We’re less than two months away from the release date of Kill Them All! I like to call this novel a “supervillain revenge thriller,” so expect lots of superpowered action and a snarky first-person POV. I love writing Val, a glamorous, middle-aged, semi-retired supervillain who just wants to protect her family. Though loving her doesn’t stop me from putting her through hell in this book. 😉
A big thank you to everyone who’s been following The White Knight and Black Valentine Series from the beginning, and a warm welcome to new readers who just discovered the books recently! I hope this preview gets you hyped, and that you enjoy the whole book when it hits the shelves.
I was twenty minutes late, exactly as planned. Five minutes were barely noticeable, and ten was excusable. At fifteen, he must have worried, but it was still possible I’d just gotten stuck in traffic. Twenty, however, was the magic number, and right now, he was probably wondering if I’d show up at all.
It would be better for him if I didn’t.
I pulled into the strip club’s parking lot, looking for a tree. Shade was more important than proximity when parking in South Florida during the height of summer. Unfortunately, the closest thing to a tree in this lot was the scraggly grass creeping up through the cracks in the asphalt. I settled on an empty space close to the entrance: a glass door covered in smudges and oversized bright-red kiss decals. Daylight wasn’t kind to the building. It needed darkness to cover the cracks in its black paint, rust stains on the sidewalk, and litter on the ground, leaving only the neon outlines of female figures visible in the night.
I scanned the building telepathically to make sure no one was planning to shoot me the moment I walked in the door. No one was, but you could never be too careful. I strode in, taking off my sunglasses and slipping them into my purse. The lights inside were dim and pink-tinged, focused mainly on the stage. A badly remixed pop song played too loudly over the speakers, the current dancer doing her routine in front of what few patrons were here this early. Opposite the stage were a small bar and half a dozen round tables, but only one man sat there. He smiled when he saw me, though he couldn’t cover the sweat that had formed on his face from worry that I wasn’t coming. I paid the doorman and walked over.
“Valentina Belmonte,” he greeted, not standing.
I picked his own name from his mind. “Lance Holden.”
His smile faltered, but he recovered it quickly. He was pretty much what I expected: white, middle-aged, average build (for an overweight American, at least), and bland features. His teeth were the only thing noteworthy about him; they were perfectly straight and bleached so white I almost reached for my sunglasses again.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked as I sat down. “Beer? Wine?”
He waved over a waitress. His wristwatch looked expensive, shiny silver clashing with the gold of his wedding ring.
“Show it to me,” I said.
He reached into his suit jacket. There was enough room to smuggle a newborn in there; he should really fire his tailor. I took the white envelope he handed me, opened it, and removed the photographs from inside. I had to suppress a sigh. The photos were grainy and hardly professional, but they showed me sitting at a table outside of a restaurant, an umbrella overhead and a fountain in the background. Across the table, on the other side of two cocktails and seafood dishes, sat a handsome man with a goatee and a fedora. I supposed I should be grateful the pictures were genuine. The only thing worse than being blackmailed was getting tricked by a fake.
Lance pointed a thick finger at my image. “That’s you.”
As if the gorgeous woman could be anyone else. My long black hair hung loose in the picture, and my mouth curved upward in amusement at something I couldn’t remember, my lipstick a fierce shade of red. I had a figure to die for—and not just because I always carried a concealed weapon somewhere on it. And though I was looking away from the photographer, the distinctive burn scar on the side of my face was clearly visible.
He pointed to my dinner date. “And that, unless I’m mistaken, is Xanthos, a supervillain and wanted felon.”
“Is he?” I asked blandly. “Last I heard, no one really knows what Xanthos looks like without the mask.”
“That guy matches the sketch artist renderings and digital simulations. I’d say he’s the real deal.”
The frenzied beat of the music pounded against my skull, threatening a headache. I should have insisted Xanthos meet me somewhere more private. That kind of sloppiness was inexcusable. But I’d needed information from him, not the other way around, so he’d gotten to pick the venue.
