I’m back… Cue the evil laughter

I’m back, bitches. Put up the blaster shields because Maggie Lynn is back in power. Er, has power. You get the idea 😂 Thanks to all the out of state power crews that came to the rescue and to all the lovely indie books that kept me occupied when I wasn’t writing by candlelight.

I spent the last few days fuming. The power put me back a week on Del Muerta. I was literally one chapter away from completion of editing when – dun, dun, dun. The power went black. Still, while I was waiting, I finished the paper daft of Blood War. It worked out. A few trees down but we’re good. How are you all? Safe I hope?

Either way, I’m hoping for a good Autumn launch period this Fall. I’m thinking a release for Forgotten Hart in September, the release for Del Muerta on November first (El Dia de Los Muertos), and sometime around Christmas, both Blood War and the next (though still untitled) Wings of Caligo novel. I’m so excited for them all.

Needless to say, I’ll be taking signups ARC readers for my street team in advance since a few spots opened up, so make sure to either comment, DM or email me for the details.

It’s gonna be an exciting Fall. Stay tuned, for there will be blood… 😉

– Maggie Lynn

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Chapter 14

Awareness came back to me in an instant as a gun fired off somewhere nearby. I jolted upright and looked around despite the drug in my system.

Beyond baffled as I saw that I was surrounded by scrap metal cars and a junkyard, I just cursed. Bound to a lamp pole in the darkness with my wrists tied together around it, there wasn’t much else I could do other than that either.

Night had fallen, the damp grounds illuminated by high beams shooting up into the sky. There was a dock a few hundred yards away, so we must’ve been down by the river. That meant I was in the far end of town past Infierno. The hospital was on the complete other end of the city.

The question was what the hell had they brought me here for.

Hearing movement, I looked to my left. Haynesworth was perched on the edge of a crunched in, wrecked car watching me. Behind him stood five other men. They stood on red alert, guarding the perimeter with heavy semiautomatic weapons.

“You’re awake,” he said conversationally, acting as if there was still one ounce of friendship between us.

“What are we doing out here?” I asked, now seeing twenty other men staged in a scattered circle around the yard. All were armed to the hilt, looking more like soldiers than police.

“Yaron believes that if we threaten you, the Lynx will come to ‘rescue’ you,” he replied with a shrug. And considering the late hour, they’d likely been here all night, watching me as I remained unconscious. Not to mention for a stupid reason.

“How the hell is that supposed to work? I don’t know the Lynx,” I admitted, noting that it was shortly before dawn. Orange light was spreading over the lower sky. We’d left the hospital hours ago. “He’s not going to come for me. Even if he gave a damn, he wouldn’t be that dumb. Not to mention he could still be buried in the rubble from the bomb!”

He shrugged, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it for himself. “Better to obey at this point than to question. Personally, I think it’s stupid hinging everything on catching a vigilante, but orders are orders.”

Another habit he’d hidden from me. He knew I hated cigarettes. “And Teagan?”

“I’d worry less of him and a lot more about yourself,” he chided, taking a puff as he read a newspaper. “Yaron is supposed to be arriving to oversee this op. You may yet escape your parents’ fate, so sit tight.”

I wrinkled my nose at the smell, trying not to inhale the smoke wafting in my direction. Flavored menthol tobacco by the smell of it. “They dead?”

“Assumedly. Your father sunk his own ship,” he added, still acting as if we were friends. As if I wasn’t bound and bruised; my face swollen from being slammed to the ground. “He dropped an insane amount of money into the Tourney as a last-ditch effort to placate the public, as well as his new ‘manifesto’. All it did was rile the public.”

Any idiot could’ve seen that coming, but I held my tongue. He sighed. “But you were unfortunately the final straw, causing an unforeseeable effect.”

 He held up a newspaper headline for me to see, leaving me stunned to see myself in multiple photos with Kit from the past few days. The caption over it read ‘Doomed Romance’.

“You’ve made the public go mad, thinking you were sympathetic to their side,” he muttered, throwing the paper on the trunk of the car before letting out an amused snort. “You’ve got to appreciate the irony. Then again if you survive, I suppose you’ll get to see if Kit wants you without your affluence. You’ll have nothing.”

“An instantaneous turnoff to you, I’m sure,” I muttered, testing the ties on my wrists. “Now that you’ll busy yourself with kissing Yaron’s ass, hoping he’ll promote you, I’m useless to you. The only thing I want to know is why.” As I stared at him, he blew out a slow puff of smoke.  I held eye contact. “If you knew my father was on thin ice, then why try to acquire me as a wife? You knew there’d be nothing to gain from it.”

Silence fell for a second, the only sound coming from the dock down the way as the water ebbed and flowed. Ryan stared at me without blinking, almost as if personally disappointed by the question. “Be careful what you say, Anna,” he said softly, tossing his cigarette away. “If you comply, you may yet still find sanctuary with me.”

The statement surprised me. Perhaps he did harbor some genuine affection for me after all. Looking at him, I detected a tinge of fear. What was happening frightened him. Then again, his family was very close with mine. They weren’t the top of the food chain when it came to elites, so to speak. His sudden switch in priorities might have more to do with keeping the new rulers placated and his family out of the line of fire.

The suspicion in my mind only strengthened as an armored car rolled up and Yaron stepped out. Ryan immediately straightened, turning his back to me.

Deciding not to leave myself at a disadvantageous level, I got to my feet, using the pole to bolster myself up. For someone who had just set himself up as leader of the city (and an arms dealer no less), Yaron wasn’t very bright. The yard was an open location that any enemy could penetrate. He had to know he’d made himself into a sitting duck by being here. Yet here he was.

Then again, so was I.

“No sign of him?” Yaron demanded, a team of battered security personnel following behind him. By the look of them, they’d all been under fire at some point during the night.

“None. We’ve signaled across all the police radios, as per orders,” Ryan replied, standing straight and saluting him. “Not even a nibble.”

So they assumed the Lynx was listening to the police radios? What was with Yaron’s obsession with killing this guy? Considering everything that was happening, what could he possibly have to gain from focusing on this?

As Yaron strode straight past him and up to me, I squared my chin. He just sneered. “Got anything to say to me?”

Staring at him without flinching, I refused to back down. Even if I stared my death straight in the face, I wouldn’t beg. “Like what? Hasn’t it occurred to you that if I was truly with the Forge I wouldn’t have hung around in a building rigged to blow?”

A grunt escaped me as he struck me across the cheek, the blow hard enough to tear my lower lip. I spat out the blood with a smile, undaunted. “You can hit me all you want, but it won’t change anything. You’ve spent your first official night as Presidente running around in the dark after a man in a cape. Don’t you have anything better to do?”

He struck me for a second time, then clamping down on my throat with his hands. “Then tell us why a figure was seen by security, going in your window?”

“It was Kit, you moron,” I snarled, losing my patience. As he glared into my eyes, I sneered, “He was on the floor above mine and smuggled me food. I’m not the Lynx’s Mata Hari and never was!”

Blank shock crossed his face, not expecting the simple answer. I spat another wad of blood out, the glob landing on his shoes. Turning his attention from me, he barked at the police around us, “Spread out. Whether she knows the Lynx or not, he’ll come. He’s been listening to the police lines. He shows up at crime scenes too coincidentally not to be.”

Looking back at me with a nasty, vindictive grin, he added, “And shoot to kill. I want that menace dead.”

If he expected me to react, he was left cold as I rolled my eyes. For the Lynx’s sake, I hoped the man had the sense to stay away. As for Yaron’s vendetta, I didn’t doubt now that it was personal.

“Why do you want him so much?” I asked, unable to stifle my own morbid curiosity. Yaron turned to me, surprised by the question.

“Hand the people the body of their personal savior and they’ll see the fight is futile,” he replied, likely having noticed the curious stares of the other men as well. Everyone thought this move was lame. They just didn’t dare voice the sentiment for fear they’d wind up like me.

Yaron sneered, “It’ll secure the city and my leadership. Tell the populations the Lynx bombed his own people and they’ll back down.”

So he thought this was the key to defeating the Forge? “Fat chance,” I said, shaking my head. “The citizens have gotten so desperate that they’ll leap at any change at all, even if it’s a wild card. They’ll hold out hope and refuse to trust you. You’ve already lost.”

If he disagreed, he didn’t deign me a reply as he turned away. All the same, I could see the agreement in the eyes of the policemen around me. They knew the loyalty of the people was shifting and nothing would bring it back to them. Not in the near future anyway.

Shifting so that my back bore my weight against the pole, I felt the ropes on my wrists slip slightly. They weren’t tied correctly. While the others were distracted, I ever so slowly began working them as Mortimer had taught me to.

Over the next half hour, the ties gradually slackened. Oblivious of me, the policemen were keeping an eye on all the perimeters of the yard. Other than a feral ginger cat knocking over a soda can and startling them all, nothing otherwise remotely feline had showed his face. At that, Yaron shot the poor cat in the head.

All I had to do was wait for the opportune moment to escape. If Yaron could kill an innocent cat, I didn’t want to stick around and see what he’d do to me. Otherwise, all the move did was alienate him from the other police officers. All of them shot Yaron openly hateful looks; feeling sorry for the poor creature.

While I was sure the others hadn’t noticed, Ryan was otherwise visibly bored. He knew the Lynx wasn’t coming as well as I did. He just didn’t want to upset his new boss. My suspicion was confirmed as he muttered with a suppressed yawn, “It’s almost dawn. The nuisance never comes out in broad daylight.”

I flat out gulped as Yaron turned heel and strode back toward me with a downright vicious look about him, flicking open a switchblade. Shit was about to get real whether or not the Lynx showed up.

“What’re you-?”

“Giving him incentive,” Yaron snarled back to Ryan, jabbing it up at my throat. The point dug into my neck over the jugular as I looked into his fiendish eyes, seeing an anticipatory glint in them. Oh, yes. He definitely got off on blood and torture. The cat was his first kill for the night. In his eyes, I’d be the second and likely, not the last.

“She’s worth more alive, Yaron,” Ryan warned, the police around us turning to watch with dismay. Now that it was clear I wasn’t a traitor, none of them were as eager to see me die. “Especially since her father broke the deal with the Fatans. You might be able to leverage her to-“

“I don’t give a damn about Fatan. Losing a few fingers won’t kill her,” he sneered, waiting for my terror to show, likely expecting to get a high off of it.

Needless to say, he didn’t get one.

In a move so fast that he barely even reacted, I slipped the ropes from my wrists and snatched the blade from him, whipping it up to his throat. In the same stroke, I grabbed the gun from the holster at his waist and aimed it at his heart.

The policemen barely even reacted, too stunned to stop me. Either that or they were hoping I’d off him for them. While all weapons turned in my direction, their move was entirely too slow.

“Stand down,” I snarled, my voice rasping out with an ugly, hoarse quality. Yaron just stared at me as I dug the muzzle into his chest as well as the edge of the blade into his skin. Much like the big bully that he was, once outmaneuvered, Yaron gestured for them all to step back.

“What do you expect of this, Anna?” he asked, eyeing both weapons. “It’s twenty against one-“

“I beat ten men single handed the other night. What’s twenty more?” I roared out. “Now let me walk or else…”

Seeing Haynesworth out of the corner of my eye, I saw him gesture subtly for his men to back off. If no one else, he knew exactly what I was capable of. And I’d managed this after being beaten up and my ankle cracked. Though I was limping, it wasn’t going to stop me.

Outside all of our control, however, it seemed that there was yet another enemy that had outsmarted us all.

Diving to the ground as machinegun fire sounded from all sides, I scrambled automatically for the nearest refuge. Seeing people hitting the ground all around me, shot point blank with no mercy, I leopard crawled for the protective cover of Yaron’s armored vehicle. I screeched out as a body abruptly landed on top of me.

Looking to my side as it landed across my back and coming face to face with Yaron’s vacant eyes, I shoved him off. Blood dribbled from a hole in the side of his head and leaked all over me, telling me exactly what’d felled him.  

Pressing myself against the side of the vehicle, I stowed the blade in my pocket and kept my gun at the ready. The car was locked and I wasn’t willing to risk going back to Yaron’s body for the keys. With my heart pounding in terror, all I could do was watch as the carnage unfolded.

Men were running for cover on all sides and very few made it. Blood splattered over the ground, men keeling over under the deadly hail of bullet fire. They yelled out and were silenced like pigs sent for butchery, trying and failing to coordinate against the onslaught. The attack had been too swift to fight back.

Ryan was down, shot multiple times and curled on his side. Everyone else was either dead or dying, the smell of blood so pervasive in the air that it sickened me. Like metallic copper it rose over me, the scent not unlike a slaughterhouse near where I used to live. A few men continued to scream, not quite dead yet. One radioed for help before being shot again, his warning cut off.

There was nothing I could do for them, either. Not knowing where the attack was coming from, I couldn’t fire back. The muzzle flashes were obscured from me. Not to mention I had nowhere near enough rounds. The cartridge in Yaron’s weapon wasn’t full. For now, I was stranded between the four corners of the yard with nowhere to go.

As the junkyard fell quiet, a grim sort of dread set over my mind. God only knew how many there were against me. It could’ve been anywhere from a few to a small battalion. Now that they’d stopped shooting, whoever was out there, they’d would come looking for survivors.

The next round had only begun.

I was dead center in the line of fire.

Stay tuned for next week’s chapter! God bless and make sure to comment what you think is going to happen next!

– Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell Part 13

Enemy of the state.

I wasn’t sure if that was what I was considered or not.

To my relief, Teagan stayed down once struck, not fighting any longer. Either that or he’d been knocked out. I couldn’t be sure as they dragged me up two floors.

Once there, Haynesworth dismissed the other men and escorted me to a room at the far corner of the building. Once inside the conference room, I saw both Father and Elena sitting in chairs on the far side. Then I noted the ropes securing them in their seats, as well as six armed guards standing around them. All indicators pointed to the fact that we were done for.

I refused to show any fear.

“What’s going on?” I demanded as Haynesworth prodded me forward and shut the door behind me. “Father?“

“Your father is none of your concern,” Yaron’s icy voice interjected, the back of a chair from the far end of the table turning to see me. From his vantage point, he’d been looking out the window over the city. Pitch dark eyes glared, looking straight through me. “I’m in charge now.”

That boded ill. So he’d inserted himself as the Presidente? As my eyes swiveled toward my father, he sputtered out, “This is outrageous!”

“Shut up,” Yaron barked out forbiddingly. On his cue one of the guards smacked my father on the head from behind. Then Yaron’s eyes settled back on me with pensive scrutiny. “But there is still a question as to what to do with you. You’re a spy.”

I refused to betray my trepidation as he left that accusation hanging. “And what evidence do you have of that? That the Lynx decided to come to me in an emergency instead of you? That a woman ambushed me in the dressing room yesterday and scared me? I mean, I’ve sat on the knowledge that my father murdered my aunt for years now. What makes you think I’d side with the Forge now after I’ve remained silent for so long after learning that?”

As I said those damning words, my father paled and looked down at his lap. More to my interest, Haynesworth shifted from where he stood in the corner, eyes widening with understanding. Apparently he hadn’t known about Lola after all.

“I’m not concerned with where your allegiances lie,” Yaron sneered, clasping his hands together. “Or why you decided to disobey orders to leave. My interest is why the Lynx would visit you twice. Perhaps even more than you’re willing to let on…”

Then the question came as to what he was planning to do about his musings. Before I could question him, he flicked a finger at me. “Take her and dispose of the others. I’ll meet you after the press conference…”

A thrill of fear hit me square in the chest as both Elena and Father were immediately seized and secured, guns aimed at their heads. While I hated them both, I didn’t want to watch them die firsthand either.

“Dispose?!” my father bellowed, though not fighting them as he was hauled to his feet.

“Your position is at an end, Francisco,” Yaron replied calmly, much like he’d been bothered by a mere fly. Death apparently didn’t disturb, move, or deter his conscience. “You overstepped your bounds. You are of no more use to us…”

I looked away as he and Elena took to begging, pleading for their lives and assuring their loyalty to the Hacienda. Though with morbid amusement to the highest, I noted that neither of them pled on my behalf or even considered me at all. I meant nothing to them.

As Haynesworth came over and snatched my wrist, I didn’t fight him. I walked compliantly alongside him as he escorted me out, stifling my conscience as Elena and Father were left behind. Surviving was my concern for now.

Especially as we rounded the corner and I saw ten men waiting, all in riot gear. As Haynesworth pushed me forward, I knew I had to move quickly. Wait until they were least expecting it and then run. Otherwise I’d never get away.

Haynesworth said nothing to me, acting as if he’d never met me before in his life. Now knowing that he’d easily sacrifice me to save himself, I put my hands up and allowed myself to be ushered along. He likely wouldn’t hesitate to shoot me if his own salvation depended on it.

But as we came out to the main part of the floor next to the elevator, off to where patients were, a new kind of dismay came to me.

As the elevator opened, I swallowed hard as an orderly wheeled out a stretcher. On it rested Kit, lying on his side. They must’ve been transferring him up to the floor for intensive care.

Pausing in sipping on the soda they’d given him, his eyes riveted on me as he was wheeled past. Then they swiveled around between the ten armed men surrounding me, inclusive of Haynesworth. “Aiyla?”

A cat-like smile appeared on Haynesworth’s face as he prodded me forward, knowing exactly what he was doing. “Get in.”

“Go home, Kit,” I whispered brokenly, looking at the floor.

