Wednesday, March 02, 2016

An Excerpt from my Spring novel, PALADIN

Here's an excerpt from my Spring, 2016 novel, PALADIN: Graven Gods Book One. It's the first of my self-published e-books, and I'm very excited! I hope you enjoy it.

Let me know what you think!

Luckily, the gym I belonged to was one of those 24/7 operations for those with a need to pump iron at three in the morning. It was 7 AM by the time I got there, but there were a surprising number of gym rats trying to get in a workout before work.

Tony's Gym was an enormous space, with rows of treadmills, Stair Masters, and stationary bikes, many with people already puffing away on them.

Across the room from the cardio equipment stood the weight machines, with their stacked metal plates and complicated arrangements of belts and counterweights. Huge mirrors covered the walls, interspaced with posters of fitness gods with biceps bigger than their heads.

I exchanged a wave with my personal trainer, Jeff Mathers, who was busy with one of his other clients, an amateur bodybuilder who groaned as he did arm curls with every plate on the machine.

I straddled one of the recumbent bikes and started to pedal as if trying to win the Tour de France. The bike faced one of the mirrors, and I barely resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at it.

Sometimes my inner fifteen-year-old makes a break for it.

As I pedaled, I realized I was being stared at by a man who'd just walked in. I didn't recognize him, but I wished I had. He was a big, dark haired guy, with the kind of build you'd expect from someone who hits the gym at seven in the morning. His T-shirt stretched lovingly across powerful shoulders and the kind of biceps I'd written odes to when describing Paladin. He had long runner's legs, thighs stretching the black material of his sweats. Not muscle-bound, but lean enough to assume any position a girl had in mind. And I could think of several.

I heard Paladin growl.

You are a figment of my imagination, I reminded him.

"I'll show you a figment." The growl became a snarl. "I'll figment his ass into the middle of next week."

The hunk sauntered over and swung one of those brawny legs over the stationary bike beside mine. His face was as lust-inspiring as his body, with prominent cheekbones, a broad angular jaw, and a wide, sensual mouth with a certain cruelty about its curve.

"Quit leering at the man, Summer," Paladin ordered. And yep, he did sound jealous as hell. Which made me ridiculously happy. At least the guy next to me was real, dammit.

So I turned my head to give my fellow spinner a big smile, and realized he was staring back. Unfortunately, his expression was more Jeffrey Dahmer than Chris Hemsworth. He looked as if he was wondering how my liver would taste with a nice chianti. I looked away in a hurry.

He didn't.

I could feel him staring at me with a cold, reptilian focus. Jesus, why did every male I encounter lately want to kill me? What happened to dinner and a movie? Was it my toothpaste? Had someone switched my perfume for Eau d' Psycho?

I ignored him some more. He kept visibly fantasizing about me and basements.

The better part of cowardice drove me off the bike.

I picked a weight machine at random and sat down to do arm curls. He was still staring, meeting my eyes in the mirror. Chainsaws were dancing in his head.

"Look away, you bastard, or I'll kick your ass," Paladin snarled inside my head.

Unfortunately, Paladin was imaginary. Captain Black-and-Decker definitely was not.

I wondered what the hell to do. I could tell the clerk manning the customer service desk -- if I didn't mind looking like an utter pussy. "He's looking at me!"

Yeah. So not thirteen anymore.

Gritting my teeth, I pumped out another set of reps considerably faster than I usually did. Maybe I could intimidate him through sheer arm strength.

When I looked up again, he was standing by my machine, still giving me that evil glare. I hadn't even seen him get up and come over.

"It is you," he purred. "I thought you were dead, Paladin. I certainly did my best to kill you."

"Oh, shit," Paladin thought. It's Valak! I didn't sense him at first--he was shielding. Son of a bitch!"

I stared at Captain B&D, freezing in mid-rep, my jaw dropping. "Why did you call me that?" Was he some kind of stalker? "How did you know I wrote those books?" If he knew me from Facebook, I was going to unfriend his ass. Then I was going to delete every author photo I'd put up.

The stalker glowered in irritation. "What are you playing at? Do you think I wouldn't recognize the taste of your power, even after so many years? I sensed you days ago when your magic blazed over the entire city like a flare. I knew it for certain when you defeated my acolytes last night. And now here you are!" He bared white teeth. Surprisingly, none of them were fangs.

"You're high, dude. Get lost."

"So this is your new body." He eyed me with something between lust and greed. "How many generations did it take to breed such a combination of physical strength and magical talent?" His cruel mouth twisted. "As many as it took me to get those men of mine you slew twelve years ago? Fifteen generations of painstaking breeding and hard work. Twenty fighters, dead and lost. I was lucky to survive. If some powerless prick hadn't been passing by just as my host died..."

Oh, hell, this guy wasn't high, he was a paranoid schizophrenic. "I have no idea what you're talking about." My gut coiled into clammy knots.

He merely grinned. Evil radiated off him, reminding me of the Lovecraftian nasty I'd had the nightmare about. In fact, I realized with a chill, he felt exactly like that. "Come outside, Paladin. Let's finally finish this. I'm going to burn you out of her brain and take her for my own."

I slid off the machine's seat without taking my eyes from his. "If you don't get the hell away from me, I'm calling 911." My voice shook.

Now he looked downright offended. "What kind of game are you playing?"

"Apparently not the same one you are, Voldemort."

A deep voice interrupted. "What's going on?" Jeff walked up and loomed. I'd have kissed him if I could've reached his face. "Is this guy bothering you, Summer?" He gave Voldemort a menacing glower.

"Now that you mention it, yes." Please, please make him go away.

"Who the hell are you? You don't belong to this club," Jeff told Voldemort icily. "Time to go."

The gym rat he'd been training came over and joined the chorus of flexing. Ah, I love the smell of testosterone in the morning.

Voldemort considered the bunched and straining odds, looking more irritated than intimidated. "We'll finish this when there are fewer witnesses, Paladin." Turning, he stalked out of the gym.

The rest of us watched through the plate glass as he got into a white Lexus SUV and roared off.

Jeff frowned. "Paladin?"

"Character in the series I'm writing."

"Oh, yeah, the detective. I liked that book." I'd emailed him a copy. He turned and considered me. "That guy some kind of stalker?"

"I guess. I've never seen him before."

"Maybe you'd better call the cops and make a report," put in the bodybuilder. "It's a good idea to get stuff like that on the record, just in case he becomes a real problem."

He had a point, but I wasn't up to another chat with the cops. "I just want to finish my workout before I have to open my shop." God knew I needed to burn off some adrenaline. I dropped back down on the machine I'd been using and started absently pumping out reps.

Jeff blinked. "Since when do you do arm curls with two hundred and fifty pounds?"

I blinked back. "What are you talking about? You know twenty's my limit."

"That's what you've always said. Have you been holding out on me?" He nodded at the stack of plates.

For the first time, I actually looked at them, something I'd been too distracted to do under Voldemort's eyefuck. Oh, holy God, he's right. I'd been lifting the whole stack--a total of two hundred and fifty pounds.

I lost my grip on the bar, and the weights fells with a thunderous crash.