Reintroducing Myself…

160425-news-castleFor the unfamiliar, this is Detective Kate Beckett from the TV show Castle. I discovered the show — and her — about five or six years ago, and she’s the big reason why Bounty finally got written and published back in June 2015.

Readers have noted that Jill and Kate are very similar — and that’s not an accident. Kate Beckett inspired a lot of what Jill became (and there were a lot of similarities that were already there). The murder mystery element rounded out the narrative, but it was Beckett who, in a roundabout way, gave Jill the missing element she needed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an episode of Castle (the show did not end on good terms), and I find myself struggling with the fifth book in my series.

So why not remind myself of what made these books — and Jill — work in the first place? Why not reacquaint myself with the perfect blend of badass and compassionate that made Kate Beckett the great character she was?

Beckett’s strength never came at the expense of her femininity or her personality — if anything, all of those facets enhanced and strengthened each other, and that was what I hoped to infuse in Jill through my writing.

And while Castle was very much about the growth of Beckett’s relationship with Castle, she was always very much her own person, her own character. When the show was at its best, she never lost who she was in service of the plot (we’ll ignore season 8…).

So I need to reintroduce myself to Detective Katherine Houghton Beckett, NYPD Homicide. I need to remind myself of the things that made the Jill Andersen books such a joy to write in the first place — and maybe I can finally finish Betrayed.

But it’s good to know where inspiration has struck. Jill Andersen did not start with Kate Beckett, but the latter wound up doing a good bit to shape who the former is. And maybe reminding myself of that will help get me out of this creative funk I’m in.

Besides, Kate Beckett once pistol-whipped a United States Senator and walked out while he cradled his bleeding head and ran away. How badass is that?!

(I mean, yes, he was a very, very bad man. But still!)

Update Time

-I’m in the final stages of Betrayed‘s first draft. At this rate, it should be finished in two weeks. As of now, the fifth book in the Jill Andersen series should be out by the end of the calendar year.

-The script for Bounty: Origins, my debut graphic novel, is coming along slowly. But progress is there.

-Related: to follow along with my artwork. follow me on Instagram and DeviantArt.

-Next weekend (Aug. 24-25), I will be at Fairfax Comicon! Come say hi, pick up some Fairfaxbooks, and you’ll likely get an autograph or two.

-If you can’t make the con, but you’re still interested in signed copies, I got you.

-Once Betrayed is released, I’ll be officially announcing a new series that I’ve been toying with. I’d announce it now, but it would sort of spoil stuff that happens in Betrayed.

-Remember, Notna is now just $2.99. No better time to pick up the books readers are saying is a cross between Indiana JonesBuffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural.

-Don’t forget, the Jill Andersen book tour is still ongoing.

-Currently reading: Starbound by S.E. Anderson (comes out Tuesday!) and Wanderers by Chuck Wendig.

 

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, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Jill Andersen Book Tour!

The month of August is an exciting one, as I’ve booked a book tour through Silver Dagger Book Tours! For the next 30 days (give or take — math’s not exactly my strength), blogs throughout this (sometimes) wonderful thing we call the Internet will extol the virtues of the Jill Andersen series. Along the way, you’ll also see guest posts from yours truly, and there will even be a giveaway!

Click here for the tour schedule, and be sure to share everything on your social media.

