06 June 2011

DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT (PsiCorps Volume Two) Excerpt

Greetings Kittens,

I just got cover art on my next Therian World Novel coming out in October and it reminded me that my next PsiCorps Novel DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT (PsiCorps #2) is coming out in less than a month. I thought I'd share another excerpt here and since I'm late getting this in, offer a copy of GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST (PsiCorp #1) to a lucky commenter or two.


Mackenzie flipped the back row of French toast on the griddle and pretended to ignore the conversation going on across the dark green granite island from him. He schooled his smile and tried to consider the two men nothing more but extra stainless steel appliances in the opulent Italian-inspired kitchen.

“That’s just cold!”

Kincaid nodded and snagged the piece of toast in Torrin’s hand. “I know, right? I snapped awake so quickly, I think I might have whiplash.”

“Well, you have to admire his results. But honestly, even Sky and I don’t play around with that kind of threat this last trimester.” Torrin picked up another piece. “Getting between our wife and food right now could cost someone a limb. If he’d told her you were holding up breakfast we’d need another marshal, no doubt about it.”

Mackenzie transferred the front row of French toast from the griddle to a warming plate. “I’m not particularly concerned as to the ongoing state of your individual health profiles from a personal standpoint; but as a Partner and on-duty Marshal, there’s likely an obligation to inform you both when Riley’s within hearing distance.” Riley walked into the kitchen and hit both men with the cushion in her hand. Mackenzie smiled. “She was within hearing distance thirty seconds ago, gentlemen.”

Riley walked over and kissed Mackenzie’s cheek. His smile grew and she kissed the corner of his eye. “You’re my favorite today.”

He laughed and returned the kiss. “That’s why we all compete for breakfast privileges. It improves our chances for the rest of the day.” He transferred a half slice from the warming plate to a saucer. “Let me know if I have the right amount of vanilla or if I should start over.”

Torrin leaned across the island. “You don’t have to make everything over. None of us would care.”

“Good, I wasn’t offering to remake any for the rest of you.” He looked to Riley. “How is it?”

“Perfect, frighteningly so to be exact, thank you, Mac. The babies are appreciative.”

“That’s what I work for.” He touched the high swell of her belly, stretching his Intuition and Insight towards the babies. Something pulled at him as it had the last six months, but he found nothing wrong. Healthy, pre-formed consciousness touched him back and they moved beneath his hand. He and Riley both laughed.

“I will point out again; the two of you freak the rest of us out when you do that.” Kincaid offered. He walked over and put his arm around her. “Come on, get off your feet and get comfortable. Torrin and I will bring everything over in an attempt to make amends for our ill-timed, if accurate, humor.” She hit him again and Kincaid smiled, guiding her to a kitchen chair. “You know it’s cuz we love you.”

Riley shook her head. “It’s because you all aren’t properly afraid of me anymore. You know I can’t chase you down.”

Kincaid exchanged a look with the other two men. “I don’t know what you’re remembering, but none of us are foolish enough to think you’d need to chase someone down.”

She wiped her eyes. Torrin walked to her while Kincaid froze. Mackenzie covered his smile behind a sip of orange juice as Kincaid spoke. “What did I say? I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“No.” She shook her head. “That was very sweet.”

Kincaid let out a breath of relief and Mackenzie turned completely away before he lost it. He wasn’t without sympathy, like any man he didn’t like seeing women cry in general, it made him feel like he’d failed. But it held humor whenever it happened to someone else, especially to Kincaid. Watching his Partner navigate the ever shifting labyrinth of Riley’s emotional state just did his heart good; a petty revenge perhaps for Kincaid’s enjoyment of Mackenzie’s own stumblings in the beginning, but entertaining nonetheless. He looked back to the table. “Didn’t you obligate yourself to transporting food? There’s plenty awaiting your attention, Marshal Ides.”

“I’m coming.” Kincaid crossed to the island. “And let’s cut the Marshal Ides. I get enough of that from Quintus.”

Quintus walked into the kitchen, hand in hand with Sky. “Have I done something of questionable intent from which you have had enough, Marshal Ides? If so, I do apologize. I meant not offense.”

Kincaid glared at Mackenzie. “You knew.”

Mackenzie didn’t bother to hide his laughter. He had indeed known Quintus could hear them and had intentionally provoked Kincaid to mention him. Riley is a bad influence.

She smiled over at him from Torrin’s arms. “I am not.” Everyone looked at her. “What? He said I was a bad influence.”

The men all turned to look at Mackenzie. He shook his head, and a small, strange smile took him. “I stand by the premise, but I in fact, did not say a word. I thought it, from well over here.”

“Oh.” She said quickly. “Never mind, there was food coming, right? We should all eat.”

