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Sneak Peek 2 of Baptism by Fire, Book 2 of the Stillwind Series by Mia Smantz






Hello all!

Welcome to the sneak peeks countdown. With the second book of the new series, Baptism by Fire, soon to be released on July 1st, I'll be posting some snippets from the story to whet your whistles :)


This book has been a long time in the making, so if you're still here, thanks for sticking through.


Some notes before we get to the good stuff... my first series, The Cardinal Series is all completed and available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited for free. It's also available for purchase. If you're interested in purchasing a hardcopy set of the first two books, The Cardinal Bird and Cardinal Caged, you can buy the first volume here. This volume is also available in the Kindle Unlimited store if you want to purchase or add to your ten-book Unlimited list to help free up a slot for another great book. I know I always have a hard time trying to cull my ten-book limit. Get the Kindle version here. Soon, I'll be bundling the second volume of the series to include Cardinal of Hope and The Cardinal Sin as well as Cardinal Rose and The Red Cardinal. I'll make sure to announce it on social media.


One more thing before the preview, I've created the preorder for the next book in the series, Backfire, so be sure to preorder your copy today!












Baptism by Fire, Book 2


SNEAK PEEK




I trotted downstairs, getting a blast of pleasant breakfast aromas in the face as I opened the bottom door. Eli had been here a while. Coffee steam already swirled through the air, and if I wasn’t mistaken, he was baking something.


Recent events had me hesitating. “Eli?”


The large man came through the door and gave me a strange look. “Yeah. You expecting someone else?”


My heart settled with relief that I tried not to show on the outside. “I wanted to make sure it was you. Weirder things have happened.”


I had dragged Eli right into the thick of things with me when he flipped his usual script and cracked an iron skillet over one of my attackers’ heads. He mulled that statement over in his mind before nodding in concession. “True,” he agreed, entering the kitchen fully. “We’re all good to go, I just finished the coffee.”


I looked him over. Before meeting the pesky Viking, Eli and my dad had been the biggest men I’d known. They both pushed close to that six-and-a-half-foot mark and were all around massive figures. However, whereas Papa used his stoicism to intimidate the masses because he enjoyed his space, Eli was like one of those impressive-sized carnival teddy bears.


Everything about him was playful and friendly, from his curly brown locks and laughing eyes to his easy, wide smile that dimpled his cheeks. He always had a suntan, and unlike my own golden hue gifted down the line from some unknown ancestor, his darker complexion was because he loved spending time outdoors. He had a Jeep, and the minute the mountain weather permitted it, he stripped the top off to cruise around with the sun on his face.


Apart from the dimples that invariably popped out when he was teasing me—with his crush on deep dimpled Kara, if they ever got together, their babies would be devastating—his most intriguing feature had to be his bright eyes. They were a mint green that seemed to glow, but on closer inspection showed swirls of ocean blue and microscopic flecks of maroon in the mix.


He leaned his tall frame closer, propping his elbows on the counter near me. “So apart from the crazy mob theories, what made you doubt it was me?”


I blinked and cleared my throat as I tried not to pick out those pesky red speckles I’d just been thinking about with his proximity. “It smells like you’re baking.”


He grinned. “Yeah, I am. Cinnamon rolls.”


My brows drew down. “You don’t bake. You cook.”


His grin widened and twitched as if my confusion had him holding back laughter. “I felt lousy calling in yesterday. Thought I’d try something special.”


My eyebrows shifted direction and shot to my hairline in shock. “You felt bad?”


“Uh-huh.”


“For missing one day of work?”


“Yep.”


“The first time you’ve missed work in forever?”


“Is it? I hadn’t noticed.”


“Now that I think about it, have you ever missed work?”


“You mean apart from going ‘camping’ with you for a week because we’re madly in love with each other?”


And once again, our “camping” excuse had reared its ugly head. The love angle hadn’t been part of the original cover story, but Stillwind enjoyed a good torrid romance.


“Ha-ha,” I deadpanned.


His smile turned impish as he shot me a wink.


I shook my head, trying to compute this complex math problem that just wouldn’t settle.


He straightened up to his full height, nudging me in the shoulder. “Oh, come on, Sasha. You, of all people, should understand. Before this mess, when you weren’t asleep, you were either at the restaurant or helping at the fire station. A strong work ethic can’t be that hard for you to grasp.”


As he took me in, his head tilted.


Self-conscious, I peeked down at myself. I’d had nothing but coffee, so there couldn’t be food on my clothes. Likewise, I wasn’t dressed any differently than normal. Spotting nothing amiss to garner such a critical stare, I glanced up. “What?”


He seemed concerned. His hand reached out and brushed under my eye. “Have you been sleeping?”


My shoulders snapped back, military straight. “What? Of course I’ve been sleeping.”


He shot me a disbelieving look. “My bad. Let me clarify. Have you been getting enough sleep?”


“I’m awake, aren’t I?” My defensiveness surprised me, especially since Eli had been the one helping me sleep the last time I’d been restless. His motivations weren’t dangerous. He enjoyed fixing things.


Still, my independent nature instilled by my dad rose out of nowhere and set me on edge.


“You also smell like coffee. You despise coffee.”


“That’s not true—”


“Fine, you like the smell of it but hate the taste and the way it makes you jittery and—”


I brought my hands up before he could continue proving his point about how well he knew me. “Alright, alright. I get it. I haven’t been getting enough sleep.”


“Nightmares?”


“Yeah,” I admitted reluctantly.