Boundless
Jill Andersen Mysteries Prequel
by J.D. Cunegan
Genre: SciFi Superhero Mystery
A little more than two years before the events of Bounty, Jill Andersen
makes a life-altering decision. But this decision comes with
consequences she didn’t foresee, and her first night as the
vigilante Bounty winds up being something for which she was wholly
unprepared.
A crisis of faith eventually gives way to certainty: both in terms of
discovering who killed a young man named Johnny Ruiz and in terms of
coping with the latest change in her own life.
Along the way, Jill defies death and discovers just how deep the city’s
corruption runs. But will she survive the experience long enough to
decide if a life of vigilantism is for her?
**only 99 cents!!**
Bounty
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 1
Jill Andersen is one of Baltimore’s best and brightest detectives, but she
harbors a dark secret — a secret that threatens to come out when the
body of Dr. Trent Roberts is pulled out of the Chesapeake Bay. Dr.
Roberts’ connection to Jill reveals a past that involves a tour in
Iraq, a secretive cybernetic experiment, and a conspiracy that
involves a native son.
Can Jill solve the case while still keeping her secret? Will her partners
at the Seventh Precinct find out what she’s so desperate to hide?
What was Dr. Roberts looking into that led to his murder? And perhaps
the biggest question of all…
Who is Bounty?
Blood Ties
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 2
For as long as Jill Andersen could remember, her father was a hero.
But heroes don’t commit murder, do they? The state of Maryland said
Paul Andersen did just that, three times over, and was set to execute
him for it. But Jill and the rest of her colleagues at the Baltimore
Police Department come across the murder of a law student that leaves
her hopeful that she can clear her father’s name.
While Jill and her colleagues work against the clock to clear her father’s
name, new players emerge, hinting to a deeper, darker conspiracy than
what was previously known. An enigmatic faction known as The Order
reveals itself, and the mystery surrounding Paul’s alleged
duplicity leaves more questions than answers.
Along the way, Jill must not only face the possibility that her father was
not who she thought he was, but she must also face the prospect of
her secret being revealed. The stakes are higher than ever in Blood
Ties, the intense follow-up to J.D. Cunegan’s debut mystery Bounty.
Can Jill save her father before it’s too late? Will she even want to?
Behind the Badge
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 3
For Jill Andersen, being part of the Baltimore Police Department has
always been both a tremendous honor and a serious responsibility. Her
father, before his fall from grace, had instilled in her a great
respect for police and the work they do day-to-day. But when a
teenage boy winds up dead on the outskirts of downtown Baltimore,
Jill finds herself once again faced with those who would abuse their
badges to fulfill personal agendas and uphold biases.
Jill still has a job to do, but she soon finds that not everyone is in her
corner. For the first time in almost four years working Homicide,
Jill finds herself at odds with people who claim to be on her side.
From other cops to suits downtown all the way to the Mayor’s
office, it becomes increasingly clear that Jill will need to rely on
more than just her badge if she’s to solve this case.
But even if she finds justice, what’s the price?
Behind the Badge, the gripping, hard-hitting third novel in the Jill
Andersen series (Bounty, Blood Ties), gives readers another taste of
author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced
prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave
readers constantly guessing and waiting for more.
Behind the Mask
Jill Andersen Mysteries Book 4
It’s hard to be a hero when everyone’s out to get you.
Once upon a time, Jill Andersen considered herself a hero. Not just
because of the badge handed to her by the city of Baltimore and the
pledge she once made to protect and serve. Her secret life, as the
vigilante Bounty, had allowed Jill to protect her native Baltimore in
ways her day job never could.
But all that has gone to hell now. One case pushed Jill past her limits,
to the point where she made choices she can’t take back. As a
result, the entire city is on the lookout for her. Allies can no
longer be counted on. People who were once in her corner might very
well be trying to bring her down… to say nothing of those she has
crossed along the way.
But that is the least of Jill’s problems. A shadowy figure emerges
among the chaos, and his link to Jill’s past has the potential to
be her ultimate undoing. Jill thought every link to Project Fusion
has been settled once she solved Dr. Trent Roberts’ murder almost
one year ago, but if she’s not careful, her past might just kill her.
Behind the Mask, the gripping, hard-hitting fourth novel in the Jill
Andersen mystery series (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge), gives
readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic
book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by
and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.
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,
his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of
a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be
found at a race track or watching a race on TV.
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive content and a giveaway!

 

ANNOUNCEMENT! Bounty: Origins

One of the world’s most renowned scientists washed up dead in the Chesapeake Bay.Bounty cover concept

Jill Andersen, one of the Baltimore Police Department’s brightest investigative minds, has been tasked with solving that murder. But what starts as a typical murder mystery quickly becomes so much more, as a mysterious vigilante emerges from the shadows and appears to have a connection to the murder victim.

