Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Excerpt: Dealing With David--Out Today from Samhain

Being sick and having a ton of work and lots of other things can really throw you off your blogging game... I'll be working on getting myself back into a regular gear over the next few weeks. As a result, this week you'll be getting not one but THREE excerpts! Why? Because I just had three stories--a short story, a novella and a full-length novel--release over the last week.

Today's contribution is from Dealing With David, available NOW from Samhain. Take a look, and if you grab the book and read it, a review would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

On to the excerpt... Hope you enjoy!


Stranded in the mountains after a freak spring snowstorm, our intrepid heroine finds herself in David's guest bedroom trying to get to sleep. But there's something about the former high school geek that has her in knots...

The bed was cozy, with clean-smelling sheets and a heavy comforter. Tony crawled in and flipped off the light.

The absolute darkness startled her. After so long living in town, she’d forgotten the deep, dark of night in the mountains. With snow and stars obscured by snow clouds, the only light in the room came from the hall light seeping faintly in under the door. She buried herself to her neck in the blankets and stared into the darkness.

This was not how she’d planned to spend her weekend. Of course, it wasn’t what David had planned, either. She really just wanted to go home, to her own bed, get herself mentally ready for her new temp assignment, eat chocolate, watch some shows off her DVR, go shopping, maybe buy some new shoes. None of that was going to happen. Instead, apparently, she was going to lie here in David’s guest bedroom and brood.

She couldn’t figure out why she felt so strange. Just being in David’s presence seemed to drag up all the yuck she’d tried to shove under the carpet when she finally ended her marriage. Why was it rolling up its ugly underbelly again when she found herself with someone who was acting like he might be interested in her?

And what was all this nonsense about him being infatuated with her in high school? She’d never been aware of any particular interest on his part, much less a crush or infatuation. Surely she would’ve noticed.

Then again, she hadn’t paid much attention to him. She’d used him once to help her get through an algebra exam. She couldn’t characterize the interaction any more charitably; she’d been nice to him while he been tutoring her, then, when the exams were over, had snubbed him. A minor sin, maybe, but it gave her a twinge of guilt when she thought about it now. Especially when he was being nice to her.

A half hour of brooding broodiness later, Tony looked at the clock and discovered only five minutes had passed. With an exasperated sigh, she sat up and turned on the light. After a moment’s thought, she slipped out of bed and opened the bedroom door.

A soft murmur of music drifted down the hallway. David’s bedroom door was partly open, and a light burned beyond it. Tony padded to the door and peered around it.

Yet another computer occupied a desk in a corner of the bedroom. David sat in front of it, his back to the door. Hesitantly, she knocked.

He turned to face her. He wore glasses now, lightweight wire frames with thin lenses. They made him look bookish but not at all unattractive. Tony became suddenly, acutely aware of where she was and tried very hard not to look at the bed.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing really.” His quilt was maroon and black, she noticed, a geometric pattern that complemented the one in the guest room. “I just can’t sleep.”

David grinned and reached over to pull some paper out of the printer tray. His sweatshirt rode up when he bent over, and Tony had a hard time convincing herself she shouldn’t look at his bare skin. The shirt settled back into place as he straightened.

“Here you go,” he said, handing her the paper and a pen.

Tony shook her head, not willing to admit he’d given her exactly what she needed. But she’d always sketched when she was nervous, even in high school. He’d kidded her about it more than once.
She should just leave now, she thought, but before she could stop herself, she said, “Do you, um…wear contacts now, or did you have Lasik?”

He smiled. “Lasik. I only wear glasses now at night, when my eyes are tired, or when I’ve been on the computer a long time. It was totally worth it.”

“I’ll bet. So what are you working on? Another game?”

He rolled his chair to one side so she could see the screen. Crudely rendered stick figures stood posed in battle in front of a background of color blocks.

Dark Princes III,” he said. “It’s a really early version. We still don’t have the artwork hashed out, so we’re just blocking out some of the major action sequences. Rich and I wrote up the plot along with one of our other programmers. The other programmer wasn’t happy about the predominately male characters in the first two games, so we took her advice, and now Dark Princes III is about Prince Aelfwyn’s sister Aethelfried.”

“Well, that’s a nice change of pace, anyway. Those adventure games always seem so sexist.” Belatedly, Tony noticed her clipped tone.

