This month marks my two-year anniversary embarking on this experiment of sharing my stories with the world. I've completed my fifth book and have started working on books six and seven. Personally that's huge for me, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished.
After months of debating and analyzing, I've decided to quit publishing. I want to be a writer not a publisher or a marketer. Success in self-publishing is dependent on the later two. Not only do you need a good book people want to read, but you have to spend lots of time promoting and hawking and running ads so people can find your books, and that part of the process is soul-sucking and has been distracting me from what I really want to do which is write. I think that's why I had such a hard time finishing Sun and Saltwater. I was too worried about the other aspects of the business.
I will still share my stories here on my blog and on Wattpad. The installments for Sun and Saltwater should go up pretty fast since the story is complete. I'm already well into Sand and Sky which is Sol's story. (He's actually my favorite character.)
I'm still having fun. I just want to concentrate on the fun part for a while. And offer a big thank you to those of you have read and enjoyed my books.
Sun and Saltwater
Part One Chapter One
How in the hell had Jamie let Marshall talk him into this?
The Pave Hawk hurled itself over the Gulf of Mexico at what felt like a dizzying pace. Jamie could swim faster than the helo’s current speed, but every time he looked through the cargo area’s open door his head spun and his stomach lurched. The good news, he hadn’t puked yet. The bad news, there was still plenty of time. Jamie clenched his jaw, his bare feet bricked to the floor.
He hated flying. It wasn’t natural.
“You all right?” Marshall yelled over the high-pitched whir of the engine and the thith thith thith of the rotor blades. Leaving the door open had been Marshall’s idea. And just to prove he had something on Jamie, Marshall hadn’t strapped in. He kind of hated Marshall right now.
“Yep.” Jamie remained tight-lipped, white-knuckling his seat straps.
“Tens more minutes. Think you can make it that long?” Marshall’s hand clamped on Jamie’s thigh.
“Yes, sir.” Ten minutes sounded like a lifetime. Jamie forced himself to breathe. Little good it did him. He wouldn’t breathe easy until he was off this flying tin can.
“Thatta boy.” Marshall’s grin spread under his dark aviators. The one and only other time Jamie had been in a chopper, it hadn’t ended well. Falling out of a helicopter was damn near impossible, but somehow Jamie had managed it. Marshall still liked to give him grief about it. Jamie reminded himself he’d asked for this.
When Jamie had approached Marshall about setting up this meeting, Marshall had looked at him long and hard and only asked one question: “Do you want to tell me why?”
“No,” had been Jamie’s answer, because he hadn’t known the reason other than he wanted face-to-face time with the man who’d killed his dad. The crew needed to log some training hours and with a few adjustments in their flight plan, he and Marshall had been on their way.
Despite their best efforts, Jamie and Marshall’s relationship had encountered a period of strain after he and Erin’s split. Marshall occasionally mentioned Erin in passing but for the most part, they didn’t talk about her. Jamie never asked about her, and he’d grown accustomed to the throbbing ache he endured whenever he allowed himself to think about her, which was every minute of every damn day. Eventually the strain between he and Marshall had eased and they were back on equal footing. They still didn’t talk about Erin.
“There she is.” Marshall nodded to the structure sprouting out of the water—a crab-like piece of industry in the middle of a watery landscape. “High Island.”
The chopper banked left, giving Jamie a clear view out the door. High Island was an abandoned oilrig forty miles off the coast of Mississippi that had been converted into a containment facility specifically outfitted to hold Jamie’s kind. As far as Jamie knew, it held only one occupant, the man at the top of Jamie’s hit list, Sterling Flores.
The chopper hovered over the helipad, and Jamie counted the seconds until the wheels touched down. He closed his eyes and expelled the breath he’d been holding since he’d strapped in. He wasted no time scrambling out of his seat. He’d never been so relieved to set foot on solid ground in his life, even if it that ground was a concrete platform a hundred feet above the water’s surface. Anywhere was better than the air.
Jamie ducked under the rotating blades, his head pounding with the pressure of the wind and the noise. Marshall fell in behind him, and they jogged across the platform, the chopper’s blades slowing behind them. Marshall’s parka whipped in the wind along with the American flag flying at full mast at the helm of the concrete and steel structure. The smell of diesel stung Jamie’s nose. Jamie’s dad had worked on a rig like this one. He’d died on a rig like this one. Somewhere on this manmade intrusion was the man responsible.
