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Listen Up: The Quantum Solution Playlist by Eric Van Lustbader!

The Quantum SolutionEvan Ryder is an extraordinary intelligence field agent now working for the security arm of Parachute, a private company and the world’s leader in the application of quantum technology. In the past, Ryder has done lethal battle in the modern global wars of power politics, extremist ideology, corrosive disinformation, and outrageous greed. But now she finds herself in a battle arena whose dangers, while less obvious, are greater than anything the world has seen before – the present and future war of weaponized quantum technology.

When an elite Russian scientist and the American Secretary of Defense die, at the same time half a world apart, of inexplicable sudden catastrophic brain damage, the world’s intelligence services realize that the quantum war has truly begun. Ryder and her long-time partner, Ben Butler, will risk their lives to discover who the true combatants are, racing against the doomsday scenario of all-out war between America and Russia.

Eric Van Lustbader is giving Evan Ryder fans everything they want in The Quantum Solution, the fourth action-packed installment of this pulse-pounding series. And he’s put together the perfect soundtrack to listen to as you dive in to this hot summer thriller. Check out Eric’s hand-picked playlist here!

video soruce


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Excerpt Reveal: The Quantum Solution by Eric Van Lustbader

The Quantum SolutionEvan Ryder is back, and in deadly peril, in The Quantum Solution, the fourth heart-stopping installment of this enthralling series by master thriller writer and New York Times bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader.

Evan Ryder is an extraordinary intelligence field agent now working for the security arm of Parachute, a private company and the world’s leader in the application of quantum technology. In the past, Ryder has done lethal battle in the modern global wars of power politics, extremist ideology, corrosive disinformation, and outrageous greed. But now she finds herself in a battle arena whose dangers, while less obvious, are greater than anything the world has seen before – the present and future war of weaponized quantum technology.

When an elite Russian scientist and the American Secretary of Defense die, at the same time half a world apart, of inexplicable sudden catastrophic brain damage, the world’s intelligence services realize that the quantum war has truly begun. Ryder and her long-time partner, Ben Butler, will risk their lives to discover who the true combatants are, racing against the doomsday scenario of all-out war between America and Russia.

The Quantum Solution will be available on May 9th, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Far off, the Sea of Marmara was a sheet of beaten brass, but closer to the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn was churning with packed ferries, net-laden fishing boats, pleasure craft of all sizes and shapes carrying wide-eyed tourists, looking wide-eyed, always looking. But upon closer examination, in among the sleek yachts one could make out smaller craft that were battered, torn by high seas and storms, crowded not with tourists at all, but Syrian refugees fleeing destruction, fire, and famine, yearning, clinging to whatever life awaited them, hoping to scratch out an existence in Istanbul’s alleys, byways, and criminal dens. Southwest of the Horn, in Muğra and Bodrum, the summer’s seemingly endless conflagrations had finally burned themselves out, leaving the kind of destruction all too familiar to those exhausted refugees.

Istanbul. One leg in Asia, the other in Europe. And yet Istanbul was neither Asian nor European in character, but something all its own. Overrun by the ancient Greeks, then the Roman legions, fierce, invincible, the leaders renaming it Byzantium until it was taken by force by the Ottomans, fiercer still, unafraid to die. In one way or another the city possessed attributes of all its conquerors. Even becoming part of the newly formed Turkish Republic in 1923 did nothing to rub the rough edges off the palimpsest of Istanbul’s disordered history.

All of this had rushed at Evan Ryder the moment she returned to the city she loved and hated in equal measure. Over the time she had been in harness to the world of espionage death had ridden her shoulders almost every day and night she spent in this splendid metropolis. Now, back again, she wended her way down a narrow side street near the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque in Tophane. After passing a tinsmith’s shop and a storefront showcasing rugs for wholesale export, she pushed through a discreet door and entered a hammam. Fragrant wood, mineral stone, old, from the time of the Ottomans. Historic, but hidden away from the tourists, unknown to the guidebooks. For Turks only. Almost.

After being divested of her clothes, she was given a peshtemal—a thin cotton towel—by her natir—her female attendant—a short, powerful Turk of indeterminate age with dark skin and an unexpected softness. Evan was, after all, a ferengi. A foreigner. She was then taken to the temperate chamber, domed, skylit stars sprinkled around its crown, where she was dutifully washed, scrubbed, massaged. The chamber was lined with mosaics laid during the reign of Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman sultan, the tiles telling a kind of story in Arabic, if you knew the language and took the time to pick your way across the letters. After an hour she was shown the way to the heated baths.

There she found Lyudmila Shokova waiting for her, soaking in a far corner, away from three other women enjoying the heat with washcloths folded over their eyes and foreheads. Beautiful, striking Lyudmila, her long legs extended, crossed at her trim ankles. Blond, ice-blue-eyed, she would not have been out of place on the runways of Paris or Milan. Lyudmila, who had once risen through the ranks of the FSB until she was elevated to become the first female member of the Politburo. Lyudmila, who had cultivated her power within the elite governing body to the point where she became a perceived danger to the Sovereign himself. Fleeing Russia just ahead of the purge, seeding clues of her death behind her. Now she ran the largest and most sophisticated anti-Russian network in the world.

The two women kissed in the European fashion, briefly stared into each other’s eyes, touched foreheads in private celebration of their reunion.

“How is your first year with Marsden Tribe?” Lyudmila asked as Evan settled beside her.

“You know how it went.”

“Ah, yes. But underneath. Where even angels like me are blind.”

Evan waited a moment, the steam from the water a thin, twining mist between them. “He likes me.”

“Ah.”

“Nothing has happened.”

“Yet.” She swung her head, her damp hair slapping her shoulders, left, right. “Watch out for him.”

To this Evan said nothing. So. Time to move on.

“I’ve made a dangerous move,” Lyudmila said so softly Evan had to take a moment to process the sound into words. “Someone in a very secret section of the service—” She meant the Russian intelligence services, FSB or GRU, maybe. “—he did a very stupid thing. He called out his superior for a mistake—a serious mistake—that would set the program back at least a year. His opinion. Marius Ionescu.”

“A Romanian.”

“Extraction. Russian born and bred. But I believed him when he reached out to one of my contacts. I believe him even more now.”

“So now this Marius Ionescu is my problem?”

“No. Not at all. Oh, well, peripherally maybe. But, no, I’m taking care of Ionescu. But . . .”

“But what?”

Her hand covered Evan’s, squeezing it with some urgency. And Evan thought, She’s vulnerable. For the first time since she disappeared from Moscow she’s vulnerable. A quicksilver shiver of fear lanced through her.

“We’re friends,” Lyudmila whispered, leaning close. “More than friends.” Wreathed in mist and sweat. “Sisters. Under the skin.”

“Of course we are.” Evan would not refute her. Anyway, she was too busy wondering what this was all about.

Lyudmila relaxed visibly but her eyes turned inward. Always full of surprises. “In the days of Abdul Hamid he had of course a harem. The last sultan so the last harem in Istanbul, in all of the Empire. Before Turkey was Turkey. Not all the women in the harem saw Abdul Hamid let alone were led to his bedchamber at night. No. But these women longed to be gözde—in the eye—noticed by the sultan. Once to be desired. Now to be feared.”

Lyudmila turned a little, the heated water stirring, eddying languorously out from her.

“After being ‘dead’ for so long,” she continued, “I am now gözde. In the eye of the Sovereign.”

Evan was shaken. This was bad. Very bad. “But why would you take such a chance?”

“As I said, I took him,” Lyudmila said. “I have Ionescu. And I will keep him.”

