But on the writing front, things are zooming along faster than ever. I guess it's true what they say about practice makes perfect. I'm far from perfect, but this summer I spent any free time writing the third book in The Breeders series, tentatively called The Benders. I was able to write the rough draft in three months (my fastest time ever!) and am already two thirds through the first revision. This book feels really good and my beta reader has had positive things to say. So that leaves me doing the happy dance. My hope is to release at the end of November. It is looking like a realistic goal at this point. Readers have been waiting and I want to deliver.
Instead of telling you about the book, I decided I would include a snippet of the first chapter. This is a rough draft, but it'll give you a flavor of what is to come. So, without further ado, The Benders.
Clay holds the empty revolver in his fist and eyes it. The determined look on his face makes me think if he stares long enough he can conjure bullets from thin air. And maybe he can. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen him do some goddamned amazing things. But, seeing as how bullets are the most valuable commodities in the land, even Clay can’t make that magic happen.
And it’s bullets we need because over the rise of the hill a curl of campfire smoke rises into the dusk. The smell of crisping meat makes my empty stomach clench. We ain’t had a decent meal in five days, just jerky and water and that’s gone, too. Whoever awaits on the other side of this hill better be ready for a fight. We sure are.
Our truck died over a week ago and our bullets ran out three days back. I think of the three square meals we had at the Citadel and wanna cry. Their provisions lasted us about a week. I look over at my brother, Ethan, and a knot forms in my throat. The little fat he put on at Citadel has wasted off his cheeks, leaving them hollow. His dark hair is dusty and coarse and the nice clothes we were given have already worn through at the elbows and knees from skulking around cactus and climbing up rocky hillsides. He’s got his tan back, which out in the desert is a good thing. It means we’ve been away from the clutches of the Believers long enough that their way of life’s been baked off our bodies. It’s some consolation to starving out in the desert. At least we ain’t in the Messiah’s clutches anymore.
When Ethan sees me looking, he throws up a little smile, but I know he’s suffering just like me. I dig into the pack on my back and hand him the water canteen, my only act of defiance against the fates for making us starve like this.
He looks down at the water jug and shakes his head. “I’m fine. You drink it,” he whispers, shoving the jug back to me.
I shake my head and push it back. “Took a drink an hour ago.”
“Don’t believe you,” he whispers, blowing out a breath that stirs the sand in front of his face. “You always give me too much.”
“Do not,” I say, pressing the jug into his hands from where I lay next to him.
Clay shoots us both a will-you-hush-up look and trains his eyes to the crest of the hill where the smoke is rolling into the heavens. “We can worry ‘bout who drank what later. Right now I need your eyes and ears on this. Riley, come up with me.” He gestures to the crest of the hill. “Ethan, stay by the packs.” Ethan starts a protest, but Clay cuts him off with a look. They’ve become like brothers over the last few months. Something I’m still getting used to.
I give Ethan’s arm a squeeze and press my hunting knife into his palm. Then I scoot on my belly up to Clay. Slowly, we inch up until we can peer down into the valley.
Everything is just as we saw twenty minutes ago. The hill rolls into a low, bowl-shaped valley about fifty feet wide. At the bottom of the hill, a campfire crackles inside a ring of rocks. On one side, a figure sits on a boulder, tending the blaze. From here we can tell he’s a man, though we’ve got no idea what age or size. He could be a wizened old shell or a behemoth who’ll cleave us in half with his bare hands. I glance at Clay who works his jaw back and forth. If we run into this scene, we gamble with our lives. But then, out here, every damn day is a gamble.
On the other side of the fire the second of our worries lies wrapped in a tattered blanket. It’s a person though definitely smaller. Could be a boy. Could be a woman for all we know.
We know nothing and that’s what’s eaten at me. We should just turn around and leave.
Clay points and draws my attention to the one tending the fire. A shotgun rests at his feet. I glance at Clay, trying to discern from his face whether he thinks this is a problem or not. Most guns around here are for show. Bullets are harder to come by than chocolate cake and just as desired. If he has bullets he’s got a major advantage on us. We got a six-inch hunting knife and a nine-inch serrated blade that Clay keeps in his boot. We’ll have to get close to do any sort of damage, and if he hears us, he can pick us off easy as rabbits in a trap.
I scoot back down the hill and lay on my back. The night sky thickens with stars. Coyotes howl in the distance, a night sound I’m so familiar with it’s almost soothing. But not tonight. I roll over and look at Clay.
“This is plain crazy. We’ll get shot up before we make it to the fire.”
Clay looks over at me, his sky blue eyes finding mine. God, they soften me every time, but right now I don’t wanna be soft. My life, and more importantly Ethan’s life, hangs in the balance.
“Riley,” he says, smiling. “One old man and his boy can’t stop me. You know I got this.” He flashes white teeth in a look that would melt any girl from here to White Sands. If there were any girls from here to White Sands.
I scowl and cross my arms over my bound breasts. “You mighta got this if you had bullets, but you don’t.” I gesture to the useless revolvers at his hips. “What’re you gonna do, throw those at him?”
Clay smiles again, unfazed. “If I need to.”
“This ain’t funny,” I say, frowning. “If he hears us coming down, we’re dead in two blasts. Then Ethan’s an orphan and he starves to death beneath that cactus.
Clay’s smile fades. He scoots closer to me until his body is inches from mine. I refuse to turn. Instead I try to puzzle out my fate in the stars above.
“Riley,” he whispers, his breath on my cheek.
I don’t move.
“Riley.” His hand slinks under the fabric at my waist, fingers caressing the skin there. Tingles ignite were his touch meets my skin. Finally I roll over until I’m facing him. In the twilight he’s stunning. His blue eyes match the last wink of day in the west and his stubbled cheeks make him look both rugged and manly. Any hint of the sickness from the Believers’ water has left and what’s replaced it is his deep tan and wind-blown hair. How in the world I landed such a man is beyond me.
He slides a hand out and cups my cheek. “When I say I got this,” he pauses and runs a thumb from my cheekbone to my jaw, “I got this. I wouldn’t put you or Ethan in danger.”
I nod, but he cups my cheek and looks at me again. “Do you trust me?”
I think of what we’ve been through—the Breeders and the fight with Clay’s parents, the Citadel and how we side-by-side as the mall filled with poison. I press my hand to the gold band he gave me, resting on a chain beneath my shirt.
“Yes,” I breathe.
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