The Caregiver

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.

On how Romulus convinced Scarlett to sign the contract

In The Caregiver Series we follow Interpol agent Scarlett Lang through what would be the most important mission in her career so far: pose as caregiver for London’s biggest drug-lord.

This vignette takes place before Book 1, after Vignette #3 & #5

Read Vignette #1 , Vignette #2 , Vignette #3, Vignette #4, Vignette #5

Book 1 is FREE today and tomorrow! (Nov 1 & 2)

Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Detective Inspector Romulus Moretti awaited Rafael Cisneros’ and my arrival at Heathrow. Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours and even when I called him to tell him we could hail a taxi when we got there, he insisted on picking us up himself, no matter how late it got.

It had been two weeks since our meeting in Miami and we’d kept in touch both by phone and email. He was more than okay with me asking questions and wanting more information, and he answered every one of them with enough detail to make me feel better about this.

Only thing was, I preferred his written answers. Our phone calls were lengthy. Too lengthy. And strayed towards more personal subjects every now and then.

I must confess there was something about him. Something I still couldn’t pinpoint and that made me feel a little queasy.

It’s probably that he’s a cop. I kept telling myself. Even if you’ve always dreamt of becoming one you have to accept the fact that you were raised not to trust them.

Baggage claimed, Cisneros lead the way to where Romulus was waiting with his police officer stance and a smug smile on his face.

“Cisneros.” They shook hands before Romulus turned to me, his smile softening to an almost tender one. “Miss Lang. Welcome to London.”

The moment we stepped out into the cold my stomach started doing somersaults. This was it. The one opportunity I’d been waiting for my whole fucking life. The chance to put my past behind and start anew. Bonus points for it to be in a different city also.

“Are you hungry?” Romulus asked as he held the passenger door of his car for me.

I stared at him for a bit longer than normal. “A bit.”

That was, apparently, the answer he was waiting for because he grinned and said, “There’s a pub near the hotel you’ll be staying. We could go there.”

Did I fail to mention he booked a hotel room for me? I always stayed at Cisneros’ while in London, yet he wouldn’t have any of that. I wasn’t in a position to protest, nor did I want to start an argument with the one that was only a John Hancock away from becoming my boss, so I said yes to that.

And yes to leaving Cisneros at his house before heading for said hotel.

And thanks but no thanks when Cisneros reminded me he and Bobby were only a call away if I needed anything.

What could happen, really? It wasn’t as if I hadn’t killed men double Romulus’s size.

We were off and the first thing Romulus did was sigh.

“What?” I asked.

“Rafael is always so stressed. Pissing himself all the time.”

“Only when there are cops around. Ever been to one of his parties?”

“No.” He drawled. “He’s never invited me to one. Are they any good?”

“Good? They’re the best. Nothing but champagne and cigars.”

“You smoke?”

“Depends on the occasion.”

A sideglance, a cocked eyebrow. I was getting some signals from this guy I didn’t really know how to interpret.

Or was it that I didn’t want to interpret them at all?

I wasn’t a naïve little girl. I knew where this could go if I let it.

Getting a good look at his hands I noticed he didn’t have a ring, nor did his ring finger show a lack of sun exposure over the last knuckle.

“Do you have any children?”

My inquiry took him by surprise, to the point of making him scoff. “Yes. Three.” I nodded, letting him be consumed by his thoughts about why I brought that question up, when he asked back. “Do you?”

Didn’t he know everything about me already?

“No.”

Now he nodded and said nothing more.

It takes two to play this game.

“Here we are.” He announced once we arrived at the hotel.

He took my luggage, checked me in, and escorted me to my room. “Everything’s paid for and if you incur in any other charges during your stay the agency will cover it.” He stood by the closed door while I inspected my surroundings.

“I haven’t signed anything yet.”

“It’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

I swung my bag over the bed to cover what my eyes were doing, which was studying him. He looked more relaxed than at the airport, although his arms were crossed over his chest.

His looks were more than agreeable, I must confess. A strong build, sweet dark eyes, and the grays in his hair really suited him.

“Do you need anything? Should I come by later?”