Jill finds herself trying to do two jobs at once: find out who killed Dr. Trent Roberts and discover the true identity of the costumed hero known in some circles as Bounty. But she also must face her father’s pending fate and the emergence of an influential figure in the city of Baltimore who isn’t quite as he seems.

All of these disparate threads tie together to potentially reveal the answer to the biggest question of all:

Who is Bounty?

Bounty: Origins is the imaginative, non-canon retelling of Bounty’s origin – first told in the pages of J.D. Cunegan’s debut novel Bounty in 2015. This graphic novel returns both Cunegan and his titular character to their roots, as Cunegan finally showcases his lifelong love affair with superhero comics.

Bounty: Origins is currently on hold and there is no release date at this time.

(NOTE: Above art by J.D. Cunegan. Digital lines and colors. The above image does not constitute a cover reveal; the eventual cover may be something else entirely. But copyright J.D. Cunegan 2019 anyway.)

 

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, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

New Charity Anthology Available

Exciting news to share!

No, the latest Jill Andersen novel isn’t out yet, but this does involve our favorite red-eyed,51-kFlT3QhL._SY346_ badge-flinging superhero. An anthology, titled Courage on Infinite Earths: Kaiju vs. Cancer, was recently released, and it includes a short story from yours truly in which Bounty faces off against her largest, strangest threat yet — an actual monster.

This non-canon story, titled, “Beyond Belief,” is a departure for Jill. First of all, she’s never faced off a threat that wasn’t human before. Also, I wrote this story in first-person, which I hardly ever do, and the result is hopefully a story that’s as much fun to read as it was to write.

Best of all? Courage on Infinite Earths supports a very good cause.

In a pocket dimension, a dark creature comprised of a living illness is sending pieces of itself across the multiverse. As the emissaries of this horror reach different versions of Earth they are spreading the disease they carry and causing the deaths of countless people. Heroes from countless dimensions are facing off against this threat as the vigilante Raptor travels from universe to universe gathering a coalition of warriors to battle the source of this scourge.

The greatest heroes from independent comics, novels, and YouTube come together to face this threat! Within the pages of this book, you will read both short stories and comics featuring Raptor (Matthew Dennion), Marshal Star (Dennis Roth and Declan Burke) Jeremy Walker (Zach Cole), The Whisper (Serene Dennion), Bounty (J.D. Cunegan), The References, The Work Force (Mark Dennion), The Strangers (Jean-Marc Lofficier), Caitlin Crow (Alan OW Barnes), Moonstalker, Centurion (Christofer Nigro), Cosmic Gorilla (John Opal), Sky Girl (Joe Sergi), Jake Cooper (Martin Tiller), Smash (Chris A. Bolton and Kyle Bolton), Airheart (Jay Taylor), Striven (Tom Warin), Lightweight (Nicholas Ahlhelm), Nagoraiar (Planet-G), Augustine and Bell (William T. Kearney), and Draco Azul (Andres Perez).

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the patients at St. Jude Children’s Cancer Research Hospital to fight the real life monster of childhood cancer.

Click here to pick up your copy of Courage on Infinite Earths now!

 

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, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, and you can also become a Patron.

About That Graphic Novel…

Some of you may remember that I said one of my 2019 goals was to produce a Bounty graphic novel. I thought I’d provide some insight into setting that goal and what I’m learning as I dabble into the world of creating comics.

Those of you who’ve been around a while know how much I love comics, and how that love is lifelong and originally sparked my creative streak. Even though I’m a published author, my love for superheroes and comic books is evident in my work. So doing a graphic novel just makes sense. Bounty started as a comic book character; writing and drawing a Bounty graphic novel returns her to her roots. It brings her home, so to speak. And it returns me to my roots. I started out wanting to create comics. So I’m creating a comic.

Now I realize how ambitious doing that this year is. Especially since I’m both writing and drawing it. Both steps are time-consuming on their own, but together? Especially since I’m learning a) how to draw again and b) how to tell a story in this medium. It’s not just drawing a bunch of pictures.

