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Sneak Peek 4 of Backfire, Book 3 of the Stillwind Series by Mia Smantz






Hello all!

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


SNEAK PEEK




Flint opened his arms wide, a broad grin crossing his face. “I am open for hugs.”


A snort nearly escaped, and only luck kept it buried. “I just bet you are.”


“What is the matter? Are we not allowed to be friends anymore?” His silver eyes shifted to his left in what he probably considered a covert movement. The thing he didn’t realize was that his sheer size rendered that feat impossible.


Being sneaky drew more attention, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.


“Hey, hey, wait. What the fuck was that?” Rory growled.


Flint straightened. “What?”


“That shifty as fuck look you just shot Eli.”


He’d been looking at Eli? Why would he—


My thoughts cut off with a distinct record scratch.


Flint knew. I studied him then tweaked my assessment. He at least suspected something. Did the others?


Brien stared at Flint with his thick black brows almost up to his sleek hairline.


He wouldn’t be so confused if he knew the reasoning, and the same went for Rory. His expression screamed a cocktail of alarm, concern, and aggravation in a way only Rory Lane could pull off.


“Oh, my parents!” I blurted, eager for a subject change. “You said they’d be here?”


Attention diverted to the new topic.


“They are here alright,” Rory grumbled, a whoosh of air escaping his lungs when Brien elbowed him in the ribs.


Brien noted my narrow-eyed look, and his face shifted into a fast smile that didn’t hide his guilt at being caught.


The antics amused me on some level, but the emotion failed to pierce the distant haze that called me a liar and accused me of just going through the motions.


Fuck off, I told the negativity firmly, glad that all the physical touches hadn’t felt like a dirty lie. It’d kill me if Dai had robbed me of that.


I settled.


Even so, my barometer had maxed itself out on lightening the mood. I had been unaware of any gauge in the first place, so the drop nearly collapsed me to my knees.


“Sash?” Eli asked, his voice serious. “We should get you to medical. Brien said you were fine, but—”


“No, I want to see my parents and Nolan.” When Eli looked like he might dig his heels in, I added, “I need to see them. Please, Eli.”


He relented. “Come on. They are probably this way.”


That raised my eyebrows. “Wait, you don’t know?”


“Well, technically, your parents, Nolan, and I are visitors and aren’t supposed to leave the designated areas on the residential floor…”


“I sense a ‘but.’”


Rory snorted from where he trailed behind us with Brien and Flint. Another muffled thump and a hissed curse lifted my spirits a fraction from the dark pit they’d stumbled into. “You okay, Rory?” I questioned without turning around.


“Fucking fine, Popova. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got myself covered. Just need to weed out some of my backsta—ow! Fuck, Brien!”


“Really?” Brien demanded in a dry tone.


“Well, stop being a little fucking bitch and hitting me.”


I tuned them out and spent the walk taking in the surroundings.


None of the walls contained screens like the entrance hall did. However, the light beige paint and abundant lighting made the place feel like we weren’t at the mercy of copious amounts of earth and mountain above us.


People in all ranges of attire were hard at work within their offices as we passed. I’d always found it odd that Brien wore a pressed suit and tie while Flint and Rory had outfits that fit in with the general population of Stillwind. Gamma must not be big on a strict dress code.


“These are the administrative offices,” Eli announced like he’d been chauffeuring people through the place for years.


“My, my, you’ve settled in,” I commented with a glance his way. The teasing lacked its normal panache, but no one called me out on my dead tone of voice.


Eli rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, uh, well… just, well, I guess.”


“Eloquent as shit,” Rory snarked.


“Nobody asked you,” Eli bit off. His words carried a somber weight I’d never heard him use before.


Tension spiked in the hallway, though I couldn’t put my finger on what led me to believe that. None of them showed any outward signs that things had ratcheted up a notch, but I felt it—just another side effect from my time with Dai Qiao.


Eli turned us down a hall where, at the end, I heard my mother’s stern voice.


“And another thing,” she started. “Why you no do anything productive, Todd? Did you not take my advice? Todd, you not listen to wife. You listen to wife, and you be healthy. Then you do good at work.”


Mama didn’t normally have such a strong, distinct Chinese accent when she spoke, but she revisited her roots and speech patterns in times of stress. The last time she’d used grammar this badly, I’d woken in a hospital after a nearly fatal crash—though “crash” conjured images of “accidents,” so maybe car setup fit better.


I groaned. “I changed my mind. Can we just hide out?”


Eli’s posture relaxed minutely as he chuckled, and he wasn’t the only one. Apparently, even Flint—who’d never met her before—had gotten acquainted with my parents’ ways over their sojourn at Gamma Headquarters.


“I’d forgotten how much of a menace your mom was, Popova,” Rory complained. On any other day, I might have taken offense, but my deeper contemplation into our shared, rocky history over the past few months had me pausing.


I recognized the slightly exasperated yet grudgingly respectful undertone hiding beneath his surly complaint, and it brought a slight grin to my face despite my exhaustion. Grouchy Rory Lane hadn’t escaped my mother’s machinations.


What, I wondered, had my mother found to fault him with to pull off her usual maneuverings, and did anyone capture this golden moment on video?


“Yeah, she is what she is,” I replied.


“You have no sympathy for me,” he accused.


I turned to face him. “Try living with her. Don’t worry though, you get used to it.”


Flint gave an exaggerated shudder. “That is the truth, my fair maiden. I found myself reaching for an apple at the end of breakfast yesterday, even when she was nowhere in sight.”


“Well, fruit is good for you.”


His hand rose to his heart, and he shot me a hurt look. “Not you too, sweet Sasha. I am already failing under a four-foot something general. If you join her cause, surely I will maintain none of my integrity as a man. I know that is not something you wish to lose.”


“Meh.”


“Not that word again. I hate that word,” he swore with vitriol.


It was my favorite thing to tease him with after I taught him its meaning.


With the full package like Flint had, it did him some good to keep his ego in check. Lord knew he had enough confidence and swagger these days to charm all of Stillwind if he were so inclined. Luckily, his childhood of being largely ignored in school by his peers for not speaking English had saved him from growing up to be a raging jerk.


I slowed my steps to line up with him and patted his chest, denying that it was just an excuse to feel up his chiseled pecs. “You’ll live, Viking.”


My presence buoyed his mood, even if my platitudes had been false. He took advantage of my proximity to wrap a tree trunk arm around my shoulders. The timing of his little tug caught me with my outside leg lifted off the ground, so the smooth maneuver had me tumbling into his side between one step and the next.


“I think I can find it in myself to forgive you. Holding a grudge against you would be like telling the clouds not to rain.”


Rory snorted. “This from the guy who swears he didn’t learn English from Shakespeare. Lies. Has to fucking be. There’s no way he didn’t with all that flowery language and shit.”


Flint looked affronted. “I am wooing her.”


I choked on spit.





END EXCERPT








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