Tuesday, December 31, 2013

RIP 2013

And good riddance.

Here's hoping 2014 brings an upward trajectory.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Free Read!

Right now, TRANCE is a free read at XOXO After Dark until December 16. It's the first book in my MetaWars series of original superheroes living in a post-almost-apocalypse world that fears anyone with powers.

So if you haven't jumped on board with MetaWars yet, now's a good time to try it out!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Announcement: New Series/Trilogy!!!!

Since the deal has been announced in Publisher's Marketplace and shown up on Romantic Times, I guess it's okay to make it all official-like and tell you the good news. Remember the Sekrit Project I've been tweeting about since last year?

It finally sold.

The PM blurb:

Kelly Meding writing as Kelly Meade's new paranormal romance series, CORNERSTONE RUN, beginning with BLACK ROOK, featuring a magus whose lackluster precognitive powers have made her an outcast among her people and three werewolf brothers fighting to keep their pack alive against attacks by supernatural hybrids, to Leis Pederson at Intermix, in a three-book deal, by Jonathan Lyons at Curtis Brown.

Cornerstone Run is a paranormal romance trilogy, set in a world of hidden loup garou, their mystical Magi enemies, and the occasional vampire. The small, reclusive town of Cornerstone, Pennsylvania, houses an almost entirely loup garou population—one of only thirteen towns around the country that serve as a sanctuary for their nonhuman inhabitants, where the loup garou are free to be themselves.  When a neighboring sanctuary town is attacked by a vicious, unknown enemy, the three sons of Cornerstone's Alpha must stand together to protect their people—and the women who steal their hearts.


You may have noticed the whole "Kelly Meade" thing and are scratching your head. I chose to publish under a pseudonym to distinguish this paranormal romance trilogy from my urban fantasy series work, but the name will remain linked in terms of my blog and website. The first book , BLACK ROOK, has a tentative release of Fall 2014.

For folks who aren't aware, Intermix is a digital-first imprint of Berkeley. Yep. Digital first again. But Intermix has produced some pretty awesome books since their formation, and I'm very excited to work with Leis on these novels.

To give you a better idea of what the first book is about, I've included the original query I worked up for submissions. I hope you're looking forward to the future shenanigans of three badass brothers named Bishop, Knight and Rook McQueen.


One mistake cost Brynn Atwood everything: her sense of worth, the respect of her Magus father, and her beloved job as a private tutor for the Congress of Magi, the most powerful organization of magic users in the world.  When Brynn has a vision of her father being murdered by a loup garou, she hopes to redeem herself in the eyes of her people by taking matters into her own hands.  She leaves the safety of her family home to confront her father's would-be killer and stop the vision from coming true.  Rook McQueen is the youngest of the local loup garou Alpha's three sons and, through a twist of fate, the first in line to inherit the position—if Rook can get his life together and act like Alpha material.  A failed musician and an acknowledged screw-up, Rook isn't sure he can ever live up to the expectations set by his father and two older brothers.

As if his life wasn't complicated enough, the last thing Rook expects is to be accused by a beautiful young Magus of the future murder of a man he's never met—on the same night another town of loup garou is slaughtered.  A new, lethal enemy is targeting loup garou and no one is quite sure what they are: loup, vampire, or something new altogether.  With his family in danger, Brynn not allowed to leave town, and hundreds of lives at stake, Rook can't afford to be the family screw-up anymore—or to allow the distraction of falling for the daughter of the Magus he's accused of killing.


So yeah.  YAY!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

MetaWars Bundle Update

So one or none of you may have noticed that the MetaWars bundle (a four-book collection of TRANCE, CHANGELING, TEMPEST and CHIMERA) is no longer for sale.

The bundle had to be pulled and renamed for reasons I can't talk about, but I'm assured once it's retitled I'll have a new release date for folks who were interested in purchasing all four books at one great price.

Thank you for your patience, and for your support with CHIMERA'S release yesterday.

Friday, November 08, 2013


The celebrate Monday's release, my publisher is giving away promo code for a copy META.WARS: THE COMPLETE SERIES, which bundles together TRANCE, CHANGELING, TEMPST, and CHIMERA!

Your first chance to win is at Yummy Men & KickAss Chicks.

Note: the promo code is not compatible with Kindle (sorry, this is a Simon & Schuster thing).

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

In Which I Get Brutally Honest and Try to Explain Formatting and Why It's Not Always Up to Me

This post was prompted by a reader email asking me when I was going to make all of my books available in paperback. I've been receiving variations of this question more and more frequently lately, so I thought I'd lay it all out there, and hopefully clear the air on what's available and how.

True Fact: Unless I self-publish something, the issue of format is not up to me

Format is the way in which the book is presented for sale. Format possibilities include: mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, digital, and audio (plus a lot more that are way too expansive and make my eyes cross a little bit when looking at a contract).  But for the moment, these are the most popular formats.

