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New Releases: 8/14/18

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Placeholder of  -93 When Chen’s parents are incinerated before his eyes by a blast of ball lightning, he devotes his life to cracking the secret of this mysterious natural phenomenon. His search takes him to stormy mountaintops, an experimental military weapons lab, and an old Soviet science station.

The more he learns, the more he comes to realize that ball lightning is just the tip of an entirely new frontier.

Denied by Cathy Clamp

Image Placeholder of - 51 Anica Petrovic used to be human, until she was kidnapped and turned into a shapeshifter. Now she’s a bear. Political strife in Serbia led Anica, her father, and her brother to settle in the Pacific Northwest, in a shifter community where all are welcome.

The town is rocked by a series of brutal murders which appear to have been committed by a bear. Anica and her family are all bears, but she knows they are all innocent. Not so innocent is newcomer Tristan, also a bear—Anica’s sensitive nose tells her he’s hiding something, but she can’t believe he’s a killer.

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen

Image Place holder  of - 69 Years after the events of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, the lonely young outcast and physically-challenged Fant, Pizlo, is now a teenager. He still believes he hears voices from the planet’s moons, imparting secret knowledge to him alone. And so embarks on a dangerous voyage to learn the truth behind the messages. His quest will catapult him offworld for second time is his short life, and reveal things the galaxy isn’t yet ready to know.

NEW IN PAPERBACK

Enhanced by Carrie Jones

Place holder  of - 20 Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may beout of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her.

 

 

NEW FROM TOR.COM

The Million by Karl Schroeder

Poster Placeholder of - 90 Every thirty years, ten billion visitors overrun Earth during one month of madness: partying, polluting, and brawling. In between, the world is ruled by the Million; the inheritors and custodians of all of humanity’s wealth and history, they lead unimaginable lives of privilege and wealth, and they see it as their due.

NEW IN MANGA

Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter Vol. 1 Story by Reia; Art by Suki Umemiya

Monster Musume Vol. 14 Story and art by OKAYADO

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On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events in April

Tor/Forge authors are on the road in April! See who is coming to a city near you this month.

W. Bruce Cameron, A Dog’s Way Home

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Saturday, April 14th
Palm Beach Book Festival
Palm Beach, FL
3:00 PM
Books provided by Follett Bookstore.

Spencer Ellsworth, Starfire: Memory’s Blade

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Thursday, April 26th
Powell’s Books
Beaverton, OR
7:00 PM
Also with Joseph Brassey.

Neal Griffin, By His Own Hand

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Tuesday, April 17th
Warwick’s Books
San Diego, CA
7:30 PM

Saturday, April 21st
Book Carnival
Orange, CA
2:00 PM

Saturday, April 28th
Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
2:00 PM
Also with Robert Dugoni and Baron R. Birtcher.

Margaret Killjoy, The Barrow Will Send What It May

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Tuesday, April 3rd
Firestorm Books
Asheville, NC
6:00 PM

Kimberly Reid, Prettyboy Must Die

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Thursday, April 5th
Boulder Bookstore
Boulder, CO
6:30 PM

John Scalzi, Head On

Tuesday, April 17th
Literati Bookstore
Ann Arbor, MI
7:00 PM

Wednesday, April 18th
Prairie Lights
Iowa City, IA
7:00 PM

Thursday, April 19th
Barnes & Noble
Roseville, MN
7:00 PM

Monday, April 23rd
St. Louis County Library
St. Louis, MO
7:00 PM
Books provided by the Novel Neighbor.

Tuesday, April 24th
The Strand
New York, NY
7:00 PM

Wednesday, April 25th
Politics and Prose at The Wharf
Washington, DC
7:00 PM

Monday, April 30th
Troy-Miami County Public Library
Troy, OH
6:30 PM
Books provided by Jay and Mary’s Book Center.

Paula Stokes, Ferocious 

Tuesday, April 24th
Longview Library
Longview, WA
6:00 PM
Also with Sheryl Scarborough and Tina Connolly.
Books provided by Vintage Books

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Tor Teen Back to School Sweepstakes

It’s August, and that means we’re in the final days of summer. It’s nearly time to head back to school, but hopefully there’s still a bit of time—time to get that last beach trip in, that last dip in the pool, or that last lazy afternoon with a book and a frosty lemonade. Whatever your ideal last days of summer consist of, we want to give you a pile of books to keep you company and to last you well into the new school year. Take a look at the titles we’re offering:

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Sign up for to receive our monthly Tor Teen newsletter to enter for your chance to win:

Birth Month:

OFFICIAL RULES

Tor Teen Back to School Sweepstakes

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE DOES NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING.

  1. To Enter: Submit your entry by fully completing the sign-up form found at https://www.torforgeblog.com/2017/08/21/tor-teen-back-to-school-sweepstakes (the “Site”). Sweepstakes begins online at 12:30 AM Eastern Time (ET) on Monday, August 21, 2017 and ends at 11:59 PM ET on Friday, August 25, 2017. Your entry will sign you up to receive emailed news related to Tor Teen as well as enter you into the sweepstakes.

Limit one entry per person or household. The entry must be fully completed; mechanically reproduced; incomplete and/or illegible entries will not be accepted. In case of dispute with respect to online entries, entries will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the e-mail address submitted at the time of entry. “Authorized account holder” is defined as the natural person who is assigned to an e-mail address by an Internet Access Provider, on-line service provider, or other organization (e.g., business, educational institution, etc.) that is responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted e-mail address. Entries become property of Sponsor and will not be returned. Automated entries are prohibited, and any use of such automated devices will cause disqualification. Sponsor and its advertising and promotions agencies are not responsible for lost, late, illegible, misdirected or stolen entries or transmissions, or problems of any kind whether mechanical, human or electronic.

