Spring Is Here to Stay and Inner Beast Ch.1

Hello, world!

What have you been reading lately? Lydia Hope, I hope (pun very much intended – ha!), among other things. Actually, as an author, I wish to be one of your many favorites, not the only one. So you go read other voices and come back to mine, and go away and come back again, over and over. That’s how it works. That’s the beauty of the vast literary market – the variety, not monotony. Can you imagine the old times when the only few literate people were the monks, and the only few written works centered around topics that were quite dry and tragic? Dark times. Of course, as I am writing this, I get curious about the earliest example of written text. Turns out, the earliest one hails from Mesopotamia, and it was (a love story, you guess?) an accounting record of goods.

We live in truly miraculous times where you can read and read for the pleasure of it, and the stories only keep coming. As long as there are authors, there are stories, and as long as there are stories, you’re never alone.

This little philosophical passage neatly segues into sharing what I’ve been reading. Clearly I love to read; writers don’t appear in a vacuum. Readers have asked me to share my reviews, and I don’t know if I will in the sense of detailed accounts. I feel like I’m too close to the craft to stay in the reader-only lane. So I shall stick to generalizations. If I read the book, and it was immersive enough to overlook any and all snags, it’s a good book. That’s the most important quality – when you forget you’re reading. You are in the story.

I recently discovered K.A. Tucker and her contemporary Wild series, and I really liked the books even though they aren’t in my usual pick. Tucker’s writing makes the characters very real, like they’re your neighbors. Handsome buff MCs are always a plus! In the same vein but a totally different writing style and period, the -less medieval series (Age of Conquest) by Tamara Leigh flow beautifully (spoiler alert – they are slow burn to an irritating degree). Leigh truly brings medieval England to life. And speaking of medieval romance, I’m still holding out hope for book 4 in Elizabeth Kingston’s Welsh Blades series. I loved the first three. Lastly, I decided to revisit Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie series with The Seduction of Elliot Mackenzie which I haven’t read before, but my Kindle is about to die and I lost the charger.

So, while on the topic of reading, here’s a little more of Inner Beast. Remember when little Olivia got lost in the magical woods and met a strange boy who had a tail? Years went by, and she’s all grown up and has moved on with her life… or has she. As usual, thanks for reading!

