Z.A. Maxfield on Writing, Childhood Dreams and the new release Three Vlog Night (Plummet to Soar #3) (author guest blog and giveaway)

Standard

Three Vlog Night (Plummet to Soar #3) by Z.A. Maxfield

Dreamspinner Press
Published June 4th 2019
Cover Art; L.C. Chase

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Z.A. Maxfield here today to talk about the new novel Three Vlog Night! Welcome, ZAM!

✒︎

Hello, and thanks so much for allowing me to be here with you at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words. It’s a privilege to share my new book, Three Vlog Night with your readers. I’m really proud of this one.  I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So… Here we are again. I think this is something like the thirty-seventh novel I’ve written! I can’t believe it! When I was a kid, if you’d told me I’d get to do this, I think I would have been even more impatient to grow up than I was. I’ve got my dream job, an awesome family, and a truly blessed life… I feel like I should pinch myself!

Since you were kind enough to provide me with some interview questions, I thought I’d pick the ones I don’t remember answering before. I love the chance to talk about the work, my past, and my process!

Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

Oh, absolutely. I was in about the seventh grade when I discovered a little thing called “Romance.” My mother was a mystery reader, and my older sister was into Sci-Fi and Fantasy. And there I was, looking longingly at all the books which, in those days, often featured a half-naked woman running away from the ruins of a castle. The first two books I remember checking out over and over, were The Pink Dress, by Anne Alexander, and The Innocent Wayfaring, by Marchette Chute. The Pink Dress was a contemporary, and The Innocent Wayfaring was a medieval historical, I think. I read the covers off those books! They really set me on a course as far as my reading preferences, forever.

Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?

Of course! Without an HFN or HEA, no book can be called a “romance”. Every writer in romance has made an unconscious pact with the reader: I’ll take you on an awful journey where you’ll, and cry, and kiss your hard-earned bucks goodbye, but don’t despair! Everything will come out right in the end. Romance writers who think they can let the reader down at the end of a book, beware the coming apocalypse. Or just label it literature, because the romance genre reader believes in you, and once you betray their trust, you will never earn it back. 

Who do you think is your major influence as a writer?  Now and growing up?

Oddly enough, I think my major influences were not genre fiction writers, but playwrights and screen writers. It was the poignant moments in plays like Harvey and The Children’s Hour, and films like Casablanca and When Harry Met Sally that generated those highly charged emotional moments which made me want to write. Script writers taught me how to leverage conflict, create strong internal and external character arcs, and use the “less is more” concept that makes tight writing work. 

How do you feel about the ebook format and where do you see it going?

I love ebooks. The fact that I can carry a couple hundred of my favorite novels in one slim tablet to read on a plane is amazing to me. Also, as I get older, that being able to change the size of the type has value. My arms are definitely not long enough for me to read trade paperbacks without reading glasses, which I always seem to misplace or forget! Ebooks, for all their flaws, like piracy, easily plagiarizable formats, and sheer ease of dreck production, are spilled wine–no one can put them back into the bottle.

What’s next for you as an author?

After a couple of tough years, I now have the opportunity to set a brand new course for myself. I’ll be finishing up The Brothers Grime Series, and starting a series of cozy mystery novellas. I see myself straddling the line between mystery and romance, and writing more of the quirky characters, highly emotional, and sweet stories I’m known for. I see myself slowing down, and finding my stride, without outside influences. Stay tuned! You have no idea what I’ve got in store for you!

 

As for Three Vlog Night, here’s a blurb:

Ajax Fairchild’s online alter ego has caused him trouble before, but never like this. After multiple death threats, his loaded parents decide he needs an enforced digital vacation and the best bodyguard money can buy.

That would be Dmytro Kolisnychenko, former soldier, former hired muscle for the Ukrainian mob—until he lost his happy home life to an enemy with a homemade bomb. Now he wants only two things: to spend every precious second he can with his daughters, and to provide for them by protecting people who can’t protect themselves—even entitled little asshats like Ajax Fairchild.

But Ajax doesn’t fit into the spoiled little rich kid box as neatly as Dmytro would like. Dmytro doesn’t have time for a romantic dalliance, and Ajax is a client, albeit one with unexpected depths. With one coincidence after another driving them to the sleepy seaside town of St. Nacho’s and away from their planned safe house, they grow to trust each other and find that love follows trust. Now they must learn where the threat to Ajax is coming from and neutralize it… before it’s too late for their happily ever after.