  1. Random Drawing: A random drawing will be held from all eligible, correctly completed entries received on a timely basis, on or about Monday, August 28, 2017, by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, whose decisions concerning all matters related to this sweepstakes are final.
  2. Notice to Winners: Winner will be notified by e-mail. Winner may be required to sign and return an affidavit of eligibility and publicity/liability release within fifteen (15) days of notification attempt or prize may be awarded to alternate winner. Return of any prize notification as undeliverable will result in disqualification and alternate winner will be selected. If a winner is a minor in his/her jurisdiction of residence, prize will be awarded to minor’s parent or legal guardian, who must follow all prize claim procedures specified herein and sign and return all required documents.
  3. Prize: One (1) Grand Prize winner(s) will receive Flying by Carrie Jones, Enhanced by Carrie Jones, The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz, Last Chance by Gregg Hurwitz, Ferocious by Paula Stokes, Vicarious by Paula Stokes, Firebrand by A.J. Hartley, Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley, Roar by Cora Carmack, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter, Seeker by Veronica Rossi, Riders by Veronica Rossi, The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller. Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) of the Prize: $231.86.

    Approximate retail value of all prizes: $231.86.

  1. Odds of winning depend upon the number of eligible entries received. If any prize is won by a minor, it will be awarded in the name of minor’s parent or legal guardian. Each entrant selected as a potential winner must comply with all terms and conditions set forth in these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all such requirements. Sponsor makes no warranties with regard to the prize. Prize is not transferable. No substitutions of prize allowed by winner, but Sponsor reserves the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater value. Prize is not redeemable by winner for cash value. All taxes, fees and surcharges on prize are the sole responsibility of winner.
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New Releases: 8/15/17

We’ve all been there: sometimes you’re peacefully reading your newest novel, only to see a cockroach scuttle by in front of your cozy armchair. Or you’ve got something that needs some light percussive recalibration to fix. Or your cousin has insulted your reading taste at Thanksgiving dinner, and all you have is the book you brought to the gathering to avoid talking to anyone. We’ve all had to use our books as bludgeoning weapons before, so here’s a list of SF/F doorstoppers that you can pitch in a pinch, now updated to include The First Binding by R. R. Virdi—on sale in paperback now!

By Yvonne Ye


Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milan

Place holder  of - 39 Humans were abducted eons ago at a god’s whim. Empires have risen and fallen and now men ride into battle on Stegosauruses and their generals lead them on White Thunder T-Rexes. Welcome to Paradise, and the third volume in Victor Milan’s glorious alternate fantasy universe.

The ancient gods who brought mankind to Paradise have returned to judge their human experiment. The Grey Angels, fabled ancient weapons of the gods, have come to rid the world of sin.

Ferocious by Paula Stokes

Image Place holder  of - 86 When Winter Kim finds out that her sister is dead and that she has a brother she never knew about, only two things matter—finding what’s left of her family and killing the man who destroyed her life. Her mission leads her from St. Louis to Los Angeles back to South Korea, where she grew up.

Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman

Placeholder of  -12 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.

NEW IN PAPERBACK:

Flying by Carrie Jones

Image Placeholder of - 98 People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She’s used to being coddled, being an only child, but it’s hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother’s babying gets more stifling than ever, she’s looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while.

But that night, Mana’s life goes haywire.

The House of Daniel by Harry Turtledove

Poster Placeholder of - 22 Since the Big Bubble popped in 1929, life in the United States hasn’t been the same. Hotshot wizards will tell you nothing’s really changed, but then again, hotshot wizards aren’t looking for honest work in Enid, Oklahoma. No paying jobs at the mill, because zombies will work for nothing. The diner on Main Street is seeing hard times as well, because a lot fewer folks can afford to fly carpets in from miles away. From Harry Turtledove, “Master of Alternate History,” comes a tale of minor league baseball set in an alternate Great Depression America full of wild magic

NEW FROM TOR.COM:

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious suicide, Danielle ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa, and witnesses a protector spirit — in the form of a blood-red, three-antlered deer — begin to turn on its summoners. She and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town — or get out alive.

NEW IN MANGA:

Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of Devil Vol. 5 Story by Yun Kouga; Art by Sunao Minakata

Shomin Sample: I Was Abducted by an Elite All-Girls School as a Sample Commoner Vol. 6 Story by Nanatsuki Takafumi; Art by Risumai href=”https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250796172/thefirstbinding” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>The First Binding by R. R. Virdi-1#1: The First Binding by R. R. Virdi

Volume one of R. R. Virdi’s new Tales of Tremaine series, The First Binding, is a fresh face on the “books large enough to qualify as a two-hand weapon” scene. With 832 pages of epic fantasy contained within, The First Binding is professionally rated to block everything from sword-strikes to gamma lasers, and is guaranteed to OHKO any mortal-class adversary. Use this book to win your next grudge match, and then dive into this exciting and expansive new series with all the time you’ve saved by making it your go-to armament for close combat. Find the paperback in stores now!

#2: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Weighing in at a hefty 1232 pages, this latest installment in the Stormlight Archive will be sure to beat up your feelings while bludgeoning your enemies. Follow the Knights Radiant to war as tactical subterfuge, political maneuvering, and scientific innovation collide to change the very shape of Roshar’s future. For conducting guerilla warfare and internal sabotage in an occupied tower, the hardcover will be sure to deal maximum damage. For a stealth invasion of said tower, we suggest utilizing the paperback for its dexterity and flexibility. Find the paperback in stores now!

#3: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Book three of the Stormlight Archive actually outweighs book 4, coming in at an impressive 1248 pages. Add some psychic damage to your bludgeoning attack by shouting “YOU CANNOT HAVE MY PAIN” at your foes in time-honored Kholin tradition while hurling this brick.

#4: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Fervent collectors of Stormlight hardcover editions noticed that Words of Radiance, despite only having 1088 pages, is actually quite a bit chunkier than Oathbringer. This is because the paper weight dropped from a 45# stock to a 35# stock between printings (we could go on about book production and paper weight, but we’ll spare you for now). At any rate, this book lives up to its working title, The Book of Endless Pages, and comes pre-equipped with the best one-liner in the series (so far): “Honor is dead, but I’ll see what I can do.”