For-sale format is, in the end, up to the publisher and what they contracted the book(s) for.  This means that Bantam picked the format for Dreg City, and Pocket Star picked the format for MetaWars.


The first four Dreg City books (Three Days to Dead, As Lie the Dead, Another Kind of Dead, Wrong Side of Dead) are all available in both digital and mass market format, through any major retailer. If you can't find the books on the shelves at your local bookstore, the bookstore can still order them.

It is no secret that book sales directly influence whether or not a publisher will contract an author for more books in a series (or if they will take a chance and buy a new series from the same author).  And while Three Days to Dead did and continues to sell well, interest in the rest of the series has....well, dwindled. A lot. Readers weren't finding books two, three, and four, for whatever reason, so Bantam chose to not issue a contract for more Dreg City books.

I chose to digitally self-publish the fifth book (Requiem for the Dead) so that the story could continue in some format. And yes, I am considering a paperback format through Createspace. Why haven't I done it yet? Because self-publishing costs money. I have invested not only my time, but also money into the cover, the ISBN, and formatting the book for various platforms (because Kindle does not take the same formatting as for Nook). File formatting is beyond my capabilities, so I had to pay someone else to do this for me, and it isn't cheap. I will have to pay someone to format for Createspace. And I honestly can't tell myself that the cost for creating a printable file will be recouped in sales.

I hate having to think like a publisher and worry about money, but when you self-publish that's what happens. I have to hope I sell enough copies to recoup my investment and maybe go have a steak dinner.


MetaWars is a little trickier.

Trance and Changeling were contracted together for mass market and digital release. But the sales were pretty terrible. I'm being honest here. Maybe superheroes simply don't translate to print as well as comics or movies. Maybe the books weren't marketed correctly and people wrote them off as more fluffy urban fantasy. I don't know. In terms of availability, I believe Trance is still available in both mass market and digital, but Changeling did not go back for a second printing, so those copies are dwindling.Changeling is available in trade format through a print-on-demand service, but once the mass market copies are sold out, that's done.

When it came time to submit a proposal for more books, Pocket chose to only offer to publish books three and four (Tempest, Chimera) in digital format. I accepted the offer because I love these characters, and I love their world, and I wasn't ready to say goodbye. Digital only is better than nothing at all. Did I know going into it that I would lose readers? Yes, and I'm sorry for that. But I was going to lose readers no matter what.

Again, it's all about sales. Publishing is a business, and despite good reviews across the board, my books aren't selling well. When that happens, publishers go to a simpler format, or they don't offer another contract. Sometimes with digital first imprints, a book may be offered in print at a later date if the digital sales are good. This type of contract is happening more and more frequently for mid-list authors, as evidenced by a recent Publisher's Weekly article. This is the type of contract offer I received for my most recent submission to New York publishers (which I will talk about more when I am able). It's an interesting shift that reflects our changing times, when ereaders and smartphones are taking over our lives and our society.

I often have folks tell me they don't own a Kindle, or another e-reading device. The good news is that even if you don't have an e-reader, there are lots of free apps that allow you to read digital books on a smart phone, tablet, and even on your personal computer. For a long time, I read digital-only books on my laptop, because being able to read those stories was more important to me than having a paper book in my hands (then I finally saved up and indulged in a very basic Nook).  There are ways to read digital books without buying an e-reader.

Digital is simply another format, much like hardcover or trade paperback. And digital is not going away. For some writers, it's becoming our lifeblood and our only source of income. Do I wish I could make all of my readers happy and give them the format they want? You bet your ass, I do. Can I? No. I don't wield that kind of power.

The only real power I have is to craft the most entertaining stories that I can possibly tell, and then do my best to get them into the marketplace.

After that, it's out of my hands.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Missing Scenes: Requiem for the Dead

Despite my affinity for causing him pain and injury, I have a soft spot for former Hunter Milo Gant. He first officially appeared in As Lie the Dead (he was part of the big battle at Olsmill at the end of Three Days to Dead but did not make it on-page), and since then he's been through the wringer. Repeatedly. When I began writing Requiem I knew I wanted to start nudging Milo toward some kind of happiness, and big, badass were-jaguar Marcus Dane stepped up to help me do that.

Naturally nothing is ever easy in Dreg City. Which is why Milo stepped up and demanded a little more screen time, and thus these missing scenes were born. If you haven't read Requiem for the Dead yet, then please don't read these scenes. They are all set within the time frame of that novel, and won't make a lot of sense read as a standalone story. Otherwise, please enjoy.


Monday, September 1
5:10 a.m.        

