Tori pulled her fisted hands from her coat pockets, looking around, trying to decide what to do. Please help me, God. Her eyes darted to Eddie behind the counter. He saw the quiet man moving toward the gunman, too. Eddie opened the cash register and started counting the bills out loud.
“Twenty, forty, sixty–”
“Just put it in the bag, man!” the kid shouted.
Eddie shot him an angry look. “I have to tell my dad how much got stolen for the insurance paperwork, you idiot! Eighty, one hundred…” Eddie kept counting, picking up the tens and then the fives.
Tori felt her lips twitch in a tiny smile. Brilliant! The kid was so focused on the money, he didn’t see the other guy sneaking up behind him. Tori tensed, praying this would work.
Behind her, near the women, a glass jar fell and broke. The young woman screamed.
The gunman swung around. “Everybody freeze!”
More screams tore the air. Tori ducked as the kid waved the gun. The idiot looked like he was in a gangster movie. He probably didn’t even know how to use the thing.
The gunman turned back to the cashier. “Give me the money and no one gets hurt!”
Eddie stopped counting and started putting the money into a paper bag. Tori thought he nodded to the other man, only four or five feet away now and gliding forward soundlessly.
When Eddie started to put all the change into the bag, the gunman interrupted him. “Forget the change! I don’t want no change! What, you never been held up before?! Get me the money from the safe, asshole, and I’m gone, and you live.”
Eddie shook his head. “I-I can’t – the safe–”
“Give him the money!” one of the women screamed.
The kid cocked his gun (okay, maybe he did know how to use it), looking back and forth between the customers and the cashier. As Tori watched from the cover of the candy aisle, the man behind the robber darted with amazing stealth first one way then the other, always keeping out of the gunman’s line of sight. How did he do that? He was over there, and then he was there, and then–
The robber didn’t see it coming – the other man closed the distance, thrusting the kid’s gun arm into the air, and shoving him into the counter! Eddie reached for the customary convenience store baseball bat, but he wasn’t fast enough. The robber twisted under the other guy. The two men tussled. The women screamed. Eddie ducked, and–
A shot rang out!
Tori flinched and ducked again. Could she do something to help? But what? She pressed a fist into her stomach, trying to keep the roiling fear down so she could think. The hot feeling in her stomach grew as she struggled between self-preservation and the overwhelming urge to help keep everyone safe.
The robber jumped away as the other man fell to the floor.
Another crash of glass. The gunman whirled again. He pointed the gun at the man with the crying baby.
Not the baby! Not if she could stop him. Tori grabbed handfuls of yellow M&Ms packages and started throwing them at the gunman. “Don’t shoot!” Tori screamed at him, hot anger bursting out. “Stop it! Put that gun down!”
The kid ducked her shots, candy hitting him in the face and shoulder, unable to keep the gun aimed any more. Tori marched toward him, too pissed off to think. Out of ammunition, she pointed her finger at him like a kindergarten teacher. “Put it down now, mister!”
The kid looked at her like she was crazy. Then with little hesitation, he put the gun on the counter.
A split second later, Eddie had the baseball bat against the robber’s throat. As the guy clawed for air, the front door burst open and police officers crashed in, flowing through the room like a dam had burst.
Tori jumped out of their way, her hand pressed to her queasy stomach. Police threw the robber to the ground and cuffed him. One officer checked the man who had been shot while another asked Eddie if he was okay. Tori noticed Eddie’s bleeding head. When had that happened? The police waved in EMTs who worked on the guy with the bullet wound.
The hero of the day. Tori hoped he was okay. That was amazing the way he just – just stepped in and saved everyone! The guy was a real hero! And so was Eddie!
“Are you all right, ma’am?” Tori felt a policeman shake her shoulder.
“The guy that was shot…” she said, still watching the EMTs. She couldn’t see the man himself. God, please let him be okay. She tried to focus on breathing, in and out, don’t look at the blood.
“They’re taking care of him. I’m sure he’ll be fine. Are you hurt?”
“No, I – no.” Tori tried to swallow but her mouth was bone dry. She noticed her hand hurt and looked down. Her fist had wrapped her purse strap in a death grip. She looked up at the policeman. “I thought he was going to shoot the baby.” There was no way she could ever, ever let someone hurt a child.
The policeman smiled and said, “The baby is fine. See?”
Tori followed his pointing finger to see the man rocking his little girl, talking to another officer. They both looked fine. Then the man looked at Tori and pointed at her as he spoke.
It only took Tori a moment to realize why. She looked down at the floor littered with peanut M&Ms – yellow, green, blue, red, brown.
