By Ronnie Kendig
Love Leads a Former Marine into the Blackest of Nights
"This is one pulse-pounding adventure you don't want to miss!" ~Robert Liparulo, author of Germ, Comes a Horseman, and the Dreamhouse Kings.
Step into the boots of a former Marine in this heart-pounding adventure in life and love. Colton "Cowboy" Neeley is a Marine trying to find his footing as he battles flashbacks now that he's back home. Piper Blum is a woman in hiding—from life and the assassins bent on destroying her family. When their hearts collide, more than their lives is at stake. Will Colton find a way to forgive Piper's lies? Can Piper find a way to rescue her father, trapped in Israel? Is there any way their love, founded on her lies, can survive?
Intro to the scene. The opening scene is set on the hero's ranch during a small 4th of July barbecue with his daughter, parents, and a close friend. His daughter has just asked him for sparklers from his truck so they can celebrate.
"I'll be right back." Colton stepped into the dark night and headed to his truck, where he'd left the small bag of sparklers. Reaching behind the front seat, he groped for the fireworks. As his fingers grazed the bag, which scooted farther out of reach, he spotted his Remington 700.
Regret choked him. He paused and leaned against the seat. God. . .please. I just want a clear mind. With a final grunt, he snatched the bag and slammed the door shut on the truck and on his shaky thoughts. "All right, Mickey, here we go."
Bouncing from the back porch toward him, she squealed. "Dante, look, look! Daddy got sparklers and poppers—my favorite."
A noise screeched through the night. His heart jack-hammered at the familiar sound.
He dove to the side. Hearing hollowed out, he blinked. A dusty road spread before him. Shouts pervaded the Iraqi street. Men darted for cover. Colton scrambled, feeling the weight of his gear on his back.
"Take cover," he shouted to his team as he rushed up against a building. Spine pressed to the wood, he reached for his radio. Gone. Under attack and no backup, no airstrike. He searched the street, his mind pinging.
Movement to the side flared into his awareness. Instincts blazed.
He grabbed his weapon—it wasn't there. Oh God, no! He patted the ground, his hearing still muffled by the IED detonation.
Where's my rifle? Where'd it go?
"What?" he shouted, searching for his weapon.
Kaboom! Pop-pop-pop. Multi-colored flashes lit the bloody day. Colton scrambled for cover beside the Humvee. He scoured the dust and smoke for his team. Where were they? He glanced over his shoulder—then remembered the Remington.
As he rushed to the back door of the Humvee, another blast shoved him against the steel.
Yanking open the door, he noted civilians on the other side of the Humvee and hoped they stayed clear of the violence erupting around them. He didn't need to find another foot—or any other body part—during cleanup. He lifted his weapon and only then realized it was empty.
Sound from behind yanked him around.
A white-haired man rushed toward him.
"Get back!" Without his weapon ready, it'd be hand-to-hand. But he wasn't letting his weapon go. No way would someone find him with his pants down. Not here. He wasn't going to die in Iraq because he didn't have his gun. They did that to the civilian contractors. But not to him, not to a MARSOC sniper.
"What are you doing? Don't do this."
When the haggard man rushed him again, Colton drove a hard right into his face. The old man flew back and slid across the hardpacked earth. Colton quickly eased a slug in and chambered the round.
Crack! Boom! Pop-pop!
He ducked, and when he came up, a girl with wide brown eyes appeared out of the dust. His heart rapid-fired. No. Couldn't be. He'd killed her already. The villagers had used her as a suicide bomber—then captured him and nearly killed him. No way, no how was he going back there so they could drive a thousand volts through his body.
He dropped to a knee and lined up the sights.
The girl drew back and yelped. "I'm scared."
Why was she speaking English? He shrugged. They'd trained the children to gain confidence and intelligence. He'd fallen prey once.
Won't happen again.
"Maa-i-khussni, not my problem," he said, all too familiar with the way the radicals worked the American soldiers. Soldiers who were here trying to help.
"Cowboy, it's"—Boom! Crack-crack-pop!—"girl."
"Don't care, man. I'm not letting them take me again." Sweat slid down his temple into his eye. He blinked—
Wait! Her eyes. How had they changed from brown to blue? He shook his head to dislodge the disparity. The heat. Had to be the heat. Using his upper arm, he swiped away the sweat. Realigned the sights. His heart rate ratcheted when more civilians emerged around the girl.
"Ambush!" He lowered his head and peered through the scope.
Focused on nailing the shot, holding his position. Considered the elements.
"Colton! No!" a familiar voice shouted.
But they didn't know. Hadn't been there.
"Marine, stand down! Stand down! "
His finger slid into the trigger well.
It's a girl. A little girl.
And they'd used her to get to him, to extract information and kill him. Never again.
Why are her eyes blue? No, not blue. He was seeing things. They were brown, and he wasn't letting this happen again. No remorse.
Gently, he let his finger ease back on the trigger. Forgive me, Father, he prayed, as he did with every kill.
A tremendous weight slammed into him and knocked him sideways. Crack! As the weapon's recoil registered, so did the fact that he'd lost his gun. He went flying. Hit the ground—hard. Thud!
Stars sprinkled through his eyes. The edges of his vision ghosted. His ears popped. He howled at the pain. Blinked.
Night? Why was it night?
A man almost as dark as the sky behind him loomed over him. "Legend?" Aches radiated through Colton's body, leaving him disoriented. "What. . . ?"
Screams and cries suffused the night.
Something ominous clouded Legend's face. He straddled Colton, pinning his arms to the sides. "You with me, Cowboy? You here?"