Milo Gant gave up on sleep and rolled out of bed. It wasn't worth it anymore, trying to force his body to rest during those blessed chunks of time when he wasn't working. He simply tossed and turned and lay awake staring at bunk above his bed—especially when his head was full of so many racing thoughts. Old habits of working sunset to sunrise and sleeping during the day, leftover from his Triad Hunter years, were harder to break than he thought. And more than just mental anguish and regrets haunted him from that part of his life. He had a lot of other beaten-in training to work through, and that included trusting the nonhumans he worked with on a daily basis. He was getting there, as were his fellow former Hunters.

            Without trust, the Watchtower simply couldn't function.

            The dormitory was silent, save the occasional rumble of snoring from one of the open rooms. A large department store had been divided into a small cubicles, each with two sets of bunk beds and storage units for personal items. At the moment, they had more cubicles than Watchtower members, so Milo had this one all to himself. While Milo had never gone to college, maybe this was what it was like living on campus—sharing common facilities and a cafeteria. No one applied to this particular "college," though, and few knew of its existence.

            He threw on his sneakers. Maybe a physical distraction would help clear his mind a little bit. He'd had the day off from any official Watchtower duties, so he'd spent it being bored out of his mind. He would rather use his time to track down half-Bloods, instead of watching mindless television, especially when it wasn't blocking thoughts of last night's near-miss.

            He padded out of his cubicle, only to pause at the doorway to the one next to his. A soft voice muttered in his sleep, nonsensical things. Milo paused to listen, unsure if Tybalt was simply dreaming, or caught up in a nightmare of some kind. They both had plenty of nightmare fodder to choose from, and Milo had woken up in a cold sweat more times than he could count. He waited until the muttering stopped, then left the dorm area for the main hall. 

            Sometimes he forgot the Watchtower HQ had once been a mall. It still looked like one to the world at large, with a stained exterior and weedy parking lot, but inside the fading structure was alive with activity. He waved idly at some of the hidden security cameras, more to entertain the night watch than anything else. No one would question him being up and around. The Watchtower was pretty much twenty-four-seven when it came to activity, and it was a little after five. He was almost surprised not to see more people in the corridor.

            So much had happened in the last twenty-four hours—not exactly unusual for the Watchtower, whose odd mix of humans and Therian shape-shifters policed the supernatural races in and around the city. Vampires used to be part of the group, until a deadly illness forced all of them to back out and return to their hidden headquarters, wherever that was. Milo had little use for the vampires, beyond their cunning and strength, but his best friend Evangeline Stone was concerned for them. She had vampire friends who were sick, so he worried for her sake.

            He hadn't seen Evy around all day, actually. She'd gone off with her half-Lupa boyfriend Wyatt Truman earlier in the day. If they'd returned, he hadn't heard about it, which wouldn't be an issue unless their quad was called into action. He, Evy, Wyatt and Marcus Dane were a quad unit, and they worked well together on their assignments. Milo had always respected Wyatt as a fighter and a thinker, but after his infection with the Lupa virus, which left him half-human, half-werewolf, he'd gone from ass-kicker to super-fucking-badass. Plus he was hella scary when he bi-shifted.

            And Marcus. 

            He cursed the stupid little flutter in his chest when he thought about Marcus. Tall, muscular, long black hair. The kind of jaw you could cut glass on. He was gorgeous, dangerous, and exactly who Milo did not need to have a crush on right now. Or ever. Marcus was Felia, a black jaguar shifter, who was only ten calendar years old but had already lived half his lifetime. Even if Marcus was interested—which was not possible because really, who'd ever heard of a gay Therian?—they had no future.

            Stupid, stupid crush.

            A stupid crush that had nearly gotten him killed last night. 

            Milo and Marcus had waited on the street while Evy and Wyatt broke into the hospital morgue to see if a dead body had been killed by goblins (which it had). The pairs had met by the river, compared notes, then split up to walk back to the car (safety measure). Milo didn't remember what he and Marcus had been talking about, only that Marcus was teasing him, Milo was enjoying the easy banter, and they weren't paying attention to their surroundings. Three half-Bloods jumped them, knocked Milo's head into a car, and one had nearly taken a bit out of his neck before Marcus could shift and rip them apart.

            He rubbed at the spot where those underdeveloped fangs had scraped skin. A little more pressure, and he would have been infected. His friends would have had to kill him before he changed into a mindless monster, like Felix had.

            His heart panged a little as he walked past the cafeteria that had once been the food court. Milo had worked with Felix for almost a year and a half, when they were both Triad Hunters, along with Tybalt Monahan. They were all as close as brothers, protecting each other, fighting alongside each other. A month ago, Felix had been bitten and infected, and seeing the monster he'd become had broken Milo's heart. Not only because he was losing a brother, but because he'd done something stupid and fallen in love with Felix. Felix, who was undeniably straight. Felix, who died a horrible death without ever knowing how much he was loved.