#5: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini 

You thought we were going to go all the way with Stormlight titles, didn’t you? We thought about it, but decided to branch out to Christopher Paolini’s debut adult novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. This galaxy-spanning odyssey of first contact and apocalypse earns its hefty page-count with its complexity and scope, and yes, if you were wondering, it outweighs each of the Eragon books at 880 pages. Bonus: you can also get it in paperback to realize your dual-wielding potential!

exordia by seth dickinson#6: Exordia by Seth Dickinson

Clocking in at a chonkin’ 544 pages, Exordia by Seth Dickinson is a double-edged threat as a bludgeoning weapon. Not only will it physically clobber you with it’s rounds-up-to-quadruple-digits page count, but this book will also emotionally destroy you. This book will wreck you body and soul, and for that reason demands to be read.

#7: Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

The longest book in the Wheel of Time series, we think this book could also be a strong contender for any therapeutic smashin’ you might need (goodness knows Rand could use some therapeutic smashin’ throughout this book). But if you’re new to the Wheel of Time series, we recommend starting with the first book, The Eye of the World. We know that media tie-in covers can be somewhat divisive, but with the new edition of The Eye of the World coming in at 784 pages, it is an undisputed tome and thus highly suitable for a spot of bludgeoning when necessary.

the ruin of kings by jenn lyons#8: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Come see the book that Lev Grossman called “rich, cruel, gorgeous, brilliant, enthralling and deeply, deeply satisfying” — much like how you will both look and feel if you come to a book fight prepared with Jenn Lyons. With all five of the Chorus of Dragons series on hand, you’ll be well-stocked for either hurling or bludgeoning, or just curling up in a corner and reading all 2,784 pages (cumulative!) while the melee rages about you.

#9: Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Clocking in at only 608 pages, this series-ender makes up for its lower page count with its absolutely badass title. We recommend this book for the aura of awe it will generate in your foes, along with its special Area-of-Effect abilities of inducing existential dread in your opponents and cautious hope in your allies.

#10: Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

At a respectable 512 pages, Harrow is well-suited to fighters of smaller statures, delicate wrists, and a deeply murderous streak. Seriously, look me in the eyes and tell me that you wouldn’t bring a necromancer to a fight.

#11: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

“But wait,” you say. “This is a novella, with only a measly 128 pages!” you scoff. “How can this be a good bludgeoning weapon?” you laugh.

Just as there is a time and a place for every door-stopping saga, one must never underestimate the lethal capabilities of a well-crafted novella, and Cassandra Khaw’s latest is an exquisite weapon for the task. Lyrical, unflinching, dreadful, and vicious, Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a haunted-house novella perfectly-matched for those who are both courageous and deadly. A few well-placed bonks with this novella at high speed might just win your fight, and that book jacket alone may be enough to terrify most opponents into submission.

#12: Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

We’re not done with Sanderson yet! With Dawnshard’s upcoming release for the first time in hardcover, it felt right to finish this list where we began — with the Stormlight Archive. At a petite 4.25” x 6.7” (and a healthy… 304 pages), Dawnshard may be small but it packs a punch. Its size makes it the perfect handbag bludgeoning weapon, featuring finely-tapered print-over-board corners and some truly earth-shattering Cosmere reveals. And come on — wouldn’t you want the Lopen by your side in a fight?

Disclaimer: Tor does not actually encourage you to use your books as bludgeoning weapons. Please consider deploying your house slipper instead, as we cannot issue replacements should your copy become tragically stained by cockroach innards.

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How a Book Gets Its Name

Place holder  of - 5Written by Paula Stokes

One thing people ask me a lot is how I come up with the names for my books. Authors don’t generally have the final say over their titles, but we are usually the ones who come up with the initial title, and then provide a list of possible replacements if the publisher feels the initial title isn’t a good fit.

Here are a few things I consider when I’m naming one of my books:

  1.  Does the name fit the plot and tone of the book?
  2.  Is it appealing and memorable?
  3.  Is it easy (or at least not extremely difficult) to spell?
  4. How many times/how recently has it been used by other authors in the past?
  5. Does it work on multiple levels?

For me, the best titles do the initial work of setting the stage for the novel by conveying bits of tone and storyline. They must be intriguing to potential readers and easy to find in an online search. And if the title works both literally and metaphorically, that’s a definite bonus. Sometimes an author knows the title for the book before they even start writing, but I find that my best titles are the ones I discover during the process of drafting and revision.

My working title for Vicarious was Goodbye Rose. The original draft had Winter’s sister missing instead of confirmed dead, but I knew while I was writing that I would end up changing the name to something that felt grittier or edgier—something that conveyed the high-tech, cyberpunk elements and the story’s dark tone.

The title Vicarious came after I named the technology that is present in both books, where Winter can record her sensory neural impulses via a headset while engaging in dangerous or exciting activities, and then sell those impulses to others who then experience Winter’s activities vicariously. Originally I was calling these recordings “simulations” or “sims” knowing I’d need to come up with something specific eventually. I finally settled on “ViNEs”—Vicarious Neural Experiences and then changed that to “ViSEs”—Vicarious Sensory Experiences after the Vine app became popular.

“Vicarious” fit all of my above qualifications, including working on multiple levels, because in addition to describing the technology used in the story, it also described the way my main character is isolative and withdrawn, choosing to live vicariously through the experiences of her more adventurous sister.

I knew early on in the drafting process that Vicarious was part of a two-book story arc. When it came time to figure out a title for the sequel, I wanted a title that started with V and/or ended in “ous” because I like it when series’ titles match. However, I didn’t limit myself to those parameters. My first choice back in 2012 was to call the book Vicious, but then Tor published a V.E. Schwab’s amazing novel with that title in 2013, so that went out the window before I even started writing the sequel. My next choice was Victorious, because it also fit the V/ous qualifications and it seemed like such a good match. But there’s such a thing as being too good of a match, and my editor worried that with titles just a couple letters apart that people might confuse the two books. My next choice was Monstrous, because Winter has killed someone at the start of the sequel and is contemplating whether that makes her a monster. Then later we see some of the villains’ actions, and they are 100% monstrous, and so that title worked on multiple levels. However, the word Monstrous has been used in several YA book titles in the past few years, so I decided to keep brainstorming. I had a whole list of titles, including Visceral, Nefarious, and Relentless, all of which didn’t meet one of my above criteria. Ferocious didn’t really pop into my head until late in revisions and it came from a line of dialogue from one of the villains.

