In the meantime, enjoy the first few paragraphs : )
My pulse rang loud in my ears as I puzzled over the doorknob in front of me. The only light in the narrow hallway glowed from Devan’s raised hand, but Cipher was starting to crackle with nervous sparks of electricity as she leaned closer, voice muffled by her protective facemask. “What’s next?”
I kept staring at the knob. What is next?
Good question. By way of an answer, bluish timeghosts fuzzed over reality, showing me all the ways the next seconds could play out.
Letting the present bleed away, I relaxed into my power. I stumble over the trip wire just across the threshold. That was a start. “There’s a wire on the first step through the door.” And then?
I tiptoe over the wire. Cipher and Devan follow me into a vacant gray office. It looks empty enough, with only a few bare desks and no furnishings or working lights, but before I can wave the girls across the room to the next door we have to crack, a shooter pops out from behind the desk. I lift my gun, but Cipher’s already pushing me aside to safety. She takes a hit to the shoulder before I can shoot.
Blinking back to the now, I scowled at Cipher. “Shooter behind the desk on the left. Don’t be such a hero.”
Cipher’s mask covered her mouth, but I knew she was scowling right back at me. “I didn’t do anything.”
“None of us are doing anything.” The golden light glowing from Devan’s hand flickered as she grumbled.
“Just let me take out the shooter. Can you unlock the door?” I stepped back, giving Cipher room.
She lifted a portacomp to the door’s keypad, punched in some numbers, and a beep sounded. I tried to breathe in and out and keep my focus as I pulled out my gun. We’d win this time. The possibility was there in the ether, if a little hazy and unlikely looking. There were only three more booby-trapped rooms between the exit and us, and I spotted at least one future where we darted through the last door grinning wide for the first time in weeks.
I just had to find the right path. We could do it.
The responsible thing would be to surrender. I owed it to the few hundred people I’d just freaked out, and probably to the public in general, but when I peeked out of the market, a lot of guns came out of holsters.
“Please stay inside, ma’am.” A policeman’s voice crackled over his megaphone. “We’re sending someone in.”
I retreated to the bakery and licked the frosting off a few cupcakes before a wave of nausea ended my binge. Who were they going to send? A SWAT team? Or maybe a bomb robot?
I kept waiting for whatever this was to stop, but every time I twitched, something got destroyed. Whatever the power was, it had to be temporary, and if I were patient enough, it would disappear as quickly as it showed up to ruin everything.
Any minute now.
I jumped at the voice. I’d known it was coming, but my landing shook the building.
Expecting to see a team of big, burly men in Kevlar, I peered past a bushel of baguettes. Just one guy.
I craned my neck and…sweet Jesus.
He wore a leather jacket that fit like sin. Tanned, but not a Guido. Dark, styled hair, but not douchey. Like an actual person instead of the cover model-stereotype he should’ve been.
Someone was obviously using pheromones to take me down easy. Good thing I was covered in chicken drippings, frosting and powdered cheese. I always did know how to impress a man.
“Belle?” He stepped into the store.
“Unfortunately.” This was so not my shining moment. I should never have run. “In the bakery section.” And it was too late to hide all of the cupcakes I’d licked.
He approached with his hands open, like I was some startled animal. He couldn’t be a cop in those civilian clothes, but he had to be someone important. He was tailored in that understated money kind of way, and I got the vague sense I’d seen him somewhere before. A billboard?
“My name’s Ryan Lamborne.” He stepped forward again, all sincerity. “Most people know me as Red Ruin. I’m with the Manhattan Ten.”
Didn’t they sell upscale real estate? Or… “Wait. That superhero group?”
“That one.” He leaned against one of the bread racks. “We’d like to help you deal with what happened earlier.”
With what happened?
“You mean the part where I destroyed a landmark and blew the performance of my life?” It was Giselle for Christ’s sake. And who knew how many other dancers I’d taken down? It wasn’t enough to ruin my own career. I had to shatter a few other people’s lives while I was at it.