            Why did Milo always fall for the wrong guy?

            He nodded at a pair of Therias as he passed Operations, which was in the center of the U-shaped mall. Farther down, on the opposite end of the U, was a pair of connected storefronts that was now their training area. Milo entered the weight room, which had an attached sparing room in the back. He'd never shopped in the Capital City Mall before it closed ten years ago, so he couldn't have guessed what trendy shop had once occupied the space now filled with mats, benches, and equipment of all types and shapes and sizes. Free weights and machines, resistance training, stair climbers, and even one of those bow-rod flex things.

            Milo was halfway across the room to his preferred bench when he realized he wasn't alone, and he froze in place, defensive instincts kicking in. Some Hunter he was, not noticing the weight room was already occupied. In the far right corner, near one of the resistance machines, Marcus was toweling off. He was shirtless, impressive biceps rippling with each motion, a near-perfect eight-pack glistening with perspiration. His black hair was tied back, but a single lock had escaped the tie and hung by his left ear. The workout shorts were just tight enough to—

            He realized how hard he was staring and blinked, embarrassed. Marcus smiled and slung his blue towel over one shoulder. The abrupt motion startled Milo into looking away. Maybe a little too sharply.

            "Sorry," Milo said, frozen in place and feeling a little stupid. "I didn't think anyone else would be up at this hour." A ridiculous thing to say, considering he and Marcus had been there the night before, wrestling at three in the morning, working out some tension from their encounter with the half-Bloods. They'd gone at it for over an hour, the physical contact without fear of dismemberment or death a welcome relief. 

            Plus, you know, it was Marcus. Sweaty, shirtless Marcus, just like the vision in front of him now. Milo really needed his body to stop reacting to such a vision. Like, now.

            "You're up," Marcus said.

            The obvious statement stumped him for a moment. Two things he'd learned about Therians after working with them these last few weeks were they were incredibly observant, and they didn't bullshit around things. It was both refreshing and frustrating. Usually both at once, like now.

            "Besides me." It was all Milo's stuttering brain could manage, and it perplexed him. He and Marcus had worked out together before, dozens of times. Hell, they'd had entire conversations without this sort of issue—sure, they'd been chatting about weapons and disarming opponents, but still. Was it because they were off the clock, Milo was keyed up, and Marcus was nearly naked?


            "I'm up, too," Marcus said.

            It took every ounce of Milo's self control to keep his eyes above chest-level and not allow his pervy brain to go other places. More savvy intelligence came out in the form of, "Yeah."

            Marcus blinked, a funny glint in his copper eyes that could have been amusement. "Spot you?"

            Standing over him glistening like that while Milo pressed a hundred-sixty pounds of weights above his head? Yeah, sure, that sounded like a terrific idea. Not. "Yeah, okay."

            Milo set the weights and climbed onto the bench, laying back and getting comfortable on the padded seat. He realized too late that he was still in the t-shirt and shorts he slept in, providing less than was probably appropriate in the way of lower support, but brushed it off. No one else was likely to come in and get an eyeful, and Marcus was standing behind his head. Way out of eyesight, even for a were-cat.

            He found his grip, set his feet, and began his first set of reps, moving the bar more easily than he expected. He'd been weight training more often than he ever had as a Hunter, so his strength had increased. Nice.

            As if mirroring his thoughts, Marcus said, "You have quite a bit of power in those things."

            Milo grunted, unable to decide if he'd just been insulted or complimented. He was average height for a guy, with a slim build, and people liked to underestimate him because of that. He'd used it to his advantage more than once, including the first time he'd ever sparred with Marcus. "Don't have to bulge like melons to be strong." Okay, so his own retort bordered on insult. 

            Even from upside-down, Marcus didn't appear put out. "True." He took a moment to flex one impressively meloned bicep. "So what has you tied up in knots so tightly that you can't sleep? Last night?"

            Too damned perceptive.

            "Just can't sleep." He puffed the words between lifts, careful to control his breathing as he'd been taught. He didn't want to admit to anyone how rattled he was by the near-miss. "It happens. I'm used to keeping more nocturnal hours, so I'll be off for a while until I adjust."

            "Hunters mostly worked at night."

            "That's when our prey was out and about."

            "You miss it." The statement was made as simply as if Marcus had verified Milo's shorts were, indeed, green. Not even a question.

            Milo put the weight bar back in its support brace, then sat up. His arms were warm, humming from the stretch. He shifted sideways, tossing his left leg over to meet its mate, turning him toward Marcus without actually looking at him. "I miss the way we worked, yeah, just the three of us and Kismet leading us. Less structure, more action."

            "And you miss your partner."