He’s describing Winter and calls her ferocious, meaning it as a compliment. Once I typed it, it just fit. Once I did a search and saw there was only one independently published book with that name, I was sold. The title Ferocious does one other thing that isn’t in my list of considerations, but is also important to think about—it gives the agency of the story to the main character.

When I think about the titles Vicarious and Ferocious, I imagine a storyline that’s mysterious, and action-packed. A tale where reality is more than what meets the eye, and where the heroes fight with all their strength against the villains. That’s a pared down but accurate description of my two book series. I hope you check it out!

Order Your Copy

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Follow Paula Stokes online on her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and website.

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Sneak Peek: Ferocious by Paula Stokes

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Paula Stokes returns to the world of Vicarious in this sequel, a high-action psychological thriller with a protagonist out for vengeance.

When Winter Kim finds out that her sister is dead and that she has a brother she never knew about, only two things matter—finding what’s left of her family and killing the man who destroyed her life. Her mission leads her from St. Louis to Los Angeles back to South Korea, where she grew up.

Things get increasingly dangerous once Winter arrives in Seoul. Aided by her friends Jesse and Sebastian, Winter attempts to infiltrate an international corporation to get close to her target, a nefarious businessman named Kyung. But keeping her last remaining loved ones out of the line of fire proves difficult, and when all seems to be lost, Winter must face one last devastating decision: is revenge worth sacrificing everything for? Or can she find a spark of hope in the darkness that threatens to engulf her?

Ferocious will become available August 15th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter 1

My name is Winter Kim. Today I killed a man. Soon I hope to kill another.

As the MetroLink train shimmies along its metal tracks, I repeat those words over and over in my head. I recently found out my sister, Rose, was murdered. Her ex-boyfriend, Gideon Seung, suggested we attend a bereavement support group together. But before I could even think about that, Gideon was killed too. And then I killed his killer.

I close my eyes and envision telling a room full of strangers that the only two people I loved were both murdered. There would be the obligatory sympathetic cooing and perhaps a gasp of shock. Then I’d tell them I’m a killer too and I’m not finished yet. The expressions of bland disinterest would twist into disgust. The woman who comes mostly for the free food would choke on her coffee cake.

“You’re a monster,” she’d whisper, before quickly averting her eyes.

Maybe I am a monster.

As far as I know, there’s no support group for that.

The train hisses slightly as it pulls into the next station. Snowflakes batter the windows, sticking fast to the cold glass in tiny deformed clumps. Beyond the platform, the streets of St. Louis stretch out empty and cold. And dark. It’s only six p.m., but it might as well be midnight.

A man pushing a metal cart ducks through the open doors, the wheels leaving trails of grayish sludge on the patterned floor of the train. He takes a seat across from me and folds back the lid to his trolley, exposing items for sale—perfume, neckties, designer purses. The strange combinations of what people sell on the train remind me of the subway stations back in Seoul. You could buy almost anything there.

The train starts moving again. The man steps out into the aisle and begins pushing his trolley toward the front of the car, stopping occasionally to address specific passengers. Turning toward the window, I pull an envelope out of the center pocket of my hoodie. My name is written on the front in black ink. My eyes water as I consider Gideon’s neatly printed capital letters. I’ll never see that handwriting again.

I run my thumb along the flap of the envelope and the paper slices into my flesh, leaving behind a thin trail of red. I lift my hand to my lips and taste the metallic flavor of blood. My fingers brush against the rose pendant that hangs in the hollow of my throat. The necklace used to belong to my sister.

I wrap my fingers around it, grip it so tight that the metal cuts into my palm. Rose died so that I could escape our past.

And now I am free.

But alone.

Vengeance is all that I have left.

Monster, a voice hisses from inside my brain.

Monsters don’t get happy endings.

The train reaches the end of the line—the airport—and I stay tucked in my seat as the other passengers disembark. A pair of security agents passes by in their navy uniforms, followed by two teens in NFL parkas. After them, a group of people wheel suitcases up the wet floor, most of them looking down at their phones as they trudge along. Finally it’s just me and the man with the trolley. He gestures at me and I slide out of my seat. Behind me, his wet, metal wheels bump into the back of my ankles. The man grunts an apology. I nod an acknowledgment without looking back.

Outside, the sharp air cuts through my hoodie and the T-shirt beneath. I exhale a puff of white, half expecting the droplets of my breath to freeze and fall to the ground like a tiny ice storm.

“Cold, huh?” Trolley Guy says as he slides past me. A dark red necktie dangles from the top of his rolling cart.

“Yes.” My voice is barely audible. My eyes hone in on the red slash of fabric. I am thinking about the man who took everyone I love away from me. Kyung. His name is a knife blade, but I’m done being stabbed by it. It’s my turn to inflict the damage.

The red tie vanishes from sight as Trolley Guy disappears behind a pillar. Kyung wore a tie that color the first time I met him. Rose and I stood side by side in the center of a room while he evaluated us like we were farm animals. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I guess they’ll do. My sister’s face burned with shame as he circled us, touching her hair, lifting her skirt to examine her legs. I didn’t understand what was happening yet, but she did.

A set of sliding glass doors opens and the stream of people funnels me into the airport and up a set of narrow escalators. I glance back at the MetroLink tracks through a wall of glass windows. It was probably foolish of me to come here. All I have with me is the envelope from Gideon, the ViSE headset and editor I took from the penthouse, a handful of recordings, and my throwing knives. I don’t even have any luggage—no place to check my knives and hide my spare IDs. I couldn’t go to my therapist appointment, though. If I had, I would’ve broken down and told Dr. Abrams everything. She would have been obligated to put me in a psychiatric facility and warn Kyung that I had threatened his life. Plus, she would’ve gone to the police and they probably would have figured out what really happened in the penthouse.

What really happened is this: Kyung sent a man named Sung Jin to coerce Gideon into giving up the ViSE technology. Gideon tried to refuse and Sung Jin killed him. Sung Jin also shot my friend Jesse Ramirez and Gideon’s head of security, Baz Faber.

