Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Guest Post: Why zombies are the perfect modern monster

I featured F.J.R. Titchenell on the post when her "Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of)" came out, and since it's being re-released on April 4 with a new publisher and a snazzy new cover I thought I'd have her drop by again to share her thoughts on why zombies are still so gosh darn popular.

000

Why Zombies Are the Perfect Modern Monster
by F.J.R. Titchenell

I’m a huge fan of zombie fiction – as you can probably tell by the fact that I wrote a book called Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of) – but when asked questions like this one, about why exactly zombies are so popular, I find that my answers tend to get a bit misanthropic.

Why are we so enthralled by the concept of an apocalyptic plague of hungry, infectious walking corpses?

Since the idea has passed through the hands of so many different writers, it’s been spun a million different ways and used to express lots of different things, from anti-materialism to self-exploration to downright futility. In general though, zombie stories that come anywhere close to the standard format of brainless, unsaveable zombies, plucky survivors, and nonexistent infrastructure, all speak to one particular human fear.

The fear of being lost in the crowd.

I don’t just mean literally being lost in a packed space full of hostile strangers, but the fear of our own insignificance on a planet full of people crying out to be acknowledged.

Imagining ourselves against the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse allows us to feel instantly special and separate from an endless crowd of extras by virtue of simply being alive. We and our tiny cast of fellow survivor characters are thinking, feeling, real people who matter; the bodies packing the streets outside aren’t.

Pretty sick, right?

But we all do it. We all fantasize about not having to share, not having to wait our turn, about taking whatever strikes our fancy because there’s no one to tell us it’s not ours, about carving our way through the people in line ahead of us with a chainsaw, because they weren’t real anyway, not the way we are.

Is this a specifically modern desire? I’m sure it’s always existed, but it also makes sense that it could have been intensified by a rising world population, and by improved communication technology making it more obvious to each of us how far from alone we are – and by the same token, how dubious our sense of uniqueness. And while we’re still a very long way off from achieving true universal equality, it is thankfully far less socially acceptable to elevate oneself by openly dehumanizing a particular group of fellow humans than it was, say, a hundred years ago. Maybe fictional zombies have risen as a convenient psychological surrogate for that particular destructive human habit.

I don’t know if all this would make me call zombies the perfect modern monster, but it certainly makes them a great modern guilty pleasure.

So is that all typical zombies fiction is? A safe, controlled outlet for the worst of our remaining lizard-brain instincts?

That’s certainly a large part of it, but I like to think not.

Zombies can also set the stage to explore the best parts of how people respond to a crisis. A lot of zombie fiction tends to focus disproportionately on humanity at its worst, assuming that the majority of people who survive the apocalypse would immediately take the excuse to unveil themselves as the biggest psychos they could possibly be, but my favorite moments are when we get to see how desperate and exceptional circumstances can instead bring out people’s compassion, initiative, and ingenuity.

I like to believe that where there are still humans, there’s still humanity. There’s still love and laughter, even when it has to come in the form of a morbid crutch, and that’s what you’ll find in Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of). There might be a psycho or two for flavor, but mostly it’s about a group of teens who could have gone their separate ways in the everyday world, finding time to riff on each other and keep being teens as that world ends around them, even while they adapt to protect and support each other through it.

Oh, and also plenty of looting, skull smashing, traffic law breaking, and fireworks, because you can’t release the zombies and not feed the lizard brain a little.

Come on, now.

000

More about Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of)

The world is Cassie Fremont’s playground. Her face is on the cover of every newspaper. She has no homework, no curfew, and no credit limit, and she spends her days traveling the country with her friends, including a boy who would do the chicken dance with death to make her smile. Life is just about perfect—except that those newspaper headlines are about her bludgeoning her crush to death with a paintball gun, she has to fight ravenous walking corpses every time she steps outside, and one of her friends is still missing, trapped somewhere in the distant, practically impassable wreckage of Manhattan.


Still, Cassie’s an optimist, more prone to hysterical laughter than hysterical tears, and she’d rather fight a corpse than be one. She’ll never leave a friend stranded when she can simply take her road trip to impossible new places, even if getting there means admitting to that boy that she might love him as more than her personal jester. Skillfully blending effective horror with unexpected humor, this diary-style novel is a fast-paced and heartwarming read.

