Books

Part 2 of Bye Bye KDP Select

Tonight I can write the saddest lines… No, not really.

Yesterday I wrote this post about Book 1 of my series leaving KDP Select behind after spending the last couple of days trying to publish it through NOOKpress, Kobo, Smashwords, Wattpad, and on the blog I started for the series, all this while writing page after page of data for my thesis (on self-publishing). I was exhausted and I’m saying this to try and justify how shitty that post was. Worst post I’ve ever written and it got a lot of attention so I’d like to rectify things with another post, written first thing in the morning and after a nice cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast.

I had been thinking a lot about how to market my books. Trying to get more attention, more sales. I’m currently unemployed, finishing my Masters, and trying with all my might to make my creative side work for me. I’m a DIYer from head to toe (literally, yes, I even groom my dogs and cut my own hair), so self-publishing was a no-brainer when I decided to venture into publishing my writing. However, when it comes to selling and marketing, I’m my own worst enemy. My telemarketing days back in college left me scarred for life (they kept me for as long as they did because I spoke English, if not, I would’ve been given the sack my first week).

But that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here because of the Bye Bye KDP Select title.

My friend and author extraordinaire Todd Keisling has been debating over marketing stuff too, only he’s been more outspoken about it. I have not. We’ve had convos about it and after this post he wrote, I thought I’d give my two cents about this. Yesterday’s post also sparked a Twitter reply from @ljndawson in which she mentions the fact that the 3 months thing just doesn’t work.

I went into the KDP Select thing after a lot of reading and pondering about it. Amazon has always been the channel with most sales for me so it didn’t feel wrong to give them the exclusivity to my works. It was like getting into a relationship with someone you’ve known for a while and even when you think ‘yeah, I can handle this’ there always comes a time when you start feeling the belts on the straightjacket getting tighter for no apparent reason. Especially when you’re not getting off on it. Three months become an eternity when you’re not comfortable.

I don’t wanna be kept, I don’t wanna be caged
I don’t wanna be damned, oh, hell
I don’t wanna be broke, I don’t wanna be saved
I don’t wanna be S.O.L.

A lot of blogs I read spoke about the magical after-sales authors encountered after a KDP promo. Your book is free for a couple of days, then when the promo’s over stardust falls from the heavens and you’re blessed with sales. Kind of like those TV shows that get high ratings only because they come right behind another, more successful show. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I mean, I LOVE giving stuff for free. I really do. I once met a chef that kept giving away recipes she came up with and when asked why she kept giving them away (we were part of an online community) instead of writing a cookbook and selling it, she answered: “because for me, recipes are like butterflies, they come to me freely and are meant to stay that way, free.”

Stories are like butterflies for me. Murder butterflies, but butterflies nonetheless. I can’t keep them captive, they are meant to be enjoyed by everyone out there, not just me. So the KDP Select thing didn’t feel wrong or whorish. I didn’t feel I was becoming Amazon’s bitch by taking that step. I’ve never seen Amazon as the big bad wolf, I owe it the opportunity of publishing my work on a platform that we all have to admit has an enviable standing. I tell people I self-publish my books and they are like ‘yeah, good for you’, I tell them they are on Amazon and their eyes grow wide in disbelief. I smile and add, “put Artistikem in the search box and you’ll find me.” I’m searchable on Amazon, goddammit. Step aside [random famous author name]!

However, as I was starting to think I was immune to the KDP Select promo fairy dust, Todd’s numbers and comments opened my eyes to the reality that there are too many freetards out there roaming like the walkers from The Walking Dead, feeding off people like us that are willing to give away free stuff with the ultimate goal of getting at least one teeny tiny sale.

My novella, The Caregiver, keeps hitting the Top 20 and Top 10 in its category when I do the promo thingy. Then, when the free ride is over, it plummets back to the shadows. Meanwhile, The Caregiver Vignettes 1-5, with no reviews, no nothing, doesn’t hit lower than 30,000 in rank in its category. Why? Because it’s free.

