My thoughts on Piracy

skull-34133_1280Authors are always terrified of their work being “stolen”.  They think that somehow they are losing a sale because someone may have read their work without paying the paltry few dollars for the privilege.  I happen to disagree.

I see piracy as the best free marketing plan EVER!  I’m not some big shot who can command millions of people to line up in wait for the release of my next book.  I’m just an author – a rather average one – like so many other authors out in this new age of digital books.  I write stories that grab people and shake them, refusing to let go until they have read the entire series.  I pride myself on books that almost force the reader to get the next and spend nights laying in bed wondering what is happening to the characters.  This is my forte.  Marketing?  Not so much.

So when someone wants to recommend my book to a friend?  That’s golden.  It’s the best way to spread my “brand”.  It’s also how I found every author I love.  I can honestly say that I didn’t buy my first Harry Potter book.  Nope, I was loaned it by a friend.  I didn’t buy my first Anne McCaffrey book, I was allowed to read my mother’s copy.  I didn’t buy my first Lewis Carrol book.  I picked it up at the library.

deaths-head-487276_1280And then I became addicted.

I found authors to love based on a single “free” copy of a book.  I’ve found others through less “acceptable” means.  One of my current favorites, Anne Bishop, is such an example.  I was researching something for one of my books and stumbled upon one of those links.  Being Captain Oblivious, I clicked it, and began reading this story on the web.  It was an amazing tale of our world – but in an alternate timeline where things were much more magical.  The characters, the setting, and everything sucked me in!  So, I bought the first three books and began waiting for the rest of the series to be finished.

Yes, I found my most recent preferred author from a pirated book.  The horrors!  Now, keep in mind that I had no idea she existed otherwise, and hence wouldn’t have bought any of her books.  That “free to read online” copy of her book sold me on four novels, and I plan to read her other series as well.

So now, every time I have to decide whether to click the DRM box or not, I don’t.  If someone is too poor to afford my book, then let them read it however they can.  If they love it, maybe they will tell a friend.  If enough people do that, maybe more people will read.  The libraries are closing.  The ability for people to read for free is vanishing.  I want to make sure it never truly disappears.  To me, that means more than a couple of dollars from people who wouldn’t have bought my book anyway.

And maybe, now that they know I exist, they’ll buy the next one.

Sneak Peak – Challenge Accepted (Chp 3)

portrait-1287413If you missed the initial installments, you can read Chapter 1 here, or you can catch up with Chapter 2 right here.

Chapter 3

The waitress returned with the drinks, passing Riley hers before setting the other by IceMan. Funny thing about gamer conventions, everyone used their character’s names as their own and no one thought anything of it. Riley slammed back the tequila, sucked on the slice of lemon, and Ice gestured for the girl to return.

“Give her another, and something lighter to slow her down?”

“Dr. Pepper and another tequila double,” Riley clarified.

“Lemon. Got it.” She shook her head as she left again.

“This means you’re entering the Tournament?” IceMan asked.

Riley nodded. “I’d like the contract, but I’m not sure that will happen.”

“Void and Dreadknot are here. It’s a rush for third place, first and second are already taken.”

“I haven’t fought Dreadknot. What’s his style?”

“Heavy weapons, hard hitting, and he likes to stand his ground. If you can knock him out of the hole he digs, you’re good. But good luck with that.”

“Void’s just fast,” she said, thinking about it. “His reactions are nearly inhuman.”

“Rumor has it he’s been gaming since he was five. Dreadknot’s about the same. Guess he owns a computer store or some shit and spends all day flipping between FPSes.”

“Would be nice,” Riley said.

“No kidding,” Ice agreed.

That was when someone spotted him. From across the bar, a group of guys called out, “Ice!” and began pushing their way through the throng of people.

“My outfit,” he groaned, shoving his head into his hands.

“Oh, you found something pretty.” A younger guy shoved Ice over to sit beside him.

“Care, meet Knock, Swish, and Ryno.”

“You play?” Knock asked excitedly from his place beside Ice.

“Yeah.”

Ryno jerked his chin at her. “What game?”

“All of them.”

“Eternal Combat?” Ryno’s tone made it clear he expected her to say no.

“Yeah. East Coast Server. I play the blue team usually.”

“Nice,” Swish said, finally speaking up. “Come hang with us.”

Riley shook her head. “Maybe tomorrow. It’s been a long day for me, and the first round is at eight in the morning.”

“Oh!” Ryno exclaimed. “If you’ve entered that then you do play serious. What kinda K/D you running in EC?”

“Kills to deaths in Eternal Combat,” Knock clarified.

“I know what it means,” Riley assured him. “I’m at a 3.2 on the blue.”

Ryno’s eyes widened. “So you play red and yellow too?”

That was the game with the persistent world. While she did have a character on each team, she wouldn’t tell them the name of her main – or her real stats. EC players were a slightly different type of gamer, as serious as FPSers, but as social as those who preferred MMOs.

When the waitress returned with the drinks, they pulled up chairs and made themselves at home. It wasn’t long before Ice was telling them about their earlier battle.

“And I thought I had her, when she just pitched a grenade through the door. Butt pucker, lemme tell ya.” They all laughed, understanding completely.

“C’mon, Care. Thirty minutes,” Ryno pleaded. “The rest of our outfit is online, even if they couldn’t make it. Come make us look like important men, finding a real gamer in all this mess.”

“Fine,” she said. “Thirty minutes, then I have got to get some sleep.”

Tossing back the last of their drinks, the group cajoled her back to the computer tables, finding their places around the room. Ice, sitting beside her, gave her the log-in information for their TeamSpeak voice server and she clicked “ok”, wondering just what she’d gotten herself into.

A chorus of men’s voices greeted her, not even pausing to acknowledge the new arrival. They were calling orders, sounding rather organized while doing it. When a break in the chatter finally came, Riley recognized Ryno’s voice.