            Annoyance flared at the subtle intrusion in Milo's personal past. "Felix was my best friend. Sure, I miss him." Had been missing him a lot, actually, since last night's reminder of how he'd died.


            The flare burned into a spark of anger, and he fixed the were-cat with a stony stare. "Yeah, friend. You need a definition?"

            "I apologize. Felia can be quite gossipy among themselves and there have been rumors—"

            "What? That Felix and I were a couple?" Hot fury and chilly regret warred with each other, neither able to unseat the other. Only a scant handful of people knew Milo was gay, and he could count them on three fingers. Not because he was ashamed of it, but because it wasn't anyone's fucking business. He hated gossip, hated being the subject of it, but damn if he wasn't tired of not being who he was around his friends and coworkers. "Felix was straight as a rod, end of story."

            "And you?" 

            The genuine interest in those two words made Milo's brain stutter. Then it erupted in a buzz of fury that had him vaulting to his feet, hands fisted by his hips. He got right in Marcus's face, because what the hell? "What fucking business is it of yours? You think gay human males are so damned interesting you grill them with personal questions at the ass-crack of dawn?"

            Marcus's mouth twitched, and Milo realized what he'd said—talk about a double-entendre with a side of naked truth. But he didn't back down, didn't try to take back what he'd said. Marcus did. He took an actual step backward. "We work together, Milo, and I count you as a friend. I also find you interesting, and I'm not grilling you, as you say. Mainly I am acquiring information."

            "Why? Going to start a few more rumors about the queer Hunter?"

            "Your anger is misplaced, Milo. I'm not your enemy, and please believe that I have no desire to cause you distress."

            Milo snorted. "You're a little late, pal."

            "Then I'm sorry." He came around the bench, arms loose by his sides, his expression neutral. Almost placating in its gentleness, and Milo's heart skipped. "In all of our time spent together, have I ever done anything to deliberately hurt you?"

            "No." He didn't have to consider his answer. The occasional bruise or sore muscle from a sparring session didn't count, and Marcus had only ever been kind. Attentive. Occasionally fierce, when their lives were threatened, like last night.  "Look, Marcus, about yesterday.  I never did thank you."

            "You don't have to thank me for that. We were both caught unaware." 

            "Still, I know better than to not pay attention to my surroundings at all time. I let myself get distracted by you, and I almost got a fast ticket to infection and death.  It was stupid, and I owe you." Now why the hell had he added on by you as a reason for his distraction?  Or that he owed Marcus? Words he couldn't take back, damn it. 

            Something sparkled in Marcus's eyes, and it sent a strange zing through Milo's insides.  "Do you?  I imagine you despise debts."

            Milo shrugged.

            "Would you like to clear your debt and make us even?" he asked, his voice dropping an octave.

            Annoyance—mostly at himself, partly at Marcus—made him blurt out, "You want me to just bend over, or are you going to buy me dinner first?"

            Marcus surprised him by laughing, a deep sound of genuine amusement.  "What you think of me," he said, smiling.  "No, my request is far simpler."

            "Okay. What do you want?"

            "A kiss."


For the rest of this scene and more, head on over to my website. 


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

CHIMERA Chapter One

So with CHIMERA (MetaWars 4) releasing in only five more weeks, here is the first chapter for your perusal. Welcome to the crazy that is Renee Duvall's mind. 

