Girls only live twice preview

Here’s a first chapter sample of the fifth novel in the Gems young adult spy thriller series. Now available at these online book retailers.

Chapter 1

Emma groaned as she circled the Mercedes around the city block and discovered there were no more open parking spaces. She was the one who talked herself into a slight detour into downtown San Francisco to check out a sale on Sergei Sackmonov bags at Tousant’s right after school choir practice. So when the Gems asked her to pick them up some coffee while she was out, Emma headed to the nearest Kaffee Kadre cafe according to her car’s GPS. However, this location didn’t have a drive-thru or its own parking, so Emma had to find a place on the street.

The sun moved across the glass windshield as she made another circle and found no spaces had opened up. Emma surrendered to the situation and drove over to the next block, where she found a parking space across from a private Catholic school. It would be a long walk to the Kaffee Kadre, but the weather was mild, and Emma wore flats today.

Emma slipped out of her Mercedes and locked it. Across the street, she caught a glimpse of two little girls walking and talking to each other without a care in the world. Emma guessed they were about nine or ten years old, with both wearing private school uniforms. The girls were loud enough that she could hear them from across the street. The brunette girl reminded Emma of Hailey, her best friend from New York. And the blond girl—well, of course she saw herself under those locks of golden hair. The two girls would constantly touch each other, making new points or wanting the other girl’s reaction to a question or a thought she had. Emma could tell they were close, like she and Hailey had been at that age. Then Emma realized she hadn’t spoken to Hailey since she moved out to California.

Emma shook off her guilt and headed down the concrete sidewalk. But then a little girl’s scream made her stop.

The blond girl kicked her feet in the air as one man had her trapped under his arms as he ran down the sidewalk. A second man pushed the brunette girl away, causing her to stumble and fall. He ran in the same direction as the first man.

Emma couldn’t stop watching. What was going on?

The man with the girl hauled her over to a Pinnacle rental van with the back doors open.

Emma’s flats were already crossing the street. This didn’t look right at all. The girl screamed like the man was a stranger, not someone she knew.

The first man climbed into the back of the van with the little girl. The second one shut the back door as he ran to the passenger-side door.

Her heart pulsated. Emma couldn’t believe this was happening. She took a quick look around, and there was no one else seeing this. She hustled over to the brunette girl, who was still on the ground. “Are you okay?”

The brunette girl nodded.

The van’s front rubber tires squealed as it took off down the street.

“Who are those men? Do you recognize them at all?”

The girl shook her head as tears formed in her eyes.

Emma took another look. Still no one else to help. It was up to her. She knelt in front of the girl. “Go back to your school, find an adult, and tell them what happened. Can you do that?”

The girl nodded again. She turned around and ran down the sidewalk towards the school.

Emma jumped into her car. The engine roared as she spun the Mercedes around and gunned it down the street. She drove down one block and didn’t see the van. The next block fed into a major intersection. Emma’s gut told her they most likely turned there. The big question was…left or right?

Generally, Emma hated left turns. She liked right ones because they were easier. Since the men in the van were in a hurry, maybe they took the easy way too. Emma turned right. She guided her Mercedes on to a six-lane road, which was one of the main arteries heading south to San Jose. The late-afternoon traffic was heavy, but Emma pushed herself to drive more aggressively as she weaved her car through.

Finally, the Pinnacle company logo popped into view…then disappeared in traffic.

Emma changed lanes for a better look.

The Pinnacle van was headed south, moving along with traffic as if everything inside it was normal.

Emma hated driving fast. While training to be a spy, her last evasive-driving instructor had quit in exasperation. Thank goodness Lioness stepped up and did her best to teach Emma basic car control, which did give her some much-needed confidence. Emma knew that if she stayed focused and didn’t go too fast, she could drive safely enough for most situations. Trouble is, when you’re a spy and bad guys are chasing you…or in this case you have to save a young girl’s life…average driving won’t cut it.

Emma wedged her car into the next lane. Sped up. Then forced her way over to the next lane and was greeted with an angry horn. She was now behind the rental van. She checked the rear windows and couldn’t see anything, but she did recognize the plate. It was the same van.

Emma snapped a picture of the van with the plate, then her thumb danced on her phone as she tried to send an email with the pic to the police. But doing this while driving was more than Emma could—

The seat-belt gripped her chest as the car came to a sudden stop. The Mercedes’s auto-braking system had activated to prevent Emma from plowing into the back of the van. Emma then caught a man’s face watching her from the van’s large side mirror.

The van then scampered off like a scared cat as it crossed over the center line and raced down the wrong side of the street.

Emma didn’t want to do this, but she followed the van over to the wrong side of the street and pressed the pedal down as far as it could go. The Mercedes surged forward, cutting down the distance between them.

The van swerved out of its lane to reveal a large garbage truck heading right at her.

Emma almost hit the brake…but used her steering wheel instead, maneuvering her car around the garbage truck, and followed the van back onto the correct side of traffic.

The van swerved in front of her as it cut into a hard right turn.

Now Emma used her brakes as Lioness’s patient teaching voice lingered in her head…

Always brake before the turn, then you accelerate through it. That way you keep control of the car.