“We’ve already started making friends in Dallas,” he said. “Guys, say hi to… what’s your character’s name?”

She held up a finger, waiting for the log in screen to finish loading. Clicking on an alt before anyone could look at her monitor, she spoke up. “Salacious.”

“Oh!” came back from at least ten voices. It wasn’t her name, it was simply that she had a woman’s voice.

“Guys,” Ryno begged. “Be cool. She kicked Ice’s ass.”

“Damn,” one of them said. “Honey, I think I’m a little bit in love.”

“Try coming on to me, and I’ll shove a tank so far up your ass you’ll forget you ever had a dick. We playing, or we flirting?” she snapped.

The men laughed, picking on the target of her ire and carrying on with her threats.

Ryno cut in, “Second continent, we have a battle at the bio-station. I need a mech suit, two healers, and heavy. Salacious, what role are you playing?”

“I can fill any,” she said into her mic.

“Grab the mech?”

“Yes, sir.”

It didn’t take long before she was clearing the halls, one man glued to her ass, keeping her suit repaired, leaving the rest of their group to sweep the sides. When they secured the cap point, she hunkered down, facing the spawns.

“We holding, or we running?” she asked Ryno, who appeared to be the leader.

“Can you hold it?”

“Watch me.” She glanced across the table at him.

“Then we hold. Who’s on her repairs.”

“Me,” a voice said. Riley glanced at her screen to find his name. Fizz.

“Shit,” Ice said suddenly. “Executive Pain’s dropping in from the south. They’re going to tear our asses up.” He paused and she could see him smacking at his keys frantically beside her. “Void’s here! Shit, shit, shit. He killed me.”

“You still think you can hold this?” Ryno asked her.

“I can only try,” Riley said honestly.

“Then get her another repairman and two more healers.”

“Grenades and heavy weapons. They’ll be coming at us from the back. Keep your eyes up, boys,” she added. “Void likes his jets.”

“What she said.” Ryno’s words gave power to her ideas.

They weren’t a big outfit, but they seemed to be well coordinated and pretty laid back about the whole thing. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Riley was actually enjoying playing with a group. Too often, outfits were little more than a reason to screw around and not take gaming seriously. Unfortunately, Riley couldn’t do that. It took away everything she found fun about playing.

Then the world around her got just a little too still. Enemies had been running in, one at a time, to throw themselves at her mech, but it just stopped.

“They’re here,” she said softly. “If someone has sensors, I suggest you lay them out.”

A tingy noise rang out in the game, and a small circle appeared on the map, pulsing. When she glanced down, she gasped. Dozens of red dots swarmed behind the building. “This is going to be bad.”

“That’s Executive Pain for ya,” Ice said. “Overkill for the win.”

“Then let’s make them pay.” She glanced at him and found him smiling back.

“Leeroy Jenkins, mothafucka,” he said softly just before the explosions started going off behind the wall.

In the top left of her screen, a list of names started scrolling by, all of them killed by IceMan. “Damn!” she laughed. “How many did you get?”

“Dunno.” He cackled, barely able to speak he was laughing so hard. “It’s still scrolling!”

“What’d you do, man?” Knock asked.

“Tossed out four prox mines and a block of C4. Suicided, but I got twenty-three!”

A deep voice interrupted. “Salacious, we have incoming.” He was one of those assigned to hold the point with her: Synjd.

It started with nothing more than the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun, but quickly grew. Back to back, the five of them held off hoards of enemies, bodies stacking up at their feet before they vanished to spawn again. The whole time, the capture timer in the corner kept slowly ticking away.

“I need ammo!” Riley begged.

The words were barely out of her mouth before a pack was tossed beside her and her weapons began to fill. She aimed and fired, turned and fired, then fired again, always keeping her mech suit between the enemy and her repairman. The line of opponents started to thin, then she saw Void’s name.

“Void, over bravo building,” she reported to the team.

“Can’t get a shot,” someone replied.

“He’s got C4, watch your back, Salacious.”

“Watching.” Her eye tracked him as she continued fighting against over whelming odds.

That’s why she saw him sweep in. Using a jet pack, hovering just above the normal field of view, he would have killed them all if she hadn’t been looking in the right place at the right time.

“C4 on point!” Swinging back, she aimed at the sky. It took three shots, but he fell, re-spawning before his body hit the ground. “He’ll be back. Watch the explosives.”

“Clear point,” another said, and they all pushed as far out as they could, giving him space to blow it.

With only forty seconds left on the countdown, Void appeared again. This time, he was in heavy armor and came at her head on. The first shot was at her repairman, taking him down to half health, but Riley moved her mech suit into the line of fire, absorbing the next hit and trading him one back. He dodged, trying to hit Synjd from the other side, but she was ready for that. What she didn’t expect was his partner.

The second man took out her repairman from the back, who called out his death over TeamSpeak. With a glance, she realized her team was down. Ryno was calling a wipe, suggesting a re-spawn point.

“I’m still up,” she said, barely toggling the button before she was back at it.

The second man was the easier target, so she focused on him first, watching her armor and health drop quickly while Void took advantage of her distraction. When he was dead, it was only the two of them left.

He strafed. She led her shot, tagging him, but it was a body hit, not the head shot she’d wanted. She fired with the other arm, just missing as he found cover behind the box. The unmistakable sound of a medical pack rang out, and she cursed softly. Mech suits didn’t get that option. She may have twice as much armor, but she was half as fast and needed a second person for repairs.

“I spawned a repper,” Ice said, meaning another repairman. “Hold on and I’ll make it there, damn it. Just kick his ass, girl.”

