SNEAK PEEK: Betrayal

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.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads. and DeviantArt.

Preamble

Okay, this is something I’m really excited about. I’ve got a secret project in the works (secret because I’m not quite ready to officially announce it yet), something I think you all will really enjoy. Anyway, my newsletter subscribers and Patreon supporters have already had access to this, but now, the rest of you get to catch this sneak peek into my secret project.

Enjoy!

*****

“Doctor… Lo, is it?”

Amanda Crawford tossed her glasses on top of the overstuffed file folder in front of her. There were so many files and papers crammed into the folder, it was a wonder the thing hadn’t torn yet. Maybe her advisers were right; maybe she should upgrade to a binder. But binders took up space, and space was one luxury her she didn’t have these days.

Well, her new office had plenty of space. Personal space? That was another story.

Sebastian Lo loosened his black tie for what seemed like the thousandth time since he stepped out of the limousine that had dropped him off here. Formal attire didn’t suit him in the best of situations, but with his nerves so shot that he could feel the sweat stains forming under his arms, it was a wonder the woman sitting next to him couldn’t smell him.

“Y-yes.” He gave a curt nod, pushed his black-rimmed glasses back up his nose.

“You have had quite the career,” Amanda offered with a shake of her head. “Normally, I wouldn’t give someone with a dishonorable discharge on their record the time of day, but right now, beggars can’t be choosers.”

Lo’s frown deepened. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t understand…”

The annoyance on Amanda’s face melted away, replaced with an exhaustion and a weariness that typically didn’t befall those in her profession until after a couple years. The bags under her eyes were darker than her brown irises, and in the harsh light of her office, she appeared so pale as to be dead.

But she wasn’t a corpse on Lo’s slab. She was the newly-elected President of the United States. And why she was bothering to meet with Lo, he had no idea. But the nausea told him whatever was in that folder wasn’t good.

“Are you familiar with the attack on D.C. several months ago?” she asked.

Lo’s frown disappeared. He quirked an eyebrow and stole a glance at the rest of the Oval Office. What was pristine in photographs, awe-inspiring, was surprisingly ordinary in-person. Sure, it looked like the Oval Office should, but the mystique Lo expected to feel wasn’t there.

Maybe it was the nerves. Sure, that was what he told himself.

“I’ve heard rumors,” he admitted, again pushing his glasses. “Not sure what to believe.”

“Well, it’s all true.” Amanda stood with a sigh, walking past Lo and staring out the massive windows overlooking the lawn. The American flag flanked her to her left, much larger than the pin she kept on her lapel. “There are monsters in this world, Doctor. Things far more dangerous than any threat we’ve ever faced. And I mean to do something about it.”

Lo blinked. “I don’t recall monster slaying being part of your platform.”

“No one will ever know,” she said, hands clasped behind her back. Her gaze never left the window. “What I’m proposing, Doctor, is completely off-the-books. Unofficial, doesn’t actually exist.” She glared over her shoulder. “That means nothing we discuss leaves this room. Understood?”

Lo nodded.

Amanda’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes,” Lo answered with a placating shrug.

“I’m impressed with your work, moral judgments aside,” she said. “I daresay that in many ways, you’ve honored Dr. Roberts’ legacy. Human prosthetics and cybernetics are as advanced as ever, and something tells me we’ll need that technology and expertise in the coming battles.”

Lo shook his head, removing his tie entirely. For the first time since entering the Oval Office, he could take a full breath. “Are you offering me a job, Madame President?”

“I’m offering you a choice.”

Lo opened his mouth. Amanda turned away from the window and took the large leather seat behind her desk. She seemed to sink into the cushion, crossing her arms over her chest and giving Lo the same sort of look the dean used to give him when he was an undergrad and spent more time chasing bottles and skirts than textbooks.

“I know what you did for David Gregor,” she said. “And I know all about your… other experiments. Rest assured that not only are they grossly unethical, they also break several laws.”

Lo pursed his lips. “I see. I either accept your offer or you throw me to the wolves.”

Amanda offered a thin-lipped smile. “So to speak.”

“What’s the offer?”

Reaching into a drawer to her right, Amanda produced another folder — this one far thinner than the first. It was plain manila, with large red letters spelling out CONFIDENTIAL – EYES ONLY scrawled along the front. She tossed the folder at Lo, and he watched it land in his lap.

“Open it.”

With shaky hands, Lo did just that. He frowned at what appeared to be autopsy photos — only these were no ordinary humans. One specimen had his mouth pried open, revealing fangs. Another looked to be an oversized slug split open down the middle, like it was a middle school science class dissection. A third photo was of a man-sized bat, half of his body scorched and rotting.

“Operation: Hellion is our answer to the growing supernatural menace,” she explained as Lo thumbed through the rest of the folder’s contents. “If the monsters are intent on invading our planet, threatening our way of life… well, what kind of president would I be if I didn’t try to protect my people?”

Lo frowned. “I’m not a monster fighter.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not asking you to be one.” Amanda leaned back in her chair, hands steepled together. “I could put the most capable military might at our disposal on this team, and they wouldn’t last two seconds against a nest of vampires. No, I need a super team. I need people with… abilities.”

Closing the folder in his lap, Lo sighed and shook his head. “You want to resurrect Project Fusion. Officially.”

“No. I want something better than Project Fusion. And you’re going to give it to me.”

*****

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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, 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.