I know everything they say. If your book isn’t selling revise the story, change the cover, get reviews, do a naked streak around a football field with your book’s title written on your skin. But there is only so much one can do. I hire editors for my books. I’m almost certain my covers don’t suck (we’re a team, hubby and I, I do graphic design and he’s a photographer, so we know a bit of what we’re doing). I plug myself on social media but not too much because I value my Internet friends enough. So what the fuck do I have to do to get more sales?

Kill all the freetards? Scarlett charges too much for every kill and I’m no drug lord with enough money to pay her to do the job.

Deal with the freetards? I have no idea how to do that but I’m going to try.

Now that The Caregiver is out of the KDP Select binder, I plan to make it perma-free to try and hook readers with it. Not just 5 days out of 90. I’ve read of other authors doing it with their series and, sincerely, I always knew it’d come to that at some point. This may be the best timing since Book 2 has been available for a while, Book 3 is currently suffering under editor Stacia Rogan‘s scrutiny (the poor thing. I mean the book, not her), and I already started on Book 4.

What else will I do? I’ll keep The Vignettes coming. They are great mental exercises, they help me brainstorm what’s coming next, and oh man are they getting interesting. They may possibly add up to a prequel in the near future. And to think I had already started one about Scarlett’s early years.

I’m rewriting a sci-fi/romance/thriller I wrote years ago and posting it on Tumblr and Wattpad.

Visibility and exposure are a common mantra among self-publishers and I’m putting all my money on it to turn my fate around.

So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time

Bye bye KDP Select

Not exactly a bye bye because it’s just for Book 1 of The Caregiver Series. I’d probably drop Torn in the near future, that’s still to be decided. I want to make Book 1 perma-free to try and give the rest of the books a kick in the butt. Let’s see how that goes.

Anyway, The Caregiver is now free of the Amazon exclusivity shackles and will become available through other channels before the end of the year, in time to celebrate the release of Book 3. Yay!

For now, I’ve given The Caregiver Series its own blog. Book 1 is available there, as well as the vignettes (I’ve been writing more of those lately) and some other neat info you may find useful or just plain entertaining (like this list of characters). More things will be added with time, so keep your eyes peeled.

Also, if you’re a Wattpad user, The Caregiver is now available there too so feel free to check it out: http://www.wattpad.com/28636561

That’s it for now, folks. ‘Til next time.

Of actors, and characters, and writing, and all that crazy sh*t

I’ve been meaning to write a post for some time and have come to the conclusion that I’m an awful blogger. Most of the time I don’t think I have anything nice or earth-shattering to say, so I stay quiet, which isn’t the blogger thing to do.

Ugh.

Thing is, my friend, writer, and editor Stacia posted this wonderful entry on her bog titled When they’re dull as dirt: Thoughts on casting characters about using actors in the character development process. It’s a technique I use a lot since it helps me give each character the three-dimensionality they need (I’m the friend that sent her the document with my dream cast, which, as of now, has 28 characters in it).

I must confess it’s an exercise that makes me feel guilty about “using” these people for my convenience (I wrote about that here). Do their ears ring all the time because of me? I don’t think so, but still. They don’t have to be exact matches, even a single trait can help you solidify a character enough to make him or her pop out of the page. A beautiful post about it is Susan Rutherford’s ‘Hearing Voices’ for Park Theatre’s blog where she talks about how an actor’s voice helped her shape a character that refused to come out of the page:

I went to a reading, met the actors, and the voice of one of them stuck in my head.  Suddenly that lifeless character started to breathe.  It’s not that my character is similar to any of those I saw that night, nor is that particular actor necessarily suitable for the role; but there was something about him that seemed to give my man a gentle kick up the arse.

My closest friends know there are actors and actresses that have recurrent roles through my works. They also know I’ll die of embarrassment if I ever met them (the things I put them through some times!). That’s why I prefer to use actors and not Tuckerization, I mean, I can kill off a character based on an actor’s performance and he or she won’t come knocking down my door asking me why I did that to them; friends or family, on the other hand, won’t let me live with it.

“When I read I make myself a film in my head. It’s the writer’s job to make that process as easy as possible – so readers are almost eavesdropping these people, seeing the locations, smelling the coffee if you like. Viva la Madness flows like a film. And has snap edits like a film. There’s a lot of “cut to” involved. Lots of flashback and different aspects of the same story told from different points of view. It has captions and timelines. Writers nowadays have borrowed these techniques from film.”