No one would hire me again. Might as well become a stripper, or a call girl, or a sample pusher at the Food Lion.
“I know you’re upset,” Ryan, or Red Ruin, said. What kind of name was that? “You had no reason to think you’d develop powers, especially so la—”
Powers? “Not possible.” Obviously, the market hadn’t destroyed itself, but this was a temporary thing. Maybe a curse from the dance gods.
“Why not?” He moved closer and held out his hand. Rings of red lightning jolted around his fingertips. “My power’s electrical.”
The color was the purest scarlet. “Can I touch it?”
I brushed a fingertip against Ryan’s hand. It was warm and tingly, but more like a first kiss than an electric shock.
“On the tape it looked like you were manipulating kinetic energy while you danced. That’s why we need to—”
“But no one in my family—”
“Listen.” Ryan’s lightning cut and he set his hand on my shoulder. “No one in my family had powers either, so I know how you feel. You might not want to believe it, but there’s no other explanation, is there?”
I squinted up at him. Those stellar hazel eyes were the last straw. “I’m almost positive you’re a hallucination.”
Expression flat, he picked up a cupcake and mushed it into my forehead. “Would you hallucinate that?”
My jaw dropped. “You did not just…” Scraping the mess away with one hand, I grabbed for a cupcake with the other, but as soon as the cake neared him, it evaporated in a puff of red lightning.
Ryan tsked. “You think it would be that easy?”
I would’ve started a full-on food fight, but an expensive car rolled through the broken doors and parked next to the cash registers. “Cavalry’s here.” A blond man in a blazer hopped out. “Though you two seem to be doing fine.”
“Belle, this is Thunder. He’s another one of the M-Ten.”
Thunder? My gaze flicked between them. “Shouldn’t your name be Lightning, then?”
Thunder chuckled and clapped Ryan’s shoulder. “How many times have I said that?”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “You just want to see me in a spandex sidekick outfit.”
“Damn straight.” Thunder’s grin lit his exquisite green eyes. “Don’t you too, Ms. Fabian? Loved you in La Sylphide, by the way.”
My mind fixated on Ryan in spandex, until the mention of ballet clicked. “You saw it in London?”
“The costumes were breathtaking. And not to throw anyone under the bus, but you totally upstaged that clown who played James. Who even cast him?”
“Right? He was such a d—”
Ryan cleared his throat. “Should we have a tea party? We’ve got scones right here.”
“Could we get out of the bakery?” All the shattered glass reminded me how badly I’d screwed up. I strode for the car.
One stride and a wave of energy surged into Ryan and Thunder, knocking them into a display of soup cans. With a flash of lightning and a matching boom, they righted themselves, but the backlash from their powers collided with mine, sparking something like an accidental nuclear bomb.
The shockwave shot me back into the bakery, and I crashed into a display of snack cakes. Ow.
My body was already turning into a big bruise. Boxes spilled everywhere and a package of Devil Dogs tumbled off my head.
I grabbed it. Spoils of war.
“You okay, Belle?” Ryan ran over, Thunder close behind him.
“I don’t think they’re going to let me shop here again.” Did markets blacklist people? If they did, I was going to be number one on the list.
The guys eased me out of the rubble, and I hugged the box of cakes to my chest. I shouldn’t move again. At all. Ever.
Ryan tossed Thunder his keys. “Take the motorcycle back. I’ll drive her.”
Thunder blew a kiss on his way out. “Try not to smash my car.”
“I’ll try.” But I couldn’t exactly promise.
“Let me,” Ryan said.
“Let you wha—” He swept my feet off the ground and carried me to the car like I weighed nothing. While he shifted me to open the car door, I pressed my forehead into his chest. “There’s frosting on your shirt.”
He chuckled and maneuvered me into the seat. “I probably deserve that.”
I reached for the seatbelt, but he beat me there and snapped me into place. Wasn’t I just made out of glass?
He shut the door and moved around the car. “Ready?”