The policeman laughed. “I’ve never seen anyone take down a gunman in quite that way before.”
“I’m sorry.” Tori didn’t know what to say. What had she been thinking? She never would have interfered like this a few months ago. The policeman questioned her about what had just happened, but Tori’s mind darted around like a chickadee. Since she’d stopped seeing her psychiatrist and stopped taking her medications, she felt better than ever. Freer and more alive. But maybe she shouldn’t allow herself to be quite so free. Walking up to a man with a gun!
The meds kept her from any kind of spontaneous action or uncontrolled emotional response. Maybe that was better than, than…whatever just happened.
“Are you okay?” The policeman looked at her closely.
Tori wasn’t sure of the correct response. She was alive – thank God – and she was going to see Joe again, and day eleven of married life. But…she wasn’t exactly feeling well. Her stomach was calming down, but she felt herself beginning to shake from the inside out.
“Let’s sit you down for a minute, shall we?” The policeman took her arm and escorted her outside toward his car.
The bitter cold night air helped clear her head. As they walked past the stretcher where the wounded man lay, Tori paused. Had everyone thanked him? He certainly deserved their gratitude. She bent down. But she didn’t know what to say. What words were enough?
“You’re very brave,” she murmured, touching his uninjured shoulder briefly. “Thank you so much.”
He glared back at her. “What? Your suit at the cleaners?” he whispered fiercely, “Or is this your day off?”
Tori pulled back a little. “What?” Why was he attacking her?
“I’d think a guy with a gun would be enough that you could use your powers before someone gets shot,” he spat at her. “But no, had to be the hero, huh? Had to wait till you were the only superhero who could save the day! That’s why I work alone. Superheroes like you are just superegos. You don’t care about anything but your media image!”
The EMT moved Tori out of the way. She heard the man moan as they hustled him into the ambulance.
What was he talking about? When she called out to the gunman she was just…worried, scared. That’s all. It was probably a stupid thing to do, but it distracted him enough so that Eddie could grab him.
The policeman put his arm around Tori as she swayed on her feet. He tucked her into the back seat of his police car. “Why don’t you put your head down?” he suggested.
Tori shook her head. She just needed to get her bearings. The car was warm, and she closed her eyes, leaning back into the seat. She let her mind wander as she tried to relax. She tried not to think about what kinds of people had been sitting in the back of this police car lately. Could lice survive the winter? Ugh, best not to think about it.
Her thoughts returned to the conversation with the man who’d been shot. It hit her then – was he saying he was a superhero? Tori’s eyes flew open and she turned in time to see the ambulance pull away. She’d met a superhero?
She flopped back against the seat. No! Impossible! Her parents had always insisted the “superhero” stories in the news were publicity stunts. Crime was on the rise and the city government would say anything to look like they had it under control.
She’d heard her mother’s voice saying a hundred times over the years, “There’s no such thing as superheroes. A few freaks out there who want to be more than they are, but no one has any kind of supernatural power.”
Tori accepted this version of the world. It made sense. It was logical, orderly. To believe that people might have supernatural abilities opened the door to possibilities Tori didn’t want to consider. She and her sister Lexie had enough freak factor with the strange things that sometimes happened around them.
This guy accusing her of being a superhero did seem a little freaky, that’s true. Of course, he’d been shot, lost blood, was probably out of his mind with pain. But that other guy…
Tori’s mind drifted back for a moment to Halloween. Some kid had grabbed her purse and taken off. Tori chased him, but she tripped and fell. Moments later a man dressed as Zorro appeared, gorgeous and thrilling. He helped her get her purse back, and picked her up like she weighed no more than a doll. Then he kissed her like–
Tori shook her head and opened her eyes. Sure it was a great kiss, but she never saw him again. She met Joe a couple days later, fell madly in love with him, and married him on Christmas Eve.
She straightened her shoulders. She had no intention of thinking about another man now that she was married. But she wondered if her parents were wrong. Maybe superheroes did exist. If so, they weren’t all freaks. Not Zorro, anyway.
Still, why would this possible “superhero” accuse her of being a superhero? Maybe in the pain of getting shot, he…got confused. In her mind’s eye, Tori saw the look on the robber’s face as he put the gun down. There was something about it, something familiar. Her mind tripped and twisted with roiling emotions and panic-infused imagination. She needed to stop this crazy thinking.
But her brain wouldn’t stop working on it. Now she remembered. Last night when she and Joe had stopped over at her sister Lexie’s and little Ben wouldn’t go to bed, she’d put on her Aunt Tori voice and forcefully insisted he go to bed. He’d looked at her with that same funny look on his face. Then he did. The barely-three-year-old turned and went to his room without another word.