“Nah, it’s okay.” I glanced at my watch and it was late, but not too much. “Is that invitation to the pub still on?”

“I can give you some time to deal with the jet lag.”

“Nothing a couple of pints can’t take care of.”

He sent me a half-grin, uncrossing his arms and turning for the door. “I’ll wait in the lobby.”

I stared at the door as it shut behind him and didn’t notice I hadn’t moved until my mobile vibrated inside my jacket’s pocket. Bobby. I wasn’t picking that call up so I texted him I was okay before checking my makeup and heading down to where Romulus was waiting for me.

We walked over to the pub, sat at a table away from the windows and were quick to start on our beers, and plates of chips.

“Tomorrow we’ll visit Spring Gardens so you can meet your coworkers, get acquainted, see the premises.”

“And what is this about? Getting acquainted with the boss?”

He leaned back in his seat, giving a look around before staring straight into my eyes. “I know you’re not used to having someone supervise your work. I promise not to be the obtrusive kind.”

“What do you know about my work anyway?”

He pushed himself forward, elbows on the table, and drew his face as close to my side as he could. “I know all I need to know: that you’re the best. And, between you and me, I believe that, very soon, you’ll be surpassing your grandfather. A great feat for a 24-year-old.”

“You said my contract would start and end with you.”

“It will. You’ll work under me since the moment you sign to the moment you call it quits. In the rare case that I may have to be the one who ceases to work with the project, you’ll be free to decide if you want to stay working with us or not.”

“Us. That’s something you still haven’t explained.”

“You sure ask a lot of questions.” He was resting on his arms over the table now. “I wonder if you’d be so eager if it were you on the other side.”

Some guttural cat-like sound threatened to come out of my lips.

“Try me.”

He ordered another round and waited until we were served.

Ready. Steady. Go.

“Last job.”

“Two weeks ago.”

“For whom?”

Raised eyebrow. “A friend.”

“Where?”

“Monterrey, México.”

“Any other jobs in your agenda?”

“Not yet.”

“Do you have a concealed weapon with you right now?”

“Yes.”

“Is it the one you used for that job?”

“I use rifles for my jobs.”

“Who was the unlucky bastard?”

Pause. “A shop owner.”

“Shop? What kind?”

“Pawn shop. Arms trafficker.”

“How did you kill him?”

“Waited until he got into his car and shot him in the head from a building across the street.”

“Witnesses?”

“Nope.”

“How did it feel to pull that trigger?”

“Like always.”

“And how is that?”

I leaned over the table to join him midway. “Better than sex.”

“Is it?”

“Very.”

“I beg to differ.”

“Then you’ve never had a rifle in your hands and a target in sight.”

“I have.”

“Then you know it is.”

“I find many differences between both acts.”

“Like what?”

“I’m the one asking the questions.”

I sat back, my eyes not leaving his, and raised my hands to my sides.

“Shoot me then.”

“No.”

“Oh. Forgot you London police can’t walk around with guns.”

He pushed back the side of his jacket, reaching for something in one of his trouser’s pockets.

A pair of handcuffs.

And set them on the table between us.

“I don’t think I’ll need a gun when it comes to you.”

I sipped from my beer.

He tapped a finger on the metal contraptions, a half-grin etched on his face.

“I don’t think so either.”

When I went for the handcuffs he snatched them. “Not so fast. You sign the contract first.”

“So they sent you to dine me and wine me while sweet talking me into signing?”

“None of that. I’m just trying to make the process smoother. Everybody’s scared you’ll refuse our offer.”

“I should. Not only am I not used to being supervised, I’m not used to people denying me of what I want.”

He pushed the handcuffs to me as he gulped the last of his beer. I hastened to do the same, taking the cuffs in my fist and following him out of the pub and back to the hotel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liked this vignette? Then you’ll love the books!

Book 1 is FREE today and tomorrow!

Check out Book 1′s Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

The Caregiver

Available here: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

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.

****

Torn (The Caregiver Book 2) – Chapter 1

The sneak peek you’ve all been waiting for! 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!