Lumbering around the control point, waiting for the timer to count down, that’s exactly what she intended. Each time she got the upper hand, he ducked and healed but unless he resupplied, he could only do that four times. When the last med-pack was used, that’s when Riley pressed her advantage.

Slowly, step by step, she herded him into a corner, taking nicks off any part of his character she could. He’d stand up and shoot, but she still had enough life, and a repairman on the way, or so Ice had said. She could afford to play a bit reckless.

When he had no other options, Void decided it was finally time to fight. He moved, trying to slip around beside her, but she tossed out two shots and a mech hit in the back. He pulled his pistol and popped off two rounds as the timer ran out and the station flipped to their side.

“Spawn in! Spawn in! Give Salacious a hand, she’s got him on the run,” Ryno bellowed into the mic.

Strafing as she moved, never making a straight line, she tried to dodge, but the damned mech was just too slow. He got off another round, leaving her only three small bars of health, but he’d finally made the mistake she’d been waiting for.

She fired, just a simple click of the left mouse button, and hit him at point blank, right in the face. Void fell. In the top right corner, the kill notice flashed: Void < Salacious. Riley sighed and leaned back, taking her hands from the mouse and keyboard to stretch. Who cared if someone killed her now? She’d done the impossible. So, when the ding of a private message rang in her ears, she was expecting it. What she didn’t expect, was what he said.

[VOID] Nice job, QQ. Your friends know who you are, yet?

She looked up, aware that the guys she’d been playing with were still celebrating.

They weren’t the only ones around the table. Plenty were engrossed in other games, some playing together, but most playing against each other. More faces were glued to their screens than aware that a handful of guys were cheering on an impressive victory. She’d seen Void on a few streams, so thought she’d be able to pick him out of a crowd, but she was wrong.

[SALACIOUS] No. I’d rather they didn’t know.

[VOID] Then they won’t hear it from me. No one else has the balls to chase me down. I’m impressed.

[VOID] I’m also glad to see you came to the convention. Nice dreads.

Riley sat up and looked across the table, but no one had an ironic smile. The only people watching her were the men she’d just been gaming with. There were maybe twenty others in the room and any of them could have been Void. Problem was, he’d figured her out.

[VOID] Relax. You’re making me nervous with all the glaring.

[SALACIOUS] Hiding?

[VOID] Just like you are. Fair’s fair, right?

[SALACIOUS] Evidently. It was a good fight.

[VOID] 🙂 Yes, that was a damned good one. It’s a good group of guys you’re playing with tonight. Didn’t think you did outfits.

[SALACIOUS] Not usually. They tend to get too distracted when I use voice chat.

[VOID] That explains so much! Thought I’d heard you were a man.

[SALACIOUS] How’d you figure it out.

[VOID] Heard you call for ammo, then saw them drop it at your feet.

[SALACIOUS] I didn’t say it that loud.

[VOID] I know. That’s your hint.

“Ok, guys,” she said to the group she’d been playing with. “That’s it for me. Early morning and all that.”

“Aww!” one of them transmitted, sounding truly disappointed. “It was fun, Salacious. Come kick some ass with us again sometime.”

Riley couldn’t help it, she grinned. “Ok. Maybe tomorrow night, if I’m invited back.”

“Open invitation,” Ryno said, looking up at her. “You’re always welcome. Didn’t really expect you to hold your own, let alone show us up.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Good luck tomorrow.”

With that, she signed out, closed her game, and powered down her machine. The convention had security, allowing them to leave their computers out so they didn’t have to be set up over and over, but she wasn’t completely sure she trusted it. With one last glance at her rig and a wave to IceMan, she left, heading up to her room on the third floor.

She saw the line for the elevator and had just pulled open the door to the stairs when she heard someone call her name. Well, one of her names.

“Salacious?” He didn’t yell, but it was meant for her to hear.

Looking over her shoulder, a tall, attractive man jogged to catch up, but she didn’t wait. Riley let go of the door and took the stairs at a jog. She wasn’t sure who he was but had a good guess. So Void had figured her out. That gave him the upper hand. She hated not having the upper hand.

You can read Challenge Accepted FREE on Kindle Unlimited, or buy it on Amazon.

Sneak Peak – Challenge Accepted (Chp 2)

bikini-491248Yesterday, I shared the first chapter of Challenge Accepted.  If you missed it, you can read it here.

Chapter 2

Friday started wet and chilly, but Riley had things to finish before she left. While the new colt played, running circles around his dam, she shoveled piles of manure into the bucket of the tractor and spread shavings. Andrews Shires wasn’t exactly a large farm, but the barn had fifteen stalls, all sized for draft horses, and six more geldings lived in the pasture. Every morning started with feeding and turning them out, every day was spent cleaning up after them, and the evenings were simply a repeat of the same.

Twenty-one horses was a lot for one person to handle. Kitty helped, but with school, she simply didn’t have the time to be as involved as she wished, and it would mean more for her to get her degree. Riley sighed, thinking of all the things she should be doing this weekend instead of going to the convention. The fences needed to be welded, the buckets were due to be scrubbed, and with the weather, it would be a perfect time to clean and oil the show harnesses.

But if she could sign a contract, they wouldn’t have to worry as much. She sucked back the last of her coffee, making a face when it was cold, and moved to the next stall. By the time she was finished, the sun was on the far side of the barn and the day was getting late.

She dumped the last load, then went in, brewed a pot of coffee, and headed to the shower. After removing the farm residue, she patted her dreads dry and used the towel to wipe the fog from the mirror. Caught between two worlds, yet not quite a part of either, Riley was determined to make all of this work. She’d been lucky enough to have the body to ride the larger horses, but never the fashion sense. Even as a child, she’d loved to be different, coloring her hair with paint and drawing tattoos on her hands. When she’d come home with the real thing, neither of her parents had been surprised.