— J.J. Connolly

We read and simultaneously see the movie of what’s happening in our heads; the same goes for writing, you see it in your head as your fingers hit the keys on your computer.

Writer friend Todd Keisling talks about this in his Up and Coming Interview with In Ear Entertainment, saying his writing is very cinematic. And given the fact that new generations have shorter attention spans and very active imaginations, I believe it’s something good. I don’t want to compare my writing to Todd’s because I can’t bring myself to look him in the eye after reading his work. He’s amazing and if you haven’t read his books then shame on you. But I want to think my writing as cinematic also (I was told this once by an English professor) and that it engages the reader as a film would. I often get that ‘I read it in one sitting’ or ‘I couldn’t put it down once I started’ from people that have read my work and it makes me happy.

In an interview with Stacey Cochran and RJ Keller in Book Chatter, the subject of my writing process came up and my answer still makes me think I may have sounded a little crazy. Anyway, when I was little I wanted to be an actress. Even when writing was always there, the first things I wrote were short stories and screenplays. Screenplays because I wanted to be able to write the character and play it. Oh, and also direct it, but that wasn’t my main goal back then. What I learned from that was to take on the dialogues for what they are: dialogue, meant to be said by someone. Since then, most of the time when I sit down to write I’ve already acted the whole thing as if I were in the movie. I shout at my walls a lot, thank god they don’t shout back.

Where do the actors come in, then? Well, I can’t play all the characters, can I? And having a solid reference for each character does wonders for this process. You have no idea the actors I’ve “worked” with in my head and how that mental interaction has helped me with writing stuff that doesn’t sound like coming out of a robot’s speaker.

It may also be the reason that will get me locked up in a padded cell later in life. But psychological distress while writing is another topic I promise I’ll write about on some other occasion.

The important thing here would be not to get too attached to those actors you envision playing your characters in case it gets picked up by some production company and they cast other people for the parts. Writers don’t have a saying in that and you have to be able to let go. Yeah, yeah, I know that most see this as wishful thinking, but a girl can dream, right?

Now go on, come up with your dream cast and make ‘em proud.

Write

The Caregiver Series new covers and unveiling of Book 3′s.

The Caregiver Series new covers and unveiling of Book 3's.

What started as a standalone short story grew into a series. Now that the release of Book 3, THE BEAST, is only months away and book 4 is in the brainstorming phase, I believe the series needed a design overhaul and here’s the result.

Check out the covers of THE CAREGIVER and TORN live at the Kindle Store by clicking on the picture.

Tomorrow!

The sun’ll come out
Tomorrow
So ya gotta hang on
‘Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya Tomorrow!
You’re always
A day
A way!

May 31st is the date and you are invited to celebrate with me and wonderful editor Stacia Rogan the release of the much awaited sequel to The Caregiver

Cover for Torn, The Caregiver Book 2

There may be some new bad guys in town but nobody puts Scarlett in a corner. Nor will they be able to stop Armand and his men from standing by her side, ready to shoot anyone that comes even near hurting her. However, there’s nothing they can do when a part of her past she thought buried and forgotten reemerges from the depths to haunt her.

tumblr_inline_mguhe2MlXu1re0jxj

Jaw-dropping revelations, strong situations, and violent confrontations both physical and psychological are in store for this mobster lot when they visit Puerto Rico to meet with Scarlett’s grandfather, the world famous hit man Adrian Lang.

I must confess I love this book, even though writing it wasn’t a breeze. I had too many feels during the process.

tumblr_inline_mna0cbkPAN1qz4rgp

And yes, my brain is so exhausted after the end of the semester and the whole editing process that I’ve resorted to using GIFs.

Some warming up before you dive into Book 2:

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 samples, and songs from my playlist.

So get ready, for in less than 24 hours we will…

tumblr_inline_mnhn4nTRHD1qz4rgp

tumblr_mmb1n8Jrpu1sp9fcho1_400

My KDP Select promo experiment

I had seen it, read about it, analyzed the pros and the cons, and I don’t want to repeat what everyone else has said about this.