Pre-order it here:

Amazon
Smashwords
iTunes
Barnes and Noble

More about F.J.R. Titchenell

F.J.R. Titchenell is an author of young adult, sci-fi, and horror fiction. She graduated with a B.A in English from California State University, Los Angeles, in 2009 at the age of twenty, is represented by Fran Black of Literary Counsel, and currently lives in San Gabriel, California with her husband and fellow author, Matt Carter, and their pet king snake, Mica.

The "F" is for Fiona, and on the rare occasions when she can be pried away from her keyboard, her kindle, and the pages of her latest favorite book, Fi can usually be found over-analyzing the inner workings of various TV Sci-Fi universes or testing out some intriguing new recipe, usually chocolate-related. You can find more about her at her official homepage, fjrtitchenell.weebly.com.



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sales! Sales! Sales!


IPG is doing a sale for print copies of both "Beast Charming" and "Dreamless," with "Beast Charming" available for $9.99 and "Dreamless" available for $11.99 throughout the month of March. If you've been thinking about picking up either, this is probably your best chance. Here's the link (it may look like the books are still the original prices, but the sale prices are listed next to the "Buy this" button. I couldn't find it at first, either).













If you've been looking to pick up a copy of "Two Left Feet" but are a frugally minded soul (like myself), now might be your chance. The book will be on sale for 99 cents now through March 11 at Smashwords, a non-platform or app specific site that has several e-book formats. Just use the code RAE50 at checkout (and/or click on the "Buy With Coupon" link available on the page).


Happy reading!

Monday, February 13, 2017

How to Win Over Your Arch-Nemesis (in Three Easy Steps) question/future plans (a.k.a. my little spy fic)

I wasn't really prepared to trip and fall into spy fiction. I'd never written it, never really even thought about writing it, and then one little plot bunny happened and suddenly I have a whole new universe. Weirder still, it's one I really, really like. Like many people who have commented on the two chapters I have posted (thank you all, they're all so lovely), I've realized over the last few weeks that I really, really want to know what happens next.

So my current plan is to double the current amount of text (I say double, but never in all my life has a piece of fiction kept to the word count I thought it would, so it'll probably go over) get a cover together, and publish it on several different platforms (including Smashwords) as a 99 cent e-book. I will, of course, keep everyone updated here and on my various social media profiles.

And if you guys end up liking that, who knows? Spies (and computer programmers, I suspect) always seem to have more than one adventure under their belt.

Update: It's up now. I've collected all the links it's currently available at here, and will be adding links to new platforms as they go online. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Win Over Your Arch-Nemesis (in Three Easy Steps), ch. 2

So I'm playing in the spy genre now. For those who missed the first chapter, check it out here.

000

The more she thought about it, the more Thea was certain there was something off about that lawyer.
She returned her attention to the list of local law firms the search engine had spit out, realizing she couldn’t begin to guess which firm he was with. Specifically, because he hadn’t even told her his name, though every other lawyer she’d ever met had always been immediately ready with their name, firm and a business card at the slightest hint of interest. Not to mention the fact that a lawyer would be intelligent enough to know that she wouldn’t discuss privately-made software at work - if he’d been genuinely interested in getting her to sell the clone-blocking software, he would have offered to discuss it with her over lunch.

But if he wasn’t a lawyer, she still didn’t know what he’d thought he was doing. She’d double-checked her phone and tablet, but there was no signs of anyone even attempting an intrusion. If he’d had a device or program capable of slipping past her firewalls without leaving /any kind of trace, he wouldn’t have bothered being so obvious about his approach. Simply taking a seat at a nearby table would have likely been enough to create the opportunity he needed. 

Sighing, she returned her attention to shaving another .05 seconds of response time off of the company’s current app. Whatever he’d been doing, it was a safe bet he’d decided she was more trouble than she was worth and move on to another target. There were plenty of problems already at her fingertips that would have more satisfying solutions than—

Thea was pulled from  the sound of the receptionist’s voice coming in over her phone’s speaker. “Ms. Spencer?”