The tribal mark on her bicep wasn’t quite what anyone would expect. It was their farm’s brand. Not that they branded the horses, but it had become the logo on all the letterhead and contracts. The mark inside her wrist was a bit more personal. It was the day her parents had been killed in a car accident, written in alpha angle code. They’d lost their best stallion and two mares in the wreck, as well. Riley tried not to talk about it, but the loss weighed heavily. Those horses had been as much family as her parents, and Connor’s pen still stood empty, waiting for the right stallion to fill his place.

A bang at the door made her nearly jump out of her skin. Obviously, Kitty was home. “Get dressed!” she yelled through the wood.

“I’m almost done,” Riley yelled back, blotting at her hair, again.

The towel didn’t do much to keep her warm, but nothing was worse than trying to pull dry clothes onto a wet body, so Riley scurried down the hall and into her room. Closing the door, she saw an outfit laid out neatly on her bed. Kitty had meant it when she said she’d pick her clothes, but it was perfect.

Round-toed boots were stacked beside a pair of tight jeans, a white tank with their logo on the front. A black long-sleeve shirt went with it, but the convention hall would heat up quickly, and it would soon be discarded. She pulled the clothes on and shoved the stack beside it into a bag, not even bothering to look. If she was to be shown off like a prized mare, then Kitty was the person to do it.

As soon as she opened her door, her friend’s voice called out, “I got most of this packed but I’m not touching the case.”

“No, I got it,” Riley agreed, pulling at wires, folding them carefully before tucking them away. “Wanna toss my bags in the truck?”

“I need the truck. Take my car.”

Riley just nodded. It only made sense. Hard to haul a horse to the vet in the car, and it cost a lot less to drive the hour and a half to Dallas. While she finished packing away the computer, Kitty carried her stuff out, returning just in time to grab the case from her hands.

“Mascara at least and eyeliner is better,” she ordered before walking through the front door again.

“Fine!” Riley yelled, hurrying back to her room.

She went a couple of steps further, adding a touch of eye shadow and a bit of clear gloss to her lips. Tucking the cosmetics into her pocket, she grabbed a few hair bands, twisted the mass of dreads into a knot at the back of her neck, then checked the time. Ten minutes till she had to be on the road. Not bad.

“Ok,” she yelled into the house, “I’m leaving.”

“Oh!” Kitty called, “Money!” She passed her a handful of bills and two credit cards. “Text me the cost of the rooms. The cash is for spending, the credit is for rooms and gas.” When Riley nodded, she went on, “And do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Have fun?”

Riley laughed and hugged her friend. “I’ll do my best. Call if you need anything. Feed’s on the white board, the bins are full, we should have plenty of hay, and the vet knows I’m out of town.”

“Then stop worrying,” Kitty said, pushing her toward the door. “Go. You deserve a weekend without horse crap on your boots. Show those boys that you can aim.”

With a last wave of her hand, Riley obeyed.

The drive to Dallas was tedious and uneventful. She turned the music up and cracked the sunroof just enough to get a hint of fresh air, but not enough to let the damp March weather chill her to the bone. When she pulled off I-35 and onto 635, that’s when the traffic started to get thick. This convention was a big deal. Not only FPS gamers, but also MMOs and other popular titles would be attending. All the big companies were flying in their staff and there would be a huge area dedicated to the latest technology. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, she had plenty of time to think about not only that, but also the reaction she was about to cause.

Women had finally managed to break into gaming in the last decade, but the world of first person shooters was the last bastion of male dominance. While massively multiplayer online games were made up of roughly half men and half women, only ten percent of the FPS players were female. Most of them were casual players – which was fine – but that skewed the leader boards even more. For as long as she could remember, Riley had only ever seen four other women try to break into the game, and none of them had succeeded. It was probably a pipe dream, but she wanted to be the first. She had for years.

She just had to make sure she could not only get noticed, but also place. If she could get into the top three, she was sure she’d at least get a sponsor. She really needed an offer from someone. Hell, the farm needed her to get an offer!

It was dark when she finally arrived. Following the signs, she pulled the car around back and found a place to park, popped the trunk, and began loading herself down with bags. First, she would check in, then set up her rig. The rooms went fast, even if she had reserved one.

The next couple of hours became little more than a myriad of lines. The line to check in, the line for the elevator, and even the line for the exit. Bodies pressed close together, and everyone was doing their best to impress. She saw mohawks standing an arms length tall and piercing plugs large enough to fit a baseball through but, for the most part, the crowd was little more than geekish guys in T-shirts and jeans.

It was on her last trip when someone realized she might actually be a gamer. A nylon bag filled with her peripherals hung across her shoulder and her case rested easily on her hip. Riley took baby steps forward, waiting for her chance to be issued a ticket and assigned a place at the table. She’d been creeping closer for ten minutes when the guy behind her spoke up.

“You know this is the line for the FPS tournament?”

“Yeah.”

“That one…” He pointed across to their right. “Is for the MMO section.”

“The big sign,” Riley said, tilting her chin at it, “that says ‘Professional League of Gamers Tournament’ kinda gave it away.”

“So you’re gonna try to play with the big boys?” He didn’t even try to conceal his amusement.

“Basically.”

“Yeah. Good luck with that. They won’t even realize you’re a chick until you’re dead.”

Riley finally looked behind her. “What name do you go by?”

“LOLWaffles. I use that for most of them, at least. You?”

She just smiled. “Riley. Nice to meet you, Waffles.”

“Don’t even have a name?” He smirked as he shook his head in sympathy.

“Pretty sure I just told you.” Thank God there were only two people left before she was done with this line.

“I meant a game name.”

“You’ll figure it out, but if I don’t tell you, you won’t send me requests to cyber or something stupid.”

He laughed. “Fair point. Good luck then.”

