Do you like DVD extras? Yeah? So do I. In fact, it’s entirely possible I’ve watched the appendices on the Lord of the Rings extended editions more times than I have the movies themselves.
So for the Strain blog tour, I’m going to try to make my posts a bit like the “behind-the-scenes/making-of” documentaries you might find on a good DVD. A lot of things the world-building and events that Strain depends on happen long before the events of the book itself, and while an in-depth recap of them during the course of Strain got in the way of the flow of the story, I find some of the back-story fascinating and hope you will as well.
Be sure to check the blog tour page at Riptide to see when each of these posts is scheduled.
Commenters at each stop along the way will be entered into a drawing for the chance to win one of three ebook copies of Impulse: The Complete Trilogy, the all-in-one edition of my novel-in-three parts. Please include your contact information, either email, Twitter, or Facebook. The Contest will be open until February 28th, with the winner being announced March 1—just in time for the release of Every Inch of the Way/To the Very Last Inch (The Professor’s Rule #4 and #5), the final two installments of my series with Heidi Belleau. So stay tuned for that as well!
Blog Tour, Part Seven: A Sneak Peek at Bane, the prequel to Strain.
Today on the final stop of the Strain blog tour, you get an extra-special treat. What follows here is the entire first chapter of one of my present WIPs, Bane. If you’ve read Strain, or have been following some of the behind-the-scenes blog posts along the tour this week, you will recognize the name Bane as being the virus which kills off most of the human population. Bane (the novel) is a step back in time, to the events leading up to the plague, particularly those involving and affecting two men.
Nicolás Fernández, better known to the clients of his mother’s escort agency as Octavio Costas, is one of the most in-demand male escorts operating independently of the corporate brothel system. To General Logan McClosky—in charge of R&D at the Pentagon—it’s Nico’s willingness to use his position to influence political decision-makers that makes him a valuable asset, one McClosky isn’t afraid to use to get the green light to activate Project Juggernaut, his last, best hope for turning around a desperate military situation.
Zacharias Houtman is struggling with a crisis of faith. Dutifully, he left seminary and his dreams of starting his own ministry to study political science and become his father’s assistant and advisor as the Reverend Maurice Houtman moved into the political arena and runs for office. But his father is no longer listening to his guidance, veering farther and farther into malicious and hypocritical zealotry intended to thrill the masses, and leaving behind Christ’s mandate of love and mercy.
When their disparate worlds unexpectedly collide, both Nico and Zach will find themselves unwitting instruments in the events that result in the end of humanity and civilization and they know it. But will they survive the aftermath?
(It should be noted that this excerpt is entirely unedited. The manuscript isn’t even complete yet, so you can consider this a rough draft, and very subject to change.)
Keep checking back at my blog for news and developments regarding Bane, and thank you for joining me this week on the Strain blog tour.
The rains had slackened to a persistent but bearable patter that rapped against the car windows, and the winds had died down enough that it was once again safe to venture out of doors, but the damage of Hurricane Lilith was still readily apparent in the downed power lines and fallen tree branches lining the road as it wound up into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Commonwealth of Virginia was still tabulating the cost of the damage, but whatever the figure ended up being, it would be too damned much. Of course, federal relief for the disaster would be considerably easier to get here, where the devastation was in plain view along the way to so many weekend vacation destinations popular with the politicians seeking to escape D.C.’s sweltering climes.
Other areas damaged by the catastrophic storm would be shit out of luck. Like the Valu$Mark employee tenements the car had driven past on the way through Charlottesville. Storm-driven debris had shattered windows in the squalid apartment buildings, and Valu$Mark would take the cost of repairs out of the tenants’ wages, along with the rent. Power to the buildings had failed and the already questionable condition of the plumbing had no doubt deteriorated to the level of health hazard. The employee stores would be low on water and non-perishable foods, because the retail outlets would get priority for shipments. The employees—who paid for the goods with credit from their wage accounts—would have to fight for the leftovers. It would be a matter of days—if that long—before reports of violence began trickling out of the insular colonies of employee housing.
It was almost enough to break him of his news addiction.
Octavio sighed, looking at the back of the chauffeur’s head for a moment before raising the privacy partition. The lovely thing about being in a career where clients so often sent a car for him was that there was plenty of downtime to keep current on events, which might have otherwise been difficult, since he was so rarely at home. With Measure 46 on the ballot this coming fall in New York, which had the potential to directly impact his livelihood, politics were even more important to his work than usual and he’d barely had time this week to check the polling and see what public opinion was doing.