Her fingers stilled. “Yes?”“There’s a Mr. Dominic Walker who says he’s here to see you. He admits he doesn’t have an appointment, but also says you’re expecting him anyway.”

It was a good thing her earlier assessment hadn’t been an actual bet. Either he was more stubborn than he was smart - not terribly surprising, given what little she knew of him - or she was really the only source he could think of for whatever it was he thought he needed. Either way, she needed more information than she had.

“Send him—“ The familiar words were half out of her mouth before she realized what a terrible idea that would be. Whatever he was up to, the last thing she wanted to do was let him wander around the office on his own. “No, I’ll come down and get him.”

In the background, she could hear the faint but unfortunately familiar voice of the newly named Mr. Walker. “It’s no trouble, I’m sure I can find....”

“She asked you to wait here, Mr. Walker,” the receptionist countered, the edge of steel in his voice. Pete looked like a high school science teacher, but he’d once put the abusive ex-husband of one of their design team members on the floor. “He’ll be here, Ms. Spencer.”

“Thank you.” Thea ended the call, tapping her fingers against her desk as she thought. A part of her thought about lingering, giving him the chance for one last burst of sense and slip out the front door, but her curiosity was a strong enough itch that it was muting the sound of alarm bells ringing in her head. She’d always loved solving puzzles, and this was shaping up to be a big one.

Still, she wasn’t an idiot. Picking up her purse, she pulled out her tazer and slipped it into her pocket before heading downstairs.

#

The supposed Mr. Walker was waiting in the reception area as if he’d be content to do it all day, leaning against the reception counter chatting with Pete about the latest episode of some cooking show. She got close enough to hear him make a comment about the hubris of trying to cook risotto in such a narrow time limit when he caught sight of her coming closer. He shot her that same annoyingly plastic smile, and she felt her brow lower in another glare before he was intelligent enough to wipe it off and turn back to Pete. “Sorry, but it looks like I’ll have to give you that recipe for vanilla poached pears some other time. My ride’s here.”

She gestured toward the elevators without a word, waiting until they were both safely inside with the doors closed before speaking again. “It looks like you and Pete are better friends than you were five minutes ago,” she said.

There was a flicker of what she could swear was a smirk on his face, vanishing again an instant later. “I saw a cooking magazine tucked up under the edge of his desk.”

She turned enough to see his raised eyebrow. “If only you’d been that observant before you approached me.”

His expression turned rueful for a moment, and she was surprised to see what looked like genuine amusement in his eyes. “Touché.”

That was the last either of them said until the elevator reached the proper floor. She watched him scan the sea of cubicles with a clearly analytical eye, gaze lingering on the server room visible through a set of doors tucked into the corner. Her gaze followed his, trying to figure out what he was seeing, but unless he was a headhunter who was really terrible at his job she couldn’t imagine what he was looking at. No one bothered looking back at them, too used to the sight of people in suits venturing into their domain with various requests.

When they stepped into her office, she closed the door but resisted the urge to draw the blinds before she sat down. “So,” she said, leaning forward slightly. “What firm did you say you were with?”

There wasn’t even a twitch in his expression this time. “Smith, Smith & Jones,” he said easily. Her eyes narrowed, sure he’d made that up on the spot, but a quick Internet search revealed that the firm had apparently been in existence for the last decade and was located several blocks away. And... yes, there was his name in the list of lawyers. Conveniently.

Thea looked back up again, sure she saw the faintest trace of a smirk. “Can I have your card?” she asked.

He straightened, making a show of patting his pockets, then shook his head and settled back against the chair again. “Must have run out.” He made a tsking noise. “Sorry.”

She had a sneaking suspicion he was playing with her now. which was deeply annoying. “So.” She shifted her attention back to him, leaning back a little in her seat the same way video game warlords always did when they wanted to intimidate someone. “You never mentioned why it was you were stopping by.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment, just watching her with a more thoroughly analytical expression than she’d ever seen from him. Then, seemingly deciding something, he pulled a file out of his briefcase and handed it to her. “My firm is representing a client who has been accused of funding terrorists. He’s a small business owner, handles the accounts himself, but he swears he had nothing to do with it. We’re inclined to agree with him.”