Evan spread her hands, droplets of water running down her wrists. “That is the foolish thing. Offering him sanctuary.”

“In a way I had no choice.”

“Becoming gözde. For him. Is he that important?”

Lyudmila’s eyes clouded for a moment, once again turning inward. Then her direct gaze returned, spotlit on Evan. “Marius Ionescu is a particle physicist of the first rank. He was second-in-command of Directorate KV. Embedded in the GRU.”

“So military.”

Lyudmila nodded. “Yes. But.”

Evan shook her head. “I’ve never heard of Directorate KV.”

“You see?” Lyudmila took a breath. “Directorate KV. Shorthand for kvant.” Her eyes slid away for a moment. Uncharacteristic. At last she came to the point. “Kvant, a very singular particle of energy. Quantum.”

Evan stared at her. “Full circle. We’re now back to Marsden Tribe.”

“Perhaps,” Lyudmila said, her voice softened like butter in sunlight. “Peripherally. I don’t know. Yet.” She moved closer so their foreheads touched. Lowered her voice even further. “I was forced to take a calculated risk. Ionescu is that important. But in spiriting him away I exposed myself. Now the Sovereign knows I’m alive and well.” Her eyes searched Evan’s. “They’ve put a black flag out on me.”

Black flag. A death warrant. What did she want? Help? Sympathy? Something else altogether, hidden from Evan. That was Lyudmila’s way, despite their deep and abiding friendship.

“They?” Evan said.

“The GRU. But of course with the Sovereign’s blessing.”

“The GRU. But of course with the Sovereign’s blessing.”

“Because I am still alive, he hates me. Because I gathered to myself so much power in so little time, he fears me.”

“It seems to me,” Evan said, “that hate and fear are the same thing. Especially in this circumstance.” She frowned. “But why the GRU? What he’s ordering is an SVR remit.”

Lyudmila’s pale eyes glittered. “The Sovereign assigned a certain GRU officer, once captain, now major, to track me down and kill me. As to why, it’s a story old as time.”

“She’s the Sovereign’s mistress?”

“One of,” Lyudmila said. “Her name is Juliet Danilovna Korokova. But in any case it won’t be easy. She’s a very nasty piece of work.”

“You know her?”

“By proxy only. But I know a great deal about her. Enough anyway to beg you not to underestimate her. Whatever it seems she can do—be assured it’s ten times worse. And now of course she has the Sovereign’s imprimatur. Everything is open to her. Virtually all resources.”

Evan considered for a moment. “So. Another thing I must know. How tightly is Korokova bound to the Sovereign?”

“She is kadife,” Lyudmila replied. “Velvet, directly translated. But not its meaning. In the parlance of the Ottomans she is his favorite.” This unsettled Lyudmila more than Evan could ever know. Some things were too vital—secrets cut too close to Lyudmila’s bones.

The steam rose more thickly now, making it difficult to see the other side of the pool, let alone the series of blue translucent windows rimming the inverted bowl of the space.

“Have you any more intel on this Major Korokova?”

“I’ll send what little Alyosha Ivanovna has been able to scrape together to the sandbox on your mobile.”

A line of sweat ran down the side of Evan’s face. “Does she have any leads as to your whereabouts?”

Lyudmila’s head swiveled. “You’re asking if there’s a leak in my cadre.”

Evan nodded. “That would be my initial concern.” Droplets plopped into the water, one by one. “Especially since you’ve incorporated von Kleist into your scheme.”

“He’s the leak, you mean.”

“Or one of his people.”

“He has no people within my cadre. Apart from his daughter, and during your time in Nuremberg last year you got to know Ghislane better than I do.”

“She’s not the leak,” Evan said firmly.

“Neither is von Kleist.” Lyudmila spread her hands. “He’s currently in Zurich, working his own patch. I’ve never let him near the heart of my organization. He’s peripheral.”

Evan waited, but when it became evident there would be nothing more forthcoming, she sighed. So there’s another explanation, she thought. She closed her eyes. Bones jellied, the heat relaxing all her muscles, the steam warming her insides as her breathing slowed. Drowsiness descended.

Lyudmila drifted, and into her loosened mind came an image of Bobbi Ryder. Bobbi Ryder, now known as Kata Hemakova, had defected five years ago. The FSB had worked their magic so that everyone—even most within the FSB—believed Bobbi to be dead. That included her sister, Evan. Kata was a stone-cold psychopath. Someone who loved the kill—lived for it if Lyudmila was any judge. But Kata had been invaluable; she was Lyudmila’s mole inside the FSB. And what a successful mole she had turned out to be, working her way up the hierarchy—no small thing for a female, especially one who did not use sex to advance her career. She had cleverly and systematically exterminated everyone in her path until now she reported directly to Minister Darko Kusnetsov, head of FSB.

One of the women on the other side of the pool slowly morphed into Kata. Lyudmila imagined the catastrophic encounter—Kata staring at them, gimlet-eyed, hatred stirring her until the moment Evan locked eyes on her, recognized her as Bobbi, the sister she thought dead and buried. Kata, reacting to the recognition in Evan’s eyes, launched herself through the water, clawed hands at the ready. The idea of Evan becoming aware of Bobbi’s continued existence working for the Russians, the possibility of Kata meeting Evan were unthinkable; the two sisters would destroy each other, there could be no other outcome. Lyudmila would move heaven and earth to prevent that from occurring.

Across the pool, two of the women, sisters possibly, removed their washcloths, climbed out of the water. Wrapped in oversized towels, they disappeared through the arched stone doorway.

A ripple lapped against Evan’s chest, and she opened her eyes to slits. The cloth over the eyes of the remaining woman had fallen into the water. Evan could make out smaller ripples arcing away from the spot when it had hit the surface. How such little things could affect you when you were in still water. The slightest movement . . .

That was when the woman across the pool canted over, slipped facefirst into the water. It took a moment for Evan to react, as if the heat had made her sluggish. She pushed off, using more effort than usual, not that that occurred to her in the moment, though it should have. Halfway across, she faltered. An acrid odor scraped the back of her throat. Her nostrils dilated. In the back of her mind a warning alarm sounded, but it was dampened by the mist coming off the water. She awoke sputtering and coughing water out of her mouth, pulled her head up from the water. How had that happened? She could have drowned.

Struggling forward was like dragging herself through quicksand, but at last she reached the woman, hauled her back out of the water. But two fingers to her carotid confirmed she was already dead. Overcome by vertigo, Evan sank down again under the water. Her limbs seemed to be all but useless. With a jerk of terrified consciousness she whipped her head and upper torso out of the water. Sucked in the thick air in convulsive breaths. But that only increased the burning in her throat. And then her brain registered the noxious smell, and, with a soft cry, she turned, made her way back the way she had come.

Lyudmila’s eyes were closed when Evan reached her, her breathing dangerously slow. She was about to slip under the water. Evan caught her in her armpits, drew her back up so that the back of her head rested against the lip of the pool.

“Lyudmila.” Used one hand to slap her hard across the face. “Lyudmila! For Christ’s sake, wake up!” And again, even harder this time, leaving a white imprint that soon turned pink as blood rushed in under her skin.

But the physical actions somehow caused Evan to lose whatever focus she’d had. She hung onto Lyudmila, her forehead resting against the hollow of her friend’s shoulder. Her thoughts were clouded. She tried to string one to another but she seemed to be lost inside her own mind. A darkness, sticky as tar, curled around the periphery of her vision. She tried to lick her lips but her tongue refused to move. The inside of her mouth had dried up.