Here’s an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Ajax Freedom. Your time on this earth is at an end. Prepare to meet the God you denigrate. Prepare to pay for your sins. Prepare for the coming bloodbath.

Death threats came hourly to Ajax Freedom via his website, but you wouldn’t know it from the slow, deliberate way he dressed. Like a stripper in reverse, he smirked at Dmytro, daring him to react to the bulge in the boxer briefs he wore beneath loose, soft jeans that hung open while he pulled a Henley on over his pale, well-muscled body. While he donned and zipped up a hooded sweatshirt.

Dmytro frowned into his phone. This was 2018. Did Ajax expect him to blush with maidenly modesty? Or offer some threat because despite the Ajax Freedom persona, the man behind the cavalierly bourgeois playboy was gay? The client was apparently dim.

That didn’t stop the shockwave of intense physical attraction Dmytro experienced when he first saw him. Dmytro hid his grimace and said, “It’s 7:57 p.m. Be ready to leave in three minutes.”

“All right.”

“All right,” Dmytro echoed uselessly. If Ajax was waiting for a single sign of disapproval or homophobia or whatever—nope. Ajax had been walking around in a state of undress since they’d finally lured him out of his room, and if Dmytro were going to react, he’d have done it by now. He had years of practice hiding his emotions from the most dangerous men in the world. This pampered boy-man should be no problem. Probably.

The two people Dmytro cared about most texted him bright messages of love and wonder and wished him safe travels, and if he messed up on the job, those two people didn’t eat.

Dmytro had to keep Ajax Freedom alive, so that made Ajax number three on his list of people to care about, if only until the job ended. Freedom could stay naked and swing from the chandeliers, flaunt himself in front of the men who protected him, or make crank calls to the White House for all Dmytro cared, so long as Dmytro got back to his girls intact.

He hid his smirk behind an impassive face to show that the display of pale, freckled skin wasn’t getting Ajax anywhere, even though it was extremely creamy and looked velvety soft. Plus… freckles. A particular kink, but nothing he couldn’t handle.

Ajax fussed noisily in the closet for a few seconds before turning to say, “Well? Are we going?”

Dmytro briefly lifted his gaze. “Has three minutes passed?”

With a huff, Ajax fussed in the closet some more. He muttered, “Suitcase, suitcase, sports bag, garment bag, messenger bag, backpack, laptop bag.”

“Nuh-uh,” Dmytro reminded him. “Laptop stays here.”

Ajax appeared aghast. “I thought you were just saying that to jerk me around.”

“When I jerk you around, it will be unmistakable. Leave the laptop.” Dmytro had cloned Ajax’s phone and pulled the batteries from it, disabled his desktop, and confiscated batteries for his laptop, his fitness tracker—anything that could be traced. They allowed the boy to keep his fancy dive watch but disabled its GPS. The rest of his many devices had been secured or would be stored. They’d checked his bags. “You’re on an enforced digital time-out. Think of it as chance to go old-school and read a physical book.”

Ajax frowned. “When was the last time you read a physical book?”

“None of your beeswax.”

“Fine.” Ajax handed over the bag.

“Please double-check you have everything.” Dmytro scrolled through the drawing his daughter Sasha sent of Mrs. Whatsit. It was wonderful, although he could hardly stand to look at it. She’d made Whatsit’s eyes glisten, and they seemed to follow him, no matter how he held his phone. He didn’t know about art. Something about shading and negative space? She was going to be a real artist someday, sophisticated and subtle.

With a sigh, Dmytro texted that yes, he’d watch A Wrinkle in Time with Sasha and Pen again when he returned, although children’s movies were going to destroy humanity. So much music and magic and mystery. You are more than you believe. Everyone hoped that was true, but no one actually was.

He eyed his client.

There was something intrinsically wrong with a job that took him away from his children to protect someone else’s. He was good at what he did, but his method never deviated. Get in, protect the client long enough to keep him alive while Iphicles neutralized any threats, and get home.

Pen’s drawing showed her love of geometric shapes and primary colors. There was nothing nuanced about Pen. He liked her drawings as much as her sister’s. They both showed promise, to him. With that his after supper three-minute check-in came to a close.