“I guess.” I popped open my box of Devil Dogs, but I didn’t have the heart to unwrap one. I wasn’t hungry anymore.
“Take this.” Ryan stripped off his jacket and offered it to me.
“Thanks, but I don’t really—”
“Duck down and put it over your head.” Ryan looked over his shoulder as he backed the car out of the market. “There are about fifty news channels out there that want a shot of you.”
“Lovely.” I put my head between my knees and ducked underneath the jacket.
I’d always wanted fame, but it was supposed to be on the stage. After today, I doubted that anyone was going to remember me for my dancing.
Eight hours out of Auckland, the plane’s temperature controls fizzled. Instant passenger meltdown followed and call buttons lit the aisles like stars on the tundra.
In the oppressive heat and recycled air, my coworkers wilted. Red-cheeked and dripping sweat, they fetched non-stop drinks for the passengers, filling their plastic cups with sorry, melted ice cubes.
I handed my passenger a frosty cold can of Heineken. “Anything else, sir?”
“No. Thanks.” The man pressed the iced-over can to his neck, and his head lolled back in bliss.
Rewa scowled at me from the opposite side of the drink cart. Her hair lay plastered to her face, and she muttered about switching sides on the next run. Trading positions wouldn’t make her cans any colder.
I wouldn’t use my powers on a routine flight, but chilled drinks were harmless, and I was enjoying myself. When I pressed my hand to my cheek, it felt almost lukewarm. The cold lived in my family’s blood, and such warmth was a rare treat.
We docked the drink cart in the galley, and I left Rewa to commiserate with the others. When I checked my reflection, I didn’t blame them for the dirty looks. My tight bun hadn’t shifted all flight, and my fair skin was the same smooth porcelain as always.Should I mist myself to hide the difference?
No. If the droplets froze against my forehead, I’d hardly blend with the regular humans and no one who noticed my lack of sweat would realize what they were really seeing.
“Val?” I snapped my mirror shut as one of the first-class attendants approached, looking as harassed as the ladies in coach. “Can you pop up to first? Janna might have heat stroke.”
“Of course.” First-class passengers were fussy, and on this flight, I was the best equipped to handle their complaints.
For what they paid, I’d be fussy too.
The first-class cabin was tucked upstairs, away from the gaze of the commoners. It wasn’t as crowded as coach, but the heat still rose. A few more degrees and I might have broken a sweat.
Despite the plush lounge chairs and carcasses of tiny alcohol bottles—or maybe because of the alcohol bottles—misery hung in the heat-choked air. The worst off was the screaming infant in the first row. The mother’s hugging and rocking were all in good faith but weren’t helping matters, and her designer makeup looked like a melted mask.
Babies could be forgiven in most situations, but with no air-conditioning, the other passengers might mutiny.
“May I, ma’am?” I opened my arms to the child.
She probably wasn’t in the habit of handing her child to strangers, but she took a long look at me. The wheels turned as she noted my cool skin and untouched complexion. Maybe she caught the chill off my hands. She handed the baby girl over.
“What’s her name?” I patted the baby’s downy head, taking care not to cool too fast.
The woman pulled a cleansing cloth from her Birkin bag. “Madeline.” She wiped down her face and shuddered when she checked her mirror.
I rocked Madeline, and as her temperature fell, her cries silenced. “That’s a good girl.” By the time I handed her back, she was drooling with sleep.
“Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll double it if you ever want to nanny.” The woman shifted the girl into the crook of her arm.
I smiled. Money was a poor substitute for traveling the world, and I’d plenty left to see. But I was glad to have helped the baby. “Can I get you anything?”
“All set.” She flicked off her light.
Quieting the child had leveled down the tension, but it was far too hot for real comfort. Janna wasn’t the only one dealing with heat stroke. The passengers looked a dangerous combination of limp and furious.
I knew I shouldn’t use my ice so obviously, but this was past the point that I could look away. As I strode down the aisle, I released the cold inside me.
