away his position, and Ash leapt out of the way as another bolt of electricity cracked towards her. She fired another round, but the figure was already once again a shadow among shadows, too quick to allow a bullet the chance to take him down. The ghost of lightning hung in the air, making the atmosphere tense and dry. Ash’s hackles rose as the charge hummed all around her.
“Hey asshole,” Otto called out. Anger prickled his voice. “Is this how the Guild teaches Erilaz how to fight these days? Hide in the dark and take cheap shots at women? Come out and fight like a–”
The Erilaz people had old blood, ancient blood even, that could be traced back easily as far as recorded history would allow. Passed down from generation to generation, it was this old blood that gave them their power. And along with that old blood came an iron pride and double edged ego.
His fist veined with lightning as it made hard contact with Otto’s jaw. Otto slammed back into the concrete block wall hard enough that had he been a normal person, he probably would have been knocked unconscious and left with a nasty concussion. His gun slipped from his grasp and clattered to the floor.
But Otto bounced back from the blow instantly. His hands shot out and his fingers snaked around the Erilaz’s throat. His shoulders and arms bunched and tightened as he lifted the struggling Erilaz up into the air. Tiny blue threads of lightning bounded up and down Otto’s arms as he choked the Erilaz.
The door to the basement swung open, startling everybody. “What in tarnation is going on in here?” the old man asked. His eyes were wide open in surprise and angry lines had already set across his withered face. At any other moment in his life, he might have looked dignified in his old age, but now he just seemed piteously frail.
Ash glanced back to Otto. The Erilaz’s feet still kicked out from above the ground and his fingers scrabbled at Otto’s hands. All the old man would see was a victim. One of the wealthy party guests no doubt, getting the daylights choked out of him.
Don’t be a hero, Ash thought. The old man took another step towards Otto. His mouth opened and his chest puffed with air, getting ready to shout for help. I’m sorry, mister. Ash was behind the man before he realized she wasn’t standing by the corner anymore. Her strong arm wrapped delicately around his throat and any hell he had been about to raise was cut off abruptly. While she tightened her hold on their surprise visitor, she kept her gun trained on the Erilaz. Ash applied only just enough pressure to the arteries to put the old man out cold and she settled him as gently as she could to the floor. Her eyes left the Erilaz for only an instant.
“Don’t even–” Otto’s teeth rattled together and his words turned into a strangled grunt. Ash spun to face him. The tendons in his neck strained as he fought against the current running through his body. The Erilaz had given up breaking free by physical means and had wrapped his long skinny fingers around both of Otto’s wrists. Blue light danced beneath Otto’s skin.
Ash stepped forward to get a clear shot around Otto’s large body but before she could, he crumpled to the ground and the Erilaz was leaping over him to get to her. His face was still mottled from being choked, and she could see the flecks of amber in his irises that marked him for what he was.
She squeezed the trigger. Once. Twice. And then he landed on her. The force of his attack sent them both toppling to the ground. As his skin touched hers, electricity raced into her body, carving jittery paths through her nervous system and causing her muscles to contract tightly.
Ash shoved the Erilaz off of her and jumped up, goosebumps still rippling across her skin. The barrel of her compact was trained on the Erilaz but he didn’t move.
Just like that? Was it really over already? She kicked him over onto his back. The corpse’s eyes stared at her, and its lips seemed to curve in a grotesque got-ya grin.
As she stared down at it, the amber flecks began to melt away. The rich brown coloring of the hair dulled and the sideburns took on the early stages of gray streaking. The taut young face sagged ever so slightly and tiny creases formed at the corners of his eyes and mouth.
Lying on the ground was a completely different man from the one she had just shot. Yet, there were two bullet holes in his chest, each marked by a bullseye ring of blood.
Her stomach churned and bile rose in her throat as she realized what she had done. Ash turned away and retched onto the floor, bracing herself against the dusty card table. This man was no Erilaz.