Backs is done! I finished writing it tonight and I'm so excited about it! My best friend finished reading it tonight as well and immediately called me a See You Next Tuesday for the cliffhanger ending, so you know it's gotta be good. Or bad? I don't know. Either way, in honor of it's completion, here is an excerpt. And because I'm feeling so happy that it's finished, I'll give up a Ryan section ;)
“I’m sorry, Joss,” he mutters, his breathing uneven. “I forgot about your arm. We need to deal with that right now.”
I groan, letting my head hang back. “This is gonna suck so bad.”
“Sorry,” he repeats.
He heads for my bathroom. I’m not surprised when he comes back out with my bottle of vodka.
“Here. Get to work on that. It’ll take the edge off. It’s still going to hurt, but it will hurt a lot less.”
I sniff the open top of the bottle, my lips curling back in disgust. “I’ve never drank it before.”
“I’m a little jealous.”
“Good God, why? It smells like acid.”
Ryan chuckles. “It’ll taste a lot better than the stuff at the markets. Drink too much of what they sell there and you’ll go blind.”
I cringe at the thought of going to the markets. I’m going to have to, though. How else am I going to get an audience with The Hive? I can’t exactly walk up to the door and knock. I’ll be shot or shoved into their stables, no questions asked. It’s something I need to talk to Ryan about, but not yet. One painful thing at a time and right now my arm has soundly called dibs.
I take a swig of the vodka. It’s not bad, not at first. Then the burn hits. I double over, coughing and grabbing at my chest where the heat is coursing through it into my stomach.
“Why?” I gasp, not really sure what I’m asking. Why do people drink this stuff? Why does it hurt so bad? Why are my insides on fire?
“Ugh!” I groan. I stand up straight, my face frozen in a tortured grimace as the burn just keeps on going. “This is terrible.”
Ryan shakes his head. “That’s the good stuff. And you’ll need more of it than that. Better keep drinking before you lose your nerve.”
I glare at him, thinking of the rooftop. The jump. The Fall.
“I never lose my nerve.”
He silently makes a drinking motion with his hand before crossing his arms over his chest, watching me patiently.
I take two more good, long pulls off the bottle before I hand it back to him. It was easier doing it all at once. I still want to die, though. Ryan stows the bottle back in the bathroom before coming to stand in front of me again. He doesn’t say anything, just watches me.
“What?” I ask, feeling antsy being under the microscope.
“Now we wait. It’ll hit you soon.”
“What’s it going to feel like?”
He smirks. “What does drunk feel like? Uh, good, I guess is the best way to describe it. You’ll be a little dizzy, feel a little flushed. You might vomit eventually.”
I frown. “So it’s like being sick.”
“Kinda, yeah. But in a good way. You’ll laugh more, which will be nice.”
“Do you have a problem with my attitude?”
“Asked the girl frowning at me,” he retorts, pointing at my furrowed brow. I try to relax it, but I don’t know if it works. Ryan grins. “Nah, I like you’re attitude, Joss. But I like your laugh too.”
“You’ve barely heard it.”
“Exactly. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Why do you like me, Ryan?” I mumble quietly. “I’m not nice.”
“Oh good,” he says, taking my shoulders, “it’s working.” He sits me down on my bed, pressing my back against the wall. I’m glad to be sitting because the room has started to tilt. “You haven’t eaten recently, have you?”
“Not for hours and hours and hours.”
“This will be fun,” he mutters.
I'm almost done with Backs Against the Wall, the second installment in the Survival Series! I'm hoping to have it out in early March.
While Ryan is not in this excerpt, I promise there's a lot of him in this story. This book is also where we start seeing ties to the Quarantined Series really kick in. Some familiar names, places, a few faces...
The room is small but warm with two beds, one small desk and a window that has been all but boarded shut. The beds are nothing but old, bare mattresses with blankets tossed over them. I notice that the floor is covered in clothes. I glance at Trent in surprise, shocked to see that Mr. Methodical is a pig at heart, but whatever insult or question I had for him dies on my lips. The wall beside one of the beds has been hollowed out, the drywall stripped down, the insulation yanked out. In its place is shelf after shelf secured between the wood. On those shelves are more books than I can ever remember seeing in one place. I’m sure I went to the library at some point as a child, but I honestly can’t remember and right now, I truly do not care. Even if those libraries of the old days had housed a million books, they couldn’t compare to this. To one wall full of treasures saved and preserved in a world where everything and everyone wastes away to ash and dust.