In desperation she pinched the inside of her arm, rolled the skin around, then dug a nail in. Drawing her own blood had a startling effect on her. Her eyes opened wide and she resisted the urge to suck in more air. Instead she held her breath. Then, bending into the water, fingers interlaced, she took a grip on Lyudmila’s bottom, shoved her as far out of the water as she could manage. A soft pulsing had started up behind her eyes, and she realized she was feeling the pumping of her blood.

She rested her head against Lyudmila’s belly until she could catch her breath. But she started, knowing she couldn’t take a breath—not one more. She had to pretend that she was under water. No oxygen until she could surface.

Pushing and shoving, she finally got Lyudmila all the way out of the pool. But then her strength failed her. Even her iron determination seemed paralyzed. Her head nodded; the water was rising. Or she was falling toward it.

Just as her nose pierced the skin of the pool she felt a lurch upward, a fierce tugging as Lyudmila hauled her out. Together, staggering, lurching, once going down on their knees, the two women made their way to the circumference of the room. Evan’s fingers, feeling like sausages about to burst their skin, fumbled with the old-fashioned lock, swung the metal clasp free. Together, they lifted the window, shot their heads and shoulders into the cold clean air, took gasping breaths deep inside them, working the oxygen in and the gas that had filled the pool room out.

“What . . . what?” Lyudmila finally gasped. Her voice had deepened an octave.

“Ether.” Evan’s voice, too, was deeper, ragged, almost a rasp. Her throat felt scoured, as if she had been forced to swallow a mouthful of iron filings. She coughed. “Crude but effective.”

“Very Russian,” Lyudmila said a bit breathlessly.

Evan leaned further over the thick stone sill and heaved while Lyudmila held her hair back from her face. “Just like high school,” Evan said thickly. Her face was pale, washed out.

“Yours maybe,” Lyudmila said. “Not mine.”

Evan took several minutes to breathe in prana, oxygenating her lungs and bloodstream, expelling the last of the ghastly ether. At length, she turned her head and looked at Lyudmila. “This the major’s doing?”

“Korokova.” Lyudmila nodded grimly. “Juliet Danilovna Korokova.”


Click below to pre-order your copy of The Quantum Solution, coming May 9th, 2023!

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Q&A with Eric Van Lustbader, Author of Omega Rules

Want to know more about New York Times bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader and his new book Omega Rules? Keep reading to see his answers to all of our burning questions!


What’s your favorite place to write about?

I’d have to say Istanbul. It’s the nexus point of Europe and Asia, East and West. It’s exotic, on the water, with many beautiful places to set scenes. Plus, it has a long history of being a hotbed for spies of all nationalities.

What’s your preferred method for writing? Do you handwrite or type?

I write my notes by hand, never on the computer. No idea why; it just feels right. Also, now that I think about it, a number of scene ideas come to me right after the lights go out for the night and I have to scribble on the notepad that’s always by my bedside. As for the drafts themselves, always on the computer.

What’s your favorite cure for writer’s block?

Honestly, I’ve never had writer’s block, per se. I will say there are times when I can’t quite see a scene in my mind. Can’t write it until the images crystalize.

What song/album/musical artist inspires you?

Oh, so many. Having spent a decade in the music business I’ve never stopped listening to music when I write. I remember years ago playing “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush over and over while I finished the last 30 pages of a Nicholas Linenar novel. That was fun! These days I listen to new acts all the time: The Anchoress, Public Memory, Beach House, Hatchie, Miley Cyrus. And, of course, Depeche Mode remixes. Depends on my mood and the type of scene I’m writing.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

When I was in the music business one of the people I interviewed was Keith Reid, the lyricist for Procol Harum (fun fact. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is one of the few singles to have sold over 10 million copies. When I asked Keith what motivated him to write, he said, “Despair.”  My version of that is: “Write about what frightens you the most.”

What’s the book you’ve read the most?

The Night Manager by John Le Carre.

What’s the first book you remember buying?

The Magus by John Fowles

What’s been the most surprising place you’ve visited on a book tour?

That would be Perth, Australia, hands down. One gorgeous place. But the entire Australian book tour was simply amazing, mainly because of the Aussies themselves who were without exception warm, welcoming, and great fun to be with. I would love to go back and see the friends I made there.

Favorite way to unwind indoors?

Reading fiction, of course!


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$2.99 eBook Sale: Gone to Dust and The Nemesis Manifesto

The eBook editions of Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman and The Nemesis Manifesto by Eric Van Lustbader are on sale for the month of April for only $2.99 each!


Gone to DustAbout Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman:

A brutal crime. The ultimate cover-up. How do you solve a murder with no useable evidence?

Private detective Nils Shapiro is focused on forgetting his ex-wife and keeping warm during another Minneapolis winter when a former colleague, neighboring Edina Police Detective Anders Ellegaard, calls with the impossible.

Suburban divorcee Maggie Somerville was found murdered in her bedroom, her body covered with the dust from hundreds of emptied vacuum cleaner bags, all potential DNA evidence obscured by the calculating killer.

Digging into Maggie’s cell phone records, Nils finds that the most frequently called number belongs to a mysterious young woman whose true identity could shatter the Somerville family–but could she be guilty of murder?

After the FBI demands that Nils drop the case, Nils and Ellegaard are forced to take their investigation underground, where the case grows as murky as the contents of the vacuum cleaner bags. Is this a strange case of domestic violence or something with far reaching, sinister implications?

Click here to order your copy!

About The Nemesis Manifesto by Eric Van Lustbader:

The Nemesis ManifestoRussian meddling, American fragmentation, and global politics collide in this action-packed, international thriller.

Evan Ryder is a lone wolf, a field agent for a black-ops arm of the DOD, who has survived unspeakable tragedy and dedicated her life to protecting her country. When her fellow agents begin to be systematically eliminated, Evan must unravel the thread that ties them all together…and before her name comes up on the kill list.

The list belongs to a mysterious cabal known only as Nemesis, a hostile entity hell-bent on tearing the United States apart. As Evan tracks them from Washington D.C. to the Caucasus Mountains, from Austria to a fortress in Germany where her own demons reside, she unearths a network of conspirators far more complex than anyone could have imagined. Can Evan uproot them before Nemesis forces bring democracy to its knees?

Click here to order your copy!

This sale ends on 4/30/2022 at 11:59 pm ET.

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Excerpt: Omega Rules by Eric Van Lustbader

Omega RulesEvan Ryder returns to uncover an international conspiracy against American democracy in this white-knuckle new thriller, Omega Rules, by New York Times bestselling author, Eric Van Lustbader.

Evan Ryder was once a field agent for a black-ops arm of the Department of Defense. Now she works for Parachute, a cutting-edge quantum-computing firm whose private espionage network exceeds any government spy agency. But her mission remains the same: seek out and destroy Omega, a fanatical global cult intent on destroying democracy. The fight against Omega has already cost Evan dearly but she will not stop until she has torn out the conspiracy by its roots, no matter the risk.

In Omega Rules, the assassination of a Parachute agent in Vienna sets Evan on a dangerous, world-wide hunt for answers and on a collision course with forces so powerful they may be beyond her abilities to annihilate.

Omega Rules  will be available on May 24th, 2022. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


Prologue

Vienna, Austria

Armistad was in the cemetery when the hammer came down. He’d been expecting it, sooner or later, but still . . . It happened very quickly, which, now that it had begun, was a blessing, as his assignment was at an end. During this last week in Vienna, he’d come here at the same time each weekday. In field agent terms it was sloppiness, at least to an outsider. To him, it was an invitation, and in Armistad’s line of work, the opposition never passed up an invitation. They might have held second thoughts except, having anticipated his Vienna endgame, he’d spent increasing time with Sofia, a definite vulnerability for a field agent. During the previous weeks he’d packed on a few extra pounds just to complete the picture of boredom and incipient indolence.