“You too.” She held out her armband to the security at the door. He handed her a ticket and pointed her in the general area.

Finally inside, she followed the directions to a massive row of tables, walking along it until she found her assigned place. Power bars and plugs of just about every type were duct taped to the back. Little metal chairs were pushed in at the front. It sure didn’t have the comforts of home, but there was something about the banners along the walls that made it seem worthwhile.

Dropping the bag into her seat, Riley began to put her rig back together. She went over everything carefully, from the connectors on the motherboard to the level of coolant in the radiator, before closing her case and plugging it all in.

“Nice keyboard,” some guy said as he passed by.

She just grunted, not even bothering to look up. When it was all together, she flipped the switch in the back and pressed the power button, worried that nothing would happen for only a moment, until the LEDs began to glow and the fans started to hum.

“Rainbow?” a guy wondered, commenting on her choice of lighting for the case.

“Yeah.”

“So you a lesbian?” His eyes lit up at the idea. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen.

“No, fuck off.”

Another man sank into the chair beside her, flicking on his own machine. “You’re full of piss, aren’t ya?”

She looked over at him and shrugged. “You would be too.”

“Probably. Interested a match? Want to make sure I’ve got the settings right for the LAN.”

“Would love to.”

“K. Hit server 3. I’ll make it private.”

When all of her peripherals finished syncing with the cloud, she clicked on the icon, launching Call of Battle, the highlight game for this year’s tournament. The log-in screen flashed up and she paused, glancing at the man next to her. She wasn’t quite ready to let them all in on her little secret. Her fingers typed in the information for her training account, logging in CareBear instead of QQ. While the screen loaded, she grabbed her headphones and toggled the press to talk key.

“You’re working.” His voice was deep and rich in the speakers.

“Thanks,” she said, pressing the key to transmit. “Any special rules?”

He laughed. “Winner buys the drinks.”

“Thought loser was supposed to do that?”

“If that’s how you want it.”

“Loser buys and it’s a deal.”

“Game on.” He tapped a key and they dropped into the world.

She moved. The map might be new to her, but they were all variations of the same thing. Her fingers flicked across the keys. She didn’t even bother to look at the real person, all she needed was to see his avatar. Releasing her mouse for a moment, she shoved at a roller on the keyboard, cranking the volume as loud as possible, straining to hear a virtual step, never pausing to give him a chance to get behind her.

She finally heard it. On the other side of the wall, she could just make out his character coming closer. With only her fingertips caressing her mouse, she raised her sights and moved between cover. Drifting around the back, the goal was to flank him – but this guy didn’t suck.

He predicted the move and took his own precautions. That was, until she tossed a grenade through the open door.

“Fuck!” he whispered in her ears.

She heard him running for the other side, but she was already moving. Before he could leave the room – with half his health stripped by the grenade – she lined up a head shot and clicked. His character fell.

She tried not to smirk. “I think the LAN settings are fine. Or were you going to try best two out of three?”

He laughed honestly. “Nah. Just wanted to see if I could buy you a drink. I figured I’d win either way. Deal’s a deal.”

Closing the game and turning off her machine, she carefully put everything away, then stood, waiting for him to do the same.

“So who made your machine?” he asked, gesturing for her to lead the way, his mannerisms well polished.

“I did.”

“Nice. Usually the answer is either ‘my boyfriend’ or ‘my husband’. So far, looks like I haven’t managed to crash and burn, yet.”

“No, not yet, but I didn’t catch your name. Sorry, I was too busy looking at the map.”

“IceMan. It’s been a while since I’ve seen CareBear log in. What brought you back?”

“Oh I’ve been around. Just dropped the name.”

“So you just kicked my ass on an alt character?”

“Yeah.”

“I feel used.”

“I just wanted a drink.”

They walked into the hotel bar and he gestured politely to a table in the corner. Riley slid in one side and he took the other, finally giving her a chance to really look him over without giving the wrong impression. He wasn’t the stereotypical gamer. Nice looking but very clean cut, he exuded an executive demeanor of control even in his casual attire. He was cute, and surprisingly well built. Most gamers were dorks, but this was obviously a businessman in hiding.

When the waitress came by, he ordered a scotch for himself, raising an eye when she ordered a tequila.

“Double, no lime, with a slice of lemon,” she added.

“Got it,” the girl said before walking away.

“So you play as hard as you drink?”

“No,” she teased. “I don’t drink nearly that hard. This is just warm-up.”

You can read Challenge Accepted FREE on Kindle Unlimited, or buy it on Amazon.

Sneak Peak – Challenge Accepted (Chp 1)

CAv4.2Riley Andrews refuses to bend to the expectations of society.  She wants to chase her own dreams, be who she is deep inside, and just have someone accept her.  But that’s now how the world works.   Challenge Accepted is a story of learning to trust, of thwarting expectations, and finding the person who compliments all of our own personal flaws.

Chapter 1

The clicking of the keyboard was loud in the room, but Riley couldn’t hear it. With music blaring in her headphones and the game sounds cranked up, the tapping of the keys didn’t stand a chance. Her eyes flicked across the screen, scanning for the tell-tale movement of an enemy between the buildings. She touched the button on her mouse lightly while her left hand wove an elaborate pattern of forward, backward, and sideways. In the top right corner of her screen, a litany of names began to scroll: her victims.

“QQ, you’re a damned hacker!”

The voice screamed in her ears, drowning out her favorite part of the song behind it. Riley couldn’t resist the bait but – so they wouldn’t hear her voice – she typed out her response.

[QQ] Cry more or Alt+Q+Q

The moment of distraction had been enough. Her screen flashed red. One click triggered a med-pack, but there wasn’t enough time for it to work before her character made its last moan and fell face first into the dirt. The chat box erupted with gloating, her executioner bragging about his conquest to anyone that would listen. She just sighed and checked her kill count. Twelve. She was slipping, and if she wanted to get a paycheck from this, she had to be better.