I put the photos back in their envelope as the waitress came by with our wine. It was too dark to see the liquid’s color well, so I swirled it and sniffed. Ugh. No. I put down the glass. What had I been expecting at a place like this? That made two serious lapses in judgment.
“You wouldn’t want the authorities to see this, would you?” Lance’s whitened smile had turned into a leer. “Or your husband, for that matter.”
The dancer on the main stage finished her performance, and the awful pop remix stopped. Finally, I could hear myself think.
“How much?” I asked.
“Half a million. Cash.”
“Hm.” I pulled out the photographs for a second look to kill time. The music started up again, but this time, it was soft piano followed by a surge of violins. The next dancer came onstage, and unlike the dead-eyed woman before her, she had a genuine smile and a bounce in her step. She started with a twisted grip handspring then took off, twirling gracefully in the air. She barely seemed to be attached to the pole, her movements precise but to all appearances effortless. She looked as if she was flying.
Something squirmed into my mind, annoyed I wasn’t paying attention and wanting to know the cause. Well, well. Lance Holden was a telepath, too. That explained why he was so confident. How adorable. I pretended not to notice and kept watching the dancer, who was upside-down in a spin. I used to be able to do that. Well, not that, exactly; I’d never been that good, but pole dancing had been a fun way to exercise when I was younger. I wasn’t young anymore.
“You look good for your age,” Lance said.
“No, really,” I said in a flat voice. “I’d love to hear your unsolicited comments about my appearance. Do go on.”
“You’re the Black Valentine. You must know how many fans you have.” His blinding smile made another appearance. “And you’ve got them all fooled.”
He waited for me to respond. I didn’t.
“They all think you’re retired now, that you’re a law-abiding citizen,” he went on. “Even your husband must think so. White Knight would never marry an active supervillain, would he? But I know the truth. You haven’t changed. People like us—we can’t.”
“People like us?” I leaned back and crossed my legs. “Oh, Lance, you’re a treat. You’re like a little chihuahua barking at a Rottweiler. We’re not in the same league. Not even close.”
“You’re thinking of mind-controlling me. You won’t be able to.” He tapped his right temple with his forefinger. “I have powers, too.”
“You’re thirsty,” I said.
His too-white teeth vanished along with his smile. He stared at his wine glass, eyes bulging, and swallowed. He tried to resist it, but his mouth was dry, his throat cracked and scratchy. A piercing pain had formed behind his eyes, and if he didn’t get some liquid soon, he was going to die. He dove for the wine and downed it like a football player chugging Gatorade after a game. Panting, he put the glass down, and it finally occurred to him that he should run.
His leg muscles tightened as I froze them. Then I used his body like a puppet, making him flag down the waitress again and order a whole bottle of cheap wine. And I left him aware of what was happening.
“Lucky for you, I really am retired,” I said. “Otherwise, I’d kill you.”
He tried with all his might to move, but his body wouldn’t obey. Sweat trickled down the sides of his face, and through the telepathic link, I felt it almost as if it were my own.
“I’ll have to settle for a tamer punishment. Something poetic, perhaps?” I drummed my manicured fingernails against the table. “You’re a blackmailer. Tell me, what wouldn’t you want other people to know?”
He tried not to think about it, but it sprung to his mind, anyway: silky bedsheets in an upscale hotel; a bleached blonde barely twenty years old, a glittering gem in the center of her pierced navel.
“An affair? That’s trite, Lance. I’m disappointed.”
His cheeks burned.
“It’s humiliating, I know. But don’t worry. You won’t remember it.”
His panic spiked, but I erased it as I dove in deeper. This was the delicate part, harder than just taking over his body or convincing his brain he was dying of thirst. I rewrote his memories. His meeting with Valentina Belmonte had gone smoothly. She’d handed him a briefcase full of cash, so as soon as he got home, he was going to delete all the files of the photograph he had. But for now, it was time to celebrate. He worked on the wine bottle while watching the dancer finish her performance. And wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk to his mistress? They could go out this weekend, start spending some of that money he’d just made. He typed up an invite on his phone, accidentally sending a group text instead of a private message. Oops.
