Suspense Excerpts

Suspense Excerpts

This page is to share suspense excerpts from past promotions.

I’m using my email to try to compile all the suspense excerpts from the deleted posts from our old blog Books That Hook.

Just for the purposes of this page, I’m including mystery, thrillers, and romantic suspense under a broader Suspense heading. If I find this page gets too huge, I’ll probably break it up into separate pages. I will continue to add more excerpts until I get them all moved, so check back later if you didn’t find anything today that interested you.

These suspense excerpts are all ones I had permission to post. Copyrights belong to the authors.

I am just moving them to our new website. Enjoy!

Excerpt from DEEP DARK by Laura Griffin

Reed watched her, and she had that frustrated look in her eyes again. Every time she started to open up to him, he did something to tick her off. She shook her head and glanced away.



“I’m a detective. It’s my job to ask questions. To push.”

She looked at him again and her expression softened. “No, you’re right.” She glanced down at her beer bottle and picked at the label. “I’m glad she has you.”

“Who has me?”

“April. You seem–” She paused, like she was searching for the right word. “–committed.”

He didn’t answer. It wasn’t really a question, but the way she looked at him gave him the feeling she wanted a response.

She drained her beer and plunked down the bottle. “I should get home.” She stood up.

Reed stood, too. He left a tip on the table and followed her through the throng of people. The bar was packed, and the music had gotten louder since they’d first walked in.

They stepped into the warm, muggy air. It was dusk now, and a neon Lone Star Light sign cast a blue-and-red glow over the sidewalk. As they walked in silence, he thought of what she’d said about her job being meaningful. It was refreshing. Maybe he’d been a cop too long, but he didn’t know anyone who talked about things being meaningful anymore. If they thought about work in those terms, they kept it to themselves.

Maybe he was jaded.

No, he definitely was jaded. But it had more to do with his failed marriage than anything he’d seen on the job.

Reed spotted her little white car and felt a twinge of regret. He’d enjoyed talking to her, enjoyed being near her. And he couldn’t remember the last time that had happened with a woman. Having a beer with Laney had been the highlight of his crap week. Hell, the highlight of his month.

She looked around. “Where are you parked?”

“Around back.”

She gazed up at him. He couldn’t read her expression.

“Thanks for the drink,” she said.

“You bought it.”

He couldn’t read her tone either. The thrum of music seeped through the thin walls of the bar as they stood there in the light of the beer sign.

She stepped closer, and a jolt of heat went through him. She looked up at him with those bottomless brown eyes, and he knew he was in trouble. It was a bad idea to involve this girl in his investigation. Whatever useful info she might have was outweighed by the fact that she was young, and edgy, and he wanted her. And she must have seen something in his face because her eyes sparked.

She went up on tiptoes and kissed him.

Excerpt from DECEIVED by Kate SeRine

“I thought we were safe here,” Sarah said, her arms crossed over her chest.

“We’re as safe here as anywhere until we get to my place,” Luke assured her.

She lifted a brow. “Yet you’re acting like you expect someone to come barging in and attack us at any moment.”

He took a step closer and immediately realized his mistake when his heart started pounding at the nearness of her. Shit. He shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from touching her. “If being paranoid is what’s going to keep you and your son alive,” he said, “then guilty as charged.”

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, Luke,” she began, edging closer, damn it all, “but why does it matter so much to you if Eli and I are safe? You don’t know us. I get that you’ve been given an order, but I also heard you talking to your commander and know you’d rather be somewhere else. If you’d insisted that someone else watch over us, I would’ve understood. I can just go to the police, tell them what happened. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Luke stared at her for a long moment, trying to figure out the answer to her question. Hell if he knew why it mattered so much to him that he keep them safe. In the technical sense, he protected people every day and had for going on fifteen years when he added up his time in the military and then working for the government and now with the Alliance. But she was right—this assignment was hitting him on a level he hadn’t anticipated.
“I guess because, when I wasn’t much older than Eli, someone took my mother and me in, watched over us when we needed it,” he finally said, not sure where the explanation was even coming from. “And someone else did the same thing for me again a few years ago when I was in a really dark place—except this time the enemy I was up against was myself. If it wasn’t for that person stepping in, I don’t know where I’d be. But dead is a damned good bet.”
Sarah straightened. “Oh. God. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Luke told her. He shook his head as his vision went a little blurry. Suddenly too tired to stand, he leaned against the edge of the sink. “I made a promise to keep you and Eli safe, Sarah. I’ll keep it. There’s no way I’d abandon you, so don’t worry about it.”
The next thing he knew, Sarah’s arms were around his neck, hugging him tightly. He resisted the urge to wrap his arms around her and hold her close, to bury his face in her hair and let the warmth of her wash over him. But when she pressed a kiss to his cheek and whispered, “Thank you,” in his ear, he almost gave in.
Fortunately, before he could move, she stepped away and hurried back into the room with Eli, leaving Luke gaping at the empty doorway and wondering exactly what the hell he’d gotten himself into…

Excerpt from VERSIONS by Megan Mitcham

“Evening, gentlemen. Ladies.” The silken honey of the unfamiliar voice coated her nakedness in a soothing balm. The waiter cleared his throat. The low rumble vibrated very near her ear. “What can I get you, miss?”