And then I killed Sung Jin.

I should probably feel something when I think about that, when I think about pulling the trigger on the gun. When I think about his sharp, mercenary eyes turning to black glass. It’s no small thing—ending someone else’s life. There should be some sort of gravity to that, shouldn’t there? My insides are heavy, but it has nothing to do with what I did. It is only about what I have lost.

I take a seat in the ticketing and departures lobby and watch travelers mill back and forth, their suitcases trailing behind them like obedient toddlers. A cell phone buzzes in my pocket. Sung Jin’s phone—it’s a text from Kyung.

Kyung: Should I arrange for a car to pick you up at LAX tomorrow?

Me: Tomorrow is too soon. Gideon told you the ViSE technology was stolen, right? I know who has it but reacquiring it will take time.

I actually have both the neural editor and recorder headset that Kyung wants me to bring him. Gideon lied to Kyung and said they were stolen to try to buy more time to figure out how to protect the technology. I’m hoping I can use his lie to my advantage.

Kyung: Two more days.

Me: That’s not enough. I need a week.

Kyung: Five days. Bring the tech to me at UsuMed by Wednesday, or else.

Kyung and I have struck a deal of sorts. He claims I have a younger brother, Jun, who works for him, and that if I turn over Gideon’s ViSE technology, he’ll introduce us. ViSEs, or Vicarious Sensory Experiences, are neural recordings that allow a person to experience an activity via someone else’s brain—all the thrills of rock climbing or bungee jumping or running from the police with none of the risk. I don’t know what Kyung wants with the tech, but he wants it badly enough that he’s threatened to kill Jun if I don’t hand it over.

I hate that I’m risking my brother’s life—assuming he’s real—by not turning over the tech immediately, but I’m fairly certain Kyung is just trying to intimidate me. He won’t really hurt my brother, as long as I don’t push him too far. If he does, then he’ll never get what he wants.

I switch to a browser window and do a search for “Jun Song” in Los Angeles. There are several screens of results, but none of them seem like they could be my brother. I try “Jun Song” and “UsuMed,” but there’s no overlap as far as I can tell.

I call up an airline website and search for flights to L.A. But then I get a better idea. Kyung is expecting me to fly into LAX or perhaps one of the local Orange County airports. I don’t know how powerful he is, whether he might have men looking for me there. I clear the search box and search for flights to San Diego instead. I can drive up to Los Angeles. That way I’ll have the element of surprise on my side.

There are open spots on two flights that are leaving later tonight, but my mind wanders back to the envelope from Gideon. I flipped through the contents but I didn’t read all the documents. I should find somewhere to go through it in detail. There’s no need for me to get to L.A. tonight. It makes more sense to find a place to stay, to make a plan.

I book myself on a flight leaving late tomorrow morning, using a fake name on one of the IDs Gideon left for me. Then I take the escalators down two floors to the baggage and ground transportation area. I try not to focus on all of the people down there reuniting with loved ones, but when a group of men—boys, most of them—in tan camouflage stroll past with green duffels slung over their shoulders, my legs go wobbly beneath me. Jesse was one of these guys once, so proud to be a soldier, so sure that he could make a real difference.

I pause for a moment, lean back against the cool concrete of the airport wall and close my eyes. “Please don’t let Jesse die,” I whisper.

Focus, Winter.

Right. Jesse is in the hospital being taken care of by doctors and nurses. I need to take care of myself.

I take a cab to one of the motels that are just across the highway, a run-down, seedy sort of place where a girl who just killed someone can be invisible. I check in under an alias and dead-bolt the door. Then, I lay out everything that was in the envelope from Gideon onto the bed:

A bundle of hundred-dollar bills.

Three sets of fake ID.

Bank statements from multiple bank accounts in both of our names. Just the money in these accounts would be enough for me to go to college and buy a small house—to live a life.

A business card from a lawyer who undoubtedly has additional paperwork for Gideon’s business and personal assets.

And then something I’m not expecting: a blue memory card with my name on it.

It’s a ViSE recording. It can’t be of my sister, because she died before Gideon ever developed the technology. So it has to be a message from him to me. Which means that he must have known this day might come.

I pull in a deep breath and then let it out in fluttery little gasps. Retrieving my headset, I unfold the lightweight metal apparatus, slip the recording into the slot on the back, and adjust the prongs over my neural access points. I lie back on the mattress and press PLAY.

Gideon is sitting at the desk in his study, his laptop open in front of him. His black hair is slicked back like he just got out of the shower. He smiles slightly and a lump rises up in my throat. My eyes burn with tears.

I pause the recording. Sometimes when you’re vising, you can’t distinguish what you’re feeling from what the recorder is feeling. The lump, the tears—are they mine or someone else’s? I lift a hand to my cheek. My fingers come away wet.

Crying is difficult for me. Dr. Abrams says that it takes more courage to express emotions than to hide them away, but it’s hard to feel brave in this moment. I’m split between desperately needing Gideon and knowing that a ViSE of him won’t be enough. It’ll be like standing outside in a frigid St. Louis winter with nothing but a picture of a coat to keep me warm.

I give up and remove the headset. I’m not ready to play this recording. Dr. Abrams also used to tell me that love strengthened people. Right now my love for Gideon feels like a weakness, just like my tears.

I set the headset down on the bed and remove the memory card. As I slip everything back into the envelope, my fingertips brush against something cold. There’s a thin metal chain at the very bottom that I missed when I went dumped out the contents. I loop my finger around it and hold it up to the light. It’s a necklace with a snowflake pendant. Why would Gideon buy me this? It’s pretty, but everything else in this envelope is essential.

As my fingers trace the snowflake’s detailed prongs, I notice there’s a crack in the middle. Not a crack—a seam. The pendant pulls apart to expose a micro flash drive. My mind whirls as I turn the tiny storage device over in my hands. What sort of information could be so crucial that Gideon felt the need to disguise it in jewelry?

Copyright © 2017 by Paula Stokes

Order Your Copy

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On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events for September

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Tor/Forge authors are on the road in September! See who is coming to a city near you this month.