Next, he called a cab, drunkenly forgetting his briefcase as he stumbled to the door. He would think he’d already deposited the money into his account, and that memory rewrite should last at least until after he’d deleted the photos. Although computer files could be recovered. Hm…
I gave him the urge to visit a porn site when he got home, one that would give him a nasty virus and crash his desktop while the USB drive he’d used as a backup was inserted. Would that be enough? I scanned his mind for any other backups he’d made, any people he’d told. Nothing. I let him go.
Another bland pop song started playing as the next dancer took to the stage. Time for me to go. The brilliant dancer from before was walking around the floor now, soliciting tips. The amount of practice and sheer muscle strength it must have taken to do that routine certainly deserved one, but I doubted the patrons here appreciated it.
I handed her a hundred and walked out.
• • •
When I got home, my husband was pulling his boat up to the car. By hand.
It was a 12,000-pound cruiser yacht.
I sent my voice into his head with enough force to make him flinch. He turned, looking bemused as I parked the car and got out.
My husband had the build you’d expect of a former superhero: six-foot-four, broad-shouldered, and muscled all over. He had a strong, square jaw, and his nose was ever so slightly crooked from having been broken, but it just added to his rugged appeal. His skin was tan, and his hair had turned a dignified gray over the past few years, but his brown eyes were as sharp and intense as ever. The sight of those eyes glaring from behind his mask used to knock the breath from my lungs when he caught me in the middle of a crime. I’d shoot him the instant I could inhale, of course, but I was always secretly happy to see him.
He’d been pulling the boat trailer with his right hand. His left held a cane, his knee injured years ago when he’d rescued our daughter from a madman. I was wealthy—ridiculously, nauseatingly, immorally wealthy—but there were some things I couldn’t buy, like surgeons who could operate on an invulnerable man.
He leaned in for a kiss. I put a hand on his chest and pushed him back. I wasn’t anywhere near strong enough for the push to be effective, but he relented, anyway.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.
His eyebrows lifted. “Getting a kiss from my wife. Am I not allowed to do that anymore?”
“I mean with the boat.”
“I’m hooking it up to the car.”
“You can back the car up to it, you know. You shouldn’t be pulling it when you’re barely a month out of the hospital.”
I’d honestly lost track of how many times the two of us had been hospitalized. About a month ago, one of Dave’s old enemies, Bloodbath, had taken over an entire theme park and held the tourists hostage until White Knight came to face him. Even if our daughter hadn’t been inside the park at the time, Dave would have gone to save the rest of the hostages. He’d beaten the bastard, of course, but not without sustaining a lot of injuries in the process.
That was why I’d visited Xanthos. He was an information broker, and I’d needed his help to find someone who could break down the barriers keeping Dave and Elisa trapped in the park. Nothing villainous about it—cross my heart. Though if the DSA found out I’d had contact with a wanted criminal, they’d charge me with aiding and abetting faster than you can say “superspeed.”
“I’m fine,” Dave said. “It’s not that heavy.”
I pulled my cell phone from my purse and held it out. “I have your physical therapist on speed dial. Do I need to make the call?”
Ah, there was that glare I loved, though it wasn’t serious. “That’s a dirty, malicious threat.”
“Well, I’m a dirty, malicious woman.”
“I know,” he murmured. “What am I going to do with you?”
I didn’t push him away this time. The kiss started out slow and easy, but in moments, I was pinned to the side of the boat, the fiberglass hard against my back—and that wasn’t the only thing that was hard. My, my, someone was feeling frisky this afternoon. I was gasping by the time I disentangled myself.
“At this rate, we’ll never leave,” I said, breathless.
“I might be okay with that.”
“I have to change and finish packing.” I started for the door, feeling his disappointment. “Just think of the hotel,” I added with a wink, “King-sized bed, oceanfront view, champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. The sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll get there.”
He treated me to a brief mental fantasy of that, leaving a wicked smile on my face as I entered the house. The air-conditioning was a welcome relief from the heat, though I couldn’t completely blame the weather for that. A quick scan of the house found Elisa in her room and Eddy and Irma in the kitchen. I stopped by the kitchen first.