Mackenzie walked over to the table. “Has your ability to pick up thoughts moved completely beyond needing direct touch?”

The way she shook her head made him smile. “Does getting them at a distance happen often?”

“No.” She took a mouthful of juice and moved out of Torrin’s lap. It took all of her attention to adjust herself on the cushioned window-seat banquette. She looked up into the silence and took another mouthful of juice.

“Has it happened before?” Mackenzie sat beside her, careful not to touch her. “Has it happened with me before?”

Riley shrugged. “It’s not unusual. Sometimes it happens in non-telepathic Circles when one of the Circle is pregnant.”

“But we’re talking about with me.”

She looked at him. “I know that. I just explained how it works in Circles. Active Psi pregnancies are your specialty, you must know this stuff.”

Mackenzie didn’t know what to do with that. He looked to her husbands.

Sky held a hand up and walked over. “Riley, baby, we’re just curious, did you actually hear exactly what you just said?”

She gave them a soft glare. “I’m pregnant, not deaf. I’m also not wrong, it’s right in the baby books. Didn’t anyone else read them, or were you just paging through them to get laid? I know I didn’t score above median on the telepathy placement test, but it happens in pregnancy. It does, I know what I’m talking about.”

Mackenzie nodded and gave a reassuring smile. “Of course you do.” What page is it on? Somewhere in the mid-hundred’s right?

She nodded to him. “Yeah, page one-forty-nine.” They all fell silent again. “What? You’re ruining my French toast high, people!”

“It’s okay.” He ran a hand down her arm. “Let’s leave it alone and get on to the food part.” He glanced at the others. “I cooked; the rest of you can carry.”

He stood and helped Torrin move the table closer to the window seat while Quintus adjusted the cushions behind Riley’s back. Compliments on the scent of the food were sung to the melody of plates and silverware clinking against the table. The harmony of laughter and genuine warmth filled the kitchen and a bee sting of guilt pierced Mackenzie. Criminal trials could linger for years, and in moments like these, he prayed he’d been assigned to one that would. What god would answer such a prayer eluded him. To look at the four of them and want their lives on permanent hold, under direct guard in WitSecPsi indefinitely, it came to little more than holding everyone hostage to his own happiness. That didn’t change the fact that he never wanted any of this to end. And any god to make that happen could happily have his tithe and bended knee.

Everyone sat down and reached for the different platters in front of them. Riley sat silent. Her hands smoothed the thin cotton baby doll cami over her abdomen, framing the babies in sheer, silken amethyst. Torrin reached across the table. She took his hand without looking up.

“What is it?” He asked. His smile said he knew.

She didn’t look up. “They’re in the wrong seats.”

Mackenzie stood with Quintus, Sky and Kincaid. Only Torrin kept his place. He was the only one of them with a long enough reach to be able to touch her across the table. When not in his lap, she always placed him across from her. The rest of them moved from day to day, sometimes hour to hour as the fluid psychic field of the twins shifted and altered; more sensitive to certain configurations than others. She directed Mackenzie to her left side, Quintus to her right, and Kincaid and Sky a seat closer to Torrin. The table lifted a millimeter and turned to the right, the place-settings rose and maneuvered to follow the new seating arrangement. The table, plates and glasses settled again without so much as sloshing a juice cup.

“We can eat now.” She announced.

“Damn!” Kincaid pulled out his chair and sat down with a smile. “That just never stops being impressive and hot; I’m too distracted to eat.”

Torrin reached out and bumped the back of his closed fist to the back of Kincaid’s. “Right? That’s what I keep saying. You should see her when she’s distracted and just reaches for stuff across the room, it’s this dizzying display of subtleties that shames and arouses you at the same time.”

“Oh, so it’s like being back in the boy’s locker room at Catholic school. Good to know.”

Everyone laughed but a special timber resonated in Torrin and Kincaid, a harmony learned very young, and one that Mackenzie knew he’d never share with either man. He’d be denied the deeper, matured rhythms that rang between Torrin, Sky and Riley, or even the occult baseline that was Quintus running through his three lovers. He was the outside presence at the table, the stranger, the guest.

“Mackenzie?” Riley touched his face.

A moment of panic gripped him. He couldn’t recall the exact nature of the thought’s he’d lost himself to. Riley’s gaze revealed nothing of what she might of heard. “Yes?”

Some decision passed behind her eyes and she flashed a grin. “Am I not supposed to tell them that you think they’d be less impressed with my abilities if they hadn’t scored a zero on the TK test--combined and rounded up?”

Mackenzie got a face full of linen napkin from Kincaid. He didn’t bother to defend himself. It was a good save. “It seems it would have been better if you hadn’t, but here we are.”