It isn’t an entirely good thing, yet it isn’t that bad. Relinquishing my books to the all-mighty Amazon didn’t feel wrong because 99.9% of all my sales have come through them. It actually made some sense.

For those of you who don’t know, KDP Select is a program for self-publishers using the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. It gives you 5 days every 90 to give your book away for free and royalties if people borrow it through their Prime program.

I used some promo days on two books, The Caregiver (published on May 2012) and a short story, At the Corner of Mars and Neptune (published May 2013). ‘Twas the Mother’s Day weekend and I put the first one free Sunday and Monday, the latter from Sunday ’til Tuesday.

Ok, so, the thing I read the most about during my research was: how do these free promos translate into 1) money, 2) people actually reading the book and not only getting it because it’s free and, therefore, shiny?

1) Money. What is that? Ah, that thing I use to get food… yeah, not the reason I write (and yes, that’s the truth either you want to believe or not).

2) People actually reading the book?  I went in knowing that A LOT of people download free books for the sole reason that they are free and never ever touch them, so I was surprised by this review for The Caregiver:

This was the first free book I have read and I was pleasantly surprised. I would read more from this author.

Pleasantly surprised, indeed. If I’ve managed to reach one new reader then I feel like my work here is done.

At the Corner of Mars and Neptune had a huge welcome to the published Kindle books universe. It was downloaded 206 (includes all Amazon sites). It’s a nice number, at least for me, for a short story that had no reviews. After the free promo it got 2 wonderful reviews by people I respect and great feedback through Twitter.

The Caregiver was downloaded a total of 423 times. I know these numbers look teeny-tiny to some authors, to me they are wonderful.

They make me happy.

When it comes to the Amazon Rankings…

At the peek of the promo The Caregiver reached #45 in the Suspense category of the Top 100 Free for Kindle in the US and #52 in the UK.

At the Corner of Mars and Neptune reached #18 in Crime, #24 in Short Stories in the US. It was #20 in Short Stories on the Canada store at one point, #9 in Germany, #10 in France. But the big surprise was in the UK store, where it reached #6.

I’m very pleased with the results, especially given the fact that I was doing all that shameless self-promotion while writing a final paper. I still haven’t slept enough to feel like a person thanks to doing Book 2 edits, writing Book 3, and working on the transmedia project (sleep is for losers, anyway, right?), but I’d do it all over again… and I will!

I want to thank every one of you for your support, wouldn’t have made it without you!!

Soon enough I’ll have news on Book 2′s launch! Yay!

At the Corner of Mars and Neptune still Free for Kindle Today!

Thanks are due to all of you who download, shared, liked, and helped me spread the word of my books’ free promotion.

The Caregiver on the 45th spot

THE CAREGIVER was downloaded 372 times and managed to push its way up to #45 in the Mystery & Thriller>Suspense of the US Kindle Store Top 100 Free category and #61 in the UK. I went to bed earlier than I wanted because I was exhausted from writing the final paper of the semester while running the free promo and all the ads, but there was a smile on my face. And I owe you all a big one for that!

ATCOMAN on28inCrime

Today I woke up to AT THE CORNER OF MARS AND NEPTUNE having jumped to #28 in Crime and #32 in the Short Stories category of the US Kindle Store Top 100 Free. It will remain free all day today so be sure to share it with your friends! It’s a punk romance that I’m very proud of, since I enjoyed writing it (my editor loved it, and she’s not easy to please!). You can read the unedited first chapter here, of course the edited version is way better, but you’ll get the idea!

If you haven’t downloaded it, here are the links:

US http://amzn.to/YDddz3
UK http://amzn.to/13R0FF9
BR http://bit.ly/19fFyNf
ES http://amzn.to/10QlbkJ
IT http://amzn.to/10BW3iG
JP http://amzn.to/15Cz0w6
DE http://amzn.to/10k8se4
FR http://amzn.to/14fzJib
CA http://amzn.to/12nY59k

Update: As I wrote this post AToMaN climbed to #18 in Crime and #29 in Short Stories!! Woot woot!!

So there you go. Maybe I’ll write a post to recap the whole venture after it’s over. But for the time being, THANK YOU. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them, and keep your eyes peeled for TORN (Book 2 of The Caregiver Series)!