He immersed himself fully in the job when he put his phone away and checked the peephole. Peter stood by the elevators, keeping watch on the hall.

“Time to go.” When Dmytro moved, he moved quickly. He could spring from a twenty-minute power nap into a melee with no ramp-up time at all.

But now Ajax hesitated.

How Dmytro wished people wouldn’t dither. He picked up Ajax’s duffel and looped the shoulder straps over his neck. Next came the messenger bag, and finally the backpack and one of the suitcases. There was no point in arguing about the amount of luggage a client had. One simply found a way to carry it. Sometimes, if one had to, one carried the client as well.

“You take the wheeled Pullman. I’ve got the rest.”

Ajax dropped a hand on the handle as if he didn’t know how to work it. This man—this rather young man—seemed to be incapable of following basic commands.

He’d texted with his sister-in-law earlier. It’s a shame for his parents. There is nothing to do here but squat in the safe house and keep him from doing something stupid until Peter tracks down each of the threats. He has a bag of toys, I think.

Peter? she’d asked, but he was sure she meant it as a joke.

The boy.

Mitya. She could lecture him about anything. You must treat even a stupid client with respect and kindness.

Of course, he’d replied with some asperity. When have you known me to be unkind?

“I’ll take the Pullman too.” Dmytro took its handle. “When we leave the room, stay behind me.”

“Won’t it be easier if they just kill me now so you won’t bore me to death?”

“Don’t say that.” Dmytro concealed his irritation. “I’ll keep you safe.”

Freedom didn’t look reassured. “Who’ll keep you safe?”

“I keep myself safe.” He pocketed his phone and glanced both ways before turning to Ajax. “We’re going to pretend we’re mice. Be quiet as you can.”

“Okay.” Ajax held up a “wait” finger. “Just a sec.”

With a deep sigh, Dmytro closed and locked the door again. “This might be what I meant by do you have everything?”

“I have everything. I just need these too.” At the coat closet, Ajax wrapped a soft-looking scarf around his neck, tugged a slouchy beanie over his hair, and slid on a pair of sunglasses. With his trademark dark curly hair hidden and his face obscured, he didn’t look like the internet It Kid anymore. In spite of himself, Dmytro nodded his satisfaction.

“Better.” He checked his weapon, returned it to his holster, and gripped the door handle. Once he wrenched it open, he checked the hallway again. All clear. He moved with Ajax toward the elevators and Peter. The three got in together.

When the doors closed, he and Peter stepped in front of Ajax, keeping their bodies between him and the lobby. When they opened again, a reassuring nothing happened. Dmytro and Peter swept their client out the revolving door and to the curb, where Bartlomiej waited with the town car.

After suffering a head injury and seizure a few months before, Dmytro bitterly resented being unable to drive. He left the luggage for Peter and settled Ajax into the back seat. Then he got into the front on the passenger side with a huff.

“All right?” Dmytro greeted his colleague.

“All set.” Bartlomiej, whom everyone called Bartosz, sat behind the wheel with the engine running. “Don’t pout. You’ll be driving soon enough. In the meantime, you’ve got me. Enjoy.”

A few more months without a seizure and he could regain privileges. Until then, he did what he was told.

He rolled the window down and called to Peter. “Be well, brother.”

Peter waved before melting into the night.

“He left?” Ajax asked. “Why’d he leave? Where’d he go?”

Dmytro closed his window. “We’re a team. We split up when we need to. Peter’s going to neutralize your admirers, and I will go to the safe house with you.”

“Lucky me.” He didn’t sound like he felt lucky.

“Drive, Bartosz.”

“Bartosz,” Ajax addressed him. “Any chance we could hit a drive-through? I need something to drink. Which, I’ve gotta warn you now, will probably come right back up, because I get really carsick.”

“Perfect.” Could their day get worse? “Do you need to sit up front?”

“It won’t matter, unfortunately.”

“All right.” Bartosz nodded and said in Ukrainian, “He’s like you, my very special snowflake. Did you bring a patch?”

“Not this time.” When Bartosz started to snicker, Dmytro gave him a warning grunt. To Ajax he said, “Your lucky day. I have Meclizine. One tablet and you should be fine.” He handed a blister pack over the console, along with a bottled water. “Make sure to drink all of it. The medication will give you dry mouth.”

Dmytro popped a pill and cracked open a second water. Bartosz’s voice took on a teasing quality. “You’ll both be sound asleep before we get on the highway.”