On my payroll, Eddy was listed as a cook and Irma a maid, but they were a lot more than that. Both in their seventies, they’d worked for my family for as long as I could remember. Eddy was a big man with a beer gut, but he had a good deal of muscle, and you wouldn’t want to brawl with him. Irma, by contrast, had grown even gaunter with age and looked like how a child might picture a witch. Eddy had been a sniper, gunman, and all-around gangster, while Irma had served as an assassin whose weapon of choice was a knife. They were currently preparing little plastic containers of healthy snacks for us to eat in the car.
“How was your meeting?” Irma asked, slicing cubes of cheddar cheese.
“No surprises.” I handed her the envelope of Lance’s pictures. “Burn these for me, would you?”
She opened the envelope, and Eddy leaned over for a look. “They’re good pictures, at least,” she said. “You look nice in that hat.”
“I always do.”
“Need us to tie up any loose ends?” Eddy asked.
“No, I took care of it. All I want is for you two to enjoy your week off while we’re gone.”
“Irma will.” Eddy waggled his eyebrows. “She’s got a date.”
“Oh, really?” I gave the older woman a salacious grin. “Do tell.”
“Nonsense.” She gave Eddy a disdainful snort as she continued her work with the kitchen knife. “Corpse-Maker called and wanted to meet for dinner. He wouldn’t discuss the reason over the phone, but I assume it’s perfectly professional.”
Perfectly professional meaning “illegal as hell” in our world.
“Well, tell him I say hi,” I said. “I haven’t seen him since Dad’s funeral.”
I stole a grape from one of the containers and popped it into my mouth as I walked up the stairs. Time to see if Elisa was ready to go. I’d told her to clean her room before leaving but wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic as I knocked. The muffled music coming from inside stopped, and a moment later, the lock clicked as she opened the door.
Elisa didn’t look much like me. Taller by a couple of inches, she had a gymnast’s body rather than my ampler curves. Her hair was a medium brown to my black, and she had her father’s eyes. I used to worry when she was little, back before Dave and I had married, and her father’s identity was a well-kept secret, that some other supervillain would take one look at her and say, “That’s White Knight’s daughter,” but they never did. I guess they didn’t spend as much time staring into his eyes as I did. Go figure.
“What’s the damage?” I asked.
She stepped aside to let me in. The floor was clean, yes, but she’d just piled everything on her bed and dresser instead. I gave her a look.
“I’m not done yet,” she said quickly.
“You’d better hurry, then. I want to leave in thirty minutes.”
“Right.” She moved to her bed, barely visible beneath her strewn clothing, notebooks, and open suitcase.
“By the way,” I added. “I was packing this morning, and my coconut milk body lotion had mysteriously vanished. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
“Tell you what.” I put my hands on my hips. “If you can keep me from reading your mind to find out where you put it, you can keep it.”
“Do I have to?”
“It’s good practice.”
She groaned. “Fine. Give me a sec.”
She sat on the edge of her bed and raised her defenses. The best way to keep someone from reading your mind was to focus on something so intently that the mind-reader couldn’t redirect your thoughts. Elisa started mentally playing through a song on the flute, imagining every note like she had the instrument in hand. I inserted the word body lotion into her thoughts, but she kept her focus on the flute, feeling the cool metal beneath her fingers and the air leaving her lungs as she blew.
Not bad. I tried a mental image next, calling up the cream-colored bottle and shiny gold label in her mind. That summoned her memories: she’d taken it from my bathroom yesterday and put it in her bag.
Elisa dropped an f-bomb and flopped back onto the mattress—or at least she would have had it not been covered with junk. She jerked back up when she hit a stack of books and shoes, sending them toppling to the floor.
“This is why you should put things where they belong,” I said pointedly. It’s also why she shouldn’t try to “borrow” things from one of the greatest thieves of all time (though maybe I’m a little biased).
She put a hand over her face. “I know.”
The corner of my mouth quirked up. “But you did a good job. I know government agents who couldn’t keep me out of their heads that long.”