Mother’s Day Sale! Free Books!

Get The Caregiver (Book 1) and my latest short story, At The Corner of Mars and Neptune, FREE for Kindle!

Cargiver Mars and Neptune Free Promo

The Caregiver will be free until May 13, At the Corner of Mars and Neptune will be until May 14. Yay!

And stay tuned for the release of Torn (Book 2 of The Caregiver Series)

Amazon’s international sites:

More info:

The Caregiver (Book 1 of The Caregiver Series)

Scarlett Lang always dreamt of becoming an Interpol agent. When her hard work pays off and she’s given the chance to work as an undercover agent with London’s biggest drug lord, Armand Sayer, she can’t help being ecstatic about it.

She’s employed by Armand’s sister (to aid in his recovery from a gun attack) as both caregiver and bodyguard. Her resourcefulness in both areas helps her win much more than Armand’s trust, to the dismay of both his right-hand man and her ex-boyfriend / colleague.

As she makes her way into the business she swore to help tear down, she’s faced with the dilemma of choosing between being loyal to her profession or her heart. And we all know it can’t be both.

At the Corner of Mars and Neptune (Stories About Love)

Lena is a female drug dealer. Noah is a police detective trying to solve a murder case to which Lena is the only witness. Thing is, she can’t remember a thing, and her life is too much of a mess for her to care. He cares, though. A bit too much. Enough to think that he can save himself by saving her. But the streets always claim what’s theirs.

Torn (The Caregiver Book 2) – Chapter 3

Cover for Torn, The Caregiver Book 2Another sneak peek! This book is being edited by the lovely Stacia Rogan (check out her website, she rocks!). This isn’t the final version of the text but I know I’ve kept you waiting for too long, so here it is. Enjoy!

Read Chapter 1, Chapter 2.

Chapter 3

Come on, scumbag. Blow that motherfucker’s head off!” My grandfather’s voice was always grave, always loud.

The famous Adrian Lang couldn’t drop the attitude for nothing.

I pulled the machine gun’s trigger. Ratatatatatatatatatatatatatatatat. Clickclickclickclick.

I shot him a glance. He was standing close behind me, sucking on a cigar as he walked towards the card and studied it.

So?”

You know better than talking to me like that.”

Anger made my face go red. For a moment I thought he’d stride to my side and slap me across the face, like he usually did. This time he stood his ground.

You’re not quite there yet.”

The machine gun felt hot in my hand. I looked down, saw my distressed jeans, and realized I was no more than sixteen years old.

He shifted towards me on the balls of his feet, his hand making a fist. Here it comes, I thought. However, before I knew it, the machine gun went off again. I couldn’t stop it as it shot a whole round directly into his belly, cutting him in half. Blood splattered the card and the floor as both his halves slid to the ground.

Nice one.” A voice came from behind, one that made my knees wobble.

Ferdinand —my ex-boyfriend, coworker at the Interpol, and messenger of my guilty conscience— was standing behind me, his eyes fixed on me.

Ferdinand? You’re dead.”

You just can’t help hurting the ones who love you.”

He hated me. You knew that.”

He shook his head slowly. “Not at all, Scarlett. Not at all.”

Then the machine gun went on again and…

I woke up with a jolt, gasping for air. I frantically surveyed the place with my eyes. It had been a week already and I was out of the intensive care unit and in a private, more comfortable room.

What the fuck?!” I tried to sit but my left wrist was bound to the bed.

Whoa!” Johanna jumped to my side. “You’re all right.”

I am not! I’m tied to this…” I trailed off as another face came to view, one that made me frown.

You were pulling on your bandages in your sleep.” Jimmy stood at the feet of the bed, one hand on his hip, pulling his suit jacket back and giving me a clear view of the gun holstered inside.

How long have you been here?”

And hour maybe? You were already bound so don’t go thinking it was my idea.”

I was worried you’d actually rip it off.” Johanna hastened to release me.

Once my hand was free I rubbed my wrist. The bandage around my right shoulder didn’t lend me much mobility, but it didn’t hurt as bad anymore. My left arm, on the other hand, didn’t hurt at all. The bed was already in an almost sitting position, so I just pushed myself up with my left hand while keeping my right arm close to my torso.