Gunfire echoed from the hall we’d just vacated, prompting me to jump violently and nearly fall over, skittering back instinctively at the sound. With my nerves shot, the sound startled me.

As I accidentally knocked into one of the men behind me, he responded viciously. Stars erupted in front of my eyes as he struck me in the back of my head, presumably with the butt of his gun.

Landing on my knees, I cried out as my hands were pulled out from under me and I was pinned down from behind. Giving up on the idea of peacefully complying, I kicked out as my head was slammed hard into the linoleum.

In the back of my mind, I heard a roar from my other side, Kit lashing out at those who’d abused me. Managing to look up regardless of being pinned, I saw him launch off the stretcher. Despite being so grievously injured, he threw his orderly off as they attempted to restrain him. “Get your hands off her!”

“Kit, don’t!” I cried, knowing that the police would have absolutely no qualms about shooting him if he posed enough of a problem. As I tried to sit up, I was slammed back down, this time by three men.

“Sedate her,” Haynesworth ordered with open boredom, gesturing at me. “Easier to transport her then.”

Crying out as I saw Kit likewise being tackled to the ground, I stifled a sob. Despite my warning and all his injuries, he was doing his best to fight his way to my side. From my vantage point, I could see his eyes. They remained focused on me with steely determination, desperation etched on every feature as he fought to free me.

Throwing off a second orderly as they nabbed him, he managed to get a few feet further before being taken down and pinned to the ground by two more who had run up. But as they produced a taser to try and subdue him, I screamed out, “Don’t hurt him! Leave him alone-“

I cut off as my head was jerked, pulled up by the hair and a needle jammed into my neck. I barely felt the sting, my mind too preoccupied on the man before me.

“Aiyla?!” Kit cried out, still struggling as a heaviness fell over my mind. Everything started to slow with a sluggish haze as the drug hit me, my body shutting down despite my best efforts.

In the slowness of the moment, Kit’s face crumpled into despair, eyes locked on mine. His voice came out with a whimper as he called out my name again and began to cry over his failure, the sound almost as desolate as the feeling overcoming me.

I tried to respond but couldn’t as the drug incapacitated me. I was released as I sagged forward, hitting the ground front first. I tried to keep my head up but couldn’t. Control fled from me as I slid one hand toward Kit, reaching for him despite the haze sliding over my mind.

All I could see was his sobbing face as the darkness swallowed me whole.

Next week’s chapter promises to be explosive. Until then, love and hugs…

Author Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

Copyright 2020 Del Muerta Sanctum of Hell Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Part 7

Here’s the continuation of last week’s cliffhanger! For the previous chapters, click here. Otherwise, enjoy!

Chapter Six:

Soft sheets met my skin as I came to. My mouth felt as dry as the Atacama Desert; my body heavier than a lead weight. The memory of Kit begging me to hold on sounded in my mind, reminding me that something had gone terribly wrong. Everything on me felt like it was burning.

With a whine, I tried to speak. Feeling an odd sensation on my mouth and nose, I opened my eyes a crack. There was an oxygen mask hissing air into my nose; pain in my wrists. Looking down, I saw an IV digging into my skin. While I was in my bed, there were all kinds of medical equipment surrounding me.

Looking further, I discovered that I was far from alone. Mortimer sat in one corner, his eyes darker than I’d ever seen them. Fury emanated from every feature, along with a grim determination that chilled me.

“What happened?” I croaked, discovering my throat was terribly sore. Spotting a strange wand on the table at the foot of my bed, I realized that the soreness had likely come from a tube being rammed down my throat to pump my stomach. Either that or to keep air in my lungs.

“Tiny got the bright idea to give you your mother’s pills,” he muttered, his voice so deep in his chest that it sounded more like a wolf’s growl. His eyes flashed with barely restrained wrath. “Except your mother lied when she told Tiny they were sedatives…”

Dread settled into my gut, realizing that I hadn’t merely experienced a bad reaction. I’d unwittingly overdosed on some kind of drug. “What were they?”

“Don’t know yet,” he muttered, standing to come closer. “Some kind of designer drug, though. You’re lucky you spat them out when you did or you’d be…”

He trailed off, gritting his teeth. I extended a weak hand to him and he took it, sitting on the edge of the bed next to me. “That guy, the one you helped, kept you breathing until the paramedics got here.”

Kit had saved my life? A small, unbidden smile came to my lips as I was flooded with gratitude. Then a new anxiety came to me. “They didn’t hurt him for being down here, did they?”

“Considering he’s the hero, they only locked him in his room,” Mortimer assured me as I tried to sit up, brushing my hair back soothingly. “While they tried to originally pin the blame on him, once the pills were confiscated from Tiny…”

He stopped talking as a man in a white coat, whom I could only assume was a doctor, strode in with a tablet, the older man smiling with relief. “Ah, Miss Anna, you’re awake.”

“Tiny gave me… She said it was a sedative,” I said with a wavering voice, worried that Kit would be punished for her transgression.

The doctor nodded, though his eyes narrowed in on me with a different kind of scrutiny. “Yes, but my concern is you’re severely underweight. It’s hindering your body’s recovery.”

Before I could speak, Mortimer rumbled, “She’s not anorexic and will eat like a horse… if it’s allowed. But she does get hypoglycemic.”

Dismay flooded the doctor’s expression. “That should’ve been reported to her GP. Symptoms of her diabetes-”

That got my attention. “Diabetes?”

“That must be a mistake,” Mortimer asserted, giving the doctor a curious look.

“That’s odd. All her medical records indicate she has it,” the doctor muttered, looking at the results on his tablet. He looked up at me with sympathy, worry clouding his eyes. “Let me inquire of her usual GP. In the meantime, she needs some immediate calories.”

“Drawer,” I said quietly, gesturing at the night table next to me.

Mortimer obligingly opened the drawer, so I pointed at the pillowcase hidden within. He handed it to me as I pulled the oxygen mask down and immediately dug in, especially appreciative of the supplies Kit had provided me earlier.

Having forgotten about the Danish until now, I was more than happy to tear a hunk out of it with my teeth. While it hurt my throat, the gooiness of it soothed the raw burn.

The doctor didn’t comment on the odd way I’d hidden my food, though he did quip, “I’ll be back in a moment, hopefully with answers.”

As he headed out, I looked into Mortimer’s watchful eyes. I could read everything in them. “How bad do I look?”

“Frail,” he responded bluntly, radiating tension. “But –“

The evening didn’t seem to be heading in any less an exciting direction as Mortimer jumped up to defend me; his Glock aimed at the balcony door as it opened from the outside in. “What the hell-?!”

“It’s okay,” I murmured to Mortimer, noting he refused to stand down despite the recognition between the two parties.

“You won’t shoot me,” Kit said confidently, striding in with his eyes directly focused on me and unbothered in the slightest by Mortimer’s reaction. They softened with relief as he saw me eating and he came to sit on the very edge of the bed. “You all right, querida? You had us scared but good. You were poisoned, yes? Hard to hear from upstairs…”

Mortimer looked between the two of us, clearly displeased by the arrival and lowered his weapon. I held up my hand with the IV pumping fluids into my veins. “Yes, though by accident. It wasn’t intentional on Tiny’s part.”

His brow furrowed, deepening into scrutiny as if I were lying. “Oh? Then why’d they take her out back and give her the firing squad?”

Horror gripped at my heart. “No…”

“I’m guessing that Elena denied taking any drugs to wash her hands of the whole thing,” Mortimer muttered, seeing me upset. While Tiny was an absolute monster, I didn’t believe she deserved to die by any means. Especially not for my mother’s lies.

One of Kit’s eyebrows went up. “So they just shoot her? No trial?”

“Not in this end of the regime,” Mortimer said without any hesitation, likely also aiming it as a caution to Kit of what could occur.

As his name was called from the doorway by one of his men, he shot us a warning look. “I’ll be back.”

Kit didn’t seem to notice the warning aimed his way as Mortimer strode out. Noting his eyes lingering on me with grim intensity, I looked down and popped another piece of Danish in my mouth. “Please don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like I’m pathetic.“

“You’re not,” he insisted firmly with a heavy sigh, trying to catch my eyes as I studiously avoided his. “I’m just sorry. I had no idea this was how you lived. You’re essentially an actress, one forced to smile.“

“One who doesn’t get paid damn good enough,” I muttered, ripping into a second Danish while I could. “It never used to be like this. When I was growing up, they never bothered with me except at the holidays.”

Absentmindedly toying with the locket around my neck, I stared at the opposite wall. Times had been so much better then, living with my aunt. She’d moved to the area adjacent to the school so I could live with her after school hours were over. Other than during the holidays, my father and Elena never brought me home.

Every good childhood memory – scratch that – every good memory in my life had been with Lola. Then in an instant, she was torn away from me. The day after I turned eighteen, she was murdered. And I’d been brought here permanently, given the duty of public appearances as an adult.

With her death, something in me had died. It’d remained stone cold ever since, my soul more listless with every passing day. Even as the years had passed, I never fully recovered.

“I’ll bet you have a nice family with your tia and Alvin,” I murmured, trying to divert attention from me and also a tad envious. “Mine was like that, too, once upon a time…”

Before Kit could reply, my father strode in. Much like his usual, he didn’t appear the slightest bit ruffled by what’d happened to me. “Darling, are you all right? We caught that horrible woman red handed. The whole situation has been taken care of.”

Every word sounded scripted and fake. Noting that he hadn’t paused to hear if I was indeed all right, I forced myself to sit up. “The doctor said I may have diabetes –“

“Diabetes? That’s an underprivileged person’s ailment,” he said over me, seeming appalled by the idea. I was likewise sickened, not believing my ears with this one. Then he spotted Kit, doing a doubletake. “How did you get down here?”

Sparing Kit from answering (other than by shooting my father a look of absolute loathing), I was relieved to see the doctor stepping in. The man soured when he saw who was present. “Ah, there you are. It’s in her records that your daughter was previously diagnosed with type two diabetes.“

Something told me that the doctor had already questioned my father and likewise gotten the ‘underprivileged’ quip considering his loftily irritated, authoritative tone. Father just shrugged.

“Since childhood,” the doctor said with further frustration at his continued denial. He ignored him entirely as he came to me, the kindly older gentleman adding, “You are of the small percentage of patients whose bodies produce enough insulin to get by, but only if your diet and lifestyle don’t overwhelm it. In your medical files, it said that so long as you were monitored and eating correctly, medication was not needed-“

“This must be a mistake,” Father said arrogantly.

“Her diet must include the proper nutrients or it will kill her!!” the doctor exclaimed with open exasperation, rounding on him.

“Can’t she just take injections?” he asked in return.

Rather than argue, the doctor appealed to me with a far gentler tone. “Would you prefer to discuss your medical needs confidentially?”

Without Father being present was the unvoiced intonation. The fellow eyed me, almost looking like he’d personally enjoy throwing my father out if I requested it. I shook my head, knowing that it wouldn’t matter. Father would immediately make his own diagnosis once the doctor was gone.

“My recommendation is for an in-house nutritionist,” he said with resignation, checking my IV. “To help return your weight back to the ideal BMI without upsetting your insulin levels.”

“Her BMI has already been calculated by our fitness professional,” Father said obnoxiously, not giving in.

“She’s underweight!”

“We’ll get a second opinion on all this…”

As the doctor turned on him, finally losing his temper over the treatment I was receiving, I just shrank into the bed. Now I had new worries to deal with besides starvation. If I didn’t eat, I could be at risk in another way. My fainting spell with Alvin would’ve ended a lot worse if he hadn’t intervened with the juice.

Likewise having reached the end of his tolerance, Kit came up to my side. He fluffed my pillow and blocked them from my view by sitting next to me, putting his back to them. He snatched a bottle of water from the nightstand, handing it to me. “Drink. Next he’ll be rationing your water intake, too…”

His tone dripped with venomous hatred toward my father, focusing in on me with worry and prodding my hand as I failed to take it. I shook my head, preoccupied. “You need to get out of here, Kit.”

“Mmm? Yes, they’ll probably attempt to kick me out in a minute.“

“No, I meant about-“

I cut off with a squeak as he pulled the oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. He chuckled deep in his chest without humor, imitating what I’d done to him back at the first Tourney event with the oxygen. “So we’re back to trying to get rid of me, eh?”

“She was after you, Kit,” I said without softening the blow, pulling the mask back down so he could hear me. “The spoons were Elena’s idea.”

His eyebrows went up again as he took my hand, far from bothered. “Because I don’t know fancy-shmancy etiquette, eh? I appreciate you trying to defend me again, but this time it put you in the crosshairs. I can take care of myself.” He looked at my hand, comparing the size of it to his. “You have tiny hands.”

For the first time, I wondered just what Kit had faced before he came here. No matter the situation, he didn’t show any fear and refused to back down when confronted with danger. “Whatever your reasons, they’re not worth it,” I said, refusing to be dissuaded. “Run.”

“And leave you to be starved?” he said without one ounce of teasing, still looking at my fingers. “What kind of man would I be then?”

The statement was especially poignant as my father came stomping over to my bedside, a complete contrast to Kit’s concern.

“Mr. Arenciana, go to your room,” he ordered without feeling, arms crossed with defiance despite having had the kind doctor thrown out. “I need to speak to my daughter.”

Kit did as asked, never taking his eyes off me. He winked, giving my hand a squeeze. “Feel better, chica.”

As he walked out, I didn’t miss the downright murderous look he shot at my father. The look in his eyes promised violent retribution, though I couldn’t fathom how he’d get it . He was hidden from my view with the closing of the door. 

“Darling, I’m sure this is just a misdiagnosis,” Father said, reclaiming my attention as he patted my head like he had when I was six.

“Then how did Auntie Lola know?” I murmured, remembering how she’d bring me to the doctor regularly to have my blood checked. Even more suspicious, she had diabetes herself. She’d have recognized the signs. I stared him directly in the eyes. “You were the one who always dealt with my childhood care. Why hide it from me?”

He sighed heavily as if burdened by the accusation. Why he would lie I couldn’t fathom, though it seemed he had. His cell phone rang, saving him from having to answer. “You need to put the past behind you, Anna. I have to take this.“

“It’s Aiyla!” I thundered, my throat protesting with pain as I yelled. “You named me so deal with it! We’re not in public!”

But he was already gone with the closing of the door.

Unable to resist the urge, I threw the thing closest to me at the door. The victim was the water bottle in hand, landing with a crack and the cap popping off to spill water all over the floor.

Watching as the liquid pooled out, I realized it echoed my current state. If I kept going like this, I would crack. This incident snapped all the restraints in my mind about just where my safety stood. If I did nothing, I would fall by their hands by my own passivity. Fight it, and I knew not where I would wind up, though at least I could say I wasn’t complicit in my death.

If anything, I owed my dear aunt that much. She’d given so much to stand by me. Allowing myself to continue the downward spiral would be an insult to her memory.

This had to end. Enough was enough.

The phone beside me rang, prompting me to shut the damn thing up.  Unfortunately for me, the touch screen answered instead of shutting it off. “What?!”

“If you’re able to answer with such vigor, I suppose it’s a good sign,” Ryan’s amused voice purred back, making me grumble in response. “My mother got a call from Elena, looking for sympathy because apparently you’ve ‘contracted’ diabetes. I mean, really? Contracted?”

“Guess she’s not upset over my being poisoned then,” I groused, flopping back on the pillows. The IV was beeping something awful, frustrating me further.

Dead silence reigned for a few seconds. “Poisoned?” he repeated in an entirely different tone, the humor fading. “I’ll be there in minutes.”

He hung up, leaving me to shake my head. But as Mortimer came in, I rolled my eyes. “Haynesworth is coming in hot.”

“Swell,” he grunted, looking like he was ready to beat the crap out of someone. His nostrils flared, looking at me and apparently having overheard everything, including the diagnosis. “This all counts as abuse and I can’t do one damn thing about it. You’ve gotten so used to the ill treatment that you just take it.”

I didn’t dare tell him that my ‘not taking it’ earlier was what prompted Tiny to drug me. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I’m assigning a permanent security detail to you – whether you like it or not – to report directly back to me.”

Considering I’d refused a permanent bodyguard before, all I could do was scowl. He noticed. “Sorry, hun. I know you can defend yourself against attack. But you need a different kind of defense now.”

I nodded slowly, knowing he was right. “Thank you, Mort.”

His eyes clouded over, looking as if he had so much more to say. But we both knew that there were infinite ears to hear everything. Everyone in this building was always eager to improve their position with the elite and usually at someone else’s expense.

It didn’t stop him, however, from stooping down and giving me a rare hug. I buried my head in his neck, embracing him in return. “We’ll figure something out,” he promised me gruffly, sounding suspiciously choked up. He shuddered. “Came close to losing you today.”

“You know better,” I muttered, trying to cheer him up as I drew back a little. “I’m like a jackass. Too stubborn to die.”

He smiled at me, eyes glinting with unshed tears. “Well, at least we’ve got that much in common.” I laughed weakly and he sighed. “Just never forget you’re the daughter I never had. This isn’t the end of this. Not by a long shot. There will be a reckoning.”

Deeply touched, I didn’t have time to question him as there was a soft knock. Seeing Haynesworth in the doorway watching the two of us, I wondered just how much he’d heard. And while he was an ally, I didn’t trust him all the same.

Mortimer mussed my hair up affectionately before nodding in his direction. “I’ll be out on the balcony, getting some air if you need me.”