Now his meticulous preparations were about to bear fruit; he’d drawn out the opposition at last.

He’d been drifting through the narrow leaf-strewn path between the iron grave markers of drowning victims and those denied a Christian burial. Forgotten in life, hidden in death. Despite being so near the Danube, the Friedhof der Namenlosen cemetery was difficult to find along Alberner Hafenzufahrtsstrasse, squeezed as it was between the Alberner canal and a looming building materials storehouse with its signature triple yellow silos, visible through the miserable stand of willowy tree trunks. The grass at the entrance was unmowed, patchy as a mangy dog’s flanks.

He liked to come here at dusk when the shadows were long and the air melancholy with the ghostly voices of the unremarked dead. Not that Armistad believed in ghosts or any such paranormal claptrap. Still, he had to admit the silence within this cemetery was different from all others he’d visited, completely undisturbed by the noises of the city. Despite the intimate proximity of the industrial complex, it was almost palpable, lying against his skin like a drift of leaves.

Armistad loved cemeteries, loved their silence, their proximity to eternity. Within their grounds he could think perfectly clearly, could parse the events of the day, set them into the framework of the past week, consider his progress, the advances along with the missed opportunities.

During this time, he found the voices of the dead helpful, wise as they were, outside time and the fretfulness of human existence. They gave him perspective, the ability to turn off the constant torrent of minutia he was trained to glean from his environment. Wedded to Parachute, a massive corporation even by the standards of the gig economy, he was on the surface indistinguishable from a field agent in the employ of any clandestine government agency.

But the truth was Parachute was an animal of an altogether different nature and working for it was a blessing for someone like Armistad, who could not abide bureaucracy and the fools who made it their life’s work. Parachute was richer, more powerful, and far more influential than any government on earth. Its internal patterns, rules, and code of ethics were set by Marsden Tribe, the company’s founder, himself an eccentric. He had over a million avid Twitter followers; often his tweets moved the equities markets.

It was through his eccentricities that he created the revolutionary breakthroughs in quantum computing that formed the foundation of the present company. Before Tribe quantum computers needed to be cryogenic, using qubits requiring a temperature of around-460 degrees Fahrenheit to operate, a lethal environment for humans. Somehow Tribe got his quantum computers to work at thirty degrees Fahrenheit, moving an infinite number of qubits one hundred times faster than all those lagging him in the field. This was the first in a long line of proprietary breakthroughs. In other words, Tribe had ensured for Parachute a wide and unassailable business moat. Subscriptions to its online software suites were in ultra-high demand by the largest, deep-pocketed corporations across the globe; Tribe refused to sign a single nation-state client. He had also resisted the calls to take Parachute public—the infusion of money this would bring meant nothing to him; total control meant everything. The thought of Marsden Tribe reporting to a board was ludicrous.

Armistad was himself a nonconformist who Ben Butler, his control at Parachute, appreciated and deployed to maximum effect. Truth to tell, he wasn’t that happy with Butler being his control. Butler was a cripple and, in his opinion, a depressive; Armistad didn’t like being reminded of one of the worst outcomes of a career in the field. Death he could handle, but being a cripple, nuh uh.

These thoughts ran through his mind in a fraction of a second as he watched a slim man make his way along one of the aisles parallel to the one Armistad himself was on. He was dressed for the chilly December weather in an overcoat, a charcoal wool suit, pale-blue shirt, and paisley silk tie. He had a prominent nose, slicked-back hair, and carried a clutch of fresh white lilies wrapped in green paper in one hand. The man never so much as glanced at him, which was a tell in itself. No field agent worth his salt would check out his target directly.

Armistad felt his muscles tense in response to the perceived threat. He stopped to observe a grave marker with a poorly formed wrought-iron Christ, painted silver, here and there encrusted with rust like cankers on old flesh. Now he was a step or two behind the suit, who continued on as if he were perfectly unaware of Armistad’s presence.

The only other figure in Armistad’s field of vision was Karl, the slender caretaker, earbuds connected to an ancient iPod, wheeling his cart filled with brooms, rakes, and an assortment of clippers. A fixture at this time of day. He did not look Armistad’s way, but paused for a moment to shake out a cigarette and light it, a prearranged signal to Armistad, then pushed his cart on. He stopped to adjust one of the old wrought-iron lamps that lined the aisles, cocking his head reflectively to make sure the angle of the head was correct. Nodding to himself, he moved on again, taking out a wide-headed broom as he did so.

Meanwhile the suit had stopped in front of a grave marked by a Christ on the cross and, just below, a lantern with thick red glass panes. A breeze gusted, rattling the last of the leaves, turned yellow and rust. Birds flitted from branch to branch, last searches before moving on to their hidden nests for the night.

Karl had crossed to the path Armistad was on, head down, concentrating on clearing the cracked concrete of dead leaves. The suit, staring at the image of the crucifixion, had not moved. Unconsciously, Armistad fingered the hollow amulet hung from a thin silver chain around his neck.

Now the suit was turning away from the grave marker. Karl lifted his head, the bristles of his broom sweeping up a surf of leaves. Armistad’s right hand moved even as the suit dropped the lilies, revealing the pistol, silencer already attached. It came up aimed at Armistad’s chest. But Armistad’s throwing knife was already a blur, burying itself to the hilt, connecting the suit’s tie to his pierced heart. His arms flung outward, forming a cross like the grave markers as he stumbled, fell to his knees.

Armistad advanced through the field of graves. Behind him, Karl stood as still as all the Christs in the cemetery, gazing at the unfolding scene, cigarette ash mingling with the leaves at his feet.

The suit’s mouth was opening and closing like a hooked fish. His lips and eyes were bloody. Now he was drooling. Coming up to him, Armistad kicked him on the point of his chin and, with a sharp crack of his knees, he collapsed backward.

Karl turned away, heading back down the path, still listening only to his music. Armistad bent over the corpse, checked all pockets for any form of identification, but all he found was five thousand in euros. Nothing to identify who his would-be murderer was. But then he hadn’t expected to find anything, not on a well-trained field agent.

And yet, on the other hand, perhaps something was overlooked. Using the heel of his shoe, he pried off one of the suit’s thick-soled brogues. Maneuvering the brogue into the light with the toe of his own shoe, he peered closely at the bottom, saw imprinted there: WESTFALIKA, Москва.

Russian, he thought. Now that’s interesting.

Switching his attention, he pulled out the knife, stepped smartly back to avoid the sudden gush of blood. He wiped the blade on the satin lining of the suit’s coat. As a last order of business he sent a brief encoded text update to his control via his cell phone. He was about to turn away when he changed his mind. Stooping again, he scooped up the bouquet of lilies. It would make the perfect present for Sofia.

And, indeed, he was correct. Sofia delivered a lingering kiss when he handed her the lilies. She held them to her breast, her eyes alight. She loved lilies. Loved the color white. It was only after she had put them in a cheap plastic vase with water, set the vase on the coffee table in the living room, that he noticed the tiny drop of crimson marring one petal, gleaming in the lamplight. Sofia hadn’t seen it as yet, and Armistad was determined that she wouldn’t. Crossing the room, he brushed the blood off the lily with the pad of his finger.

