Here it is, at long last. The first preview from Girl With A Blade, the third book in the Emily Kane Series. It's just a draft, so please forgive any rough bits. Also, here's an early version of the cover. I'm still tinkering with it, but this is getting close to final version. Any feedback on the text or the cover is welcome, as always.
“You sure you want to go through with this?” Connie asked. “I mean, it’s not like you owe these guys anything.”
“I’m not so sure. That night by the lake, they had that coming. But they don’t deserve to die for their mistake.”
“I get that. But is it really your problem?”
Emily said nothing. A glimpse into the darkness swirling at the bottom of her eyes was the only answer she had for her friend.
“Fine. You get three minutes. Then Ethan and I are bringing the cavalry. Now get going. We’ll be right behind you.”
Half an hour later, she tapped on a metal door with one knuckle of her left hand. The ride through the West Virginia countryside to get there had been breezy, buggy and exhilarating. Now she stood next to one of those steel frame structures with corrugated siding, probably a warehouse originally, then a machine shop or some sort of mechanic’s lair. The greasy dirt in the yard suggested as much. These days it contained a roadhouse, really an enormous bar, big enough to accommodate dozens of motorcycles out front in one long row, like tilted metal dominos. Her dirt bike held down the end of the line, upright and incongruous in that company.
The office abutted the main building on the far end, little more than a metal shed added on as an afterthought. Some loud grunting presaged the grizzled and quite large, paunchy fellow who eventually opened the door. He squinted at her in the afternoon light.
“Whaddya want?” he snarled. “The front door’s that way.”
“I’m here to see you,” she said, pressing lightly on his chest.
Tiny as she was in comparison, it should have been easy to keep her out. But, for whatever reason, he stepped aside and followed her in.
“Would you turn off the security cameras for me?”
“Get outta here,” he said, and reached out to grab her.
She parried and twisted his wrist until she could enforce compliance with a light thumb pressure applied to the back of his hand. His forehead hit the concrete floor. A slight, further twist brought tears to his eyes.
“I’d rather not have any record of what might happen in there. Shall we smash your equipment?” she asked, tipping her head toward the computer terminal on the desk. “Or just unplug it?”
One more twist and he nodded compliance. She released him and watched as he dusted himself off. As she expected, he lunged at her again, apparently thinking to pin her against the wall. Connie’s words echoed in her head: was it really worth this much trouble to help these guys? Another parry and twist, she controlled his wrist much more aggressively this time, and he found himself tumbling head over heels. After an awkward landing on the edge of the desk, he fell to the floor with a thud. As if through a dense fog, he looked up at her, until she struck him sharply across the nose with the heel of her palm. With blood oozing from his nose and mouth, he subsided into a heap and troubled her no more.
At the desk, she brought up the program to disable the security cameras. Another one sent a short web video, which was the whole reason she had come here in the first place, to the TV screens in the main room, set to repeat. When she entered through the door behind the bar, the video was already playing. All heads were turned to watch it as she made her way through the middle of the room.
On the screen, they saw a young woman fight off about a dozen of their number in a dimly lit parking lot. The violence was intense, even gruesome. Some of them cringed at what they saw. Broken limbs and joints, the girl left a bloody wake behind her as she spun through the crowd. The gang finally capitulated, limping off carrying their maimed, though that was not entirely captured on the video. The final image showed the girl glowering, an unholy fire in her eyes. Whoever held the camera must have flinched at the sight and stopped recording. A caption appeared under her face: “Do you know this bitch?”
She stood directly in front of three men at a table off to one side, a smaller man with a bandaged throat and an arm in a cast, and two large, muscular men. These must be the leaders of the gang, she was pretty sure.
“I got your message,” she said in a loud voice, pointing a thumb at the large screen on the wall behind her. “I’m here. What do you want?”
The room came to a hush as people gradually recognized her. Hard looking men moved toward her from all directions. A female voice cried out from across the room.
“It’s her, that bitch! There she is.”
The crowd in the bar was rather larger than what she faced that night by the lake, perhaps forty or more people. But they seemed perplexed by what they saw on the big screen. Some must have been there, and hung back this time. Others stood staring at the images on the nearest screen. Among the rest, a delicate suspense hung in the air, an inability to act against her. It surely wouldn’t last long.
“Don’t just stand there,” shrieked one of the women who kept company with the gang. “Do something! Grab her!”
Two men stepped forward, one reached for her tentatively.
“Last time you made me fight, it didn’t turn out so well for you,” she snarled at the three men still seated at the table. “And it could have been much uglier, if you’d made me fight to the end.” The bandaged man winced as she said this. The large man seated next to him raised his hand to the men gathering around her, as if to forestall any new violence. Not everyone was appeased by this gesture.
“What’s wrong with all of you?” the same woman cried. “You saw what she did.”
She charged at her brandishing a knife. Emily stepped to the side, controlled the wrist and the knife, twisting down and around, sending her sprawling head over heels onto a nearby table. Ordinarily, faced with such an attack, she would have broken the wrist, or the elbow, maybe dislocated the shoulder as well, and forced the hand holding the knife to slash through the hip or stab her attacker in the ass. She let the woman off easy, merely treating her to a hard, awkward landing.
By the time she turned to confront the men crowding toward her, her eyes were on fire with a hideous fury. The similarity to the final image of the video was unmistakable, though experiencing it in person could bear no finite relation to watching pixels on a screen. No one moved.
The rumble of several large vehicles was audible in the quiet. A moment later, the double doors burst open and a team of heavily armed men in body armor rushed in, as if on cue, followed by Ethan and Connie. They stood silently at one end of the bar, gun barrels leveled against the crowd. Everyone in the room backed away, anxious to appear less than usually threatening. The girl addressed the main table again.
“I’m not here to fight,” she said darkly. “I’m here to give you some friendly advice. Take that video down before it brings you real trouble.” No one said anything. After a moment, she continued. “There are people looking for me, nasty people, much nastier than you, who will trace that website back here. And when they come, they will rain destruction down upon you.”
Still silence. She turned to the large man who had forestalled any fighting with his hand. After a long, cool stare she asked his name.
“Luther,” he replied in a little voice.
She leaned over to touch his hand and surreptitiously slipped him a card.
“Here’s how you can get a message to me,” she said in a much softer tone just for him. His face relaxed noticeably as he looked into her eyes.
“What’s your name?”
“Emily,” she whispered. “Emily Kane. My friends call me Em.”
She turned and walked directly to her companions by the front door. The crowd parted, apparently eager to avoid touching her or impeding her progress. She smiled at Connie. A finger snap, a sharp gesture from Ethan and the armed men followed her outside. A moment later they were gone.The mood in the roadhouse could not easily find a suitable register after she left. No one quite knew what to say. Most eyes looked to Luther for some sort of guidance. Prior to this moment he had not been the leader of the gang. But Emily’s attentions practically anointed him, against his will and much to the consternation of his bandaged chief. Later, in private, he burned the card after committing the information to memory.