Chapter 1

What the fuck have you done?!” I heard Sayer shout in the distance, then the shuffling of hands over me.

I guessed they were the paramedics because I didn’t want to open my eyes again. I had killed the beast, whom, to everyone’s surprise, wasn’t the drug lord that was now being held back by a Met officer, but my supervisor at the Interpol. I had shot him down in order to save the man I loved. I’d become an Interpol agent gone rogue and that would ensure chaos.

Scarlett,” someone whispered. “Scarlett! Open your eyes. Stay with me.”

I obliged and saw Patrick, the young man who’d become the drug lord’s apprentice, walking next to the stretcher I was being transferred in.

The first thing that came to my mind was to ask him where the fuck he had been while all hell broke loose. But the mix of blood and bile in my mouth didn’t let me speak–neither did the oxygen mask covering half my face.

I wanted to drift away into some fairyland filled with light, green grass, ponds, and birds chirping in the background. Or the fiery pits of hell, I didn’t really care which as the pain burnt my limbs.

Armand?” I managed to spit some of the blood that threatened to drown me and someone removed my oxygen mask for a moment. “Where’s Armand?”

He’s been taken in, but don’t worry, it’s all part of the plan.”

Oh, now he told me about the plan. He had refused to do so when I asked him, before it all went berserk and the rival drug dealer, Max MacGowan, and his men got into a shooting with Met and Interpol agents outside the church where the service for Sayer’s dead sister was taking place. All I knew about the plan was to let MacGowan’s men scoop me up and then duck when the bullets started flying. And yeah, that last part I made up myself.

However, I wasn’t expecting Romulus —my now dead supervisor— to want Armand dead. Or should I had come to that conclusion on my own given the fact that Armand had blackmailed him in order to keep me by his side?

It was all very confusing.

No, it can’t be.” My speech sounded more like mumbling, but he seemed to understand. “That officer arresting Armand wasn’t… Aaaaagh!”

One of the paramedics applied pressure to the wound in my leg and I felt as if the life was being taken away from my body. Coldness overcame me and everything went dark.

****

Armand wanted to stay with her. He knew she was in pain and all his instinct told him to do was free his hands so he could hold her and, by some miraculous way, transfer it to him. His mind boggled at the thought of what she must have been going through.

Nonetheless, there were other things to worry about. He knew she’d be taken to a hospital under heavy police guard. It was better that she was treated there rather than find some surgeon to do it god-knows-where and under unsanitary circumstances.

He walked towards the police vehicle feeling like the weight of the world had landed on his shoulders, sadness making his chest tight. George welcomed him into the backseat with a silent nod, his features dark while his mind fixated elsewhere. His cane sat between them as a mute witness of their mutual preoccupation.

The officer that arrested George rode on the passenger seat while the one who handcuffed Armand drove them away, waving to his colleagues as they moved aside to let the car through. Once they were away from the scene, Armand stared out the window, his mind still on Scarlett.

Mr. Sayer?” The driver interrupted his thoughts.

Yes?” Armand watched him through the rearview mirror as he took off his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. He was probably around Scarlett’s age.

That was Adrian Lang’s granddaughter, wasn’t she? Scarlett?”

The officer on the passenger side turned to his partner, confused.

Armand exchanged a glance with George before answering, “Yes.”

I knew she recognized me as soon as she saw me.”

The other officer gaped at his companion. “What the f-?” Was all he managed to say before the driver shot him in the head.

The bullet shattered the window, blood covering everything around the man that now sat with his chin pressed against his chest, a hole in the back of his head.

You’re not a cop.” Armand looked away.

No, sir.” The officer-turned-killer rummaged for something, then handed George the keys to their handcuffs. “I’m a contract killer, trained by Adrian Lang himself.”

The sudden revelation was unsettling, but Armand had to keep his cool. “Who sent you?”

Let’s say my employer was just murdered by your… wife?”

Not yet.” He drawled. “So, the paying party in your contract is dead.”

George took off Sayer’s handcuffs and his employer did likewise for him.

Is he?” The officer-that-wasn’t grinned through the mirror. “Where to, sir?”

