Welcome to the sneak peeks countdown. With the first book of the new series, Setting Fire, soon to be released on September 30th, I'll be posting some snippets from the story to whet your whistles :)
If you're here, then you are getting excited for the release of Setting Fire, book 1 of the Fire Series!
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 created the pre-order for the next book so that I could include the link within the current book, but I haven't been promoting it. But, here it is, the next book in the series:
Setting Fire, Book 1
For some reason, the only thing I could blurt out in response to the strange sight of a strange man was, “You’re not from Stillwind.”
The man got to his feet and turned to face us, smoothing out his tie in the process.
He was slim, around Brien’s height and size, with neatly combed brown hair and thick eyebrows a shade or two darker that nicely framed his electric blue eyes. His wore a sharp, black suit that had somehow remained impeccably clean.
I wasn’t sure why that thought popped into my mind. Despite my clothes being strewn everywhere, the only thing he would have gotten on him was stray hair from that terrorist terrier, and it wouldn’t have shown up on the man’s black attire anyway. Then I remembered Rory mentioning he would be meeting the person who would help deal with the…
The body, I forced my internal dialogue to finish.
“You’re Westphal,” I stated, though it came out vaguely accusatory.
“Indeed, I am. Henry Westphal to be exact. And you must be Sasha Popova.” He held his hand out for me to shake.
“Well, make yourself at home,” I told him sarcastically. Since when was it okay to invite complete strangers into someone else’s house without their permission?
He scratched the hair at the nape of his neck. “I apologize, Ms. Popova, if I took too many liberties. In fact, if I may be so bold, your place actually reminds me a lot of my brother’s. You see, he’s—er, he was rather… relaxed in how he maintained his home.”
If I hadn’t seen the flash of pain from a recent loss, I would have called him out for basically calling me a slob. Instead, I shrugged. “I try to stay busy, so I don’t sweat the small stuff too much.”
His hand went to the knot at his throat in a gesture that reminded me of a shocked damsel in distress holding her hand up to her delicate neck while she gasped. “The small stuff?” he choked out, his eyes shifting back to the sock on the lamp shade.
Both the Viking and Brien were watching their boss with amusement, as if they knew that this would be his reaction.
“Small stuff?” Rory scoffed, inserting himself into the conversation. He used one finger to lift an article of my clothing. “Popova, you have a bra on your coffee table. And since I know that no one would touch you with a ten-foot pole—maybe excluding my boy, Brien here—”
“Rory.” “Yeah, fuck you too!” Brien and I spoke in synchronous harmony. He took the low warning notes, and I hit the high-pitched, furious soprano.
Rory flashed a sinful grin that made his dimples pop on his round cheeks. “You wish I would, Popova.”
“What I wish is that you would—”
Eli stepped in front of me. “O-kay! That’s enough. Let’s not badger the injured animal. She might get feral.” He bravely guided me to the mismatched loveseat. After his comment, he was lucky I didn’t bite him just on principle. He plopped down beside me, making me wince and grab my ribs. “Oops, sorry. God, I’m so forgetful. You okay?”
“Yep, m’good,” I mumbled with a thumbs-up from my free hand.
“Good one, you big oaf,” Rory growled as he marched across the room. “I said her ribs weren’t broken, not that they might not be fractured. She could still turn a fracture into a full break and puncture a lung. Is that what you want?”
Rory had already reached out—to do what, I wasn’t sure, maybe lift my shirt and check out my chest in the middle of the freaking living room in front of two virtual strangers?—but I stopped him before he could touch me.
“No,” I barked, and it came out much sharper than I’d intended, surprising more than one person—myself included.
Oddly enough, Rory acquiesced, holding his hands up in front of him in surrender as he backed off. “It’s your funeral, Popova. I was just trying to help.”
I felt Brien’s heavy stare on the side of my face, bouncing between his redheaded friend and me in contemplation.
