Sandy Williams
Thinking About My Next Project
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

I finished draft 3 of Shades of Treason a couple of weeks ago. I went through the printed manuscript and made some more mark ups, and once I get those into my file, I’ll send them to a couple of beta readers. While they’re with the betas, I need something new to work on. I’m trying to decide what that will be.

It should be the next book in the Anomaly series. I need to have more than one ready to go before I publish SoT, but my brain feels like it needs a cleanse. SoT was a difficult book to write.

I know, I know. I say that about all my books, but this one really was hard. I think it might be because I was writing in third person, and first person appears to be my strength. Every time I read the book, the writing feels a little off to me. A little distant. A little blah. It could be that it is off and blah and distant. Or, it could be that I’m just not used to it. Gotta have feedback to know for sure.

So I’m thinking of working on a new urban fantasy series. I hate jumping on band wagons, but it’s a new adult urban fantasy series. It would be the same story even if New Adult hadn’t become huge the past couple of years*, but knowing how big it’s become and what it is might make me emphasize the MC’s college experience a bit more.

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I think I should spend the rest of this year working on that project. I posted an excerpt from the first chapter on my blog a while back. It’s here. I think it might need a more gripping opening, but the voice is there. So is the story. And I’ll get to practice my setting skills. That hotel has to be special.

I’ll keep yall posted on what I’m up to!

 

 

*Wait a second. Has this trend already passed? I’ve been living in a cave lately, so it could very well have passed. Ah, well. I’m writing the book the way I want to anyway. :-)

How a Sad Song is a Lesson in Character Development
Monday, December 1st, 2014

A radio guy mentioned this artist and this song the other day. I don’t listen to music on the radio often, so everyone and their dog might have heard this already, but it’s new to me, and wow. The tears. I sobbed so much I could barely hear the lyrics. But after listening to it on repeat for a while, I was able to make it through it without too many sniffles, and that’s when I let the extra brilliance of it sink in. Yes, it’s beautiful and moving and pain-filled, but it’s also genius from a writing perspective. We don’t see the brother in the video, but I feel like I know him through the little things the surviving brother notices. The half empty Gatorade bottle, the shirt thrown in the back, the baseball cap. This truck is personal. It’s a chunk of who the brother was.

And the song reveals the relationship between the two. His brother would punch him if he saw the tear rolling down his face. That one detail shows me so much about the two. So do the lines, “I drive your truck. I hope you don’t mind. I hope you don’t mind. I hope you don’t mind.” The older brother would probably kick his butt for touching his truck if he were alive.

The surviving brother doesn’t change the radio station. The older bro (I don’t know why I assume the other brother is older) would probably kick his butt for that, too. You don’t touch a man’s radio.

Love this song. I’m going to check out some of the artist’s other stuff.

God, when that little girl peers around her mother at the end… It gets me every time.

Goodreads and New Book Love
Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Man, I love GoodReads. A lot of authors don’t. A lot of them just don’t understand the point of the site, but I do. I get that it’s a personal library, a documentation of what readers have read and how they feel about stories. The whole point of it is to collect their personal tastes in one easy-to-use, central location, and if they find others who feel the same way, they get that instant connection. I love that and respect that. That’s why negative reviews don’t bother me at all. My all time favorite review of The Shadow Reader was on GoodReads. It said, “Eh, not that great.” I don’t know why, but that one just makes me laugh, maybe because I’ve read a ton of books that have given me the same reaction. I can relate.

Anyway, why this sudden outpouring of GoodReads love right now? Because GoodReads sent me an email. It told me that Joanna Bourne’s latest novel, Rogue Spy, is out today.

roguespyI freaking love the other four books in this series. It’s been a long time since the last one, and I had no idea this one was coming out today until that email. (Joanna, please make a newsletter. I’ll be the very first person to sign up for it!) So, huge thank you to GoodReads. My only regret is that the email didn’t come sooner. I have vowed to read print books if one is available, so now I have to wait two whole days for Rogue Spy to come in the mail. (Yeah, yeah, I could get in the car, drive half an hour to a book store, then dodge the rain and buy one, but I’d lose so much reading/writing time if I did that.)