My house isn’t far from here, you can drop us wherever you find convenient.”

Very well, sir.” He grinned, then added, “He never told us who our target was associated with.”

Armand shot another glance at the man that would’ve been his murderer, but this time the latter was focused on the road.

Scarlett, he thought, you’re just full of surprises.

I’ll see that you are well compensated for this.”

The man parked a couple of houses down from Armand’s. George stepped out first.

Armand hesitated for a second before getting out. “Do you know where I can find Mr. Lang? He should know what happened.”

He’s retired. Living in the Caribbean, I believe. I can help you with that if you’d like.”

Retirement. That was a word he might not hear again after this.

I would be very grateful for that.” He was about to step out when he paused again. “I didn’t catch your name.”

Miguel, but they call me Michael around these parts.”

Thank you, Michael.”

Anytime, sir.”

Both men went into the house without uttering a word. George set to packing everything he could while Armand took out his mobile and started making calls on the way to his bedroom.

He rang Patrick first and was glad to learn Scarlett was taken to a hospital he knew well.

What’s her status?” he asked as he took off his bloodstained jacket.

She went into shock during the ride to the hospital. They thought they lost her, but she came back. She’s lost a lot of blood. She’s in the operating theatre and they’re trying to get the bullets out.”

Armand felt as if the ground was being removed from under him, so he held onto the dresser and took a deep breath before asking, “How many cops?”

Loads. Met, Interpol, Scotland Yard… They’ve been asking a lot of questions.”

Don’t worry if they take you in, I’m sending a lawyer to get you out.”

Will do, sir.”

He hung up. A sense of despair overwhelmed him. He was the one who was supposed to be there. His was the first face she should see when she woke up instead of some doctor’s. But, alas, that wasn’t possible, so he had to make sure she was safe.

Searching through his mobile’s contacts he found the perfect person to call.

Sayer?” George peeked through the door.

The call could wait. They had to get out of there before the police realized they never made it to the station. He handed George his mobile, took off his shirt, and searched in his wardrobe for a clean one. “I need you to contact Bradley and Ollie and tell them to head to the hospital to check on her. Make arrangements with the rest for when we can retrieve her.”

He trusted Bradley and Ollie because they were two of the most serious and clever henchmen he’d ever employed. They worked as realtors for his firm as a cover-up and they had surprised him with how good they were at it. Bradley, an Australian guy that didn’t talk much and whose specialty was hand-in-hand combat, and Ollie, a London native that, whenever he wasn’t making use of his IT and forgery skills, was cracking jokes left and right, were exactly who he needed at the moment to take care of Scarlett’s situation.

George went on to make the calls while Armand changed into a fresh suit. It had been a long time since he’d found himself in a situation like this. He’d never considered himself a gangster and the fact of calling out his men and getting them together didn’t suit him. But it had to be done or not one of them would make it out alive. He’d do anything for her, and if that meant becoming a fugitive and turning into one of those blood-shedding gangsters, so be it.

He pulled a bag from under the bed and filled it with clothes and some of his guns. Once he made it down, he turned on the fireplace and threw the bloodstained suit in it to burn.

I packed her clothes too.” George brought some of the heavier firepower with him. “They are in the car.”

There was no time to waste. Sooner rather than later the police would start searching for them. They took the Bentley down the M4 and into the Financial District, parking inside the underground of a building near Paternoster Square. He had bought the two upper floors from a stockbroker firm that went bankrupt and had converted them into a luxurious flat as part of his retirement plan. Thinking of a near future that was now slowly drifting away from him.

A future where he had pictured himself happily married to a woman whose fate was now a mystery to him. And he couldn’t help feeling guilty about this turn of events.

****

On how Scarlett thought the ‘becoming an agent thing’ over

In my first novella, The Caregiver, we follow Interpol agent Scarlett Lang through what would be the most important mission in her career so far: pose as caregiver for London’s biggest drug-lord, Armand Sayer.

This vignette is a BONUS! In this one we meet a very important character from Scarlett’s past that will appear in Book 2: Roberto Cisneros.

Enjoy!