“They’re Ryan’s,” Trent tells me, seeing my stare. “He’s a bit of a collector.”
“Little bit,” I mutter in agreement.
“That’s his bed on that side if you want to lie down and rest. He won’t be back for another few hours. You may as well get some sleep.”
I feel myself blush at the idea of laying in his bed. Honestly, I think I’d be more comfortable laying in Trent’s. There’s something less…I don’t know. Meaningful about it, I guess. Sleeping in Ryan’s bed, well, I almost feel like I’d enjoy it too much.
“I don’t want to bleed on his bed,” I say lamely, gesturing to my jacked up arm.
Trent quirks an eyebrow at me, not buying it. “You’re giving his bed more credit for cleanliness than it deserves.”
“That doesn’t really entice me to jump right in.”
Trent shrugs before taking a seat on his own bed. “Stand then. It’s your call.”
I’m too tired to stand. I’m too beat down, exhausted, aching tired to be proud or embarrassed either. I carefully step through the room, mindful of the piles of clothes on the floor, trying to avoid them, but failing. Then I carelessly collapse on his bed. The sigh that escapes my lips is pure joy leaking from my soul. I slept on a bed in the Colony. It was weird and awesome at the same time, but I also resented it. It was always a sign of the world being forced on me, of the lie they were all living. But this is different. This mattress is far less comfortable, far more worn and it smells of dude. It has the faint scent of a very familiar soap made by the wizard of the woods and the earthy smell of good old fashioned stink. It’s earth and sweat. Grass and warm skin.
This I kind of love.
Dissever is done! I have written the last word and I am so excited :) Here is a little sneak peek of what's to come with this story. In this section, Roarke and Anna are 10 and 9 years old.
Queen Elizabeth Anne died two years later. Despite dining with the Royal Family almost every night, I knew very little about her save for the similarities in our names. I asked my mother once if she was named after me. She laughed and told me it was probably so.
King Phillip never shed a single tear, not that I saw, but Prince Frederick was despondent. Though I never saw him cry, I will forever remember his cheeks being blotchy and red. He was growing into a young man more and more every day. After the death of his mother, I swear I hardly recognized him. It made me fearful for what would happen to Roarke, who was only one year younger. I prayed for the good health of his mother every night.
“How old is your mum?” I asked him one afternoon. We were sitting in the grass eating apple slices and cheese curds that squeaked against my teeth as I chewed.
“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “Very.”
I frowned. “No, she can’t be very old. She doesn’t have any white hair.”
“Then kind of. She’s kind of old,” he amended.
“Do the Tem Aedha really live forever?”
He looked up at me, suddenly paying attention and frowning. “Who says we live forever?”
“Everyone. I hear it all the time. You live forever, you speak to the trees, some of you can fly, though if that were true I don’t understand why you don’t leave the island. If I could fly, I’d leave. I’d leave tomorrow.”
“Well it’s not true. We die just like you. We do everything just like you. We aren’t different, Anna.”
“Yes you are,” I replied, catching his eye. “You are completely different and utterly wonderful.”
He smirked at me. “You’re mad.”
“Yes,” I agreed, intentionally squeaking my cheese in my cheeks.
“How is Frederick?”
I lowered my eyes, feeling sad just thinking about him. “He’s upset. Always very sad. The funeral is tomorrow. I don’t want to go.”
“But you have to?” he asked. When I nodded he sighed. “You have to do a lot of things you don’t want to do.”
I snorted. “Yes.”
“I wish I could go with you. I’d hold your hand and let you cry on my shirt.”
“I wish you could too.” I felt my heart pound in my chest as I considered my truth, then I whispered, “I wish you could always be with me.”
“Me too,” he whispered back, no hesitation.
We smiled at each other conspiratorially, sealing our secret inside the manicured walls around us.
“How did she die?” Roarke asked abruptly. “No one in our village knows.”
“I don’t know. No one here knows either. I guess it was the storm.”
“The lightning storm a few days ago? That’s when she died?”
“They think so.”
“How do they not know?”
I glanced around, knowing we were alone but double checking anyway.
“They can’t find her body,” I told him quietly.
His eyes widened. “Then how do they know she’s dead?”