Thea accepted the file, scanning through it. She was far more familiar with intellectual property law, but she’d read enough legalese to know that it supported the story. “Why hasn’t this made the news?” she asked, looking back up at him.

“Because it turns out he’s only one of 15 people who have been identified as sending money through the exact same channels to the exact same groups. They’re all in different states, all completely unrelated people, except for one thing.” This time, he took his phone out of his pocket, pulling up something on the screen before tossing it to her. “This.”

When she saw the lines of code filling the small screen, it hit like a punch to the stomach. There was no question of what it was – she recognized every program she’d ever written, especially one she’d poured as much sweat and tears into as this one.

She glared at him again, suddenly furious. “Funny,” she snapped. “I thought being accused of hacking meant a team of government agents showing up at your front door.”

He waved a hand in a vague gesture. “We did consider the possibility.”

Unfortunately, Thea wasn’t sure whether he was talking about accusing her of hacking or having the team of agents handle it. “You do realize there are probably 10 different other apps these people all have in common, right? And I’m sure three or four of them have something to do with helping them shop faster.” She scanned the code, trying to figure out what made them think her app was the one to blame. “Am I the only programmer on the list with a Russian grandmother? Because if—”

She stopped, suddenly, staring at a line of code she didn’t recognize. That was impossible – though other programmers had worked on the app with her, she’d overseen the integration of every subroutine and line of code into one elegantly unified whole. There was no piece of the program she wasn’t completely familiar with.

Except this one. Setting the phone down, she moved to her computer screen to pull up the original files. Before she could, he reached across the table to take his phone back. “No need,” he said quietly, pulling something else up on the screen before handing it back to her. “We have the original code right here.”

Thea took the phone, something inside her easing for a moment at the sight of the commands that should be there. Then that moment is gone, her anger back and immediately redirected at whatever asshole had messed with her code. “It wasn’t anyone on my team,” she said immediately. “I’m the last pair of eyes that sees this before the—” She stopped as realization hit. “The design team.”

He leaned forward, suddenly intent. “The design team?”

“Sometimes they make tweaks to the graphics without passing the code back through me first.” Normally, she didn’t mind – color or font changes were simple enough that even the newest intern could make the adjustments, and the visual elements had never mattered to Thea nearly as much as the efficiency of the programming. It was what a program could do that really mattered, not how pretty the packaging was.

But if someone had used that inattention to hijack her program….

Mr. Walker shifted forward a little more, as if ready to leap into action the moment he had all the information he needed. “Who?” The word was more command than question, the sound of someone deep in the middle of a project who was stuck until they got the answer they needed. She’d used that tone before.

Hearing it now, she realized she was missing something. “How did you get this?” she asked him, holding up the phone with the screen showing the clean code. “Because this company takes its source code copyrights very seriously, which means that anyone outside of the company interested in looking at it has to jump through several different hoops before they can.” He opened his mouth, clearly ready with a comeback, but she held up a finger. “And before you try it, I know full well that you didn’t jump through those hoops, because at least two of them have to pass directly through me. The rest would have led to at least one meeting of all the department heads, no matter how covert the government was trying to keep this. Needless to say, that also hasn’t happened.”

His eyes narrowed, clearly frustrated at getting distracted from his goal. “You’re good, but you’re not unhackable.”

While entirely true, that was definitely not the answer that was going to save him. “I never said I was,” she said easily, leaning forward again. “But if you really were a lawyer, you would need to get whatever information you planned to use for court at least semi-legally. To do that, you would need to have gone through the aforementioned hoops, which you would have happily done to keep the opposing counsel from getting your evidence thrown out. But not only did you not do that, you don’t even care that you didn’t.”

Now he looked like he was realizing his mistake, enough that she could almost see the “Oh, shit” flicker across his face. “Ms. Spencer….”

She held up a hand to stop him. “I’m not throwing you out. Not yet. Because while a lawyer can’t just pry their way into people’s code like it’s no big deal, the government can and does on a regular basis. The government would also be far more interested in arresting and detaining a hacker than in actually building a case against them.” She gave him a sharp look. “No more lies, Mr. Walker. Before I give you any more information, I need to know who you’re really working for. FBI? NSA? I’ve watched enough television to know the CIA isn’t allowed to work within the U.S., but I’m sure there are several other acronyms to choose from that I can’t think of off the top of my head.”