Read Vignette #1 , Vignette #2 , Vignette #3, Vignette #4

Want to have them all together with a nice cover to read later? I’ve compiled these five vignettes in eBook format!

Get your FREE copy at Smashwords!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The red leather booth in the diner couldn’t contain both me and the colony of invisible ants that was crawling up and down my flesh. The memory of the meeting with that English dude and the other two agents seemed more and more surreal every time I replayed it in my head.

Cisneros hadn’t been very talkative afterwards. Not that we talked much anyway, only the necessary, which was mostly professional stuff: who to kill, where to do it, how much was in it for me… Except, of course, for the times where we’d all sit around his study talking through a cloud of cigar smoke, having a laugh over a bottle scotch or wine.

It was a whole other story with his half-brother, though. Roberto and Rafael had no blood ties, since Roberto was adopted by Rafael’s father after he married his mother. I often thought: had they been blood brothers, they wouldn’t be as close. They were as different as night and day, from their nationalities (Rafael was of Colombian ascent; Roberto, of Cuban), to their lines of work (one was a drug dealer; the other, a police detective).

Sitting with a clear view of the door is a must for everyone in a position like mine. And when the man with the brown suit, gun holstered under his jacket, badge pinned to his belt, pushed the door open, I was the first to see him. His olive eyes locked on me, and he smiled as he approached me.

“So,” he gave me a kiss on the cheek before sliding into his seat, “what’s this mysterious thing you can call me about but can’t tell me over the phone?”

“Well, hello. I don’t remember sleeping with you last night.”

His eyes shone over his sly smile. “Say the word and I can change that.”

“How’s the new wife doing?”

Jane, the old woman that waitressed there, cut in before he could reply. “You two having the usual?”

“Yes, Jane, the usual.” Roberto flashed her one of his smiles and made sure she was out of earshot before combing his dark brown hair back with his fingers and taking a deep breath. “She’s pregnant.”

What. The. Fuck.

“C-Congratulations.”

Jane brought us our coffees, giving me some time to process the news. No, I wasn’t emotionally involved with Roberto. We had something. Past tense. Not anymore.

Get a fucking grip.

“Thank you. If it’s a girl I’m naming her Scarlett.”

“The world doesn’t need another fucked up version of me.” I swirled the sugar in my drink while he poured a considerable amount into his.

“I wouldn’t say that. But we’re not here to discuss that. Are you going to tell me what you called me for?”

“I’ve been offered a job at Interpol.”

He choked on his coffee. I was quick to hand him a napkin, and pushed his arm away before he wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Oh, come on! You’ll ruin your suit.”

“Interpol?” He dabbed the corners of his mouth with the napkin, his eyes wide. “Seriously?”

“Did you know your brother is an informant?” He frowned, casting his eyes down without a word. “Of course you did. I bet it was you who cracked him.”

“I did know. But it wasn’t me.”

“And neither of you told me.”

“No need to, you’re perfectly safe as you are.”

“You two treat me like a child sometimes.”

“Never.” He took another sip of his coffee before gently setting the cup down. “Now, about that job offer of yours…”

“This English dude came all the way from London to offer me ‘a deal.’ To work for some program they’ve come up with, go on missions for them, and, after all is done, whatever record I have will be erased, and I’ll be free.”

Jane arrived with Roberto’s pastrami sandwich, the red basket overflowing with french fries, my philly cheese steak with their signature onion rings, and two tall glasses of coke to wash it all down.

“That’s bullshit, Scarlett.”

“I’m not kidding.”

“Give me your wrist.”

I rolled my eyes before extending my arm over the table. “Sure thing, human lie detector. The dude’s also a detective, you know? Detective Inspector. They’ve got funny names for policemen there.”

He set his fore and middle finger on the underside of my wrist, taking a glance at his watch for a moment before proceeding. “When did this happen?”

“This morning.” I answered without hesitation. He’d always do this when he thought I was lying.

“And you say he was English?”

“Yes. Very. His name’s Romulus, said he works for the Metropolitan police and the Interpol. A bit of a douchebag, if you ask me.”

“And what kind of deal was it?”

“I already told you.”