Were I at my peak as an artist, maybe this would be easier. But I like the challenge. I *need* the challenge. I haven’t grown bored with writing novels — far from it — but adding this challenge has actually given me a boost of creative energy. I’ve needed that.

I’m not abandoning novels. Far from it. This graphic novel is just me challenging myself, as a writer and artist. Pushing myself to set a goal and finish it, to encounter obstacles and overcome them. To prove to myself that I can take on a task and accomplish it.

Maybe this graphic novel doesn’t see the light of day until 2020. That would be okay — so long as I see this project through and finish it. As Chuck Wendig (and others) says, FINISH YOUR SHIT. I intend to do just that — but I’ll admit, this is hard.

I’m practically learning, as I go, an entirely new method of storytelling. How to tell a story with images as well as words. How the two work in concert with one another. There’s a method there, and there’s gonna be a ton of trial and error here. I’m okay with that.

(Come to think of it, this very process would make a great future Pixel Wretches podcast.)

I fully anticipate being occasionally frustrated to the point of wanting to stop. The point is getting myself to NOT stop, but to push forward and create in spite of that. Abandoning projects midway through is not how I’m gonna get better. Finishing my shit is.

So I’m pushing myself, challenging myself to return to my creative roots. To remind myself where my love for telling stories started, and to show up at a con one day with both my novels *and* a Bounty graphic novel on my table.

Maybe that’s 2019. Maybe it’s not.

I used to dream about being the next Jim Lee. Now I just wanna be the best J.D. Cunegan I can be. That means novels. And comics. And who knows what else is down the road for me. But if I don’t push myself, if I don’t test myself, how will I know what I’m capable of?

Four years ago, I pushed myself, and the result was my first novel. Bounty proved to me that I can complete a creative project and see it through and put it out there for the world to see.

Now I have five novels, a novella, a collection of short stories, and an an anthology credit to my name. And there are plenty more such stories coming in the next few years. That’s not nothing, and I keep having to remind myself of that, even when sales are… yeah.

But, and I think other creatives can relate, I want more. More stories to tell. More ways to tell them. More ways to push myself and flex my creative muscles. Make them grow. Make them better. Make *me* better. This graphic novel will do just that.

In a perfect world, Hampton Comicon in October would be the debut for the Bounty graphic novel. But if I have to push that back, so be it. This is a lengthy, involved process, and I’m going to make sure it’s worth every moment of it.

And I want you on the journey with me.

 

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, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, and you can also become a Patron.

BOUNDLESS: Chapter Four

The process of re-writing Boundless continues. Here’s chapter 4!

Dental records had confirmed that it was, in fact, Madison DuvalBoundless Final_Resizestuffed in the supply closet with his jaw blown clean off. While the preliminary analysis pointed toward suicide, the ME working the case had his doubts. Harrison Sloane had worked for the Baltimore Police Department for nearly twenty-five years, and if he said it wasn’t a suicide, everyone was inclined to believe him.

For one thing, they had found the murder weapon in his left hand. Not only was Duval right-handed, but there was no residue on either of his wrists. As far as Sloane was concerned — and Jill was inclined to agree — that meant someone else had shot Duval at point-blank range and stuffed the gun in his hand.

 

The FBI was quietly celebrating Duval’s death — an agency liaison Jill had never met had told Captain Richards over the phone that Duval’s death freed up so many resources that the beancounters in D.C. were probably doing cartwheels. The truth was, though, that Jill now had two murders to solve. Duval’s death was a setback in the Johnny Ruiz investigation, and for the first time, she wished she had a partner.

The combination of department-wide layoffs and a hiring freeze, borne from a fragile economic recovery and politicians who insisted on cutting, cutting, cutting instead of finding new revenue streams, meant some officers and detectives worked solo. Most of the time, Jill enjoyed the relative freedom, but times like this she longed for a partner off whom to bounce ideas and theories.

Then again, she was fortunate to not be one of the city’s layoffs — yet — so she wasn’t about to make too much of a fuss. But she was mentally reeling over the knowledge that she had gone a few rounds with Duval himself the previous night; she was surprised both that he was that hands-on and that Riggins and his boys clearly had something to do with his death.