He watched her for another moment, far more penetratingly than he had at any previous point in their interaction, then settled back in his seat. He still looked poised, ready to move at any moment, but to her surprise his lips curved up in what might have been the first genuine smile she’d ever seen out of him. “You’re far more interesting than your file suggested you would be,” he said finally, sounding pleased by that fact. “Now, if you’ll just let yourself relax and have a little fun, this might actually turn out to be an entertaining mission for both of us.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “‘Mission?’” she asked, not bothering to hide her disbelief. “Listen, I know they probably recruit you guys with speeches about how it’s going to be just like it is in the movies, but this is hardly a spy adventure.”

His smile widened, almost becoming a grin, and he pulled something out of his ear and tossed it to her. She caught it, more out of instinct than any real intent, and realized it was a communications ear bud. He tapped his ear, mouthing “Put it in,” and Thea hesitated for only a second before doing it.

“—serious. And don’t try to tell me this is just improvising, because you know full well I support that. I was the first to applaud when you jumped off that skyscraper in order to escape with those security files.” The woman had a faint accent, distinct but indefinable, and clearly thought she was still yelling at Mr. Walker. “But this, this is pulling in a civilian simply because she’s not letting you talk her around the same way everyone else seems—” She stopped suddenly, as if realizing something. “He’s already given you the ear bud, hasn’t he?”

There didn’t seem to be a safe way to answer this question. “Yes?”

“Well, hell.” The woman sighed. “I suppose the cat’s out of the bag then.” 

000

Sooo... this is a complete book now, titled "How to Win Over Your Arch-Nemesis (In Three Easy Steps)." All of the platforms its available on at the moment are here, and I'll keep adding links as it goes online on new platforms. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How to Win Over Your Arch-Nemesis (in Three Easy Steps), Ch. 1

Thanks to this delightful plot bunny, the muse has sent me in a slightly different direction than it usually does. Tell me what you think. 

000

Even a spy’s life can’t be exciting all the time. 

That universal truth was of little comfort as he stared across the crowded food court, completely indistinguishable from every other mall court in existence. His suit was less expensive than usual – he was playing an attorney here, not a jet-setting billionaire or dashing playboy – and the mission was almost painfully simple. Approach the target, charm them into letting their guard down, then talk his way into their home to get access to, in this case, computer files. 

Still, at least he didn’t have to feel guilty about this one. The agency had tracked a bit of code in several cell phones that was siphoning money from users and funneling it to terrorist organizations, and she was the company’s head programmer.  That meant one of two things –  either she was manipulating phone software for terrorists, in which case she deserved everything she got, or she was being used by someone who was manipulating phone software for terrorists. In which case, he was saving her.

She was just the type who could use a little saving, too. Eating lunch in a mall food court, hunched over a tablet while she ate sesame chicken one-handed without looking. Her hair was pulled back in the most practical hairstyle possible, her clothes professional but hardly fashionable, and her face was merely pleasant-looking. She spent most of her time working, and according to her file hadn’t had a long-term romantic partner in several years. Their interaction would likely be the most exciting part of her week. 

Shifting his grip on his briefcase, he sauntered over to her table. “Pardon me for being rude, but I saw you sitting over here and I—“

“No.”

He blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Whatever you’re about to try to sell me, I’m not interested.” She didn’t bother looking up. “Though if you need the empty chair, feel free to take it.”

He’d been shot down by an actual princess, once, though he’d won her over not more than 15 minutes later. Putting on his most flirtatiously charming look, he slid into the seat opposite hers. “Thank you.” He smiled. “I was hoping to be able to eat my lunch in such beautiful company.”

Her head shot up at that, but instead of pleased surprise she shot him a look that seriously questioned his intelligence. “Really?” She shifted her tablet onto her lap, leaning forward slightly. “That’s the approach you’re going to go with, here?”