And a few months ago. When Lexie told her that it wasn’t just that Tori could convince people of things, but that she could force people to do things. And Lexie had only said that because – oh my gosh, that’s right! – Tori had insisted that Lexie tell her what she was thinking.
Tori felt her breath coming quicker but she couldn’t catch it, she couldn’t breathe. She kept trying to breathe, but the air just kept going in and out of her mouth without hitting her lungs and she couldn’t get a breath and–
The door opened and the policeman said something but Tori couldn’t catch his words and then he was pushing her head onto her knees and still talking and she thought she heard, “That’s it. Breathe.”
Tori gulped in air, then tried to slow down and get the blood to stop pounding in her head. It’s not possible. It simply wasn’t possible to live for twenty-seven years and not know…not make the connection.
She’d test it. Then she’d know. It wouldn’t work, and then she’d know her mother was right. There is no such thing as superheroes. No such thing as super powers.
Tori looked up at the cop. “I need some M&Ms. I went in for M&Ms and I need them please.” She knew she was jabbering, but she had to know. “Please get me some.”
“Just take a deep breath and–”
She glared into his eyes, hoping and terrified and feeling very, very alone. Her gut burned with heat. “I need M&Ms! Please!”
The cop stopped in the middle of his sentence. He looked at her for a moment, then stood up and turned back toward the store. When he came back with every kind of M&Ms flavor the store sold, Tori fainted.
To make it up to you, here is the next teaser for my novel Unexpected Superhero – the middle part of Chapter One. (If you missed the first scene, read it here first.)
A police car raced past the entrance to Harborview Mall. Lights and sirens cleared a path among the post-Christmas shoppers. But mostly people moved to avoid the speeding white Toyota hurtling through the night like a rusty snowball.
The cars sped through two more lights. Divine intervention surely prevented a crash as the Toyota skidded on a patch of ice, nearly sideswiping another car. The police cruiser missed that particular bit of ice, but a close call at the next light had the cop in the passenger seat crossing himself with one hand while hanging on with the other.
Another police car parked in the next intersection forced the chase to take a hard right and brought them into a quieter industrial area. Quieter except for the jarring sirens. Large warehouse-style office buildings magnified the piercing sound and reflected the red and blue lights onto the snow. The Toyota picked up speed, blowing through three stop signs amidst honking horns and flying middle fingers.
The police cars slowed down enough to ensure that the chase continued to be accident-free. The Toyota made a left down an alley to avoid yet another police car, and raced out of sight.
* * *
Superhero X looked up at the roof of the nearby three-story office building and spoke into a microphone concealed in his mask. “What do you see, Tick Tock?”
Team leader Tick Tock, Mickey Valient to the rest of the world, coordinated the car chase with the police. “It’s our lucky day, boys. They’re herding him right toward us.”
In the growing winter darkness, the men stood nearly invisible in their midnight blue outfits, masks covering the upper half of their faces. When they spoke, their voices came out with a metallic distortion courtesy of Tick Tock’s voice-disguising device.
Adrenaline rushed through his system as X waited on the ground. He missed being out with the guys. Had it only been two weeks? The rushed wedding and honeymoon had been exhilarating, but he was glad to be home and back at the work he loved.
Standing half-hidden in the alley, X grinned at his other friend and partner in crime-fighting. “Ready to play, big guy?”
Powerhouse, otherwise known as Bull Kincaid, smiled back, his pale skin and white teeth a sharp contrast against the dark mask. At least six and a half feet tall and built like a linebacker, Powerhouse usually played the “immovable object” against the unstoppable forces they came up against. He cracked his knuckles, then his neck. “Bring it,” he said.
Police sirens wailed in the night, getting louder.
“How close?” X asked Tick Tock.
“Just turned down the alley,” Tick Tock replied. “Get ready.”
Powerhouse peeked around the fence that separated the alley from the parking lot where they waited. Gauging the distance to the approaching Toyota, he stepped back and moved behind an overflowing metal garbage bin. He placed his hands and one shoulder against it, waiting, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in anticipation.
X waited behind him, anxious for the fracas to begin. Sometimes he got to be the front man, but tonight they needed Powerhouse’s muscle to end the chase. X tossed a short steel pipe from one hand to the other, feeling the rush of energy flow through his body. The gloves he wore were palm-less rather than fingerless. They protected him from leaving fingerprints, but allowed his skin to absorb the strength of the metal. He had been working on plans for flexible titanium-lined gloves before he met Tori, but the craziness of falling in love and getting married over the last two months had disrupted a lot of things. The gloves fell to the bottom of his to do list. Tonight he’d have to make do with the pipe.