“You have the directions?”

Bartosz gave him an eye roll. “Don’t worry.”

Dmytro glanced around at Ajax. Bundled up like that, he looked barely older than six-year-old Sasha. About as defenseless too. In his own language, he asked Bartosz, “What do you suppose makes someone want attention so badly they’ll do any repulsive thing to get it?”

Bartholomew shrugged. “He’s a good-looking boy. I could find a use for him.”

Dmytro tensed. “Don’t be that guy.”

“I’m teasing.”

Dmytro hoped so. Bartosz was a professional, after all.

Ajax hissed, “Speak English. You’re being so rude.”

“I told him I’d like a corn dog.” Bartosz glanced in the rearview. “Do you still want a drink?”

Ajax’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, please.”

“I’ll get you a corn dog.” Dmytro cuffed Bartosz for that. “For myself too. Jalapeño cheese peppers and a strawberry lemonade slush. And you’ll pay for all of us, Bartosz.”

“That’s ‘poppers,’” Ajax corrected.

“What is?”

“Jalapeño poppers,” he continued in his didactic tone, “are jalapeños stuffed with either cream cheese or cheddar, dipped in batter, and fried. They’re called ‘poppers.’”

“Thank you for educating me.” Dmytro had never been that certain about anything in his life. At twenty-two, he’d been a homeless thug with two lucky gifts: a mild form of genius with foreign languages and the ability to read very fast. He’d found himself a crime boss with a need for a translator with muscle and a passion for classic literature. The rest was history.

What did Ajax Freedom know about anything? He met Bartosz’s pleased glance before retrieving his phone from his pocket.

Good news, the client is probably not stupid, he texted Liv. He’s just a mudak. An asshole. Liv would understand.

Z.A. Maxfield is getting her kicks writing on Route 66 in Rancho Cucamonga these days. She lives with her husband, three of her grown children, and dog of indeterminable variety named Dr. Watson. Despite the world we live in, she still believes in first love, second chances, and kissing in the rain.

Join ZAM’s group, ZAM-Nation HERE, or visit her website, like her page on Facebook, or contact her through Twitter.

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Z.A. Maxfield on Writing, Childhood Dreams and the new release Three Vlog Night (Plummet to Soar #3) (author guest blog and giveaway)

Standard

Three Vlog Night (Plummet to Soar #3) by Z.A. Maxfield

Dreamspinner Press
Published June 4th 2019
Cover Art; L.C. Chase

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Z.A. Maxfield here today to talk about the new novel Three Vlog Night! Welcome, ZAM!

✒︎

Hello, and thanks so much for allowing me to be here with you at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words. It’s a privilege to share my new book, Three Vlog Night with your readers. I’m really proud of this one.  I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So… Here we are again. I think this is something like the thirty-seventh novel I’ve written! I can’t believe it! When I was a kid, if you’d told me I’d get to do this, I think I would have been even more impatient to grow up than I was. I’ve got my dream job, an awesome family, and a truly blessed life… I feel like I should pinch myself!

Since you were kind enough to provide me with some interview questions, I thought I’d pick the ones I don’t remember answering before. I love the chance to talk about the work, my past, and my process!

Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

Oh, absolutely. I was in about the seventh grade when I discovered a little thing called “Romance.” My mother was a mystery reader, and my older sister was into Sci-Fi and Fantasy. And there I was, looking longingly at all the books which, in those days, often featured a half-naked woman running away from the ruins of a castle. The first two books I remember checking out over and over, were The Pink Dress, by Anne Alexander, and The Innocent Wayfaring, by Marchette Chute. The Pink Dress was a contemporary, and The Innocent Wayfaring was a medieval historical, I think. I read the covers off those books! They really set me on a course as far as my reading preferences, forever.

Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?

Of course! Without an HFN or HEA, no book can be called a “romance”. Every writer in romance has made an unconscious pact with the reader: I’ll take you on an awful journey where you’ll, and cry, and kiss your hard-earned bucks goodbye, but don’t despair! Everything will come out right in the end. Romance writers who think they can let the reader down at the end of a book, beware the coming apocalypse. Or just label it literature, because the romance genre reader believes in you, and once you betray their trust, you will never earn it back. 

Who do you think is your major influence as a writer?  Now and growing up?