Joanna Bourne is an author on my auto-buy list. I have very few of those, but her books are that awesome. She’s a fabulous writer, and her stories are different and interesting. Most importantly, her heroines aren’t boring! That’s the biggest problem I have with historical romance. The heroines just sit around, gossip, and dress up. It’s really, really hard for me to root for a heroine like that, though not impossible. Julia Quinn could write about the most mundane person in the Regency, and I’d still fall in love with her characters. But most of the time, I need a heroine who is more independent, brave, and exciting. That’s what I get when I read Joanna Bourne’s books. They involve spying! And heroines who have skills other than gossip, needlework, and dancing.

If you haven’t read any Bourne books (doesn’t she have the perfect last name?), you can start with any of her books. They’ve all been absolutely fabulous. You can hope on over to my Goodreads account to read my horribly written, fan girl gushing reviews.

The Writing is Going Better
Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

I finished (for the third time) one of my favorite chapters from Shades of Treason. My hero and heroine are together and alone, and they’ve just been through hell. Always a fun moment, right?

The rest of the book should move faster. I had to work out a lot of inconsistencies in this draft, but I’m pretty sure I had the complete plot in mind by this point in the book, so I don’t have as much to smooth out. Once I finish this draft, I’ll do one more read through, doing my best to Margie-ize the draft.

What’s Margie-izing? So glad you asked!

Last October, I went to a Margie Lawson Immersion Course in Colorado. It was phenomenal. Exactly what I needed to make my writing better. She’s studied New York Times bestselling books and authors and identified all the things! that make their stories awesome. Much of it has to do with rhetorical devices.

Bet you never thought you’d hear that word outside of English class. Rhetorical devices. It puts a big smile on my face.

Rhetorical devices are fun. They’re not easy, but when you nail one, wow. It makes the book shine.

I need to find the list of rhetorical devices from the immersion course, but here are some of the things I’ve written to make this book not-so-ho-hum ( oh, looky, that’s a rhetorical device right there, the hyphenated run-on. I freaking adore hyphenated run-ons.)

Other examples from my last chapter:

Instead of writing

“I know,” he said, his tone grave.

I wrote

“I know.” Those two words contained enough force to cause a galaxy to expand. 

Instead of writing

She was the only woman in her class of anomalies – the only woman ever to complete the training – and he was hot, built like a soldier.

I wrote

She was the only woman in her class of anomalies – the only woman ever to complete the training – and he was built like a Zenith Predator*, all hard, defined muscles and smooth, lethal movements.

(Hmm. Now that I wrote that boring sentence, I’m kind of wanting to use the hyphenated run-on built-like-a-soldier-hot. I think it’s a good descriptor. :-)  )

So, the writing is going better now. I had a very hard, very slow August and September. My brain was preoccupied. I was doubting the story and my ability to write it (this happens pretty much every other day), and I was just kind of down about the whole thing.

Not anymore. Because I loved this chapter. And there are so many other chapters I love just as much. I really, really can’t wait to let you all read this book!

* The Zenith Predator is a fighter that can fly in space and within a planet’s atmosphere. It’s developed earlier in the story. A pretty sleek bird.

The Sharpest Blade is in France!
Monday, September 15th, 2014

Sharpest Sword FranceSay hello to my newest foreign cover – Sidhe 3: Double Vue. French covers are pretty awesome, don’t you think?

The book has actually been out for a few weeks. I just learned it had sold to France a couple weeks before that. Special thanks to Melliane, who asked me for an interview. If she hadn’t asked, and mentioned in the one of the questions that the book was coming out soon, I would have had no idea it was coming out in France! Her interview with me is up over at her very awesome book blog. Yall should check it out.

Meanwhile, I’m STILL working on my sci-fi book. I had a bit of a double crisis a few weeks ago. I hit a huge motivational inconsistency with one of my characters, and the hiccup caused the whole book to make zero sense. It took me way too long to solve it, but I did solve it. Hurray! But progress has been slow due to the other crisis: changing daycares.

The daycare we had my twins in has a class for 18 months to 3 years. Before the kids can move to the three year old class, they had to be potty trained. Yeah. Well, one of the boys was, one wasn’t, and we didn’t want the one that wasn’t to stay in the class with the little kids. 18 months is a huge developmental difference to 3 years, so we chose to move them to a new center.

A new center that cost several hundred dollars more a month per kid.

And a new center that I don’t like nearly as much. Multiple reasons for that, but it sucked up a lot of my time and mental energy.

Got that crisis solved, too, though, and the boys will be returning to their awesome school next week. Can’t wait!