The lamplight threw a golden aura around Sofia. She was wearing a dark-red chenille robe, her pale feet padding silently across the floor of his apartment, a two bedroom in a modern high-rise on Hertha-Firnberg-Strasse, just south of Vienna’s center. It had the benefit of overlooking a small garden below the terrace outside the bedroom where he and Sofia slept, fought, made love. The apartment was bright, clean, furnished in Danish modern—simple lines, neutral fabrics—which suited him. He wasn’t comfortable living in fussy, old-world quarters, where dampness, mold, and the memories of past wars were sure to be lurking.

Sofia’s somatotype was right in his wheelhouse: a full-figured woman with the long legs of a model, blond hair blunt-cut to just above her shoulders, full lips and a sharp chin, wide-apart eyes, night dark. She was whip-smart, as well. She worked for Simon & Trebbilowe, lawyers to many in the gig economy, so Parachute was a name known to her. She even did business with a couple of Parachute people—he had checked—though not of course anyone in the secret directorate overseen by Isobel Lowe, where Armistad worked. She was familiar only with Parachute’s multifaceted public face.

As Sofia had decided to take a shower, he stripped off his outer garments, went to the sideboard, poured himself three fingers of whiskey. Drink in hand, he stepped into the bedroom just as the bathroom door closed. The shower began to run, and he sat on the side of the bed, savoring the whiskey as it burned its way down to his stomach.

Sofia’s voice drifted through the door. “Want to join me in here?”

He did, but he had some work to do while she was behind the closed door. “Give me a couple of minutes,” he called out.

“Don’t miss your chance to soap me all over,” she said. “And I mean all over.”

Smiling, he took out his throwing knife, cleaned and lovingly oiled it.

He’d met Sofia in Bar Onyx on Stephensplatz, ironically near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He favored the place; it was quite posh. Glittering like a handful of jewels, it roosted on a high floor in a corner building; it boasted floor-to-ceiling windows, affording patrons spectacular views of the city.

She had been sitting at a lounging area with a group of women more or less of her age, late twenties, early thirties. At some point, he had to pass by in order to refresh his drink—he liked seeing his drinks made, not trusting waiters to hand them to him, an old habit that had served him well. On his way back, he discovered her eyeing him and he smiled. She smiled back. He was going to invite her over to his sitting area when she rose and walked away into another area of the bar. He assumed she was using the ladies, but moments later he saw her appear on a narrow terrace, forearms leaning on the hand-worked cast-iron balustrade. As he continued watching her, she pushed both shoes off. She stood there barefoot, seemingly tense, uncertain. Then she peered down at the busy square below. Her pale hair was blowing across her cheeks and he could see that her bare skin was pebbled from the cold.

At once he rose and, following the path she had taken through the crowded bar, found the inconspicuous doorway out to the terrace. She turned her head, her dark eyes on him as he approached.

“You’re not thinking of jumping, are you?” he said when he was near enough to grab hold of her if her answer was yes.

She laughed deep in her throat. “What gave you that idea?”

He gave her bare feet a significant look.

“Oh, no.” She briefly put fingertips to her lips. “I’m just a barefoot girl at heart. I belong bicycling down a country road on my way to buy milk, bread, and butter.”

“What are you doing in the city then?”

“Making money,” she replied. “What else.” The smile on her lips went straight to his heart.

He invited her back to his sitting area. At first, she declined, but at his gentle urging she agreed, and that was it. She came back here with him that night and more or less had never left.

Soon enough, the eager blade looked just as it had before he’d used it at the cemetery, gleaming in the circle of light thrown off by the bedside lamp. The suit had not been his first kill, nor would it be his last. He rolled more whiskey around his mouth, swallowed, while briefly gripping the amulet around his neck. It was made of titanium, lightweight and durable.

He held out his right hand, saw there wasn’t a trace of a tremor. He had been unnerved by his first kill, which had come upon him all at once. He did what he had been trained to do without conscious thought. Muscle memory. But afterward, the nightmares had started. They kept up until his second kill. It was as if the two canceled each other out, and from then on he was golden, working his way across Europe as needed. You would not think a gig economy corporation would need people like him—and certainly the thought would never occur to anyone on the outside looking in—but nowadays espionage was not the sole province of governments. Governments could no longer be trusted except with incompetence. And since Parachute, like most gig companies, lived on the bleeding edge of constant breakthrough innovation, it required heavy protection from hackers and corporate spies. These days if you wanted something done you needed to do it yourself. That was Isobel’s philosophy and he happened to know it came straight from the top, from Marsden Tribe, Parachute’s once-in-a-generation genius.

“Love,” Sofia called, “are you coming? It’s lonely in here.”

He laughed, put away the knife, and rose, shucking off the rest of his clothes. He was padding toward the bathroom when the slider to the terrace exploded inward. Instantly, he grabbed the necklace, buried it in his fist. Seconds later the figure was on him. A knee slammed into his testicles and with a groan he doubled over. Head pressed into the carpet, the muzzle of a pistol pressed against his temple, Armistad prepared himself for death.

“Where is it?” the male voice grated.

“Where’s what?” Armistad figured he had nothing to lose by lying.

The muzzle pressed harder. “We know you have it. Tell me where it is.”

“I have no idea what—” He broke off as the barrel of the pistol whipped against his cheek, opening skin and the flesh beneath. He felt the wet heat of his own blood, the warmth of it in his mouth.

“Enough bullshit.” The figure had bent low, the harsh stink of stale cigarettes and garlic sausage enveloped him.

“I guess you’ll just have to kill me,” Armistad said.

“As you wish.”

The muzzle pressed against his chest, beneath which his heart beat like a triphammer. Armistad closed his eyes and tried to catch the lingering musk of Sofia. Not a bad scent to be his last.

The percussion rocked him. A weight came down, smothering him. He had read that the brain lived on precious seconds after the body died. Was this what it was like, being smothered? Was death on the other side?

Then, at once, the weight was lifted off him and he saw Sofia, a small but deadly Kahr Arms ACP.380 in one hand, rolling the body of the intruder off him and onto the carpet. She was wearing her carmine chenille robe.

She knelt down. “Are you okay, love?” She examined his bloody cheek. “We should get you to a hospital.”

“No hospital.” With her help he sat up. His mind was still trying to process what was happening. It wasn’t every day you were on the point of death one minute and safe the next. Even for him this was a first.

“A clinic then.”

“No.” he said it firmly so she’d know he’d closed the subject.

“Okay.” She eyed him as he got to his feet. “But what the hell is going on?” She pointed at the corpse. “Who is that?”

“No clue.” Armistad sat on the end of the bed. His nerves were still twanging uncomfortably, but at least his thoughts were beginning to clear. He watched her while she went back into the bathroom, returned with a washcloth soaked in cold water. She pressed it to his face. Her eyes were cloudy with anxiety and worry.

“Why did he attack you?”

Armistad shook his head, and she sighed.

“Okay, let’s at least get you into the shower so you can clean up. Then we can figure out this puzzle.”

“Out,” he said, rising. “We need to get out of here. Now.”

She gestured. “Not with you looking like that.”

She took him into the bathroom where the shower was still running. He stepped in, the hot water sluicing over him, easing his knotted muscles. Luxuriating in the lassitude coming over him, he gestured for her to join him.

It was only when she smiled at him that he wondered what she was doing with a weapon while she was supposedly taking a shower, but by then it was too late.

“Oh, fuck,” he said, fisting his amulet tightly.

“Ah, no. Not tonight, love.”

She shot him twice between the eyes with the ACP .380.

As he slumped to the wet tiles, she pried open his fingers, releasing his death-grip on the amulet.

“Ah, so there you are, love,” she whispered as she ripped the titanium oval from its slender silver chain.