Oddly enough, I think my major influences were not genre fiction writers, but playwrights and screen writers. It was the poignant moments in plays like Harvey and The Children’s Hour, and films like Casablanca and When Harry Met Sally that generated those highly charged emotional moments which made me want to write. Script writers taught me how to leverage conflict, create strong internal and external character arcs, and use the “less is more” concept that makes tight writing work. 

How do you feel about the ebook format and where do you see it going?

I love ebooks. The fact that I can carry a couple hundred of my favorite novels in one slim tablet to read on a plane is amazing to me. Also, as I get older, that being able to change the size of the type has value. My arms are definitely not long enough for me to read trade paperbacks without reading glasses, which I always seem to misplace or forget! Ebooks, for all their flaws, like piracy, easily plagiarizable formats, and sheer ease of dreck production, are spilled wine–no one can put them back into the bottle.

What’s next for you as an author?

After a couple of tough years, I now have the opportunity to set a brand new course for myself. I’ll be finishing up The Brothers Grime Series, and starting a series of cozy mystery novellas. I see myself straddling the line between mystery and romance, and writing more of the quirky characters, highly emotional, and sweet stories I’m known for. I see myself slowing down, and finding my stride, without outside influences. Stay tuned! You have no idea what I’ve got in store for you!

 

As for Three Vlog Night, here’s a blurb:

Ajax Fairchild’s online alter ego has caused him trouble before, but never like this. After multiple death threats, his loaded parents decide he needs an enforced digital vacation and the best bodyguard money can buy.

That would be Dmytro Kolisnychenko, former soldier, former hired muscle for the Ukrainian mob—until he lost his happy home life to an enemy with a homemade bomb. Now he wants only two things: to spend every precious second he can with his daughters, and to provide for them by protecting people who can’t protect themselves—even entitled little asshats like Ajax Fairchild.

But Ajax doesn’t fit into the spoiled little rich kid box as neatly as Dmytro would like. Dmytro doesn’t have time for a romantic dalliance, and Ajax is a client, albeit one with unexpected depths. With one coincidence after another driving them to the sleepy seaside town of St. Nacho’s and away from their planned safe house, they grow to trust each other and find that love follows trust. Now they must learn where the threat to Ajax is coming from and neutralize it… before it’s too late for their happily ever after.

Here’s an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Ajax Freedom. Your time on this earth is at an end. Prepare to meet the God you denigrate. Prepare to pay for your sins. Prepare for the coming bloodbath.

Death threats came hourly to Ajax Freedom via his website, but you wouldn’t know it from the slow, deliberate way he dressed. Like a stripper in reverse, he smirked at Dmytro, daring him to react to the bulge in the boxer briefs he wore beneath loose, soft jeans that hung open while he pulled a Henley on over his pale, well-muscled body. While he donned and zipped up a hooded sweatshirt.

Dmytro frowned into his phone. This was 2018. Did Ajax expect him to blush with maidenly modesty? Or offer some threat because despite the Ajax Freedom persona, the man behind the cavalierly bourgeois playboy was gay? The client was apparently dim.

That didn’t stop the shockwave of intense physical attraction Dmytro experienced when he first saw him. Dmytro hid his grimace and said, “It’s 7:57 p.m. Be ready to leave in three minutes.”

“All right.”

“All right,” Dmytro echoed uselessly. If Ajax was waiting for a single sign of disapproval or homophobia or whatever—nope. Ajax had been walking around in a state of undress since they’d finally lured him out of his room, and if Dmytro were going to react, he’d have done it by now. He had years of practice hiding his emotions from the most dangerous men in the world. This pampered boy-man should be no problem. Probably.

The two people Dmytro cared about most texted him bright messages of love and wonder and wished him safe travels, and if he messed up on the job, those two people didn’t eat.

Dmytro had to keep Ajax Freedom alive, so that made Ajax number three on his list of people to care about, if only until the job ended. Freedom could stay naked and swing from the chandeliers, flaunt himself in front of the men who protected him, or make crank calls to the White House for all Dmytro cared, so long as Dmytro got back to his girls intact.

He hid his smirk behind an impassive face to show that the display of pale, freckled skin wasn’t getting Ajax anywhere, even though it was extremely creamy and looked velvety soft. Plus… freckles. A particular kink, but nothing he couldn’t handle.

