Flawed: Chapter 4

FlawedRelease date: June 30, 2016. Release date: June 30, 2016.  Read the Prologue HERE.  Chapter 1 HERE.  Chapter 2 HERE.  Chapter 3 Here.

I hope you enjoy the first chapters.  I will be releasing a chapter each day until release, so check back for the next installment.  And of course, feel free to pre-order the book on amazon!

(Content warning: contains graphic language and situations, may be triggering for some.)

 

Chapter 4

Who knew a wifi password would be such a good bribe. Dez sucked back a whole pint of rocky road ice cream and fell asleep on the couch with a sucker in her hand. She held onto it for almost an hour, too, before she dropped it on the floor. Chance picked it up and tossed it, then returned to his laptop.

With the demon pixie on his sofa, curled around the gargoyle, he’d lost both his couch and his blanket, but she looked like she was truly resting. Damn, it felt good to make her life a little easier. He tugged the coffee table closer and looked back at the code. Resting his back against the chair, he was just being productive, he told himself, not keeping an eye on her.

Nah, he was full of it. He could be anywhere he wanted, but he was sitting right here making sure that she just kept breathing. He’d never seen anyone panic like that, and it shook him more than he wanted to admit. It reminded him of his childhood, screaming as hard as he could, wishing someone would just hear him. The difference was that while he still struggled to feel real, she fought as hard as she could to vanish. He understood the urge to stop suffering but didn’t want her to go. Not yet.

He’d tell her it was the LAN if she’d buy it, but that was a lie. It was the look in her eyes. He’d seen that look before, on a deer just before he’d broadsided the thing in the road. It should’ve run, but it had just stared right at him, too terrified to move until it was dead. He’d never forget the scream the beast made. It sounded just like the one Dez had let out downstairs: pain, anguish, and complete despair. He looked over at her again.

She looked nothing like the girl who’d changed the game scene. Dark circles hung under her eyes, her skin was sallow and blanched, her hair was cut in almost the same style as his, but she was still beautiful. Nothing could change that, not even her weak attempt at a mask. She was hiding in her own skin, but asleep, he could see it. She looked like a nymph designed specifically to lure him to his death, or maybe to life.

She also wasn’t making it easier to figure out why Silk wouldn’t load. Stop looking at the babe on your couch, he chided himself, and start looking at the program. It was almost dawn and he hadn’t made any progress. The lines were fine on their own, so something had to be in conflict. He needed the desktops up and running. There were too many variables to just find it by reading. He needed to get the damned thing running so he could test for the error.

“Please don’t,” Dez whispered, tossing in her sleep. Her voice was jumbled, the words coming from lax lips, but one look at her face proved the dream was bad. “I’ll be good. I swear it. I’ll never do it again, just don’t touch me. Please. Please don’t touch me. It hurts, don’t touch me.”

“Dez,” he said gently, hoping to pull her from it.

“No, it hurts. I won’t. I won’t, it hurts. No, please, please, please please…”

“Dez.” This time, he said it louder. Fuck, she didn’t need that dream. It had been three years since her abduction – yeah, he knew about that – and she still had the dreams? “Dez!”

“Please! I’ve been so good. I’ve never done anything bad. I just like games. I didn’t mean to. Don’t, no, no, no, no, no, no, please, no! Please, please! Oh god, no!”

The last word turned into a full-throated scream. First it was terror, then pain, then the kind of soul-wrenching sound that no human should ever make. She screamed with her entire body, twisting with the cries, but still she slept. Chance shoved back the table and rushed to her side. Damn it, he couldn’t fucking touch her, but she couldn’t have that dream.

All he could do was yell. “Dez!”

She sat up and opened her eyes, but the sound came out for another heartbeat before she was awake enough to close her mouth. She blinked once, just once, her eyes locked on the blanket over her feet. After a long, eerie pause, she took a deep breath. That was the hurdle. He knew all too well what that breath felt like.

“Grab the gargoyle,” he said gently, kneeling beside her.

She did, then took another deep breath, letting herself remember where she was. Her head nodded, an easy way to assure people that she was coherent, but from the look on her face, her mind wasn’t all the way back yet.

“It was a dream,” Chance told her. “You need the pills or something else?”

“I’m ok.”

“I know, kid. What do you want?”

She licked her lips, then finally looked up at him. “How long was I out?”

“Four hours.” He moved back to his laptop and lowered himself to the floor.

With a completely normal groan, she flopped back into the cushions. “This thing is comfortable. Where did I get the blanket?” She’d just changed the subject, but he let her.

“It was on the back. You must have pulled it over you.”

Those rich brown eyes turned on him. For once, they were warm and kind. “Bullshit.”

Busted. He couldn’t stop the damned smile from admitting it. “Maybe. Just don’t let anyone find out I’m not always a dick, ok?”

“K.”

Then he saw something so beautiful he’d never forget it. Rolling onto her side, Dez smiled at him. Not a generic smile, but one aimed right at him, filled with appreciation and hope. For the first time in his adult life, Chance didn’t know how to react. All he could do was look back to his screen. He was supposed to be the one controlling the glances, but the hundred pound addict on his sofa had just changed every rule he’d ever known. She made him feel like a sweet, innocent boy.

“Silk?” Dez asked, looking at his computer, giving him an out.

“Yeah. It won’t load.”

She dragged the back of her arm over her eyes, doing her best to regain her composure. “Why not?”

“If I knew that, I could make it load.”

“What’s the error?”

“Nothing. Just hangs. Tried letting it work it out, but it just hung for two days.”

With a sigh she pulled herself up, petting the gargoyle gently. “You got any alcohol in here?”

“Yep. You still high?”

“Always. I’m about to get more high, too.” She pulled the bottle from her pocket and opened the lid.

“Why don’t you not make a habit of that.” He looked at her, daring her to call him out. “Alcohol and opiates aren’t a good combination.”

“I can fucking handle it, ok, Dad?”

“Sure, kid.” He stood and made his way into the kitchen, grabbing the bottle of whiskey he’d bought for her. Two glasses came next. One he filled half full, the other just got a couple of splashes.

Dez looked at the bottle in her hands, then slowly closed it without taking a pill. “Fill that up?”

“Deal.”

“So, you’re months from alpha and the game doesn’t work?” Dez nodded to herself. “That’s pretty high up there on the scale of bad. You know that, right?”

“Yeah.” His answer was barely a whisper. He knew it better than she did.

“You fund all this yourself?”

He nodded slowly, then took a healthy sip of whiskey. “Cashed out all my investments, took a few loans, and basically, I bought myself four years of a dream. Either it works and we get enough money to keep going, or I crash and burn so damned hard.” He sighed. “I can’t even get serious investors because I’ve got nothing to show for it.”

“Don’t.” She accepted the glass but avoided his fingers. “Investors are the bane of all game companies. They’ll push you to make another WoW clone, and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do to convince them otherwise.”

“May not have a choice, Dez. It’ll be shelve the game or hand over control.” If anyone could understand his problem, it’d be her. She knew the industry inside and out.

“The engine works, though?”

“Yep.”

She thought about that. “Has Silk ever worked?”

“Nope.”

“Fuck,” she breathed, her eyes on the liquor in her glass. “This isn’t cheap shit.” She swirled it, refusing to look up. “You know I haven’t signed an NDA, right?”

He smiled, impressed that she’d even noticed the quality of the whiskey. “Yeah, I know. I also know that your name hasn’t been seen online in three years. I feel pretty safe about this.”

“Peel back the layers. Start with the engine, add the map, then bring in mechanics one by one. When it stops working, you know you have your problem.”

Chance sighed and leaned back. “That’s why I needed a new network admin. Backups got lost. All we have is all we have. I had two copies on the cloud, but both are intertwined already. The old server went with the old network guy. Thankfully the bastard can’t get shit from it.”

She took another long drink. “Then you need to clean up the engine. Get it stable. I’ll get you a usable network by tomorrow. We’ll make it work.”

“I hope so, Dez. I played FoxFlight. Both before and after they trusted you.” His brow wrinkled for a moment. “God, you were like sixteen back then?”

“Yeah. They contacted me on the forums, we got talking, they offered me a contract, and then found out how old I was.” A twisted smile teased her lips. “Guess I was supposed to be into boys or something, but I like games better.”

He couldn’t help himself; he had to know. “Did you touch people back then?”

She slowly licked her lips. “Yeah. Guess I didn’t know any better.” Taking a deep breath, she shifted the glass in her hands. “I was gonna go to the University of Southern California on a full scholarship or take a full-time position with Electronic Arts. Couldn’t decide, but fate took it out of my hands. Now I get high.”

“Why?”

“So I don’t have to think about it.” One last gulp finished the glass of whiskey. Anyone else would be staggering. “Because no one seems to like it when I wake up screaming?”

“Wasn’t the waking up part that got me.” He looked at her with no judgment on his face, just pure, honest truth. “Was the sleeping while screaming that I didn’t expect. I’ll be fine next time.”

“Why the fuck did you bring me back here? Why didn’t you just give me hours?”

“And what, watch you try to walk to work? Sure as fuck not letting you drive, and considering that you lived in a storage unit? Fuck no. You’ll get bored and make the LAN work.”

“So I’m a damned pity case?”

He shook his head, but his eyes never left. “You don’t keep up with the communities anymore, or you’d know that when a game goes bad, people say they need Destiny Pierce to come save it. People joke about how if she ever comes back, the game that gets her will be the next big thing.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll take the shadow of Destiny Pierce if it’ll give Silk hope. I’ll take you screaming, not touching, getting high, and whatever other fetishes you have, if Silk will be smooth.”

“I have a few.”

“Me too.” He let that sink in, daring her to say anything, then smiled. “And I figure you’re not gonna start spreading any rumors that will cause Deviant Games a problem.”

His point was valid. No one was perfect, but the owner of the company was always held to a higher standard. If he did anything wrong, which often included being a typical single male, the game would take a hit for it. That’s why he wasn’t worried about her living in the building. He knew she didn’t have a leg to stand on. She couldn’t ruin him, which left him in control.

She chewed on her lower lip. “And when I’m done with the LAN?”

“Network admin. When Silk is running, you’ll make a damned good community coordinator. They won’t care that you’re stoned, and I won’t ask you to piss in a cup. I’ll keep my liquor cabinet stocked, and you can stay high. Help the game and I’ll make sure you have a job. I’m not paying you shit, because I don’t have the money, but I’m pretty sure you don’t care.”