Octavio raised his voice, speaking to the pickups in the car. “Display.” An HUD appeared on the partition separating him from the driver. “Video. News. Politics.” An image quickly came into focus, revealing the familiar face of one of the ubiquitous Sunday morning pundits.
“. . . The Righteous Action League is claiming responsibility for the bombing on a shelter for gender and sexual minority youth in Alabama this week, making it the fifth RAL attack this year. Other targets have included health clinics that provide reproductive care, pharmacies, and as of last week, the headquarters for grass-roots organizations of sex workers who are putting together ballot measures to legalize independent prostitution in Washington State and Pennsylvania. New York also has a similar measure pending, and if they pass, these will be the fourth, fifth, and sixth states to legalize independent prostitution. Here with us now is Reverend Maurice Houtman, communications director for the Righteous Word Party. Reverend, with this latest wave of attacks, accusations are once again being leveled at the RWP, claiming the RAL is the terrorist arm of the RWP and that they are operating with the knowledge and cooperation of your party. How does the RWP respond to this?”
“The same as we always have, Mr. McNary.” Houtman’s eyes burned with a zealot’s fire in his gaunt face and his smile stopped just short of smug. “The Righteous Word Party is dedicated to bringing the Lord back into our system of government and overcoming the corrupting and immoral influences in our society by peaceful and legal means.”
Octavio suppressed an unbecoming snort. Houtman’s moral stance would be a lot more convincing if most of the RWP’s “No on 46” campaign didn’t come—by way of a number of intermediaries—from the corporate brothels, which functioned incredibly like the employee housing and pay-in-credit systems run by Valu$Mark and other major corporations. No one had listened to the grumbles fifty years ago that allowing the recently legalized brothels to operate under such loose regulation would promote abuse and involuntary trafficking of the employees—just as working for Valu$Mark was now effectively a system of quasi-slavery—but no one had listened, and now the corporate brothels were too deeply entrenched and had too much money to be challenged. They would do anything to stop sex workers from gaining the ability to legally operate as independent contractors, even getting into bed with the far-right zealots.
“So the RWP condemns these attacks?” the host, Daniel McNary, prompted.
Houtman tilted his head in a half-shrug. “The Righteous Word Party does not sanction these attacks. We are in no way complicit in them nor do we have any knowledge of the perpetrators. Nevertheless, it must be said that one need only look at the targets to discern the Hand of God behind the tragedies. The United States has become a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. The more corrupt and dissolute we as a society become, the more often we will see the Lord allowing His servants to smite the wicked in His name . . .”
“Next channel. Add economics to the search.” Octavio growled in disgust. He was in no mood to sit and listen to Houtman’s crowd-pleasing fire-and-brimstone antics.
“. . . With the health care system bankrupt, how can we possibly be considering legalizing this? The potential for the spread of disease would be an intolerable burden on a system already in crisis, and I, for one—”
“Oh, come off it, Hal!” A blond congresswoman—Congresswoman Emmett, Octavio’s memory supplied after a moment of searching; she was one of the more entertaining female clients he’d spent time with—tossed a hand in the air. “It’s been over seventy years since the HIV vaccine went on the market. Isn’t it time you people stopped demonizing the private activities of American citizens in the name of a public health crisis that no longer exists?”
“But how long until the next public health crisis is born?” Her adversary—Hal Osten, chairmen of the National Coalition for Traditional Values—challenged. “If you look over the last two hundred years in this country, you see an inescapable pattern of ramifications all linking back to the decline of common morality. Teen and unwed motherhood increasing, the AIDS epidemic a hundred years ago, sexually transmitted superbugs that have proven difficult to eradicate. Each of these issues has come with a devastating price tag attached in terms of the burden it’s placed upon the education system, the health care system, the child welfare system. These are economic issues, not merely moral ones, and considering the state of the economy . . .”
“Let’s discuss the economics for a moment,” their host interjected. “One of the biggest criticisms of the legalized brothels has been the fact that they take advantage of corporate tax loopholes, so all the budgetary benefits on which they made their case for legal sanction have failed to come to pass. However, projections have it that the revenue New York would generate by registering and taxing the income of independent prostitutes could offset some of their budget shortfalls, particularly when you consider the corresponding decrease in the prison population and the savings that would come with no longer wasting law enforcement and legal system dollars prosecuting what basically amounts to a crime of morality.”
