And another excerpt of my upcoming novel, Lichii Ba’Cho Here’s my second protagonist, Samantha Elias.
Back at camp, the fire crackled with cheer. Remy squatted beside it, heating the last of the purified water for tea. Shake sat astride his motorcycle, smearing peanut butter onto a cracker. He grinned at Sam and Dusky as they appeared, wiggling his eyebrows in a teasing manner. Sam felt a flush reach her face and silently cursed her light skin color as Shake’s lips widened into a toothy smile. Dusky stopped at a satchel by the fire and grabbed two of the MREs scavenged the day before. She tossed one to Sam, barely glancing at her as she settled on the ground beside the fire.
The sudden distant treatment confused Sam. Puzzled, she sat equidistant between Remy and Dusky to eat her breakfast. She hardly tasted the food as she replayed the delicious kiss. It appeared that whatever enjoyment Sam had gleaned from the contact hadn’t affected Dusky at all. As she ate her meatloaf casserole, Sam frowned, remembering the way Dusky had shifted into a dangerous, seductive hunter. I didn’t imagine that. The longer she thought about it, the more annoyed she became at Dusky’s aloofness. Remy had seen the beginnings of the kiss; Shake obviously assumed something had occurred. Why did Dusky act like nothing had? Does she think I’m a zero? Anger smoldered in Sam’s heart at the thought that Dusky had so easily dismissed her from consideration. I’m not a zero, damn it!
Shake finished his meal, dismounting to toss the wrappings into the fire. “How long we staying in Boise?”
Dusky looked up from the flames. “Long enough to drop her off, I expect.”
“Do we have the credits for maintenance?”
Remy held a cup of tea out to Shake. “What’s up?”
Shake jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “She’s riding a little rough. I might need to have her looked at.”
A surge of satisfaction shot through Sam. I’ll show her I’m no zero. “What do you mean riding rough? You talking sluggish?” They all turned their heads to stare at her as she got to her feet. “Do you have trouble at low or high speeds?”
Opening his mouth, Shake closed it and looked at Dusky. She gave him a slow nod. “High speed.”
Businesslike, Sam circled the fire and knelt beside Shake’s bike. “I’m guessing you’ve checked the plugs. You notice any knocking or anything?” She felt a sense of homecoming as she finally got her hands on an engine. “Got any tools?”
Shake, hands on his hips, stared down at her. “I don’t think—“
“Give her tools.”
Sam looked over her shoulder at Dusky, who now stood by the fire, eyes intently watching. Hah! Got your attention now, don’t I? Shake opened a saddlebag and retrieved a toolkit, handing it to her. “Thanks.” Though it had been a few years since she’d legally worked on a combustion engine, the knowledge and skills quickly returned. While she worked, she chattered away. “What you’re describing could be a number of things. It could be firing incorrectly, or the fuel to air mixture is off. Or maybe it’s low compression.” She checked the plugs, finding them in their proper places with clean and solid contacts. “Any knocking?”
There was a pause before Shake answered. “No. No knocking.” He squatted beside her, watching her work. “I thought it was firing wrong too, but I’ve checked the ignition and pick up coils and the plugs.”
She nodded. Working her way past the outer pieces of the engine, she dug deeper into the mechanism. “Any trouble with the brakes dragging or the clutch slipping?”
“What about the oil? When’s the last time it was changed?”
“About a month ago.”
“Anything unusual about the viscosity or color?”
“Naw, it was normal.”
A serious inspection couldn’t be done here and now. Sam chewed her lower lip, peering at the cylinder head. She felt her time in the limelight slipping away. I need to come up with something, damn it. “Got a flashlight?” Shake was fully into the moment, absently retrieving a small flashlight for her. She used it to illuminate the cylinder head, running her now dirty fingers over it. The engine wasn’t a pristine showpiece; it looked to be as old or older than Shake. Using her finger, she wiped away dirt and grime, revealing pitted metal. “I can’t be positive without breaking it down completely, but I think the problem can be either the cylinder head gasket is damaged or one of the valve springs is broken or warped.” She twisted around to look at Dusky. “I might be able to fix it if you have the time.” Sam grinned at Dusky’s expression. That’s right, input. I’m not just a messenger girl. Dusky studied Sam, that intensity in her eyes again. The look sent shivers down Sam’s spine.
Remy and Shake both stared at Dusky too, awaiting her verdict. “Not now. We have to get you to Boise. Azteca doesn’t give up so easy; if they’re after you, they’re going to know you weren’t killed in that convoy.”
Sam swallowed, fighting her arousal. She turned back to the bike, seating the plugs firmly in place and reattaching wires and cables. “Maybe after I’ve uploaded my data.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. We have someplace else to be.”
The words held a finality that Sam didn’t like. She finished working and sealed the toolkit, handing it to Shake as she stood. “Okay. The offer’s open, though.”
Dusky gave a curt nod. “Let’s go. Daylight’s wasting.”
While Shake put away his gear, Remy nodded and kicked dirt over the fire. He handed a cup to Sam as she passed. She thanked him and drained the tea in three swallows. Dusky helped extinguish the fire and packed the last of the gear on her bike.
Fifteen minutes later, Sam held Dusky’s waist as the bike crawled down the abandoned game trail, Remy and Shake behind them. She stared at the campground, feeling a sense of loss as they passed the concrete slab where she and Dusky had shared that wonderful kiss. Elias, you need to get your head in the game. She reminded herself that she was on a job, that she needed to regain her professional perspective, that when these people dropped her off in Boise she’d never see them again. A lump developed in her throat, and she silently cursed herself. She’d seen too many tragic romance videos. Mama told me those things would rot my brain.
Sam forced herself to focus on her goal—Boise, data dump, a car back to Seattle and several days shopping a big American city. There was no room for destructive nomads in her life, especially not the dark beauty in her arms right now.
I hope you had an enjoyable read! Lichii Ba’Cho will be out by next January, through Bella Books. I’ll keep you posted as soon as it hits the shelves!
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