“I don’t.”

“Good. You take care of Silk and I’ll take care of you. I’ll have to take your word, though, because you can’t shake on it.” He grinned and grabbed the empty glasses, then headed back to the kitchen. “More?”

Dez thought about that for a moment. “No. I need to let the buzz wear off before I dose up.”

“Hey. Thanks.”

“For what?”

He shrugged. “For making an effort. I really did love your blog.”

“I can’t believe you gave me credit on TGC.”

“It was your idea.”

She nodded, accepting the truth of that without shame. “I did like talking to you. Was nice to have someone who didn’t either hate me or believe that I could change the entire world with a stupid blog.”

He scratched at his jaw, feeling the late night stubble, but it kept his lips from curling up like an idiot. “I fooled you, then. I still think you changed the world with that damned blog. I plan to prove it, once Silk is running. I guess that’s why I want you on the team so bad, you know? Validation.”

Her hands picked at the nap of the blanket and she sighed, but it was sadness, not frustration. Dez nodded her head, coming to terms with something, and Chance watched, refusing to interrupt her. She had no idea how well he understood. He wasn’t about to share his deepest darkest secrets with her until she was willing to let him in, but at least he wasn’t alone anymore.

“Why don’t you scare me?”

It was a crack. A very tiny crack, but he’d take it. “Because I respect you, and that includes your space.”

Her eyes said thank you, but her words changed the subject again. “I need a smoke.”

Chance smiled. “What don’t you do?”

“Typically? Eat. Want one?”

“Kid, you and I? I think we’re gonna get along just fine.” Since she put the pills away, he headed to the kitchen to pour a bit more whiskey in their glasses.

Dez grabbed a pack of smokes, and he got the drinks. Without a word, they both headed downstairs and toward the back of the building. Once outside, he pointed at a park bench. She took a corner, and he handed her the glass. The seat wasn’t a very big thing, but she squished to the side and tilted her head, inviting him to take the place beside her.

“Can’t promise we’ll both fit.”

“Shut up and smoke,” she told him, holding out a lit cigarette.

That was all it took. Chance claimed the space, well aware that his leg was just brushing hers, but Dez wasn’t losing her mind. He took a long drag and leaned against the wood back, his glass resting easily on his thigh, steadied with his fingers.

She slouched down until her hip grazed his leg, and sucked back the nicotine. “Twitch or tab targeting?” she asked.

“Silk? Both.”

“How the fuck does that work?”

“Mechanized combat is with tab. Infantry is over the shoulder shooter style. Combat system is broken up so that players can do both, but don’t have to, and can earn equal rewards.”

“Setting?”

He smiled. “Exactly the one you think.” He lifted his glass and took a sip. “Concept art’s all over the loft.”

“Just like Wonderland.”

“Dez?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m a dick. You know that, right?”

“Yeah.” She took another long drink. “You stole half the engine, which is probably why it’s not running well.”

“I stole all of the engine. Both of them, then forced them together.” He turned to look at her. “I’m not any better than you, kid.”

“Yeah? What’s your addiction?”

He took a drag, deciding if he wanted to answer. Then again, he really had nothing to lose. “Women.”

“Nympho?”

“Nah. But the rush of having someone say yes? I can’t get enough of it. I don’t even care if I like them half the time. I just want the notch.”

“Kill count.” She shrugged it off. “Keep the whiskey stocked and I never saw shit.”

“Can do. You really think this is going to work?”

She laughed, another one of those rare honest moments of joy on her face, but her eyes were a bit too large, a little too glassy. “No. I think I’m the biggest mistake you’ve ever made.”

“Not by a long shot,” he promised. “I do have one question. It’s been killing me since I saw you in that tank.”

She looked up at him and jerked her chin, daring him to ask. “Shoot.”

“How’d you get the tats if you can’t be touched?”

“It’s just skin. Fucking hate human skin, you know?” She paused, then pointed a finger at him, a grin on her face. “And a condom isn’t nearly enough so don’t even think it.”

“C’mon, we could make it work.”

“Fuck no.” She giggled and shook her head. “That’s just fucking gross. Never mind that you’re my damned boss.”

“Yeah, I’m not ready to fire you yet. Gotta get Silk working or I’m going to lose everything.”

She bumped her knee against his. “I’ll get the devs hooked up by the end of the week. We’ll make sure it’s good.”

“We, huh? You one of us, now?”

He didn’t know what he’d said, but the smile vanished between one breath and the next. Dez leaned forward, sucking on her cigarette, and stared out at the open grass beyond. She slowly let the smoke slide through her lips, the predawn light turning them dark. She swallowed a mouthful of whiskey like it was water, then took another drag.

“The announcement that you were actually doing Silk?” She exhaled the smoke through clenched teeth. “It’s the last happy memory I have.”

“Was,” he corrected gently. “The release will be the next.”

“Might be worth sticking around for.”

He followed her eyes, finding nothing but silvered grass and the last golden stars. “I’d kinda like that. Be nice to have a friend around.”

“Chance?” She licked her lips but didn’t wait for him to answer. “Can you make sure I keep the gargoyle?”

He tilted his glass again, but this time he needed more than a sip. She wasn’t asking about taking it home. She wasn’t asking about curling up with it at night. She’d just asked him to make sure it got into her coffin.

“On one condition. I finally get to touch you.”

“Pretty sure I won’t care by then.” Her voice was flat, not even sad, as if she’d already come to terms with it.

He nodded slowly. “Know how you’re gonna do it?”

“You gonna stop me?” She flicked her eyes to him but didn’t turn her head.

“No. Pretty sure it wouldn’t help.”

“I wanna OD. I’m pretty shit at it, though. Prolly gonna need something harder than Vicodin. I wanna be looking at the sky. So I can see the world.”

“It’s a long, slow way to go.” He shifted the glass, hoping she couldn’t see how his fingers trembled.

Dez shrugged. “It’s been a long, slow wait.”

“Gonna hold off for the release?” He refused to look at her.

“Might as well.”

“Gonna tell me what happened before you go?”

He heard the flutter in her breath. “You gonna tell anyone else?”

“No. I’m thinking you and I? We already have a few secrets building up between us. No one needs to know our shit.”

She sucked the last breath out of her smoke then dropped it by her foot, grinding it into oblivion. “Well, when you sell the story, just make sure you get a good profit, ok?”

“Yeah,” he whispered. “I’ll buy a big fuckin’ bottle of whiskey.”

Click here to read CHAPTER 5

FLAWED available June 30th.  Pre-order now on Amazon

Flawed: Chapter 3

FlawedRelease date: June 30, 2016.  Read the Prologue HERE.  Chapter 1 HERE.  Chapter 2 HERE.

I hope you enjoy the first chapter.  I will be releasing a chapter each day until release, so check back for the next installment.  And of course, feel free to pre-order the book on amazon!

(Content warning: contains graphic language and situations, may be triggering for some.)

 

Chapter 3

Chance left, not even giving her an idea of when he’d be back. It was just her and a massively large, empty warehouse. Of all the places he left her, it had to be a fucking warehouse! Her skin shivered with the thought. At least this one was different. It was well lit and the debris inside was mostly crumbling building materials, not the signs of other humans.

The first thing she’d do is have a shower. Not like it was hard to find the bedroom. Off the living room was a side door with weights visible through it. The only other option was the short hallway. Dez followed it into a large room made for a man. Decorated in soft blues and browns, it proved that Chance either had good taste or he paid someone to have it. Maybe he even had a washer and dryer she could borrow. The idea of having truly clean clothes was enough to convince her to start snooping.

The apartment wasn’t small. It was long and narrow, the rooms set up a bit awkwardly because of the shape of the space, but it felt like a home. It felt lived in and unprotected in the same way her mom’s house always had. She couldn’t help but notice the art on the walls. Much of it was concept art for games. The few pieces that weren’t easily recognizable had the same feel as what she remembered of Silk.

She found the washer tucked behind a pair of folding doors. With a plan in place, she decided to rummage through his drawers. There, she learned that his tastes were completely unsophisticated. T-shirts and jeans were the obvious favorites. She found gym clothes and claimed a tank and pants with a real drawstring. Those would do while her own clothes washed.

Then she stepped into the bathroom. It was massive: two sinks, a tub that looked like it could hold at least four, and the most amazing shower. Thick frosted glass surrounded a tiled box. The colors were cool and reminded her of an ocean, but tasteful. Dez made sure to lock the door, then stripped before turning on the water, thankful to see that the pressure was fantastic. It had been way too long since she’d had a really good shower. Truck stops and parks just never cared if the water did more than trickle.

This one made getting clean into a luxury. Dez scrubbed her entire body twice and liberally used his shampoo. It smelled like a man, but she didn’t care. He had no conditioner, but her hair wasn’t long enough to need it. She did borrow the razor. When she finished, she felt like a real person. She almost felt like a girl again, but she could ignore that. She wasn’t going for pretty; she was going for clean.

Damp, she pulled on his clothes, picked up her mess so that it would be hard to tell she’d been there, then hung the towel back where she’d found it. He had said to borrow what she needed, and she was going to take him at his word. If he didn’t mean it, he shouldn’t say it. Dez was sick and tired of empty promises. He’d either fire her and kick her ass out, or figure out that what he saw was all he was going to fucking get, and it wasn’t necessarily a fairy tale.

Then she tossed her own clothes into the washer. Even his damned laundry detergent smelled good. Maybe that had something to do with Chance’s sex appeal? He was seriously hot, and his red hair helped instead of hurt. If she had to live with someone, she might as well enjoy the view, right? Hopefully, he’d figure out real fast that no touching meant exactly that. She sure wasn’t about to fuck him.

The sun was setting, but there was still no sign of Chance. As the air outside cooled, the building began to settle, and alone, the sound was creepy. The apartment was cozy, but just outside that door was a taste of hell. She looked through the living room window – the one that looked into the main room below – and saw nothing but a mess. It wasn’t dark, dank, or cloying. It was just a large room that would soon be a development center. It was her own nightmare waiting to become her dream.

She was tired of being scared all the time. It was just a damned building, and it hadn’t hurt her. It was a thing, and things could be changed. It was also a thing that she had complete control over. She took one deep breath, then Dez left the apartment. Her feet echoed on the stairs, the walls sending the sound back, but she could do this.

Tucked in the corner was a large shop vac. Two brooms, one large and the other smaller, leaned against a garbage bin. A roll of plastic bags lay on the floor beside it. He needed an area to work, and she needed to do this. She was going to make this building her bitch.