But she could only play so many hours in a row, and it was time for a break. Pushing away from the desk, Riley flipped her brilliantly colored dreads back and glanced through the window, not surprised to see the mare still standing comfortably. This is how it went every year. That horse produced the best babies on the farm but had no interest in allowing her breeders to catch her at it. If she kept to the schedule, tonight was the night.

The room was dark, letting her see through the windows and into the barn, but it made walking to the kitchen as dangerous as traversing a mine field. Ok, not quite as dangerous, since stubbing her toe was nothing compared to blowing off a leg, but she liked the comparison. Too bad there weren’t mine fields in the game. That could make things even more interesting.

Pouring a coffee, she wondered why she was doing this for the millionth time. Most people had a job. They woke up in the morning, headed into the office, and got a paycheck at the end of each week. Things would be so much easier like that, but she couldn’t justify selling her soul by the hour for something that she couldn’t care about. Whether it was welcoming people to Wal-Mart or answering the phone for some stuck on himself CEO, it wouldn’t take long before her disorderly mouth had her looking for another job.

Riley knew that all too well. She’d tried, time and time again, to be the girl the world expected, and time and time again, she simply couldn’t force herself. It wasn’t until her parents died that she began to realize it must be a family trait. They’d kept this farm running on little more than hopes and prayers for decades, shoving their way into a world that was as secretive as the Illuminati.

She chuckled at the comparison. Breeding Shire horses was more like conspiracy theories than she’d ever guessed, but at least her mother had kept good notes. She’d also raised a daughter with a love for the dramatic.

With a brimming cup of coffee, she traversed the mine field of the living room one more time, making her way to the soft glow of her monitor. Setting her cup on the corner of the cheap desk, she looked through the window, a flare of excitement brimming when the mare flicked her tail. It died just as quickly when the very pregnant horse dropped her head and went back to sleep. That meant she had time for another round.

Her game of choice this week was a persistent world first person shooter. It never stopped. There were no true rounds, only an endless cycle of killing and dying just to re-spawn and kill again. With less downtime, it gave her an intense rush as she tried to keep up with the big names in gaming. Clicking a hot spot on the map, the loading screen flashed. She emerged from the spawn tube, checked her loadout, and was back in the thick of things.

The staccato of her gun was loud in her ears, a sharp contrast to the deceptively lyrical but depressing music behind it. This time, it was a large outpost, and she was against insane odds. For every one man on her side, there were at least six on the other. That meant more targets, but also more chances to overextend. Don’t rush, she reminded herself, attacking as she pushed forward. That was the best way to end up dead, and her kill count couldn’t afford a stupid move.

Her pinky flicked the tab key. Seven kills already, she saw as she strafed around the corner. A glimmer warned her of a stealther and, with a tap of a finger, she knifed him, adding one more death to her total.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Her screen registered a hit. She crouched, spinning behind cover while checking the mini-map. Riley knew better than to stand still in a game like this – she retreated, only to come face to face with one of the biggest names in gaming. Above his character, in glaring red letters, she read “Void”.

Smashing G1, a long acting med-pack went off. She twitched her wrist, aiming for his head, but he was faster. Rounds hit her character, destroying her aim. They both moved, trying to outflank the other. Keys tapped louder and louder as she hammered at them, the green squares of her life slowly disappearing. Then he got just a bit too close. She tapped the mouse twice and flicked the knife, seeing the kill counter in the bottom of her screen at the same moment her own turned red.

“Damn it!” Riley yelled, slapping her hands on the cheap desk, coffee splashing over the edge of her cup.

Grabbing a napkin from the other side, she was wiping up the mess when a ding made her glance back to the screen. There, in the chat box, was a private message.

[VOID] Damn good fight. Been a long time since I’ve had to work for it. You coming to Gamers Live this weekend?

She stared at the message, truly shocked to see it. Void was the best in the scene. He’d turned down countless contracts to go pro, saying he preferred to remain anonymous and keep gaming as a hobby, yet he was a regular face at every convention. He also never gave compliments. Hell, he rarely spoke to anyone! She began typing before she even knew what to say.

[QQ] It’s local, so thought about it. Thanks for the compliment.

He’d been waiting for her answer, because in less than a second, the notice dinged again.

[VOID] You should come. Would love to shake the hand of the man who not only can make me sweat, but also type complete words.

[QQ] That sounds like an offer I can’t pass up. Didn’t think you were in the Dallas area.

[VOID] There’s a tournament. Enter it. They’re offering a pretty sweet pro contract to the winner. Can’t tell you how I know that, but I’ll be rooting.

[QQ] …and playing. You enter every one of those.

[VOID] 😉 Someone has to keep you kids on your toes. Bring your rig.

[QQ] You seem to have convinced me. Let’s see if I can take you down next time.

[VOID] Challenge accepted.

Her hands were on the keys to reply when movement caught her eye. The mare was on her side, her legs straining, nothing more than her haunches visible through the grate in the door. Riley pulled off the headphones and tossed them on the desk, grabbed her jacket from the back of the couch, and darted up the hall to pound on her roommate’s door.

“Kitty! She’s foaling!” she yelled through the wood before rushing to the barn.

Of course she was too late. Jena never wanted an audience to her labor, but the sight in the barn was exactly what Riley hoped to see. A beautiful black foal lay in the straw, its head bobbing awkwardly as it blinked at the light. She slowly opened the stall door and stepped inside, whispering gentle words to the mare as she checked the baby over. A colt, and a rather impressive one from the wet, crumpled mass of him. She eased his hind legs the rest of the way out and patted the mare’s hip before moving to his head and checking for any birth defects.