I’m still aiming for a January release date for Shades of Treason. Hopefully, I’ll have a cover I can share in the next month or so. So excited about this book, but I want it to be finished already!

McKenzie Lewis takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

mckenzieicebucketI should have had Aren fissure me to some place hot, like Florida or Texas. The cool Colorado air will make this challenge worse than it needs to be, but my clothes – and everything from my normal life – are here at Naito’s house. I’m not worried about being cold, though. I’ve been through the In-Between often enough that a bucket of ice water over my head will feel like an easy swim in the Imyth Sea.

I set a bucket under the faucet. The bottom third is filled with ice from Naito’s freezer. I let the water run until it almost reaches the top then I lug it toward the middle of the backyard.

“Need help with that?” Aren asks. He’s sitting on the porch, lounged back with his arms crossed, looking all bemused. He doesn’t get why I’m doing this. The only incurable ailment the fae have in the Realm is the insanity and broken magic of the tor’um.

“I’m good,” I say. “But you can hit record on the camera if you want.” My voice is a mix of tease and dare. Tech and fae don’t get along. A quick push of a button won’t hurt Aren – it takes a lot more tech and a lot longer exposure time to permanently injure them – but most fae avoid direct interaction with it.

“For you, my nalkin-shom,” he says, adding an aristocratic accent to his voice that doesn’t fit him at all, “I’d do anything.” He grins as he rises, and it feels like the blue lightning striking across his skin strikes inside my stomach as well. I love him like this, when he’s relaxed and bathed in an easy-going happiness. We were enemies then allies then lovers. It’s a relief to know we’re friends, too.

“What do I hit?” he asks, stopping a pace away from the camcorder I set up on a tripod. He’s good at acting like tech doesn’t bother him, but I note with a smile the hand he rests on his sheathed sword. Even though the Realm’s latest war is over, he doesn’t go anywhere without it. That could be because he’s pissed off enough people that he needs to watch his back. Or it could be he’s hanging onto the past.

My smile falters. Aren misses the war. I’m almost sure of it. It gave him purpose. Something to fight for. Something to protect. He excelled at creating turmoil and subverting his enemies. That’s all changed now. He’s not even part of the new Court anymore, and sometimes, I think he feels lost.

Aren looks up from the camcorder, eyebrows raised.

And other times, I think he’s one hundred percent content to just be with me.

“The red button on top,” I say, finally answering his question. “And don’t hit it. Gently push.”

His attention returns to the tech. “And why are you recording this?”

“For evidence and to pass it on.” I’ve told him this a dozen times already, but he doesn’t get the concept of viral videos. The only thing that goes viral in the Realm is the rumors he spreads about the deadly, dangerous shadow-witch, a stealer of magic and tracker of souls who slays her enemies with her alluring lightning, her poison touch, and whatever other myths Aren pulls out of the sky. I’m none of those things. I’m just a girl who can map a fae’s shadows.

Aren finds the button, presses it, and a red light turns on. He moves away from the camcorder and leans a shoulder against the side of the house, that bemused little half-smile curving his lips.

Lightning ricochets through my stomach again. I tear my gaze away from him then focus on the camcorder.

“Hi, guys. My name is McKenzie Lewis, and I’ve been called out by my friend, Paige, to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m way past my 24 hour deadline-“ due to a shadow-reading that took way longer than it should have “-so I’ve already donated to the foundation. I’m going to nominate two kickass women you really should get to know: Devi Morris and Kate Prospero. Thanks and here it goes.”

I pick up the bucket. It’s heavy, but my time practicing my newly acquired fighting skills has paid off. I’m stronger than I was before.

I tip the bucket over. Ice cold water sluices over my body. My muscles tense. I gasp and jump, but it’s definitely not as bad as passing through the In-

A sharp shrrip to my left and a blur of movement to my right is my only warning. Aren’s there, pressing an anchor-stone into my hand.

“Don’t you d-“

His body and momentum propels us into the strip of white light that serves as a portal between worlds. The In-Between closes around us.

Now, I’m cold. Freezing. Numb.

I’d scream but there’s no air to fill my lungs.

An eternity passes. Then another. And another.

By the time the In-Between releases us, I’m glacier cold.

I’d call Aren a dozen unflattering words but my lips aren’t working. Neither are my legs. I stumble backward until I hit something.

Aren isn’t saving me; he’s falling with me, on top of me. I don’t realize where we are until the softness of my bed catches us. Then his mouth melts mine.

