Amazon Special: Inspection

Free on Amazon
February 24 – February 28

Inspection
An Adventure of Christian Holmes



An interloper arrives at the CBI, claiming to be a data-collector from headquarters. Christian Holmes, together with Greg Belden, is assigned to help him.

As they work with the outsider, their doubts grow. Who is he, and what did he really come for?

More than one man will be tested, when inspection comes.



Inspection on Amazon
Inspection on Goodreads

An Excerpt of

Inspection



The stack of files was about a foot high, and I slid the folders back into the cabinet with grim speed. One and then another, one and then another. The last three days of my life had been eaten up by files – taking them out, bringing them to Lars, carrying them up the stairs, running them through the computer scanner, carrying them back down the stairs, filing them away. I had begun to feel a vague resentment of the basement, the scanner, and the awful printed papers.

I slipped in the last file, closed the drawer, and turned around. Belden stood nearby, pulling documents out of another cabinet.

I watched him, my feelings not wholly untinged by dread. He shut the metal drawer with an echoing clang and glanced at me. We shared an understanding look and headed out.

It took a minute or two to wind our way out of the cabinets to Belden’s desk. It was empty.

I took one of the chairs, accepting the break. “He’s gone.”

“Good.” Belden thumped down the files by the monitor. “I tell you, Holmes, that guy is a trial. I have been practicing superhuman restraint for three days, but I don’t know how much longer I can take it.”

He had shown more restraint than I would have expected, but sometimes he got a look in his eyes that made me fear all his restraint would break in an explosion of classic proportions. “I wonder where he went,” I remarked idly.

Belden sat in his chair; I realized, watching him settle in front of the computer, that I had begun to think of it as Lars’. Wherever he went, he had left his briefcase on the desk, his notebook laying open on top of it. His glasses, too, laid on the desk.

As I entertained the idea that Lars was farsighted rather than shortsighted, Belden began tapping on the briefcase. He tapped with both hands, first on the sides, then on the top. The hollow noise carried easily.

Abruptly he pulled his hands back, and then slowly rotated the briefcase. And he stared intensely at the open pages of the notebook.

The writing was, from his viewpoint, upside down, and it took me a moment to ask the question. “Are you reading that?”

“Trying.” He craned his neck, leaning forward.

“Belden, that’s …” Eavesdropping popped into my mind, but that couldn’t be right. “That’s snooping.”

“If you read it upside down, it’s detective work.”

“You know better than that.”

Apparently he did. Belden slowly straightened up and flipped the notebook shut. Then he picked up Lars’ glasses.

“Belden …”

“I’m not hurting anything.” He turned the glasses over in his hand, peered through the lenses, and finally put them on.

I coughed back a laugh. “Not your style.”

Belden removed the glasses and set them down. Then he leaned back in the chair, hands folded together, and gave me a self-satisfied look. “Are you ready for my hypothesis?”

“Shoot.”

“I’ve been observing Daniel Lars. Here’s what I’ve noticed: One, he’s nosy. He gets introduced to someone, and next thing you know he has the person’s background and work history. Two, he carries around a briefcase”—Belden rapped it—“that he never opens. Three, his glasses are fake. Four …” He hesitated, shame crossing his face, but finished. “Four, he’s making notes about us.”

I glanced at the notebook, then back at Belden. “And?”

“And …” He paused, seeming to relish the suspense. “And so, he’s a reporter.”

“A reporter?” I let my skepticism bleed freely into my voice.

“An undercover reporter, doing a story on the CBI.”

“Ah. Well, then, I guess you shouldn’t have gotten into that food fight with Thompson in the lunch room yesterday.”

“We didn’t throw food.”

“I was speaking metaphorically. Anyway, Belden, the supervisor told us to work with him. He’s convinced that Lars is a CBI agent.”

Belden shook his head, adamant. “Mark my words, he’s faking us out.”

My gaze drifted, settled on Lars’ glasses. I had begun to wonder if they really were fake when Lars returned. He stopped in front of Belden, an air of expectation in his posture.

Belden, moving slowly, gave up the chair.

Lars settled in. “Agent Holmes, you and I will go over these numbers. Agent Belden, get me some coffee.”

I stared at him, but he casually put his glasses on and opened a folder. Then I looked at Belden. He stared down at Lars, rigid from his toes to his eyebrows. His expression was, in all the years we had worked together, new to me; I couldn’t read it. Yet I thought it was the expression of a man in a supreme act of self-control—or plotting retaliation.

Belden motioned vaguely upward. “You were just upstairs.”

Lars looked at him. “And?”

Belden grasped the edge of the desk and leaned in. “You know, Lars, ever since you first showed up with your glasses and your briefcase and your attitude, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you.”