“That’s a big one,” Kitty said, a blanket tossed around her shoulders, her fuzzy bunny slippers peeking out from the bottom.

“It’s a boy.” Riley looked up with a grin. “And he’s well marked. If he’s half as nice when he stands, we just got our next stallion.”

“Thank god,” Kitty breathed. “We can’t keep buying breedings and pay for hay, not unless the market improves a bit.”

“Still four years before he’ll make us any money. I may have to sell the team.”

Kitty shook her head. “Not yet. We can get by this year. Sell the geldings, but not the mares, Riley.”

She nodded, all too aware how tight things were financially. “I just keep hoping for a corporate contract. Dad made a name for them, it’d be a shame to sell them for pennies.”

“Yeah,” Kitty agreed, “but selling’s the best option we have.”

Riley decided to change the subject. “Fought to a draw with Void.”

“Damn! No way?”

She nodded, letting a bit of a proud smile show. “He asked if I’m going to the convention. Said he wants to shake my hand.”

Kitty had been her best friend since grade school and worked at the farm since junior high. When Riley’s parents died, she’d stepped right in, taking over the finances – all too aware that was Riley’s Achilles’ heel. She’d also been the one to introduce Riley to the world of first person shooters. While Kitty enjoyed the games, Riley had excelled, quickly making a name for herself, only to lose everything when rumors spread that she’d slept her way to the top of the competitive ladders.

It had been Kitty’s idea to create the new persona, QQ, and leave the old to wither. It wasn’t hard to convince her competition that she was nothing more than another guy with too much free time – she simply never used voice chat. So if anyone could understand how excited Riley was, it would be her best friend.

“When is it?” Kitty asked.

“This weekend. It’s in Dallas but will be an all weekend deal. Can you watch the horses?”

Kitty gave her an appalled look. “Of course! You don’t even have to ask.”

Unwilling to be ignored, that’s when the newest member of the herd decided it was finally time to stand, struggling to untangle his long legs and making a complete mess of it. The mare nickered and surged to her own feet, leaving little room in the stall. Riley backed out, moving beside Kitty as they watched the baby try for his first steps.

“Always my favorite part,” Kitty said.

“I like it when they win,” Riley countered, bumping her shoulder against her friend’s.

Kitty just lifted her arm and wrapped the blanket around them both, the girls smiling at the future of the farm. They stood like that for almost an hour, until the colt had done everything they needed to see, then they slowly made their way back inside, the sky just beginning to grow lighter.

Her coffee had grown cold long ago, so she staggered into the kitchen and set another pot to brew. Passing by her computer, a message still flashed on the screen.

[VOID has requested to be your friend]

“See,” she told Kitty, pointing at the square box.

“Damn. He doesn’t usually make friends. What the hell did you do?”

“Fought to a draw, like I said.”

“With Void?”

Riley just nodded and did her best not to look as smug as she felt.

“Ok,” Kitty said, “Spill it!”

“He said I made him work for it.”

“What did you do?”

“I think I got the drop on him. His reactions are faster than mine, but I never gave him the chance to take advantage of it. Cover, strafing, and a quick knife.”

“You killed him with a quick knife? No one gets that close!”

Riley just shrugged. “I think he assumed I’d run. I was low on health and in a bad spot. I figured it was take him out or die. I preferred the first option.”

“Nice! So you have two days. Clean the machine, back everything up, and we have got to find you something to wear!”

“It’s a gamer convention, Kitty, not a beauty pageant.”

Her friend took a step back and gestured at Riley’s body. “Black and neon dreads, how many body piercings, and what, two tattoos now? You’ve already started the look, no reason you can’t make it marketable. Think of this as nothing more than a horse show. Braids, mane rolls, and all the trimmings.”

“Fine!” she agreed, giving in. “Just nothing crazy. I do not want to look like I’m trying to get a damned date. I want a contract, not a boyfriend.”

“Deal. You handle the kill count, I’ll arrange the wardrobe, and you won’t even kill me when I’m done.”

Riley just closed her eyes and nodded, all too aware of what she was getting herself into.

“And we’re pulling out the petty cash to pay for the trip. Go easy on the tequila?” Kitty teased.

“Deal. If we can take at least a first at the next show, we’ll make it all back.”

“Then you’d better start working with the yearlings. If they can place, we can get a few sold. Just need two, Riley. Won’t hurt the farm to have a couple less mouths to feed.”

“I know,” she said, hearing the coffee maker beep. “But it’s morning and I have got to get some sleep.”

Kitty just shook her head. “Coffee, then bed? Don’t know how you can do it, but whatever works. Just be nice to Void?”

“I thought I was.”

“I mean when you meet him. He’s a good asset to have on your side.”

“Until I show my face and they realize I’ve had tits the whole time.”

“Ok,” Kitty chuckled, “there is that. But don’t throw a drink on him?”

“Swear,” Riley said. “This is just business. I won’t do a thing that would be out of line.”

Kitty nodded, then turned on her own computer, sinking before it while the fans began to whirl. “And I’ll watch the kid while you get a few hours. Need to buy grain today and drop invoices off at the post office.”

Riley groaned, dragging her tired body from the room, thinking of nothing more than getting her caffeine fix and some sleep.

Click here for Chapter 2

Read Challenge Accepted FREE on Kindle Unlimited, or buy it on Amazon.

You don’t need to be a gamer to get these books.

Challenge Accepted Final SMALLRiley dreamed of becoming the first female professional gamer in the PLG.  She always loved gaming.  Maybe it’s because she’s part tomboy, or it could be just her wild nature rearing its ugly head.  Either way, it’s what she’s spent her life working toward, and something as silly as falling in love isn’t going to get in her way.