Congresswoman Emmett nodded enthusiastically. “That’s exactly it, Michael. Not only that, but projections also show that public healthcare costs will decrease because licensing prostitutes as independent contractors will mandate regular testing and it will catch any outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections earlier, before they begin to spread. Other countries already know this, which is one of many reasons why America is the laughingstock of the world with our outdated efforts to legislate morality. Most of the civilized world has figured out already that you can’t get rid of the world’s oldest profession by criminalizing private behavior. Furthermore, we can eliminate what essentially amounts to modern day sex slavery by cracking down on the abuses of the corporate brothels and applying labor laws and regulations and business taxes to people who run escort services. The days when a pimp can get a kid hooked on drugs and turn him or her on onto the street to earn tax-free revenue, and when a corporation can coerce their employees into sex acts, will be an unpleasant memory. That seems to me a much more clear-cut moral mandate.”
The camera panned over to another woman. Octavio couldn’t place her off the top of his head. Clearly not one of his clients. “I think we need to look at the economic conditions which led to these efforts to begin with, Michael. When the Great Crash of 2045 wiped out what was left of the middle class, what was born in this country is a modern feudal system. The wealth and power are now concentrated so strongly at the top that the rest of the population amounts to little more than serfs serving at the mercy of their overlords for a subsistence living. Of course we’re seeing a resurgence in the popularity of prostitution as a means to make a living. It’s one of the few systems of commerce left that can enable the lower class to rise above scraping out that subsistence living with no hope of advancement.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, sister.” Octavio muttered. “Next channel. Add weather.”
“. . . In the aftermath of Hurricane Lilith, the cost of damages continues to skyrocket, with deficit hawks at both the state and federal level digging in their heels about approving funding for repairs along most of the eastern seaboard. Meanwhile, the death toll mounts as more people succumb to heat stroke in areas where residents have not been able to afford the priority surcharge to have power restored, or where climate control systems have been damaged beyond immediate repair. In the Midwest, areas which have been hit hardest by the heat and a months-long drought are being declared disaster areas, with some climatologists predicting what will essentially be another Dust Bowl throughout Kansas and Iowa similar to the one that struck Texas and Oklahoma in the early twentieth century.”
He was spared the tedium of changing the channel again when the driver called back to him over the intercom. “We’re almost to the cabin, Mr. Costas.”
“Thank you, Darrin.” Octavio smiled and sat up straighter, smoothing his hair and the fine wool of his suit coat. He popped a rapid-dissolve mint into his mouth and shifted over into the backward-facing seat of the limousine, turning off the HUD as the host gave a last-minute recap of the week in politics.
A moment later the car decelerated with a soft whine of fuel cells powering down and turned off the two-lane mountain highway onto a long, wooded driveway. Five minutes after that, it came to a stop before a comfortably rustic-looking cabin. Octavio remained where he was seated as Darrin parked and got out of the car to ring the doorbell. He waiting calmly and patiently for nearly another ten minutes before a broad-shouldered man with graying black hair opened the door. Darrin escorted him to the limousine and opened the door, then returned to the cabin and emerged with a suitcase, which he stashed in the trunk while the man slid into the seat opposite Octavio and closed the door.
“Nicolás. It’s good to see you.” A warm smile split the man’s ageless face, and Octavio ducked his head at the reminder that this man—the first and favorite of all his clients—had known him long before he’d adopted the pseudonym Octavio Costas. To this man, he was still Nicolás Fernández.
“It’s always a pleasure, General,” Nico replied with complete sincerity.
“You know you can call me Logan.” General McClosky looked him up and down as Darrin the driver returned to the wheel and the car pulled away from the cabin. “Thank you for coming out all this way to meet with me. I wasn’t going to have time to see you otherwise.”
“It wouldn’t feel right, sir.” Nico’s formality in no way diminished his fondness for the general. “And I didn’t mind the ride at all. It gave me some much-needed downtime.”
“Still working hard on your thesis?”
“Yes, though I think I’ll be done with it before the holidays. But of course, despite my mother’s objections, my schedule is booked fairly tightly with clients, so finding time for something other than school or work can be a challenge. A nice afternoon drive in the mountains is a refreshing change of pace.”
McClosky favored him with another warm smile. “And how is Silvia?”
“Devoted to you, as always, sir.” Nico grinned. “She sends her regards and hopes you’ll be able to come by and see her sometime soon. She also asked me to assure you that the usual precautions to make the transaction untraceable are all in place.”