That’s how it started. She just wanted to stop feeling nervous about the fact that her new home was a warehouse, but it quickly became more. As the debris vanished, the potential for office space appeared. With a little searching, she found more cleaning supplies and claimed them all. The old desks weren’t bad. They were simple. The style was a bit outdated, but developers were men who wouldn’t care. Functionality was all that mattered. Section by section, she cleaned, moved furniture, then cleaned some more.

It had gotten dark hours ago, but she loved the night. It was when the peace came, so long as she wasn’t sleeping. Dez moved to the next section, a dark, secluded corner between the back exit and the apartments that was tucked nicely under Chance’s second-floor apartment. Unlike the main room, this spot was cozy and sheltered. She felt drawn to it like a wolf to a den.

And the massive L-shaped desk pressed against the wall would be perfect. She tugged at it, sliding it out to reach the junk beneath it, and heard a crash from around the corner. Her heart hung, and she froze, waiting for it to beat again. Someone was in the building. A moment later, there was a second bang. It was heavy, whatever made that sound. Was the exit door beside her unlocked? Would there be more people outside? Slowly, she stepped in that direction, praying she wouldn’t draw attention.

A form loomed at the corner, large, bulky, and just there. Her feet moved before her mind could catch up. Dez spun, a shriek the punctuation to her exit, running as hard as she could. Outside, she had to get outside! She had to get away from the men in the warehouse. She couldn’t let them touch her, not again, oh god, they couldn’t touch her again.

“Dez!”

The voice registered in her mind, but she had to go. Hitting the emergency exit hard, she just kept going. Across the concrete, over the gravel, into the grass beyond, she ran and ran fast. It was too open. There was no place to hide. But she couldn’t just run blindly. When Dez turned to look behind her, she saw nothing.

With heaving breaths, she slowed and bent over her knees. Her lungs gasped like a fish, seeking oxygen in a world that didn’t want to give it, but she tried. She tried so hard, looking for any signs of pursuit. Then the lights over the loading bays came on. A moment later, a man with flaming red hair stepped into view.

“Dez,” he called. “You staying out there or coming back in?”

“Staying here for a minute, k, thanks.”

She heard his laugh, but it was impressed, not snide. “Mind if I join you?”

“Do I get a choice?”

“Yeah, kid. You do. Didn’t know you were a sprinter, but I swear I don’t need a second performance to believe it.”

Fuck. Chance wasn’t going to just pretend like he hadn’t seen that. “Might as well c’mon.”

She dropped into the grass. If she was sitting, she wouldn’t take off like that again. Damn, why did he have to pay attention to all of her issues? This was why she didn’t have friends. Partly because her pride couldn’t take the repeated blows, and partly because no one wanted to hang out with a fruit loop. First day at work and her new boss now understood just how nutso she really was.

He crossed the distance slowly, something large in his arms. With the light behind him, she couldn’t make it out, but she knew it was Chance. She’d seen his hair, heard his voice, so the silhouette walking at her was fine. He was safe. He wasn’t about to risk Silk just to make an example out of her. She tried to convince herself to believe that, and while her mind did, her heart just wouldn’t cooperate. Alternating between aching pauses and quick sprints, if it didn’t start behaving, she’d end up passing out.

He stopped well out of reach. “Catch this.”

He tossed the object at her. It was light and hung in the air for a moment, then flopped into her lap. Soft, dense fur met her fingers. Beneath that was pliable foam. In the dim glow of moonlight, Dez realized the thing in her hands was the most disgusting-looking stuffed animal she’d ever seen. Sickly grey, its face was smushed and evil, the eyes like dead black coals, with withered wings attached to its back.

“A gargoyle?” she asked, looking up.

“Yeah. To chase away the evil that haunts this place. Can I sit?”

“In the grass?”

He chuckled softly. “I like the grass. Hell, I love how open it is out here. You can see for miles, so you always know what’s coming. I’ll go in if you want, but figured you might like the back-up.” He gestured to the gargoyle.

She felt her shoulders relax and her heart picked a rhythm. It was still too fast, but at least the darkness would hide the blood filling up her face. “Nah, I’ll share the grass.”

He moved beside her but kept a healthy distance, then sat, his legs bent before him. Where she faced the building, he faced the pasture behind them. “You ok? I didn’t mean to walk up on you like that.”

“Oh, peachy. It was just time for my evening run.”

“Bullshit.”

She licked her lips as she pulled in a deep breath through her nose. “I’ll keep the lights on next time. Won’t happen again, boss.”

“You know,” he said softly, “you don’t have to pretend to be ok, Dez. I’m not going to fire you. Fuck, it’s not like I’m really paying you.”

Turning the gargoyle in her lap, she ran her hands through the soft fur, refusing to look at him. “I’ll get the network going. You don’t have to be nice to me.”

“Kinda do.”

“Why?”

Chance groaned softly. “Because you were nice to me? I dunno. Because it’s a new thing I want to try.” He picked at a blade of grass. “Because I’m a guy and we’re kinda wired to be?”

“Why me?” She wanted to look, to see if he was honest, but if she did, she might end up bawling, and she was done with all that.

Slowly, meticulously, he split the blade of grass down the middle. “Because you’re a part of the team and that means you’re one of us. What happened, Dez?”

“I’m not that high.”

“Didn’t ask if you were. I asked what happened. Who found you?”

“People who didn’t like what I was saying. They convinced me that the scene would be better if I kept my nose out of it.” She laughed once, forcing the sound out. “Evidently they didn’t want dental floss armor to become endangered.”

Her eyes stung just thinking about it. Taking a deep breath, she leaned back, but it didn’t help. She took another breath, but her nose was already trying to run. With a sniff, she tried again.

“He’s washable,” Chance said softly. “I’ll watch this side if you need to close your eyes for a second.”

“I don’t fucking cry,” she mumbled, but her own voice was betraying her.

He nodded slowly. “Nah, I gotcha. It’s spring, though, and sometimes those allergies are a killer.”

“Yeah.”

The first tear leaked out. It was always the first one that caused the problem, because after that, the rest knew which way to go. One after the other they pushed at her eyes, stampeding down her cheeks until she had to gasp to try to stop them. She should have known better. That always made it worse. With only one option left, she took it, burying her face into the grey pelt to hide her own shame.

“I’m not crying.”

He said nothing for a minute. When he spoke, his voice trembled. “Me either, kid. Tough guys like us, we don’t do that shit.”

“I know, right?” She hugged her new toy close. “Why aren’t you crying?”

“It’s stupid. Just forget it.”

“Yeah, I can do that.” Dragging her arm across her nose left it wet, so she wiped it on the leg of her pants. “I don’t fucking need pity. You know that, right?”

“Pretty sure I got that.” He took a deep breath. “Just kinda nice to not be alone.”

“There’s always people here.”

This time, he huffed out the ironic laugh. “Wrong alone.”

“I gotcha.” She did. She knew exactly what he meant. Being near other people didn’t mean she was any less alone, but having Chance give his strange, twisted comfort? It helped. It was like a hug masquerading as a stuffed toy clutched against her chest. “Truce?”

“Yeah. Dez, I got plenty of shit, just like you. I’m not gonna judge.” He turned to look at her, proving that his own eyes were glassy in the darkness. “It’s just kinda nice to have someone around to take care of.”

“I don’t need your help.”

He smiled. “You kinda do. I also need yours. Truce. I won’t fight you if you don’t fight me. Maybe we can even try the whole friends thing? You know, like having someone around to talk to?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re the only person I’ve ever met that’s more fucked up than me. Because we talk the same language.” He flopped back on the grass and looked up at the stars. “Because this shit fucking world keeps trying to rip me apart and make me dissolve into nothing, and I’ve never met anyone else who can understand the way I have to fight that every single fucking day. Except you.”

“I’m not like some sweet little girl that’s gonna end up sucking your dick. Being all poetic doesn’t get me off, Chance. I just wanna fucking get high.”

“Then get high. You can be the tough one. I’ll be the sensitive one. See, I kinda like poetry. I think it exists in everything, even the way you try so damned hard to be a bitch but really aren’t.”

“What does my attitude have to do with poetry?”

He smiled, perfectly straight teeth easily visible. “It’s like some heroine from a game. Tragic past, tough attitude, but a heart of gold. Like an epic ballad where she beats the shit out of her demons, wins the castle, and reigns victorious in the end.”

“That’s how all games end. Do I at least get plate mail?”

“Nah. That’s noob armor. We’ll get you some body-covering leather that is so tight it might as well be skin, except for the low-cut front that exposes your chest all the way to your belly button. You know, so everyone can see the tattoos.”

“Dick.” She didn’t mean it and knew he could tell.

Chance grabbed another blade of grass and twirled it in front of his face. “Figure we’ll make all the companion characters around you men. Super sexy ones, like me. Then we’ll dress them in flimsy strips of leather and have their dick and balls held in a tiny little pouch that proves they have nothing down there.”

“Nice asses, though, hanging out in the open,” she added.

“Oh yeah. And big smooth chests. And thigh high boots – because that always makes sense.”

“Long gloves too. What the fuck is it about the gloves and boots with a bare body?” She leaned back to join him. They were close enough to touch, but just barely.

“It’s sexy. Look at lingerie. Little panties, tiny bra, but thigh-high stockings. Medievalize that, and you get fantasy armor. Guy looks at that shit and starts thinking about how he could slip a finger under one of those straps.”

She shuddered. “No thank you.”

“You should try it sometime. Touching, I mean. It’s a very different sensation from being touched.”

“Touching leads to touching. I mean, I shake someone’s hand, and they close their fingers around mine. And just walk up to someone and put my hands on them? That’s fucking weird. Name me one guy that wouldn’t think I was trying to get laid.”

“Me.”

For a long time, she said nothing. “It doesn’t work out well.”

“Offer’s still there. Thing is, not touching you is kinda good for me.”

“Why?”

He smiled. “What happened, Dez?”

“Not telling.

“Then neither am I.” Slowly, he sat up. “You eaten?”

Dez shook her head. “I prefer not to. Doesn’t go well with Vicodin.”

“You worried about the Tylenol?”

“Technically it’s hydrocodone, so no acetaminophen. Easier to tell people I’m on Vicodin, though.”