Marshall headed straight for the officer in charge, leaving Jamie to wait. A half a dozen MA’s patrolled the platform dressed similarly to Jamie in blue and gray cammies. The only difference being Jamie refused to wear boots and he’d shed the long-sleeved button-up shirt for a black t-shirt. But even dressed the same, Jamie wasn’t like the sailors on this rig and he never would be.
Jamie ventured out in public occasionally to test the waters so to speak. Mostly at night. Mostly he’d stay in the shadows. On those nights he didn’t feel so much like a beast, he’d leave the shadows and step into the light. Sometimes the light would accept him and he’d feel almost normal again. Sometimes the light revealed too much and people would stare. They’d gasp. They’d recoil. They’d give him a wide berth and Jamie would try to tell himself it didn’t matter. They didn’t matter. But deep down he knew it did. It had mattered to Erin. That’s why she’d left him.
One of the MA’s was openly staring—a female he noticed on closer inspection. She didn’t flinch when he made direct eye contact under the brim of her hat. She explored his face, cataloging his features with interest, and when her gaze dropped, he purposefully unclenched his fists. If his size or the patterned blue streak slicing across his face didn’t intimidate the people he encountered, the hands always did. The hands always gave them pause. It was the hands that prompted them to step back warily and view him with less curiosity and more apprehension. To her credit, this sailor held her ground. Jamie checked her name tape. Ryan.
Jamie spread his webs and let them breathe. Let Ryan look her fill and form her judgments.
After a few beats of studied silence, Ryan lifted her brown eyes back to his and asked, “How do you fire your weapon?”
“I don’t.” He could lift heavy shit. He could hear the guy breathing on the other end of the platform and smell the guy’s sweat, and he suspected he could create a wind with enough force to blow this structure right out of the water, but he couldn’t pull the trigger on a Beretta or an LMG, though it probably didn’t matter anymore. Jamie was about to embark on a career move that would more than likely turn him into a circus clown. Clowns didn’t fire weapons. Clowns were a sideshow distraction to the main event. Like Jamie was now.
Eager to get on with the task at hand, Jamie was relieved when, after nodding to the guard, Marshall walked over, putting his hand on Jamie’s back. “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”
Marshall had taken off his sunglasses and Jamie met his cool gaze. “All I need is five.”
Ryan readjusted her assault rifle and stepped forward. “This way, sir.”
Sir? Jamie stifled a snort as he followed Ryan toward the structure’s only visible entrance. Jamie stiffened. Prisons made him leery. Cages riled his beast.
“Jamie,” Marshall called, prompting him to turn around as Ryan pushed a series of buttons that unlocked the door. “I’m not sure what you’re expecting to accomplish by coming here, but Flores isn’t the man you remember.”
It took a few seconds for the door to unlock, seconds during which
Jamie’s heart started to pound. The door beeped and slid open revealing a corridor leading deeper into the bowels of the prison. Like they always did when Jamie was indoors, the walls closed in on him. The corridor tunneled in front of him, and he had to remind himself he could walk out anytime. This prison wasn’t for him.
“You family?” Ryan shot at him over her shoulder, her boots echoing off the floor with each step. She was trying to pretend his presence didn’t make her nervous, but Jamie detected the slight acceleration of her pulse and the fine sheen of sweat that had popped up on her upper lip.
“No. I just want to talk to him.” Or he might just kill him. He was thinking seriously about killing him.
Ryan huffed. “Good luck with that. You know what happened to him?”
Jamie stared at her blankly. He had no idea what she was talking about.
When he failed to respond, she glanced up. “I was just curious. He doesn’t get many visitors. His wife came once. Hasn’t been back.”
They walked another twenty meters then Ryan stopped in front of a door and swiped an access card over an electronic panel. The red light blinking over the panel turned solid green, and the door popped open. Like the cage Jamie had been held in at the Facility, Flores’ cage had an observation room.
Ryan moved to let Jamie pass. “Red button on the wall. Push it when you’re ready to leave,” she said. “Enjoy your visit.”
Jamie stepped into the room and the door clicked shut behind him. His skin seemed to strain for the moisture hanging in the air, the tang of salt sharp on his tongue. Now that he was here, he was surprised it had been this easy. He’d expected tighter security. He’d expected this place to be guarded by an army like a fortress.
Stepping farther into the room, the sight of Flores’ cell gave him pause and memories he’d just as soon forget flooded his mind of those first few days he’d spent on land in almost two years. The way his mind had been caught between beast and man, struggling to make sense of the things and the world around him. He still felt that way sometimes, as though he didn’t truly belong. He’d never forget seeing Erin for the first time, registering the fear in her eyes, a fear that had never gone away.