I lowered my voice further, forcing Roarke to lean in closer. I wasn’t supposed to know any of this and my father would lose his mind if he heard me talking about it. It was all things I’d overheard whispered at dinner when people thought I wasn’t listening. But I was always listening.
“They found her shoes and a scrap of her dress. That’s all. And it was surrounded by dead grass. Everything else was alive, but the grass in a circle around her shoes was completely dead.”
“Was it burned? Was she struck by lightning?” Roarke asked, taking a bite of his cheese, loving the mystery.
“It wasn’t burned, just dead. No one knows what happened to her. It’s like she disappeared. And you know what else? They say no Queen’s body has ever been found. They die all the time and none of them are ever seen again. They call it the Queen’s Curse.”
Roarke looked at me dubiously. “No Queen has ever been buried? Ever?”
“Only one,” I insisted. “Forever ago one Queen died of old age in her bed, but her life was awful. Her’s and the King’s. All kinds of things went wrong for them.”
“Like unborn babies and strange illnesses. Like a terrible storm with fiery rain and huge waves that swept people out to sea. The same storm that brought in a ship full of strangers that crashed in The Shallows…”
“The night my people arrived,” he said in a hushed tone.
“What are you two whispering about?” Roarke’s mother asked, suddenly appearing in the orchard.
“Nothing,” Roarke said immediately.
“Uh huh,” his mother replied doubtfully. “I know that ‘nothing’ and it always means something. Usually something I’ll end up apologizing to someone for.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong in a week.”
“Oh, well, let’s throw a party for you. Roarke hasn’t misbehaved in days. Ring the church bells and shout for joy.”
I giggled as she pretended to dance in celebration. Roarke scowled at her.
“You’re being weird,” he told her.
She laughed. “Oh, honey, if you’re just now realizing that your mother is weird, you’re not nearly as smart as I give you credit for.”
In the End will be FREE Thursday - Friday! If you haven't picked up your copy yet, go get it!
But until then, here's an excerpt:
We tread into the water. The coldness creeps up my pant leg, licking my skin and sending shivers through my body. This is going to be a long, exhausting ordeal. One made even longer by the fact that we all just ran two miles and will now be swimming those miles into the current of a freezing cold river, some of it underwater.
No one complains as we sink into the current. Nothing beyond the involuntary gasp at the sudden coldness. Then we’re moving. They follow my lead as I swim us upstream, trying to remain as perfectly centered in the water as I can. I don’t know how many infected are on the other bank, but I imagine quite a few. I can hear them now and then moaning in the trees but I haven’t seen any yet. Doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat.
“Ali,” I whisper, over my shoulder, “keep an eye on the west bank. Quietly and calmly let us know if you see anything.”
Silence is my answer.
“Al,” Syd breathes behind me.
“No, I heard you guys,” she whispers back, sounding annoyed.
“Then what’s with the silent treatment?” I ask quietly.
More silence. Just when I’m about to snap at her, she finally answers me.
“I’m all turned around,” she grumbles. “I was trying to figure out which bank is west.”
“On the right,” Syd and I say together.
I look over my shoulder at her incredulously. “Are you shushing us?”
She rolls her eyes. “If you would use normal directions like left and right, this wouldn’t be an issue. But you have to go all tactical Rambo. What’s next? Is there an infected at my 20?”
“Are you serious? What about ‘stage left’?” I whisper back sharply.
Alissa narrows her eyes at me. “It made perfect sense.”
“To who? The cast of Cats? Who uses that as a direction?”
“It worked didn’t it?”
“I have no idea. Did I turn the right way?”
“Did I put an arrow in your heart?”
“No,” I reply, feeling instantly annoyed that that was a possibility.
“Then yeah, you got it right.”
“I have an idea,” Syd whispers, drifting in the current between us.
In the End is the finale to the Quarantined series, but it did leave a few really major questions unanswered. I realize this is annoying as hell for some readers. So, I've added an epilogue to the book that I will share with you here.
Epilogue – 9 Years Later
The cart that I’m hiding in is wheeled into another room farther down the hall. I can feel the wheels struggle and squeak over the uneven stone floor. My over-excited heart is in my throat as we turn a corner, heading into a room that I think, I hope, I know. I clutch my baby close to me, caressing her hair gently to sooth her. If she makes a sound, we’re dead. They’ll know we’re here and all will be lost.