Jill’s theory had been that Riggins and his posse had been working for Duval. But if she was right and the bullet that blew Duval’s jaw to hell came from Riggins, then there was a new player in the mix.

But who?

The pain in her left leg was completely gone by this point, and Jill found herself once again taking inventory of the abandoned office space on the twentieth floor. If an office space could be pristine, it was now. There wasn’t even any evidence the police and forensic crews had been there earlier that day. But there was something here everyone else had missed. She was sure of it.

Earlier that day, Jill had spent her dinner break watching security footage and just as Sorenson had said, a bald-headed man approached the file cabinet before the feed gave out. It was nine at night by the time Richards had ordered her to go home. That happened far too often for the captain’s liking, and Jill couldn’t think of why he was so insistent that she go home every night. It wasn’t like she had a family to get home to.

So after changing her bandage once again, Jill had opened her armoire and slipped on the mesh armor. It had taken five minutes before she was fully decked out in black leather again, peeling the skin graft off her face and placing it in the box on the bathroom sink. She hoisted the sheath carrying her katana over her right shoulder, then turned around to take one more look at herself in the mirror.

Jill’s hair was still done up in a tight ponytail, which was no good. She flicked off the black headband and let her brown locks spill out over her shoulders. A shorter hairdo would probably be more convenient, but Jill had always liked having long hair. Besides, it now had the added benefit of concealing her face.

Not for the first time since they discovered Duval’s body, Jill’s mind went back to Riggins. He was definitely in on this, considering he had been here at the scene after Duval’s murder. According to Sloane’s autopsy report, Madison Duval had been killed almost two hours before Jill had first shown up to the office building. She couldn’t link Riggins to the murder with actual proof, but Jill was convinced Riggins had been the one to shoot Duval’s face off and shove him in a nondescript closet.

But who was pulling Riggins’ strings? He had boasted about things running much deeper than Jill realized, and at first she thought he had meant Duval. Someone as well-connected as him would’ve easily fit the bill. But considering Duval was now lying on a metal slab in a morgue, missing half his face, that wasn’t an option anymore.
So the question remained: who was Riggins working for?

Jill hadn’t returned to the office building with realistic hopes of finding a missing clue; she had been to this scene three times by now, and at no point did she find something she had previously missed. An infrared swipe of the supply closet turned up nothing unexpected: just a lot of blood and two teeth CSU had missed when collecting and cataloging evidence. Considering they already had an ID on the victim, the teeth held no significance.

No, Jill was back because some part of her hoped she would run into Riggins again. As expected, running his name through the BPD database had turned up nothing. If Jill were a betting woman, she would put down ten bucks on national and international databases faring no better. Her original theory that Riggins wasn’t his real name appeared to have weight to it, and Jill wanted him to come to her.

Ideally, he would be alone the next time they squared off. Jill had already had to fight off her share of lackeys once, and she tired of it. Lackeys were no better than suspects in the box whose sole purpose was to waste her time.

Jill wanted Riggins.

More importantly, she wanted whoever was above him, the one calling the shots. As far as Jill was concerned, Riggins was nothing more than a puppet. Maybe if she snapped off Pinocchio’s nose, Geppetto would come calling.

The thing about Riggins was, he didn’t see himself as a pawn. He thought he was the big dog. In a way, that made him dangerous, but that also made him vulnerable. People drugged up on their own self-importance were more prone to leave openings. Their vulnerabilities would be on display, giant neon arrows pointing at them.

The trick was knowing when to strike. For Jill, that time was now.

“I was wondering when you’d find him.”

Jill smiled when she heard the voice from behind. Every so often, her wishes did come true. Fighting the urge to go straight for her sword, Jill instead balled her hands into fists and kept her back to Riggins. She didn’t really want to use the sword anyway; it was for show as much as anything.