"What are—get off!"
"Where are we?"
"What do you mean?"
"Where are we? Answer me, Marine!"
Qualms squelched by Legend's drill sergeant voice, Colton paused. "My ranch." A horrible, horrible feeling slithered into his gut. The events crashed in on him. The screaming. The little girl in Fallujah. Blue eyes. "No!" Everything in him went cold. For a split second, he locked gazes with Griffin, then jerked his head to the side. Strained to see.
A half-dozen feet away lay his Remington 700. Beyond, his mother and father huddled over—
I almost killed my daughter.
Digitalis, Discarded Heroes #2
ISBN: 978 1 60260 783 5
Available at www.bn.com
©Ronie Kendig, 2011 – Do not reproduce without permission
THE ANNOTATED FIREBIRD
Marcher Lord Press, April 2011
"Firebird … is the most original Christian SF series to appear in years." —Library Journal
Because of her birth order in Netaia's royal family, Lady Firebird's life is expendable. When she is chosen to lead an attack on a neighboring planet, her demise is expected. Instead, she is captured and forced into a strange new existence that will sweep her toward a perilous but exhilarating destiny.
First published by Bantam Books and reissued by Bethany House Publishers, the Firebird trilogy now appears in a single volume in both paper and e-book formats, with new maps, charts, and annotations that chronicle the writing process and add depth to Lady Firebird's worlds. Here is an excerpt from the beginning.
Lady Firebird Angelo was trespassing.
Shadowed by her friend Lord Corey Bowman, she squeezed and twisted through a narrow, upright opening between two dusty stone walls. She'd paced off twenty meters in silence. Her eyes had almost adjusted to faint gray light from ahead and behind. Growing up in this palace, she'd explored it thoroughly and cautiously during her childhood. She hadn't tiptoed between these particular walls since she found the gap, four years ago, when she was fifteen. If she remembered right, then in ten meters more—
Something rattled behind her. She froze. If anyone caught her and Corey this deep in the governmental wing, they could be done for. Powers help us! she prayed silently.
Slowly, she turned around. Corey crouched three meters away. He pointed at a loose stone and cringed a silent apology.
Time hung suspended, like a laser satellite passing overhead. They waited motionless, hardly even breathing.
Evidently, the Powers weren't feeling vengeful—if those supernatural guides even existed, which Firebird had started to doubt. The soft voices behind the curved inner wall kept droning on, incomprehensible from this point in the hidden passage.
Firebird crept on.
The rough partition on her left enclosed an elliptical chamber. Inside, the highest council in the Netaian planetary systems held its conferences.
Firebird had heard whispered rumors among other cadets at the NPN Academy: that the Netaian Planetary Navy planned to hold military exercises in Federate space, or that an attack was imminent—Federate or Netaian, depending on who had heard whom—or that secret weapons were under development. None of her instructing officers had acknowledged those rumors. They kept their cadets working in blind, busy ignorance.
But this morning, staring out a classroom window-wall, Firebird had seen a silvery shuttle with Federate markings emblazoned on its underside decelerate into Citangelo spaceport. According to a hasty check at her desk terminal, the queen's Electorate had immediately closed this afternoon's session to observers.
Maybe the Federates were protesting those rumored maneuvers, as she guessed—or trying to head off an open confrontation, Corey's assumption. Someone had to find out, on behalf of the second-year cadets. If a war broke out, they'd be in it. During an afternoon hour reserved for studying, Firebird had sneaked home with Corey.
Ahead, light gleamed into their passage through an inner-wall chink. The palace's builders, three hundred years before, had been more concerned with elegance than security. During her privileged childhood, Firebird had found many odd niches in this historic building where walls didn't exactly meet, or where they came together at peculiar angles to create blind passageways. Palace security should have sealed every breach that gave illegitimate access to the electoral chamber. They'd missed this one.
On her next birthday, Firebird would be confirmed as a short-term elector. That was her right, an honor she would receive as an Angelo. Then, she would tell the House Guard and the electoral police about this passage.
But no sooner.
She reached the chink and peered through. Inside the grand chamber's red walls, lined with portraits and gilt bas-relief false pillars, the Netaian systems' twenty-seven electors sat at a U-shaped table that surrounded a small foreign delegation.
Firebird glimpsed the rest of her family. Her oldest sister and confidante, Carradee, sat beside the gilt chair of their mother, Siwann, a strong monarch who was already much more than the traditional electoral figurehead. Beyond Carradee lounged the middle Angelo sister, Phoena, the "beauty of the family" and Siwann's obvious favorite. Though taller and lighter haired than Firebird, Phoena had the same delicate facial features and large, long-lashed dark eyes. They'd often been mistaken for each other, to the disgust of both.
Five strangers stood below the U-shaped table's open foot. The two who'd stepped forward wore dress-white tunics and carried recall pads. One addressed the electors in clipped Old Colonial, the language of most colonized worlds in the Whorl's great half circle of stars. "...as a surtax only on nonessential goods," he declared, "such as ..."
What was this, a trade delegation?
Phoena exchanged disdainful glances with the trade minister, Muirnen Rogonin. Maintaining an indolent slouch, Rogonin—the jowly Duke of Claighbro—flicked two fingers toward the man who'd spoken. "I would see no reason to levy a military assessment against a well-defended system such as Netaia, Admiral. Your logic is flawed."
Admiral. Maybe their business wasn't entirely trade, then—
Thank you for reading! For more information on The Annotated Firebird, please visit www.MarcherLordPress.com or www.KathyTyers.com. Do not reproduce this material without permission.