He tastes of the Realm, like light and nature, and I feel his strength in the way he holds me tight, containing my shivers. I return his kiss even though I should be pissed, but I always lose my good sense when I’m around him.

He releases his grip, lets his hands slide down my arms. Heat trails behind his touch, and I know if I looked, I’d see chaos lusters leap from his skin to mine.

Wrapping my arms around him, I pull him close.

He stiffens, then laughs, then lifts himself off me. “You’re freezing.”

“Oh, really?” I say, grinning up at him. His shirt soaked up some of the water from mine. The black material clings to his chest and the lightning striking across his left arm doesn’t hide his goosebumps.

He sits up, pulling me with him. “We’ll be warmer without clothes.”

I shiver again, but this time, it’s not from the ice water or the bitter cold of the In-Between. I pull him close and we kiss until the world becomes nothing but heat and light and sensation.

Why I Stopped Reading (and How I’m Going to Change)
Monday, August 25th, 2014

WHY II’ve stopped reading.

I didn’t do it on purpose, and it hasn’t stopped 100%, but I’ve only read 5.5 fiction books this year.

5.5 books.

That might as well be nothing.

I feel like I’ve lost a huge part of what makes me me. Like a lot of you, I grew up with books. In school, I finished my work as quickly as possible so I could get back to my stories. On weekends, I read multiple books (unless I was reading a fat fantasy) and any time I had down time, I was reading. I remember a couple of days when I worked as an elementary school librarian. I was reading the Hallows series by Kim Harrison, and I literally hid behind the circulation desk, finishing “just one more chapter” because I was so hooked by the story.

I even felt guilty because my emotions were so strongly invested into fictional characters’ lives. Something had to have been wrong with me because I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the real world.

How did I lose that passion? That love for reading? How can I go days, weeks, even months without reading more than a sentence or two of a book, then deciding to go to sleep instead of learning what happens next?

I have a few theories. The steep decline in my reading occurred in 2011, the year:

My first book was published. Perhaps become a writer has made me too picky? Perhaps having control of my characters’ lives makes me want to have control over other author’s characters, and I can’t handle not being their creator? Perhaps I don’t read because I feel so guilty about not writing faster?

I had twins. I will admit a large amount of my mind and my creative energy is consumed by them. They’re getting older and easier, but I still try to find ways to take care of them and teach them. I am so lacking in mom skills and ideas that I frequently get lost on  Pinterest. And then, at the end of the day when they’re in bed and I could be reading, all I want to do is go to sleep.

I started reading ebooks instead of paper. Does this have an affect on my reading? It seems like it could. Maybe, subconsciously, my brain doesn’t connect with digital as much as it connected with paper.

I got an iphone. I’m not sure when this happened, but it was around 2011, and I’ve started reading blogs, emails, news, Pinterest, etc on my phone. And I played Candy Crush. The digital books that I’ve read have all been on my iphone because I always have it with me. Maybe all the other activities I do on my phone take away from my willingness to stare at it any longer to read.

And maybe the reason I’ve stopped reading is a combination of all the things above. I’ve just had so much trouble “getting into” books, and after so many tries of different stories by different authors in different genres, it can’t be the books. It has to be me.

I hate not reading. And it’s especially bad because I’m an author, and I truly, honestly believe the most important thing an author can do to improve his or her craft is to read. It’s a requirement of this job, and I’m sucking at it.

But I’m not giving up. I’m going to fix this. I’m going to find my love of reading again. I’m going to:

1. Switch back to print books.

2. Set aside 30 minutes (or more if I’m hooked!) every day to read, no matter how good or bad my writing is going.

3. No more iphone in front of the kids. Only print books. This is better parenting anyway.

4. Check Pinterest only once twice three times a day.

5. Delete Candy Crush. (Already done. Take that level 305!)

Have you ever lost your love of reading? Do you know why? How did you fix it?

Real Life Stuff
Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

(Please excuse me for this non-writing related post. Sometimes, I just need to write my thoughts out.)

My husband and I are evaluating preschools/daycares for our boys again. The school they’re currently in, a school which we love and can afford pretty well, has a policy that kids in their 3 year old preschool class are potty trained. Minion C is completely trained; Minion M absolutely refuses to go poo in the potty.