I’d always fought nightmares to some extent. It was why my “walk it off” dad had reluctantly agreed for me to see our next-door neighbor psychiatrist when I was young. Brien knew about it, but I’d locked away that part of my life since graduating.


Eli assumed they were a new occurrence, and since he’d bonded so well with the three Gamma amigos, I didn’t want word circling back to them and disbanding this notion. Brien and Eli, my past and my present, comparing notes? That seemed like a bad idea.


“Well, the rolls still have to rise before I can pop them in the oven, the coffee will stay fresh on the hot plates, and the café won’t open for another two hours, so let’s go upstairs and see if we can’t catch you some Z’s.”


He was right to assume he’d help. Brien did the same when we were kids before the psychiatry sessions started paying off. It was as if having a warm body beside me helped stave off the ever encroaching cold.


I scratched exhaustedly behind my ear before I gave in with a nod and led him upstairs to my apartment.


Terry greeted us as we walked in the door, and Eli bent down from his considerable height to pet the excited canine. “Kara conned you.”


I paused from untying my Converse and glanced over at him, melting at the way his large hands gently scratched the pup to a tongue lolling grin. “What do you mean?” I questioned offhandedly, too entranced by his actions to pull my attention away from the sight.


“I think she knew you’d take the dog in permanently despite all the initial grunting and groaning.”


“Psh, he’s still a pain,” I scoffed, pulling out of my daze to finish discarding my shoes. I loved them, had them since high school, but the one inconvenience was that they didn’t toe off without a fight. They needed attention and handling before they surrendered a foot to freedom, the clingy things.


“Really?” Eli asked, and even avoiding eye contact, I couldn’t miss the amusement in his tone. “Because his fountain drinking bowl might suggest otherwise.”


“What?” My defenses rose up. “He wasn’t taking in enough liquids. After one drink, he wouldn’t touch it again until I rinsed his saliva out and replaced it with fresh water. This way, the dumb dog thinks he’s getting nice, clean water all the time, and I only have to refill it once a day.”


“I’ve been working with you for a while now, Sasha. You’re not fooling me with your prickly front.” He picked the tiny terrier up and cradled him along his forearm, tucked into his side, and—as if on cue—they both flashed me puppy dog eyes. “Admit it. You love the little guy.”


I grumbled to myself, unbuttoning my flannel. It was long-sleeved and it would get all twisted up anyway.


Eli held his free hand up and cupped his ear. “What? I’m sorry. We didn’t quite catch that.”

“I said,” I stressed, “the dumb dog’s okay.”


Eli shook his head in mock disappointment and shared a look with Terry. “Don’t let her fool you. She’s crazy about you.”


I whirled around to face them. “Are we going to do this or not?”


Eli sputtered, his eyes running down to my hands still working away at my buttons. “D-Do what? What are we doing?”


Terry yipped in alarm when Eli almost dropped the poor guy.


“Hey, ease up on my pup,” I warned, stopping my motions to point a warning finger at him.

Eli set the indignant dog down and gave him a sheepish glance in apology before straightening. “What are you doing?”


“I’m getting comfortable. For the nap.”


His face cleared up, and he returned to his teasing, relaxed nature. “You don’t have to answer me like I’m slow.”


“I can’t help it. This was your suggestion. How could you have forgotten it in the thirty seconds from the kitchen to here?” I shrugged and shimmied to shuck off my flannel, leaving me in a tank top. “Do you want to do it in my room? My bed’s big enough.”


Eli’s eyes dropped before they shot up and away, then he scratched his neck. “Actually, we did this on the couch last time, and it worked. Why tempt fate?”


He toed off his shoes and beelined for the furniture in question.


I shrugged, not too concerned either way. In fact, it was probably better. He wouldn’t want Kara to somehow discover we’d shared a bed, no matter how innocent it was.


He reclined against the armrest and left a place for me to snuggle down. The only problem was, my sofa wasn’t as deep as Brien’s, so it felt like I might roll off the edge.

Or maybe it wasn’t about how wide the couch was, but about how we’d arranged ourselves last time. I sat up. “Do you mind?”


“What?” he demanded, sounding jumpy.


I shot him an expression that conveyed how weird I thought he was being. “At the guys’ apartment, I slept between your legs.”


“Oh.” He cleared his throat, and after a moment’s hesitation on his part where my guilt almost had me retracting my statement and suffering through it, we rearranged ourselves.


The position instantly eased into something more comfortable, and I tiredly pulled one of his arms over my shoulders and wrapped them around me like a security blanket.

I pushed aside the pesky shame without remorse as my eyes grew heavy. Already, I deduced that this nap was going to be A-plus quality. I opened my mouth to thank him, but I forgot if I ever got the phrase out or not.


Horror and fear didn’t plague my brain, and I only realized that when the chest under my ear vibrated, pulling me from the blissful darkness of heavy, restorative sleep.


I recognized Eli’s soft rumble, but not the words. “Mm,” I moaned, shifting a little to relieve the pressure on my arm. “I should hire you full-time.”


Eli’s breath hitched in his lungs, and before I could ponder why, another deep voice spoke from somewhere nearby.


“If you are looking for a bed companion, my fair maiden, I am willing to do it pro bono.”


My drowsiness evaporated in a nuclear flash. I bolted upright, belatedly realizing that I’d vaulted off of Eli’s torso to do so when his whoosh of air and grunt of pain reached my ears.


“Sorry,” I apologized while he waved me off. He moved to sit up as well. My focus broadened to the room at large. All three Gamma amigos had shown up to fetch me for the police station.


Joy.


END EXCERPT






I hope you enjoyed it!!







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