As far as Jill knew, the blade had never before sliced human flesh. It had come into her family as a gift, a show of gratitude toward her grandfather Wyatt for his heroics in the middle of World War II. Her father had treated the sword as if it were one of his own children, and Jill didn’t want to sully that by staining the blade with blood. She would do it if she had to, but the katana was little more than window dressing, an intimidation tactic. That and she couldn’t use her gun. Firing a police-issued firearm wouldn’t do much for keeping her identity a secret.

Riggins’ boots were heavy against the carpet as he approached. “Gotta say, finding out you’re a badge was a bit of a surprise. I did not see that coming.”

By the time Riggins finished talking, Jill could feel his breath against her. Her right elbow shot backwards in a blink, connecting with his nose. As he stumbled back, hands over his face, Jill twirled and kicked him in the stomach.

Riggins dropped to his knees, doubled over himself. His arms were now cradled against his midsection, blood pouring from his nose onto the carpet. He coughed with such force that Jill thought he might become ill.

“Guess you didn’t see that coming, either,” Jill said before kicking Riggins again, this time in the chin.

◊◊

By the time Riggins regained consciousness, he found himself sitting up against the wall, hands tied behind his back and his legs tied together at the ankles. His chin throbbed and his nose was swollen. Dried blood ran from his nose, over his lips, and down his chin. His stomach was sore, and Riggins doubled over as he fought the urge to gag. The sensation would bubble up inside him, and he would have to suck in as deep a breath as he could muster to fend it off — and that hurt as well.

Looking up, Riggins spat blood onto the floor. “And here I thought you fought fair.”

“Says the guy who threw a knife at me as I walked away.”

“Touché.”

He spat another mouthful of blood onto the carpet. Riggins looked up through hooded eyes at the woman hovering over him, decked out in black leather from head to toe with a sword on her back and what he could only describe as a Terminator eye shining somewhere behind a wall of scraggly, unkempt hair.

He wouldn’t believe it if he wasn’t staring right at it. All these years, he thought of superheroes as little more than figments of imagination, useless doodles in the funny books or some awful movie that still managed to rake in billions of dollars. And yet… there was one, right in front of him.

Riggins smiled despite the pain. The rumors had been true. All the rumblings he would hear in the middle of nowhere about the government looking to create super soldiers… he had assumed they were little more than flights of fancy, as if the wrong people had read too many issues of Captain America. But here stood living proof. Riggins still didn’t know her name, but he knew she was former military, and now he knew she was a cop as well. This was quite the discovery.

“This how it works now?” He chuckled. “Police can’t do something, they send their pet robot?”

“What makes you think I’m with the police?”

“Well, the fact that you were in here earlier today with a badge and gun, mostly.” Riggins shrugged and spat again.

“So you’re a spy now.” Jill shook her head. “What happened to the macho my-gun-is-bigger-than-yours tough guy?”

“Who says I can’t be both?”

Jill lowered herself into a catcher’s crouch. “Look, I don’t give two shits about you. You could be the second coming of John Riggins, for all I care. What I want is the person who killed Johnny Ruiz.”

“What about the person who killed Duval?”

“How do I know I’m not looking right at him?” The smallest of smiles crept onto Jill’s face. “Hell, for all I know, the same person committed both murders.”

“Say that’s all true.” Riggins raised his chin and looked down his nose at Jill. The dried blood on his face wasn’t all that different from the camo paint he had worn the night before. “What then? Sure, I get hauled off to prison, but you haven’t really accomplished anything, have you? A deadbeat’s still dead. And you can celebrate Duval being gone all you want, you know as well as I do someone else is just gonna take his place.”

“I don’t care about that.”

It probably wasn’t as convincing out loud as it was in Jill’s head, but there was some part of her at least that felt that way. Her job wasn’t really all that macro; a dead body would pop up somewhere and it was up to her to figure out who killed them. In that regard, Johnny Ruiz and Madison Duval were her sole focus. But she was starting to see that if she was really going to make a habit of being a vigilante, sometimes the big picture would be unavoidable.

“You’ll want to,” Riggins warned. “Because the man I work for? He can make your life hell if you’re not careful.”

“So can my boss. Who’s yours?”