Shannon Baker, Stripped Bare

Wednesday, September 7
Boulder Bookstore
Boulder, CO
7:30 PM
Also with Kevin Wolf

Thursday, September 8
Old Firehouse Books
Fort Collins, CO
6:00 PM

Tuesday, September 20
Bookworks
Albuquerque, NM
6:00 PM

Wednesday, September 21
Op. Cit. Books
Taos, NM
11:30 AM

Saturday, September 24
Barbed Wire Books
Longmont, CO
3:00 PM

Sunday, September 25
Hampden Hall
Englewood, CO
3:00 PM

Tuesday, September 27
Barnes & Noble
Cheyenne, WY
4:00 PM

Wednesday, September 28
Books-a-Million
Rapid City, SD
6:00 PM

Thursday, September 29
Tattered Cover
Littleton, CO
7:00 PM
Also with Kevin Wolf

Friday, September 30
Barnes & Noble
Pueblo, CO
4:00 PM

Robert Brockway, The Empty Ones

Saturday, September 3
Village Books
Bellingham, WA
7:00 PM

Blake Charlton, Spellbreaker

Wednesday, September 14
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
7:30 PM

Max Gladstone, Four Roads Cross

Sunday, September 4
Decatur Book Festival
Decatur, GA
5:00 PM

David Hagberg, End Game

Sunday, September 4
Decatur Book Festival
International Covert Ops Panel, with David Hagberg, Bret Witter, moderated by Alice Murray
Decatur, GA
5:00 PM

Thursday, September 8
Bookstore 1
Sarasota, FL
7:00 PM

Kij Johnson The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

Thursday, September 15
Kansas University, Jayhawk Ink Lounge
Lawrence, KS
5:30 PM

Sarah Porter, Vassa in the Night

Sunday, September 18
Brooklyn Book Festival
Magic and Mayhem in New York
Brooklyn, NY
4:00 PM

Sunday, September 25
Oblong Books
Also with Danielle Paige
Rhinebeck, NY
4:00 PM

Monday, September 26
Books of Wonder
Also with Kerri Maniscalco
New York, NY
6:00 PM

Thursday, September 29
One More Page Books
Fall for the Book YA Panel
Also featuring A. J. Hartley and Carrie Jones
Arlington, VA
7:00 PM

Cherie Priest, The Family Plot

Tuesday, September 20
Barnes & Noble
Chattanooga, TN
7:00 PM

Thursday, September 22
Star Line Books
Chattanooga, TN
6:00 PM

Brandon Sanderson, The Dark Talent

Tuesday, September 6
The King’s English Bookshop
Salt Lake City, UT
6:00 PM

Nisi Shawl, Everfair

Tuesday, September 6
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM

Friday, September 9
Malvern Books
Also with Christopher Brown
Austin, TX
7:00 PM

Saturday, September 10
Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
2:00 PM

Monday, September 12
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
7:30 PM

Tuesday, September 13
Eso Won
Los Angeles, CA
7:00 PM

Monday, September 19
A Room of One’s Own
Madison, WI
7:00 PM

Wednesday, September 21
Nicola’s Books
Ann Arbor, MI
7:00 PM

Friday, September 23
Charis Books & More
Atlanta, GA
7:30 PM

Kristen Simmons, Metaltown

Tuesday, September 20
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Crestview Hills, KY
7:00 PM

Thursday, September 22
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Lexington, KY
7:00 PM

Friday, September 23
Anderson’s Bookshop
Also with Paula Stokes
Downers Grove, IL
7:00 PM

Paula Stokes, Vicarious

Thursday, September 22
Left Bank Books
St. Louis, MO
7:00 PM

Friday, September 23
Anderson’s Bookshop
Also with Kristen Simmons
Downers Grove, IL
7:00 PM

Fran Wilde, Cloundbound

Tuesday, September 27
Barnes & Noble
With Chuck Wendig
Philadelphia, PA
7:00 PM

Anne A. Wilson, Clear to Lift

Thursday, September 22
Coronado Public Library
Books provided by Bay Books
Coronado, CA
6:00 PM

Simone Zelitch, Judenstaat

Saturday, September 3
Decatur Book Festival
Decatur, GA
12:30 PM

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New Releases: 8/16/16

New Releases

Here’s what went on sale today!

Any Minute Now by Eric Van Lustbader

Any Minute Now by Eric Van LustbaderRed Rover is broken, finished, dead. The blackest of black ops teams is betrayed on its top-priority mission to capture and interrogate a mysterious Saudi terrorist. One of their own is killed, the remaining two barely get home alive. Then without warning or explanation the mission is shut down. Greg Whitman and Felix Orteño are left adrift in a world full of deathly shadows, blind alleys, and unanswerable questions. Into their midst comes Charlize Daou, a brilliant, wildly talented arms expert with a past entangled with Whit’s. Though Charlie grapples with damage of her own, she becomes their new center, their moral compass, and their reason for resurrecting Red Rover. Ignoring their new orders, Red Rover secretly sets out to find the protected Saudi terrorist, the first step in a perilous journey into the heart of a vast conspiracy that involves the NSA, a cabal of immensely wealthy mystics known as the Alchemists, and an ageless visionary out to create an entirely new way of waging war. A war that will destabilize one of the great super-powers and forever rearrange the balance of power across the entire globe.

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette KowalGinger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force. Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…

Vicarious by Paula Stokes

Vicarious by Paula StokesWinter Kim and her sister, Rose, have escaped the past and started over in a new place where no one knows who they used to be. Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose’s ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Whether it’s bungee jumping, shark diving, or grinding up against celebrities at the city’s hottest dance clubs, Gideon can make it happen for you, for a price. When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter is devastated. She won’t rest until she finds her sister’s killer. But when the clues she uncovers conflict with the digital recordings her sister made, Winter isn’t sure what to believe. To find out what happened to Rose, she’ll have to untangle what’s real from what only seems real, risking her own life in the process.

NEW FROM TOR.COM:

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij JohnsonProfessor Vellitt Boe teaches at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College. When one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, Vellitt must retrieve her.