She canted her head in his direction. Surprise smacked her square in the face. Smoldering bedroom eyes gazed into hers. The crystal blue orbs pierced through a strong brow and straight into her soul. Rin stepped back, stumbling over Nate’s feet. A thud sounded her landing against her boyfriend’s hard chest.

“Whoa, there,” the waiter said, maintaining an invisible grip on Rin that made it impossible to look away.

Blond hair only a shade darker than her own sat in disarray across his forehead, but was shorn close around his ears. The hint of a beard hugged the strongest jaw she’d ever seen. Lips the perfect shape and fullness for hours and hours of kissing would have softened the blow his appearance delivered, if he’d only smile.

“You startled me,” she said by way of explanation for her odd behavior.

“Wasn’t my intention.” He said the words, but his head ticked to the side and his eyes flared in a way that opposed them.

“What’s your name, gorgeous?” Jen asked.

“Call me Luck,” the waiter said, holding Rin’s befuddled gaze.

Nate steadied her and shifted to place himself between her and the…her and Luck, but a massive party of suits poured in to their left. They crowded the walkway with banter and briefcases. The man screwing with her head—more than her shrink ever had—could have stepped to the side of the table toward Zach. Instead, he stepped forward, crowding her with his sharply muscled chest tucked neatly into a waiter’s white button down. Chiseled forearms and lightly sun-kissed skin shown at his rolled sleeves.

Whether someone shoved him or he took a dive she wasn’t sure, but his sinewy chest suddenly plastered her front. One arm wrapped around her waist, catching her in a subtle dip. His other shot out to the chair back to steady them. She swore she heard Gregory moan. Luck’s muscles in action did something sinful to her psyche.

“Jackass, I’m not into threesomes,” Nate blustered just behind her head. She’d see him, if she’d tear her gaze off Luck. But she couldn’t.

Luck lifted his heavy blue gaze from her for the first time and squared it on Nate. “Me neither.”

Until that moment, she’d been sure Nate could have defended her honor or his ego against any man. He probably outweighed Luck by fifty muscle-dense pounds. Luck had a foot of height on him, but his calm voice and confident demeanor had her more than second guessing the outcome. Then again, Nate had a gun.

For the oddest reason, she didn’t think that would matter if the two got into it.

“Luck,” Rin said, “how about you tip a girl upright and bring her a Peroni, a glass of Casarena cabernet, a Goose Island, a Bourbon Spice Rack, and a Hot Delilah…make that two Delilah’s.” The first impression of a smile lightened the corner of his mouth. He straightened and released her, his hand sweeping firmly over the sway of her waist. The touch lingered for far too long. “Anyone else feeling a double?”

Excerpt from THREE DAYS IN APRIL by Edward Ashton


  1. Anders

I’m turning away from the bar, drink in hand, when I feel a glass bump against my chest. I look down to see a girl with her mouth hanging open, a bright blue stain spreading down her white silk shirt. She’s barely five feet tall, with curly red hair, shoulders like a linebacker, and biceps that look like short, angry pythons under ghost-pale skin. She looks up at me, and yeah, there’s the brow ridge. This is not going to go well.

“Shit!” she says. “Shit! This was a brand-new shirt, you asshole!”

She puts a hand to my chest and pushes me back. I hit the bar at kidney level, hard enough to leave a bruise. Beer sloshes over my hand and runs down my arm. By the time I look back, she’s already swinging. I slip to the side, and watch her fist sail by. The bartender is reaching for something under the bar, and the bouncer is starting our way. My hands are up, palms open. If I have to hit her, it’ll be a slap. I have no problem with punching a girl in principle, but Neanderthals have heads like bricks. She looks me in the eye. I can see the wheels turning. That wasn’t as fast as I can move, but it was fast enough to make an impression. She straightens up, and drops her fists.

“I’m Terry,” she says. “Buy me a drink and call it even?”


“So let me guess,” I say. “Dad wanted a football star?”

Terry leans her elbows on the table and takes a surprisingly dainty sip from her drink. She called it a parrot, but it looks and smells like blue Drano.

“Something like that, yeah. Didn’t have the money for a real engineer, though. They even botched the gender, obviously. I was supposed to just get the muscles and the extra bone strength, but … well, you can see what I got. What about you? Manufactured for the NBA?”

“What makes you think that?” I ask, and finish my beer in one long pull. I’m not actually much of a drinker, but I’m still winding down from our scuffle by the bar, and I feel like I need to take the edge off.

“Come on,” she says. “What are you, seven feet tall?”

I laugh.

“Not quite,” I say. “I’m six-seven, and it’s one-hundred-percent natural. I come from a long line of giant, gangly Swedes.”

“Maybe.” She takes another sip and leans back in her chair, tilts it up on two legs and balances for a moment, then drops the front legs back to the floor with a bang. “But you’d be surprised how many times I’ve taken a swing at someone in a bar, and I don’t usually miss that badly.”