For one wild second, he thought she was calling him out as a spy. He would accuse her of working with terrorists, his wording equally vague, and they would spend the next 10 minutes threatening each other in code because the other option was a gunfight in a food court full of idiot civilians. The last thing he wanted was for the local PD to show up, but maybe he should—

He stopped himself before he could finish the thought, pushing it aside. Even if she was the mastermind, there was no way she could know he was a spy – he’d covered his tracks too well. “What approach should I take?” He gave her his best smile. “I’m always willing to take instruction from such a magnificent woman.”

She just stared at him, and there was another second where he thought he was actually getting somewhere. Then her brow lowered, and she was glaring at him as if he’d just dented her Porsche or misidentified the designer she was wearing. “I don’t know if you’re an idiot, or so arrogant it basically amounts to the same thing.” She shoved her fork into her takeout container, shutting it almost violently before picking up her purse and putting her tablet inside it. “I don’t know what firm you’re with, or what information you think you can get out of me for whatever case you’re working on, but you’re just going to have to go back to your bosses and tell them they’ll have to get it legally.”

Now all he could do was stare at her. “What?” Training had him immediately downshifting, trying to save the situation. “I’m sorry if I offended you, miss, but I just—“

She made an exasperated noise. “Listen. I’m sure that face of yours helps you in the courtroom. But it’ll help even more if you acknowledge that other people have actual brains in their heads, even if you don’t.”

He reached for her hand, trying another smile. “When I said magnificent, I meant your mind as—“

She snatched her hand away, cutting him off with a shake of her head. “No, no, if you’d tried that I would have assumed you were from a rival tech firm out to steal company secrets.” She stood, collecting her things. “I’m sure all your undoubtedly gorgeous lady friends tell you how beautiful and amazing you are all the time, but when things like that happen to the rest of us it’s a scam.” Then she took a step back, narrowing her eyes again. “Now I’m going to go away so I can eat the rest of my lunch in peace, and if you come near me again rest assured I will taze you.”

He watched her walk away, more stunned than the last time he’d been caught in a concussive grenade blast. When he was sure she was out of earshot, he slowly let his head drop forward and hit the top of the table with a groan.

After a few seconds, he realized the muffled noise he could hear over his comm sounded suspiciously like laughter.  “Shut up,” he muttered, voice low enough that casual passers-by wouldn’t be able to overhear.

Naturally, D did exactly the opposite and stopped muffling the laughter entirely, letting it boom over the comm loud enough to make him wince. “You know I’m saving the audio forever, right?” D managed, laughing so hard she was wheezing. “I’m going to insist we start an agency Christmas party, just so I can play it for everyone and we can all laugh at you together.”

“Rhys—“ Catching himself with a muttered curse – it was so much easier to have these conversations in a quiet corner of a mansion or security compound – he pulled out his cell phone and pretended to answer a call. “Rhys would never agree to it.”

“He would if I played it for him,” D shot back. “There’s nothing confidential on it. He’d call it a morale booster.”

Damn it, he would. “You couldn’t have done any better.”

“Maybe not.” He could practically see her grin, sharp as the edge of the knives she always carried. There were rumors she was a retired assassin, but she would never talk about her previous line of work sober and there was no one in the agency who could outdrink her. She was also old enough to be his mother, and overall his favorite person in the entire world. “But I don’t have to do any better, because I’m here to keep an eye out for any rival agents who may want to kill you. You’re the one who’s supposed to be 007.”

“Normally I am,” he shot back, realizing belatedly that he really should be tracking wherever the hell she was going. He stood, weaving through the lunch crowds as he started scanning the area for his target. “I’ve seduced—“ No, that was definitely not a sentence he could finish out in public like this. Damn it, he would give anything to be working with arms dealers right now. “—successfully closed with any number of people before this, and always gotten everything I needed out of them. But she just—“

“Slapped you down like a two-bit con man,” D finished, sounding delighted. “Didn’t even play with you a little first. Poor kid.”

That was one of the things that was throwing him. He was used to targets of both genders turning the conversational tables on him, drawing him into a verbal fencing match. Even enemies tried to draw him out, finding out what he knew while trying to keep everything they knew hidden.  He was prepared for those kind of duels – loved them, in fact – but this woman had shut him down with the blunt effectiveness of a verbal brick to the face.