 

NOW IN PAPERBACK:

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest by Cixin LiuThis near-future trilogy is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from Cixin Liu, China’s most beloved science fiction author. In The Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion-in just four centuries’ time. The aliens’ human collaborators may have been defeated, but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth’s defense plans are totally exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret. This is the motivation for the Wallfacer Project, a daring plan that grants four men enormous resources to design secret strategies, hidden through deceit and misdirection from Earth and Trisolaris alike. Three of the Wallfacers are influential statesmen and scientists, but the fourth is a total unknown. Luo Ji, an unambitious Chinese astronomer and sociologist, is baffled by his new status. All he knows is that he’s the one Wallfacer that Trisolaris wants dead.

See upcoming releases.

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Write What You Feel

Vicarious by Paula Stokes Written by Paula Stokes

“Write what you know” and “write what you love” are often-repeated bits of writing advice, and although I prefer the second one (because let’s face it, there’s a lot of cool stuff I don’t know), to me what really makes a story come alive is when you write what you feel.

A lot of writers are reluctant to do this. It’s easy to share our occupations and hobbies with readers, but when it comes to sharing actual feelings, many people turn toward The Emotion Thesaurus or similar. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that book, and I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes pull it out when I notice an overuse of lazy blocking creeping into my manuscripts. But if you’re relying on outside sources when it comes to the crucial emotional beats of your story, you’re cheating both your characters and your readers.

By the time we’re teens, most of us have experienced both the highs and lows of what life has to offer. Channel those memories, relive them, explore the way joy and pain and anger and guilt affected you both internally and externally. What thoughts ran through your mind the first time you experienced real loss? How did your body respond physically on the happiest day of your life? You might think you don’t have a frame of reference for a certain plot point, but if you dig deep enough, chances are you do. For example, the fear of losing your parents in a crowded department store at age four might seem to have nothing in common with the fear of waiting for biopsy results alone at age forty. But aren’t both of these characters probably filled with dread, terrified at what the future holds, wondering if their idea of normal will be forever altered?

Mining your emotions like this can be difficult to do for a couple of reasons. First, it might require you to relive painful or uncomfortable moments. My main character in Vicarious, Winter Kim, is suffering from PTSD, part of which manifests as episodes of hopelessness and despair. I was in a very dark place when I wrote the first draft of the novel, so back then channeling my pain was therapeutic. It was almost like I had created a fictional surrogate who could carry part of it for me. But revising the book and drafting the sequel were both difficult because a lot of time had passed and I was feeling better. I’m easily affected by other people’s moods, and apparently that includes fictional people. It was hard to read passages where Winter is overwhelmed by sadness and then remember how I had felt the same way. It was difficult to go back there, but I tried to re-embrace the same frame of mind throughout writing and revising both Vicarious and the sequel so that Winter would continue to feel authentic. (Obviously you shouldn’t do this with a memory that is so traumatic it might trigger episodes of depression, anxiety, etc. The quality of your work is important, but it is never more important than your physical or mental health.)

The second reason it’s hard to write what you feel is that the negative reviews can feel sort of personal. If you’re an astronaut or a gamer and you put astronaut stuff or gamer stuff into a book and some reviewer says it’s boring or dumb, well, who cares? We don’t all like the same stuff. But if you pour forth your post-breakup pain (as I did in one of my contemporary books) only to have a bunch of strangers decide that your character is weak, desperate, and anti-feminist for wanting her boyfriend back, that might sting a little. It did for me anyway 😉

But despite those caveats, I have no regrets about allowing my books to become so personal. To date I have written a headstrong Renaissance girl, a heartbroken soccer star, a detached and cynical adopted boy, a tennis player with survivor’s guilt, and an emotionally scarred stunt woman. I am none of those people. I have never been any of those people, and on the surface those characters seem to have little in common with one another. However, one thing that is routinely said about my writing, even in the critical reviews, is that my characters feel real—fleshed out, vulnerable, relatable. I credit this to letting my innermost feelings find their way into my stories, to sharing deeply personal pieces of myself with my characters.

Not every reader will be able to relate to a particular story or setting, but we can all relate to emotions. That same breakup contemporary that inspired so much scorn also resulted in a flurry of emails from people who read the book while they were struggling with their own breakups. Those readers were comforted by the main character’s journey. Those readers found not just escape, but hope within the book’s pages. And I found hope in their words.

Write bravely. Write honestly. Write what you feel. The rewards are worth the risks.

Buy Vicarious here:

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Don’t forget to follow Paula Stokes on Twitter (@pstokesbooks), on Facebook, or visit her website.

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Sneak Peek: Vicarious by Paula Stokes

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Vicarious by Paula StokesTwo sisters. One future.

Winter Kim and her sister, Rose, have escaped the past and started over in a new place where no one knows who they used to be. Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose’s ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Whether it’s bungee jumping, shark diving, or grinding up against celebrities at the city’s hottest dance clubs, Gideon can make it happen for you, for a price.

When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter is devastated. She won’t rest until she finds her sister’s killer. But when the clues she uncovers conflict with the digital recordings her sister made, Winter isn’t sure what to believe. To find out what happened to Rose, she’ll have to untangle what’s real from what only seems real, risking her own life in the process.

Paula Stokes weaves together a series of mysteries and a love story between sisters in this unforgettable high-tech thrill ride.

Vicarious will be available August 16th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

CHAPTER 1

THREE YEARS LATER

Rose is crowding me out as usual, the reflection of her slender elbow obscuring part of my face in the mirror. Her scattered powders and potions cover the marble vanity of the bathroom we share. They’re made of all things bold and glittery, just like she is. In contrast, my neat little cluster of toothbrush, hairbrush, and eyeliner feels like an unruly child put in the corner.

“Move over,” I say.

She’s busy curling her eyelashes. I watch as she clamps a little torture device over one eye. People say we look alike, but what they mean is we look alike except she’s more striking. She has the same basic bone structure and pale skin, but bigger eyes, fuller lips, longer hair, and now, apparently, curlier eyelashes.