Meaning there was no way in hell he was leaving me alone tonight, but he’d give us a little privacy. Haynesworth nodded as he placed two large paper bags on the bed. His eyes traveled over me minus his signature smirk, surprisingly concerned as Mortimer stepped out. It only deepened as he read the label on the IV bag on the pole next to me.

“These are the drugs EMTs give people when they’ve overdosed,” he murmured, looking me over with suspicion.

I shot him a frank look. “If I wanted to die, don’t you think I’d have been more creative with the method? Let alone succeeded?”

His lips twitched in response, lifting up the clove of garlic from the edge of the pillowcase with the candies in it. “A talisman to ward Elena off perhaps?”

Vampirism? Now that would explain a few things. I snatched it from him, tucking it away. “An inside joke from a friend.”

Ryan was last person I needed to know of Kit’s interference. He inclined his head, stepping over to pull out the containers of takeout. My mouth watered at the smell. His smirk returned, placing a container in front of me. “From your resident hero perhaps? You seemed to have freely doled your attention out to him.”

It didn’t surprise me that there was a jealous angle in there somewhere. Despite our consistent game of baiting each other, I didn’t doubt that Ryan resented the idea of me giving my attention to someone else. “I find Kit’s blatant honesty refreshing.”

“So you don’t want him?”

The question was too casual. I accepted a fork as he offered it to me. “I don’t allow myself to think in that avenue of thought.”

“Yes, you keep your heart nicely tucked away where no one can get to it,” he replied with a glint in his eye, sitting down to eat before offering me a breadstick.

I accepted and took a bite. “Why indulge what isn’t possible? My life has been chosen for me, as will be my future husband.” He nodded as if disappointed by my answer. “Why are you really here? The extent of our relationship doesn’t usually include house calls.”

 “Perhaps I decided on a traditionalist approach,” he said, twirling his fork around his pasta. “Romance as opposed to pure sex.”

“Is this your way of hinting that you’ve been trying to get my attention previously and failed?” I asked wryly, digging into my food. As he shrugged, I snickered, “I know better. I’m only a game you play whenever you bore of your expensive toys and pinup girlfriends.”

“No games. You’re a forever kind of girl, Anna, not someone I would have a fling with,” he said with an uncomfortable edge.

“And you want ‘forever’ now?” I asked skeptically.

“Perhaps. We both share a common desire for justice. As wife of the head of Dejado Atrás’ police, you’d get it,” he said, picking a stray bay leaf out of his lasagna.

Now he was hinting at marriage? “You’ve been promoted?”

“They’re grooming me for the position. My family has been prodding me to settle down, but I’ve no interest in letting them choose my spouse,” he admitted, seeing my dubious expression.

Both my eyebrows were rising. “So you’re after a marriage of convenience with me? So much for romance.”

He laughed lightly. “You’d hardly be a convenience, Anna. Your true nature is to be opinionated, despite your being beaten into submission.” He leaned in, preparing to dangle whatever he thought the clinching argument was. “With me, you’d be out of your mother’s reach. I don’t micromanage diets or clothes. In fact, I prefer no clothes at all.”

I looked at the ceiling. “So that’s why you brought me all the food: a bribe.”

“And to see if you were all right.”

“I know you, Ryan. This isn’t like you,” I said, not buying it. I crossed my arms. “How long have you been planning this?”

“Long enough to have this for you.”

As he pulled out a small jewelry box and placed it on my palm, I gingerly opened the lid. Inside sat a sparkling engagement ring, one that must’ve cost him quite the pretty penny.  

“I have few enough choices, Anna. I want my wife to be one of them,” he admitted, scratching his head. “I enjoy my time with you and have toyed with the idea for a while. When I heard what your family has done to you… Well, I think this could be the solution for us both.”

“You do know that there is no way for me to answer this proposal, right?” I said gently, extending it back to him.

He put his palm up, not accepting it back. “They can’t stop me from popping the question on live TV. They’d be forced to go along with it. You have full choice here.”

There wasn’t one ounce of pleasure in me at this idea. This move would be strategic at best, no love between the two of us. “Emotions have no place in this decision, do they?”

“Weren’t you the one upset by men plying you with false declarations of love?” he said with a hint of irony. I closed my eyes. “I think we both would be considerably happier with each other than with anyone else. Your mother is favoring my elder brother for your hand and I don’t want to see a drunk, often abusive man as your keeper. With me, you’d have your life back. And I…”

He trailed off, seeming to see something in his mind that deeply disturbed him. “Well, I’d get more prestige, being married to the presidente’s daughter, not that I’d need it.”

I didn’t stop him as he reached to touch my cheek, looking into my eyes. “You really are beautiful, you know. Not many women can pull off the withered look, complete with an IV pole and still keep my attention.”

Smiling despite myself, I looked down. “I think you should eat your dinner before it gets cold, Ryan.”

He nodded, withdrawing at my subtle cue and offering me another breadstick. “But you’ll think about it?”

I inclined my head, wondering if there was even really much choice in the matter. At the current moment, I didn’t see another way out. But I still hated being backed into a corner. “I will.”


Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well. But as morning rolled around and I awoke, I was more than amused to hear singing. Very bad singing, in fact. As I rolled over, I cringed at the sound. Since it was coming from the floor above, my guess was Kit was taking a shower.

Considering my IV had been taken out the night before, I was free to head over to the balcony door. While my body felt more tired than normal, I felt two hundred percent better than twelve hours ago.

Stepping out into the sun, I smiled as I discovered another pillowcase had been thrown down, along with a tulip.

A tulip that looked suspiciously like one that I’d spotted the gardeners planting a week ago on the grounds. Inside the pillowcase was a small box of granola bars and three apples, along with a note.

Contraband goods. I have leftovers from last night since you had ‘company’.

  • Kit

“You look better.”

Looking up, I discovered him peering down as he toweled dry. Noting that he was once again sauntering around in the buff as he shook out his wet hair, I said, “Your singing woke me.”

He shrugged, leaning over the side to see me better. “Yes, I’m not pop star material. But it beats an alarm clock.”

Settling in and biting into an apple, I allowed myself to enjoy his company. “How do you keep getting in and out to get the food? Not that I’ll complain, but you can’t be flying over rooftops. What’s your secret?”

A very smug expression came to his face, almost like he was immensely enjoying an inside joke. “Security only patrols where they think someone will get in. They don’t care about someone getting out so that takes care of half the problem.”

Not altogether convinced, I bit another hunk out of the apple. He chuckled, watching me with interest. “I came down to see you again after ‘Prince Charming’ left, but you’d already dozed off.  He really thinks his shit don’t stink, si? Coming while you were weak to spin his ideas to you. Tcha! Despicable.”

That was one of my first deductions as well, though his disgust was apparent. “So you heard…”

“He’s banking on all of us contestants dying and waltzing off with the prize himself,” Kit seethed, apparently no love lost between him and Ryan. His hands clenched over the railing before forcing his voice into a more amiable tone. “I heard you two last night. You haven’t allowed yourself to entertain ideas of me? I’m either impressed by your ability to lie to yourself or depressed by it.” He gestured at himself with humor. “You can’t be immune to all this.”

“I don’t fantasize about dead men,” I parried back, taking another bite and enjoying the view of all he entailed while I could.

A wicked grin came to his face as he leaned over even further. “Oh, but I’m alive now, chica. And willing to prove it.”

An unwelcome thrill ran down my spine as he stared down at me with a cat-like gaze, his eyes alight with mischievous intentions. As I involuntarily gulped, he smiled even wider. “Dead men don’t sing, right? You like me. You just don’t want to admit it.”

I rolled my eyes, knowing better than to go for the bait. Kit only chuckled. “Did I hit a nerve? I’d like to hit every nerve you have in a way that wouldn’t leave you complaining…”

Now he was really going for it. I tossed the core of the apple up at him and he dodged it with a laugh. “Speaking of nerve…”

“Chica, I’m not blind. I can see you eyeing me from down there,” he said with open satisfaction, still not moving to get dressed. As I crossed my arms, he added, “Care for me to come down? I’m not nearly as shy as you are and my constitution could do with a boost…”

As I headed inside and knowing better than to respond to his reference to what the shrink had said yesterday, his laughter followed me. I growled under my breath, knowing that this was going to become more of a problem now that he knew Haynesworth was after me. “Pain in the ass.”

A very sexy pain in the ass, but still.

As I walked in, I saw a note on my door. It informed me that I had an afternoon shopping appointment with Elena and her friends.

Goodie for me.

Feeling particularly rebellious and realizing that I wouldn’t win no matter what I did, I made a decision. One that I knew would bite me in the butt, but I no longer cared. Without a personal assistant to rat me out for the first time in a number of years, there would be no one to police me before I went in public. There was great opportunity.

Twenty minutes later, the stretch limo was waiting. Getting inside, I was startled to find I wasn’t alone. A rather burly man in a black jacket with a dark set of shades looked up from his phone as I got in.

“Hello, miss. I’m your new security detail. Mortimer sent me,” he rumbled, giving me a once over as I warily strapped myself in.

That wasn’t what had me confused. Seeing his face as he pulled his glasses off, recognition tickled my brain. “Don’t I know you?”

With his sun-bleached hair and tanned skin, I knew I’d seen him somewhere. To my interest, a bright flush colored his cheeks. “Yes, I’m Mortimer’s nephew.“

“Teagan,” I finished with easy remembrance, though baffled by this turnaround. Last time I’d seen him, he’d been three times smaller around the shoulders. That and his voice had gotten rougher. “You shadowed him while you were training. And spilled lemonade on Elena.”

He shifted uncomfortably, looking anywhere but directly at me. “Yes. My apologies.”

I snorted amusedly, now knowing why Mortimer had sent him.

“Don’t apologize. That was the highlight of my year.”

 I’d met him a few times during my teens, so I had no obligation to hide my personality in front of him. We’d even sparred a few times with Mortimer coaching us. Joining the armed forces since then certainly agreed with him. Last time I saw him, he’d been a nervous, ungainly mess. Now I was sure that he had no trouble landing women.

He nodded, slate grey eyes watching me with unerring accuracy. “I’m to accompany you daily and procure you ‘sufficient’ meals when they’re not provided. Anything else I should know?”

I scowled. “I don’t like being babysat, Teagan.”

“Considering you took great joy in socking me in the jaw, I know you can defend yourself. I’m just back up,” he said with a dry edge, mouth set in a firm line. “And I go by Monster now.” As I shot him an inquisitive look, he muttered, “You don’t want to know why.”

I very much doubted that, especially with his succinctly contrite attitude. If anything, it was acutely uncomfortable the way he studied me, rigidly sitting in his seat. Getting the distinct feeling that he’d noticed I’d forgone makeup entirely, as well as worn low cut jeans and a black T-shirt with a skull and crossbones across the bust, I smirked. The shirt exposed my arms and revealed my tan skin: the one thing that those in charge did their best to hide.

Knowing there would be trouble, I couldn’t hide my glee. The best part was that Elena would be amongst her friends. She couldn’t complain about my appearance, lest she admit she didn’t have full control over me. And by the time I got into the store, all the paparazzi would have gotten photos. She wouldn’t be able to undo what I’d done.

If Teagan had any opinion on the matter, he kept it to himself as we rode the rest of the way in silence.

Once out of the car in the fashion district, he followed three feet behind me. But good Lord was he tall compared to when we’d last met. What worried me was the obviously hindering limp he walked with. It was new. All he did was shoot me a cold look as he caught me staring at his foot over my shoulder. Apparently it wasn’t my business what’d happened.

While I knew paparazzi cameras were likely catching me from every street corner, I gave them the satisfaction of waving at them. Made damn sure that they caught my appearance and would be buzzing about it. By the time it made it back to those in charge, their complaints would be too late.

Coming up on my mother’s group of friends, however, I was less than pleased as all eyes turned to me. They blinked like a bunch of wide-eyed owls. Elena stared with equal surprise, not expecting my different appearance.

The only appreciative face in the crowd was Haynesworth. Apparently having tagged along with his mother (and likely to suck up to mine to make her amenable with the idea of us marrying), his eyes raked down my frame with interest. I hadn’t expected him to be here, nor to see him in full dress uniform and armed. What was up with that?

His mother stared at me over her cat eye glasses. “Anna, dear? Did you get a tan?“

“My God, Anna, you look radiant,” Ryan said with exaggerated volume over his mother’s question. He kissed my hand, his eyes meeting mine alluringly. “Like the Fountain of Youth. No wonder Mother’s jealous.”

Gardenia Haynesworth sniffed with indignance at his quip, though not daring to rebuke her baby boy. Her eyes flashed in my direction. “Hardly. Shall we?”

Teagan nodded, adjusting his earpiece. “The store is all clear.”

Elena just stared, eyes squinted with aggravation at me as we headed in. Considering her friends were clearly envious over my appearance, she couldn’t protest like she sorely wanted to.

Much to my amusement, her eyes then traveled over Teagan instead. Apparently she’d forgotten about their prior mishap, especially as her eyes fell to his nether end.

Once inside the store, I did my best to disappear. Usually the women were terrible gossips so I made myself scarce. Teagan shadowed me from a polite distance, never taking his eyes off me. But as I picked up a hanger, I felt another presence sidle up behind me.

“I want to see you in that,” Ryan hissed in my ear, having managed to extricate himself from his mother. Following his gaze, I then spotted a floor length evening dress off to the side.

“Most men would,” I quipped, his breath tickling my neck. The fire engine red, formfitting gown with slits up both legs and a dropped neckline was obscenely suggestive.

He pressed a kiss to my neck. “Have you thought about my offer?”

“Not one way or the other,” I teased, slipping past him.

He caught me by the waist. “Ah, so I’ve yet to tempt you? What do I have to do?” he hissed in my ear, his teeth grazing the lobe. I shivered as he murmured, “Is my mother watching? I can feel her glare from here.”

Seeing Gardenia staring at me with disapproval, I just gulped. That was one thing I hadn’t factored in. If I played into this game, she’d be my potential mother-in-law. “Yes.”

I felt his lips pull into a smirk at my ear. “Wear the dress to dinner with me. I’m going to ask for your size…”

As he breezed past me, his hand lingering over my back, I just sighed. Now he was dressing me?

Catching Teagan’s eye, I was surprised to see them fixed on Haynsworth’s back as he left me. Seeing that I’d caught him glaring, he shot me a forced smile. Then I discovered why. “I see he’s staking claim…”

Turning to Elena as she prowled up behind me, I saw another martini in her hand. She jerked her head in a short nod. “Look, about yesterday…”

Was there remorse about nearly killing me with her lies? I looked away, not willing to rehash the obvious. “You need to stop with the drugs,” I murmured. “For your sake.”

“It should simply be noted that I’m not the one who decided on your diet,” she said crisply, taking a sip of her drink while she eyed my exposed skin. “I don’t care what you weigh or eat.”

Or if I lived apparently. She snorted, taking a sip. “We’re under pressure, Anna. We have our parts to play or else… The rebellion has strained everything on us, including your father’s position …”

Was that a thinly veiled warning? Before I could question her, she’d moved off and back to her friends. But a rebellion? This was news to me. Just what was going on out in the city? I wasn’t allowed access to television or internet, so I was in the dark.

Now I definitely had reason to go to dinner with Haynesworth; if only to interrogate him. As he sidled up to me, he murmured huskily, “It’s waiting for you, plus a few accoutrements to go with it…”

Deciding to oblige only to sate my own curiosity, I went to the dressing room. Less than thrilled to discover that he’d selected undergarments and that he’d already paid for them, I just changed.

Stepping out to go to the floor length mirror at the end of the dressing rooms, I frowned. While the gown was undeniably sexy, it made me feel like a hunk of meat.

Not paying much attention as a dressing room attendant strolled up behind me, I almost jumped as she asked, “Don’t like it?”

“Feel like a whore,” I muttered, turning and groaning at the back view. Mesh plunged right down to right over the small of my back. It seemed that Haynesworth wasn’t just dressing me, but also setting me up to go home with him at the end of the evening.

The woman clucked, leaning against the wall to watch me. “And how does that differ from your usual role, Aiyla? The Hacienda has made you into theirs…”

It was if a cold dose of water trickled down the back of my spine as she used my real name. The one unknown to anyone outside the manor’s walls.

Turning to face her, she didn’t move, though her eyes focused on me with an intensity that left me immobile. Now looking directly at her, I realized my first impression had been wrong. She didn’t work here. Her clothes didn’t quite fit with the employee code and the nametag must’ve been stolen. And I was cornered between her and the exit, seeing there was a blade sheathed at her hip.

The question was how she’d gotten past Teagan with him on guard in front of the dressing rooms. I cursed internally, realizing that my gun was in the stall I’d just vacated, leaving me defenseless.

“You got a reason for insulting me or is this just your way of trying to make friends?” I said, keeping my stance prepared in case she attacked. “You have a name?”

All she did was chuckle, cynically amused as she ignored the question. “The Lynx decided we ought to speak,” she murmured, crossing her legs as she remained against the wall. “We can see you’re not one of the traditional Elites…”

The Lynx? Last I checked, he personally reviled me. On the alert with her impromptu appearance, I merely asked, “And you’re who?”

“A friend of his,” she purred, amber eyes visible beneath the bangs of what I was sure was a black wig. “You see, you’re in a very special position. One that could help us. We need allies.”

I didn’t doubt that considering anyone who opposed the Elite’s regime was hunted mercilessly and executed. “For what?”