“Excellent. Tell her I might be able to arrange a visit sometime next month. Worst case scenario, I definitely wouldn’t miss the Midsummer celebration.” McClosky reached for the briefcase on the seat beside him and pulled it into his lap, popping it open. He withdrew a file and handed it to Nico. “This is the man. You’ll find all the information you need and a picture inside so you’ll be able to spot him. He’ll be staying at the hotel after the convention tonight and he’ll be in the bar for drinks and looking for companionship. You need to do is make sure he wakes up tomorrow with a smile on his face in time for the meeting of the joint chiefs to decide on an important recommendation that I very much need to go my way. Without being too heavy-handed, of course.”
Nico affected a pout. “I’m hurt that you think I’d ever be heavy-handed, sir.”
“I have every confidence in you,” McClosky assured him.
“And should subtle hints and pleasing smiles not work?” Nico’s hand drifted almost unconsciously to the vile of oil in his pocket.
“You have my permission to use whatever means are at your disposal.”
Nico fell silent, perusing the file. His intended mark looked like an appealing enough man. Certainly he’d entertained far less attractive clients. He closed the folder and handed it back to McClosky. “As usual, I can’t guarantee his vote, but I can certainly guarantee he’ll have a smile on his face.”
“As I said, I have every confidence in your abilities.” The general nodded and settled back in his seat, his posture relaxing. Nico slipped off his suit coat and laid it on the seat beside him before slipping to his knees on the floor of the limousine. McClosky parted his thighs, reaching out to stroke the side of Nico’s face as Nico reached for the fly of his uniform. “It’s been too long, my boy.”
“It’s always a pleasure, sir,” Nico repeated, smiling, and dipped his head to suck the general deep into his mouth.
He’d lost track of the number of cocks he’d sucked since he’d turned eighteen and became an employee of Costas Escorts. Silvia Fernández—better known to her clients as Marina Costas—had built the agency from a few tricks when she’d been struggling to pay her way through college into a thriving enterprise once New Jersey had decided to pare down their law enforcement budget by legalizing prostitution. The legalization measure had been intended to allow the corporate brothels to operate, but a legal loophole had enabled Silvia to establish her agency. Other cities and eventually whole states had followed suit, so now the Costas Agency had satellite offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and of course, the District of Columbia.
When she became too old to command top dollar, Silvia had stopped taking clients and settled into a purely administrative role. She’d given birth to Nicolás a couple years later and raised him alone. When he was sixteen, Nico had declared his intent to take over the family business someday, and after a considerable amount of negotiation, he had convinced his mother to allow him to begin working for the agency once he was eighteen, while he attended university to obtain his MBA.
General Logan McClosky, an old friend and once a favored client of Silvia’s, had been Nico’s first client. At Silvia’s urging, he had contracted Nico’s services for a full week, taken Nico to his cabin in the mountains, and taught him far more about pleasing clients than Nico had learned in any of the high school fumblings he’d participated in during his teenage years. It wasn’t long until Nico was one of the most requested male escorts at the agency, but the general would always hold a special place in his heart, for a number of reasons.
Not the least of which was that servicing him sexually was only one of the very select services for which General McClosky contracted Costas escorts. Nico only half-jokingly referred to himself as the general’s goodwill ambassador. From his position at the Pentagon, he often had to play politics, and he occasionally contracted Nico or a very select few, trusted and vetted Costas employees to service allies or would-be allies when it came time for critical recommendations or votes. Not that the parties knew the escort was there at the general’s behest. But Costas escorts were more than mere sex workers. They were hired for not only their looks and skills in bed, but for their intelligence and wit. They were to be scintillating companions and engaging conversationalists, sometimes even performers, modeled after the high cortigiana of the Italian Renaissance. With deft subtlety, they could work the discussion around to certain topics on which the general wanted the client influenced, delicately making a case for the general, frequently by finding ways to work out how deciding in the general’s favor would have personal relevance to the client. At the very least, they could ensure the client was in a favorable and receptive mood for a critical meeting.
If all else failed, there were other means of persuasion as well, though they were generally a last resort. Nico had suspicions that once or twice the general had even resorted to blackmail, but if that was true, Costas wanted no knowledge of it.
He’d lost track of the number of people—male, female, and all points in between—he’d pleasured since that first week with his mother’s best client, but McClosky would always stand out from the masses. Nico supposed he’d be in love with the general if he were idiotic enough to fall in love with anyone at this point in his life and career. There was an edge of danger to McClosky, despite the fact that he was always very proper and courteous. Nico suspected that people who dealt with McClosky on a daily basis would say he was not a good man, that he was firmly convinced that the ends justified the means, but moral ambiguity certainly had its appeal. And since McClosky would take his business elsewhere in a heartbeat if he even suspected Nico felt an attachment, Nico kept a tight lid on any emotions that attempted to blossom and simply took a great deal of enjoyment out of servicing McClosky whenever the opportunity arose.