Click below to pre-order your copy of Omega Rules, coming 05.24.22!

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5 International Thrillers to Read this Summer

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By Lizzy Hosty

From Istanbul to Central Europe, Paris to China, come travel across the world with us and these thrilling spy mysteries, including The Kobalt Dossier by Eric Van Lustbader, the newest installment in the Evan Ryder series.

 

 

 


Poster Placeholder of - 45Assassin’s Dawn by Ward Larsen

Travel to Central Europe with David Slaton!

Straight out of college, Slaton is eager to excel in his assassin training so that he can go after the man who killed the two people he held closest to him. On an operation in Central Europe, the chance to steal information from the killer’s brother presents itself. However, when the operation goes wrong, and Slaton has to fall back, Slaton is informed that the killer himself, Ramzi, might soon appear. And Slaton vows to take this chance to solidify his place as an assassin.

Image Placeholder of - 21Empire of Lies by Raymond Khoury

Visit an alternate Paris, where Europe has long been under control of the Ottoman Empire with Kamal Arslan Agha!

In 1683, Mehmed IV, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, started his assault on Europe to claim it all for the empire, when a mysterious visitor, naked and covered in tattoos, delivered a world-changing message. Over 300 years later in the conquered Paris, in 2017, Kamal Arslan Agha is a feted officer in the sultan’s secret police that is starting to question his orders – and everything – when he meets a mysterious stranger, naked and covered in tattoos, that reveals a secret the Sultan would do anything to prevent from coming to light.

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Go to Istanbul, Ukraine, and Romania with secret agent Evan Ryder!

After completing her mission and thwarting Nemesis, a fascist syndicate, Evan returns home to Washington D.C. to find that the secret division of DOD she works for has been shut down and her dead sister’s children are now missing. Evan now has to team up with her former boss, Ben Butler and search through the Middle East and Eastern Europe to find the truth, all while on the run from their enemies, including the American billionaires who supported Nemesis.

Placeholder of  -53Shadow by James Swallow

Race against time through Europe and the Middle East with Marc Dane! Marc Dane and his partner, Lucy Keyes, are frantic to stop the evil organization that plans to release a deadly virus that could kill millions across Europe and the Middle East. In their rush to discover the truth, they learn that a mysterious bio-scientist with a terrible secret has been abducted and a ruthless far-right terrorist has broken out of captivity. It will take every trick in the book – and then some – for Dane and Keyes to stop a global catastrophe.

Shadow of the Dragon by Marc Cameron

Fly to China with John Clark and President Jack Ryan!

When the brilliant scientist Liu Wangshu disappears and a high-level Chinese mole known as Surveyor has managed to infiltrate American Intelligence, Jack Ryan realizes there’s only one choice to be made. He has to send John Clark deep into China to find a former graduate student of Professor Liu Wangshu who may know where he is. It’s a risky mission, but finding Liu and learning China’s knowledge of aerospace and naval technology is too great an opportunity to pass up.

 

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Eric Van Lustbader on Keeping Writing Ideas Fresh

Image Placeholder of - 91Author Eric Van Lustbader has been a writing for over four decades, and he has always been able to craft new and exciting stories for his novels. To celebrate the release of his newest book The Kobalt Dossier, he wrote about how he keeps his writing ideas fresh after a long career.


By Eric Van Lustbader

“This is a masterly performance by an author who’s still fresh and original after a long career in a genre he helped define.”

Publisher’s Weekly wrote this at the end of their review of The Kobalt Dossier, the second novel in my Evan Ryder series. After a career that has spanned over four decades I’m often asked how I’m able to continue to gather fresh ideas. So many answers to that question I can’t cover them all in this limited space. However, here are the main ones:

I love what I do. I’ve been writing all my life, ever since I was seven, beginning with poems of things I saw around me, like rain, the beach, stars, or things I loved as a child, like a Brontosaurus (who lived in a world long before us!), my Teddy bear, owls (I’ve loved owls for as long as I can remember). I moved on to short stories, and then during my decade in rock’n’roll, interviews with star musicians and think pieces on new trends. Even then I had my eye on the future and what would come next.

No one knows anything, as the great screenwriter William Goldman famously wrote. At an early age I had already come to that conclusion. The so-called fog of war extends to everyday life. If no one knows anything, then what is really happening behind the scenes? As a teenager, I read spy novels by the truckload. One of the reasons they fascinated me was because they explained to me what no one else knew. They opened up a world of shadows, people living outside of society who kept the world from spinning out of control. And since control is what we all want so as not to be blindsided by life I wanted what those heroes had.

Since I couldn’t have that in real life I decided to create my own fictional world where I could have control – of everyone and everything. Ain’t fiction writing grand!

Combining my love of spies and their world with my innate desire, and ability, to extrapolate the near future from current events made writing through more than four decades not only (relatively) easy – writing is never easy, though it’s as often exhilarating as it is frustrating and anxiety-producing – but quite satisfying as well.

I recall with great pleasure my first meeting Robert Ludlum. It turned out that in the heady days of 1980 both he and I had novels on The New York Times Bestseller list. During the course of the evening we discussed our respective heroes, Nicholas Linnear and Jason Bourne. I was later to write eleven Bourne novels in 14 years, but that’s another story for another day. Bob was a terrific writer, but he came of age during the aftermath of WWII and was consumed by the myriad conspiracies that sprang up during those years. For him, everything led back to the war.

I’m younger. For me, the war and the 1950’s were parts of history I read about but did not feel viscerally as Bob did. Besides, I was all about looking ahead. Had I been born earlier I surely would have been influenced by the same issues Bob was, i.e. the US government recruiting Nazi scientists and spies, the rise and fall of Joe McCarthy, the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenburg, to name the most notable.

Dealing with the Big Lie. From the History Collection, “The “Big Lie” propaganda technique surfaced after Adolf Hitler wrote about it in his autobiographical book Mein Kampf (my struggle). A succinct definition of Big Lie reads like present-day political strategy: make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually the people will believe it.

The fact is the Big Lie keeps morphing. It was aided in those earlier days by radio, the first mass media, then by TV, and now, of course, because of the Internet, the most effective agent of mass media to date, it is disseminated across pretty much every country in the world.

Life keeps changing, but the Big Lie remains, producing endless fodder for writers like me, who feel a need to dig deep, turn a spotlight on the deepest shadows that seem every year to creep closer and closer to all of us.

Order The Kobalt Dossier—Available Now!

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$2.99 eBook Sale: The Testament by Eric Van Lustbader

The ebook edition of The Testament by Eric Van Lustbader is on sale now for only $2.99! Download your copy now before Eric Van Lustbader’s next book The Kobalt Dossier comes out on June 1st!

Placeholder of  -52About The Testament:

For centuries, a hidden splinter sect of the Franciscans has guarded secrets that could transform the world. Now the safety of those secrets—and much more—depends on one man.

Braverman “Bravo” Shaw always knew his father had secrets. But not until Dexter Shaw dies mysteriously does Bravo discover the enormity of his father’s life as a high-ranking member of the Order of Gnostic Observatines. For more than eight hundred years, the Order has preserved an ancient cache of documents that could shake Christianity to its foundations.

But the rival Knights of St. Clement will stop at nothing to obtain the treasure, and now Bravo is a target and a pawn in an ongoing war far larger and more deadly than any he could have imagined.

From New York City to Washington, D.C., to Paris, to Venice, and beyond, the race is on for the quintessential prize…the Testament.

Order Your Copy

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This sales end 5/31/2021 at 11:59 pm.