“The resistance,” she stated as if it were a no brainer. “We fight back against the corruption and tyranny. The Forge is no better than the Hacienda. The Lynx thinks you’re the one to help our cause. You’re obviously unhappy acting as a puppet for them to manipulate. With us you could become a voice to stop the endless violence. The police are of no help. Crime is rampant.”

That I knew, despite Ryan’s continued denial of there being a crime problem in the city. Still, I crossed my arms. “I think you have the wrong woman, lady. I have no standing to help you with.”

A fierce smile took over her features. “That’s what you think. But we’re willing to meet your price.”

Now I had a price? “That being?”

“We can get you out of the Hacienda… if you join us,” she said, dangling that lure in front of me. “We’ll be waiting when you’re ready.”

That had a very interesting spin to it. The question was how they knew I was dissatisfied with my current life. Nobody inside Elite’s circles would dare let on. There had to be a spy in the ordinance, parroting back information to those in the resistance, whomever they might be.

“And if I’m never ready?” I asked cautiously.

“Then you’ll get what’s coming to you…”

As she backed away and headed into one of the dressing room stalls, I officially lost my temper. Following her to give her a piece of my mind and peering in the stall, the hairs on the back of my neck rose higher. It was deserted. Empty as if she’d never been there in the first place.

All but fleeing from the area since I knew I was exposed, I nearly crashed into Teagan and Haynesworth. They were nose to nose in the entranceway, Teagan snarling, “She’s not a toy to play with. Back off!”

“And if I don’t?!” Haynesworth sneered, jabbing him in the chest.

 “There’s someone in there!” I sputtered out, tripping on the hem of the dress in the process. Teagan caught me as I nearly fell, shunting me back to Haynesworth as he perceived the danger. “Threatened me-“

Not hesitating, he drew his weapon. “Keep her back.”

If Ryan resented being ordered around, he didn’t let on as he shielded me; hands twitching toward his own weapon. I watched as Teagan headed around the corner, gun first.

All I could do was shiver, the sound of silence pervading over our rapid breathing. Blood crashed around in my ears, realizing that I’d been caught severely unaware. If the resistance was looking for my help, then they were likely planning on waging a war. One that I’d likely be a casualty of when they struck… if I didn’t ally myself with them. The question was who the Forge was, the other unknown mentioned party.

After a minute, Teagan called back from beyond our view, “All clear. Signal your security to sweep the premises. There’s a ceiling vent open, so they got in through the air system. Get her out of here!”

As I huffed out in relief that Teagan was safe, Ryan’s expression set into anger, ushering me from the premises before one more word could be uttered.

For now, I was secure. Nevertheless, for the future a new enemy had set its sights on me. The Lynx had made it clear I had a choice to make. One that could cost me my life if I didn’t comply.

On the other end of the spectrum, if I went along with any demands, I’d be murdered for sure. I didn’t doubt for a second that if I went against the hierarchy controlling my father, they’d take me out.

I now had an absolute bullseye painted on my forehead no matter what path I chose. With three opposing sides apparently out there, I was neatly cornered in between them.

“Don’t worry. We’ll keep you safe,” Ryan crooned to me as he helped me into the limo, mistaking my anxiety for the fact that I’d been cornered. He patted my hand as the car started. “Nothing to worry about at all…”

Oh, yes. Nothing at all.

I wanted to scream.

Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

Things are definitely starting to heat up in Dejado Atrás! Any predictions about Aiyla’s sudden visitor? Or perhaps why her health issues were hidden? And the proposal! You’ll have to wait ’till next week to find out!

Love and hugs to you all, Maggie Lynn

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Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell Part 6 – Poison

Hello dear reader! Here’s to hoping that your weekend finds you healthy and safe. We’re all in this together and I will keep praying for you all.

Without further ado, here’s the much anticipated chapter six of Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell. If you haven’t been reading along every week, here’s a directory of the previous chapters.

Otherwise enjoy!

The tone of the story takes a disastrous turn this week, so make sure to read to the end…

Reader discretion is advised


Part Five: Poison

The afterglow of Kit’s midnight visit was soon gone as I lay on my couch the next afternoon. As usual for every Saturday, my overly coiffed shrink droned on and on from my armchair.

I only tuned in every two minutes. Every three days he was here invading my suite, insisting I have a session whether I needed it or not. And today, like most visits, I tended toward not.

“How did it make you feel?” he asked me finally, having ended his dirge about how stress could lower my ability to cope with life. He twirled a pencil between his fingers; not overly interested in my responses.

“Watching the contestants die?” I asked incredulously. He nodded with all seriousness, so I said with open venom, “Like any compassionate human being: horrible. Appalled.“

“Sad? Defeated?”

“I don’t need anti-depressants,” I drawled, knowing where he was heading with the question.

His eyebrows went up over his glasses, his glazed blue eyes completely blank. “Never said you did. However, you rarely speak of things that bring joy to your life. I’ve noted your hostility toward me. It indicates you’re still angry over my appointment as your personal emotional coach.”

Aggravated that Elena hired someone to ‘coach’ my emotions? Hell yes. I rolled my eyes. “You’re paid to listen to me whine. As for my disdain, you represent my biggest problem,” I said, sorely missing my punching bag and thinking that Dr. Breezeman would make a mighty fine replacement for it. “There’s only one damn emotional issue that I have and it’s lack of control! And you know damn well you can’t fix that, yet you charge six hundred an hour to sate my mother’s whims!“

“Yes. Let it all out,” he crooned with apparent boredom, only adding gasoline to the already brewing fire. “Bottling up your anger-“

“My punching bag gets better results than you do!” I bellowed. “You know what I want?! To have a piece of cheesecake whenever I damn well please, despite my mother’s vicarious anorexia!”

“Good, Anna. Keep going.“

“And to… to…” I puttered out as I saw him watching his phone, not paying the slightest attention to me as he played a game. Deflating, I turned to the open balcony. “Want to run away.”

As my voice faded, my shoulders drooped forward. It was true. I longed to run, to head back to the small village of Cataluacan on the edge of the city where I attended the private boarding school. It was so quiet there. So peaceful. Every part of me belonged there, even down to my bronzy skin.

The times I had spent with my aunt there were lost to me, but the memories were enough to remind me that there had been a time when life had been pleasant. All that changed with her death.

The wonder doc didn’t notice my change in tone, instead adding, “Well, judging by your newfound frustration, I’m going to suggest you take up meditation and remove sugar from your diet.“

I didn’t have sugar in my diet. I’d complained about that to him fifteen minutes ago.

“And add two more sessions a week,” he added, scribbling on his notepad as if it’d verify his obvious attempt to squeeze extra change out of my parents. “You need to get out more. Your mother worries since you never go out with your friends.“

“They’re not friends. They want to be on TV,” I said hollowly, feeling worse with his every word. I had no friends.

“And you never date,” he continued, oblivious to my true suffering. I didn’t even bother to turn to him as he droned, “Sex is important for a healthy constitution. I think you need a boyfriend.”

“No doubt my mother has a chosen candidate,” I muttered.

“A vibrator can only do so much-“

Whoa Nelly. I looked over my shoulder, beyond flabbergasted with that declaration. “I don’t have one, though I’m sure Elena can attest to their benefits considering how overly ‘fond’ she is of my father.“

“We worry that you’ll develop unwarranted attachments,” he said, clasping his hands together and missing my sarcasm completely. “Depression can play tricks with the mind.”

“Oh, I get it. Mother was embarrassed by my saving Kit, so she’s interpreted it as I must be desperate for male attention,” I snapped, crossing my arms. “So she’s sent you to parrot her ‘concerns’ to me.”

 He stopped, not sure what to say since I’d hit the issue straight on the head. Breezeman pursed his lips, his spine straightening. Then he smiled. “Perhaps you should consider setting more realistic, attainable goals. You’d be happier.”

Oh, this son of a gun was something else. My eyes narrowed into slits. “Attainable?”

“If you live by the standards you are given instead of the ones you set for yourself, I am sure complacency will come to you,” he said with the warmth of a robot. His smile was pure plastic. “Then joy as you discover that your limitations aren’t restrictions at all, but mere constraints you’ve placed upon yourself. You could try to enjoy time with the men who are compatible with your political status.”

I sat on the couch, crossing my legs to him. “You mean give up the idea of finding a man who loves me and settle with being the perfect wife… no matter how I’m treated.”

“Precisely,” he said in a tone as if I was a toddler, putting his hands up. “If you set your sights on what you can have, then you won’t resent what you can’t.”

“So to give in and give up hope is to find ‘happiness’?”

“You speak as if it’s a bad thing,” he chirped reproachfully. “You know so little of this world, Anna. Who taught you such foolish notions? Such falsities? Life is balance. Think of the people in jails or on the streets. They set their sights on the unattainable as well. If they hadn’t, they’d still be happy.“

“Yes. Happily ignorant of all the drug lords, crime and poverty,” I said in an acquiescing, mindlessly sweet tone as if to agree with him. One that didn’t at all match the oozing sarcasm in my words.

“Precisely,” he agreed. Then I watched as his brain backtracked, realizing what he’d acceded to. “Oh, no. I meant-“

“Yes, what did you mean?” I hissed with contempt.

His mouth set in a hard line. “Our session is done for today. Again, meditation, no sugar, and-“

“Sex?” I said flatly, already dismissing him. My brainwashing session had ended yet again without success. As he got up and headed for the door, all huffy over my easily outwitting him for the umpteenth time, I decided to dig it in even more. I called liltingly after him, “And, doc? Whatever medication it is you’re personally on, might wanna lower the dose. You’re losing your edge…”

The door slammed in response. Point one for me. Probably temporarily since he’d tattle on my belligerence, but I didn’t care. But as a voice floated in from the direction of the balcony, I jumped.

“See, senorita? My attention is now doctor prescribed,” Kit called down from above, apparently having been eavesdropping. But as a pillowcase dropped down to my balcony, I sat up. “Catch you later, querida. Gotta go to some ridiculous luncheon…“

Despite my internal curiosity about what was in the bag, I refused to move. “I don’t take kindly to spying,” I projected forbiddingly.

He snickered in response. “Sure you do. Hasta leugo, chica.”

A white wildflower dropped from above, landing on the pillowcase. His footsteps and the sound of a door shutting overhead proved to me that he’d gone. Unable to quell my curiosity anymore, I headed over. Inside the pillowcase I was astounded to discover a care package: foot soak, gel shoe pads, some candies, bandages and a clove of garlic.

Garlic? Then I spotted the note at the bottom of the bag, scrawled in barely legible handwriting.    

Couldn’t get the cheesecake, but I’ll try for later when I get our dinner. Adios, Aiyla. P.S., I’m all up for the doctor’s orders. A healthy constitution is very important…


Sitting back with a smile, I stopped myself as I realized he was getting to me. And I couldn’t let myself get attached. Any day now, he would be dead. Either way, the question was how he’d gotten these items. He must’ve gotten out of the manor somehow. The question was how he was sneaking past the security teams. Lucky bastard. Maybe I could get him to teach me how he’d escaped.

All the same, I couldn’t stop myself from taking the wildflower with me after stuffing the items in my night table. Its scent was comforting; simple and soothing unlike my usual surroundings.

Replaying the words of the shrink, I shuddered at the idea of settling with a man of my parents’ choosing. All the men they’d set me up with so far were greedy and one dimensional. Either they’d wanted my body or the status that came with it.

The dates with them had left me empty and dead, especially after a few spent the night with me. Whether I wanted to sleep with them or not wasn’t in question. It was just expected.

In some small way, I envied Kit. For whatever reason, he had chosen to come here. It was his choice, odd as it was. Stupid, but a choice all the same. It left me wondering what his life was like and why he’d come. Was probable death and a slim chance of survival really more preferable? What were his motives?

As Tiny came tromping in to announce that father wanted to see me, I had no further time to consider it. Within two minutes, I was in his office. As I stepped into the mahogany-trimmed room, he looked up from his desk. “Anna, don’t you look radiant! I take it the treatments are working?”

Color me weirded out. His greying hair was disheveled; his reading glasses askew as if he’d been roughed up. And perhaps he had been. I never was kept abreast of how the elite hierarchy felt over the things he did. All I knew was sometimes they were pleased; other times violently unimpressed.

As he stared, expecting an answer, I just stared at the floor before sitting. “I think you’ve got me mixed up with Elena since she gets Botox.”

He nodded, not altogether interested in my response as he removed his glasses and sighed. “You know, darling, I don’t think you know how appreciated you are. I know how tiring it is for you to go through the Tourney, but it does such good for the city. They adore you.”

Yes. Right. I cleared my throat. “Be that as it may I don’t understand why my proposal of reading at the library was rejected.”

He clasped his hands together as if the answer were obvious. “Literacy is something we really don’t want to flaunt in citizens’ faces. It’s not socially economical. In the trade schools the curriculums are focused on how to make a living; not skills unnecessary to good citizenship. Reading is a luxury, not that you’d know.”

“The general populace is illiterate?” I snapped, knowing that was a blatant lie. “Then why are there libraries?”

“For the older generations who are able to read. But for the newer generations, the need for them will decline and they’ll be phased out. Social gathering places will take over the former library space, lessening the need for new construction.”

Holy hell. They were getting rid of libraries?

“So you can see how reading to the children would be a bad idea,” he said, absentmindedly checking his phone. “It would unfairly set their hopes on the unattainable.”


He lit up, pleased with the question. “Yes. Part of my new published manifesto called Attainable Sustainability: Guidelines for Good Citizenship. You weren’t given a copy?”

I smiled without humor. “I believe my psychiatrist must’ve been given an advance copy.”

The sniveling rat bastard shrink. Now he was trying to quote ‘manifestos’ to me?

Father nodded, eyes filled with nothing but pride at his own work, even though it sounded like something straight out of Communist China. With every passing moment, I couldn’t believe how deluded he was. He believed his every word. “Yes, I’d heard you were seeing one. Your mother told me you’ve been so stressed that you were overeating.”

I let out an indignant sniff. “Overeating constitutes consuming a cheese cube in her eyes.”

As his phone rang and he answered jovially, I peered over at what I could only guess was the manifesto. Just reading the table of contents, I was less than impressed that the scientists were now insisting it was good for the city to eat less. Less waste, less greenhouse gas. And morbidly, in my own brain, I added that if everyone starved to death, there’d be less ‘global warming’ as well.

As he hung up, I just rolled my eyes as I read through it. “Where do you get the scientists to back this crap up?” As his expression soured, I muttered, “I’m not ignorant. If you wanted me to be, you should have sent me to one of the ‘good citizen’ schools. And even then, we both know the students enrolled there won’t believe it either.”  

Father sighed, brushing back his hair. Opaque, hazel eyes met mine. “It’s good for them, dear. It helps their mental state and provides incentive. If they strive to be a good enough citizen, they can be like you.”

No wonder they all hated me. I’d been made into Dejado Atrás’ own personal Marie Antoinette. “That’s what they’re fed?”

He nodded. “With hard work they can attain rewards as part of the new point system. Doing things like picking up refuse can earn them points towards experiences such as designer shopping, concerts –“

“Don’t points count toward food?” I interrupted with open incredulousness. The city had no food stamp programs as it was.

“Of course. They can be redeemed at five-star restaurants once they reach certain point values,” he said as if offended by the question.

“And how many pieces of trash would that take?!”

His brow furrowed. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask my advisors. I came up with the idea of sustainability; they came up with the details. Either way, the Tourney will be over soon so the stress will be gone. I was surprised how into it your mother was this time. She even came up with one of the challenges.”

That got my immediate attention. “Did she really?”

“Yes! Brilliant actually – testing the contestants’ etiquette,” he mused, scratching his chin. “To see who knows the difference between the course cutlery. You know, all the different utensils. That even sometimes confuses me as well…”

Alarms were going off in my head. Somehow I very much doubted that Kit would know the difference between a shrimp and a salad fork. “And if they don’t know?”

He shrugged, unbothered by the idea. “Poison, I think. I’m not sure. I mean, if you’re that curious turn on the TV –“

I leapt to my feet with such force that my chair fell backward. “The challenge is now?!”

“Yes. More contestants survived the initial round than anticipated, so I obliged her and added another event,” he said, going back to his paperwork. “Elena was delighted her idea was included –“

I didn’t listen to any more of his prattling as I practically flew out of the room. All I could do was pray that the event hadn’t yet started. Kit had said he was headed to a luncheon, so I doubted he had a clue what lay ahead.

As I came across Tiny in the next hall down, I demanded, “Where is the next challenge taking place?”

“The guest dining room,” she replied dismissively while staring at her planner, most likely preparing to go into a dirge about the rest of my day. “You have an appointment with – where are you going?!”

Not waiting for her to follow, I took off up the stairs. The dread settling into my gut was noxious, knowing in my soul that Elena’s stroke of genius was directly aimed at Kit.

The other competitors were wealthy enough to have dined in more upscale establishments. Elena knew that in a challenge like this, Kit would be at a severe disadvantage. And with the irreverent way he stuffed himself with Chinese food last night, I very much doubted that propriety was something he ever thought about.

He was as good as dead.

Skidding around the corner in my slippers, I came upon the scene. TV crew members were watching monitors; the screens displaying the room beyond us where all the competitors were seated and filmed by hidden cameras. Double doors separated me from getting in to where they were gathered around a dining room table.

As I tried to dash through, one of the directors stepped in my way. “Sorry, the challenge is already underway. No one is allowed in.”

“You don’t understand,” I begged, putting my hands up to him. “I’m supposed to be –“

All I could do was watch the monitors as he shunted me aside, knowing I’d been too late. Two burly security men stood in my way. There was no way I was getting in, even if I fought them.