“But you still got in.”
I shrugged. “I’m the best there is. Give it time. Someday, you’ll be as good as I am, maybe better.”
Elisa picked up a T-shirt off her bed and stared at it contemplatively. “Aunt Bianca said I’ll never be as good as you because you won’t give me the same training you had.”
At times like these, I had to be careful to control my own thoughts and emotions in case Elisa picked them up. She didn’t need a mental image of me punching my sister in the face. “When did she say that?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
“Well, it’s bullshit. Your aunts were all trained the same way I was, and none of them are at my level. Bianca doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
I took a calming breath. The person who’d trained my sisters and me had used mind-control to make us cut ourselves and touch hot stoves until we developed the power to shield our minds. There was no way in hell I’d put Elisa through anything like that. Why had Bianca even mentioned it?
Searching for a distraction, I sensed Dave’s thoughts on the edge of my awareness. “Your father has the boat hooked up.” And he’d listened to me and backed up the car instead of pulling it himself. I’d have to reward him for that later. “Put this stuff away quickly and bring your suitcase downstairs.”
She tossed the T-shirt she was holding into her open suitcase, where it landed atop a bunch of other clothes she hadn’t folded. I cringed, thinking of her wearing wrinkled shirts for the whole vacation. Then I spotted a cord half-buried beneath the other stuff on her bed.
“And don’t forget your cell phone charger,” I said. “It’s not really a vacation unless you send pictures to your friends and make them jealous.”
A smile made it partway across Elisa’s face before flickering and falling away. She swallowed, staring off into nothingness, and I opened my telepathic senses to find out what was wrong.
It was Haley.
I shouldn’t have needed telepathy to figure that out. When Bloodbath had attacked the Hero Experience theme park, Elisa hadn’t been there alone. She’d gone to the park with friends, and not all of them had been lucky enough to make it out alive. Haley Flores, Elisa’s best friend since junior high, had been one of Bloodbath’s first victims. Part of the reason I’d planned this vacation was to take her and Dave’s minds off the traumatic events of that day, but with one stupid comment, I’d brought it all rushing back. For a split second, Elisa had been thinking about sending Haley vacation photos before remembering her friend was dead.
After clearing a spot on the bed, I sat down next to her and wrapped my arm around her. She rested her head on my shoulder, and we sat like that for a time, me sending thoughts of warmth and love at her while, in the back of my mind, I fantasized about all the things I’d do to Bloodbath if he wasn’t already dead. After several minutes, when I sensed she had a better hold on herself, I stood up.
“You really need to clean this place up.” I kissed her on top of the head. “And remember the charger. You need it to send sexy pictures of yourself in a swimsuit to Rosa.”
Elisa went bright red, and I smiled. Embarrassment was a much better emotion for her than grief. Once I left her room, however, the smile slipped from my face.
Once upon a time, I’d had very different priorities in life. I’d wanted to be nothing less than the greatest supervillain who ever lived, and depending on who you asked, I’d succeeded. But that had all changed when my daughter was born. After that, my biggest goal in life was to ensure her childhood would be nothing like mine had been.
I wanted to give her a life that was loving, stable, and safe. I aced the first one, but the next two… not so much. Between my stint in prison, exposure to her late grandfather, and the constant supervillain attacks, it was a miracle she’d turned out so well.
But that was in the past. All Elisa would have to worry about now was her grades, her girlfriend, and picking out what colleges she wanted to apply to. And Dave would finally get that quiet, relaxing retirement we were supposed to have been enjoying all this time, had various superpowered psychopaths not conspired to ruin it. I didn’t want him doing anything more strenuous than rubbing suntan lotion on my back.
Me? I’m a terrible person. If life was fair, I’d be spending the rest of my years in prison or rotting in a shallow grave. Dave and Elisa had somehow ended up in my life even though I didn’t deserve them. They were wonderful, caring people who deserved nothing but happiness. And this weekend, I was determined to give it to them.
Kill Them All will be available for download at online retailers on September 15th. Thanks for checking it out!