Inner Beast - Chapter 1 
18 years later

  “When does he start?” 
  The bald head of the Trace Evidence Section’s supervisor Milton Shade reflected the overhead lights like a disco ball. The glare bounced off his crown and baked Olivia’s eyes. She wished he’d raise his face and direct the beam of light elsewhere, but he was stubbornly examining paperwork spread out on his desk. 
  He put a finger to his full lips to moisten it and flipped a page.
  “Today.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “In forty minutes.”
  “What?”
  Shade’s piggish eyes cut to her. “What’s what? In forty minutes. When he arrives, I’ll meet him at the lobby, bring him in, show him his desk. Yakkity yak. Introduce you. Then you can take him around.”
  “You want me to babysit him,” Olivia paraphrased.
  “Orientate him,” he corrected. He wouldn’t look at her.
  “Milton, you know I’m busy.”
  He bristled. “We’re all busy. It’s called work. And helping train new hires is in your job description.” He finally looked at her.
  Olivia’s eyes got a relief from the glare. She generally liked Milton Shade despite his atrocious personal hygiene and pathological aversion to technology. He knew the lab business back and forth and sideways, and was shrewd and savvy despite never obtaining a college degree. More importantly, he didn’t beat around the bush and treated his folks fairly. 
  “I have a ton of cases to do. The backlog, remember? We talked about it just yesterday.”
  “He’s gonna be the solution to your ton. He’ll share your load. And let me tell you, the guy’s a fucking wiz, pardon my French.”
  “He better be,” she murmured thinking whose shoes the new addition to their staff was going to fill.
Shade didn’t acknowledge her comment. “We’re very lucky to have gotten him. He, like, can sniff shit out. The stuff of legends. I’ve heard the Feds have a standing invitation for him at any of their labs, except he doesn’t want to move away from home. Something with his health.” 
  Shade leaned back in the chair and folded his hands over his gut. His tight shirt gaped between the buttons teasing Olivia with visions of doughy flesh covered with sparse dark body hair. Not a sight for the faint of heart.
  “What’s wrong with his health?”
  “You can ask him yourself in forty minutes. Don’t go far from your desk.” He pointed a finger at her in warning.
  Olivia made her way back to her cubicle past a large open area where white countertops sported an assortment of microscopes, spectrometers, chromatographs, and other tools of their trade. Alex, a fellow analyst, sat hunched over a vial rack gingerly dispensing chemicals with a small dropper. 
  Not for the first time Olivia noticed how empty the lab was, quite a change from five years ago when she had first started. They desperately needed people. It was childish of her to feel resentful toward the new guy joining their dwindling team. 
  Rounding the corner, she slowed down as she passed the second cubicle on the left. It stood so empty, its organized chaos cleaned out and the surfaces wiped with Clorox wipes in anticipation of a new occupant. She had personally helped sort through all the old files, handwritten notes, silly trinkets, and other junk that had accumulated over years and years of dedicated service in forensics. 
  It had been a month, and she still couldn’t believe that Brian was gone. He had been her mentor since her first day on the job when she, still an intern, had been assigned to sort the evidence kits brought in by officers from various crime scenes.
  A boisterous jokester, he taught her so much about her work, and about life. She’d fallen a little in love with him, the old ex-marine who to his dying day retained a ramrod-straight posture and can-do attitude. He should have had so many more years ahead of him… but cancer didn’t discriminate.
  Trying to imagine some other guy sitting at Brian’s desk and typing away on Brian’s keyboard was painful. 
  Olivia went to her cubicle and busied herself with work to avoid thinking too much about her dear friend and about how life was moving on without him. Now was not a good time to start crying. She was due to meet and greet Brian’s replacement in just a few, and doing it with tears in her eyes would be awkward. 
  As usual, work helped, and time lapsed quickly while she put together data for a case she was processing. She heard Shade coming well before she could see him. He spoke in a booming voice, roared with laughter, wheezed, coughed, stomped his feet, and generally gave an impression that a demonstration of angry protesters was nearing her cubicle. 
  Olivia rose to her feet, suddenly nervous. 
  “Here we are!” Shade exclaimed as he barreled inside the tight enclosure. He hadn’t expected her to be standing, so he nearly rammed his oversized belly into hers. Olivia hastily took a step backward, stumbled, and plopped back into her chair while Shade gripped the partition to stop his momentum. The partition shook, and, being attached to other partitions, spread the shaking in a chain reaction that reverberated up and down the room like a moderate magnitude earthquake. Other analysts’ heads popped up above the partitions like African meerkats to see what the commotion was about.
  And then the other guy glided into view. It was ridiculous, really, how Shade’s haphazard entrance contrasted with the smooth, unhurried way the new analyst carried himself into the area. As she rose again to her feet, Olivia’s brain processed her first glimpse of him: above average height, slim to the point of gauntness, very pale. Glasses. And a man bun.
  The bun was what broke her momentary awkwardness exacerbated by Shade’s idiotic clumsiness. The guy was just a kid. About her own age to be exact, but a kid compared to Brian. Somehow, this fact helped calm her.