The contestants were seated at a table in the room beyond us, penguin-like servers placing steaming bowls of soup in front of them. As the waiters politely bowed and took their leave, the contestants looked at the cutlery and then at each other. It was damn obvious that none of them knew it was a challenge. No rules had been explained. None of them knew of the silent danger.

Bewilderment ran up and down the table.

Kit stared at his place setting dubiously, making my heart sink further. Six spoons rested in front of him, much like the other contestants’ place settings. My guess was that the poison lay on all the spoons except the soup spoon. The only difference between his place setting and the other contestants’ was a paper coffee cup that he must’ve brought with him into the luncheon.

He picked up one of the spoons and raised an eyebrow. “Just how many courses do you people eat with spoons?”

The reality star wannabe blew over her bowl, trying to cool the contents. “They’re for the pallet cleansers, salad, coffee and desserts.”

Kit just rolled his eyes, loosening his tie. “Like they actually eat that much. Anna sure as hell doesn’t.”

Getting no response as the others proceeded to eat, Kit just sat back and watched as they each picked up their choice of spoons. Only one of the others picked the wrong utensil: the deceptively similar salad spoon.

I inhaled sharply, knowing that the blonde-haired fellow had just signed his death certificate. “Oh, no…”

But as Kit likewise picked up the wrong one, I abandoned decorum. I rushed to get to the door, but the nearest of the two security men stopped me. “Sorry, miss. You’re not allowed in.”

Unlike most on the security team, there was only sympathy in this man’s eyes. He knew what was happening beyond the doors. But while he felt sorry over my panic, he wouldn’t jeopardize his job.

I turned away, looking back to the screen.

Kit was still watching the others… and strangely his own bowl as well. Then he shrugged. “Eh, to hell with it.”

There were no words for the relief I felt as he proceeded to pick up his paper coffee cup and emptied it into the houseplant behind him. To the mounting incredulity of his fellow competitors, he picked up his bowl of tomato soup and carefully poured it into the cup.

“What on earth are you doing?!” the one with the wrong spoon demanded, completely scandalized.

Kit merely snickered, cheekily toasting the cup at him. “I’m one of those people who can’t seem to eat without spilling it down their front. Better to appear impolite than an outright slob. This isn’t my dress shirt, so don’t wanna ruin it.”

“Yes. It’s not like you could afford one of your own,” the reality star wannabe scoffed hatefully, sipping at her spoonful of soup and dabbing at her lips with a napkin.

Kit just stared at her, nose wrinkled with distaste. “You know, you may not have one, but I think you still suffer from ‘little dick’ syndrome. All you do is bitch and complain. And there ain’t no amount of money that makes a man interested in that kind of an attitude, even though you’ve bought yourself a bigger set of…”

As he took a sip from the cup and gestured at her ample chest as it bulged out of her low-cut shirt, the rest of the competitors cackled. The ‘set’ in question swelled with indignance. “I’m a lesbian!”

“Didn’t seem that way when you came on to me yesterday,” Kit said with complete irreverence, taking another taste of his soup before putting it down. He rolled it around in his mouth for a few seconds before muttering. “Needs some spice. Everything served here is so bland.“

The blonde-haired man snapped as if personally insulted, “You’re out of your depth here, Joe.”

Apparently used to getting lip from the other contestants, Kit merely replied with snark, “So says the only one in the room eating with a different spoon. Either you’re out of your own depth or your snot has gotten bigger than your nose.”

Interrupting what I was sure was going to be an epic argument, a loud ping sounded as one of the others accidently dropped their spoon on the floor. Rather than stop eating, he simply picked up another spoon from his settings. I groaned as I realized the body count was up to a solid two and this time because of a mere accident on the man’s part.

From the camera angle, it looked as if Kit’d completely confused the reality star by the mention of snot. She stared at him without comprehension. “What?”

Kit smiled all the wider. The grin quickly faded as he looked at the blonde fellow across from him with concern, having noticed his state. “You okay, man? You’ve gone awfully pale.“

I put a hand to my mouth as the fellow started choking, dropping the spoonful that’d been poised at his lips. The dance with death had begun, the toxin finally hitting him. Spittle foamed at his mouth, letting everyone know that he wasn’t just choking on his food. Expressions of alarm ran down the table, realizing something was very wrong.

Despite the pervading panic, Kit jumped up and ran around the table to help. He prepared to thump the dying fellow on the back to clear his airways, but was already too late.

Before he could, the man fell forward and faceplanted in his bowl. Red liquid sloshed and splashed on the table, almost like blood on the white tablecloth.

All parties froze, however, as a second man down the table started sputtering as well; the one who’d dropped his spoon. I just shook my head, knowing that his demise was likewise sealed.  

“Poison,” the reality star wannabe whispered, dropping her spoon; never having moved to help either of them.

Kit took one wary look around the table and then at his cup before promptly sticking his finger far into his mouth. Doing the smart thing to save himself by provoking his gag reflex, he bent over and vomited into the potted plant behind him. He retched a few times, ignoring the others as they freaked out.

I just shook my head as the second man died, this time with a less dramatic death. His eyes just went vacant and he stopped breathing, going limp in his chair.

Kit stood up straight and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, eyeing the two of them with revulsion. He flinched as the announcer hosting the games came through the opposite set of double doors, having been waiting for his cue. Two cameramen followed him.

Done up much like the day previous in a suit and tie, he grinned as he held his microphone up to his mouth. “Congratulations! You have all advanced to the third round-“

“Not all of us,” Kit muttered in an undertone, still eyeing the nearest dead contestant. He looked around wildly, running a hand through his hair. “Son of a bitch-“

“This was a challenge?!” the wannabe roared at the announcer, throwing her napkin at him with ill temper.

He nodded solemnly, though with the slightest touch of glee at her outrage. Messy, emotional performances always equaled good ratings with television viewers. “Indeed. You know your table etiquette to a tee and chose the correct spoons!” Not bothering to listen to her response, he turned to the camera. “Thanks to our sponsors –“

“My God. Not even eating is safe anymore!” Kit projected loudly over him, staring around with horror. “Ay dios mio!”

“Have a great rest of the day, citizens,” the announcer unsuccessfully tried to continue.

Mi auntie can’t say being a slob is such a bad thing anymore,” Kit said to himself as he stared around, seeming unaware that he was drowning out the attempts of the host. “Geez! Saved my life –“

“Make sure to tune in to the next challenge. Ciao for now and see you soon!” the host proclaimed over him, winking at the camera as it cut. As soon as the feed was off, the announcer shot Kit a dirty look and stomped out.

No longer under any obligation, the security men did nothing to stop me as I barged past and threw open the double doors of the room. Seeing Kit checking the pulse of the expired man, I asked weakly, “Is he-?”

He nodded somberly, gently pushing the fellow’s eyelids down and murmuring a prayer over him. “Oh, yeah. He’s a goner.”

As I bowed my head, I was startled as I was poked hard in the chest. Discovering that the reality star wannabe had gotten up in my face, I skittered back.

“Did you know about this?!” she screeched at me, following after me with fury as I backed up. Her crazy eyes warned me that something in her had just snapped and that I was about to be her scapegoat. “You could have warned me!”

“The event was arranged this morning without anyone telling me-“

A screech so shrill came out of her that I jumped and nearly slid on the hardwood floor in my slippers. Her hands formed into claw-like fists. “I could have died, you miserable –“

As I opened my mouth to defend myself, I was more than shocked as she went to wallop me. Before the two security men could get to her, however, Kit ever so helpfully snagged her by the back of her shirt.

As she tried to whirl around and hit him, he held her in place without effort. “Knock it off. She didn’t know.”

“Of course you’d believe that!” she screeched, trying to elbow him.

“Look at her. If they wanted her here, she would’ve been done up with makeup and all that,” Kit said, unbothered by her fury and releasing her as she waved a fist in his face.

Altogether unbothered as she and the others as the filed out, their reactions varying between anger and unease at the deaths, Kit stood in front of me. I just crossed my arms, biting my lip. “They wouldn’t let me in.”

He nodded, scratching his head before looking back at the other two victims. “I can believe it. You must have had ditched your-“

“There you are!”

Tiny stomped in, floor shaking under her weight, apparently having finally located me. Kit shot Tiny a sardonic a look, deliberately edging away from her. “Speaking of…”

“You missed your social call with the senator’s daughter!” she thundered at me, seething with aggravation and her hair on end from running around. Waving the planner in my face, she snarled, “It screwed up my whole schedule!”

I squared my chin, not in the mood to deal with her typical tantrum. “Be that as it may, I need a few minutes to collect my thoughts.”

“Give her a minute; eh, chica? She’s just upset,” Kit agreed with diplomacy, shooting Tiny a winning smile and turning on the charm to back me up.

That charm faded as Tiny snapped back viciously, “You shut up, wetback! You’ve caused enough trouble!”

That was it. I saw red.

Between her obliviousness to the bodies being carted out of the room and the ill-timed slur, I was ready to explode. While Kit’s expression veered into resentment, there was also a hint of resignation. He was used to taunts and degradation.

I nabbed Tiny by the collar of her shirt, shocking her completely. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll apologize, cancel the rest of my afternoon and get the hell out of my face!” I snarled, snatching her planner and throwing it. Papers fluttered down around us like snow, scattering across the floor.

Her eyes bulged out with defiance. “You have no authority –“

“Unless you want a well-deserved fist in the mouth,” I hissed, towering over as she puffed up, “you’ll apologize to him! I’m at the end of my rope, my patience and Lord knows my tolerance!”

Tiny just stared at me silently, her dark eyes narrowing into ferociously dangerous slits before nodding to concede.

Releasing her, it seemed my victory was too soon and too easy.

To my dismay, instead of doing as ordered, she pulled a small bottle out of her pocket. Snatching my hand, she poured out two white pills on my palm. “Swallow them,” she ordered, thrusting my hand toward my face.

“What are these?” I asked warily, not knowing where this tactic had come from. Kit likewise eyed them, not expecting this move. He looked between the two of us, not sure whether to intervene or not.  

“Sedatives. Your psychologist prescribed them as an emergency after yesterday’s behavior. Swallow them or your mother will be notified,” she said with a cat-like quality, believing she had neatly defeated my attempt at dominance.

If I took on her dare and refused, Elena would likely decide I needed full-time monitoring and medication. Either that or a stint at ‘rehab’, the place where celebrities were sent to be remodeled into whatever their handlers wanted.

My outburst had just potentially cost me a great deal. Looking at the pills, a plan formed in my mind. Bowing my head, I popped them in my mouth and pretended to swallow.

Kit protested, trying to stop me but he was too late.

With her request met, Tiny smiled with vile satisfaction. “Good,” she praised, almost like I was a dog she was trying to train. “Now go to your room and take a rest.”

Not bothering to give her a reply, I trudged out. Kit followed, eyeing me worriedly. “What the ‘ell-?”

Rounding the next corner and out of Tiny’s view, I spat the pills in the nearest vase. I spat a second time to get rid of the foul taste that’d worked into my throat. As I straightened, Kit stood in front of me. His eyebrows formed into an angry ‘V’ shape as he demanded, “They drug you?”

“Not like this,” I admitted, gesturing for him to follow as I headed toward my area of the house. He followed close by my side as I muttered, “My attempt to help you has cost me more than you realize. Usually they try to get me to drink. Are you hungry?”

“Er, yes and no,” he said, watching me worriedly and shrugged. “I’m not particularly eager to eat ‘inhouse’ again, so to speak and for obvious reasons…”

“I can get you something. They won’t spike it if it’s ordered in my name,” I said, trying not to gag at the horrible metallic aftertaste from the pills.  

“Yeah, but won’t your mother get mad if you order two meals?”

“I won’t be ordering a second meal,” I admitted, heading down the stairs.

Kit’s lips parted to protest at the idea of my giving up a meal for him and he tried to follow me, but I put hand up. “You’re not allowed down in this area. Wait until I bring it to you. Room above mine, right?”

His expression turned inscrutable as I headed down, though he kept muttering mutinously after me. I ignored him until I was inside my suite and then sagged against the door.

The oddest feeling was seeping into my veins, almost like they were turning to ice. A chill that only made me grow more anxious came over me. Never having had sedatives before, I shrugged the feeling off. Perhaps it was a normal side effect since I was sure a slight bit of the pills had made it into my body.

Speaking into the AI command system to send an order to the kitchen,  I muttered faintly, “Send a sandwich plus a coffee.”

Hanging up, I was apprehensive as to why my world was starting to spin. Putting my hand on my desk to steady myself, the walls were moving as if they were live snakes. I blinked, trying to clear my vision as my knees weakened. Unable to fight it, I started to sink to the floor.

Forestalling me, however, hands caught me.

“Whoa, chica. Easy,” Kit’s voice murmured in my ear, his likely having come down via the balcony again. My attempt to reply was less than easy as I started to feel as though my chest was being compressed. “Do you need some juice? Hypoglycemic?”

As he helped me over to the nearby chair, I shook my head; trying not to lose myself in my growing panic. “I think … some of the medication got in my system. They were powdery…”

Kit’s worried expression swam in front of my eyes as he squatted in front of me. “If that’s the case, I think she gave you too high a dose. Your eyes are all dilated…”

My vision was the least of my problems as the pressure in my chest increased, leaving me to pant for air.  “Something wrong. Hard to breathe – need to call – “

His expression turned to dismay as he stood, looking toward the entrance of my suite and unwilling to leave me to get help. “Somebody get in here! We need help!”

My vision blurred out as I snatched the cell phone in my pocket, dialing for Mortimer. My hands shook as I waited for it to connect. As I heard the line click, I whispered through my constricting throat, “Mortimer… need help. I think… I think…”

As my hand went numb, my arm dropped to my side and the phone slipped through my fingers.

Everything was moving in slow motion; whites, reds and blacks moving more brightly in my eyes. It was like a kaleidoscope of color; grotesque chaos spinning in my mind.

Kit caught me before I could fall, steadying me and trying to get me to look at him. He shook me gently as I failed to respond. “Chica, you still with me? Aiyla? Aiyla?!”

As my eyes began to drift closed, my heart felt as if it’d stop it was beating so fast. Being dragged away from my own body, all I could try to do was breathe. And even at that, I was failing, the motion growing harder by the second.

“Come on, stay with me,” Kit’s frightened voice pleaded as the sound of many footsteps crashed in my ears. All at once, the sound of shouting converged on us as security arrived. Questions were being asked, the men radioing for backup as they discovered the scene.

“Kit?” I wheezed, sensation fading from my limbs.

“Just keep breathing,” he begged me, the feeling of a hand on my cheek trying to rouse me. “Keep holding on!”

But I couldn’t assure him. I slipped away like the ebb of a dwindling tide, far away from the world I knew.

In an instant I was gone, dragged under the crimson surge.

Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

And that’s it for this weeks chapter! Left you on a bit of a cliffhanger here, so make sure to comment your predictions. Yes, I’m a very mean author making you wait until next week to see what happens to our protagonist miss Aiyla, but maybe if you comment your support, I’ll release snippets early!

Thanks for keeping up so far with the story! You’re awesome!

And make sure to pick up your copy of DIVIDE before you go this week! Instead of my usual gift offering of Still Death, I thought I’d mix it up for you guys!

This week the short story received a bit of a makeover since I redid the cover, so I thought you’d like to celebrate with me. This gift is in limited to the first fifty people, so make sure to claim it before the deal is gone!

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell | Part 5 – Splash Dunk

Hello dear reader! Here’s to hoping that your Friday is going off without a hitch. Without further ado, here’s chapter five of Del Muerta. If you haven’t been reading along every week, here’s a directory of the previous chapters. Otherwise enjoy!

Chapter Five – Splash Dunk

The congratulatory dinner was going swimmingly for those who cared about its success. Father was still raving about the ratings from the TV stations’ broadcasts.

The dance floor oversaw the entire hall, letting me see all the VIPs who turned up for the event. Twenty round tables lay before us, all lit by dim candles. The string quartet in the corner played a mournfully boring tune. Everyone who was somebody (or wanted to be), was here; the height of the social season.

I wanted to gouge all their eyeballs out. Between all the fake laughter and the congratulations over what a ‘glorious event’ it’d been, I was ready to commit a massacre.

Elena was still drugged out of her mind over in the corner. Though this time it was sedatives making her drugged, not the cocaine she’d snorted between commercial breaks.  

I grimaced as I waltzed with Haynesworth, willing my pain to go away. My hands and knees were still throbbing with pain from earlier. Like the games, this dinner was televised. A few pop stars had performed already, doing some elaborate, ritual-like dance numbers that made me even more sick on the inside.

My anger was starting to wear off again.  Now I was just emotionally wrecked. I stared straight ahead as we danced, without seeing what was in front of me. But I blinked as I realized that Haynesworth had spoken to me.

He leaned down and hissed in my ear, seeing that I hadn’t been paying attention. “I said you look marvelous in that color.”

Was it bad that I couldn’t remember what color I was wearing?

Since I was practically tottering along because of my heavily blistered feet, he kept one eye on me. “I wasn’t kidding,” he said, his eyes glinting mischievously. “You look like an angel.“

“A pained angel,” I grumbled, avoiding his eyes as his hand tightened on my waist.

Haynesworth chuckled, reeling me in closer. He knew all eyes were on us and he was quite obviously enjoying that fact. “Relax. You seem tense.”