“Yeah, I gotcha. I’m still starving and have a laptop for you, but I need a fucking shower.” He pulled himself to his feet. “Coming? I think you got enough done in the warehouse, and pretty sure you’re not going to run for a while, so try food.”

She sat up. “Thanks, but not hungry.”

“Not much of you left to starve away. What will you eat?”

“I like candy.”

Chance sighed. “I’ve got some suckers and a little ice cream. You eat something and I’ll give you the wifi password.”

“Sold.” She stood and dusted off her rump with one hand, the other clutching her gargoyle. “Why’d you have this?”

“Well, I picked up some cable from Ian then had a date. Bitch drug my ass to the mall. Bored to tears, I was wandering around behind her like a well-trained dog and saw it. Pissed her off too.” He grinned. “Even more when I told her it’s for this amazing girl I work with. Told her you were my roommate, and she decided that shopping wasn’t going to do her any good. Made it back to her place pretty fast.”

“You bought me a gargoyle?”

“Yep, and got laid because of it.” He tilted his head. “So, I figure that means I owe you.”

“God, you’re a dick.”

Slowly he nodded, heading back to the building. “Yeah. Basically. Thing is, women always think they’re going to change me, but they love it. They want me to treat them like this because it makes them feel protected. Just makes me feel like the guy operating the puppets.”

“Won’t work on me.”

“I know. You break all the rules, Dez. It’s why I respect you so damned much.”

Click here to read CHAPTER 4

FLAWED available June 30th.  Pre-order now on Amazon

Flawed: Chapter 2

FlawedRelease date: June 30, 2016.  Read the Prologue HERE.  Chapter 1 HERE.  

I hope you enjoy the first chapter.  I will be releasing a chapter each day until release, so check back for the next installment.  And of course, feel free to pre-order the book on amazon!

(Content warning: contains graphic language and situations, may be triggering for some.)

 

Chapter 2

Ten miles outside the city limits, the town faded away and pastures took the place of buildings. He loved it here. The rush of the modern world faded into the endless horizon. Chance slowed the truck and turned into a gravel lot, driving to the side of a massive brick building. He parked next to a small, green metal door and turned the truck off.

“Welcome to Deviant Games’ future headquarters.”

Dez slipped out of the truck, her eyes taking everything in even through the haze that clouded them. He knew she was high. He knew she was a complete mess. The problem was that he also knew what she’d done in the past. When he’d started the idea for Silk, he’d been an avid reader of her blog, among others. He’d kept up on her advances in development tools and loved her posts about the challenges of inspiring competent developers in a corporate setting. He had no idea she was so young, though.

She couldn’t be more than early twenties. He’d expected her to be in her thirties, but the network admin, Ian Black, had assured him it was the same person. He said something pretty traumatic had kicked her out of the technical world, but she was still the best he’d ever seen. Everything Ian knew, he’d learned from Dez, and he hadn’t even scratched the surface of what lingered in her mind. He was also very clear about the fact that she was a complete and total mess.

“Don’t touch her,” the guy had said. “No matter what you do, don’t fucking touch her. No skin to skin. She’ll lose it.”

Chance had asked, but Ian swore he didn’t know. Something happened a few years back, and she wouldn’t talk about it. That’s when she started using, and that’s when she left the scene. If Chance could work with that, he was sitting on a gold mine, and she’d work for a damned place to crash and enough money to support her habit. It didn’t get better than that, and god knew, Chance wasn’t exactly in a position to judge.

“What kinda connection do you get out here?” she asked, looking at the power lines strung above the building.

He pointed to a new rut in the gravel. “Dedicated line. We’re wide open. Had them run it special for us.”

Picking at her lower lip, she nodded, looking at the exterior of the building. He was almost worried she’d blow away. Not that it was overly windy, but she was just a slip of a thing. Her long-sleeve shirt hung on her frame, dark marks peeking out at every opening. Dangerously loose on her hips, not even the studded belt could keep her jeans from sliding precariously low.

She was a punk, just like so many geeks, covering up her lack of social skills with piercings, tattoos, and freakish hair. Although he wondered if the black hair was natural or if she dyed it like that. Not that it was any of his business, but he swore she used to have warm brown hair that matched her chocolate eyes. What shocked him the most was the lack of excessive make-up. Granted, she’d also just gotten off work at Home Depot. Who knew what she’d look like tomorrow.

He tried to remind himself that he didn’t care, but he did. The girl was nothing but long legs and lean arms. Chance held his face stoic as he moved to unlock the door, but he noticed every line of her. It’s what he did. He usually preferred girls with a bit of curve to them, but he wasn’t picky. Not like he’d be getting lucky with someone that didn’t touch people, but hey, he could look.

“The good stuff is inside,” he said, walking into the building.

He knew she’d follow. She was interested in the job, so she’d want to see what she had to work with. He just hoped that she wouldn’t turn around and run out screaming.

One by one, he turned on the lights, illuminating what would be the center of his game empire. He had no idea what the building had started life as, but after many iterations, it was perfect for his needs. The main room was wide open, with two stories of clearance over the work area. Windows surrounded three sides at the top, giving natural light. The fourth was his loft. Beneath that, the back part of the building held four apartments, although he used the term loosely. They were little more than hotel rooms with a kitchenette.

“What’s the goal?” she asked.

Chance leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms. “I have seven programmers. I want to set this up for at least twice as many computers, hopefully more.” He lifted his chin at the space before them. “Raised floor, basement access, and I’m willing to renovate for whatever we need.”

“I’ll need a key.”

“Among other things.” He motioned her to follow, taking her on the grand tour. “Up here is the reception area.” He kept going. “This is the conference room, and I’d like this to be a demonstration area. Over here is an employee break area.” Then he turned toward the back. “And those stairs go to the basement where we’ll house the servers. This one…”

He stepped into a long narrow hall. Behind him, Dez’s feet paused, but he kept going, opening each door as he passed. He could hear her lagging well behind, but pretended like he didn’t notice. What the hell had happened to this girl? She was ready to bolt and all they’d done was enter a hallway! He remembered her as sweet and charming.

“Apartments?” she asked.

He paused, then slowly turned, giving her time to prepare for it. “Yeah. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them, but you’re welcome to one.”

“What’s upstairs?”

“My place. I kinda sold everything to make this happen, so I’m living at work.”

She stared at him. He waited for an angry outburst about the impossibility of it all, but it never came. Instead, she stepped into the closest apartment. He followed behind her, making sure to step loud enough for the girl to hear him coming. The place was a mess. He hadn’t cleaned out the rooms yet, mainly because he had no idea what to do with them, but Dez seemed pleased. She turned in a circle, her eyes on the dropped tile ceiling, then moved to the far door, finding a second exit that led outside.

“I’ll need a modern laptop. Mine’s out of date. You’ll be responsible for all of my tools, and I want full access to the network. That means I’ll be able to see your cloud and everything else.”

“Kinda goes with the job,” he agreed.

She nodded. “Clean sheets, too.”

That, he hadn’t expected. “You are not sleeping on that bed.”

She blew that off. “Better than what I got now. You’ll have to help me move – “

“No,” Chance cut her off. “You’re not sleeping on that. What kind of furniture do you have?”

Dez closed her eyes and leaned against an ancient dresser that lined the wall. “Why the fuck do you care?”

He matched her pose, just out of reach. “’The mind of a game developer does not work on a set schedule. When the idea hits, it hits hard. The smart boss would give his employees access to the system at all hours, but concerns about company secrets and unintended leaks make this a struggle. Working a traditional eight to five schedule often ends up detrimental as tired developers try to remember what slipped through their exhaustion and dreams.’”

“That was three years ago.” She pushed past him.

They almost touched. Her shoulder was just inches from his chest as she headed back into the hall. Chance was just glad to know she remembered what she’d written. He was broke, but he wasn’t that broke, and if he could make Silk into the game he planned, his core team would end up very wealthy. He’d love to be able to put Destiny Pierce on the list of credits.

Like a miniature tornado, the dark haired ghost headed through the building on a mission. Chance just followed behind her, a smile playing on his lips. He’d already convinced her. He wasn’t sure what had done it, but he could tell. She was going to take the job. When she headed up to his loft, he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Dez.” She looked back, and he tossed her a set of keys. Unlocking the door, she stepped in, pausing just beyond. “I’m behind you,” he murmured.

Her shoulders relaxed, and she took a deep breath. “It’s so bright in here.”

“What?”

He’d already had his loft remodeled. The floors were covered in laminate and soft rugs. The kitchen was modern and, while not top of the line, it was more than sufficient. The bathroom was massive and had plenty of room for two, even though he lived alone. The best part was the light. Skylights and high windows kept it feeling airy, not like an old office over an abandoned warehouse.

“Got any beer?” She was clearly changing the subject.

He let her. “How old are you, Dez?”

“Twenty. You?”

“Twenty-seven. Do you really think I’m going to give you alcohol?”

She adjusted the piercing through her septum, then shoved her hand into her pocket. Pulling out a brownish-orange bottle, she dropped into a well-padded chair without asking. Tilting her head, daring him to say a damned thing, she opened the top and tossed back two pills before rolling the plastic container between her fingers.

“I need enough money to keep Vicodin on hand. If I’m busted, you don’t know shit about it; I get that. Can’t take the risk to your rep and all. Thing is, I’m gonna get drunk, too. I’m gonna get fucked up in just about any way I can, but your damned network will sing.” She pulled her eyes from the bottle and onto him, a shocking clarity in the brown depths considering how many drugs she’d probably eaten already. “So, you get me the money and I figure out a way to make it happen – which is illegal and will be done on your network – or you just buy the fucking whiskey and let me steal it.”

He leaned over and snatched the pill bottle from her hands, careful not to touch her. Slowly, he read the label, surprised to see that it was actually prescribed under her name. “Oh, I don’t care how fucked up you get, little girl. What I care about is you dying before I get my shit working.”

“I could only be so lucky.” The words were under her breath, but he heard.

“What happened, Dez?”

She thrust out her hand, demanding the bottle back. “I decided to try something new. Time for a change of pace.”

“Home Depot?” Chance tossed the pills at her then headed to his fridge, pulling out a pair of beers. Twisting the top off one, he passed it over. “I just want enough information to not make your life any harder, ok?”

“I quit the scene three years ago.” She shrugged. “I don’t want my name on anything. I just want a damned place to stay and get high.”

He tilted the bottle, taking a sip. “K. I’ll give you the right to change your mind about that later, but I’ll respect it. What else?”

“Don’t touch me.”

