If you're reading this, you've stumbled your way after the trail of breadcrumbs, starving for another sneak peek at the upcoming book, Cardinal of Hope. We are still on track for a March release! I'm hoping to release it on my nephew's birthday in the middle of March, but I just won't know until I get the book back from my editors.
So, without further ado, here's the promised sneak peek from the soon-to-be-released book 3 of the Cardinal series by me, Mia Smantz. If you haven't ordered your copy of Cardinal of Hope, make sure to do so today!
A little information on this sneak peek. Callie is training with Brock and Jace when Brock triggers a flashback of her 17th birthday. Most of the excerpt is from the flashback. At the time she had been with Ivanov for just under 2 years. The scene is a little longer than my usual teasers, but I just couldn't really decide where to chop it off. So, I left it whole. :)
Brock Johnson slammed me down onto the mat, and the only thing I could think of was that it was completely and utterly my fault.
I wasn’t focused enough.
“You have to focus, doll,” Dell said with his cold English accent, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he waited for me to get back up.
It was my birthday today. I’d turned seventeen, not that anyone here would know. Almost a year, I’d been at this hell Nikolai Ivanov called base. I wasn’t even sure if there was still anyone alive that would remember it—besides Kazimir. He surprised me with friendship bracelets he’d made himself. He’d been so proud to show them off.
It was sad that my circle of loved ones and people that cared for me as more than an asset boiled down to just a five-year-old child.
Veseli would’ve remembered your birthday, my traitorous mind thought, causing tears to spring to my eyes that had nothing to do with the battered state of my body. I shook my head furiously.
Veseli had kidnapped me just as much as Ivanov. If he’d never taken me from my home in the first place, then I wouldn’t have even been on Ivanov’s radar. Veseli’s cage may have been gilded and pretty, but it was still a cage. It didn’t matter to me that Andrea and he were dead.
Honest, it didn’t.
Still, Veseli had made a point to do something for my birthdays. Even if we were neck-deep in chaos and illicit dealings, he would take the time to give me something small or treat me to a new book.
I’m not sure why I thought someone here would do the same. It was the furthest thing from their minds. Just the other day, they had forced me to sleep in the warehouse with the tank while someone was “punished.” The person lasted five days. Five days of drawn out suffering that had started out so desperate and ended so feebly.
They’d force me in that same tank for the weekend if I didn’t get Dell to the mat. At least, I assumed it would be for the weekend. That’d been the routine so far come every Friday.
“I can’t,” I said, reaching a hand up to see if my nose was broken. Blood had gushed out, coating my lips and chin in an instant. My ears hadn’t stopped ringing since.
Dell crouched down next to me, his relaxed but lethal form swirling in and out of focus.
I blinked to try to get him to stop, but it didn’t work. I closed my eyes. “This training is pointless. I’ll never be able to beat someone as trained as you. You were MI6. Just put me in the tank. We already know that’s where I’ll be going. This is just a front for Ivanov to punish me.”
“Can’t, pet. You know that,” he said softly. The barest of touches brushed a sweaty lock of hair away from my bruised forehead. “If one of us isn’t near-death, Ivanov will punish me. Only I won’t be coming out of the tank come Monday. You, he won’t kill.”
“I haven’t healed from last week,” I whispered, feeling my eyes water as the need for comfort overtook me so fiercely that it stole my breath. When was the last time I’d just been hugged? I gritted my teeth, trying and failing to roll to my side.
“Then you better learn fast, or you’ll die, whether or not Ivanov wants it.”
I collapsed back, looking at the ceiling as the lights danced and swayed. “I think I have a concussion.”
“Good, then you won’t have to go on much longer. It’s too dangerous to put you in the tank for the weekend when you might pass out and drown.”
“Right,” I said, still unable to get up on my own.
Dell’s rough, calloused hand gripped my arm that was almost certainly out of joint and pulled me to my feet. My face heated as nausea overpowered my vision and balance. I fell right back down to my knees, catching myself before falling into the vomit I’d just spewed all over the floor. It was tinted pink, making me wonder what internal damage could cause blood to get into the stomach.
“You must be getting soft if she thinks she can negotiate with you,” a clear voice said. It sent chills down my spine.
Out of the corner of my eye, I thought Dell straightened up a bit, but I couldn’t be sure because nothing had stopped spinning.
“She’s not negotiating. I think she’s unable to continue.”
“Nonsense,” Ivanov said, his shiny, pristine shoes entering my vision. I wondered if he’d have me killed if I got sick on them. “She’s still coherent, so she must not be too bad off.”
“She’s built a high pain tolerance over the past year.”
There was a pause. I tried to lift my head to see what was going on, but the action proved
too much for my body to handle. I landed on my side with a thud, trying to breathe through the impact.
“Or maybe,” Ivanov mused, crouching down into my line of sight. His handsome face was as expressionless as his dead, blue eyes that scanned me with clinical efficiency. “Or maybe she has come to see the punishment as the lesser of two evils.”
His spider-like fingers were propped on his knees, clasped together. He tilted his head before standing back up.
“Beat her until she loses consciousness. Then drop her in the tank.”
“Yes, Ivanov,” Dell said.
I blinked, watching Ivanov’s shiny black shoes get further away.
“Oh, and Dell?” Ivanov called back. “Don’t get her back out on Monday.”
“When should I get her out?”
“When I say so.”