He shook those thoughts away. He needed his mind fully engaged in the coming confrontation. Stepping forward, he took note of the metal-framed bed bolted to the floor on one side of the rectangular space. A desk was pushed against the opposite wall on the other side of a door Jamie assumed opened into a bathroom. A television in a protective cover was mounted in one corner, the blank screen reflecting the bed across from it and the man lying under the blanket. The mass under the blanket shifted and Jamie’s nostrils flared, catching the man’s scent. His enemy’s scent. Jamie’s fists clenched as he fought the urge to bust through this glass wall. Flores turned over and the blanket slipped to the floor.
What happened to him?
Ryan’s inquiry replayed in Jamie’s mind. The man struggling to get up from the bed was nothing like the Flores of Jamie’s memory. A bare leg fell over the bed’s side. The other leg had to be supported and the foot placed on the floor. If it weren’t for the memory he’d carried around for the last two years of the man’s scent, Jamie wouldn't have recognized him. The last time Jamie had seen Flores, he’d been staring down at him, his clear blue eyes shining with haughty superiority.
There was nothing haughty or superior about the man hobbling toward him on the other side of the glass. The whole left side of Flores’ body was shriveled and partially paralyzed. The left side of his face drooped, the eye milky white under sagging, wrinkled skin. His left arm hung limp and useless, his fingers curled inward. His once gleaming black hair was a frizzy, gray mass. Flores continued his pathetic procession forward, dragging his left foot behind him.
No wonder security was so lax. No wonder he’d been permitted to breeze inside this place without even a general pat down.
Jamie’s beast was disappointed. His beast wouldn’t find satisfaction in killing a man already half dead, no matter how much he hated him, no matter how much he deserved it.
He’d come here for nothing.
Flores lifted his chin, his one-eyed gaze wandering over Jamie’s face. He made a choked sound and his body jerked. His blue eye focused and recognition dawned like the blinding light of a new morning, but there was nothing bright in Flores’ eye. It was as dark and barren as the deep ocean floor.
Flores had once been a great man. A powerful man. Not anymore. Jamie searched for a kernel of pity and found none. He felt nothing for the man cowering before him like an injured animal. Something shifted in Flores’ one good eye as if in Jamie he saw hope. Surely Flores didn’t believe Jamie was here to help him. Jamie had no intention of being this man’s savior. He was more interested in his ruin. Looked like someone had beat him to it. Hadn’t Noah assured him he’d watched the lightning crackle from the sky, felt the sizzle of it on his skin?
“K… kill… me…” Flores’ strangled whisper fogged the glass.
Jamie was tempted. It’s what he’d come for. But seeing Flores now, maybe this pitiful existence was more fitting than the death Jamie had planned.
Flores lifted his good hand, placing it on the glass in a desperate reach. A single tear leaked from his eye and slid down his cheek then splattered on the floor. His slanted mouth fell open. “Kill… me.”
Killing the man now would be an act of mercy. Flores hadn’t shown mercy to Jamie’s father. Flores hadn’t shown mercy to the members of his tribe he’d so callously infected. Jamie looked his enemy in the eye.
His enemy suffered. His beast was satisfied.
“Please,” Flores begged, but the appeal fell on indifferent ears. Without the slightest remorse, Jamie turned his back on the wretched creature, punching the red button that released the door.
Ryan was standing in the corridor waiting for him. Without a word, Jamie strode past her, stifling the need to run and escape the trap of this place like he knew Flores never would. Her footfalls sounded behind him as she struggled to keep pace. When he finally burst out of the cavernous prison, Jamie closed his eyes as the sun hit him full on the face, relishing its heat. Salt air filled his lungs. The water called to him, an echo of his name deep in his chest.
Marshall’s voice prompted his eyes open. “You get what you came for?”
“Yes.” Knowing Flores’ truly suffered was a start, but there were others that had to pay for what they’d done to his dad. In time they would.
“Then let’s get the hell out of here.” Marshall started for the helo.
“I’ll find my way home.” Jamie felt himself smile, an impulse he rarely experienced anymore. Not since the day he’d said goodbye to Erin.
Jamie knew Marshall and Ryan and the rest of the crew were watching as he made his way to the platform’s edge. He knew they watched as he climbed on the guardrail and gazed over the ocean like he owned it and everything in it. Knew they watched as he leaped into the air arms spread wide, anticipating the moment when the water would take hold of him.
He could always count on her. She was faithful. She cradled him in her warm embrace as soothing as a dream. Jamie liked to dream.