“Haven’t yet.”

Slowly, she was starting to relax. Like a wild animal trapped in a cage, knowing she had a way out was all she needed. She wasn’t ready to run past him yet, but he could see her eyes soften. They were so large, like a deer’s. He just hoped the light never faded out completely. It was already too damned close.

Dez took a long gulp of the beer, then belched, not even trying to hide it. “Until it’s done, you get me anything I need. I promise it will be below your budget.”

“Already figured that.” He dropped his head slightly. “I’m not talking work. I’m talking about you. We’re about to be roommates.”

“No dress code?”

“None,” he agreed.

She took another long drink, her eyes turning to the pills in her hand. “Just don’t touch me.” Her voice quavered on the last word.

“I’ll fire anyone who does.”

She looked up, a glimmer of trust hiding behind her lashes. “Sometimes I scream in my sleep.”

“Should I ignore it or wake you?” He tried to keep it bland, but he couldn’t help but wonder what happened to make her so timid. This wasn’t the same person who’d written the blogs that had shaped his career.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “No one’s ever been around when it happens.”

“Then we’ll wing it. What else?”

“I don’t want anyone to know I’m here. That’s how they found me, by knowing what game I was working on.”

They. He had no idea who they were, but she’d just told him more than anyone else knew. Chance nodded, accepting that. “Which is why your name tag said Candice?”

“Yeah. I hated that name, but it was one they had lying around.” She tipped the bottle and drained the last of her beer, oddly coherent for someone on as many chemicals as he knew were in her system.

“I’m guessing that means Bambi’s out?” He stood, holding a hand out for the bottle. She gave him a confused look, then tilted the bottom toward him, almost smiling when he avoided her fingers. “Want another?”

“Not worried about my Vicodin?”

“Not today. Just finish the damned network before you off yourself?”

“Promise.”

“So.” He tossed the empty bottles and grabbed two more, passing her one before returning to his chair. “You need a phone, I assume?”

“I own exactly seven shirts, three pairs of jeans, two bras, a single pair of panties, and five blankets. Well, and my laptop, but like I said, that’s a piece of shit. All of that is locked in my storage unit.”

And he realized how she’d fallen off the radar so completely. “Which is where you live, right?”

“It works.”

He leaned toward her. “Look at me.” She tried, her gaze flinching from the intensity of his. He nodded, seeing exactly what he’d expected. She could focus when they talked tech, but interacting with people was out. “Pick a name. I’d suggest a game name since the devs won’t bat an eye at that. I also need to know your favorite color.”

“Does black count?”

“No. Pick another.”

She smiled. “White?”

“Then you’re leaving it up to me. Give me the keys and address to your unit and go crawl in my bed.”

That was not at all what she’d expected. Dez’s eyes snapped to him, and she shook her head as if to clear her ears. “What?”

“Pass the fuck out, take a hot bath – I don’t care. I’m gonna get your shit and start settling you in. Until we get you a real bed, you’re welcome to mine.” He pointed at the sofa. “I’ll last for a day.”

“You’re leaving me here?”

“Have some place you’d rather be?”

She twisted in the chair, looking at his apartment. “I mean… with your shit?”

Chance decided to go out on a limb. “I had no idea you were just a kid, ok? I used to read your blog religiously. I believed in everything you said, creating these grandiose dreams while I worked for my degree. It shaped Silk. Blending the genres, making perfection, and finding a work environment that allowed the developers and the community to work in synergy? Yeah, that’s all you. Now that I have you on the team, I’ll play by your rules.” Chance gestured in a circle over his head, the bottle of beer still in his hands. “It’s kinda all yours. Just don’t puke on the bed?”

“I’m not a puker.” She dug in her pocket for her keys, bending her body awkwardly in the chair to reach them.

He caught them when she tossed them over. “Fridge should have something in it you can eat. If you can find any clothes that fit, you’re welcome to them.”

She nodded, then changed the subject. “I want a whiteboard. A really big one on the wall.” She pointed in the general direction of where she wanted it.

“Sharpie markers are at the front desk. Use the wall until I get one put up.”

A smile lit her face, the first real one he’d seen, and it changed everything about her. Stoned, avoiding reality, he’d just given her the one thing she needed to keep going. She had a goal and the power to make it happen. Destiny Pierce, the most influential gamer of his youth, had just decided she was going to keep playing for a few more days.

Chance turned for the door before he said anything to fuck it up. He was no savior. He certainly wasn’t the person to put her life back on track, but damned if he didn’t want to. Something about the wretch in his apartment made him want to kill whoever had hurt her so bad. He owed her everything, even if she didn’t know it.

They’d found her through the game she’d been working on.

Those words haunted him. Who had found her, why, and when? What the fuck had they done to her? He made it to his truck before his composure broke. Sitting behind the wheel, he shoved his hands into his hair. He’d always thought being harassed for being a ginger had been bad. The redheaded stepchild jokes had nothing on the pain that poor thing had suffered. He still couldn’t believe she was living in a damned storage unit!

Was. He’d be damned if she went back there. Hell, if the bitch wanted to kill herself, at least she could do it in comfort, right? She’d been a child prodigy and none of them had known it. She’d changed the entire gaming scene, and none of them had known a thing about her. He’d always assumed she was a few years older than him, not a desperate teenager wasting her youth away behind a monitor until it was all gone.

The upside to all of this was that she wouldn’t be spreading rumors about his habits. Dez might not realize it yet, but they’d just reached a very good understanding. He’d be happy to keep her secrets if she kept his. He was pretty sure she’d be willing to agree.

Click here to read CHAPTER 3

FLAWED available June 30th.  Pre-order now on Amazon

Flawed: Chapter 1

FlawedRelease date: June 30, 2016.  Read the Prologue HERE.  I hope you enjoy the first chapter.  I will be releasing a chapter each day until release, so check back for the next installment.  And of course, feel free to pre-order the book on amazon!

(Content warning: contains graphic language and situations, may be triggering for some.)

 

Chapter 1

Three years later…

Dez swallowed two pills, washing them back with ice cold water from the fountain outside the break room, then headed back to the floor. Polished concrete and orange signs assaulted the eyes, but the smell of wood was worth it. Just a couple more hours and she’d be off work.

Turning into her aisle, she saw a pair of low-slung jeans and a nicely stretched t-shirt under a swath of ginger hair. The man scratched at his jaw absentmindedly, his eyes locked on the spools of cable before him. For a moment, she thought about pretending he didn’t exist, but she needed the job too bad.

“Can I help you find something?”

He turned casually as if he expected her to do his bidding. “I’m setting up a network. Need to hook up twenty-four computers.”

Dez grunted, shoving out her lower lip while she thought. Damn, she felt all blurry around the edges. “What kinda data you running? I mean, if it’s typical office work, that’s one thing, but if you’re running tech support or, god forbid, coding, you’ll be cussing at me in a week.”

His silver eyes finally saw her, looking past the lean frame and hints of tattoos at her collar. He looked at her, seeing more than the shell she wore on the outside, then his eyes dropped, leaving an oily film in her mind. He paused at the name tag on her orange apron.

“Candice?” he asked. “Well, can you tell me where I can find someone capable of setting this up on a budget?” Why did he look familiar?

“Sure.” She plastered on a synthetic smile and gestured for him to follow, not waiting for him to get close. “We have a list of contractors at the front desk.”

He jogged a few steps to fall in at her side. Only then did she realize just how tall he was. At least six foot three. Dez took a slow breath and moved over just a bit, feeling her heart rate increase at the proximity. Thankfully, the Vicodin was starting to kick in. She’d be fine in a minute. Just act normal and he wouldn’t notice.

“Any of these guys good?” he asked.

A wry chuckle slipped out. It was just one, and almost under her breath, but he heard. “They do exactly what you pay them to. It’s called a budget.”

The fire god slowed, reaching out for her arm, and Dez jerked back in a panic. “Sorry,” he said gently, giving her space. “Look, I need this to be stable. I’m rebuilding an old warehouse into our development center. We’ve got six months, and I need everyone in one place so we can get the program working.”

He looked serious. He also looked a little worried. What he didn’t realize was that he’d just spoken her language. She smiled but kept herself well out of his reach. “Yeah, I know a guy. Sounds like you’re trying to break into the game or social media markets.” She started walking again, not waiting to see if he’d follow.

“Something like that,” he mumbled, trailing after her obediently.

She hated having people behind her, but it was better than when they touched her. She couldn’t do touching. Not like the rest of the world really cared. Shaking hands, hugs, a friendly pat on the back – people did it all the time and never thought about it. But for the last three years, Dez couldn’t take it. The only way she made it through the day was if she got high enough to forget. Unfortunately, that also meant high enough that she could barely keep a job.

By the time she reached the front desk, she was feeling it: that warm embrace just under her skin and the cotton wallowing in the back of her head. She could do this. Just a few more hours, then she could bail on this shit job and get home to get high.

“LeAnne? You got a card for Ian Black?” she asked the woman behind the computer.

The lady lifted her head, barely able to conceal her disgust. “He’s not on the list, Dez.”

Dez shrugged. “Customer needs technical wiring, not home renovations. Unless you know someone else?”

“We’re not supposed to give out cards for contractors that aren’t certified with the company.”

The man had moved beside her, his elbows leaning against the counter as he followed the exchange, but his eyes were on Dez’s neck. She shifted away from him and he lifted his head, moving a step in the opposite direction, the corner of his mouth twisting higher.

“Nice tattoo,” he said.

She ignored it. Fucking idiot probably couldn’t read it anyway. “Look. I can just give out his number, but figured I’d try to play by the rules.” Leaning over the counter, she grabbed a pen and a slip of paper meant for writing down product codes.

The reach exposed another set of ink across her lower back. She knew the bastard beside her was looking, and she wanted to jam the pen into his eyes. Instead, she just took a deep breath and reached back to pull down her shirt. Scribbling quickly, she wrote down the number of the best network guy she knew. He handled everything from office installation and design to software. Hopefully, the asshole checking out her ass would appreciate it. She knew Ian would.

“This guy can set you up. Tell him I sent you.”

The customer tapped the desk, indicating he had no intention of taking the paper from her hand. “Chance, by the way.”

Ice washed over her body. It wasn’t possible. “Chance Hunter?” she asked.

His eyes closed in a slow blink and his shoulders dropped ever so slightly. It was definitely him. What the hell was he doing here? Shouldn’t he be in Texas or California?