When the general had come down his throat, Nico rocked back on his heels, smiling as he wiped the corner of his mouth. McClosky’s fingers gently petted his hair and Nico closed his eyes in
pleasure at the touch. He wondered if the general noticed he was doing it.
“Will you be going straight to your townhouse in Arlington, sir?”
McClosky nodded, tucking himself away and fastening his trousers before he dug in his briefcase for a tablet computer and projection display glasses to plug into it. “Yes, though of course you’re welcome to have Darrin drive you into D.C. if you need it.”
“Thank you, sir, but I’ll take my own car. I know it’s not likely anyone will notice me stepping out of the limousine and tracing it back to you, but why take the chance?”
“Very well. If the secretary doesn’t attend to your accommodations tonight, take a room and add it to my bill.”
With a bittersweet smile—he’d really hoped the general might invite him back to his house after he’d done his job—Nico rose from the floor and took his seat across from McClosky again. “As you wish, sir.”
One corner of McClosky’s mouth tipped up as behind the projection goggles, his eyes passed over Nico slowly. “Will you be heading back to Princeton in the morning?”
“I wasn’t sure. I have no reason to remain in D.C., but I certainly have the availability. You told my mother the secretary can be a little rude in the way he plays with his toys, so I don’t have any clients scheduled for a few days.”
“I told her that in the hopes that she would send someone else for the job. I wouldn’t want to see you hurt.”
Nico licked his lips, smiling slowly. “She tried, but I made certain she sent me instead. I assure you, I don’t mind a little wear and tear in the slightest. You taught me to enjoy that, if you’ll recall, though it has been a while. I’m looking forward to tonight. I find I rather miss it.”
“Well then, I hope the job doesn’t disappoint.” The general’s eyes darkened, his nostrils flaring slightly. “But just in case, come back to the Arlington house after you check out tomorrow.
There’s no reason you can’t stay there a few days after. I’ll leave instructions with Peter to let you in if I’m not home yet.”
A pleasant surge of anticipation seized Nico’s nuts and squeezed gently. His ass clenched almost greedily as his hands gripped his knees. “Like I said, it’s always a pleasure, sir.”
Title: Strain by Amelia C. Gormley
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi, Post apocalyptic, M/M, Erotic, BDSM, Romance
Length: 375 pages/Word Count: 104,300
In a world with little hope and no rules, the only thing they have to lose is themselves.
Rhys Cooper is a dead man. Cut off from the world since childhood, he’s finally exposed to the lethal virus that wiped out most of the human race. Now his only hope for survival is infection by another strain that might provide immunity. But it’s sexually transmitted, and the degradation he feels at submitting to the entire squad of soldiers that rescued him eclipses any potential for pleasure—except with Darius, the squadron’s respected, capable leader.
Sergeant Darius Murrell has seen too much death and too little humanity. He’s spent a decade putting plague victims out of their misery and escorting survivors to a safe haven he can never enjoy. He’d rather help Rhys live than put him down, so when Rhys can’t reconcile himself to doing what’s necessary to survive, Darius is forced to save Rhys in spite of himself.
But with each passing day, it looks less and less likely that Rhys can be saved. And that means that Darius might soon have to put a bullet in the head of the one person in years who reminds him of what it means to be human.
Amelia C. Gormley may seem like anyone else. But the truth is she sings in the shower, dances doing laundry, and writes blisteringly hot m/m erotic romance while her son is at school. When she’s not writing in her Pacific Northwest home, Amelia single-handedly juggles her husband, her son, their home, and the obstacles of life by turning into an everyday superhero. And that, she supposes, is just like anyone else
Her self-published novel-in-three-parts, Impulse (Inertia, Book One; Acceleration, Book Two; and Velocity, Book Three) can be found at most major online book retailers, and be sure to check Riptide for her latest releases, including her Highland historical, The Laird’s Forbidden Lover, the The Professor’s Rule series of erotic novelettes (co-written with Heidi Belleau), and Strain. Stay tuned for her upcoming Riptide releases, which include the final two books in The Professor’s Rule (coming the first week of March) and Saugatuck Summer, coming in May.
Follow the rest of the tour HERE.