That’s the basic story of Challenge Accepted, the first book in the Eternal Combat series.  Of course, things aren’t quite that simple.  Riley is convinced that the reason she didn’t make it on her first try is because of sexism in the industry.  Her main competition, Void, agrees.  He’s going to help her prove it – whether she likes it or not – and maybe he’ll get the girl in the end… if he can get her to even notice he exists.  Not really something an alpha male like him is used to.

If this sounds a little far-fetched, then you need to take a few minutes to google “GamerGate”.  Yes, it’s a real thing.  Yes, some serious atrocities happened, and some wonderful dialogue ensued, but for the most part, a lot of sexism was revealed.  Yes, it’s still going on.  Following that, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if someone followed through on some of these threats?!

That’s where this series was born.  Naturally, problems don’t start in a vacuum, so I felt that I had to include the prequel, Flawed.  While most of the Eternal Combat series follows the lives of various women who enjoy playing a game of the same name, the problem started before the game was a concept.  And it started with one of the developers, Destiny Pierce.

FlawedSMALLLike Riley, Destiny was obsessed with gaming.  Unlike Riley, she was a good girl, made good grades, and tried to do the right thing.  Then her life was destroyed.

Three years later, addicted to drugs, alcohol, and anything else she can get her hands on, her dream is to overdose well enough that she won’t ever wake up again.  “They” broke her.  The brilliant girl with her entire future before her has become a shell of herself – and her only friend is the net.  So long as it’s virtual, it’s safe.

So when an up and coming game company offers her a pity job, she takes it.  There, she finally finds what she’s been missing and turns her brains to creating something rather than destroying herself… Until the threats return.

Someone wants her dead, but for the first time, Destiny isn’t going to just give up.  Her dream is so close, if she can just push back she’ll make it – she’ll be something that matters.  She just needs the proper battleground – and it’s a game called Eternal Combat.

As a gamer, this is a series that is dear to me.  As a woman, these subjects are something I think needs to be talked about.  Over and over, our love stories are always about girls who fall for nice abs and tons of money.  What about the women who don’t want that?  What about the girls who aren’t waiting for superman?  Where are the love stories for the alpha WOMEN out there?

Yes, the Eternal Combat series is about broken women, men who can be strong without being jerks, and how modern technology has insinuated itself into our lives.  You don’t need to know a thing about games, computers, or the internet to keep up.  These are just stories about women who have been knocked down over and over, but who keep getting back up.  Strong women who didn’t let live make them into fragile little toys.

Eternal Combat series 4 books.png

From drug dependence, preconceived ideas that make a person feel boxed in, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more, these gamer girls show that it takes a whole lot more than fancy computer skills to be kick-ass.  It takes a strength that comes from deep within.  I also hope that I can show the world why so many damaged souls seek their solace in the anonymity online.

If you’re looking for a new kind of romance, a whole lot of action, some seriously hot sexual tension, and a truly modern love story?  Check out Challenge Accepted on Amazon. (Currently on Sale for just $0.99 in the US)

Flawed is scheduled to release in summer 2016.

 

 

The Villain’s Story

skull-657477I’m going to tell you all a secret.  The iliri may not be the good guys.  Oh, sure, they are the protagonists of my latest series, but does that make them good?  Not really.

You see, Salryc Luxx was actually designed around Sauron from the Lord of the Rings.  You know, that mysteriously evil character who is charismatic and people just keep falling in with.  If you pay attention, there’s plenty of hints along the way, but I wanted to see if it was even possible to write the bad guy’s story in such a way that the reader wanted to cheer him (or her) on.

Why?  Simply because I think that good and evil are matters of perspective.  I don’t think that any SANE person (keyword there: sane) would do unthinkable acts just because.  I think they always have a justifiable reason.  I think that there are always two points of view, and sometimes the more interesting isn’t the “good” one.

I’m currently in the middle of writing book 7 of the iliri series.  To date, I think we’ve touched on every single taboo in existence.  No, the story doesn’t focus on them, but they just kinda came up.  You see, the iliri aren’t human, so I can’t help but wonder if they should be held to the same standards.

And then there’s Sal.  She’s the stereotypical femme fatale.  People are won over by her charm even though they’re intimidated by her.  She’s dangerous yet seductive.  Her followers gain power through their relation with her.  Wait… doesn’t that sound like some kind of secret weapon?  Some demi-god?  Well, that’s kinda what I thought.  Evidently Sal agrees.

But this begs the question: Is she really the villain?  I think she is.  I think she’s going to unleash things on that world that humanity can’t even comprehend… and I hope we all cheer her on.

Get BloodLust on Amazon, or pre-order Instinctual

 

The Series Continues

Salryc Instinctual3The enemy wants to kill them.  Their own country wants to make sure they never rise above slaves.  Humans created them to be the perfect soldiers, but iliri will never be equals.  They’re animals, vicious enough to be the perfect killers, but unable to be trusted.

So why are the Black Blades the unit chosen to stop the Emperor’s bribe of steel on its way to Anglia?  One of the rareest materials on the planet, metal could change the tide of the war.  It cuts better, stays sharper, and is stronger than the resin armor soldiers wear.  In the hands of the largest army on the continent, it would give Anglia an unparalleled advantage.  Their government might be antiquated and their military is archaic, but not even the Conglomerate can stand against the number of bodies Anglia can throw at a war.

If a few thousand kilos of steel reach the Anglian king, Terric will rule the Conglomerate.  The iliri will be exterminated.  Sal’s head will be preserved and hung on a wall somewhere as an example of human superiority.  But the only way to stop this threat is to trust the very people who made it happen.  Without humans, the Black Blades will lose everything.

While Sal struggles to learn everything she missed being raised as a human’s pet, the Black Blades try to protect their secret weapon.  The elite units are gathering in the base, but in  the slums of the capital city, iliri mongrels are starting to smell hope.

Preorder Instinctual (Rise of the Iliri #2) on Kindle.