He was, he could admit privately, in unfamiliar territory. “Are you absolutely sure—“

“—you can’t just break into her condo?” D finished. “As T explained in the same report I know we both read, it won’t do you any good. Her computer’s security system requires access codes from both her tablet and her phone, and both can only be activated within the perimeters of the condo after the security system has been de-activated using the security code. Slip up even once, and the whole thing shuts down tighter than a nun’s undergarments.”

His jaw set. He was excellent at breaking and entering, but technology... was not his area of expertise. Damn it, why had Rhys assigned him this case? “Just testing you. I’m still committed to our original plan of action.”

“Of course you are, darling.” D sounded indulgent. “The question is, can you pull it off?” 

He’d better be able to. He’d talked his way out of a room full of armed terrorists before – there was no way he was going to let one little programmer beat him. “Absolutely.”

#

He made it to the front doors without finding her, and he was forced to confront the unfortunate possibility that he'd allowed his target to get away completely. If that happened, he'd lose any chance of talking to her until tomorrow - she went straight back to the office after lunch, then straight home after work. And if he tried to stop her on the way to her car, he had a sneaking suspicion she really would taze him.

If he had to admit to Rhys that he'd delayed the mission an entire day because he'd blown his approach, though, he'd taze himself.

Luckily, when he went outside he caught sight of her sitting on the edge of one of the planters lining the perimeter of the mall, back on her tablet and finishing the rest of her chicken. He adjusted his suit, preparing his approach, when to his horror he found himself hesitating. He’d been thrown before, yes, but that was his fault. He’d underestimated her, and paid the price for it.

He needed to go in a bit more carefully this time.

“Is this caution I’m seeing?” D said in his ear, the surprise in her voice genuine and only faintly annoying. “Well, will wonders never cease.” 

“Shut up,” he muttered, dropping his shoulders and adopting a more penitent pose. If he was going to have any kind of chance getting the information he needed, she couldn’t see him as any kind of threat. Deciding that hanging his head would be too obvious, he walked up to her and silently stood a full two feet away from where she was sitting.

After a full 30 seconds – diffusing enough bombs gave a person an excellent sense of timing – she set the fork back down in the nearly empty container. “I was serious about tazing you,” she said mildly, still not looking up.

With a normal mark, he would shoot back something about always liking things exciting in bed. Now, however, he lifted a shoulder. “I’m not worth the trouble. A security guard would run over, someone might even call 911... such a waste of time.”

That made her lift her head, a penetrating expression on her face like she was trying to figure out what was going on. Not quite the response he was hoping for, no, but better than last time. “Pepper spray’s less dramatic,” she said after a moment, still watching him. “You’ll be shouting and clawing at your eyes, but everyone will just assume you’re an asshole who deserved what he got.”

Unfortunately, that was entirely true. He took an instinctive step back, and for a second her mouth flickered upward in a faint smirk. Not sure whether to be annoyed or impressed, he decided that distraction was the only option to diffuse the situation. “How did you know I was a lawyer, out of curiosity? I’m sure I didn’t mention it.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, saying “seriously?” more clearly than words ever could, but there was less anger behind the expression than there had been earlier. “There’s not that many people who’d want something out of me. If you were handing out fliers for something, you wouldn’t bother with the suit. If you were with a tech company, you wouldn’t bother with a suitcase.” She pointed to the one he was still carrying, and he fought off the sudden, ridiculous urge to toss it in the bushes. “Also, you would have flashed me your phone or tablet at least once, because technology is a dominance game and even though you wanted information out of me you couldn’t resist the urge to prove that you’re more advanced than I am. If you were trying to hire me away from my current firm, you wouldn’t have bothered with the awful fake flirting before piling on the incentives.” She gestured to the entirety of him. “So, lawyer.” 

He blinked, surprised and more impressed by the assessment than he was at all prepared to admit. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t think I was just flirting with you.”

She made an exasperated sound, a sudden shift in her expression making it clear she’d just lost whatever shred of patience she’d managed to scrape together for him. “Look, despite what daytime television might try to convince you, most women are fully aware that life isn’t a romance novel. When you look like me,” she gestured down her body, “no brooding male model with a convenient fortune is going to sweep into your life and beg you to save him from his traumatic childhood and inability to emotionally connect.” The faint smirk returned. “And if they did, they’d probably be as annoying about it as you are.”