New Game

Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Do you have to do that?”
“Yes.” Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes.” I twisted around in the van’s passenger seat and glared at the older woman in the backseat. I tapped my fingertips on the window glass three more times to emphasize my point.
Alexia Lowe wore what I call her Mom Face—a flat, disapproving stare that probably made five-year-olds nervous, but had no effect on me. I wasn’t five, she wasn’t my mom, and frankly, I could have done without her presence altogether in tonight’s little operation.
Three months ago, if you’d told me I’d be on a stakeout with a recently pardoned Bane as one of my two partners, I’d have told you to go fuck yourself. Maybe followed up by a swift punch in the mouth. Getting any of the Banes out of Manhattan Island Prison, much less working with one, was so far at the bottom of my priority list as to be the inner core to my exosphere.
Yes, I know the name for the outermost layer of the earth’s atmosphere. You try being homeschooled from the age of twelve by two rigorous (but kindhearted) foster parents who firmly believed I deserved the best education possible, despite the double whammy of being a former Meta and blue. Of course I came out of it with the world’s most random comparisons. Plus, I liked geology.
Anyway, the Banes belong in their prison; end of discussion.
My, oh, my, how things change in a couple of months. Things have changed for pretty much everyone in my life. My thoughts on the matter, however? The same. It’s lucky for the Banes that my vote doesn’t matter.
I didn’t mind sitting on a stakeout in a nondescript black delivery van with Ethan. I’ve known him since we were kids. He’s one of my best friends, I love him to pieces, and I trust him with my life. The same could not be said for Alexia. Despite the fact that she’d been part of the Quake Relief effort last month and then cashed in that assistance for a full pardon for past crimes, she is and always will be a Bane. A villain. A bad guy.
It’s a good thing Teresa West is in charge of this entire operation, and not me. I’d have gotten us all killed a long time ago. Leader I was not. Balanced, either, if you want the God’s honest truth. I mean, how would you feel if you’d been burned over 70 percent of your body by an insane genetic hybrid created for the sole purpose of . . . well, we still weren’t sure of the exact purpose of the Recombinants. Just that they’ve been a huge fucking pain in the ass.
The warehouse Ethan, Alexia, and I were staking out tonight belonged to a chain of grocery stores that had swallowed up every other major chain grocer on the East Coast about six years ago. The main distribution center was in Tallahassee (one of the fastest-growing cities in the South right now), but they had   other warehouses spread all over the place. In the last year or so, eight of them had been robbed and full tractor-trailers of food stolen. Considering the size of those distribution warehouses, a single tractor-trailer load wasn’t a huge amount, but stealing is stealing.
The human police were stumped. No evidence, nothing caught on security cameras, no trace of the trucks ever found, which, to the geniuses in charge, suggested Meta involvement.
Which logically meant they got us involved.
We were in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, parked a block away from the warehouse’s main gate, tracking all movement on a laptop. Thanks to Marco’s genius with computers, as well as some handy surveillance gadgets gifted to us by a friend in the FBI, we had sound and motion detectors set up around the entire perimeter gate. We didn’t need to have actual eyes on the gate to know if someone showed up.
Ethan “Tempest” Swift sat in the driver’s seat, his face illuminated by the pale glow of the laptop monitor. He’d spent most of the last few hours staring at it, as if he could use his brain to make something happen. Not that telekinesis is his superpower, in case you’re just catching up. Ethan’s power is controlling the wind. He can move it, funnel it, and even use it to fly, the lucky bastard. It’s an active power that’s saved our collective asses more than once, and I’d trade mine for his in a second. Not that I’d ever say that to his face.
Anyway, the laptop would ding and alert us if there were any movement, but I guess staring was better than making idle conversation. Not that Ethan and I ever had trouble idly conversing. I just preferred to not make nice with our third wheel.
Alexia is nice enough, I suppose, and she has an incredibly useful power—she can sense most metals, differentiate between various kinds, and telekinetically manipulate most of them. The ability helped us save a lot of lives during the Quake Relief. Her eight-year-old daughter, Muriel, still lived in Manhattan with her father, whose parole hearing was in about three weeks. If things went baby daddy’s way, all three of them would be living with us at our new headquarters.
In case you were wondering, our little trio wasn’t the only group spending their Friday night on a stakeout. The thieves were too random with their targets for us to determine exactly where they’d rob next. The only thing we knew for sure was that it would happen tonight—every forty-four days the thieves hit another warehouse. The significance of forty-four was lost on me, though, and despite an abundance of useless knowledge imparted to me by my foster parents and their guerilla education tactics, I wasn’t the brains of our operation.
I wasn’t really much of a soldier lately, but I can’t do much to help that. The burns, which have mostly healed, affected my Flex ability to bend and stretch my entire body into contortions epic enough to make a treble clef jealous. Nowadays I’d be lucky to impress a curlicue. My right arm isn’t useful for anything except the occasional punch, or aiming a gun. My foster father Alfred taught me how to handle, clean, and shoot a variety of rifles and handguns, and I’m pretty damned good. I abhor actually doing it, and I’ve never aimed a gun at an actual person before, but it’s nice to know I still have a useful skill under my belt, since I kind of suck at Flexing now. I can still bend and twist my torso, but I can’t stretch it out anymore. The only parts of my body that still stretch to any unusual length are my legs and my left arm.