What time is it?”

Almost noon.” Jimmy answered before Johanna could even look at her watch. “I don’t have much time.”

I’m starving.” I said under my breath as I tried to pull the blanket over my chest.

I’ll see what I can do about that.” Johanna grinned at me, but I could tell Jimmy’s presence was unsettling for her.

That would be very nice of you.” I smiled back, trying to ease her. “Mr. Gordon won’t be here too long. Right?”

Not at all.” He looked annoyed.

Johanna nodded at him and scurried away.

Jimmy waited until the door was completely shut to stand on the spot Johanna had vacated and speak. “Got yourself a lackey?”

They let you bring your toys in here, Jimmy?”

I’m an agent. Remember? Heard Armand made it out alive. Is that true?”

So they say. I bet you knew about Romulus’ plan.”

No. I didn’t. Never thought he’d try to get Armand killed.”

Some people don’t take blackmailing lightly.” I avoided his glance and proceeded. “Are you here to arrest me or something? Bet the hospital is surrounded.”

It is, but, no. I’m not here to arrest you. Still undercover. Desmond is alive and giving orders from jail.”

Is that so?”

We’ve already had to deal with a lot of fallen men. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Not a thing.”

He scoffed. “Armand’s forgotten about you so quickly? You’ve been here what? A week?”

He’s just waiting for the right moment to get me out of here.”

What makes you so sure?”

I twisted my head towards him and, even through the pain in my shoulder, held his stare. “What makes you think he won’t?”

Come on, Scarlett. You can’t possibly think he’s in love with you.”

Now that made me angry. “What the fuck, Jimmy? What did I ever do to you?”

I’m not here as a cop or as one of MacGowan’s henchmen.” His tone turned grave as he spoke through his clenched teeth. “I’m here as Ferdinand’s best friend. You hurt him, Scarlett; never forget that. He worried about you even when he knew you didn’t love him as much as he loved you. I’m here because he made me swear I’ll protect you if he was gone. He knew he’d die, he felt it coming. And even then, he only thought of you, of your safety. Is this how you repay him? Killing Romulus so you can run away with that bastard?”

You better not talk about Armand that way ever again.”

What are you to him, really? Any female agent we sent into that mission would’ve ended up in bed with him. Haven’t thought about that, have you?”

Fuck you, Jimmy. I don’t need this.” I tried to hit him with the back of my left fist but he caught my wrist midair.

No, Scarlett. You have to wake up. You’ve fucked yourself and I can help you.”

Fucked myself? More like saved myself.”

You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

We’re expendable, Jimmy. Never forget that. Romulus was a piece of shit.”

I tried to free my arm from his grip but before I could do anything the heel of his other hand connected with my right shoulder.

Aaaagh!” The pain made my eyes water as I jerked back, gasping for air. “Fuuuuuck!”

To this day I still ask myself what the hell it was Ferdinand saw in you.” He rummaged in his pocket for something, produced a photo, and held it to my face. “This is what he was saving you from. This is the reason MacGowan wanted to abduct you. And this is the reason you’ll be dead soon enough if you don’t accept my offer.”

I recognized Cisneros’ and MacGowan’s faces in the picture, yet it was the third one that made my insides churn, making me want to run for the bathroom and puke my guts out. Only that getting on my feet wouldn’t be an easy thing to do and I knew I wouldn’t make it on time if I tried. Measuring my options, I opted for swallowing hard.

That’s right.” Jimmy shoved the photo back into his pocket. “Xavi Pontevedra is in London and he’s here to kill you.”

This changed everything. Xavi Pontevedra, the man who had held me captive in a brothel during the Gibraltar mission, was out of jail, seeking revenge, while I was bound to a hospital bed.

There’s so much you don’t know, Scarlett.”

And you’re going to tell me?”

All in due time.”

Fuck off then!”

Jimmy left, leaving me huffing and puffing both from the pain and the desperation that overcame me.

At least he won’t get to me here with the police guarding this goddamn place, I thought as I pressed the nurse’s call button.

****

Torn (The Caregiver Book 2) – Chapter 2 + Cover Reveal!

The sneak peek you’ve all been waiting for, now with cover reveal!