I laugh again, a little harder this time. Alcohol-wise, I might actually be moving past taking the edge off at this point.

“Nah,” I say. “I wouldn’t be surprised. If the original Neanderthals were as douchey as you guys are, it’s no wonder we wiped them out.”

Her eyes narrow. I’d guess she’s thinking about taking another poke at me, but instead she leans back in her chair and smiles.

“You’re avoiding, my gigantic friend. I hang out with a lot of Engineered, and I’ve never seen anyone move that fast. Even the military exoskeletons are more strength than speed. I don’t know if you’re mechanical or biological, but you’re definitely something. What did they give you?”

I raise one eyebrow.

“That’s a pretty direct question.”

“I’m a Neanderthal. We’re douchey but direct.”

She grins and takes another sip of her parrot. She has a wide, toothy smile, and I catch myself thinking that she’s really kind of cute when she’s not trying to punch me.

“My mods are biological,” I say finally. “I’m a genetic chimera, technically. They cut me with mouse genes. I’ve got something like eight percent type C muscle fibers.”

That earns me a flat, blank stare. Apparently, I need to elaborate.

“Ever try to catch a mouse?” I ask. “They’ve got tiny little legs. They ought to be easy to get hold of, right?”

“Sure,” she says. “But they’re quick.”

I nod.

“Right. Big mammals have fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles. Little ones have a third type. Think of it as fast twitch plus. It’s what keeps them a step ahead of the cat. That’s what I got.”

Her smile turns into an almost-smirk.

“But you don’t have an entourage, and I’ve never seen you on the vids. So, I’m guessing there’s a catch.”

I run a hand back through my hair and sigh.

“Yeah, there’s a catch. It turns out there’s a reason that only tiny animals have type C fibers. I can jump through the roof—but only once every six weeks or so, because pretty much every time I try, I pull a muscle or break a bone. I played ball in high school and for a year in college. I was one of the first Engineered to play at that level, and for a while there was actually some fuss about whether it was fair for me to compete with the unmodified kids. I gave it up after my freshman year, though. I got tired of getting crap from the other players, I got tired of having to be careful all the time, and I got tired of hanging out with the trainers.”

She leans back, and laces her fingers behind her head.

“Did you ever ask them what they were thinking?”

“What who were thinking?”

“Your parents. You look like you’re about the same age as I am—north of twenty-five, south of thirty, right?”

I nod. I’m thirty-six, but she’s close enough.

“So,” she says, “germ-line mods weren’t even legal in most places when they cut us. And even where they were, nobody knew what they were doing.” She looks down at herself and scowls. “I mean, obviously, right? So, what were they thinking? You wouldn’t buy the first model year of a new car, would you? But they took a flyer on the first model year of a new species.”

I shrug. She’s right, of course. And the fact is, I did once ask my dad why he did it. I was nineteen then, in the hospital with a shattered femur, the morning after my last basketball game. I was bitter and sulking, blaming Dad for the fact that I was hurt, that I hadn’t been able to keep a lid on it, that I hadn’t been able to stay under control.

He probably should have just smacked me in the back of the head and walked out of the room, but he didn’t. Instead, he said, “I knew we were taking chances, Anders, and I’m sorry that things didn’t entirely work out. But even back then, I could see what was coming. Twenty years from now, unmodified kids won’t be able to make a high school basketball team, let alone play in college. Twenty years after that, unmodified kids won’t be able to get a job. That’s where we’re going, son, and I thought it would be better for you to be one of the first ones of the new breed than one of the last ones of the old.”

And you know, I get that. I really do. Dad was afraid of being left behind when the species moved on. He was probably right, honestly. He was just twenty years too early.

At least he had plenty of money, so I didn’t have some dipshit grad student cutting DNA on me like my new friend here apparently did. Even with that, though—the best-laid plans.

Of mice and men. Get it?

Terry pushes back from the table and heads over to the bar. I take the opportunity to check messages. Nothing. I was actually supposed to meet someone here tonight, but as far as I can tell, she never showed. Or maybe she did, and when she saw me mixing it up at the bar, she bolted. Doesn’t matter. I only knew her through the nets anyway, and my track record with transitioning virtual relationships to real ones is pretty poor for some reason. I pocket my phone. Terry sits down again, and sets another beer in front of me.

“So,” she says. “Are we on a date now?”


I wake up. The sun is red through my eyelids, and I can’t feel my right arm. I open my eyes. The reason I can’t feel my arm is that it’s pinned underneath a redheaded bowling ball. I lift my head and look around. This is not my bedroom. I’m in a twin canopy bed with lacy pink curtains. The sun is pouring through the half-open window and boring a hole through my brain. I close my eyes and let my head fall back again.

Terry coughs. A spray of hot spittle hits my chest. She groans and rolls away from me. I take the opportunity to pull my arm back. It flops across my stomach like a dead fish. I lift the covers and take a quick glance down. I’m naked. Terry’s wearing a pink tee shirt and panties. There are ugly purple bruises on both of my thighs.