David only grinned. “Touché. Actually, I’d always intended to move into some more gender-flexible games, but the Dark Princes plot didn’t lend itself too well to that, and games with male leads are proven to sell better.”

“Why is that?” asked Tony.

“Supposedly women don’t have a problem playing games where they’re presenting themselves as a male character, but men aren’t so happy pretending they’re a female character. A few games have bucked the standard, but with Dark Princes being a new franchise, I decided to play it safe.”

“I see.” Tony paused, evaluating her tone. Had she sounded too snippy? “I guess video games are a man’s world too.” Just like everything else. Yeah, that had sounded a little snippy. She needed to work on that.

David didn’t seem offended. He turned back toward the computer and touched a button. The stick figures came to life, moving into confrontation. “The world is what you make of it.”

Maybe for you. Tony managed to quash that thought before she voiced it aloud. Some people turned everything they touched to gold. Others turned it to mud.

She started to back out of the room, then paused, watching the little stick figures bash each other with stick-figure swords. Their movements were jerky, unrefined, but even at this stage, she could tell the choreography of the battle had been carefully thought out. They just needed clothes. And skin and muscles and, well, faces would be good too. Pictures started to form in her mind of what they might look like, pictures that made the tips of her fingers long to hold a pencil, to work it all out where she could see it.

“What got you interested in this line of work?” she heard herself asking.

He glanced back over his shoulder. “I spent a lot of time in front of video game consoles in high school and college. It seemed like a natural progression.”

“I guess you always were good at math.” Lame, Tony. She really didn’t know what developing computer games involved, though, other than the obvious programming skills.

He chuckled. Even her lamest lameness didn’t seem to faze him much. “I am that. And I can barf up C++ code with both hands tied behind my back, typing with my nose.”

It was an interesting image on numerous levels. “I’d like to see that.”

“I bet you would.” He swiveled his chair so that he faced her more directly. Her eyes caught on the line of his throat, the curve of it as it disappeared behind his collar. His heartbeat pulsed in the groove along the side of his neck, and there was a small spot just under his chin where he hadn’t shaved quite cleanly. “Anyway, I studied computer science in college, where I met Rich, and we decided to take the jump and start marketing our own games.”

“Rich programs too?”

“Yeah, and he has a better eye for art than I do, so he recruited our initial graphic artists. Now we have a department for that, and he runs it. Good artists are hard to find.” His gaze seemed to narrow on her little, as if he were trying to tell her something. She didn’t know what that might be. She certainly didn’t know anything about art for computer games. Sure, she knew her way around Photoshop, but she was going to be an accountant, so it wasn’t really relevant knowledge. Uncomfortable under his attention, she lifted the hand that held the paper.

“Thanks for the paper.”

“Any time.” His smile was warm. She wanted to get away—wanted to move closer. She could almost feel his touch again, the casual, not-quite-accidental tracery of his fingers against her thigh. God, she really needed to get out of here. His gaze weighed heavy on her as she turned and headed back to the guest room.

The bed had grown chilly in her absence, and it took a few minutes for Tony’s body heat to soak the sheets again. With the pile of paper propped in her lap—not exactly steady but steady enough for her use—she began to sketch.

She started doodling; then that mysterious something took over, and she found the lines shaping a horse, a woman on its back, dressed in war gear. She slid out of the warm bed to kneel next to the nightstand, spreading papers out under the light of the lamp. With the wider, harder surface, the picture became more intricate until she had produced something that looked more like a professionally finished product than a doodle.

She moved to another sheet and started another—a dragon in flight against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. Discussing David’s game must have triggered something in her subconscious. She hadn’t drawn a dragon in years.

Tony finished that picture and moved to another. She could lose everything in the act of drawing: tension, insecurity, insomnia. She felt alive when she drew, as if her soul found its true purpose in the point where pen met paper.

Every time she drew, she wondered why she kept pushing this need away. It made her feel so…herself. The doubts and insecurities, the fluttery tension that made her day-to-day living so twitchy at times, disappeared when she let herself draw.

The pen moved across the paper in a flat arc, then moved downward. Along the same theme as the wedding, as the dragon, she drew a man in armor, a big, two-handed sword balanced between his hands, its tip resting on the ground. It wasn’t until she had sketched in the eyes and started to outline the long, strong nose that she realized she was drawing someone who looked very much like David.