We’ve tried everything with M. It’s not a developmental thing because he went a few times in the potty back in April/May. He just stopped. And refuses to try again. We’ve pushed him to try to go these past two months because we knew we were on a deadline, but no luck. If we want him to be in a class with kids his own age instead of the 18 month – 3 year old class, then we have to switch schools. Plus, I’m done with trying to “force” him to poo on the potty. That’s not working, so I’m stepping back and letting him decide when he’s ready. No more pressure.

I’ve visited several schools multiple times these past couple of weeks. Our two good choices are both several hundred dollars more than what we’re paying. One school has computer time, a “gym” area, and yoga class, but I don’t get the warm fuzzy feeling from that school’s teachers. I get the warm fuzzyies from the other school’s teachers, but it’s several hundred dollars more than the other school, there’s no gym (it’s freaking HOT in Texas! I’d love for them to get indoor exercise in the afternoons) and computer classes cost extra.

I really don’t want to change schools. The teachers at their current school are loving, they’ve been there for years (teacher turn over is important to me), the office staff is great, they go to computer lab twice a week, have Spanish class (90% of the class is done in Spanish) twice a week, go to the gym twice a week, and have a music class once a week. All of those are given by teachers that are there specifically for those classes. We love the playground (lots of shades, room, bikes, etc). They even have a pool! Yes, a pool! Minion C got to go swim twice a week for 15 minutes (shallow area of the pool; there’s a deeper end for private/group lessons). I’m not quite sure why their school costs less than the others when it appears to be so much better. They had a tuition hike this year, but only by about $20 a week, and since our boys are 3 and not in the baby room, we break even on that.

Ugh. So stressed about this. I keep trying to write, but then think of something else related to school stuff and get distracted. Like… we’re lucky we have this problem. In a couple of years, when we go to public kindergarten, we won’t have a choice in schools. We won’t even have a choice in teachers*. Our kids will be shoved into a class with no regard for what works better for them, or what are preferences might be.** The only way we can have a say in the school is if we sell our house and move. It’s crazy thinking of the time and thought we put into this now, knowing that, in two years, we’ll just have to be satisfied with whatever we get.

It sure would help if Minion M would tell us exactly WHEN he’s going to decide to be potty trained. If it’s one or two weeks from now, we could probably stay in the school, but we have no idea if it’ll be six days from now, or six months. Thus, the move.

I’m thinking it’ll be a temporary move. We can go back to their current school when M is fully potty trained, assuming they have room. I just worry that changing twice in a short amount of time is too much change, and that they’ll miss out on something while they’re gone.

I’m probably over-stressing about this. Whatever we do, it’ll be okay.

 

 

* There are some really, really, really awesome teachers out there! And we’re fortunate that the schools around us, especially the elementaries, are filled with great ones. But there are some bad ones out there. I know that for a fact, because I was one of them. I taught 9th grade world geography for two years, and was abysmal at it. One, geography? Boring! Two, I don’t have that drive to make kids who don’t want to learn, learn. Three, I wanted a job that ended when I went home (so I could write!), and good teachers work all the freaking time. In fact, I get pissed when people talk about how teaching is such a great gig because the kids go home by 3pm and they get the summers off. Many teachers work in the summer and, in most districts, attending a certain number of development classes is required. That doesn’t even count the planning teachers do in the summers. Or the money they spend. Heck, my mom, who taught 1st grade for around 25 years, spent a fortune on things for her kids and classroom. Seriously, a FORTUNE. And she was always working. Good teachers work their asses off.

** I’m overreacting a bit here. My area has good schools. My reasonable, level-headed self knows that, if a classroom wasn’t working out for one of my boys, the teachers and staff would do their best to find a solution that worked for everyone.

 

 

New Favorite TV Show: JUSTIFIED
Monday, August 4th, 2014

I’m super picky about TV and movies. It’s hard for me to sit through a two hour show, and even one hour or thirty minute shows have a difficult time catching my attention.

This last year, though, we stumbled across the TV superhero show, ARROW, on Netflix. It was actually really good. Super hero shows tend to be… well, super cheesey to me. I mean, HEROES started off well – save the cheerleader; save the world – but by season two, I was done with it. It turned ridiculous, and I didn’t want to waste my time, especially when I have books to write.

But the whole first season of ARROW was excellent. And there were so many episodes! It took us several months to watch the season, and when it was over, I missed it. And my husband and I were out of things to watch.

justifiedseasononeI asked for suggestions on my Facebook page. We tried out three or four shows – SCANDAL, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, HOUSE OF CARDS – before we tried JUSTIFIED.