I close my eyes again. My head is throbbing, but I don’t know where Terry keeps her painkillers and I don’t have the energy to try to find out. As I drift off, I half-dream a sound like a bird scratching at the windowpane. I try to open my eyes to see what it is, but at this point even that’s too much effort.


I wake up again. The sun is higher now, making a bright rectangle on the floor instead of on the inside of my skull. My head is pounding, and my mouth feels like someone put little fuzzy socks on each of my teeth. I’m alone in the bed. I sit up slowly. The room spins once or twice around before settling back into place.

The door swings open and Terry comes in, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans now, looking freshly scrubbed. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She tosses me a water bottle. It bounces off of my forehead and drops to my lap.

“Thanks,” I say. Or try to, anyway. What comes out is more like a croak. I open the bottle and drink half of it down without stopping to breathe.

“You’re a late riser,” she says. “I wonder if maybe you had too much to drink last night.”

“Maybe.” I rub my face with both hands, then use my knuckles to dig the crust out of the corners of my eyes. Terry clears her throat.

“So,” she says. “You got big plans this morning?”

“Uh …”

“Don’t misunderstand—I’m not asking you to stay. I’m asking you to leave.”


I take another long drink. She watches me expectantly.

“So,” I say finally. “We hit it last night, huh?”

She rolls her eyes.

“Yeah. Pretty disappointing. Apparently, you’re super fast at that, too.”



She smiles. My head is still aching, but for some reason I smile back.

“No, not really. You passed out before I could get your pants off.”

I take another quick glance under the sheet.

“Oh. So why am I naked?”

Her smile widens until it’s almost a leer.

“I didn’t say I didn’t get your pants off. I just said you passed out first.”

I finish the water bottle. My mouth still tastes like ass.

“Any idea how my legs got bruised?”

“You fell over my coffee table.”

“Ah.” I rub my face again. “What time is it?”

She glances down at her phone.

“Almost eleven.”

I groan and swing my feet off the bed and onto the floor.

“I actually do have somewhere to be,” I say. “Think you could hand me my pants?”


It’s a perfect spring morning, cool and crisp, with a deep blue sky and just a hint of a breeze. Terry’s apartment is on Thirty-third, not too far from JHU. I need to get to a diner on North Charles, up closer to Loyola. I give a few seconds of thought to pinging for a cab, but I’m not supposed to meet Doug until noon, and I’m thinking maybe the walk will do me some good.

Baltimore’s always been a pretty town. The sun dances on the glassphalt on West University—something I’d appreciate a lot more right now if every glitter didn’t feel like an ice pick in my brain. I cut through the Hopkins campus and turn up Linkwood, past the student housing and into the professors’ neighborhood. The trees here are old and thick limbed, leaning out over the sidewalk, and the houses are neat and clean and well maintained. I’m basically a squatter in a run-down townhouse on Twenty-eighth. I’d love to move up here, have a little bit of yard and a deck, but I’m not a professor. I’m a part-time instructor at three different schools, which is not the sort of career that supports the good life.

My mother calls me every week or so. Almost every time, she asks me when I’m going to get a real job, when I’m going to start my life. It’s a valid question, and I haven’t come up with a valid answer. Honestly, I’m not sure what a real job is at this point. I don’t know anyone who does anything that she would recognize as work. I have a friend who makes a bit as a product promoter, and one who does temporary art installations for parties and weddings. I know a couple of guys who live on government credits, and one who works for his dad, but never actually seems to do any work.

And then, there’s Doug. I have no idea what Doug does.

I walk into the diner at 12:04. I don’t bother wondering if Doug is here yet. I know that he walked through the door at precisely 12:00. I glance around, and there he is, just being seated by the hostess at a table near the back. I’d prefer a booth, but his exoskeleton doesn’t fit into the bench seats very well, and when he kicks your shin under the table, it really, really hurts. I walk over. The hostess has my place set up across from him, but I pull the chair around to the side of the table.

“Hey,” he says. “You look like crap.”

I drop into my seat and rub my temples with both hands.

“No doubt. How’re things on the far side of the singularity?”

“Good,” he says. “I just ordered waffles.”

“Awesome. With your brain thingie, you mean?”

He scowls.

“Don’t be a dick, Anders. It’s a wireless neural interface. You know this.”

I shrug.

“Did you order anything for me?”

“Depends. Are you going to call it a brain thingie again?”


“Then no.”

I wave a waitress over. She’s a Pretty—flawless skin, white-blonde hair, eyes, nose and ears symmetrical to the micrometer. She looks me up and down, then rolls her eyes at Doug.

“I can take your order,” she says, “but you know you gotta tip for him, too, right?”

I nod. I’ve had brunch with Doug before.

“Fine. So what can I getcha, hon?”

I don’t bother to look at the menu. I always get the same thing here.

“Pancakes, two eggs scrambled, bacon, white toast?”

“Juice and coffee?”

“Hot tea.”

“Got it.”

She swishes away. Doug’s left eye is twitching. Apparently he’s downloading something fun.

“Let me guess,” I say. “Monkey porn? Donkey porn? Monkey on donkey porn?”

His eyes focus, and he squints at me.

“No,” he says. “Science stuff. You wouldn’t understand.”