“Yeah, Ian can help ya. Tell him Dez sent you.”

“Dez, huh?”

“Yeah, he knows me. Good luck with Silk. You’re gonna fucking need it.”

“Hey!” LeAnne snapped. “Language!”

“Yeah, sorry.” She tossed the pen across the desk and headed back into the store, writing off the rich geek and his project with each step. There was no way he’d recognize her.

Hour and a half, that’s all she needed. Pulling the bottle from her pocket, she scooped out two more pills, palming them as she hid the bottle again. Her eyes scanned the people wandering aimlessly through the hardware store, waiting for the chance to suck them back where she wouldn’t get caught. Turning into the plumbing aisle, she got it so tossed them into her mouth, chewing once before she swallowed them dry. That would make the time go faster.

The shrinks said she was fine. They thought she was trying to play the system. They told her that if she wanted to get back into society, she had to make an effort. What they couldn’t understand was that she didn’t want back in society. She wanted to stay far away from it. She didn’t want to be around any more people!

Until the drugs kicked in, Dez busied herself with straightening the shelves and restocking the bins. That was easy enough. She kept asking to be transferred to nights, where she could spend her time working with boxes, but they didn’t believe she could lift the merchandise. Five foot, four inches, and maybe a hundred and ten pounds, what they couldn’t wrap their mind around was that she could do anything it took to stay far away from another living soul.

Somehow, she managed to survive another day at work. Martin eventually showed up, waving at her from a distance to let her know she could clock out. Dez peeled off the orange apron and headed up the stairs to the break room as fast as she could without drawing attention. Tossing the piece of crap in her locker, she tapped her code into the time management system and saw the confirmation slide across in blue LED, then turned to leave just as LeAnne sauntered up the stairs.

The middle-aged woman looked her over and shook her head. “Are you high?”

“Nope. I’m also off the clock. Have a nice evening.”

Ducking around the woman, Dez tried to make for the stairs, but the bitch grabbed her. Fleshy fingers dug into the lean muscle of her arm, trapping her, pinning her, choking the breath from her lungs. The panic took hold and Dez jerked away, gasping through her clenched jaw, doing her best not to scream.

“John! The freak’s high again!”

A metal door on the far side of the room opened, and the store manager stuck his head out. “Dez. In here. Now.”

She groaned but obeyed. John stood in the opening, nearly blocking her access. She convinced herself to slide past him, leaning away so they didn’t touch, then took the chair before the desk. He said nothing until he was on the other side.

“Look at me.”

She did, knowing her eyes were probably glazed and her pupils completely dilated. “It’s called a panic attack, John. I explained when you hired me that I don’t do touching.”

He steepled his fingers, his elbows propped on the desk, and nodded slowly. “Right. This is the fifth complaint I’ve had from your co-workers. They say you appear to be stoned more often than not. Are you willing to take a drug test, Dez?”

“Yeah. You know I’m on a prescription, right?”

He folded his arms and leaned closer. “You have proof of that?”

No, but she could make it pretty damned easy. “Yeah. I also told you about that when I was hired. Vicodin for anxiety and pain.”

“Mhm. And can you tell me what caused this reoccurring problem?”

Dez leaned back in her chair. She knew where this was going. “No. I’m not required by law to do that, sir.”

“And yet it seems to be hindering your performance. You’re not rated as disabled – either mentally or physically – so why should I make all these special arrangements for you?”

“Cuz you’re cool?” She shrugged, hoping he’d prove her right.

John just shook his head. “You’re giving out contractor referrals for people who have not met the company standards. You’re high more often than not. You can’t get along with any of your co-workers, and you’ve only been working here two months. Why should I keep paying you?”

“Because I know twice as much as anyone else you have.”

“You’re so full of shit.” He yanked open the top drawer of his desk, rifling through papers. When he looked at her again, she could see it in his eyes. He grabbed a packet and dropped it before him, reaching for a pen.

Dez sighed. “Yeah, just tell me where to sign and you can fill it out later. I get it. You’re fired, thank you for your service, and such.”

He flipped to the last page and made an X, then slid the whole thing toward her. “You’re not nearly as hot shit as you think, Destiny.”

“It’s Dez!”

She scrawled her name and pushed it back, then stormed out of the office. She hadn’t liked the place anyway. That’s what she told herself as she jogged down the stairs, pretending that everything was normal. She certainly didn’t want anyone to offer her sympathy.

She couldn’t take sympathy. Their big eyes and sad stares were always hollow. They wanted to make themselves feel better, not her. People were only happy when they were judging others. The only way they could feel good was to convince themselves that everyone else was an even bigger piece of shit.

She shoved through the sliding glass doors and turned right. She’d made rent, at least. She also had enough to buy more Vicodin. Maybe she’d even splurge and get a bottle of whiskey. Hit that hard enough, and she might pass out and never wake up. Now that would be the perfect ending to the day. She’d probably have to take the whole bottle – of both – but damn. That sounded like a plan.

Her feet carried her down the side of California Drive, skirting the precarious edge between traffic and the parking lots. When she passed the mechanic shop – which only barely qualified on this side of town, being closer to a chop shop – the guys whistled and called obscenities to her in either Spanish or Italian. Dez rolled her eyes and raised her middle finger but kept going.

She needed a damned job. The problem was that in order to get one, she needed to get clean, and if she was sober, she couldn’t function at all. It was a catch twenty-two. For a moment, she wondered where that phrase came from, then turned her mind back to the whiskey. A big handful of pills and a bottle should do it. She could find a nice field somewhere, lie out in the middle, and watch the birds. By the time she started puking, there’d be no one around to make sure she didn’t choke. Not the prettiest, but it would do.

She was so engrossed in her fantasy that she didn’t immediately notice the dark SUV pull into the drive before her and stop. When she got closer, it still didn’t move. Whoever was behind the wheel was looking right at her, almost like he was waiting for her. Dez paused, checking behind her. When she looked back, the window slowly rolled down.

“Need a ride?” It was the redheaded guy from earlier. Was he following her? What would he want with her?

She pointed to a neighborhood just behind the business district. “Nope, almost home.”

He leaned across the passenger seat. “Are you high?”

“As a fucking kite,” she agreed, “and still not dumb enough to climb into your truck. Go fuck yourself or something.”

He was supposed to flip her off and leave, but this guy was not playing by the rules. He put the truck in park and climbed out, moving around it to lean against the passenger side, crossing his arms and legs. The way he looked at her was like he knew her. There was no fucking way. First off, he wouldn’t remember someone like her, and secondly, her own mother didn’t recognize her. So what the fuck did he want?

“I called your guy.”

“Yeah? Ian’s the best.” Dez leaned against the chain link security fence beside her, shoving her short hair out of her face. She couldn’t do a stand-off. She was too fucking high. “He’ll make sure you can get a network that will get Silk off the ground.”

“He said to hire you.”

God, how many pills had she taken? Two before work. Two when she got in. Two more on her break, then another pair when this asshole tried to touch her. Fuck, no wonder she couldn’t think straight. This was making no sense. Ian told him to hire her for a network? Ian knew she didn’t do networks anymore. She didn’t do games. She was done.

“Yeah, you don’t want to hire me.” She laughed and slid down the fence until she was sitting. “Now get your fancy ass back in your truck and go back to work. You’ve got six months to get that shit on the shelves. Your market demands it.”

“Get in the fucking truck or I’m going to come over there and grab you.”

Dez just raised her middle finger.

Chance took a deep breath and moved toward her. She braced for his touch, but once again he shocked her. He dropped to the ground beside her and leaned back against the fence, his hands clasped before him. Down the inside of his right arm was a long scar. Even in her hazed state she could see it clearly.

“Ian said he can get the supplies in my price range, but he’s booked. He also mentioned that the best person for the job was working at Home Depot. I’d know her by the tattoo that said, ‘Byte Me.’ If I could read it, you might even take the job.”

“Binary, baby.”

He chuckled, but it sounded worried. “I just bought this fucked up building. It’s half warehouse, half hotel. I’ll give you a place to sleep and money for food. You get the damned network running and set the place up for the developers to come work. We can’t keep doing this over the cloud.”

She smiled and leaned back, closing her eyes. “I’m fucking high. You know that, right?”

“Kinda hard to miss, kid. I won’t touch you, I won’t set hours. I’ll give you two weeks to wire it, and two weeks to get the system up and running. If you can do that, I’ll give you a ten thousand dollar bonus.”

She shook her head. “Don’t want the money.” She took a breath, feeling the weight of her problems pressing against her tear ducts. “I just want a job where I don’t have to touch anyone.”

“Why?” His voice was kind.

She smiled. “Tried it, don’t really like it that much.”

“Good enough for me. One favor, though?”

“What?”

“Get in the fucking truck before some gang banger comes by and shoots us? Come see the site, let me know what you think.”

Dez drug her hands down her face then looked over at him. Chance looked back, waiting for her answer. “I’m fucking high and a basket case, and you still want me to put your network together?”

“Ian gave me your name. I know how to Google. The only thing I want to know is why you fell off the radar?”

She pushed herself to her feet then dusted off her ass. “I got high.” Without looking back, she headed for the passenger side of the truck.

Behind her, Chance chuckled. “Bullshit.”

Dez buckled herself in and grabbed his phone from the cup holder between them, not even bothering to ask. Chance just looked at her and put the truck in gear, making a lap through the parking lot before pulling out. Neither one spoke.

He’d said he Googled her. Well, the problem of being broke was that she didn’t really have a lot of access to the internet anymore. That and her laptop was almost three years old. It was good enough, but just for older generation games. That was about it. What she wanted to know was what information her name still had on the world wide web.

Thankfully, not much. She was still listed as the brains behind the innovative network and community manager for FoxFlight, and she had a minor credit in two other games, but thankfully neither listed why. Unless Chance called the developers, he’d never find out, and by now the team had probably all been reassigned. She smiled and flipped to the next page. Her old blog was still up, even though the last entry wasn’t made by her.

Unfortunately, that link also appeared to have been read. She flicked her eyes at the driver then tapped on it. She’d never seen what her mother had written. It took a moment to load, then the screen was filled with a wall of text. No images, no formatting. It was obvious that this post had been made by a novice.

Thank you to all of Destiny’s fans for their support of her enthusiasm for video games. We’re sorry to announce that the blog will no longer be updated. After multiple harassing and threatening messages, for her safety and welfare, she will no longer be in the public eye.