Losing so much of my Flex power was like being twelve years old again. Those first few months after all our powers were stolen away were the most difficult of my life—no powers, no friends, no one to turn to except the uncaring doctors of the Mercy Children’s Hospital Psychiatric Unit. Not until my foster parents took me in and saved my sanity. Having Teresa, Gage, Ethan, and Marco around while I adapted to my latest loss in powers was the only reason I hadn’t completely lost my shit again.
Even if I am a bitch to be around a lot of the time. But I bet if Teresa really knew everything rolling around in my head, she’d say something along the lines of, Better to have your foot in your mouth than your arms in a straitjacket. And I’d agree. Except Teresa doesn’t know everything in my head. The only  person who knew, the first person I’d confessed it all to, was William Hill, and all of those secrets died with him back in January.
I just can’t be that vulnerable again. So I play the part of the confident, prickly uber-bitch.
Like right now with Alexia. She knew I didn’t approve of her presence. I was, in fact, pretty well known around the new HQ as the only original ex-Ranger to still silently disapprove of everything Bane-related. Silently—key word. Teresa is my best friend in the world, but I’m not stupid enough to actively oppose her decisions.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Renee,” Ethan said, exasperation clear in his tone. “It really is annoying.”
“Sorry.” For him, I stopped tapping my fingers on the window.
In the backseat, Alexia sighed. I glanced at the clock on the laptop. Two in the morning, which was damn close to when the other robberies had taken place. If something was going to happen here, it would be soon. The other two stakeout teams were in different, later  time  zones, so they had us as an early warning system.
We sat and fidgeted in silence for a while. At about ten after two, the mute laptop made a noise. My heart leapt. Finally, some action. The noise wasn’t the sharp alarm that announced human-sized movement by the fence, though. The birdlike chirp easily could have been just that—a bird flying too close to the fence, or a breeze blowing a piece of trash.
Ethan tapped a few keys. The laptop display shifted to video surveillance of the main gate, an overhead angle from the camera’s position on the telephone pole across the street. I leaned closer to the screen, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
“There,” Alexia said. She’d slid forward between the two front seats, and she touched the monitor at the gate’s upper hinge.
Sure enough, the hinge was moving. Both the top and bottom hinges, as a matter of fact, and the locking mechanism on the opposite side, too. And not just moving. Melting. All of the police reports on the other robberies mentioned the front gate being completely removed, and blowtorches were the most common theory on how that was accomplished. But unless our thieves used invisible blowtorches (and were invisible themselves), this was some sort of Meta power at work.
I turned on my com and said, “Alpha team to Beta and Ceti, we have movement. Possible robbery suspects.”
“Acknowledged, Alpha team,” Marco  replied over the com. He was heading up Beta team, and his response was followed almost immediately by one from Ceti team.
A series of chirps erupted from the laptop—more micro-movement inside or around the gate. Ethan changed the screen to show all eight camera angles at once. They were small, which made it harder to see details. Something tumbled to the ground on the west corner of the warehouse, probably a security camera.
“I think it’s safe to assume one of our suspects is a metal manipulator,” Alexia said.
“Human blowtorch,” Ethan said in a quippy tone that made me smile.
“So the human blowtorch unlocks the gate and kills the cameras,” I said. “How do they make the truck disappear?”
“Time to meet the magicians and find out.”
We climbed out of the van as a unit and met at the fender. Ethan and Alexia wore similar uniforms of black cargo pants and black jackets, each with pockets for accessories like coms, utility knives, and emergency cell phones. My uniform was a reproduction of my original—which had been burned beyond usability at the same time I was—made of a snakeskin-like material that stretched with my body. This one was still a unitard, but without the low, revealing back of the first, and with the addition of a belt that held my own extra items.
Under the glow of a nearby streetlight, my hands flashed a familiar azure shade, both comforting and annoying. I’d embraced my blue skin a long time ago, but sometimes it made stealth work tricky.
Ethan led. We stuck close to the building across the street from the warehouse fence, keeping to the shadows as we approached the main gate. There was no traffic here at this time of night, and we’d checked the area an hour ago for any transients or hookers who might turn into accidental collateral damage. Should be just us and our thieves.
At the end of the block, we clustered under the overhang of the building’s main entrance, boarded up and abandoned long ago, which afforded us protection from spying eyes. The main gate was across the street, less than thirty feet away, and just as we reached our hiding place the gate toppled over backward with a jarring clang of metal.
My body prickled with kinetic energy as it always did when my adrenaline was up. Muscles and bones thrummed with the power to change their shape, to release that adrenaline the best way they knew how—except a large portion of my damaged skin no longer allowed such a release. It’s like walking a fine line between pain and pleasure, when the pain is just a little too intense and never reaches that peak that turns into the best orgasm you’ve ever had. Release remains out of reach; pain and frustration is your constant reminder.
It sucks.
We remained in the shadows of our hiding place, watching and waiting for our thieves to show their faces. They didn’t disappoint.