“You wonder why?” I hissed back, wincing with every step. “My mother is stoned, Father is drunk, and I’m…”

“Stuck sober?” he chuckled, starting to annoy me. He seemed scarcely aware of my pain, continuing with, “But a vision of fashion and the envy of every woman in the room.” When I didn’t reply, he tried to further cheer me by adding, “All the cameras are on you. Smile.”

I did, feeling like it was more of a snarl than anything. Faces whirled by as we waltzed, Haynesworth dipping me to the floor. But that was where my tolerance ended. The boning of the dress dug into my side, making me cringe. He noticed as he righted me, seeing my pained expression. “Something wrong?”

“Just need to get to bed,” I said truthfully, patting his chest and stepping back.

He merely smirked in response. “Care for me to join you?”

All I could do was stare at him, beyond the ability to respond with any emotion. I gave up trying to think of a response and just shrugged. “G’night.”

Heading for the door, I didn’t care who’d try to stop me this time. I needed an out before I fell apart. Fortunately for me, no one tried.

The doormen opened the double doors for me as I headed toward the private area of the hacienda where no one but the family was allowed. In two minutes I was there, beyond the eyes of those at the event.

Finally able to breathe without an audience, I slipped my shoes off and hobbled up the curved staircase. Before I could make it far, I heard a voice call out after me. “Is that squid always like that?”

Turning back wearily, I discovered Kit behind me on the bottom step. He leaned up against the railing with a snicker, clad in an ill-fitting suit. “Yeah, they didn’t expect me to make it, so they lent me this penguin suit last minute. But that slick-ass police guy is as slimy as they come.” He rolled his eyes, hands stuck in his pockets. “Anyone can see you were miserable, yet he dragged you around the dance floor like a ragdoll.“

If it were any other day, I’d have been morbidly amused by his commentary. But for now, I sighed and shifted my shoes to my other hand. “I need to get to bed, Kit.”

He smiled with lopsided sadness. “Sure. I’d planned to ask you to salsa with me but then I saw how pained you were. But we need to talk.“

“I can’t,” I said flatly, turning to go. But I paused, murmuring back to him over my shoulder. “I’m glad you survived.”

Kit nodded, his playful exasperation fading. “Si. But you’re still thinking of those who didn’t. I can see it. Go take care of your feet.”

Before one more word could be said, he headed for the staff stairway. That meant they must’ve been housing the competitors somewhere in house and on premises. I should’ve remembered that they’d done that with the other competitions, but I hadn’t cared enough about it to keep it in mind.

Heading up to my room, I sighed as I made it in the door to my suite. If it were any other evening, I’d be giving my punching bag another round of beating. But after today, all I wanted was a bath to force my muscles to unlock from all the stress. Quickly stripping off my dress, then lingerie which included a full corset, I threw them on the bed. I ran the bath as I let my hair down and removed my makeup.

Once the majority of it was gone, I sank into the enormous whirlpool tub. The water was soothingly warm, though my scrapes stung. Giving in to the urge, I ducked under the surface and held my breath. Hopefully it’d permeate the hairspray.

Surfacing, I took in a deep breath and sat up. As I leaned back against the wall of the tub, I had a near heart attack as a voice sounded from next to me.

“You know…” Kit said from his perch on the edge of the tub. I hastily dunked my body below the water in alarm and covered my breasts with my arms. He met my eyes with some humor, continuing, “I think I’m starting to get why you’re so uptight. That corset inside on your bed isn’t meant to enhance. It’s meant to flatten what all designers hate and every man ogles.”

He kept speaking even as I sputtered, looking around wildly to figure out where the hell he’d come from. “How did you get in here?!”

“Same way I got through the maze unscathed,” he said with some smugness, wiggling his eyebrows. “I know you wondered why I chose ropes instead of weapons…”

“You shouldn’t be in here!”

“Probably,” he admitted with a shrug before gesturing back out at the bedroom. “But I came with a peace offering since I saw your poor excuse of a meal earlier. They served me the equivalent of a last supper, anything I wanted before the event, so I asked for Chinese.”

He chuckled, sitting forward over the tub’s edge as I glared at him. “I have a good sampling of leftovers so you can choose what you want. I stuck them all in the microwave before I came down.” Before I could stop him, he seized my hand to inspect the angry, red scrapes on my palm. “Sorry about that. She was stoned, right?”

Knowing better than to answer, I said through my teeth, “Let me get out.”

He got up with a nod, sauntering toward the door. “I’ll be out here. And no worries, chica. I may be unorthodox, but I’m no creepizoid.”

As soon as he was away from the door, I hopped out of the tub and pulled my terrycloth robe on. Not bothering to dry myself and completely outraged that he’d gotten in here, I charged out after him into the main room of the suite.

Kit was perched on my couch munching on an egg roll with about ten boxes of Chinese takeaway in front of him on the table. Somehow in the short time since we’d parted ways downstairs, he’d divested himself of his suit, throw on jeans and a black T-shirt, and carted the food here. The question in my mind was still how. My door remained locked.

“Take your pick,” he said with a full mouth, gesturing at the boxes with a set of chopsticks. “I thought you looked thin last night, but then I saw you in the tub. You’re about twenty pounds too skinny and not by choice.“

He wasn’t wrong. The salad that’d been brought to me earlier was so tiny that I felt hungrier than when I started. I was below a hundred and five pounds. Any more lost and I’d be positively skeletal.

Looking to my balcony, I saw the door ajar with a rope dangling down from above it. There was another balcony above my room on the fourth floor. “So that’s how you got in.”

He only winked. “Same way I got through the maze. I disappeared on the cameras, right?”

I nodded, reluctantly letting him stay just to sate my curiosity. The panic button I kept was three feet away if I needed it.

Kit snickered, digging into one of the boxes. “A month ago one of my buddies offered me to go work a construction gig. It turned out to be the maze being built. Figured out as we built it that I could climb up on the walls. Got the idea watching the stray cats walking along the beams one afternoon.”

He spoke so fast, voice going up and down in pitch with an excitable tone, that I struggled to keep up with it all. He sniggered. “Spent the better part of my early childhood in a circus, so I’m damn good at tightrope walking. Also knew where the construction was the strongest, considering I hammered in most of the nails.”

He shoveled a wad of noodles into his mouth as I sat on the edge of the couch, just watching him. He smiled, this time with humor. “You don’t know what to do with me, do you?”

“I can’t seem to get past your audacity,” I admitted, looking at the open Chinese boxes. He’d helped himself to all of them. I’d wait a few minutes before partaking on one that he’d already chowed down into. Less chance of poison, though I very much doubted that was his aim.

Kit merely shrugged. “I waited until you got in the tub. You got to see me in all my glory ‘n I didn’t take advantage of you in the same state of nature.”

He tossed a plastic fork in my direction as I warily sat on the chair across from him and put my feet up. He laughed merrily, pointing his chopsticks at me. “Besides, I know you were planning on throwing yourself a guilt trip pity party. I’m here as a distraction. You should be thanking me.”

Something told me that Kit was an almighty chatterbox. He talked fast with emotion and a great deal of gusto. For whatever reason, he’d decided we were going to be friends and that was that. For now I’d play along, providing he kept a feasible distance from me.

I peered inside one of the boxes of noodles he’d put down. Lo Mein looked good right about now. I twirled my fork around then took a bite. Oh, yes. Mother would throw a fit if she knew about this. Then as Kit shifted a little closer and abruptly picked up my foot, I squawked, “What’re you-?!”

My objection turned into a sigh as he massaged the bottom of my foot. I looked at him questioningly and he shrugged. “You came to my aid, so I figure I can repay you by taking care of this. They look painful and I hate seeing people in pain around me, so humor me.”

I would if he kept up what he was doing. Despite my better judgement, it felt too good to tell him to stop. He glanced up at me, continuing, “Whoever orders your shoes doesn’t care altogether much about your comfort.”

That I definitely agreed with. He smiled wider, seeing I was eating. “Yeah, you’re not a rice cake kind of a girl. So tell me of yourself, chica. I’m amazed you’ve kept any muscle on with the way you eat. I’ll bet the punching bag back there has borne the brunt of your aggravation.”

So he’d noticed it. “I box.”

“Box?” he repeated, seeming to test the idea out in his mind. Then he nodded. “I can fight, too. Grew up in the rough end of town. But you move with grace, so I’ll bet you were a dancer, too.”

Man, did he speak fast. And he was observant. I took another bite before conceding, “Rhythmic gymnastics. Once I graduated, I wasn’t allowed to keep competing.”

He picked up my other foot to rub it. “You really don’t have much say in anything, do you?”

That left me pausing, catching his eyes and then looking away. “If you get caught in here, you’re going to be in trouble.”

“You’re not going to rat me out so why worry?” he said.

“Oh, won’t I?”

“No, querida,” he said with something akin to triumph. “Who else will bring your takeout every night that I’m here?”

That made my amusement fade fast. “Providing you live, that is.”

“I will,” he said confidently. “God didn’t create something He’d give up on in me.”

Switching tactics, I said pointedly, “Does your tia know you’re here?”

His expression flickered guiltily. “Eh, no. We don’t own a TV, so she won’t know until I go home. Alvin stayed with her today.”

I choked on my noodles and his triumphant grin came back. “Sending him to school over a juice box. When he told me, that was the final straw. I had to come back. You’re a keeper.”

So he knew Alvin? Did that meant Kit’s tia was Alvin’s as well? She ran the orphanage. But something was still off with Kit’s story. Way off. My eyes narrowed. “You’re here for another reason. Don’t feed me that line.“

“Believe what you want, Aiyla. You’ll come around.” I cut off my protest as he hit a particularly nice spot on my foot. He chuckled. “Feels good, eh? I give good neck rubs, too. You wait ‘n see.”

That made me scowl. He seemed to get a bang out of my reactions, continuing to chuckle as he said, “Yeah, I know. You’re waiting for an excuse to kick me out. But I’m being so nice you can’t complain.”

I said nothing for a minute, letting him massage my foot. But he kept talking. “Or is it usually Haynesworth up here with you, catering to your every need? He’s no idiot.”

He just laughed as I yanked my foot away after hearing the innuendo. “He wishes,” I sniffed, starting to get annoyed again.

Kit leaned over, his eyes full of devious intentions. “Interesting. With the way he’s been talking, one would think he tucks himself in your bed every night. Should I worry about him dropping by unannounced?”

 “Worried about crowd control?” I parried with a forbidding edge.

“No. You don’t seem the type to be parading men in and out of here. You don’t really say much,” he continued, pausing in his babbling. “Is that a choice or a force of habit? You certainly had a way with words this morning, practically foaming at the mouth over my reappearance. Gato got your tongue?”

Boy, did he have nerve. I sat back. “I find listening a lot more telling.”

“Why do they call you Anna?” he asked, managing to ask the wrong question again. “Your real name is nice and you look better without all the war paint they put on your face.”

Now he was venturing into territory I wasn’t comfortable with. “It’s supposed to put citizens at ease. Make me seem like one of them with a more socially acceptable name.”

He snorted derisively, rolling his eyes. “If they want to appeal, they should stop doing you up as a… Well, I’ll bite the bullet.” He looked me dead in the eye. “You come across as a stuck-up snob. Then again, now knowing what they make you wear, I’m guessing the ‘snob’ expression is actually one of pain. Between your shoes and flattening contraptions-“

Okay. That was it. I’d officially reached my limit. Mr. Chatterbox was starting to give me a headache. ”Look, I need to get some sleep.”

“I’ll shut up,” he said abruptly, changing his tune. “Maybe I should ask what you like to eat besides Chinese so I can request it tomorrow evening. Italian maybe?”

“Nothing with garlic,” I said flatly. “Mother will notice.”

He just stared at me. “She gives you the sniff test? Gee, mi Auntie is strict, but at least she’s sweet.“

“Are you always this much of a chatterbox?”

Adorably enough, he giggled unrepentantly. “Si. That’s not a turn off, is it? I can’t help myself. Been that way since I was little. Whatever I think comes out of my mouth. I’m nothing but honest since I don’t have time to come up with lies.”

He stopped for a few seconds, regarding me shrewdly before pointing at me as if something was dawning on him. “So that’s it. You’re used to the political horse shi-“ He stopped, editing himself. “BS. So used to the BS that you’re on overload with me.” He clapped his hands together. “Yes. You’re quiet, censoring everything you say. It’s like verbal boxing, always on the defense-“


“And when you had whiskey last night, your defenses came down,” he continued while ignoring me, looking up at the ceiling while he thought about it.

So I decided to try a different handle. “Joe…“

“Oh, don’t tell me I have to get you drunk to open up to me again,” he said with all seriousness, looking at me.

Biting back my aggravation, I said calmly, “Mr. Arenciana, I’ve had a very trying day and my patience is at an all-time low. I want-“

“Yes, what is it you want?” he interrupted pointedly, going for a new angle. He leaned toward me, eyes daring me to reply. “I’ll bet you’ve never been allowed to think about that. That’s your problem. You know exactly what you want, but are trapped and cannot attain it. I – oop.” Kit cut off with an embarrassed grimace as he saw my expression close off. “I crossed a line, yes?”

I stood in one fluid motion, standing over him. “You want to know what I want?!”

“Considering your reaction, not really. But I get the point,” he said hastily, catapulting over the back of the couch and darting to the balcony next to the rope. He bowed to me facetiously. “Until tomorrow, señorita. I shall ponder your garlic-free meal.” He winked. “You’ll miss me.”

Before I could say one more word, he gave the rope a yank and it quickly pulled him up. As I went over to the balcony, I looked up and saw him vanish over the railing above mine. So he was staying above me?

To my surprise, a white rose was then tossed down to my feet. “Adios, chica. Hasta manana.

 As he went inside, I stooped down to pick up the rose. I sniffed it, finding it fragrant unlike all the sterilized roses my father kept in the house. I smiled at the gift, stroking the soft petals.

Looking up as I heard a chuckle from above, I discovered Kit still watching me. I immediately scowled and he laughed, going inside for real this time. The sound of a door shutting confirmed it.

Stepping back and closing my own door, I wiggled my toes against the cold floor. Whether I liked him or not, he certainly did a good job on my feet. The quiet now pervading over my room wasn’t nearly as preferable as I’d thought it would be.

Sighing and confused about how to interpret his ‘affections’, or whatever Kit’s real aims were, I headed to bed.

But first I placed the rose in a cup with water, letting it live for another day.

Copyright 2020 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

That’s it for this week’s chapter! What’s your take on the budding relationship between Kit and Aiyla? And where has the illustrious Lynx gotten to? Comment any predictions you have ’cause I love to hear from you guys!

If you can’t wait until next week for the next edition, make sure to check out Destiny in the Shadows and Väktare of All Realms series. If you’re enjoying this novel, I’m sure those will be right up your alley as well. All of my published novels are now on Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and all other major online retailers for your reading convenience as of this week! You can check out my whole catalog of science fiction and urban fantasy novels here.

Wait! Don’t go yet! Make sure to sign up for a weekly email letting you know when the next chapter of Del Muerta is live! As a special sign up bonus, I’ll send you a free gift copy of my best selling novella, Still Death, from the Destiny in the Shadows series!

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Taking Submissions for Fantasy & SciFi Books To Review

Okay my dear readers and fellow authors. I’m tentatively looking for some book suggestions to review for this blog. And when I say tentatively, I mean because I have specifics. Yes, I’m a fusspot, as are many of your fellow readers here.

Looking for:

– Fantasy with emphasis on action and adventure (romance is okay, but no erotica please). Bonus if its urban fantasy, paranormal, shifters, fairy tale retellings, etc.
– Scifi (again, action heavy books are preferred. No erotica). Space opera isn’t a favorite, but we’re willing to give it a try.
– Love female POVs, but either gender is fine
– Would like the books to be on KU if possible. If not and you are an Indie author willing to send an ARC, indicate in your submission.

EXTRA BONUS: If you’re an author and tell me you’ll share the review when I post it on this blog, it helps increase your chances of being chosen

If your suggestion is excluded from the criteria or isn’t chosen, please don’t be offended. Your book choices are still awesome, I still love them, but I (and many readers here!) just can’t handle certain genres like horror. I need to sleep and due to an overactive brain, have a tendency to bring what I’ve read into my dream 😂 When I jaw Jurassic World recently, I wound up dreaming the T-Rex chasing me that night!

Okay, folks. Have at it. My TBR review pile is gonna lap my house by the time I’m done. I can just feel it 😂

Make sure to comment your submission and links to be considered.

Nexus (The Hollow Men #1) Book Review

When I opened this book, I was ambushed with monsters of a human making that demanded I turn the page. From the get go, this book grabbed my attention.

While dystopian, post-apocalyptic YA science fiction is not my usual preferred reading genre, this book stood out with a maturity that makes it apt for all ages. With plot points of AI machines attempting to exterminate the remains humanity, it brings up questions that should be on every mind. What are the consequences of integrating human elements with machine, especially emotions? And what about the interpretation of desires that could rule both our kind and artificial intelligence?  Wrapped up with a message of love conquers all, I enjoyed the story.

The only drawbacks are for those who have nightmares easily and frightening situations leave them unable to sleep, it might not be the book for you. While it is most definitely science fiction, there is an element of horror due to the Hollow Men sequences. It also includes mild LGBT themes for those who might be offended by the POV from a young man.

Overall, it is a very good read and the ending leaves you wondering what will happen next. Five stars, Mr. Joshua Grant.