“Scarlett…,” he chided me.

“Work with an interagency program that is seeking recruits with… how did he say it? Contacts. Yeah, that. They give agent status to people who are in the business but want out. A new life, a clean slate. The chance to put everything bad behind me. At last.”

His face dropped, and he let my wrist go from his grip. If anyone knew how much I’d been through in my still-short life, it was him.

“Never heard of such a program.” He scooped a half of his sandwich, “Why bring someone all the way from England?” and bit into it.

“Your brother deals with some London people.” I took off the top of my sandwich and put a couple of onion rings inside. “And the dude said they wanted me to work away from where I’m known. I’d be travelling around, not necessarily to England, maybe some other countries. Also, he said I’d be Interpol because he’s Interpol, but that there are others with different agency credentials.”

“I don’t know, Scarlett. Doesn’t sound right to me. Interpol doesn’t recruit people that aren’t already working in some agency or police department, much less send people on missions around the world.”

“I told him, and his answer was that the credentials were mostly for travel and payroll purposes.”

“Still doesn’t make sense.” He was attacking his food with a passion, as if channeling his emotions by biting and chewing on it.

“What did Rafael say?”

“That he’d been working with them for the past year.”

“See?” He picked a french fry and pointed it at me, “I didn’t know that,” then shoved it into his mouth. “I’ll have to talk to him about it. Did he know the guy that talked to you?”

“Apparently, yes. The dude knows Adrian and had even talked to him prior to our meeting.”

Roberto rose in height at my statement, taken aback. “What?! He spoke to Adrian about recruiting you?”

“Told me Adrian tried to talk him out of it, that I was no good. Oh, and he still hasn’t let go of the Scarlett the Scumbag thing.”

“Fucker.”

I finished the first half of my sandwich, took a large gulp of soda, and set my hands flat on the table. “I want out, Bobby. I- I don’t know if I can go on with this for much longer. There’s no life in this business. There may still be time for me. I’m twenty-four, you know?”

“You saying that makes me feel like a pervert.”

“Why? You’re only forty-six.”

“Only?” He chuckled. “Thank you. That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me in a while.”

“I think I’ll be taking the offer.” I went on eating the second half of my sandwich; it was too good to let it go cold. “What’s the worst that could happen? That it’s some bogus program and I end up having to kill them?”

The last bit of his sandwich hovered in front of him, midway to his mouth. “Probably.”

“I’ll always have you to cover my ass for me.”

“You’re in luck, then. I’ve also got a job offer.” He finished his food and wiped his hands clean. “CIA.”

“Whoa. You’ve been wanting that for some time now.”

“Yes, I have.” He leaned over the table. “I’ll always be there for you, Scarlett. I appreciate you calling me to talk this over.” His eyes trained on me, I could hear the truth in his words. With Bobby, emotions were always only skin deep. “I’d advise you to think it through, even though I know you’ve already made your mind. If this is, indeed, a way out, then I’m all for it.”

I cleared my plate before pushing it aside.

“You know I’m always a phone call away.” He continued. “If there’s anything I wish is for you to leave all this behind.”

“Step into the light?” I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back.

He pushed himself forward. “But never let it blind you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liked this vignette? Then you’ll love the book!

Check out Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

Or buy it, it’s only 99¢ (£0.77, €0.89)!

The Caregiver book cover

Available here: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel

Random bits of inspiration for Book 2

I’ve said before that I take a lot of inspiration from movies. Then I read this post at the Park Theatre blog and thought ‘yes, exactly, we can get inspiration from odd places/things/people/whatever and it doesn’t mean we’re copying or using them as they came.’

In order to celebrate those random bits of inspiration, I’ve decided to share with you some of the many clips that have been in my mind while writing book 2 of The Caregiver.

All of these movies/series are awesome and you should watch them if you haven’t already.

From Wild Bill

From Love, Honour and Obey

From The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

From The Bourne Ultimatum

From The Night Porter

From Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (the whole movie, but mostly Lucinda and Jimmy during the first 4 minutes of this clip)

From Alphas

From Layer Cake (no, I never get tired of this one!)