  She stuck her hand out. “Hi. I’m Olivia.”
  He reached out to clasp her hand in a handshake with the same cat-like grace that appeared totally unhurried.
  “Daxton. Dax. Pleased to meet you, Olivia.”
  His handshake was brief and warm. She didn’t know why she was surprised at the warmness - perhaps his cadaver-like paleness gave her wrong ideas. She peered closer. Sure, nobody’s complexion looked particularly glowing under the harsh lights of a forensic lab, but this Dax guy would fit right in with the coroner’s next door.
  “So, welcome onboard,” Shade said and made some snorting noises. He shifted his weight from one foot to another and his old cowboy boots creaked. Or maybe it was his knees. “I’ll leave it up to Liv to take you around. She’s got you covered. Once you’re done touring, come to my office and we’ll discuss assignments.”  Before he left, he turned to Olivia. “But not before lunch. I’ll be in that stupid meeting about the changes in collection forms. Damn waste of time, if you ask me.”
  “Okay.” Olivia was careful not to show any sympathy toward the issue for fear of sending Shade into one of his foul-mouthed rants about bureaucracy. No doubt Dax would have plenty of opportunities to hear it later, but why smear his first day?
  After Shade departed, she turned to her new co-worker. “Well, this is my cubicle where I toil over reports and emails. Let me show you yours so you can put your things there.” She pointed at his backpack.
  “Thank you.” He nodded politely. He was looking around with curiosity, and Olivia wondered what his first impression was of their facility. 
  Their lab provided services to Georgia’s law enforcement community. On the national scale it wasn’t the biggest, or the most state-of-the art, but they were sizable enough and well equipped. The people were their greatest asset. Of course, they didn’t have enough of them at the moment, but the ones they had were all exceptional. The cream of the crop. Shade was a picky employer. 
  Once he sat his backpack down, Olivia introduced Dax to Helen, a transplant from the British Isles, tall and thin, kind of like him only tanned. Next was Matthew who refused to go by Matt and wore a knit hat even in July. After Matthew came Ms. Dew, big as a house and with an old-fashioned sunny personality. She loved food and made no secret about it. 
  “Dax. I love your name! It is an old family name?”
  “Not that I’m aware.”
  “Does it have a special meaning?”
  “It does to me, Ms. Dew.” Dax’s nose wrinkled in a funny way, making Olivia focus on this part of his face. 
  He had a peculiar nose, sensual. Straight and fairly short, it sloped down with no noticeable ridge and ended in a chiseled tip. When he wrinkled it, his thin flared nostrils quivered and that little fence underneath that separated the nostrils clearly showed. 
  “Oh, I’ve got to look it up. How about I’ll find out and tell you?”
  “I’m looking forward to what you find out.”
  “Consider it done.” Ms. Dew turned around and snapped open the lid on a plastic tray. “In the meantime, I’ve got something to keep y’all’s spirits up.” She displayed a tray of one-bite cupcakes domed with neon green icing. She turned around slowly to let everyone who was gathered around admire her creations before she pushed the tray into Dax’s face. “Have a couple, do. Lunch isn’t soon yet.”
  Taken aback, he stared at the cupcakes from behind his glasses. Olivia got a distinct impression that Dax didn’t have a sweet tooth. Either that or the saturated lime green wasn’t his color. 
  He smiled then, and something flashed in his eyes. Humor?
  “They look delicious, Ms. Dew, but I can’t have any. I’m on a diet.”
  Ms. Dew gave his beanpole-thin frame a doubtful once-over. “No kidding.” 
  Popping one into her mouth, green icing and all, Olivia steered Dax out of the cubicle area into the lab.
  “This is the main hub. Pretty much all the equipment we use is here, as I’m sure you can see. Have you worked in trace evidence before?” It was a rhetorical question. Shade had told her so, and that Dax was good. How good they’d soon see.
  He nodded absently and took a peek into a microscope. “For the last few years I worked for a private lab here in Atlanta. Before that I worked for a sheriff’s department doing crime scene investigations. I still like to go sometimes.”
  Olivia felt like a heads-up was in order. “Well, we don’t go. Cops don't appreciate lab folk trampling all over their crime scenes. We stay here and look into the microscopes.”
  He gave her a brief smile. “They will still appreciate me going.”
  “Oh, okay.”
  He was full of crap. 
  They slowly moved around until they reached the spot where Alex was sitting. As usual, Alex was a sight to see. The left half of her head was smoothly shaved. The right half sported short mahogany locks chopped at different lengths and styled in stiff angry spikes.
  Alex turned at their approach and watched them with big soulful eyes and a smirk on her face. 
  “Goody,” Alex murmured before Olivia had had a chance to speak. “Shade has brought in big guns.”
  “This is Alex,” Olivia interjected smoothly. “Anything weird, spooky, or high-tech – Alex can handle it. Anything that doesn’t make sense at all. Making sense of the weirdness is our Alex’s specialty.”
  Dax just smiled. “Hi, Alex.”
  Alex gave him a bored look. “Hi. Welcome to the madhouse.” She gave them a lazy wave with fingers encased in a purple glove, and turned back to work. 
  “I wouldn’t describe this place as a madhouse,” Olivia felt compelled to clarify once they moved out of Alex’s earshot. “This place can be crazy busy, but it’s pretty structured. Everything has its place, and everyone does what they’re supposed to. That’s how we stay on top.”