Lars closed the folder, granting Belden his full attention. “What is it?”

Belden opened his mouth, but it took a moment for the words to come out. “Cream or sugar?”

“Both.”

Belden nodded—a jerky sort of nod, as if he wasn’t used to the motion—and took himself away.

I looked at Lars, who had quietly resumed his work. “You’re doing a good job of testing him.” So good I had started to think that some of it was just his personality coming through.

He didn’t answer. Lars paged through the file, and I watched. And for no good reason, it suddenly came into my mind that maybe Belden had a point after all. If Lars wasn’t a reporter, maybe he was something else we didn’t know about.

To finish, purchase free from Amazon.

Release Announcement: Cards

Cards

An Eternities Novella

Released February 13, 2015

A boy with strange luck, a man with rare knowledge …

The card-dens of the Redzone are desperate places. Men with no money to spare gamble their money in endless games, in squalid rooms thick with smoke and alcohol and lawless recklessness. Cards tempt and betray their players, leaving them with nothing.

Except for Tav. Only Tav never loses, because the cards obey him. But the secret of his strange luck cannot be hidden forever. He plays for diamonds. What will he draw when the truth is revealed?



An Excerpt of
Cards

From the moment Tav walked in, the cards were his. They answered to him, answered the reach of his mind. He sat at the battered little table, not looking at the men hunched over their cards and winnings around him, and he stretched his thoughts toward the deck and willed.

And they came to him. The dealer scattered the cards with precise rapidity, and when he picked his own up from the table, they presented themselves to him: a flush, a straight, four of a kind, king’s draw, pirate’s hand …

Some he threw back, some he folded at first bet, the rest he played to win. And surely, but by no means abruptly, he tripled the money in front of him.

The smoke grew thick in the air, the table splotched and sticky with spilled alcohol, the other players restless—only he ever had a good game, with all the cards struggling toward him. The man to his right shifted most, and began to mutter. When Tav took the pot with a straight flush, the man slapped his cards down so violently the table quivered.

Tav took warning. He always took warning from the bad temper of his fellow players, ever since he’d had to crawl away from a brawl that erupted from too much alcohol and too many losing hands. As the dealer shuffled the deck, Tav aimed a look at the dinged metal door. It invited him, but he would lose this last hand before he left. Losers were rarely followed out into the street.

The dealer flicked the cards to each player. Tav waited until all were dealt, and then scooped up his cards. Two aces and three tens marshaled themselves in his hand, neatly divided into their own kinds.

With a sweep of mutters, the first round of betting emptily passed. Tav, in his turn, flashed the dealer one of his aces, and tossed down the other four cards. The dealer tucked the rejects under the deck, slid four new cards off its top, and moved on.

Tav drew the cards up: an eight, the deck’s last two aces, and a wild jack, joining his held-over ace to create a beautiful four of a kind.

He blinked. The cards often tried to repair the hands he deliberately ruined—somehow he could not withdraw the command as easily as he gave it—but this time they had outdone themselves.

“Five hundred.”

Tav looked up, almost startled, at the slump-shouldered man opposite him. All game he had played with the nervous caginess of a beginner, and this strong bet was unlike him. But for Tav, at least, it worked. Under cover of that bet, he folded.

The man on his left did the same, and the man two down on the right matched the bet. The last player, the man whose darkening mood had inspired Tav’s decision to depart, stared at his cards, rubbing at them with his thumb and forefinger. Then he threw in his creds, and they clattered on the table with a warning ring.

The slump-shouldered man laid down his hand, three kings. The player down the table cursed, but he was dwarfed into tameness when the man right by Tav hurled his cards across the table and surged to his feet. “Skifters!”

The dealer—his eyes, as always, expressionless to the point of bleakness—began to pick up the strewn cards without looking at the angry man looming over him. “I run a fair game, Fallon,” he said.

Fallon narrowed his eyes. “I never lose like this.”

That Tav believed to be true. He slid his chair back a foot or two, and it scraped the scarred floor loudly. But no one looked at him, because the others were also preparing to spring up from the table. The cagey beginner hastily shoveled up his winnings, as if afraid someone was going to take them away.

The dealer glanced at them, and then up at Fallon. “Every player has his unlucky nights. This is one of yours. So go home.”

As if the directive had been aimed at him, Tav began to quietly stuff his money into his pockets.

A hand closed over his wrist like a pincer, and then he was being dragged up from his chair.

To finish this story, buy Cards on Amazon – 99 cents through Valentine’s Day.

To shelve Cards on Goodreads, visit its page.

To request a review copy, e-mail me at info[at]shannonmcdermott.com.