Cover for Torn, The Caregiver Book 2

This book is being edited by the lovely Stacia Rogan (check out her website, she rocks!). This isn’t the final version of the text but I know I’ve kept you waiting for too long, so here it is. Enjoy!

Read Chapter 1 here.

Chapter 2

I woke to the sensation of something stuck inside my throat. I wanted to pull it out but my right arm was bound and when I tried to break free, it felt as if a knife went through the upper right side of my chest.

Easy! Easy!” A woman’s voice came out of nowhere. “You’re all right.” She soothed me. “I’ll get that for you.”

I coughed out the feeling of the tube being pulled out through my mouth, trying hard not to puke. It felt as if there was an anvil resting on my forehead. Breathing was hard, and I had to blink a couple of times in order to focus my sight on the nurse looking over me. She was pretty, with dark hair and caramel eyes.

Be calm.” She interrupted me when I was about to speak. “Your throat may hurt. Do you want to sit?”

Yeah, shutting up was probably a better option. I nodded and she helped me get into a sitting position before securing a nasal cannula around my head and under my nose. She then rearranged the blanket around my chest.

There were tubes and monitors all around me. A nice-looking, disinfectant-smelling intensive care room if you asked me.

I’ll get Dr. Williams.” Her smiling brown eyes shone under the dark fringe.

I managed to peek through the door when she walked out of the room and saw a man standing outside, dressed in black. I figured it would be a Met officer. The whole place must been flooded with Met, Interpol, SOCA… the whole lot.

All of a sudden everything was coming back to me. Armand being handcuffed, shooting Romulus… I felt my face get hot and had to blink back the tears.

Good morning, Miss Lang.” A doctor strode into the room, clipboard in hand, followed by the nurse. He was tall, with auburn hair tied back into a ponytail. “How do you feel?”

I’ve been better.”

My name is Dr. Williams and this is Johanna. She’ll be your nurse all the way through your stay here.” He checked my drips. “Are you in pain right now?”

A bit, yes.” I tried to push myself up but my left arm protested. “How long have I been out?”

A little over forty-eight hours. You were shot on your left upper arm, your right leg and the right side of your chest, where the bullet went through, exiting through your back. Both your left arm and right leg wounds will heal promptly since the bullets tore little muscle. The one on your chest is another story.” He and the nurse stood on each side of the bed. “Thankfully, it was a small caliber, but it did fracture your clavicle and shoulder blade. You were lucky it didn’t hit an artery.”

He took a pen out of his pocket, scribbled something on a paper, detached it from the clipboard, and handed it to me.

What-?”

Let me take a look at your stitches.” He crossed me, eying the piece of paper in my hand.

Armand is alive and well. He asks for you to be patient.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I turned to the nurse and she smiled.

The heat came back to my face. He was alive.

The doctor had set his clipboard on the bed and was looking intently at me, awaiting my answer.

Yes. Sure. Okay.” I let him uncover my wounded shoulder.

I reread the note before Johanna took it and threw it in a rubbish bin.

He’s one of our top donors,” the doctor whispered to my ear. “Funded most of our pediatrics burns centre.”

Armand the philanthropist. I can’t say I was surprised.

The instinct to turn my head towards him spiked a sting-like pain that rode from my shoulder up to my neck.

Ow.” I breathed.

Try not to do that. And keep your arm in the sling at all times. It’ll take some time to heal completely.” He replaced my bandages and set the sling back in place. “Your leg and arm will take less time.”

I bent my right leg at the knee and, yes, it didn’t feel as bad.

He grabbed the clipboard. “You will be transferred to a private room. Johanna will take good care of you.” He scribbled something on his clipboard again, this time it wasn’t for me to see. “Get some rest now. I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

As soon as he walked out of the room, Johanna produced a syringe from one of her pockets.

This will make you feel better in no time.” She said as she injected its contents into my IV.

What about George?” I bet she knew.

He’s with Mr. Sayer.” She disposed of the syringe before getting back to me. “Now try and get some sleep.”

They were both alive. The thought of it made me feel so much better. Or was it the meds?

I closed my eyes and tried not to think about anything.

But dreams don’t take orders from anyone.

****