X squeezed his right palm around the steel. Hot energy tightened his skin all over his body. The rush felt good. He put his new bride out of his mind and focused on the job at hand.
“Ready, set…” Tick Tock’s voice came through their earpieces.
X shifted onto the balls of his feet in anticipation.
Powerhouse shoved the garbage bin into the alley. The squeal of brakes, the crash of metal on metal as the car hit the heavy steel container full-on. Powerhouse jumped behind the garbage bin and locked his elbows. He kept the car from skidding toward the surrounding buildings by digging his heels into the snow-covered asphalt. X watched the pavement buckle behind his friend’s feet.
The car stopped with a final screech of damaged metal. X watched the doors for exiting passengers. His turn at bat.
The garbage bin began to roll toward the opposite building. Powerhouse pushed it to a flatter area. Less paperwork if there wasn’t any damage to surrounding private property. X didn’t like to waste time with paper when there were always more people to protect, more criminals to catch.
“Driver side,” came Tick Tock’s voice in their ears.
The driver side door flew open and X took his position. A young man stumbled out – maybe old enough to vote, not old enough to drink, but dumb enough to run. He looked over his shoulder toward the approaching police car, his feet already double-timing in the opposite direction.
Right into the path of Superhero X.
The young man slammed into him and fell.
X grinned down, tapping the pipe against his thigh. He had only an inkling of what it felt like for someone to run into him. His brothers said it was like running into a steel wall. X put his palm out and raised his fingers twice. The universal sign for “come and get it.”
The driver gaped up at him from the pavement. One hand held his head. Must’ve cracked it on X’s chest.
“He’s not a mouse, X. Hold him for the officers.” Tick Tock sounded either exasperated or amused. X couldn’t tell through the voice-disguiser. “Powerhouse, another one on the passenger side.”
X shook his head slightly. There was no challenge in it when things went according to plan. He reached down to grab the driver. Not quick enough.
The man rolled away. Standing, he now held a 9mm pistol. Jogging backwards with the gun aimed at X, he ducked between two buildings.
X muttered under his breath. Careful what you wish for. More squealing brakes signaled the arrival of the police. X gave chase. A cop pounded a few yards behind him.
“He’s got a gun,” X yelled over his shoulder.
More sirens sounded from the front of the building. Police shouted to each other. X struggled to hear Tick Tock in his earpiece.
“Say again?” he shouted as he ran.
“Turn right. Bushes in front.”
The buildings gave way to the parking lot and X turned right. Three more police officers came running from their cars at the front of the building. X paused, searching the snow for footprints. He saw movement, halogen security lights reflected a flash of red fabric. He bounded into the bushes just as the driver jumped up with his gun.
X pulled up short. A shootout was not the kind of excitement he was looking for. Too many ways for it to end badly. Putting out his hand in a conciliatory gesture, he turned his body to shield the police officers behind him. Slow movements and quiet words would win the day. “Now just –”
“Drop your weapon!” a cop behind him shouted.
The cop moved into X’s peripheral vision on the left. Idiot! Didn’t he know X was here to protect him? He was supposed to stay back. If the driver started shooting now, he could hit any of them.
The young man flinched at the cop’s shout and raised his gun. To his left, X saw all the officers bring up their guns, everyone shouting at the guy to drop his weapon. X groaned. So much for slow movements and quiet words. The situation had spiraled out of control. Which left only one option.
Before anyone could start shooting, X leapt at the guy, holding tightly to the steel pipe. In a flash, an image of Tori appeared in his mind, a picture of his lovely little wife with a gun pointed at her. Another flash, and Tori was advancing on the gunman.
The same imperative voice that shouted in his mind when he first met Tori was stronger than ever. Along with the vision, it shook him, and X realized as he launched himself at the gun-wielding drug dealer that his timing was a half-second too late.
Bang! The gun went off.
Look for Unexpected Superhero on May 31 for Kindle, and in print later in June. All other ebook formats will be released on Labor Day Weekend.
It’s almost time! My next novel, Unexpected Superhero, is about to be released! Yay!! I can’t wait to show you what I’ve been working on for the last many months, so I thought I’d share some of it with you now. 🙂
First, a big shout-out to John Bucholtz, awesome husband and cover designer extraordinaire, for this fabulous cover! This is a limited edition because I hired a professional model to do a photo shoot for the cover image, but it won’t be ready until next month. John had been working with me on a cover earlier, but I was annoyed that I couldn’t find anything that looked like a superhero costume that didn’t look like a Superman costume. Even with that handicap, John did an amazing job! Thanks, John!