I sighed. “Listen, if you want to help, you can start by explaining. Why is Dai Qiao so scary? Who exactly are you?” I addressed Henry Westphal. “Because I’ve never seen you around these three before, and I see them every day. And on top of all of that, what kind of job do you guys have that you can make an entire body disappear in such a small town like Stillwind without notifying the police?”
The pregnant pause stretched out in the wake of my tidal wave of questions until Eli chimed in, “Yeah! What she said.”
Henry sighed. “There’s only so much I can tell you. I tried to get the higher-ups to bring you into the fold, but they were adamant that no great danger was posed to you.”
Eli sat up straighter.
I tilted my head, studying this neatly put together man. “But you disagree.”
He hesitated before nodding. “I do.”
“Because… it’s Dai Qiao.” He heaved another sigh and sat gingerly on the edge of my coffee table.
He didn’t need to worry so much about injuring it. The thing was made of hewn logs courtesy of Papa. If, for whatever reason, we ever had an earthquake way up here in the mountains, it’d probably be the thing I dove under. It’d taken four guys from the fire department to help lug it up here.
Eli reclined back. “Die Chow? That name sounds like what a deranged neighbor might feed to someone’s dog.”
Ignoring the half-hearted attempt at levity, Henry turned to Brien. “You’re the most familiar with her. You should explain.”
I glanced between the two before shifting painfully forward to the edge of the seat. “I don’t need the kiddie gloves if that’s what you’re implying. Some man just tried to kill me before being shot dead mid-attack—on top of me, I might add. If I was going to break down, I would’ve done so by now.”
Henry cleared his throat, his hand fluttering to his tie. “That’s a fair point, Ms. Popova. Very well, as you wish. Dai Qiao was first discovered as a fledgling member of the Triad in China. He wasn’t considered a threat at the time because he was young and low on the totem pole. As harsh as this sounds, most of those in that category are grunts or meat shields. It wasn’t expected that he’d make it to adulthood, and they wrote him off any watch lists.”
“Watch lists? Like the CIA or something?”
“Something like that.” Henry gave me a rueful smirk. “So, the years go by, and intel crops up that Dai Qiao has somehow left the Triad to work for one of our biggest players in the Italian mafia.”
“Is this the Paolo guy they mentioned?”
Henry paused, his mouth hanging open from the interruption, then he gave me an assessing stare. “Just how much did you overhear exactly?”
He turned a stern frown on Brien. “You didn’t tell me she heard about Paolo.”
Brien leaned back. “This is the first I’m hearing of it myself.”
Rory gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Hey, don’t give me that look. I was going to tell you, but one thing happened after another, and pretty soon, it slipped my mind.”
Brien shook his head in exasperation before returning his focus to Henry. “Do you think they’ll change their minds and let her come in for protection?”
Henry looked doubtful, but he said, “Maybe. Can you tell us what you know, Ms. Popova?”
I folded my arms. “No. I asked you a lot of questions, and you still haven’t fully answered any of them. Dai is dangerous because he’s affiliated with the mob?”
“No, because he’s resourceful and ruthless. In my line of work, I’ve seen a lot of violent deaths. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I don’t envy his victims their deaths.”
Eli’s large hand reached for mine, cradling it.
I swallowed around the lump in my throat, and a shiver raced down the length of my spine at how close I’d been to becoming another victim to such a dangerous man. “And since you mentioned your line of work, what is it?”
Henry smiled. “I’m afraid that until we can convince our superiors you can be read in on the case, I can’t answer you. What I can tell you is that we all work for a government funded organization, so everything is all legal.”
“Considering you just made a body disappear, that’s reassuring,” I deadpanned.
Brien coughed behind his fist and looked away. It was a familiar move. He was fighting to hide his amusement.
Eli crossed his arms. “But all four of you work for this same mystery organization?”
The wheels turned in my mind. I knew for a fact that at least three of them had been in the Marines. Henry was still an enigma, but with military involvement, it wasn’t unusual for the government to draw recruits from U.S. soldiers.
Suddenly, my flippant comment about the CIA seemed much more plausible now.
Just what exactly had Eli and I fallen into without realizing it—in Stillwind of all places?
I hope you enjoyed it!!