Two slim figures stole into the street from the construction lot on the next block, and for a split second I was confused. They appeared to be regular teenagers, dressed in jeans and sneakers. The boy was slightly taller, with average brown hair, and he wore a red T-shirt with the imprint of a white skull. The girl had close-cut fire-engine-red hair (natural or dyed, I wasn’t sure) and wore several layers of tank tops in different colors. No ski masks, no backpacks of equipment. They couldn’t be older than twenty.
Ethan glanced at me, his green eyes asking the same question as mine: These are our thieves?
Then again, last month we’d come up against the twenty-year-old versions of our dead parents and mentors, thanks to the genetic manipulation of certain government-funded research companies. We’d had more bizarre opponents than a pair of punk teenagers.
Jack and Jill—their new names until we caught their punk asses and identified them correctly—strolled right through the broken front gate. Targets acquired.
I unsnapped the safety strap on my modified Coltson  .45, a semiautomatic pistol most popular about five years ago, when Colt bought the Glock and began manufacturing a new line of hybrid pistols. Dr. Abram Kinsey, our group’s resident scientist, doctor, and general inventor, had created and perfected special magazines of tranquilizer rounds for those Coltsons. Rounds we rarely used in the field, but could be useful in taking down uncooperative Metas and Recombinants without having to kill them. Tonight we were all armed, but as the weakest person in our little trio, I was the only one who actually retrieved my pistol.
Ethan turned to face me and Alexia. He pointed at himself, then the sky, with a single finger. At his eyes with two fingers. Translation: I’m going up to see what’s going on.
I nodded. He slipped around to the other side of the building, the wind rippled a bit, and then silence. I waited for a signal, whether from him or from inside the fence. We had to catch the thieves in the act, or all we had on them was unlawful entry, but patience wasn’t my strong suit.
“I’ve got a line on them,” Ethan said moments later, his voice a little hard to hear over the windy com. “The girl is melting a door off a delivery platform while the boy’s backing up a tractor-trailer.”
Well, now we had them on destruction of property. “Copy that,” I said. “How do you want to do this?”
“We need to stop them before they finish loading the truck. One of them definitely manipulates metal, and once they’re inside the truck, they have a two-ton weapon at their disposal.”
“I can get us inside through another entrance,” Alexia said. “Once they’re busy loading food, they probably won’t notice us until it’s too late.”
“Okay, there’s an employee door on the north side of the warehouse, about twenty yards from the gate. Hold on.”
I counted to seven before he ended the pause.
“They’re inside. Go now.”
Alexia and I ran across the street, right through the nonexistent gate. Our shoes were quiet on the blacktop, and Ethan was waiting for us at our entry point. Two blue metal doors had no admittance painted in white letters, like a dare.
Alexia pressed her palms against the door, doing whatever it was she did when she “read” metal. She could identify types of metals, even from a distance, and the more natural a metal’s state, the easier it was for her to move or break it.
“Hinges and locks,” she said. “I can break through them with little damage.”
“Perfect,” Ethan said.
“Do you think they’ll bill us for this?” I asked, and he snickered. One of our workplace rules was to cause as little property damage as possible.
We did our best.
Alexia used her Meta power to tear apart the metal in the left door’s hinge and lock, and as a unit we quietly moved the heavy door out of the way. No alarms sounded, which did not surprise me, since (as with the blowtorched gates) all of the police reports said that alarm systems were tampered with.
We entered a short lobby that led into a long hallway. We’d all studied the specs of the warehouse beforehand, so getting through the management section of the building was easy. Then down a long, drab corridor that ended at a pair of swinging double doors. Opaque glass squares didn’t give us much of a view into the main warehouse, but the lights were on. I heard the gentle hum of voices—nothing else to indicate they were moving pallets yet.
Ethan shifted to my right, ready to shove open the door. I thumbed the safety off my Coltson. My heart pounded. My body thrummed with anticipation.
Both doors swung inward on a pop of kinetic energy and slammed flat against the wall on either side. I stepped backward, stunned by the sudden action. Jack and Jill stood less than ten feet away, side by side, feet spread and hands out to their sides like passengers steadying themselves on a rocking boat. Only they weren’t unbalanced. They were ready to fight.
“Didn’t your parents tell you it isn’t polite to crash other people’s parties uninvited?” Jack said in a familiar, petulant teenager tone.
I bristled. Oh, I didn’t like this kid. “Didn’t your parents tell you it’s even less polite to break-and-enter other people’s property?” I asked, and raised my right hand. Over the sight of the pistol, I stared down our teenage thieves.
As a trio, we moved a few steps forward, into the frame of the doorway.
“Since when do Rangers carry guns?” Jill asked.
“News flash, kiddo,” I said. “We aren’t the Rangers anymore. Now, why don’t you both put your superpowered hands behind your backs and come with us quietly?”
“We’re busy,” Jack said with a snarl in his voice. He snapped his right hand in our direction.
Energy crackled, and before we could react to defend ourselves, the double doors came slamming right back at us. Like an unexpected tackle from a defensive lineman, the blow sent all three of us tumbling backward in a messy, pained heap. Light exploded behind my eyes as my head cracked off the cement floor. Ethan’s elbow hit my gut. Alexia was somewhere under my left shoulder.
“Okay,” Ethan said as he rolled off to the right. “Now I’m pissed.”
“No more easy way, right?” I said.
“No more easy way.”
Fan-fucking-tastic. Time to take down some teenagers.