This has been a hard decision for Destiny, but we all feel it is for the best. She is a brilliant young lady with many opportunities ahead of her. When she first sat down in front of a computer at the age of eight, we never knew that she had found her first love. She learned to type, program, and manage her own hardware before she could drive a car. Before she even graduated high school, Destiny was making a name for herself with her critiques of games and her natural command of the systems required to make them better.

But all good things must end. Some might say it’s Destiny.

“Damn,” she mumbled. “That’s a shitty entry.”

Chance nodded slowly. “So you didn’t write it, huh?”

“Nah. That was Mom, back when she still talked to me. Guess she never got over it.”

He looked over quickly before turning back to the road. They were at the edge of town, heading into the country. “You getting out of the scene?”

“No.” She closed the browser and returned his phone to the cup holder. “That not all demons are made of pixels.”

“Gonna tell me what happened?”

She shifted in the chair so she could face him. “Gonna buy me a bottle of whiskey?”

“What are you on?”

“Vicodin.”

He nodded slowly. “Keep your secrets.”

Click here for Chapter 2

FLAWED available June 30th.  Pre-order now on Amazon

Flawed: a Sneak Peek

FlawedSMALLGames are a way of life.  Men, women, children – we all love them, and some people make their living in virtual reality.  Whether that’s playing games professionally like Riley Andrews (Challenge Accepted) or designing them, games have become a lot more than child’s play.

Destiny Pierce grew up online.  Her best friends are virtual.  Her gossip revolves around the next release.  By age 17, she’s already made a name for herself blogging about the thing she loves most, and even picked up a few part-time gigs – until they realize she’s just a kid, that is.  But her life is about to change.  Graduation is around the corner and she thinks her toughest decision is whether to take an entry level position at a game company or head off to college on a sweet scholarship.  But nothing is ever that easy.

(Content warning: contains graphic language and situations, may be triggering for some.)

Prologue

Unlocking the door, Destiny tossed her backpack on the couch, grabbed a Coke, and ran up the stairs as fast as she could. First, her finger pressed the power button to turn on her computer, then she stripped out of her school clothes. Baggy fleece pants and a t-shirt so old and worn that it was nearly transparent took their place. She’d promised her guild that she’d join them for the raid at eight but still had to do one more read-through before posting her latest blog entry.

Dropping into the well-worn chair, she ripped open a mini Snickers, shoved it in her face, and opened a browser. A gulp of Coke washed the whole thing down. Probably not the best choice. Chocolate and soda – that definitely wouldn’t help her drop a few pounds. With one hand she pinched the flab at her waist, while the other clicked the button to log into her blog.

Well, not like she needed to be pretty to become a game developer. The biggest question was whether to get a degree first or ride the wave of her recent fame. Electronic Arts wanted her to come in for an interview for one of their massively multiplayer online games, but the letter lying on the kitchen table was too tempting to overlook. A scholarship to the school of her dreams, the University of Southern California, wasn’t something to take lightly. Then again, could she really learn anything new, or would she just be spending money she didn’t have for a dream she was about to achieve on her own?

Destiny shoved her hands through her hair and let her eyes scan the blog. That image wasn’t in quite the right place. Nope, she wanted that to say now instead of not. What the hell was that sentence supposed to mean? Oh, right. Well, it needed to be rephrased. Then she read it all again. When the whole thing was good enough, she pressed the button to post and started on the comments. Most of them were readers who didn’t bother to log in or sign up for an account.

Anonymous: Dum fukin bitch. Nothing wrong with girls in Legend. Them elves are hawt!

Anonymous: It’s called rock, paper, scissors. If you could do more than just make a sandwich you fat fuck, you’d know that.

Anonymous: Talk bout Legend agn & I’ll rape you.

Fyre: Is it more appropriate to alter the attire for female models, or offer equally scandalous clothing to the males? What about offering players both, so that those who choose to sexualize their own avatar have that option, and those who find it foolish can select armor that actually appears to serve a purpose?

Anonymous: I fap to your stream. Luv me a fat hoe.

Soul_Reaper: Face it, more dudes play than babes. Armor reflects that. If you got a problem, go play Hello Kitty Online.

Anonymous: Glad someone said it! Legend is just bad!

She couldn’t take anymore. Yes, she knew she was opening a can of worms when she called out a game for its atrocious representation of women. Not only was their “armor” barely more than dental floss, but the women were always abused, assaulted, or treated like objects. Granted, her faithful fan “Anonymous” wasn’t helping her ego any. Fyre had a point, though. Was her problem the unequal options, or was it simply that she was so sick and tired of being told she was only good enough if she dropped twenty pounds? She clicked his name, which gave her the option to respond to his account privately.

You raise a good point about character clothing options. While I personally find it irritating that a few strips of flimsy cloth represent top tier damage protection, none of us are fooled into thinking that games are equivalent to real life. Mostly, I believe the issue isn’t the clothing (although getting to see some hot guys in leather straps would be nice for a change) but the use of females as quest objectives.

Let me explain. In the few instances where a male needs to be saved, the storyline always includes him doing everything possible to help himself. Women, instead, are stupid, rushing headlong into danger because of a failed love, lost item, or any other superficial BS the designers feel is “good enough” to keep the story going. It’s not. Women make up almost half of the population of online games, now, and we want to be tough, smart, sexy, and super-powered, too.

She sent it and started deleting the most crass of the anonymous comments. Her blog was supposed to be a place for gamers to discuss the mechanics of both the available games and those currently being designed. She popped another Snickers into her mouth, her hand moving down the list, deleting based on the first few words in the quick view. Pressing a button, the icon spun, removing all of the nastiness and hate.

Her computer dinged softly, indicating another private message. Really? When she opened that folder, she was shocked to see that Fyre had already responded.

As a man, the objectification of women is a little too easy to overlook – sad as that may be. I think that people of alternate lifestyles, such as the transgendered and homosexual, also need representation. Back when I was a kid, only little boys played games. Now, that’s not the case. Must say, I love your blog, Deztiny, and enjoy hearing your perspective on your stream.

Pretty sure you won’t answer it, but one last question. As the most influential private gamer this year, if you could persuade a development team to make anything, what would your dream game be?

She chuckled at the misspelling of her name but wasn’t upset. The guy was obviously a fan, but she was neither Dez nor tiny. Easy accident to make, though. Granted, her mom freaked out if she spent too much time talking to any one person so she’d answer this guy another way. Since he sounded genuinely interested in her opinions, she’d give him an eyeful.

See tomorrow’s post for a detailed answer. Short answer: I want it all, and I want something that feels smooth. Raid in World of Warcraft tonight at 8 pm EST, lachesis@streamgamesnow.

He responded immediately.

Will be watching. Won’t cry if you happen to give up the secret to holding agro! Love your blog – best insights I’ve heard in a long time.

That was exactly what she’d needed: a nice little boost to her ego. Granted, most of the work she’d done for Sony and EA so far was contract jobs, but the non-disclosure agreement still held. Not to mention that she didn’t want everyone to know she was just a kid. It seemed like as soon as people found out she was still in high school, they assumed she was an idiot. Never mind that she’d proven herself over and over. Nope, all that mattered was that she was chunky and ugly.

Her inbox dinged again, but this time, the message wasn’t from Fyre. With a sigh, she opened it. Someone had caught a screenshot of her talking on the stream and photoshopped a penis into her open mouth. Destiny just deleted it. If her mom ever found out some of the things these people said to and about her, she’d make her stop blogging.

What her mom didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Destiny focused her attention on the game of her dreams. Oh, she already knew what it was. She’d been wishing someone would make it, but the technical hurdles would require a very specific team. Hm. Maybe she’d address that as well. If nothing else, it would look really good on her resume.

***

Two weeks later, Destiny finally got a response from Fyre to the blog she’d written for him. At first, she’d been a little annoyed, but she realized that since her inbox received a few hundred messages a day – something she didn’t keep secret – he’d probably just read it instead of commenting. Didn’t matter. It still made her smile to see a fan that actually cared enough to hold a dialogue about something other than how girls should be seen and not heard.

When she opened the message, she found it short but oh so sweet.

You are brilliant. I think someone is making your game. Watch TGC, 9 pm EST.

That was in seven minutes! She Googled the channel, opened it, and begged for it to load faster. Her computer was a piece of crap, but it was all her mom would let her have. If she had something better, she might try more than just online role-playing games, but shooters were out with the dinosaur she was running. While the website did its thing, she flew down the stairs, found another Coke, grabbed a handful of candy, and scurried through the living room.

“Destiny?” Her mom called. “Did you get your homework done?”

“Yeah, Mom. Like hours ago. Hey, don’t forget. I have that interview with EA next week. I wanna call Dad and see if he knows what I should expect for pay.”

“You’re seventeen years old!” Her mom sounded exasperated instead of thrilled. “You need to get a degree, or you’ll never have a real career.”

“Doesn’t work like that anymore, Mom. Hey, I gotta go. TGC has a segment on a new MMO. Yell at me tomorrow, but I know the debate by heart, ok? Love ya, night!”

And she fled before her mother could say anything else. Two minutes past, she was back at her machine, thankful that this show had a long intro. She cracked the Coke and took a big gulp, slipping on her headphones.

” – Up and coming development company. Chance Hunter is here to tell us how Deviant Games plans to change the entire landscape of the gaming scene.”

The camera moved to an amazingly beautiful man. His eyes were greyish and sparkled with intelligence, his smile was perfect, but his hair was startlingly red. Naturally red, but he not only pulled it off, he made it delicious. Destiny grabbed her phone and sent a text to her best friend, warning her that this show would be worth watching for the hottie if nothing else.

“Deviant Games plans to compete with the other AAA companies. Unlike most indie game developers, we have the financial backing to make this happen. Our first project is Silk. Set in a fantasy realm unlike any you’ve seen before, Silk explores the galaxy through trade, travel, and of course, the battles that go with it. The journey is smooth as, well, Silk.”

His voice was nice, too. He had to be the public face for the company. No, the text across the bottom of the screen said he was the owner and a developer himself. Chance Hunter. She’d have to look into him – for completely professional reasons, of course!

Then the camera panned out, showing concept art for the game. The world was like a fairy tale. Most modern games were going hard and dirty, with deserts and post-apocalyptic scenes. Silk was swinging the other way. The flowers were gigantic, the trees were in vivid colors, and everything was green and lush. In the sky were visible planets, each of them colored differently, offering the potential for more worlds in the future.