“I don’t know if I’d go quite so far as to say ‘annoying,’” D murmured in his ear, sounding impressed. “And you’d never make it as a male model. But you do have trouble emotionally connecting to people. And I seem to remember you mentioning something about your father the last time we shared that bottle of—”

Faking like he was scratching an itch, he pulled the comm out of his ear and slipped it into his pocket. “I need to know if there’s a way to tell if someone is trying to clone your phone,” he asked, as if she’d finally gotten him to admit the “truth” of why he’d approached her.

She blinked, confused – he felt a strange sense of satisfaction at putting that expression on her face, for once – then her eyes narrowed. “I can, and block it, but it’s a program I wrote myself. Are you looking for a commercial option?”

No, he was looking for a way to figure out who had implanted the code into the cell phones, because unless she was the greatest actress in the world he was growing increasingly certain that it wasn’t her. Which meant someone was using her, someone smart enough to get around what T insisted was some damned fine coding. Given his experiences of the last 10 minutes, odds were it was someone that she worked with. Which meant he had to get into her office. 

He smiled at her again, an automatic gesture that he quickly wiped away when her eyes narrowed. “Is there any chance I could stop by your office this afternoon to speak about the matter in more detail?”
Her expression was still wary, but her shoulders had relaxed. “Fine.” She picked up her chicken again. “Now will you go away and let me finish my lunch?”

Sketching a dramatic bow – and feeling just the faintest tickle of amusement when she scowled at him – he turned and did as she commanded. Once he rounded the corner, he slipped the comm back into his ear to hear D muttering. “...jump out of the bushes. Then he’d be dead, and what good would that....”

He pulled out his cell phone, faking another call. “D, we’ve got a complication.” 

000

Want more? Check out chapter 2 here

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Women, write your own rules

Repeat after me: you don’t have to follow other people’s rules.

According to the world, there are immense list of ‘rules’ for being a woman. We’re all expected to pour time and effort into meeting certain beauty standards so we’re suitably aesthetic for those around us. We’re expected to magically figure out what side of the work/family balance our neighbors expect us to be on, which can change depending on who you talk to at any given moment. Worse, we’re expected to keep that balance effortlessly, without any regard to the fact that we have only so many hours in a day and could really use a little help.

No matter how much we do, how much we give, the ‘rules’ are always asking more of women. We’re expected to be good, kind and gracious at all times, keep clean homes, make sure our kids have enough extracurricular activities, be nice to the neighbors, be involved in our communities and church groups and always stay skinny and so on and so on and so on….

No.

Those are the world’s rules, not yours. And honestly, the world doesn’t know anything about you, and what you have to go through in a given day, and anyone who hasn’t been in your shoes really doesn’t have a right to decide whether you’re doing things “correctly” or not. Some days, the fact that you’re doing anything at all is enough of a reason to stand up and applaud yourself.

You don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards but your own. You’re the one who’s doing the job of living your life, which means you know better than anyone else what it takes to live it right. The world won’t give anything back to your for jumping through its hoops, so there’s really no reason to kill yourself trying to pull the trick off. No matter how loud they’re shouting at you, there’s nothing that says you have to go where they tell you to.

I’m not saying that there aren’t things we do have to do, both as women and people in general. We all have responsibilities, no matter what gender we are, and fulfilling those responsibilities is what keeps the world moving. Whether it’s going to your job, calling your mom, eating slightly healthier than you did yesterday, or making sure your kids get fed and go to sleep at a reasonable hour, we’ve all got a to-do list that sometimes feels like it’s five miles long.

But don’t let other people put things on the list that you don’t want to have on there. The church potluck will survive without you bringing anything, and if you feel guilty about not contributing something a bag of store-bought salad is just fine. If your kids have to make their own dinner for a few nights, the world won’t end. Neither will your husband, even though he might complain like he will. You don’t always have to be the one who stays and works those extra overtime hours at your job. You don’t have to dress the same way everyone else does.

You get to decide what it means to be a good woman, and the only test that really matters is how you feel about yourself at the end of the day.