Before Riggins could open his mouth, his head flung backward in tune with a gunshot from behind Jill. His body slumped back onto the floor, and by the time Jill whirled around, she saw five men covered from head to toe in specialized military gear. Heavy-duty helmets, might-vision goggles, Kevlar vests. The most advanced automatic weaponry America’s tax dollars could buy, far more advanced than the guns she had faced the night before, and they were all pointed directly at Jill. Without another thought, Jill sprinted away from Riggins’ body and ran along the wall, hoping against hope that she could outrun the spray of bullets she knew was coming.

Sure enough, the men all opened fire at once. The burst of gunfire rang in Jill’s ears, and she ducked her head as she bolted full-speed toward the tarp covering the broken window. There was no way Jill was going to get by the men and to the stairwell, and there was nowhere in the empty office to hide. Her only option was to jump, even if it meant a plummet that might severely injure her. If not worse.

She felt one of the bullets whiz past her ear. Clenching her jaw, and ignoring the dull throb that had reignited in the back of her left leg, Jill leapt at the tarp. It ripped with ease when she pushed through it.

Freefall was instant.

Jill could still hear the gunfire as her body began its rapid descent. She didn’t dare look down. Her hair whipped violently against the wind. The pressure of the breeze against her face was like a punch.

But then, much to Jill’s surprise, she landed. Not on the sidewalk, but on a metal plank that swung back and forth when she slammed into it. Scrambling back to her feet, Jill frowned and frantically searched her surroundings.

As it turned out, she had landed on a scaffolding often used for high-rise window washing. In the heat of trying not to get shot, Jill had never even noticed it. But now she was face-to-face with a thin elderly man grabbing onto the railing and staring at her. His mouth dropped, as did the squeegee in his hand. Jill could only smile and wave in return.

Jill looked up in time to see one of the military men peeking out the broken window, his weapon trained down on her. She drew her sword and ducked into a crouch, thankful that when the man opened fire again, the bullets all ricocheted off the blade.

Once the gunfire ceased, Jill sheathed the blade again and grabbed the railing before flipping herself over the edge and somersaulting downward. She then grabbed the bottom edge, still too many stories up to let herself drop to the pavement.

Gunfire resumed, severing one of the ropes. As the left side of the platform tilted downward and the entire thing started careening toward the ground, Jill flipped back over the railing and cradled herself over the old man. The rope caught on the spindle once the platform was hovering just over the second story. The sudden stop nearly sent both Jill and the old man over the ledge, but she grabbed the rail with a free hand to keep her balance. She gritted her teeth, tightening her grip and doing her best to ignore the pain in her shoulder.

Once the gunfire quit again, Jill lifted the man into her arms and jumped over the edge. She landed with a grunt before setting the man back down to his feet.

“You alright?” she asked.

The man, who wore a bushy white mustache and large-rim glasses, nodded and glanced up at the sky. He straightened the dirty hat atop his head and shrugged, adjusting the strap of his faded overalls threatening to slip off his left shoulder.

“Don’t s’pose I could get workman’s comp for this?”

Jill looked skyward, reaching up to initiate her infrared sight again. Another tap of her temple allowed her to zoom in, but the man was no longer positioned by the broken window. If she had to guess, Jill figured the commandos were tending to Riggins. Whoever was controlling him had decided he was no longer of use, conveniently right as she was trying to get information out of him.

That told Jill she was close, a lot closer than she realized.

“Sue your employer. That’s what everyone else does.” She looked at the old man again, who appeared to be none the worse for wear. “Listen, I need you to do me a favor. Call the cops, tell them there’s been a murder on the twentieth floor. And whatever you do, don’t mention me. Got it?”

By the time the man turned to reply, Jill was already gone.

 

Want access to Chapter 5 before everyone else? Subscribe to my newsletter! Also, Boundless will be available on April 28 — National Superhero Day! Pre-order your copy now for just 99 cents!

Read Chapter 1 here | Read Chapter 2 here | Read Chapter 3 here

Behind the Mask, the fourth entry in the Jill Andersen series, is now available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Apple iBooks! Be sure to check out the entire series, no matter your reader of choice.