My jaw sags open.

“I wouldn’t understand? I’m the one with the doctorate in engineering, Doug. Do you even have a high-school diploma?”

He scowls, which through the metal mesh that covers half his face is actually kind of terrifying.

“Formal education is meaningless after the singularity,” he says.

“Right,” I say. “It was porn, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. But no monkeys or donkeys. Just the regular kind.”

I’ve known Doug for fifteen years now. When I first met him, he just had an ocular implant that he could use to access the nets, but every few months he’s added something new—visual overlays, exoskeleton, medical nanobots, blah blah blah. The brain thingie is his newest toy. It’s not clear to me exactly what the brain thingie does for him that the ocular didn’t, but apparently it’s something that was worth drilling a hole in his skull. It’s like he’s an addict. I imagine he’ll eventually look like a walking garbage can, with laser eyes and a giant robotic dong.

I’ve never actually looked into what these kind of mods cost, but it’s got to be a fortune, which is weird considering that I’ve never seen any indication that Doug does anything that anyone would pay money for.

“So,” I say. “What’s up with your arm?”

Doug’s left arm has been clamped to his side since I sat down. He’s not ordinarily a fidgeter, but he hasn’t even wiggled a finger today.

“Servos are locked up. Haven’t been able to move it since last night.”

“Huh. Planning on doing something about that?”

He half shrugs.

“Yeah, I’ll get it looked at. Can’t do it until Monday morning.”

“So why don’t you take it off?”

He looks at me blankly.

“Take what off?”

I wave a hand at him.

“The exoskeleton, Doug. Why don’t you take it off until you can get it fixed?”

The scowl comes back. Definitely terrifying.

“I dunno, Anders. Why don’t you take off your endoskeleton every time somebody startles you, and you bang your head on the ceiling and break your own leg?”

Well. That was unnecessary.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” he says. “It’s exactly the same thing. This isn’t a suit I’m wearing. It’s just as much a part of me as my organics.”

I lean forward.

“Except that you actually could take it off, right? You can’t do that with your balls, for example.”

“In fact,” he says, “right now it would be easier to take off my balls than this rig. The left arm is frozen. I may not have mentioned that.”

The waitress comes by with our food. She smiles at me, and asks if I need anything else. I shake my head. She gives Doug a sideways glance, glowers, and walks away. I pick up a slice of bacon. It’s perfectly crispy brown, and still hot. I take a bite and chew slowly, letting the salt clear the taste of rat anus that’s still lingering in my mouth. Doug is trying to cut his waffles into precise squares one-handed. It’s not going well.

“You know,” he says. “That bacon is nothing but fat and sodium.”

I shrug.

“And you know that waitress wiped her perfectly proportioned ass with your waffles, right? Explain again why you don’t feel the need to tip?”

Doug sighs. We’ve been through this before.

“Tipping allows the management to continue to employ low-cost human labor, where an automaton would clearly be more efficient. If nobody tips, the servers will eventually demand better pay, which will prompt management to replace them.”

“But it’s not everybody who’s not tipping, Doug. It’s just you—which means that the servers are not replaced by hyperefficient mechanical men, but I do have to sit here catching backsplash from the stink-eye they’re constantly throwing you, and watching you eat waffles that spent the best time of their lives down the back of someone’s shorts.”

He stabs a forkful of waffle and shovels it into his mouth.

“Tastes okay to me.”

We settle into eating. The waitress stops by to refill my tea. She really is a piece of work, and I find myself wondering if I could talk her into meeting up with me later. Hard to figure out how to start that conversation without coming off like a possibly dangerous weirdo, though, so I table the idea for the moment. I finish my last bite of eggs and give the pancakes a poke, but my stomach lets out a warning rumble. Doug finishes his waffle, drains his water glass, and leans back in his chair.

“So,” he says. “I suppose you’re wondering why I asked you here today.”

I actually was not wondering that at all. I look at him expectantly.

“The answer,” he says finally, “is that I have a proposition for you.”

I raise one eyebrow.

“Not the naked, sweaty kind of proposition,” he continues. “The business kind.”

I lean back and fold my arms across my chest.

“I have some documents,” he says. “I need you to review them for me. They’re … outside my expertise.”

“You mean not related to donkey porn?”

“No,” he says. “Not related to donkey porn, or monkey porn, or monkey-on-donkey porn. Technical documents. I think they’re close to your area of expertise, but I’m not sure. If they’re not, just delete them, and I’ll find somebody else.”

“You’re not sure because you don’t know what’s in the documents? Or because you swap to kitten cage-fighting videos every time I try to talk to you about my work?”

“Can’t it be both?”

I sigh.

“I’m sure it is, Doug. Fine. What file sizes are we talking about?”

He shrugs.

“A couple of terabytes, I’m guessing mixed media. Shouldn’t take more than a day or two to go through it, but unless you’re a lot better informed than you’ve led me to believe, you’ll probably need to do a fair amount of background digging as well.”

I pull out my phone, and make a show of checking my calendar. Truth is, I have absolutely nothing going on.

“Great,” I say. “I’ve got finals coming up, but I can probably get to it after that. What’s the rate?”