Here’s more about the novel:

“When the Hollow Men came, humanity fell. Forced to scrape out an existence from the rubble with the rest of the survivors, Jonah Byerly struggles to get by. Hunted by dark murderous things, he yearns for something more—a hope from civilization long past, for love and acceptance. But Jonah isn’t like the others as much as he would like to be. He harbors a secret, a shadow in his soul that could revive humanity…or see it drown in the endless hunger of the Hollow Men…”

Did you enjoy this review? Before you go, make sure to pick up your free bonus E-book from my Destiny in the Shadows series, STILL DEATH.

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell Part 3

Del Muerta: Sanctum of Hell Series

If you missed the PROLOGUE or PART 2 last week, make sure to read it them to catch up before reading chapter two! I don’t want you guys getting Otherwise, enjoy this week’s chapter!

Copyright 2019 Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

Chapter Two: Chance Encounters

The press conference grated on my every last nerve.

Standing beside my father… Er, no. Standing just behind him as always, I grimaced as the ten would-be suitors lined up for the press. That is, the ‘would-be-dead’ suitors as I called them.

Only one had even looked at me over the last half hour, telling exactly why they were all truly here. Money. It always led back to the grandeur of money and fame. Oh, and death. Apparently they all craved that. The only surprise so far was that instead of ten men, it was nine.

The tenth was a woman. Now there was a female competing for my hand. You just couldn’t make this crap up.

My father looked them over with pride. Pride over what I wasn’t sure, but pride all the same as he read out from the teleprompter, “Today marks the start of the new Tourney cycle.” I ground my teeth together as he continued, “We honor those who have previously competed and encourage those who have come to compete in this round. My daughter is excited by the prospect…“

That was it. I tuned out. While he was content speaking, his greying hair gelled to the point it didn’t move, I was squirming inside.

Seeing one of the contestants looking at me (and thankfully of the male variety), I met his eyes. He licked his lips and I was instantly repulsed. I looked away, dying on the inside as I realized that though I wanted nothing to do with him, he’d soon be dead. But as I felt a nudge, I realized that I’d been spoken to.

“Anna,” my father said, completely calm despite the media frenzy going on in front of us with all the reporters and their microphones. “Do you wish to speak a few words of encouragement?”

Hell no but I knew better than to refuse the direct order. I was expected to speak. The punishment if I refused wasn’t worth it. My pre-prepared speech was waiting on the teleprompter.

I forced myself to smile, going to the podium. Hands clenching on the side of the flat surface, I began, “Thank you, Father. What would we do without your courageous leadership?”

We’d probably all go on just fine but I didn’t dare intone that. He merely simpered, buying my fake display of affection as I smiled at him. His green eyes were filled with nothing but satisfaction as I added, “And the bold battle that these men are about to undertake, all for the chance they can beat the odds…”

What a load of crock. Still I continued. “I’m humbled by their devotion to our city. Much like the forty men in the last competitions…“

I stuttered as I read the words they wanted me to say. I kept fumbling as I read in my mind, ‘Their bravery was considerable. We remember the past contestants with fondness’

The words stuck in my throat. I couldn’t mock the dead and that’s what these words were: a sham. My knees felt weak and my hands trembled. I couldn’t do it.

Elena stared at me from the audience, eyes narrowing. Though my mother’s expression didn’t waver due to her Botox, I could see pure fury kindling in her eyes. Even the upbraiding I’d get from her wasn’t enough to dissuade me. I cleared my throat, averting my eyes as they began to tear up. “My speech isn’t – can’t see it well. Sorry. Thank you.”

Even if I appeared ungrateful, somewhere in the heavens there were forty men who’d understand why I was rattling apart. All the saints and angels were party to my panic attacks whenever the Tourney commenced.

I headed offstage and behind the curtains to where the working people were: the caterers. A few looked up and quickly went back to ignoring me. But I wasn’t the only one who’d come in.

“What was the hell was that?!” my mother demanded, stomping up to me as I turned. He beige pantsuit clashed fabulously with the mottled red rising in her cheeks.

Better to lie than ‘fess up, so I said simply, “Teleprompter malfunctioned.“

“I was farther away and could read every word,” she seethed, absolutely scandalized because I hadn’t done as told. Her hair was even quivering, despite the hairspray coating her blonde-dyed locks. “Why did you deviate?! You embarrassed us!“

  Now bored with her, I reached for a Danish on a tray that would be heading out to the social after the conference. She smacked my hand, snapping, “Don’t you dare! Not after the ice cream last night! You need to fit in the sample sizes you’re given.“

“I worked out for three hours before the ice cream,” I grumbled. “Didn’t have any breakfast…“

She wasn’t listening. Elena stepped up to me, examining my face with unnerving proximity. “And dark circles! What have I told you?! If you can’t sleep, take a sedative! Your appearance-“

“I won’t take a pill just to suit your standards,” I hissed, smacking her hand away. “I couldn’t sleep because I was attacked! Adrenaline rushes with that kind of experience; not that you’d know.”

“At least you didn’t get any bruises,” she sniffed, still inspecting me. “The designers would’ve been livid if their creations were marred by your appearance.“

That stunned me. My mother had sunk to yet another new low. Fussing over my appearance when I could’ve been killed? Just classic.

Deciding to change subject before I lost my cool, I muttered, “Did any of them ‘fess up as to why they tried to abduct me? Motives?”

She shrugged with an apparent lack of interest. “All I know is the firing squad took care of them.” Snatching a carrot stick from one of the trays, she plopped it in my hand. “You need to mingle with the guests for the press to see. And for God’s sake, straighten your lipstick!”

She stomped off in her Jimmy Choos, leaving me to groan. I looked at the silver serving tray beside me, noticing my reflection. “Yeah, except I’m not wearing any lipstick.”

I traced my bare lips, the reflection mirroring the movement. I saw beauty, but it did nothing for me. None of it was mine. Even my eyes held contact lenses which changed my normally topaz brown eyes to blue. Every part of me was forcibly changed. Apparently I looked too much like the locals to be pretty in their eyes. Nothing about me was ever good enough.

I straightened my dress, wincing considering it was three sizes too small even though I was already a size two.

Feeling weak from not eating was the norm for me, especially since Mother had denied me access to the kitchen a month ago. All meals were delivered to me now unless I was eating out. A measly quarter of a grapefruit every morning, a salad without any dressing for lunch, and then whatever the cooks felt like torturing me with at night was how I sustained myself.

Heading out to converse with the wolves, I re-emerged from behind the curtain. Immediately a reporter snagged me, demanding, “Anna! What are you wearing?”

“Clothes,” I said dully, not in a tolerant nor forthcoming mood. “Do I look nude to you?”

He didn’t catch my cynicism. “And your thoughts on the vigilante crisis?”

That caught my attention. “Crisis?”

He nodded, gleeful that he’d get my unfiltered thoughts on the subject. “The rise of citizens engaging in police-like behavior. What’s your opinion on this dangerous new trend?”

Noting the word ‘dangerous’ and already knowing my father’s opinion on the matter, I replied, “Well, considering a vigilante came to my aid last night, can’t say I’m opposed to them.”

Take that and stuff it in your peace pipe, Elena, I thought to myself. My mother would have a fit when she learned of this, but after this morning I didn’t care.

“Came to your aid?” the reporter prompted, almost salivating at the idea of getting himself another story.

I nodded, not going to add much further. “I was attacked and my driver murdered. The police didn’t come fast enough, so the Lynx arrived before they did. The facts speak for themselves. There’s no opinion on the matter. It’s simply what he did.”

He just stared at me, completely astounded by my candor. None of us aristocraps, er, excuse me, aristocrats ever let on about matters such as that.

Before he could ask anything else, I waltzed away. Really starting to feel faint, I needed to find somewhere to sit while the spell passed. My stomach was churning and my head spinning, but I couldn’t let any of the guests see. Either way, I needed to eat something more than a carrot stick.

Getting to the main table where a servant was manning the buffet, I reached for a piece of toast. I was angered as he blocked my hand with his tongs, saying, “Sorry, miss. Orders are that you can’t partake. Would you care for some water?”

“Water?” I asked, smelling my mother’s interference a mile away. He was watching me with some fear, obviously worried that I’d make a scene. My mother would have him fired in an instant if he deviated from her wishes.

I didn’t even stay to hear his reply. Apparently in Elena’s world, two carrot sticks were enough to live on. Either way, I needed to find somewhere to sit. It was either that or fall down, and I’d never hear the end of it if I did.

Heading for the garden behind the tents, I made it to the patio. I breathed deeply, trying to stifle the feeling of being out of control of my own body. I got hypoglycemic often enough, but this was far worse than the usual.

“Sorry, miss,” a familiar voice said, leading me to stop in surprise. Then the owner of the voice stood, having been sitting for a minute and drinking something. Alvin caught sight of me and then relaxed, making me wonder what he was doing here. “Oh, it’s you. Thought you were my boss…”

“Alvin,” I said weakly, greeting him as I put a hand on the railing to steady himself. While I was surprised to find him here, I didn’t have the energy to question it much. “What’re you doing here?”

He ran a hand through his hair, saying animatedly, “Catering company. Work two jobs. Hey, are you okay? I still can’t believe Haynesworth let you venture outside on your own.“

He cut himself off, reddening under my eyes and knowing he’d said too much. Heads usually rolled when people spoke their minds. “Sorry. I babble. You okay?”

“No worries,” I said even more softly, seeing that all the garden chairs had been removed. And if I sat on the ground, my skin-tight skirt would most definitely split. “I’m fine.“

“You don’t look fine,” Alvin said worriedly, looking me over with unease. He took a hesitant step closer. “You’re kinda pale-“

 “I get hypoglycemic when I don’t eat,” I said, closing my eyes and trying focus on the warmth of the sunshine.

Apparently Alvin was more astounded than I’d thought. He came up to me, saying, “So you’re the one who my boss said couldn’t be served from the buffet. I thought he was kidding when he said the daughter wasn’t allowed to be fed what the other guests are eating.“

I grimaced and focused on standing upright. The world was spinning something terrible. He stood right next to me now, asking further, “Why can’t you eat?”

“None of your concern.”

“It will be if you pass out,” he said, eyeing me up and down with concern. “You’re not doing a good job of-“

That was it. I lost the battle against my body and my knees gave out on me. Most fortunately, Alvin caught me before I hit the ground. He wavered a little bit, not sure of his own strength before lowering me to the ground. He supported my shoulders as I struggled to stay conscious. “Hey, stay with me! I got you-“

My head lolled on his shoulder a little, but I felt him shifting under me. He was talking fast to himself as my eyes fluttered, me failing to keep them open. “No, can’t get her food from in there, so-“

I heard crinkling, then my lip was touched. After a second, I realized it was a small straw. Alvin nudged me, instructing me, “Drink. To hell with my job. I’m not going to sit ‘n watch this, doing nuthin’-“

When I didn’t respond fast enough, he prodded me again. “Anna? Anna?! Come on, drink!”

I dimly took a sip, realizing it was grape juice. I took another as he murmured over me, sounding relieved. After another few minutes, I started to feel a tad stronger, taking a deeper sip. I put my hand over his on the juice box and he sighed with relief, letting me have it entirely.

“There we go,” he said with a great deal of relief as I chugged it down. “Depriving their own daughter of food. That’s a new one.”

I just nodded, hitting the end of the juice. I didn’t feel resilient enough to move yet, but the terrible feeling of losing grip was gone. Alvin kept me against his shoulder, just watching me with worry. “Thank you.”

“Good thing I always keep a drink on me,” he said, rubbing my shoulder. “Got kidney problems, so I know the feeling. Consider this my second attempt to save you, though this time more successfully.”

I shifted out of his grip slightly, seeing him blush. “I can usually handle the strain-“

“They do this to you often?!” he questioned with some horror.

I didn’t answer that. Something told me Mother’s paranoia over my diet was only going to get worse, though it’d only escalated to this level recently. “You’re very kind.”

“Hardly,” he stuttered, further embarrassed by my compliment as I watched him. “We’re all human. It’s not like I could let you pass out.”

I nodded, sensing I’d better not praise him too much. His blushing was starting to look painful he was so pink. “Won’t you be in trouble for taking a break?”

“No. If I tell my boss what happened, he’ll be kissing my ass,” he said with some amusement. “His worthless bum would be the one on the line if you were hurt.”

I sat back, looking at him even more closely. Out in the direct light, I realized he looked even younger than the night previous. “How old are you, Alvin? Shouldn’t you be in school?”

He shrugged, looking less happy. “Seventeen. Had to quit. A man’s gotta eat and so does my family…” He looked down. “But I’ll admit it does stink. I was up for a scholarship to the fancy schmancy prep school before that… Yeah.”

“Which school?” I demanded.

His chest puffed out with a bit of pride. “Tennison Prep. Biochemistry scholarship.”

Thinking on it for a minute, I murmured, “I’ll do you a favor. Consider your scholarship reinstated. I know the headmaster. He’d kiss my undercarriage if I demanded him to.”

He just stared at me. “You’d do that?”

“You save my ass; I help yours,” I said, sitting up more.

He looked like he might practically levitate off the ground he looked so happy. Then he deflated just as quickly. “I can’t. My mother runs an orphanage. We depend on my job as well on my brother’s.“

“If you spend a semester at this school, you’ll be able to support your whole family permanently,” I said sagely, knowing it was true. “You’ll be able to get a job anywhere.”

His jaw worked up and down while he thought about it. He looked at me then, just staring at me with an unrecognizable emotion. “All this because I gave you a juice box?”

  I smiled, happy for once that I could do something. A phone call I could manage to do without inciting my parents’ wrath. “I guess it’s your lucky day.”

“Oh, my gosh,” he gushed, putting his hands to his cheeks in delight. “Wait ‘till Mami hears! She’ll want to crown you for sainthood! I know I do.”

I chuckled, making it to my feet. He immediately launched to his, going to steady me. I patted his hand, amused by his attitude. While he was seventeen, something told me that Alvin was still more boy than man. Nor did I want him to lose his kind, generous nature.

 “Quit your job,” I said, straightening my skirt. “I’ll give the headmaster a call this afternoon. But I’d better head back in before I’m missed. What’s your full name?“

“Alvin Jose Rodriguez, biochem student,” he said so fast I barely caught it, monitoring me like I might drop again at a moment’s notice. He walked beside me, keeping one hand slightly extended in case he needed to grab me again. “Can’t I do anything for you? I mean, I still feel like I only gave you a juice box!”

I shook my head, waving him off. “A juice box is enough for me.”

He stood stymied for a second. “Why?”

I smiled at him, ducking my head as I went back to the people inside and glanced back over my shoulder. “Because no one has ever cared enough to give me one in this place before,” I said softly.

His face fell, hearing the sadness in my words. His lips parted, but I forestalled him by putting a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you, Alvin.”

He just stood stricken as I left, heading for the main area. I didn’t think he ever expected that to come out of me. Nor did I think he would let it go. Maybe he’d learn from it and keep far away from the world of the aristocrats in the city. He seemed like a smart guy.

As Tiny unfortunately found me, dragging me back to the main stage for the continued press conference, she thrust me out in front of the curtain. I saw my father sitting alongside Elena, both apparently waiting. I avoided both their eyes, sitting quickly beside them.

Elena was drinking vodka and it was only ten AM. Father was chatting with the press, laughing jovially as if there wasn’t a problem in the world. Apparently I hadn’t been missed.

But as I saw Alvin surface in the midst of the crowd at the very back and wave at me, I gave him a little wave back. He grinned with a wink and disappeared, hopefully heading home for good.

“Who was that?” Elena hissed under her breath, having seen the exchange. “You cannot be seen waving at civilians. Then they’ll think you’re dishing out preferential treatment amongst them.“

 Once again, I tuned her out with a half nod so she’d think I was listening. I looked at her hands, eyeing the martini glass. “Mother, it’s not even noon.”

Judging by the look she shot me, it was already five o’clock somewhere. She looked me over with some disgust. “That suit is too tight on you.”

Oh, here we go. “It’s a sample size 00. Of course it is.“

“It should fit!”

“On a skeleton perhaps,” I grumbled under my breath.

“Of course my daughter is eager to meet all the contestants,” my father proclaimed to the press, making me inwardly groan. He nudged me, smiling with a jovially fake edge. “I certainly would be if one of them was a possible spouse. Right, sweetiekins?”

I didn’t even reply, just flashing a small, tight smile at the row of chairs where the contestants sat. No one reacted.

Taking my cue, I rose to head for where the meeting would take place. I knew the drill. While this end of the event wouldn’t be televised, it was always the most frustrating part of the competition. Every time it was held, I tried fruitlessly to convince the contestants to back out and go home. I’d failed over forty times now.

My heels clacked against the marble floors, heading into the main house. The walls were richly green, the smell of paint still lingering from my mother’s last remodeling. All the new art was trendy, expensive pieces. Every single one held no beauty for me.

Tiny followed, reading off orders that I barely listened to. All of it was pure nonsense anyway. But as I made my way into the meeting room, I rolled my eyes. In one corner sat an extensively stocked bar. One I was sure wasn’t for the contestants. I gathered Elena had decided I was allowed to drink but not to eat. Real smart. As it was, the teensy juice box Alvin had given me would likely hold me until lunch, but I was starting to feel weak again.

Then again if she was complaining I didn’t fit into this outfit, who knew what they’d serve me next. Maybe a bouillon cube would be my next meal.