“For the record I was a point five on the test and Torrin,” Kincaid looked at Torrin and nodded. “Yeah, he hit a zero, but that shouldn’t tarnish my reputation by association.”

“You must have been distracted.” Riley reached for Mackenzie's throat. “You remembered to take off your jacket and roll up your sleeves, but you forget your tie. You’re going to get syrup on it.” Her hands moved in an efficient flutter. “I like the color, it’s my favorite. You and Kincaid look very nice this morning. How did the briefing go?” She unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, took a moment, and undid a second. “There, that’s better.”

He put his hand over hers as she fingered his collar. “Do I meet breakfast table standards now?”

She looked at their hands. “Is this why everyone is looking at me?”

Mackenzie smiled. “I’m looking at you because you’re touching me. You always have a reason when you touch me; it seems prudent to pay attention.”

“The babies like you, that’s reason enough.” She turned to her plate and picked up the silverware. “So without everyone looking around and avoiding answering me, could one of you tell me why hearing you is a big deal? I’ve heard everyone a little at one point or another. It’s the pregnancy and the abilities of the babies developing, that’s all. It would be a concern if I didn’t hear my Circle.”

Everyone exchanged glances and looked at her again. “See, that, could you not do that? That’s making--“ She swayed forward and gripped the table. The objects on every kitchen surface rattled. “It’s making me tense.”

He didn’t stop to think, Mackenzie just moved behind her, settling his legs on either side of her. “It’s all right, Riley. We’re all sorry; no one meant to upset you. Just breathe and grow still.” He placed one hand on her belly and laid his other arm across her shoulders. “Just breathe with me, it’s okay.” Their auras blended and he pulled her chakras back into alignment. The dishes and other object grew still.

Torrin gave a nervous laugh. “I still don’t understand why an obstetrics and pediatrics Psi would give up that kind of pay to become a Marshal, but I’m grateful that you did every time you do that.”

He nodded at the Empath, but kept his attention on the woman in his arms. “This instance is less impressive, it was just another form of anchoring like Sky does. I can be easily replaced, I was just closer.”

“You’re not easily replaced.” Riley whispered.

Pomegranate and mango scented curls brushed his cheek and he turned his face into them and inhaled. “I appreciate the sentiment.”

Riley laughed. “My shampoo is making you hungry.”

“That wasn’t a thought, but yes.” Mackenzie leaned to the side to see her profile. “Are you feeling better? I can stay here for a bit.”

“You can come eat, we’ll change the subject. You, Kincaid and Quintus can tell us about the briefing.” She gave a dramatic sigh. “Since, as you know, I can’t go anymore; as if being pregnant has impacted my ability to process a Psi-briefing.”

He laughed and pressed his cheek to her hair. “I know you hate being part of the detail now, but even you can’t argue the strategy. So play all fifty-two sympathy cards in the deck, I’m not going to recommend you come to the next three day meeting, or the one after that, just like I didn’t suggest it three days ago.”

She took a bite of bacon. “It’s seventy-eight cards actually, a sympathy tarot deck. And I do plan to play them all, twice if necessary until you change your mind.”

He looked at Quintus. “Do I take this to mean she’s already convinced you to suggest it?”

“She has yet to ask me, Marshal Matthews.”

Mackenzie’s heart fluttered and Riley made a non-committal sound in his arms. “Is there something you need to say, Riley?”

“Nope, I’m just eating my breakfast like you should. Come tell me about the briefing, you’re stalling.”

He was, he didn’t want to move. Moments like this let him pretend this was more than an assignment and his place in things more than circumstance of having the right skills, in need at the right time.

“I requested you personally for the initial assignment.”

It took him a second to process her words. “You did what?”

She held a piece of bacon back to him. “Open.” He took it and she nodded. “I personally requested you for lead marshal at the cabin and I fixed the records at dispatch so that they wouldn’t offer lead to anyone else when it was time to move us to long term protection. I went through a lot of trouble to get you and keep you. The least you can do is let me go to the briefing. It’s not like I’m asking for a shift securing the perimeter. I just want to hear what’s going on first-hand.”

Mackenzie felt kicked in the chest. She’d requested him? Would she make that up? He hid his face in her hair and tried to catch his breath.

In his peripheral, Quintus took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Perhaps it would be prudent to go over the exact explanation and expectations of the process known as maternity leave. There seems to be some lingering confusing these last two weeks. As your Handler I feel it’s my responsibility to clarify.”

Sky turned and faced Quintus fully. “I didn’t realize breakfast came with a show this morning. I have got to see this. If you pull this off and I finally get peace of mind that she’s going to relax and take this break for what it is, there are carnal delights in your future to make the gods weep. Please, proceed.”
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