It bled away from me like mist, invisible to human eyes, though it would’ve showed on a thermal camera. I doubted any of the passengers had one of those in their seat.
One man in disheveled Armani shot me a hard look, but I returned a pleasant smile, and he turned around. As long as no one snapped, I could handle a sour glance or two.
In fractions of degrees, the cabin cooled. Tucked in the back corner, I found a man asleep under his blanket. Curled in on himself, he couldn’t hide his massive height, and his skin was so dark it approached black.
He must have been sweltering.
“Sir?” It wasn’t good policy to wake customers, but I couldn’t let him sweat himself to death.
His eyes opened, instantly alert and shocking yellow. He hadn’t been sleeping, and I couldn’t imagine how he’d been comfortable.
Instinctively, I took a step back from him. “Sorry to disturb you. I wasn’t sure if you’d suffocated.”
“I like the heat.” The man smiled slow and lazy, his white teeth vivid against his dark skin. As he cast the blanket aside and unfolded, my old hunting instincts tensed. I’d known he was large, but I hadn’t expected his frame to be so muscular.
Taller than me. That was rare.
He radiated a predator’s energy that needled at too many parts of me. His coloring—yellow against black—and the carved shape of his body were exquisite.
His eyes felt like hands as they worked their way up to my nametag. “Valdís. Where’s that from?”
“Scandinavia.” I’d been named for the lady of the dead, which most found morbid but was the highest compliment from my people. Another reason I didn’t talk about such things. “Can I get you anything, sir?”
Just standing next to him, the hairs at the back of my neck lifted. Some part was an unavoidable flush of attraction. With that body and those eyes, I couldn’t help myself.
Primal response. This man was a hunter, and even relaxed into the leather seat, he represented such a physical threat that my suppressed powers stirred. If I stayed long enough, I’d be forced to respond. That would mean shattering my carefully maintained cool and risking the life I’d carved for myself. No man was worth that. No matter how much man he was.
And he was.
“Hmm.” He leaned in, forcing me to back away from his palpable body heat. “Just wondering how a stone-cold goddess like you ended up a stewardess.” He grinned a cat’s grin, pleased he’d figured me out, if that was what he’d done.
I went colder than usual but kept my mask. “Sorry, sir. I have to see to the other passengers.”
As I retreated to the galley, I could practically feel his gaze on my back. I pulled the curtain closed like I was draping myself in armor.
Retreat didn’t suit me. I fisted my hand and the hard ice in my blood seeped into my palm. I ached to draw it out into a spear and run across the frigid wastes like I had as a girl. No fear. No knowledge of anything else. I never would’ve let his challenge go unmatched. Things were different now.
I’m not a fan of short fiction. When I finish reading a ten-page story, I always feel cheated. It took me eight pages to get into it…now where’s the rest? Growing up, I was hooked on series reads, and the longer, the better. The Dragonriders of Pern, the Animorphs, The Wheel of Time…the list goes on.
I still love my sweeping epic fantasies, but lately I’m obsessed with the novella. From a reading perspective, I find novellas long enough to be fulfilling, and the condensed word count keeps writers honest. With only 25,000 or so words, you have to get to the point. There’s not too much fluff and the sub-plots have to stay tight. Novellas can be part of an anthology, or often run into a series. More to read is always a win!
As a writer, I’m loving the novella format even more. I can crank out 25k in a month, and being able to finish something so fast keeps me inside the story world. There’s much less continuity type revision to do, because it’s so much easier to keep track of the story’s flow.
If you’re a beginning writer, I definitely recommend trying your hand at some novella length work. A 30k novella is a lot less intimidating than a 70k YA novel or a 100k work of women’s fiction. It’s easier to practice craft, and even if you don’t like the end result, it was only a month or two of writing, instead of a few years.
With e-readers booming, the market for novellas has grown to match, and there are some great e-presses that publish novellas of 30k or less. Samhain and Entangled are two of my favorites, and both of them frequently issue open calls for submissions.