  He looked at her, and Olivia suddenly got flustered. Did he have to have such intense eyes? And he was standing too close.
  “Do you like it better structured?”
  “I do, and I suggest you do, too. That’s the only way to stay afloat in the workload that never ends.” She knew she sounded patronizing and testy, but his obvious analysis of her person rankled. 
  He must’ve understood how she felt, for he switched his attention to a place at the counter where a stack of evidence kits and documentation was piled up sky- high. “What do you do?”
  Olivia blew out a long breath. “A little bit of everything. I specialize in fiber analysis and dyes, but nowadays I pick up work where it’s needed, from hairs to gun powder residue to paint. I get additional training and go for it.” She eyed again the pile of requests on the counter. “I think I’m about to start doing physical matches,” she muttered under her breath.
  The cluttered spot belonged to Randy who was conspicuously absent. He’d called in earlier, supposedly because of stomach issues. Maybe so, but Olivia suspected Randy was suffering from a case of another debilitating hangover. Ever since his wife had left him a year ago, Randy’s life was slowly but surely making its way toward the rock bottom. For a while, Randy had managed to keep his troubles private, but inevitably they started spilling into his work. He was often late. He fell behind on his cases. He became sloppy with analysis. Olivia had to cover for his oversights more than once, and she knew she wasn’t the only one who did it for him out of loyalty and pity. 
  “What did the guy I’m replacing do?” Dax asked casually. 
  Olivia paused. Damn, but he was perceptive. “Gun powder residue and explosives.” She left it at that, not wanting to discuss Brian with him.
  “Hmm…” His nostrils fluttered as he drew in a subtle breath. “Can’t say these two are my top skills, but I’d do them if you asked me to…” 
  Was he flirting with her? She didn’t think so, but the subtle something in his tone put her on alert. 
  “I’m sure Shade has plans for you. It’s not up to me to assign your work.” Here, that should give him plenty of hint that she intended for their interactions to be strictly professional. He would get her drift, too, seeing as he was so perceptive.  “Let’s go see the intake area.”
  All business, she introduced him to the intake personnel and explained how they logged cases and specimens, what to do if he needed to return evidence as improperly preserved, and who to contact for what type of inquiry. Then they sat down at Brian’s – now his – computer where she helped him navigate to the programs they used. She called in requests to have his access privileges assigned and generally had him squared away and ready to be productive. 
  Lunch time arrived, and though Olivia wasn’t hungry, she imagined Dax needed to eat. She rose from her chair positioned snugly next to his in the tight cubicle.
  “I think that’s all for now. When you get back from lunch, you can go straight to Shade’s office. Do you have any questions?”
  He looked up at her, and his sitting position gave her a kick. He really was tall. He had been towering over her during their entire tour, and for some reason she had found it offensive. She cursed Shade for springing Dax on her out of the blue and upsetting her routine. She wanted to be in control of the situation. She was in control, dammit. 
  But when he looked up at her from behind his light-adaptive glasses with knowing eyes, and did that quivering thing with his nose like he could sniff out her insecurities, she felt her control slip. 
  “I don’t have any questions. You explained everything perfectly.” His tone was even. “I do have an answer for you, though.”
  “To what question?” She didn’t remember asking any.
  “Alex is a girl.”
  Olivia sputtered. “Now, this isn’t appropriate. I never asked and I don’t really care. It’s their business and we shouldn’t…”
  “Hey. I’m not passing judgment. You were wondering.”
  “I wasn’t…” But she was. Goaded and embarrassed - was she that obvious? - Olivia put her hands on her sides. “And how do you know? What kind of special powers do you have that told you so?”
  He rose, and just like that she shrunk. Up close his pale skin looked smooth and taut. He gave her a small smile that looked almost feral. “I can smell it. How else?”
  Mouth open, Olivia stared at his tall form as it glided past her toward the door and disappeared in the hallway.

4 thoughts on “Spring Is Here to Stay and Inner Beast Ch.1

  1. Darn, I wanted to keep reading ! 😉 I hope you share more of this story again – would love to see what happens next with Dax and Olivia. I’m guessing fate has brought them back together!

    Like

  2. Thank you for this snippet and for your Book recommendations.
    I liked K.A. Tucker’s wild series and will give the other authors a look.
    One problem with kindle is you get type cast as a reader. You read a book about alien romance so it serves up only alien romance… I actually like books that are perceptive, imaginative and well written more than anything else. Although I do hate the fated mates trope as the ultimate in lazy storyline plotting and character development.

    I am really really looking forward to the sequels of homebound and planet zero hence haunting your blog.
    Thank you again.

    Like

  3. Love this little snippet! Thanks for sharing. I am finishing up Planet Zero for the second time, along with starting the Dark Tower series again. Looking forward to your next book, but please don’t take this as a push to hurry! Whenever it comes or whatever it is about : )!

    Like

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