I nodded dismissively to Tiny as she trounced off, trying to mentally prepare myself for the contestants. While no one ever listened to me, I still would try. Then at least when they were all dead, I could console myself by saying I’d tried to warn them.

Pouring myself a water from the bar as she disappeared, I dumped four lemon quarters and a maraschino cherry into the glass. Better to get as much sugar in my system as possible, even if it was unbearably sour… and while Tiny was out of the room so Elena wouldn’t hear about it. 

Hearing the door, I turned to my first suitor. It turned out to be the lone woman in the competition.

 In heels, she stood tall against the height of the door, looking absolutely bored out of her mind. I dimly remembered having seen the overly quaffed woman before, murmuring, “Munson. You’re the daughter of the diplomat Brandon Munson. Are you Charline?”

 She nodded, stepping forward. His eyes were set on me, though they didn’t match the tone of her next statement. “Yes. And you’re even more beautiful than the last I time saw-“

I put my hand up, already reaching my limit. “Save it. Tell me why you’re really here. You already possess power and money, and we both know you’re no lesbian.”

Charline smirked, looking relieved on some level that she didn’t have to suck up to me. “So you’re a really straight to the point kind. No pleasantries, no nothing…” I’m sure my eyebrows went up as she continued, clasping her perfectly manicured hands together, “Fine. I’m up for a reality TV series and need the attention. The exposure from the games will launch my show.”

Oh, brother. I sat, sipping on my drink before saying with some humor, “You’re willing to die for that?”

Charline stuck her nose in the air with confidence. “I won’t die. My father wouldn’t allow it.”

Man, this one was deluded. Her hair looked like it’d come from a bleach bottle, so maybe that’s what’d fried her brain. “So you’d marry me and pose as gay just to get a TV show?”

She shrugged, unbothered. “A high-profile divorce isn’t bad for ratings.”

That statement left me to look at the bar behind me. Maybe having a few wouldn’t be a bad idea for the rest of the afternoon, because something told me it was going to be a very long day.

God help me.


Nine suitors plus a reality star wannabe were headed for death. Not one had listened to me. And now back in my room as the sun began to set, I was absolutely exhausted.

None of the men cared for me and instead were after the money and glory. I could see it. They knew I knew it. Two of them had outright laughed in my face when I suggested they back out of the games.

Thankfully I had some privacy for now. I stripped off my itchy designer dress and put on comfortable sweatpants. Taking my makeup off, I let my hair down. Under my foundation was treatment serum, the stuff practically bleach for my skin at my mother’s insistance.

I took my contacts out, at least happy that I’d managed to make the call for Alvin. Bright and early tomorrow morning, a representative of the school would head to his address. He’d get his scholarship after all.

Looking at myself in the mirror, I sighed. I hoped he’d do well. Personally, I enjoyed living down in that end of the city. It was the suburbs; poor people but lovely in spirit. When I’d been at the school my dear aunt had lived in the area.

Thinking of her wouldn’t do me any good now, though. The dead were something to be envied in my eyes. They didn’t have to lie every day for fear that their father would be deposed. Or worse, fear of being persecuted if they didn’t. If I disobeyed too much, there was always the fear that the people who controlled my father would have me shot.

Even the way I spoke was altered. Because I sounded too ethnic, having spoken with a Spanish inflection due to all the time I spent with Auntie Lola, they changed me. They altered my appearance and hired a speech coach for me.

But I refused to change myself entirely. I may have been forced (quite literally) during the day to sound the way I wanted, but once in the privacy of my suite, I did whatever the hell I wanted and sounded it, too.

Living by my own rules was completely out of the question once out of my suite. If I ran anyway, I’d be hunted down and forcefully drugged.

With the threat of being put into a comatose state by sedatives and anti-depressives, much like Elena, I generally did as told. It just wasn’t worth fighting. Either way, my life was a total farce.

Giving in to the urge, I went to the decanter on my desk and poured myself a glass of whisky. The PA system sounded off with an annoying tone and I groaned. “What?”

“Come downstairs,” Tiny snapped into her end of the line, making me curse. “There was a last minute entrant. You need to come meet him and be photographed.”

“Can’t it wait?” I whined, looking longingly at the couch I wanted to curl up on. “I took off all my makeup already.”

“No,” she said snottily. “We’ll have no time tomorrow.”

“Then send him up here,” I growled, in no mood for her obnoxiousness at this hour. She started protesting, so I snapped, “When I said I have all my makeup off, I meant it. If you want me to meet him tonight, it’s the only way I’ll be seeing him. Either send him up or I’ll meet him tomorrow. I don’t give a damn either way.”

A pause followed, Tiny thinking the idea over. “He’ll be up in a minute. We’ll get the photo tomorrow.”

Knowing Tiny would likely blame the photographer and get him fired for this purely to save her own ass, I just hung up. I took a sip of whiskey, preparing for yet another money-crazed moron to be thrust into my company.

I ran a hand through my hair and then abruptly stopped, feeling how dry it’d become. It was like straw it’d been bleached so much.

Hearing my door open and the hall guards outside speaking to someone, I sighed. But it quickly caught my interest as I heard some excitable sputtering, a new male voice yipping at them.

“Eh! When you said you’d search me, I didn’t give permission to stick your hand down there! Geez! No wonder you snicker at all us chicos!”

Getting the drift whoever was coming in was quite the character, and likely someone from the other end of town, I was highly amused as the newcomer proceeded to tell them all off in Spanish. The double doors opened, revealing a somewhat shorter figure. The fellow threw his arms up, back still to me as he yelled at them.

As the guards snapped the doors shut in his face, I dryly asked to the fellow, “You didn’t joke that you had a bomb in your pants, did you?”

The fellow turned to me, almost doing a doubletake as he looked me up and down. Unlike the others who been groomed to come see me, he was done up in a ratty looking set of jeans and a black T-shirt. He hoisted the jeans up in the back. “Apparently didn’t need to. I thought I was meeting the Presidente’s daughter.”

Sighing inwardly and realizing he didn’t recognize me at all, I muttered, “I look different in person. Most people do off the TV.”

He gave me a really weird look. “So they change your eye color?”

At least he was observant. That might keep him alive longer. I gestured at my couch, disregarding the question. “Sit. May I offer you a drink?”

He shook his head, warily coming further in the room as he glanced around. Deciding to forsake manners since he was completely uncooperative, I sat down with my glass of whiskey in hand and crossed my legs. “So… your name?”

“Joe,” he grunted, sticking his hands in his jean pockets and not moving any further into the room. “Joe Arenciana. But everyone calls me Kit. But I’ll bet your secret service people already told you that.”

I snorted, noting that whoever Kit was, he certainly didn’t seem fond of me. If anything, he appeared to resent his being here on some level. His lip remained slightly curled in a sneer as I replied, “No. As of five minutes ago, I was only aware of ten kamikazes. You’re the eleventh. Please sit.”

He did ever so warily and on the farthest end of the couch from me, monitoring me as if I were a wild animal. Not with fear, but with a great deal of loathing. I looked him over, seeing he was clearly of an ethnic variety my father didn’t overly endear himself to. Latino, perhaps with some Indian somewhere in his ancestry.

While he was attractive, that quality was heavily marred by the hawk-like look in his eyes. Their cherry wood tones were dark and hateful, making me wonder why he’d come. I could swear we’d met before, though I knew not where or when.

Then he looked away. “Sorry. This is all a bit hard to take. I’ve seen you in person, but you look and sound entirely different now.”

My eyebrows went up. So he noticed my accent differed from when I was out in public? “I gather your disappointment with me isn’t enough to discourage you from competing?”

“Hardly,” he retorted, sitting back a little. “You seem less plastic now, but I’m not fooled. Makeup or not, there’s much you can’t fake.”

Intrigued by his attitude, I replied, “Well, Mr. Arenciana, you’ll be the first contestant who hasn’t lied through their teeth and attempted to spin me a tale of love at first sight. Or second in your case, if you’ve seen me before.” I put my glass on the table in front of me. “I’ll still ask why you’re here to compete, though I suspect I know the answer. Tell me, is it the –“

“The money,” he said without hesitation.

I paused, trying to decide what to say next. “The idea of death doesn’t bother you?”

One of his eyebrows went up. “Who says I’ll die?”

“I do,” I said frankly, not bothering to BS him. I stared him down. “I’ve watched forty others bite it. I expected another ten, not eleven. Is money really worth dying over?”

“Yes,” he said firmly, making my heart sink. “I need it for mi tia’s cancer treatment. Without it, she’ll die.” I sucked in a sharp breath as he shot me a reproachful glare.  “I gather that’s a shock for you elites, not immediately getting medical care. But we lower class peoples need-“

“Cancer?” I asked softly.

He squared his chin. “It’s either compete for your hand or watch her kick the bucket. So si, it’s for the money. Is that honest enough for you, chica?”

His biting tone told me what I’d already suspected; he detested me. I sat thinking for a second. “How much do you need?”

“Ten grand,” he said, seeing my eyebrows rise and taking it entirely the wrong way. “I know that seems like a small amount to you, but to us-“

Making a decision, I stood and headed for my desk. He cut off, watching me with disdain. “Is this a dismissal?”

Opening my simple keepsake box, I pulled out my most prized possession. The simple gold cross was battered, worn and the setting on the lone diamond in the center almost broken. But I knew what I had to do. It’d be enough to save Kit and his family.

The diamond was loose and I’d planned to have it fixed. Instead I whacked it hard on the counter and the setting gave in and cracked. The stone broke off. Taking it in my hand, I went back to Kit. He’d been watching me with open confusion. I sat beside him, extending the stone to him. “Take this. Pawn it and get the money.”

He just stared at me for a second, then at the stone.

“¿Que?” He then translated it to English, thinking I didn’t speak the language. “Um, what?”

“This will be enough to cover it,” I murmured, extending my hand closer. “Take it and go. Then you won’t have to compete.”

He didn’t move one millimeter. “You’re giving me a diamond?”

I shrugged. “I’d give you more jewelry to help her, but then my people would wonder what happened to it. They’ll ask questions and I can’t…” I shook my head, thinking of the consequences. Nothing was mine. “Just take it and get her all fixed up. If you can, take what’s left over and get out of this province. Healthcare is better elsewhere. This city-“

Before I could finish, he pointed angrily to my whiskey on the table. “How much have you had?”

I looked at the ground, trying not to lose my cool. “Only a sip…“

“No!” he said flatly, shoving my hand away with something akin to disgust. “I don’t want to be accused of theft tomorrow when you’re sober!“

That was it. I’d finally had it with his attitude. I stood in one fluid motion, my fist clenching over the stone as I snarled, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch forty men die?! You may think I’m a selfish bitch, but I’m ‘egotistical’ enough to not want eleven more graves filled because of me! Take the damn jewel! If it means one less funeral for me to attend, then it’ll be worth it!”

I shook my head and turned away. “I’m not drunk. I’ve tried to talk every single man whose gone into these games out of it, but none have listened. I spent the whole afternoon trying to reason with this new batch of lunatics…“

Oh hell. Now I was starting to lose it. My voice shook as I walked away from him. “I don’t usually drink at all. I hate the damn stuff, but it’s either that or…“

Or cry myself to sleep, knowing what was coming in the morning: more death. I wiped my cheek of the one tear that had escaped, facing him and seeing Kit now completely baffled. I stuck my hand out to him. “Take the damn jewel, get out, and don’t come back. It saves both you and your tia. Go.”

He stared at me for a minute more before coming to stand in front of me, looking dazed. His eyes were different now, no longer filled with blazing hatred. But they were full of what I thought was sympathy and I hated that. I squared my chin under his study, refusing to back down.

Kit looked at the stone in my palm and ran a hand through his hair. “That’ll pay for a lot more than her treatment. I don’t need – we don’t – look, there’s got to be something else,” he stuttered, completely astounded by my generosity. “Something less valuable to you.“

“It’s all I have,” I admitted, shaking my head. I laughed humorlessly and put the diamond on his palm. “Nothing else is mine. The designers take back everything at the end of the season. My Auntie Lola would want it to be yours. She’d be happy to know she helped someone from beyond her grave.“

He just stared at me instead of at the stone, somewhere between wonder and incredulousness. That and looking me over with a speculative eye. He was obviously rethinking his opinion of me and not in a way I liked. I averted my eyes, shifting back on my heels. “Please don’t look at me like that. I know I don’t match what they make me look like on TV-“

“No, chica,” he said, his voice taking on a more soft, cordial tone. “I’m not judging. When I said…“ He looked at the diamond. “You’re beautiful. I hated that you were even more perfect without makeup. I wanted to think all of you was phony.”

I went to turn away, but stopped as he asked me, “It’s all an act, isn’t it? I came in here thinking I was dealing with just another lousy bureaucrat. I’m sorry.”

I forced myself to laugh, facing him again. “Don’t be. And don’t fool yourself. I’m everything you thought I was. I just don’t do well with guilt.”

Kit clearly didn’t believe me. “It’s too late to convince me of that, Anna-“

“Aiyla,” I corrected sharply before I could stop myself. “That’s my name.“

Realizing I’d just given away a very important detail to a civilian, I cut off. None of them were supposed to know my name. If word of this got out, I’d be in a huge amount of trouble. Fortunately for me, I was sure Kit wouldn’t be believed if he told anyone.

“Aiyla,” he repeated, testing it out. The strangest expression crossed his face, one of recognition. Then it was gone. “It suits you. Are the same people who made you into someone else the same ones who changed your name?”

He was way too smart for his own good. I took a step back, knowing better than to answer that for both of our sakes. He’d been here for far too long. Questions would be asked if I kept him for a minute more.

“Our time is up, Mr. Arencianna,” I said, adopting my brisk tone again. I clasped my hands together. “You should get that to your tia.”

He looked at the stone and then put his hand in his pocket, hearing his dismissal. “Si. She runs an orphanage, so you really did just make an impact. I just don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.“

Heading to the door abruptly, I held it open for him. “No need. Just get your tia well and help her with the orphans. There are far too many of them in this province.”

It wasn’t called Murder City for nothing. Dejado Atrás was known for its grim life expectancy, depending on where you lived in the ghettos.

He came to me, still dazed with what I’d done. “Can I at least shake your hand?” I shook on it and he gripped my hand as I tried to pull away, looking into my eyes. “Gracias, Aiyla. I will not forget.”

“Don’t mention it.” I forestalled him as he went to object. “I mean it. I’ll get in trouble.”

He nodded, looking troubled. “I’ll only tell mi tia. She can keep a secret. But you won’t stop me from telling everyone how nice you are, leaving out the details. It’s the least I can do.”

We stood looking at each other for a few more seconds, Kit seeming loath to leave. Then he shrugged. “Don’t get too drunk, chica.”

I nodded, lips twitching toward an emotionless smile. “Adios.”  

He smiled at me, this time with a little warmth and sorrow. “Hasta luego.

As he stepped out, surprisingly troubled looking, I shut the door behind him. Going to my glass of whiskey, I picked it up for another swig.

Looking at the amber liquid, I found I had no urge to drink it any longer.

And that’s it for this week’s edition! Feel free to share the links to these chapters as you please. I’m still awaiting Spotify to approve the podcast edition of the seies, so bear with me! Hopefully by next week, not only will you have a new chapter, but also an audio of it as well.

Any predictions for me? I do so love when people guess what’s coming next!

Either way, I hope you enjoyed chapter two. If you’re enjoying this serial novel, make sure to sign up for my newsletter. I’ll send you an alert every time a new chapter is published, plus as a thanks for joining, I’ll send you a free copy of my best selling ebook STILL DEATH.

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Steel Dragon Book Review

Just wow…

Two notes to start this review. A) If you’re offended by strong, profuse language, this is not the book for you. B) If you’re not a fan of long books (good Lord, 160,000 words and for the first installment of a series no less!), definitely not for you. But if you enjoy a great action adventure from points of view that most dragon shifter books don’t usually cover, then this is definitely up your alley.

Straight up, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this novel when I started it. But by the end, I was won over. The fact that it incorporated SWAT into the main plot was an unexpected bonus, especially in Detroit. Many different points of view were explored and I truly loved that about the story. The gritty world in which it was set, while based on our own with addition of fantasy creatures, was wonderfully thought out.

All in all, I will be picking up the next book. Upon reading that the next installment is an even larger 180,000 words, my inner bookworm is quivering with wide eyes. But I think we’re up to the challenge. Here’s to hoping Steel Dragon 2 doesn’t disappoint…

Just a note to the authors Kevin McLaughlin and Michael Anderle. Just what did your editor say when you plopped a 160,000 words on their desk? If I did that with mine, I think she’d match a few more of the choicest curses Jonesy could come up with…

For those interested, here’s a bit more about the book:

“Dragons rule the world. Their claws are into every aspect of human life, from government to industry. But Kristen Hall is about to throw a wrench into all of that.

Because she’s a dragon, too. She just doesn’t know it…yet!

A dragon raised by humans, in the human world.

After graduating from the police academy, she’s dropped right into the ranks of Detroit’s elite SWAT team. A rookie, in SWAT? Unheard of. But what the dragons want, they get.

The reasons behind their machinations become clear as her dragon powers begin to surface.

Will Kristen rise to the challenges her new life delivers? What designs do the dragons have for her future? And perhaps most pressing of all — how did she come to be a dragon with human parents?”

Find it on Amazon

Did you enjoy this review? Make sure to pick up your free copy of STILL DEATH before you go! Or stick around to read my serial fiction series, DEL MUERTA: SANCTUM OF HELL.

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