St. Valentine’s Day Sale

St. Valentine’s Day Sale 2015
All books 99 cents


Sarah Holman


Morgan Elizabeth Huneke


Shannon McDermott

A Little Thing

When I was writing one of the earliest scenes of The Valley of Decision, I came – while hastening to the main point, which was the introduction of Keiran, the Captain of the Hosts – to a bit moment where an officer clears the way for the army’s highest commanders: “Way for the …”

For the what? My first thought was lords of the army; I added to the notebook masters of the army. In the end I chose the latter title. True, both words mean essentially the same thing, but master seemed the less-used. Better, it seemed more visceral; in America, at least, our strongest cultural memory of addressing men as “Master” is of the slave-holding South.

So they – the five highest officers of the military, my principal heroes among them – were masters. I soon extended this principle of address to their society as a whole. I knew the Dochraitay, ruled for as long as they could remember by Belenus, would be a strongly hierarchical society, well inculcated with the idea of mastery. People could be owned. Didn’t Belenus own them?

When you read The Valley of Decision, you can learn a great deal about the characters’ relationships, and their estimation of each other, by what titles they use. Master was not a mere honorific in Dochraitay mouths, but a recognition of the speaker’s inferiority and a pledge of submission. Hence Keiran addressed the Fays, but only the Fays, as master. All the soldiers, even the three lieutenants of the army, called him master in turn. The lesser soldiers called the lieutenants master, and in their own turn assumed their absolute superiority over the Alamiri captive, and so the hierarchy went …

Caél, as the Captain’s right hand, was second in command of the army. It’s telling of his closeness to Keiran that he alone of all the Dochraitay never called him master. It’s telling of his subordinate rank that he frequently addressed Keiran as Captain. By contrast, Keiran never addressed Caél by his own title, though he might refer to him by it when speaking with others.

When dealing with foreign rulers – such as the leaders of Alamir, and even the King of the Others – the Dochraitay used the honorific lord, as their way of paying respect while subtly declaring their own freedom. The Sovereign and the King of the Others were lords because the Dochraitay did not have to obey them.

Even the fact that the Dochraitay incessantly call Jarmith Alamiri or the Alamiri tells its own tale. That was the most salient fact about him. When they referred to him as our Alamiri, it was wholly without sentiment: They meant only “our Alamiri, to keep and to do with as we like”.

My decision, in the beginning, to use masters of the army instead of lords was a little thing; I did not foresee then that I was sounding a note to be sounded again and again, throughout the book. But of such little things stories are made.

Prism Tours: King of Ash and Bone

We’re Blitzing the Release of

King of Ash and Bone

By Melissa Wright

The first book in The Shattered Realms Series.

Writing a book or series of books is a substantial commitment. Authors spend a lot of time and effort avoiding the temptation of shiny new ideas, because chasing other stories will never get you a finished manuscript. But the best inspirations hang around, waiting in the corners of your mind, tugging at your attention until they’ve grown too monstrous and delightful to be ignored. These are the stories that are most fun to tell, the ideas that will not be turned away.

I’m happy to report my newest title is just one of these monsters. King of Ash and Bone began niggling at me about midway through the Descendants Series as a simple idea: a magical apocalypse. A heroine with steadfast determination came in next, followed quickly by the handsome anti-hero who just might have what it takes to break her resolve. And of course he would have something to hide that might test them both. I found myself researching end-of-days scenarios in my spare time, gathering images of winged beasts and deserted cities as this new world grew and grew, forming its own brand of chimera and bursting into a second realm, complete with problems of its own.

The Shattered Realms series is certainly lined up to be the most complex I’ve ever written, and I can only hope it catches readers’ hearts and imaginations the way it has mine.

Would you like to sign up to review King of Ash and Bone? Do so HERE!

King of Ash and Bone

King of Ash and Bone
(Shattered Realms, #1)
by Melissa Wright
YA Urban Fantasy
February 2nd 2015

When flying monsters break through the veil into her world, Mackenzie Scott has nothing left to lose. Her brother has been taken, her future has vanished, and all that remains is a desperate need for revenge. After discovering the breach the creatures used as a gateway, Mackenzie devises a plan to stop them, whatever the cost.

When she finds an injured stranger in the street, he just might be the key she needs to succeed. What Mackenzie doesn’t know is that this stranger isn’t the helpless boy he appears to be. He’s one of the monsters. And he’s got plans of his own.

Thrown into a dying city in another realm, Mackenzie is powerless to get back. With the gateway closing, time is not on her side. But the stranger is, and if they can escape execution, this girl and her monster might be able to save both their worlds.

You can read a teaser here.

Melissa Wright is the author of the Frey Saga and Descendants Series. She is currently working on the next book, but when not writing can be found collecting the things she loves at Goodreads and Pinterest.

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