“’Combined arms’ is a common term for first person shooters,” Chance went on. “What we want to do is bring this idea to Silk. Infantry – whether that’s for player vs. player or player vs. the environment – will require actual player skill, not just button mashing. Conversely, vehicular combat, which includes powerful mechanical suits, will give players an auto-locking system. Most of us call this tab targeting. We also hope to have a storyline that is intricate, detailed, and fresh. Raids will no longer be ‘tank and spank.’ In order to succeed, our fans will have to challenge themselves to do more and do it better.”

“How far along is the project?” the announcer asked.

Chance smiled. “Not far enough. Deviant Games has been working for eight months to get a functional development platform and game engine. We’ve achieved that and are now diving into making this dream of ours – the entire game community’s – a reality.”

“So, should we expect the typical races? Elves, dwarves, and the like?”

“No.” Chance smiled like he had a secret. “The old races are tried and true, but also tired. Think more Star Wars and less Lord of the Rings.” He tilted his head. “We also plan to push the boundaries in other areas. Male, white, and straight will not necessarily be the standard for Silk. This world of ours is diverse. We have people with different sexual orientations, different races, and different religions. Why would a fantasy realm that spans multiple planets be any different? In Silk, women are not objects; they are people. Armor is not dental floss – unless you find one of the rare magic pieces available to either sex character. And, not all races come in just two sexes. Some aliens may be… different.”

“Is this a game or a comment on the state of society?”

“Aren’t all games a comment on society, or our desire to escape from it? This is a game, meant to be played for fun, but one that gives everyone a place to belong.” Chance leaned back. “That is why we play.”

The large screen behind him flickered to a blurred and distorted clip of a game. It looked a lot like FoxFlight. She squinted, trying hard to make it out while the reporter kept going.

“Rumors say that you’re an avid gamer yourself. Playing a lot doesn’t necessarily make you able to create something good, though. What do you say to this?”

“They’re right.” Chance turned to look at what was playing. “Yeah. That’s me. Unfortunately, no matter how much I try to assure the public that Silk will be the next best thing, only time will prove that. We want to learn from the mistakes of other games, not copy them. Most of us know about the debacle with that one Star Wars game or how FoxFlight doubled their subscriptions by listening to the community. That is video game history. With that said, we also realize that our community won’t always be right. Making a game easier isn’t necessarily better. We get frustrated by the challenge and rant, but we all secretly love it. It gives us a feeling of success to overcome the impossible.”

It was FoxFlight! That meant his character information was that blur at the bottom left. She squinted harder, turned her head, and pulled her eyes open, trying to make it out. Damned professional videographers and their ability to distort the information she wanted. His character name was just four letters. E? Second letter was definitely a Y. R or N? She leaned her nose to her monitor.

Chance was still talking. “I think Destiny Pierce from The Gamer’s Fate just posted a brilliant article about what the player base is looking for. In a word: inclusion. That is exactly what we hope Silk will be.”

Her heart hung in her chest. He’d just said her name. Her name! He’d just given her blog the biggest promotion she’d ever had! Not that she really had a problem with her viewership, but more readers meant more advertising dollars, which meant more respect in the community. That this guy read her blog was great, but that he cited her as a credible source?

The four letters suddenly coalesced in her mind. Fyre. “Holy shit,” she breathed. “You fucking listened to me.”

***

The Gamer’s Fate

A Blog on the State of Gaming

By Destiny Pierce

The future of the MMO market is looking interesting, to say the least. At this time of year, developers try to increase their investment money by hyping the newest games in the pipeline. A few brave souls have already announced their products instead of waiting for F5 like the big names. Here’s a short list, and something to hold you all over until I can satisfy your appetites for some real gamer news.

Star Wars – Yes, it’s true, they’re making another MMO based on this IP.

Earth 2.0 – Will it be console only? There’re a few hints that a PC version might be a reality. Unfortunately, most of the hype for this game is from unsubstantiated leaks. The screenshots look amazing. The game mechanics and the potential for cooperation with another, more popular MMO are inspiring. Fingers crossed on this one, but I’m willing to bet that concrete news will be sparse.

Silk – O.M.G. These guys may be the wave of the future. [Check out the interview with Chance Hunter on The Gamer Channel here]. If they can manage to pull this off, I think a few big names might be scared. Expect to see popular titles try to steal their ideas and rush them into production (expansions for existing MMOs) before Silk can change the world.

WoW’s next expansion – Oh c’mon, we all know it’s coming. I’m going to bet there are some pigs and at least one poo quest. Probably a new set of gear, a new raid, and a whole new set of daily quests to keep us playing.

Reader Comments:

Anonymous: If you leave your house, I will get you. I will rape you. I will kill you. Keep your vag out of my games, you don’t know shit.

Anonymous: Who gave U the right to say what I like?

Discreet: Love your blog! Saw it on TGC!

Anonymous: I’m gonna kill you, bitch. I’m gonna rape your mouth hole and kill you.

KZP12: No way Earth will go to PC. No money in it. Already have Dust, so don’t need it.

Minx: Post these sexist comments over on Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. They’re epic.

Anonymous: How’d you get the damage modifier numbers for Aimed Shot in yesterday’s post?

Anonymous: I know what you look like. I know where you live.

Anonymous: Fuck me, Destiny. I want to fuck your little ass.

Anonymous: She won’t look pretty after I’m done with her. Fat little fuck. Oh Destiny, you shoulda kept your nose outta the boys club, bitch.

KZP12: You guys are seriously fucked up. If you hate what she says, that’s one thing, but damn.

Anonymous: You think you’re hot shit bitch? Yeah? Just wait until I’m done with you. I’ll tie your ass up and rape you over and over until you never touch a game again. Bitches like you ruined MMOs. We’ll make sure that no one will want you when we’re done, and you’ll beg us for more. Damned bitch like you? Getting raped’s the best thing you can hope for. I won’t even bitch that you’re so damned fat. I wanna see you cry, Destiny. I’ll fucking rape you until you cry, then drink all your damned tears. Ain’t no one gonna find you either. Up the ass, in the mouth, and I’ll rip your twat so wide any other man will feel like a damned broomstick in a cave. You should have quit, you cunt. You’re mine now, and I know where you are.

Soul_Reaper: I’m screenshotting this shit. That’s just fucked up.

KZP12: Hey, wasn’t a new blog due today?

Minx: Been three days since her last post. What happened?

Soul_Reaper: Email attached to my account. Contact me for screenshots. Destiny hasn’t posted in a week, and she always is on time. Anyone heard anything?

Minx: Nothing. Wonder if the guys with little dicks finally got her to quit.

Soul_Reaper: maybe she’s finally on the inside?

Anonymous: Destiny Pierce is my bitch.

Soul_Reaper: Nine days? Seriously? Anyone heard anything?

Soul_Reaper: Update – police contacted me today for screenshots of older comment sections. I think something happened to Destiny. I may not agree with her on everything, but I hope she comes back. I hope she’s ok.

Anonymous: Prayers for Lachesis.

Anonymous: Destiny we miss you.

KZP12: [click here for video] Found that on the news. Shit looks bad, guys. Someone abducted her. Destiny is missing.

Soul_Reaper: Shit, that sucks. Hope she’s ok.

Anonymous: Hope she’s still alive.

Anonymous: Prayers for Destiny.

Anonymous: We miss you Destiny.

[click here to read the next chapter]

FLAWED available June 30th.  Pre-order now on Amazon

 

Growing as an author

Salryc's Search

In 2013, I wrote the first three books of the Rise of the Iliri series.  Since thing, I’ve managed to churn out a few more in various states of completion.  It helped me grow as an author, and I’ve learned a lot.  Going back to edit some of my early work  (Like the third iliri book) I can clearly see just how much!

I think this book only has a handful of sentences that haven’t been improved.  Words were cut, words were added, and characters were made more realistic.  For me, writing romances allows me to delve into characterization (because that’s such a huge aspect of the genre) and I try to bring that into my science fiction/fantasy works.  I’ve also learned to read my work out loud.  (Seriously, if you’re an author, just do it.  Preferably with someone listening!  First off, it’s a fun way to share your book.  Secondly, it makes you hyper aware of how stiff and cliche some lines are.)

But while I’ve improved so many aspects of my writing, I still have far to go.  One of the things that keeps coming up is the world building.  My preference as a reader is to have a vague outline of the book’s universe.  Something I can fill in with my own mind.  From the comments and questions my readers send in, though, I get the feeling most people want more.  So I’m trying.  It’s a precarious line to walk.

fantasy-snow-scene-wallpaperOn one hand, nothing is more tedious to read than page after page of description.  Does it really matter what color the curtains are?  Who cares that the guy in the third row has blue eyes?  Is the hero sexier if I describe every single line on his body, or is a roman nose not as beautiful to you as it is to me?

On the other, my readers are curious.  Granted, in Rise of the Iliri, I can’t give it all away.  Sorry, folks.  Some of your questions will be answered in time, but that time is not now.  Yes, there are deer, bear, and dogs.  No, this planet is not earth.  Why can’t I explain this clearly?  Because the narrators (usually Sal) don’t know.  Often, they don’t even know to ask.  So giving some “basic” information would be breaking the fourth wall – and ruin a few plot lines.

But, I’m trying to paint a more vivid picture without killing the magic of mystery.  I think I’m finally to the stage in my craft where I can try this without making it into a complete travesty.  I think that a bit of detail can bring the world alive while maintaining the pace of the story.  Keyword: bit.

wall paperSo wish me luck.  Writing second world fantasy (with a strong science twist) is very different from contemporary romance.  It’s nothing at all like paranormal fantasy.  I hope to hone my skills in all of those genres, as well as science fiction.  My goal is to make each successive series of novels better than the last.

And while FLAWED is due out in just a few more days, Iliri 3 is expected to be ready in July.  I’m slowly sliding down my release schedule, but I am hoping that my readers understand.  A book a month was optimistic at best, and so far I’ve technically kept up.  I can’t promise to do this forever, but I want to make it through the year.  I figure this is like deep immersion training as an author.

I should be blogging…

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Instead, I’m writing.  Word count for the weekend is HIGH!  Sorry, my friends.  I’m assuming you’d rather I release the next book, like, yesterday.  I figure the blog is good for when I’m at a stopping point.

Ok.  Now to start shooting people, get the couple together, and kick the jerk of an ex to the curb.  (And so you know, the picture has nothing at all to do with this post.  I just thought it was kinda cool.)