Ajax fussed noisily in the closet for a few seconds before turning to say, “Well? Are we going?”

Dmytro briefly lifted his gaze. “Has three minutes passed?”

With a huff, Ajax fussed in the closet some more. He muttered, “Suitcase, suitcase, sports bag, garment bag, messenger bag, backpack, laptop bag.”

“Nuh-uh,” Dmytro reminded him. “Laptop stays here.”

Ajax appeared aghast. “I thought you were just saying that to jerk me around.”

“When I jerk you around, it will be unmistakable. Leave the laptop.” Dmytro had cloned Ajax’s phone and pulled the batteries from it, disabled his desktop, and confiscated batteries for his laptop, his fitness tracker—anything that could be traced. They allowed the boy to keep his fancy dive watch but disabled its GPS. The rest of his many devices had been secured or would be stored. They’d checked his bags. “You’re on an enforced digital time-out. Think of it as chance to go old-school and read a physical book.”

Ajax frowned. “When was the last time you read a physical book?”

“None of your beeswax.”

“Fine.” Ajax handed over the bag.

“Please double-check you have everything.” Dmytro scrolled through the drawing his daughter Sasha sent of Mrs. Whatsit. It was wonderful, although he could hardly stand to look at it. She’d made Whatsit’s eyes glisten, and they seemed to follow him, no matter how he held his phone. He didn’t know about art. Something about shading and negative space? She was going to be a real artist someday, sophisticated and subtle.

With a sigh, Dmytro texted that yes, he’d watch A Wrinkle in Time with Sasha and Pen again when he returned, although children’s movies were going to destroy humanity. So much music and magic and mystery. You are more than you believe. Everyone hoped that was true, but no one actually was.

He eyed his client.

There was something intrinsically wrong with a job that took him away from his children to protect someone else’s. He was good at what he did, but his method never deviated. Get in, protect the client long enough to keep him alive while Iphicles neutralized any threats, and get home.

Pen’s drawing showed her love of geometric shapes and primary colors. There was nothing nuanced about Pen. He liked her drawings as much as her sister’s. They both showed promise, to him. With that his after supper three-minute check-in came to a close.

He immersed himself fully in the job when he put his phone away and checked the peephole. Peter stood by the elevators, keeping watch on the hall.

“Time to go.” When Dmytro moved, he moved quickly. He could spring from a twenty-minute power nap into a melee with no ramp-up time at all.

But now Ajax hesitated.

How Dmytro wished people wouldn’t dither. He picked up Ajax’s duffel and looped the shoulder straps over his neck. Next came the messenger bag, and finally the backpack and one of the suitcases. There was no point in arguing about the amount of luggage a client had. One simply found a way to carry it. Sometimes, if one had to, one carried the client as well.

“You take the wheeled Pullman. I’ve got the rest.”

Ajax dropped a hand on the handle as if he didn’t know how to work it. This man—this rather young man—seemed to be incapable of following basic commands.

He’d texted with his sister-in-law earlier. It’s a shame for his parents. There is nothing to do here but squat in the safe house and keep him from doing something stupid until Peter tracks down each of the threats. He has a bag of toys, I think.

Peter? she’d asked, but he was sure she meant it as a joke.

The boy.

Mitya. She could lecture him about anything. You must treat even a stupid client with respect and kindness.

Of course, he’d replied with some asperity. When have you known me to be unkind?

“I’ll take the Pullman too.” Dmytro took its handle. “When we leave the room, stay behind me.”

“Won’t it be easier if they just kill me now so you won’t bore me to death?”

“Don’t say that.” Dmytro concealed his irritation. “I’ll keep you safe.”

Freedom didn’t look reassured. “Who’ll keep you safe?”

“I keep myself safe.” He pocketed his phone and glanced both ways before turning to Ajax. “We’re going to pretend we’re mice. Be quiet as you can.”

“Okay.” Ajax held up a “wait” finger. “Just a sec.”

With a deep sigh, Dmytro closed and locked the door again. “This might be what I meant by do you have everything?”

“I have everything. I just need these too.” At the coat closet, Ajax wrapped a soft-looking scarf around his neck, tugged a slouchy beanie over his hair, and slid on a pair of sunglasses. With his trademark dark curly hair hidden and his face obscured, he didn’t look like the internet It Kid anymore. In spite of himself, Dmytro nodded his satisfaction.