“You move over. I have plans tonight.” Rose tosses the eyelash curler into the sink and blinks sweetly at my reflection before rummaging through the mess on the vanity to find a tube of mascara.

“Me too.” I finger-comb my shoulder-length black hair, and then grab my eyeliner. A soft brush of black pencil across my lower lash line is usually all the makeup I wear.

“With Jesse Ramirez?” Rose wrinkles her nose at my pencil. “I could help you with your makeup.”

“Maybe.” I ignore her offer to slather me up with products. Jesse’s not my boyfriend, and even if he were, I wouldn’t waste time trying to impress him by masquerading as someone else.

“Winter,” Rose starts, her voice getting that whole mothering tone like she’s forty instead of twenty. “You know Jesse loves you.”

“No he doesn’t. We just work together, all right?” I’ve caught Jesse staring more than once, but I’m fairly certain his feelings are more practical in nature. He wants what all guys want. Too bad for him.

Rose blots her eyelashes on the back of her hand and applies a coat of shiny red lipstick. She looks like something out of a black-and-white movie. I’ve never seen a dress with so much fringe before.

“You should just give him some. See what it’s like to be with someone who actually cares about you.”

I flinch slightly as I tug at her scooped neckline, pulling up the fabric to cover her cleavage. “Maybe you should try not giving some to everyone you meet.”

“Funny.” Rolling her impeccably made-up eyes, Rose twists her curtain of black hair up under a white-blond wig. “I’m going to Inferno. Come by later if you want.”

Inferno is the club in the building next door. I’ve only been there a couple of times since I turned eighteen three months ago. “Are you … working?” I ask.

She smiles coyly. “Maybe.”

“Then I’ll just see you tomorrow.”

Lately, Rose’s idea of work has gotten increasingly provocative: modeling, club dancing, switch parties. Inferno holds a switch party every Saturday night. It’s basically a make-out version of speed dating, where they turn out all the lights and then everyone pairs up, hooks up, and then switches partners. As you can imagine, finding enough men isn’t a problem, but the club usually ends up having to pay the women. Rose swears she doesn’t seriously hook up with anyone, that it’s all about teasing and control, but sometimes I wonder. It’s her body and she can do what she wants with it, but the thought of some dirty stranger’s hands on my sister makes my insides wither.

I love Rose, but sometimes I don’t understand her.

“When’s your next therapist appointment?” she asks suddenly, as if the look on my face might indicate an impending breakdown.

“Why are you asking me that? You know I quit seeing her.”

Rose arches a dark eyebrow. “I’m surprised Gideon doesn’t force you to go.”

Gideon and Rose ended their relationship shortly after we left Los Angeles. Despite the breakup, they’ve remained friends and the three of us still live together in Gideon’s penthouse. Which means now he’s sort of our landlord, older brother, and boss rolled into one. It’s complicated.

“He’s so busy working that he probably doesn’t realize I’ve stopped going,” I say. This is a half-truth. My therapist’s office seems to be a few weeks behind on billing, so that’s why Gideon doesn’t know I’ve been skipping sessions. “I’ll make an appointment if I need to.”

Rose acts like I might kill myself at any moment, but that’s just her being dramatic. Maybe I was depressed in Los Angeles, but I got better once we escaped. My therapist here diagnosed me with PTSD, but even at its worst, it was never anything that serious. I just sometimes got my dreams confused with reality, or saw things a little differently than they actually were.

Now, other than the occasional nightmare or bout of anxiety, I’m fine. I don’t need to waste time in Dr. Abrams’s soothing blue-green office talking about how it felt to be repeatedly violated. Sometimes it’s best to just move on.

“All right.” Rose raises her hands in mock surrender. “You seem fine to me.”

Rose lived the same life I did, but she doesn’t have PTSD. No bad dreams, no missing memories. Sometimes I’m jealous that she seems to deal with everything better than I do. But then I’ll catch her with this hollow look in her eyes and think maybe she just disguises everything for my benefit.

Maybe she’s broken on the inside too.

She leans in to give me an air kiss on each cheek, and her jasmine perfume makes me sneeze. A row of shiny bracelets jangle against each other as she pulls a chunk of my hair forward from behind my left ear. It falls in front of my eye, kind of seductive-like. Satisfied, she smiles.

“I’m just going to put it in a ponytail.” I lift my arm so she can see the plain black elastic band looped around my wrist.

She sighs deeply. “You’re hopeless.” She reaches out to hug me, and her warmth makes my rigid muscles start to loosen.

And then go tight again.

Sometimes when we touch, I flash back to the two of us huddled together in a tiny room in L.A. after one of our “dates.” I’m sobbing. She’s consoling. I’m hoping for death and she’s demanding I stay alive.

She usually gets what she wants.

Rose spins around once to check her reflection in the full-length mirror mounted on the outside of the bathroom door. Fringe flares out from her slender body.

“Be safe,” I say.

“But not too safe.” Flashing me a grin, she sashays out into the living room.

Still trapped between here and thoughts of L.A., I grab the bar of soap and turn the faucet on all hot. Clouds of steam blanket the mirror as the scalding water turns my hands pink. I close my eyes and count to ten. My flesh protests, but I lather for another ten seconds and then rinse. The pain washes away the memories.

Someone raps sharply on the front door of the penthouse. It’s probably Jesse, and I’m not ready. “Can you answer the door?” I ask. “I think Gideon is already in bed.”

No response. More rapping. I turn the faucet off and dry my hands on an embroidered hand towel. “Eonni? Did you hear me?” I head for the living room.

Our cat, Miso, sits just inside the front door, his black-and-white tail twitching with anticipation. Otherwise, the penthouse is empty except for a whiff of jasmine perfume. Rose must have left when I was washing my hands.

“I’ll be right there,” I call. I head into my bedroom and grab my lightweight Kevlar body armor from a hanger in my closet. I slide it over my head and pull the Velcro straps tight. Then I open the top drawer of the nightstand and pull out a stun gun and a pair of throwing knives.

I’m in a slightly different line of work than my sister.

Copyright © 2016 by Paula Stokes

Buy Vicarious here:

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