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Excerpt: The Kobalt Dossier by Eric Van Lustbader

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Evan Ryder is back in The Kobalt Dossier, the stunning follow-up to The Nemesis Manifesto from New York Times bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader.

After thwarting the violent, international, fascist syndicate known as Nemesis, Evan Ryder returns to Washington, D.C., to find her secret division of the DOD shut down and her deceased sister’s children missing. Now the target of a cabal of American billionaires who were among Nemesis’s supporters, Evan and her former boss, Ben Butler, must learn to work together as partners – and navigate their intricate past.

Their search will take them from Istanbul to Odessa to an ancient church deep within the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. And all along the way, an unimaginable enemy stalks in the shadows, an adversary whose secretive past will upend Evan’s entire world and everything she holds dear.

The Kobalt Dossier will be available on June 1, 2021. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


1

WASHINGTON, DC

PRESENT DAY

Benjamin Butler had made a mistake. A grave mistake. By Zoe’s determination, anyway. His daughter, eight years old going on sixteen, had made him promise that there would always be Oreos in the house. Because they just returned from a week at the Atlantis in Paradise Island, celebrating her eighth birthday, tonight there weren’t any, which was why Ben was trolling down the wide aisles of the Costco on Market Street NE, in DC with an impatient Zoe on his heels. It was almost 8 p.m.; they had just over thirty minutes to find and purchase the Oreos before the store closed for the night. He should have known where they were; he’d bought them often enough. But Costco had this annoying habit of moving displays around.

At last, after long minutes of hunting, Zoe spotted them midway down the snacks aisle.

“There, Dad! There they are!”

He pushed his cart after his sprinting daughter and caught up with her in front of a massive stack of the oversized blue boxes filled with thirty six-packs of the cookies Zoe loved so much. He grabbed one, looked at her happy hungry face, and decided to make it two, so he wouldn’t have to think about buying them for weeks. As he turned to head for the register lines, he saw a suit standing at the end of the aisle. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw the suit’s twin—or near enough. Ben had been in the business of espionage long enough to recognize government bodyguards with a single glance. He could smell them too—a combination of cheap aftershave, cheap fabric, and sweat. No one was in the aisle save himself and Zoe. He prudently decided to shelter in place and let the situation reveal itself. He stood with his hands on the bar of his shopping cart, Zoe in front of him cradled between his arms, and waited.

A few seconds later, a new actor emerged from behind a display of M&M boxes the size of his chest. The no-neck monster Ben knew as General Ryan Aristides, his boss at DOD, who had proved himself a gutless wonder when Ben’s job and reputation were on the line several months ago. Instead of coming to Ben’s defense against Brady Thompson, the Secretary of Defense, he had stepped away, keeping himself clear of whatever fallout would ensue from Brady coming down on Ben’s head and on Ben’s clandestine shop. As it turned out Ben and Evan Ryder had been able to neutralize Thompson, uncovering evidence that he had been working for the Russians and turning him. As a double agent, he now delivered vital intel to Aristides while feeding disinformation to his erstwhile Russian masters.

The general’s big square face looked pale beneath the harsh blue-white overheads. He walked with a rolling gait, slightly bowlegged, result of his time aboard ships.

“Quite a sweet tooth you have there, Ben,” he said, pointing at the Oreos.

Ben. Aristides always called him Benjamin. Something was up. It was only then, as the general approached, that Ben realized Aristides was out of regs: he was in a shiny suit he might have worn to his daughter’s wedding.

“Zoe,” Ben said.

“Ah, yes, the lovely Zoe.”

The general should have been smiling, but he wasn’t. Anyone else would have said hello to the girl, asked how she was, but Aristides was busy looking at a display of gummy bears. “I hated these when I was a kid,” he said, his voice a basso rumble. “Disgusting stuff, don’t you think? All that sugar, just rots you from the inside out.” But it was clear he didn’t expect or want an answer. In fact, it wasn’t altogether clear whether he was speaking about gummy bears at all.

The general sighed, turned back to Ben. “I think it would be best if Zoe took a stroll around with Wilson here.” One of the suits stepped forward. He was young, fresh-faced, and, unlike his boss, was smiling at Zoe.

Ben took a short moment for a sit rep. Evaluating the situation wasn’t difficult; Aristides had given him little choice. He leaned over and put his mouth to Zoe’s ear. “How about it, kiddo? The general and I need to have a bit of a chin-wag.” He couched the request in as unintimidating terms as he could.

Zoe, who was both smart and used to the secretiveness of her father’s job, nodded. “Okey-doke.

“I’m not a child,” she said, slipping out from between her father and the shopping cart, ignoring Wilson’s extended hand, fixing him with her disconcertingly direct stare.

“My mistake.” Wilson scarcely missed a beat.

When the two of them were out of sight, Aristides cleared his throat. “Ben, I’m afraid I have bad news.”

Ben’s stomach dropped, as if he were in a fast descending elevator. “Let’s have it,” he said.

The general picked up an enormous bag of miniature Snickers, regarded it as if it were a crystal ball, then, almost angrily, shoved it back with its brethren. When he turned to Ben, his gaze was concentrated on a spot in the middle of Ben’s forehead.

He can’t look me in the eye, Ben thought, and braced himself as best he could.

Aristides heaved a sigh. His neck was bulging, threatening to burst out of its collar. “As of today, your shop is out of business.”

“Wait. What?” Ben couldn’t believe what he just heard. “You can’t be serious.”

“Everyone but Evan has already been reassigned.”

“After we delivered Thompson as a double agent? The Secretary of Defense? The biggest espionage coup in ” Ben shook his head. “How

is this possible?”

“You delivered Thompson to me, personally. No one else knows we compromised him and to protect him that’s the way it needs to remain.”

“I understand. Of course I do. But still—”

“Listen to me, Ben. First, POTUS doesn’t care for your agents being female.” Aristides began to count on his fingers. “Second, you lost control of one of them, Brenda Myers. She went rogue and killed a civilian. Third, your shop’s incursion on foreign soil and its messy aftermath have made you and Ryder some extremely dangerous enemies here at home— billionaires with the wherewithal and power to influence POTUS.”

Ben grunted in disgust. “General, with all due respect, you still need me, need my shop. These people aren’t done. Samuel Wainwright Wells is right at the heart of the same evangelical conservative cabal that’s been funding Nemesis’s neo-Nazi arm here in America. That’s the right wing’s plan, meld their brand of conservatism with white supremacy. He’s their top dog. I’ve got my eye on him, with his people spewing their evangelical racism through the TV and radio stations he owns.”

“Undoubtedly. Nevertheless, Ben, these evangelical conservatives have POTUS’s ear. Wells’s Super PAC played a major role in his election. Ever since Wells married his third wife, the former Lucinda Horvat, just over a year ago, he’s been even more seriously into the evangelicals.”

Ben shook his head. “Right. They had a low-key wedding at the DC hotel owned by one of POTUS’s companies. I heard he offered the hotel gratis—as a wedding present.”

Aristides nodded. “Tight guest list—an echelon of his compadres, but none of her family; they’re all dead. Probably because Lucinda is in her late twenties, the marriage caused something of a ripple in the mainstream press.”

“Which set off the usual backlash in the right-wing media. And even they weren’t allowed to take photos.”

The general nodded. “Wells is notoriously reclusive, so there wasn’t much of a story for the press to latch onto. And, of course, Wells’s own virulently right-wing media network ignored the age difference altogether. In any event, it took the new Mrs. Wells no time to climb into the Wellsian life. By all accounts he’s content to have her be his mouthpiece. And POTUS seems enamored of her. She often leads his private prayer group. Word is, she also appears to be taking a more active role in Wells’s business affairs. She’s seen more often at high-level corporation meetings than he is.”