“Better.” He checked his weapon, returned it to his holster, and gripped the door handle. Once he wrenched it open, he checked the hallway again. All clear. He moved with Ajax toward the elevators and Peter. The three got in together.

When the doors closed, he and Peter stepped in front of Ajax, keeping their bodies between him and the lobby. When they opened again, a reassuring nothing happened. Dmytro and Peter swept their client out the revolving door and to the curb, where Bartlomiej waited with the town car.

After suffering a head injury and seizure a few months before, Dmytro bitterly resented being unable to drive. He left the luggage for Peter and settled Ajax into the back seat. Then he got into the front on the passenger side with a huff.

“All right?” Dmytro greeted his colleague.

“All set.” Bartlomiej, whom everyone called Bartosz, sat behind the wheel with the engine running. “Don’t pout. You’ll be driving soon enough. In the meantime, you’ve got me. Enjoy.”

A few more months without a seizure and he could regain privileges. Until then, he did what he was told.

He rolled the window down and called to Peter. “Be well, brother.”

Peter waved before melting into the night.

“He left?” Ajax asked. “Why’d he leave? Where’d he go?”

Dmytro closed his window. “We’re a team. We split up when we need to. Peter’s going to neutralize your admirers, and I will go to the safe house with you.”

“Lucky me.” He didn’t sound like he felt lucky.

“Drive, Bartosz.”

“Bartosz,” Ajax addressed him. “Any chance we could hit a drive-through? I need something to drink. Which, I’ve gotta warn you now, will probably come right back up, because I get really carsick.”

“Perfect.” Could their day get worse? “Do you need to sit up front?”

“It won’t matter, unfortunately.”

“All right.” Bartosz nodded and said in Ukrainian, “He’s like you, my very special snowflake. Did you bring a patch?”

“Not this time.” When Bartosz started to snicker, Dmytro gave him a warning grunt. To Ajax he said, “Your lucky day. I have Meclizine. One tablet and you should be fine.” He handed a blister pack over the console, along with a bottled water. “Make sure to drink all of it. The medication will give you dry mouth.”

Dmytro popped a pill and cracked open a second water. Bartosz’s voice took on a teasing quality. “You’ll both be sound asleep before we get on the highway.”

“You have the directions?”

Bartosz gave him an eye roll. “Don’t worry.”

Dmytro glanced around at Ajax. Bundled up like that, he looked barely older than six-year-old Sasha. About as defenseless too. In his own language, he asked Bartosz, “What do you suppose makes someone want attention so badly they’ll do any repulsive thing to get it?”

Bartholomew shrugged. “He’s a good-looking boy. I could find a use for him.”

Dmytro tensed. “Don’t be that guy.”

“I’m teasing.”

Dmytro hoped so. Bartosz was a professional, after all.

Ajax hissed, “Speak English. You’re being so rude.”

“I told him I’d like a corn dog.” Bartosz glanced in the rearview. “Do you still want a drink?”

Ajax’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, please.”

“I’ll get you a corn dog.” Dmytro cuffed Bartosz for that. “For myself too. Jalapeño cheese peppers and a strawberry lemonade slush. And you’ll pay for all of us, Bartosz.”

“That’s ‘poppers,’” Ajax corrected.

“What is?”

“Jalapeño poppers,” he continued in his didactic tone, “are jalapeños stuffed with either cream cheese or cheddar, dipped in batter, and fried. They’re called ‘poppers.’”

“Thank you for educating me.” Dmytro had never been that certain about anything in his life. At twenty-two, he’d been a homeless thug with two lucky gifts: a mild form of genius with foreign languages and the ability to read very fast. He’d found himself a crime boss with a need for a translator with muscle and a passion for classic literature. The rest was history.

What did Ajax Freedom know about anything? He met Bartosz’s pleased glance before retrieving his phone from his pocket.

Good news, the client is probably not stupid, he texted Liv. He’s just a mudak. An asshole. Liv would understand.

Z.A. Maxfield is getting her kicks writing on Route 66 in Rancho Cucamonga these days. She lives with her husband, three of her grown children, and dog of indeterminable variety named Dr. Watson. Despite the world we live in, she still believes in first love, second chances, and kissing in the rain.

Join ZAM’s group, ZAM-Nation HERE, or visit her website, like her page on Facebook, or contact her through Twitter.

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