We LOVE it!

My husband is usually the one who decides what we watch, mainly because I don’t pay much attention to what’s out there. We’d both heard good things about JUSTIFIED, but because he was convinced it was a western (based on the cowboy hat and the fact that it stars Timothy Olyphant from the most excellent show, DEADWOOD (I’m still oh so sad they never finished that show!)), we never tried it.

We were both surprised when we discovered it’s not a western. It’s set in the present day. The main character, Raylan Givens, is a U.S. Marshall with the personality of an old west, shoot-em-up-at-the-OK-Corral cowboy.

It’s like urban fantasy.

Urban fantasy takes paranormal beings and throws them into a modern day, real world setting.

Justified takes an old west cowboy and throws him into a modern day, real world setting.

The result is an awesome show.

I was worried around episode two or three, that the show was going to be too episodic and police procedural for me. I don’t like episodic and police procedural. That’s why I don’t watch any of the Law and Orders or CSIs. I need a story arc that continues over a season or more.

Justified does that. And as an author, I really freaking admire the writing in this show. Timothy Olyphant gets some great lines. So do the other characters, and I’m surprised by how often I laugh out loud while watching the drama. No slap stick comedy here. It’s all sarcasm, irony, and situational humor. Love. That.

Have you watched Justified? Are you caught up on the seasons? I’m looking forward to starting season two!

 

Killing Darlings Means You Get a Deleted Scene
Thursday, July 31st, 2014

kill your darlings I love the internet. It makes it easier to delete scenes from my books because they don’t have to be permanently gone.

I’m deleting the scene below from my WIP. It’s not a bad scene. I kind of like it, actually, because it shows the type of person Rykus is. But I’m not so sure it moves the plot forward any. So, I’m going to cut it.

Maybe.

Dang it, I’m already trying to talk myself into putting it back in the book. Maybe I NEED a scene showing what kind of person Rykus is. This is a snippet from his real job, his normal life, and not from the main plot of the book.

Well, obviously I need to think about this some more. But I’m still posting it here. Because I can. :-)

 

 

“Come in, soldier,” Rykus said.

Henel strode into his office, came to a brisk stop in front of his desk, and saluted again.

“At ease.”

“Requesting permission to speak freely, sir,” the kid said.

“Go ahead, Henel.”

“I know why I’m not on the list, sir.”

“Do you,” Rykus said, his voice monotone, his customary scowl in place.

“Yes, sir. And while I respect what you’re trying to do, sir, it’s wrong. I signed up for the Corps after my father’s death. I know the risk.”

He almost laughed at that. Few people on board the Obsidian knew exactly what they were preparing for. If they did, Rykus would be hearing a hell of a lot less bravado in the corridors. All they knew was that the Fighting Corps was planning for an op important enough for the war chancellor to come on board. Most probably suspected the anomaly in the brig was involved in some way, too, but the rumors circulating about Ash were about as accurate as the council’s shipyard schematic.

“The rest of my bunkmates are on the op, sir.” He blinked when a bead of sweat slid down his nose. “I can’t be the only one who stays behind.”

“Perhaps you’re not on the roster because you’ve been in the Fighting Corps for less than three years and you have zero combat experience.”

Henel opened his mouth, closed it, opened it and made a strangled noise before he shut it again. Obviously, he hadn’t thought about that. If he had, he would have looked at the other names on the roster and known that a good number of men and women were in the same standing as him, fledglings in the Corps.

But Henel was exactly right. Rykus omitted his name from the roster for purely personal reasons. He’d made two promises. The first was to his father above Gaeles Minor, just minutes before their dead ship rammed a Saricean vessel, killing everyone but Rykus. The second was months later, when he’d visited Tressa Henel to tell her that her husband had died bravely.

J. T. was their only child, and Tressa needed him to be safe.

Rykus’s artificial shoulder throbbed with the memory of that catastrophe. He should have died on that op the same as the others, but some fickle twist of fate had not only allowed him to survive, but had turned him into a fucking war hero.

“Sir,” Henel said. “If that’s the case-”

“I’ll put you on the roster, corporal,” Rykus cut him off. “You want combat experience, you’re going to get it.” And I sure as hell hope you live to regret it.

“Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best to-”

“You’re dismissed,” he said.

Henel snapped to attention, saluted, then did an about face and exited Rykus’s office.