“Well, there you go. Their involvement in Nemesis is a logical conclusion, General. Even you can see that.”

Aristides’s expression did not change. “All circumstantial, all conjecture. You have no proof, Ben. As far as we are concerned, the Wellses’ hands are clean.”

“Their hands are as dirty as they come.” Ben shook his head. “This is insane, General. I know it and you know it.” Ben realized that unconsciously he’d taken up a defensive stance:  feet  at  hip’s  width,  arms hanging at his sides, hands slightly curled. But it was no use— Aristides had already attacked him. He was rocked back on his heels. The ground had been scooped out from under him, and he was falling into an abyss.

“I wish it were, Ben, but facts are facts. This cabal of ultra-wealthy conservatives, whoever they are—”

“Who, not incidentally, are raping this country, following the game plan of the robber barons of the early 1900s.”

“Irrelevant to this discussion. What is relevant is that you thwarted them when you took down Nemesis,” Aristides continued, ignoring Ben’s furious outburst. “They’re not likely to forget that. They’re not used to losing.”

And this is the thanks I get, Ben thought. I get fucked while they get away scot-free. But he didn’t say it. Self-pity was not a trait Aristides could abide. Nevertheless, Ben felt the rage rise in him like bile, burning his stomach and throat, momentarily muting him.

He’d spent a decade in the field, facing innumerable forms of peril that placed him so close to death he could feel its icy heartbeat. He’d deliberately wrenched himself out of the field—a place he had come to view as home—in order to work himself up the intelligence ladder, and at last he’d been delivered his reward: his own black ops shop.

Now it was gone, vaporized with a cynical and self-serving command. “I’ve pulled some strings, dodged a couple of regs, to get you an extremely generous severance package.”

Ben’s lip curled. “Am I supposed to thank you for that?”

Aristides’s meaty shoulders rose, fell. “Either way, the money is yours. It’s in your account.”

“And that’s it?” Ben said with pointed belligerence.

“It’s a shitload of money,” Aristides said with equanimity. “What about Evan?”

“She has a choice. Either accept a reassignment to the Department of Energy or take severance.”

“The Department of fucking Energy? You must be joking. What is she going to do there?”

The general shrugged. “Politics, Ben.”

“You already know what her choice will be, General.”

Aristides nodded. “Money will hit her account tomorrow morning.” Aristides took another step closer. “A word of warning. These people,

they’ll never forget what you and Ryder did,” Aristides said in a raspy whisper. “They’ll never forget.”

Ben passed a hand across his forehead; it came away damp and clammy. He was grateful that Zoe couldn’t see him in this state. The general had done one thing, at least, to ease Ben’s pain—and it was no small thing.

But—” Aristides’s voice returned to its normal level. “Lemons, lemonade.”

Ben’s eyes narrowed. This was no time for word games. “Please.”

The general’s expression softened like taffy. Ben recognized genuine compassion in his eyes.

“Seen in a new light,” Aristides said, “this turn of events can be fortuitous.”

Ben goggled at him. A bitter laugh exploded out of his mouth. “In what multiverse?” He was incredulous.

“Yours.” Aristides spread his hands. “New start, new opportunities.

You were always a wizard at those.”

Aristides’s face was sallow, unhealthy-looking in the overhead illumination. Briefly, Ben wondered whether he looked as bad.

General Aristides glanced at his watch; their time was up. “Evan Ryder is the only one of your field assets currently out of the country,” he said. “Yes?”

Ben nodded.

“For her sake and yours get her the hell back here ASAP.”

Copyright © 2021 by Eric Van Lustbader

Pre-order The Kobalt Dossier—available on June 1, 2021!

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Books & Cozy Drinks that’ll Bring you Good Cheer for the End of the Year

By Ariana Carpentieri

Everyone knows that when the holidays are upon us, it also means a whole new layer of stress gets added on top of our everyday, regular busyness (and, not to mention, the extra stress of the ongoing Pandemic). But along with all the holiday madness comes something we all know and love: holiday treats and drinks! There’s nothing quite like curling up under a soft blanket near the warmth of a crackling fire with a good book in one hand and a festive drink in the other.

Get into the festive holiday spirit by pairing of our deliciously captivating books with some drinks that’ll pack a punch and warm your heart!


A Dog’s Perfect Christmas by W. Bruce Cameron

Image Place holder  of - 27A Dog’s Perfect Christmas is a book about the Goss family; a family that has a hard time communicating with one another, and therefore always seem to be at odds. But they must learn how to get past their differences and bond together—and in the spirit of Christmas, no less. Since it’s a family-oriented book, This Creamy Crock Pot Hot Chocolate is perfect for serving your whole fam and drinking it together while gathered around the tree. It wouldn’t be the whole family without your faithful dog, so you can whip them up this Safe Hot Chocolate Alternative for Dogs so that they can be part of the festivities, too!

The Nemesis Manifesto by Eric Van Lustbader

Image Placeholder of - 79The Nemesis Manifesto an epic and harrowing adventure of predatory forces that are threatening the very fabric of democracy. This book is thick with intrigue, adventure, and action, which we think calls for it to be paired with an equally as thick, rich drink like spiked eggnog! This Holiday Spiked Eggnog recipe suggests to mix Amaretto liqueur with some white rum and then add a dash of nutmeg to the top to really give it that holiday cheer. 

Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber

Place holder  of - 57Midnight at the Blackbird Café is a captivating blend of magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm. A book like this calls for some liquid magic! And liquid magic always has a touch of caffeine, right? Also, cafés are known for serving coffee! Try an Eggnog Coffee Latte / Eggnog Chai Latte (for the tea lovers out there), which will give you that touch of magic you’re looking for this holiday season.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Poster Placeholder of - 98Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered  is Karen and Georgia’s irreverent recount of their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation today. There’s no better drink to pair with this book than Canned Wine, which we all know is Georgia’s choice of drink when taping My Favorite Murder. But if canned wine isn’t your thing, then we suggest trying a bottle of 19 Crimes Red Blend (because the name literally speaks for itself). And honestly: what would the holidays be without a little wine to liven up the night?

Lionhearts by Nathan Makaryk

Placeholder of  -55Lionhearts is a heroically riveting story of vengeance, redemption, war, and has some Game of Throne vibes. No drinks quite capture the essence of the Renaissance era quite like mead and beer, so those are necessities to pair with this book! Between this Holiday Mead Cocktail recipe or this Stout Hot Chocolate, you’ll definitely feel great tidings of comfort and joy.

An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Christmas is a cozy tale that takes place in the village of Ballybucklebo. While snow is rare in Ulsterand so are miraclesthat doesn’t mean they never happen! We feel this delightful story would go great with a drink that’s timeless and classic, like a nice Guinness and Pear Cocktail. Everything about this drink and book will warm you up from head to toe!

A Resolution at Midnight by Shelley Noble

Roasted chestnuts from vendor’s carts, fresh cut spruce trees lining the sidewalks, extravagant gifts, opulent dinners, carols at St Patrick’s Cathedral, a warm meal and a few minutes shelter from the cold at one of the charitable food lines . . .It’s the holidays in Gilded Age Manhattan! Set on New Year’s Eve, A Resolution at Midnight is a perfect, cozy mystery read for the holiday season. For a book this lavish, we suggest a drink that’s equally as fancy. This Holiday Spiced Mulled Wine is the perfect pair for a story as dazzling as this one!

 

And that’s a wrap! Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoy treating yourself to these incredible reads and drinks during the upcoming holidays!

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