“The what?”

“The consulting rate. What are you going to pay me for this?”

He looks genuinely startled.

“Pay? Come on, Anders. I thought we were friends.”

I roll my eyes and wait for the laugh, but it’s not coming.

“I understand that you’re the cheapest cyborg on Earth,” I say finally, “but did you or did you not just say that this was a business proposition?”

“Yeah,” he says. “But I didn’t mean the paying kind of business.”

I close my eyes, and massage my temples again. The headache had been receding, but it’s coming back now with a vengeance.

“Just to clarify,” I say. “Is someone paying you to decipher these files?”

He manages to look offended.

“That’s kind of personal, isn’t it?”

“But you expect me to spend several days doing the actual work for you, for free.”

He looks up at the ceiling and sighs.

“Well sure, it sounds bad if you put it that way.”

“So let me put it this way instead: I bill out at six hundred an hour.”

He shrugs.

“Fair enough. When can you get back to me with some answers?”


Considering that Doug didn’t blink at my pulled-from-my-ass consulting rate, I’m feeling like I can spring for a cab to get back home. The car drops me off a little after two. I climb the six steps up to the stoop, and dig in my pockets for my keys. In addition to living next to a drug lab, I live in the only house left in Baltimore that doesn’t have electronic entry. I’m about to let myself in when the door jerks open, and Gary pulls me into a full-body hug.

“Where were you last night?” he wails, and crushes his face against my chest. “I waited and waited, but you never came home.”

I push my way inside, pull the door closed behind me and pat him on the head.

“Sorry, honey.” I say. “I meant to call, but I was busy having sex with a prostitute. I hope you don’t mind.”

He laughs and lets me go.

“I figured as much. You smell like a Dumpster. Also, rent transfers tomorrow. Can you cover, or do I need to add it to your tab?”

“No,” I say. “I’m good. I’ll push it tonight.”

I start upstairs. I want a shower and a nap before I start thinking about not taking a look at Doug’s files.

“Hey,” Gary says. “Somebody named Dimitri stopped by looking for you this morning. Do we know a Dimitri?”

I keep climbing.

“So many Dimitris,” I say. “Russian hit man Dimitri? Ballet dancer Dimitri? Dancing bear Dimitri? What did he look like?”

I turn the corner at the landing. Gary’s still talking, but I’m no longer listening. I peel off my shirt and drop it in the hallway, step into the bathroom and turn on the shower. As I turn to close the door, I’m surprised to see Gary standing at the top of the stairs.

“Seriously,” he says. “This guy was definitely not a dancer and probably not a bear, and he seemed kind of torqued when I told him you weren’t here.”

I kick off my shoes and drop my pants.

“I don’t know anybody named Dimitri. What did he look like?”

“Six feet, kinda stocky. Black hair. Brushy little beard. Pretty serious accent. Ukrainian maybe?”

This is not ringing any bells.

“Look,” I say. “I’ve got nothing. I’ll think about it, and if I come up with anything I’ll ping you. Good enough?”

I close the door without waiting for an answer.

I spend ten minutes washing, then another fifteen letting the hot water steam the rest of the alcohol out of my system. I shut off the water, and by the time I’m finished toweling off, I feel like I could curl up and sleep on the bathroom floor. I collect my clothes and chuck them into the wicker hamper. As I do, my phone drops out of my pants and bounces off the tile. It pings when it sees that it has my attention. I’ve got a voice-only. I pick up the phone and acknowledge. It’s from Terry.

“Hey,” she says. “I heard you might have had a visitor this morning. Sorry.”

“I did,” I reply. “Can you elaborate?”

“Sorry, no. I’m a limited-interactive. Terry has authorized you for direct access, however. Would you like me to attempt connection?”

Just as well, I guess. I hate talking to fully interactive avatars. I get that they’re just simulations, that they don’t really have thoughts and hopes and dreams and whatnot, but the good ones have been able to pass the Turing test for a while now, and deleting them has always felt weirdly murder-ish to me. No such problem with the LIs, though. They’re just annoying.

“No,” I say. “Don’t ping Terry now. I’ll get back to her later. Delete.”

Whatever this Dimitri thing is, I don’t feel much like dealing with it at the moment. I open the door. Steam pours out into the hallway. My room is to the left, Gary’s is to the right. He’s sitting on his bed staring into space, either stroked out or watching something on his ocular. One eye focuses on me.

“Hey,” he says. “Towel, maybe?”

I turn into my room and shut the door behind me, drop the phone on my nightstand and fall into bed.


I have a recurring dream where I’m downtown, wandering around the mess just north of the harbor in the middle of the night. I have a car, which I do not in real life, but I can’t remember where I parked it, and the streets keep changing names and directions until I don’t recognize anything. I usually wind up getting chased around by somebody. This time, it’s a bear in a tutu who keeps yelling at me to stay away from his girlfriend. He corners me in a blind alley. I’m standing on top of a Dumpster, scrabbling at the brick wall of the building behind it, waiting for his bear teeth to sink into my ass, when I snap awake. The late afternoon sun is slanting through the window, and I’m soaked with sweat.