Light glares in through a small gap between the doors of the cart, hurting my eyes that had adjusted to the darkness. There’s supposed to be drawers and drawers, boxes and boxes of medical supplies stowed in here, but I cleared them to make room for baby and I. It was the only place to hide. It was our only choice.
For 6 years I’ve been trapped inside this prison. During that time I’ve never seen anything other than this island and the people on it. Never a foreigner. Never a Risen.
Today, I’m hoping to see both. I’m hoping to be liberated. I’m praying for freedom.
“We’ll just take some measurements on you,” Taylor’s familiar voice says. “Do a few tests, if you don’t mind.”
“And if we do?” a young man’s voice challenges.
“Then you can leave right now.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
Lies. If leaving were so easy, baby and I would have done it a long time ago.
“Do your tests,” a girl says defiantly. “We’re not infected. We have nothing to hide.”
“Not that you know of. But the infection rate isn’t what it used to be, not since The Cure,” he says sarcastically. “Thanks to that little beauty of a failure, the last we checked, incubation took over a week before a person fully turned, meaning you’ll be locked in here for more than two. Are you prepared for that?”
“We don’t want to move in,” the boy complained. “We just need to speak to someone. Someone who makes decisions for the group.”
“How do you know you’re not talking to him? How do you know I’m not the Grand Poobah? The king of the island?”
I giggle before I can stop myself. The word Poobah and the idea of Taylor with a crown on his head are too funny to me. He’d probably wear it backwards like his baseball caps.
My giggle must give me away because the doors to the cart are suddenly flung open. Light blazes in, burning my eyes. I blink rapidly out at the dark figures slowly taking shape in front of me. In the cages I can see two boys, one very tall with blond hair and nice eyes, the other a little shorter with dark hair and laughing brown eyes, and a pretty girl with long, red hair and sad eyes.
“Beth, what the hell?” Taylor asks, exasperated.
I frown at the scolding. “I’m sorry, Taylor.”
“What are you doing in there?”
“Playing hide and seek with daddy.”
He raises his eyebrows suspiciously. “Does he know he’s playing this game with you?”
“No,” I admit reluctantly.
“Cheater. Get out of here. You’re not supposed to be in here, you know that. It’s dangerous.”
I go to climb out of the cart, stumbling slightly. One of the guards in the room with Taylor reaches down to help me out until I’m standing, sullen and embarrassed in front of everyone.
“My mom lets me in here all the time.”
“Yeah, when it’s empty and it’s just you and her. Seriously, sweetie, scram. Your dad will kill—“
The door behind me swings open, my daddy standing in the entrance.
“Taylor, have you seen Beth?”
Taylor silently rats me out with one stern finger pointed at my face.
Daddy sighs in relief and annoyance. “Come on, let’s go.”
“But I was going to help Taylor with the prisoners.” I whine, trudging toward him.
“You’re 8 years old, baby. Let’s worry more about taking your bath and less about becoming a warden.”
“Hey, brat,” Taylor calls after me. I turn to find him holding up my baby doll, the one my mom sewed for me on my birthday this year. “Don’t forget Little Miss, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong here.”
I giggle, running back to take the doll from him. “Why do you call her that?”
“You don’t know that song?”
I shake my head, hugging my doll close.
“Come on, man,” Taylor says to my daddy. “You aren’t even raising her right.”
“Blow me,” daddy tells him.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“It means don’t ever repeat it,” Taylor tells me. “It also means Music Education in the rec room in an hour, you hear me?”
I smile at him happily. “Yes!”
“Alright, beat it.”
I go to leave with my daddy, careful to get on his right side because he doesn’t have a hand there. He likes to have his left side, his Fighting Side, free to keep me safe. Before we pass through the door, I look over my shoulder longingly at the prisoners I’m leaving behind. At the adventures we could have had together in the outside world. The blond boy smiles and waves at me, but when I go to wave back, I stop. My eyes meet with the pretty girl with the red hair and I want to run up to hug her.
"Joss, what's wrong?" the brown eyed boy asks her.
Her eyes are watching me, following me as I leave the room with my daddy and my doll. And she’s crying.
This is the end of the Quarantined series, but for more of this world, read its sister series, Survival.
Author of YA/NA science fiction and romance peppered with wit and sarcasm.