To celebrate the fact that I’ve (finally!) finished writing Betrayal (Jill Andersen #5), I figured I’d reward myself — and all of you — by posting a sneak peek. Keep in mind this is an unedited snippet and that the book is far from a finished product. But with any luck, Betrayal will be out sometime around March. So without further ado… enjoy the sneak peek!
With a click, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling flickered to life.
It swung lazily on its rusty chain, illuminating the masked man who stood under it. The holes in his mask were barely large enough for his eyes, and they weren’t even visible when the light swung away. He wore an olive green long-sleeve t-shirt and camouflage pants that were tucked into a pair of scuffed and faded combat boots. Dried blood dotted the shirt. Some of it was from a war the man could barely remember fighting, having refused to fade despite countless washings. The rest was from just a couple hours ago, the result of a stubborn police commissioner who didn’t understand the meaning of “stop resisting.”
An AR-15 was slung over the masked man’s shoulder and cradled in his hands. The weight of it was comfortable in his palms, familiar. In fact, the masked man would admit to feeling naked without this particular weapon. It had never steered him wrong. Not in basic training. Not in war. And certainly not now.
He smiled under his mask when a tiny red light came to life just feet in front of him. This was the moment he had spent the last several years working toward. What came next was the culmination of a life’s dream, the very thing he had been destined to do ever since they unceremoniously threw him out of the Army and onto his ass. It hadn’t been easy. In fact, there had been plenty of sleepless nights in which the man was certain he wouldn’t live to see this day. And yet here he stood, mere moments from the beginning of his greatest triumph.
Only this wasn’t his victory alone. His brothers were as responsible for this breakthrough as he. Not that he would ever tell any of them that. But they knew.
And if they didn’t… oh, well.
“We’re live,” a voice called out from behind a video camera resting eye-level with the masked man.
Reaching up for his neck, making sure the digital voice masking device was still in place, the man’s smile grew. Not that anyone could see it. “Good evening, citizens of Baltimore. You may not realize it right now, but this city is on the precipice of a new age. The dawn of a new era is at our fingertips, and believe me when I tell you that nothing will ever be the same.”
Taking a step toward the camera, leaving much of the light, the masked man hoisted the gun over his shoulder. He kept a steady gaze on the red light, fighting the urge to peel off the mask. Deep down, part of him wanted the world to know who he was. He wanted to show Baltimore what its savior truly looked like. Let the citizens know that their hero was just a flesh and blood man, no different than them. No robots. No cybernetic eyes. No half-baked wannabe superheroes prancing around the rooftops.
He especially wanted her to know.
But not now. Not yet.
There would be time for that later, if everything went according to plan. For now, anonymity was the best course of action — for everyone’s sake.
“Chances are, you woke this morning to the news that Councilman Franco has been murdered.” The masked man shook his head. “A tragedy, this is not. Do not let the media elite and his fellow councilmen fool you; Councilman Franco was not the Good Samaritan he is being painted as. He was corrupt. He was selfish. He was everything we assume our politicians to be. And he deserved what happened to him.”
The masked man clasped his hands together behind himself, pacing back and forth. He kept his steps short, careful not to wander out of the frame. His gaze never left the camera. The adrenaline throbbed as it coursed through the man’s veins. Yet he kept his steps slow, purposeful. He closed his eyes and steadied his breath, using the countdown techniques an old platoon mate had taught him when things were at their worst in the sandy nothingness of Afghanistan. The man would count from ten to one, then back again, until the image of his platoon mate’s disembodied head threatened to take over.
Only then did the man stop counting.
“Councilman Franco is just the first, and make no mistake, he is far from the last. This city is overrun with the corrupt and the unjust. The deceitful and the vile. We cannot trust the police to tackle the problem. We cannot turn to our elected officials. They will not help us. They will not hold themselves accountable. We cannot ask federal authorities for help. No. This is a cancer that we must cut out ourselves. It will not be pretty. There will be names that shock you. Our actions will likely revile you. We accept that. If we must be the villain in order for Baltimore to regain its past glory, then that is a cross we will gladly bear.”
The man returned to his original spot beneath the light bulb. It flickered as if it was about to blow out, but the light remained true. A cockroach skittered along the bulb before retreating up the chain and into the darkness.
“Chances are, we mean none of you watching harm. The decent, law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from us. The rest of you? Consider this the only warning you get.”
The masked man reached for the weapon slung over his shoulder again, cradling it in both hands and pointing the barrel directly at the camera.
“We are The Collective,” he continued. “And we will be this city’s salvation.”
The masked man pulled the trigger.
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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.