With The Dagger due to be released in just a few days, I am jubilant (aka super psyched) to share the first chapter with you. I have the release date set for Wednesday, March 18th. So, have a look at the first chapter and feel free to use Twitter, Facebook, or my website to let me know what you think.
“I think we should see other people.”
Victoria looked up from her coffee cup to peer across the table. The last vestiges of sleep still dragged at her brain, making her slow on the uptake. When she made sense of Keith’s words she let out an eloquent, “Huh?”
He did not look at her and she watched him study his chipped mug.
“You said ‘other people’.”
He raised his eyes to hers. “I think we both know this isn’t working. That it hasn’t been working for a while.”
No, both of them did not know that.
“How long?” she demanded.
“How long have you been thinking this?”
“I don’t see why—”
“Just answer the question, Keith.”
His shoulders raised and lowered in a heavy sigh. “Since Christmas.”
She stared at him. Nine months.
“You asked me to move in.”
His face screwed up into an expression of guilt.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Why now?”
His fingers fluttered against the side of his mug.
A sick feeling started in her stomach. “Is there someone else?”
“What? No. God, no. Nothing like that.” His eyes shifted away from her. “I just…can’t do this anymore.”
Victoria pushed her coffee away. “So, this isn’t a discussion? You’ve already made up your mind.”
“Yeah,” he muttered. “I guess so.”
“Keith…” she trailed off when he made a face and pushed his chair back to stand.
“Don’t act like this is all me. You’re—” he broke off and ran a hand through his messy hair.
“You’re not like other people, Victoria. It’s not-it’s not normal.”
She sat back in her chair at the mix of fear and aggravation he aimed at her.
He turned away from her. “Just-just go.”
She watched him walk to the door of his apartment, grabbing his jacket and keys on the way. He paused for a moment.
“Please be gone when I get back.”
The door closed with a quiet click.
Victoria stared at the door long after the sound of his footsteps on the stairs had faded. With a shuddering sigh, she buried her face in her hands. Two years, not counting the last year of college when they danced around each other, and now it was over. She raised her head to look around the small apartment.
There was something of hers on every surface. Her hair bands on the shelf by Keith’s law books, her phone on the table by the TV, her whole wheat bread on the kitchen counter. Victoria slowly rose from the chair. She walked across the room to her overnight bag and started shoving her belongings into it.
In went her laptop charger, her hairbrush from the bathroom, the magazines she had left on the coffee table from four months before. All of it went into her bag, the duffel growing heavier as she went from room to room. She saved the bedroom for last.
The blankets on the bed were still tousled, her pillow on the floor. She drew herself up short. No, not her pillow. Not anymore. She snatched her scattered clothes off the floor and crammed them into her bag. Finally, it was done. She stood in the kitchen and made herself a peanut butter sandwich with the last two pieces of bread in her whole wheat loaf. She left the chocolate milk.
Victoria stepped out of Keith’s apartment and managed to close the door without slamming it. Two years. She hurried down the stairs, trying to pretend she was not fleeing. The thought of seeing him again, all of her things in her duffel bag, was too much to handle. She walked down the busy street without looking at anyone.
She stood in a jumble of people at the nearest metro station and glared at the sidewalk. With the shock mostly faded, the anger began to seep in. Victoria looked down at the simple ring on her left hand. Abnormal. He thought she was abnormal. She ripped the ring off her hand and shoved it into the pocket of her hoodie.
The bus arrived at the stop, City of Cincinnati printed on the side in large happy letters. She boarded on the bus with everyone else, scanning her monthly pass before she sat in an empty seat near the front. Several people paused beside her, as if they would sit, but the look on her face seemed to banish the thought. The seat beside her stayed empty.
When she got off at her stop, her throat was already beginning to burn. Victoria ground her teeth. She climbed the stairs to her tiny, studio apartment and dropped her bag the minute the door closed behind her. Two years. She banged her head against the door. So stupid. She should have seen it coming. Victoria shrugged out of her hoodie, leaving her in just her jeans and t-shirt.
The burning in her throat grew more insistent, pairing with wetness around her eyes. She wiped at her face impatiently. She was not going to cry. No. Her eyes wandered over the messy interior of her apartment, not really seeing. With an indrawn breath that only hitched once, she settled at her desk. With a touch, the screensaver of her laptop faded to the background and she opened her email.
One new message. She clicked on it and an image of a kitten hanging from a tree by one paw filled the body of the email. At the bottom of the image, large block letters spelled out ‘Hang in There’. Victoria hunched her shoulders and buried her face in her hands. She did not let herself cry for long, just long enough to ease the burn in her throat, before she raised her head and read the email.
‘Hey, Vic. I heard about you and Keith. He told James, who told Jimmy, who told me. So…sorry. Uh, call me?’
Victoria snorted. Fay’s usual tone had an oddly soothing effect. Victoria deleted the email and dug her cell phone out of her jeans pocket. Fay answered on the first ring.
“Hey, chicky. You get my email?”
“Yeah,” Victoria sighed. “I got it.”
“That’s a bummer.”
Victoria leaned forward in her chair to begin bringing up her programs for work. “What?”
“Damon is still single.”
“I’m ignoring you.”
“That’s lame,” Fay told her in an affronted tone. “What about Jimmy?”
“Fay.” Victoria switched the phone to her other ear. “I know you never exactly liked Keith, but can you give me a minute?”
“I’m going to call you later.”
“Hey, hey!” Fay said before she could hang up.
“You want me to come over?” she asked, all trace of humor gone.
Victoria considered it, but shook her head. “I’ve got that project. It’ll keep me busy.”
“If you’re sure.”
“Yeah. Thanks, though.”
“Go make magic, chicky.”
Victoria rolled her eyes and hung up. She opened a word document to go over her notes for the project. It was a simple corporate ad campaign. Just a few images for flyers and one for the website. It should not take more than a few hours. She cracked her knuckles and opened her image editing software.
Three hours later, the noon day sun was hidden behind a thick layer of storm clouds, plunging her apartment into twilight darkness.
Thunder rolled outside the window and Victoria took a minute to click on her desk lamp. She rolled her shoulders. The project was just about done. A few more tweaks and she could collect her paycheck. Smiling to herself, she leaned forward to press save on the project. The screen went dark as the power in the building failed.
“No! No, no, no.” She shoved her chair back. “Are you kidding me?” She spun to face the window and froze.
A dark figure stood in the middle of the room, the dim light from the window casting him in silhouette. And it was definitely a him. The broad shoulders and height gave it away. Victoria stared for a moment, before her brain overcame the shock and realized there was a strange man in her apartment. She immediately backpedaled.
“You are the Compass?”
The sound of his voice made her freeze a few feet from her desk. “Do what?”
She could not see his face clearly, but she got the impression he was less than impressed with her.
He moved toward her. “Are you or are you not the Compass?”
Victoria watched him come closer, her eyes widening with each step. When he stood just in front of her, she blinked.
He sighed impatiently, muttering words she could not understand under his breath. Before she could react, he grabbed her left arm and flipped it palm up. She dropped her gaze to frown at her tattoo.
“As I feared.” He dropped her arm. “You are the Compass.”
“What are you—?”
“I am the Map,” he cut her off.
“Right.” She looked down to see him flash a strange symbol on his own wrist. “Who are you exactly?”
He scoffed and muttered something that sounded like, “Pathetic.”
The lights came on a second later and she looked over her shoulder at her desk lamp.