I’ll later learn that while I was napping, the good citizens of Hagerstown, Maryland, more or less simultaneously crapped their pants and died.

Excerpt from TO THE BREAKING POINT by Cindy McDonald

Yekaterinburg, Russia:

A crowd had gathered in the reception room in the basement of the Mockba Theatre. The room wasn’t particularly large, yet it was quite elegant with red velvet swags hung in the archways, gilded crown moldings, and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A bar was set up in one corner while a violinist played softly in another.

“It is ridiculous! An outrage! Dominik Potrovic should be included in the auction!” Ivan Belsky bit out in Russian. “A choice, that is what the contributors’ should have! We spend a lot of money at these parties!”

Natalia waved at the bartender for a glass of wine. “I have already explained this to you, Ivan. Dominik is in a relationship with our choreographer, Edvar. He is not available for the auctions.”

“Several of the dancers are married! Yet here they are—to be auctioned as the rest. I understand why Silja Ramsay is not present—she is an American, but there is not excuse for Dominik!”

“I do not understand. You always choose from the box filled with the ballerina’s shoes, not the male dancers. So why do you fuss?”

“I enjoy the girls very much. But Dominik—”

“If you are not happy with our selection of dancers, pull your bid and be on your way.”

Red-faced with frustration, Belsky let out a loud harrumph, and then stalked into the party just as Ballard Crafton rounded the corner.

“Where is Silja?” he asked Natalia as he searched through the party guests. The room was filled with men, a few older women, and most of the dancers from the Novikov Ballet Company. Only one dancer in particular was missing… Silja Ramsay.

“As always, there are plenty of lovely ballerinas here to choose from this evening, Ballard. Forget Silja for now. I will keep working to make her come around.

“No. I am tired of spending time with ballerinas that I don’t want. I only fantasize that she is Silja. I want Silja!” Ballard said.

Excerpt from DON’T LIE TO ME by Amber Barden

Lie to Me

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I caught sight of his traveling jaw—and my own fell open because this was not the right jaw. This jaw wasn’t Kal-El on the front of a comic book, it was sharper, the cheeks above it hollow.

My hand fell away.

His body followed the turn of his head. His cologne hit me like a jolt of static. Spicy, and so musky and male, maybe some of that scent was actually him. I blinked at the open shirt collar suddenly in front of my face. Most of the time I came level with men, a balance I adored. But today I stared at a collarbone. A deep biting groove at the base of a long, wide neck. Twin tendons rose up in a V on either side of a prominent Adam’s apple I could lean forward and sink my teeth right into. The thrill of being stood over struck some place deep in my core. Flipped the mechanics of how I preferred this male/female thing to be. Like maybe if I went to his room—and I knew right then without having seen his face that I would be going to this man’s room—I might actually let him be on top.

Pure lunacy. The top was my spot. I tilted my chin and met a dark gaze. His brown eyes shone down at me, flecked with yellow like they were lit from behind. He smiled, and grooves made crescents on either side of his mouth. Mischief sprawled across his features so catastrophic that I could almost hear a chorus of hallelujahs.

This is going to be fun.

He smiled wider.

My womb panged. Yep, so much fun would be happening. So much fun. Laughter bubbled out of my lips, because really all I could do was laugh. His brows shifted, his gaze moving over me as though he’d never seen a person laugh before. Then his chest rumbled and the sound he released rushed straight between my thighs.

My cheeks burned from grinning.

Buona sera,” he said.

The words were familiar, but I no longer remembered what they meant. In fact, I’d lost all languages. His lips parted, and he spoke again. My gaze was sucked to his mouth. To the way his lips curved up so completely, every tooth revealed all the way to his molars.

I was going to have awesome sex very, very soon. I felt it in my bones—the amazingness of the impending sex. Actually I felt it in my cunt, but whatever. I love my life. His lips shuffled across his teeth as he talked, words smooth and almost creamy compared to when he spoke Arabic on the phone. The tone was the same, husky and low. I had no idea what he said, but I kept on smiling.

Excerpt from THIRST by Katherine Prairie


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Alex Graham knew when to be afraid.

Her pulse quickened at the distant low-pitched whistle that warned of yet another rising wind gust far above her tent. She held her breath and listened for the sound to die off, for the wind to settle. But a mournful howl signaled the wind’s plunge over the jagged granite peaks into the narrow valley she called home.

Eyes tightly shut, she clenched her sleeping bag tight beneath her chin. Massive boughs shook as the high-speed downdraft lashed at towering evergreens that lined the lower reaches of the steep rock face. The rattle of thousands of aspen leaves whipped into frenzied movement betrayed the wind’s push across the valley floor.

It wouldn’t be long now.

Excerpt from FINAL EXIT by Lena Diaz

Friday, 11:55 p.m.

Final Exit

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It was a perfect night to catch a killer. A warm breeze blew out of the south at about six miles per hour. Rain-heavy clouds covered the half-moon, plunging the cliff where Special Agent Kade Quinn stood into darkness. He was betting on the old cliché, third time’s a charm. And also betting on the numbers—that his six, shiny new special agents could take down one highly skilled, remarkably cunning, experienced assassin.

