Welcome to the sneak peeks countdown. With the third book of the new series, Backfire, soon to be released on December 12, 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 book limit. Get the Kindle version here. I've also bundled the second volume of the series to include Cardinal of Hope and The Cardinal Sin. That volume is available here for the Kindle version and the hardcopy version. The third and final volume with Cardinal Rose and The Red Cardinal will be available just as soon as I have a cover for it. I'll make sure to announce it on social media.
One more thing before the preview, I've got the fourth book of the series, In the Line of Fire, up on Amazon, so preorder your copy today!
Backfire, Book 3
The shift in speed woke me just before the grand finale in my recurring nightmare. The SUV’s interior, with scents of industrial lemon cleaner and leather conditioner, pulled me fully awake.
You’re not in that cell, I chanted with a relieved breath.
Since it was safe to be conscious, I blinked my eyes open, sitting up in disorientation.
Brien glanced over with a small smile and warm eyes. “Morning, sleepy head.”
A nip laced the air, even with my warmer attire, so he must have spent a good chunk of the drive traveling north. The narrow road bisected a valley with mountains bookending either side of us. As far as the eye could see—which was pretty damn far—no other houses dotted the landscape. A river frolicked in and away from the lone highway on the right, teasing up close snapshots of smooth pebbles and crystal clear water.
My face felt sticky, and a cheek imprint had stamped its presence on my window. I smacked my lips together, trying to get my tongue working. “Where are we?”
My voice stuttered out several octaves deeper than normal, like I’d been smoking cigarettes for years. Just how long had I slept?
“About four hours from Stillwind.”
That gave me pause. “Did you have to stop for gas?”
It’d been a miracle nothing had woken me up. Picturing him pulling in to fuel up without disturbing my sleep seemed nigh on impossible.
“No, I had three-quarters of a tank when I came to pick you up. I was already on my way to town when you started tripping the sensors we rigged up in the café. Getting you somewhere secure took priority, and they have gas tanks where we’re going.”
“And where are we going?”
He nodded ahead of us. “Why don’t you see for yourself?”
The road gravitated to one of the majestic mountains, hugging the river close in a chokepoint, but I spotted what he was talking about as we rounded the bend and the view opened up.
A gravel road broke off from the narrow pike, the first one in the few minutes I’d been awake. On both sides, the sierras closed in, making this part of the valley cozier—or claustrophobic, depending on one’s proclivities.
The eyelines that’d stretched for miles restricted to a narrow field of vision.
Brien turned onto the gravel drive, traveling over a rusted, derelict bridge to cross the river before arriving at a tree line of proud, thick pines.
Brien slowed the SUV to a creeping crawl as the automatic headlights flicked on in the dark forest, and the beams lit upon a gate matching the rickety state of the bridge. He paused and rolled his window down beside a tree with a trunk as big around as a tractor tire. He pressed into the bark, revealing a secured entry screen where he scanned an ID card that’d been resting in the center console. The monitor blinked green, and a loud clang sounded as the rusted fence slid open.
Thought and words escaped me as the cow paneled barrier that’d appeared to be on its last leg parted with well-oiled ease.
“Okay, did you drive us to Area 51’s lesser known sibling? An electronic pad just appeared out of nowhere like a salesperson in a fancy consignment shop, and now we’re getting ready to cross the bridge to Terabithia.”
“Well,” he started, drawing the word out, “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
It took me longer than it should have to pick up on the joking curl on his full lips. Apparently, the inability to detect insincere death threats was a side effect of living in peril for extended periods of time.
“Funny,” I deadpanned.
His grin broke out, transforming his face. Simultaneously, we cleared the band of trees and entered a plain. Large herds of elk grazed in the open, grassy spaces on either side of the winding gravel road.
The SUV bumped and bounced over the rough terrain, clearing the foot of the most prominent mountain.
“What range is this?”
“Never heard of it.”
“You’re not supposed to.”
When the view cleared again, my next question was cut at the knees. Nestled into the bottom dip of the sloping sides, where two megalithic landforms kissed, the gravel road led to a closed tunnel.
A quick glance out the rear windshield showed that no one would be able to see this without sneaking through the trees. The road we’d left behind was nowhere to be seen.
Something in the car beeped, drawing my attention. The vehicle’s navigation screen flashed green, reading, “Access Granted.”
A concrete juggernaut of a door lifted at the tunnel’s entrance.
“All company vehicles have chips in them that raise the barrier when we’re in close enough range to the chip reader. If we’d been in my personal car, there’s another hidden panel. I’d have to get out and swipe us through like before.”
“Nifty. Why not do that at the gate?”
“Gamma likes its redundancies. Needing various types of authentication to clear checkpoints makes it more secure.”
“Wait, did you say Gamma?” I turned to him, raising a brow before I whipped my gaze to the approaching entrance.
Brien grinned at the edge of excitement coloring my tone as he maneuvered us into the tunnel. The sunlight cut out, and only the SUV’s lights and the recessed overheads spaced every ten feet lit the spiraling shaft that angled down into the earth.
I tried to keep track of our progress, but the continuous beige walls and dim lighting disallowed any points of reference, so it was difficult to gauge how deep we’d gone before the channel opened up into a parking garage.
My eyes roved everywhere, taking in as many details as possible.
This was the illustrious organization that’d left me and mine out to dry.
When I’d first encountered Dai Qiao, Gamma hadn’t wanted to lift a finger to protect us because they didn’t feel any part of running for my life—which ended with a fatality, by the way—quantified as a serious enough threat to reveal their own secrets.
Clandestine was Gamma’s first, middle, and last name.
Their inaction led to this entire tangled web.
My heart pounded in my ears, narrowing down my perception of the world, and the urge to tear them apart rose and fell between one heartbeat and the next.
This agency wasn’t a faceless group of people.
Brien and his guys worked for them, and every single one put their heads on the chopping block for me in some way this year.
Rossi’s orders popped into my head. He wanted me to bring him information on Gamma in exchange for my parents’ safety.
Immediately, I quieted any questions and shifted my focus to the dash instead. With the apparent clout Odysseus Papatonis seemed to wield, Rossi’s orders might not stick now, but I couldn’t be certain about that. I didn’t want to count on it, just like I couldn’t rely on Gamma’s hospitality to withstand the test of time. My parents might be safe for now, however, Odysseus could leave or Gamma could kick us out.
Then we’d be right back at square one—me under Rossi’s blunt-ended thumb.
I bit my lip, with indecision, literally and figuratively between a rock and a hard place.
I hope you enjoyed it!!