Unexpected Superhero is the first book in The Adventures of Lewis and Clarke series. When Tori Lewis returns from her honeymoon after a whirlwind romance with Joe Clarke, she finds out she has a super power. She enlists the help of Superhero X, who has rescued her more than once, to figure out how to proceed. Meanwhile, Tori’s husband Joe is trying to decide how to tell his new wife that he’s a superhero. The timing has never been right, and it’s getting worse by the day. When Tori’s nephew is kidnapped, the two must work together with other superheroes to rescue him before an evil plan comes to fruition.
And now, for your reading enjoyment, the first scene from the book…
Tori Lewis was out of M&Ms. None in her purse, none in the glove box. Even the emergency packet in her briefcase had been consumed during her pre-wedding jitters. After the job interview she’d just endured for Half TV, a local cable TV station, she needed a chocolate fix. Now.
“I know I’m supposed to go to you for comfort,” she muttered to God as she pulled into a parking spot, “but if you wouldn’t mind, a package of M&Ms would jumpstart the process.”
The bell tinkled over her head as the door of Ed & Eddie’s Corner Market closed behind her. Tori stamped the snow off her boots as her eyes adjusted from the deepening twilight outside to the bright fluorescent lights of the store. It took her a moment to notice everyone in the store staring at her. Including the guy with the gun.
Tori froze. She always assumed her love of the colorful chocolate candy might one day destroy her figure, but she never expected her addiction to end in gunfire.
The gunman swung toward her. His bulky open coat couldn’t hide the fact that the skinny boy was no man. A Detroit Tigers baseball cap covered most of his brown hair, but not his panicky eyes. “What do you want?” His voice came out higher at the end and he cleared his throat. “Well?” he asked, forcing the word out at a lower pitch.
“Uhh… M&Ms,” Tori said. It sounded like a question. Her brain was having a hard time getting up to speed in this unexpected situation. God, help me.
Her eyes darted around the small store. An older woman cried and held a nearly hysterical younger woman, shushing her to no avail. One of the men held a baby ensconced in a little pink snowsuit. Another nodded quietly at her as if to convey caution.
Situation confirmed. She was hip-deep in doo-doo. Where was her big, strong new husband when she needed him?
The armed boy-man cocked his head toward the candy aisle. Tori didn’t know if he meant for her to move out of the way or if he was just being unusually helpful by pointing her in the right direction. Erring on the side of caution, she forced a fleeting smile and mumbled “thanks” as she walked past him and down the middle aisle to stand in front of the M&Ms. Now what?
The gunman turned back to Eddie, the cashier and half-owner of Ed & Eddie’s. “Hurry up before someone else comes in!”
“Easy, dude, easy,” Eddie said, moving his hands slowly toward the cash register. Eddie wasn’t very old either, early 20s or so, but he was sadly experienced in the holdup category. Tori couldn’t remember the details, but she’d heard bits and pieces of stories. Come to think of it, why did she shop at a store with a record anyway? She remembered Eddie had played sports in high school. Something like baseball or wrestling or karate could come in handy right now. Hopefully his sport hadn’t been cross-country running.
Tori glanced at the M&Ms next to her. More than ever she needed to stress eat. Could she open a package now and pay Eddie later? Maybe two packages. Her hands started to shake. She shoved them in her pockets.
Today was only day ten of her new and fabulous married life. She hadn’t wanted to go out today anyway and now this. Only two days ago she and Joe had checked out of their Disney World hotel, blue skies and temperatures in the 70s, nothing on their minds but a long and blissful life together. Tori prayed now that she’d make it to day eleven of that life. They hadn’t been married long enough to do anything except have sex – which was awesome – but she’d hoped for more. After all, they figured they’d have the rest of their lives together. Neither of them thought the “death” part of “till death do us part” would happen until there was a lot more gray hair involved.
The sound of a crying baby registered. Tori glanced over at the well-dressed man in the expensive trench coat. He kept his back between the gunman and his child. A gesture Tori would normally find heartwarming. But today it was the action of a man who wasn’t going to get involved. Great. He wouldn’t be of any use. So this is where equal opportunity gets us. Tori considered offering to hold the baby so he could help the other men save the day. Her self-esteem would be fine with that. Maybe if she were comforting someone, she wouldn’t feel like crying herself.
Enough! Tori wiped at her eyes. She was not letting some stupid, scared boy dictate her life and death. She’d spent too much energy changing her life into just what she wanted to lose it now. She chewed on her lip. What could she do?
A movement from the corner of her eye. She saw one of the men – the one who’d nodded calmly at her – edging closer to the gunman. Yikes. Should she duck or help?