Not the kind of odds to go to Vegas over. But he had to work with what he had. If things went as planned, Bailey Stark would soon be in custody like the dozens of other EXIT Inc. Enforcers that his team had managed to capture. The now-defunct company could never again fool the public into believing that all it did was offer vacation packages, so-called “EXtreme International Tours.” The clandestine organization’s true legacy as a corrupt front for government-sanctioned murder would end with the capture of the last few Enforcers. By the time his mission was over, every last one functioning members of society.

And innocents like Abby would never again become the victims of killers like Bailey. 

Between the nightmare of his wife’s death and the near-constant ache in his ruined left leg, Kade had his own, very personal, debt with EXIT. And he planned on collecting. He scanned the tree line. Past the red oak and Ponderosa pines, the Colorado Rockies squatted like dark sentinels watching over tonight’s operation. Below him, in the middle of a wide, nearly treeless valley, was ground zero, the two-story cottage that Bailey believed would be her sanctuary. Instead, it would become her last stand. A quarter-mile-long driveway connected a two-lane highway to this remote property. At close to midnight and an hour’s drive from Boulder, the road was essentially deserted. Kade couldn’t have asked for a better place to launch an ambush. And if his intel was correct, Bailey should arrive within the next half hour.

Only a few minutes later the two-way radio on his belt crackled to life. “Big Bear to Lone Wolf. Come in.”

Kade rolled his eyes and pressed the transmit button. “Kade here. What’s the situation report, Nichols?”

“You’re ruining my fun, boss.” He shook his head but played along. He had to pick his battles. “Lone Wolf to Big Bear. What’s the sitrep?”

“Much better.” A chuckle sounded through the radio. “A beat-up, dark blue Camaro just turned off the highway. One occupant. Looks to be our target. She’s heading toward the cottage.”

“Use the SUV to block the road behind her. If she gets spooked, I don’t want her doing a one-eighty and making it to the highway.”

“Affirmative. Big Bear out.”

Kade clicked off the mic and belatedly wished he’d downed a handful of antacids before driving out here. Being assigned these eager, raw newbies had to be his penance for his breakdown after the accident. They were also the reason he was here in person rather than monitoring the mission remotely per the usual protocol. Tonight’s target had already tricked his team and gotten away—twice. Kade was here to make sure that didn’t happen again.

“Cord,” he said through the two-way. “Sitrep.”

“You mean you aren’t going to call me Little Bear?”

“Do you want me to?” He was half-afraid of the answer.

“Hell no. I’m not in junior high.”

“You guys know I can hear you, right?” Nichols chimed in.

“Sitrep,” Kade growled.

“She just passed my ten o’clock,” Cord announced. “Dom should have her in his sights in a few seconds.”

“Already do,” Dominic confirmed. “The car is pulling up to the house. We’re all set.”

“Radio silence in three, two, one.” Kade clicked off the transmitter.

They couldn’t risk the sound of static or a mistimed transmission alerting their target. Or at least, that was the official reason for breaking communications. Unofficially, he needed a few moments of silence to get his impatience under control. What had happened to the bureau’s standards? Big Bear, Little Bear? Hell, two of his agents—Dom and Jack—had tattoos. Since when had the FBI allowed tats? Quantico was going soft.

He looked through the binoculars. Instead of driving into the attached garage as expected, Bailey did a three-point turn and parked the Camaro pointing down the driveway. Was she suspicious? Had she purposely positioned her vehicle for a quick getaway? His hands tightened around the binoculars. The driver’s door opened. A petite woman in dark-colored shorts and a white T-shirt emerged. A pistol was holstered at her waist and her shoulder-length, curly red hair reflected like flames in the soft glow of the porch light. Even at this distance she had the kinds of curves that made men pay attention—including Kade, much to his chagrin.

He had more reason than most to despise Enforcers, and yet his breath caught every time he looked at one of her photographs in the case file. He couldn’t imagine the effect she’d have on him if he ever got within a few feet of her in person. It was bad enough that his pulse quickened whenever those deep green eyes gazed back at him from her pictures. But what he hated the most was the odd feeling of kinship he felt toward her, a tug of empathy when he saw the shadows in her eyes, the same shadows he saw every time he looked in a mirror. He couldn’t help wondering what had happened to harden her and make her look so lost, so sad, so incredibly . . . alone.

Excerpt from KISS FROM A STRANGER by Lily Danes and Eve Kincaid

A voice came from the doorway, low and perfectly modulated but coated in a thin layer of grit. “Am I in the right place?”

Maddie closed her eyes for a second. If she pummeled the man for interrupting, Oliver might think she wasn’t qualified for the promotion. She steeled her face into a pleasant expression and turned to face the newcomer.

And once again, she needed to remind herself to be calm. She began counting, but couldn’t remember what came after four.

The man before her was a god.

Not just a regular god, either. This was the kind who’d traveled to earth, found a bit of trouble, and decided he was having way too much fun to return to his celestial home. Any sensible woman would run the other way the moment she spotted him.


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