Emma cranked the wheel and pumped the accelerator, giving the Mercedes enough juice to push through the right turn as she followed the van down a narrow two-lane street. Emma was on him. Close enough to let him know she was there, but far enough away to match whatever turn he was about to make. She glanced at her phone. Emma wanted to send a message to the police, but if she pulled over to do that, then the van and the little girl would be gone.

Then tell your car to call them, you stupid girl!

Her brain was right. Emma totally forgot about that. “Mercedes, call 9—”

The van made a hard left, back onto another major street. She matched the turn and accelerated.

The van was flying now. Swerving in and out of traffic. Driving recklessly.

A pleasant female voice came over the car’s speakers. Who would you like me to call?

The van sailed through a yellow light.

Emma hated yellow lights. She stopped at most of them. But this time she kept off the brake and bit her lip for luck.

The light turned red as another car moved across the intersection on green.

Emma braked lightly, just enough to coast right behind that car and out of the intersection. Her foot then slammed down on the accelerator.

“Mercedes, call 911,” Emma repeated.

I can’t find a signal. Would you like me to keep trying?

She wanted to scream. “Yes.”

Emma kept up her pursuit as the van raced its way out of downtown and did a sharp turn into a local air-strip. It was a private airport. Or that was what the sign on the gate said before the van obliterated it.

Emma braked hard as she slid her Mercedes through the broken gate. This private airstrip had a series of long “driveways” that connected up to the small concrete taxiway that ran parallel to the single runway. The van raced up a narrow access road that ran along the edge of the taxiway itself, passing by several large houses owned by people who enjoyed the luxury of flying straight home.

I can’t find a signal. Would you like me to keep trying?

“Yes!” Emma yelled as her car skidded across the access road before she could point the Mercedes in the right direction. After the correction, Emma scrambled down the access road. But then she brought the car to a stop.

At the other end of the runway was a small private plane with two spinning propellers. Its bright take-off lights shined down the runway. The plane was all ready to go. The Pinnacle van skidded to a stop, and the three men carried the little girl towards the plane.

This caught Emma by surprise. Once they flew the girl out of the city…she’d be gone forever.

The men boarded the aircraft with their prisoner. The side door was latched shut. The two engines revved to a high pitch as the plane rolled forward for take-off.

Emma began to panic.

I have a signal. Calling 911, the pleasant lady announced.

It was too late. What could the police do now? There was no van to stop. They’d need a police jet or something.

Oh my God, that poor little girl is about to suffer through some horrible crap because you suck at this.

As panic clouded Emma’s mind, a different voice cut through all the emotions…

Focus on your actions. What can you do in this situation? Take those actions. Change the situation. Put it under your control.

Lioness’s words filled Emma with new confidence.

Remember, Black Opal, a Gem doesn’t call for help. She is the help.

The plane was moving faster. Soon it would pass right by her.

“I am the help,” Emma told herself. She gripped the leather steering wheel. She had her car. She had her purse, which had some spy equipment she could use. She could act. And she knew she had to act.

Emma stomped on the accelerator. The Mercedes burned rubber as it drove off the small access road and fishtailed across the grass and mud, finally pulling itself up on to the runway. Emma put the Mercedes on a collision course with the small plane. Its take-off lights blinded her as they pierced through the windshield.

But Emma didn’t stop.

The distance between the two objects closed. So much so that Emma didn’t want to chance it…

She cranked the wheel and spun the Mercedes to a stop…right across the runway.

The lights grew brighter. The plane was still roaring towards her. Emma realized it might not be able to stop in time.

Instead of saving that little girl…Emma might have just killed her.

She shut her eyes and braced for impact.

Then the plane’s noisy engines suddenly veered away from her.

Emma opened her eyes. The aircraft had taken a runway exit back to the taxiway. It was now rolling quickly up that taxiway. Were they going back for another try? Surely they knew Emma wouldn’t move her car off the runway.

When the plane got to the end of the taxiway, it did a one-eighty, and the pilot increased power again.

He’s taking off from the taxiway.

Emma burned more rubber as she drove up the runway. This time she slid the Mercedes right across the front of the aircraft, causing the pilot to bring his plane to an abrupt halt. Even as their landing lights blew up the inside of her car, Emma did her best to glare at the men inside the plane. To let them know she wouldn’t let them take off.

The plane’s engines lowered in pitch, as if they were being powered down.

Emma grabbed her bag and dug through the contents. She had her Forest Fire mascara smoke grenade. The Sunburst hair conditioner and chemical-based flame-thrower. Raise the Roof rouge, which was actually a plastic explosive. And she had one Blitzed mascara pin dart.

She grabbed the hair conditioner and the mascara pin before carefully moving out of the car.

The side door of the aircraft popped open, and three men jumped down to the taxiway.

Emma stood behind her car with her mascara in one hand; and the hair conditioner in the other.

“Come over here,” one of the men yelled over the engines as he came around Emma’s car. He was young and muscular with tattoo art running down both arms.

Another man with bushy eyebrows followed. “You deal with her, and I’ll get the car out of the way.”

The third man stayed near the plane. He was big and tall, but Emma couldn’t quite make out his face.

The young man with the tattoo art reached out to grab Emma, but she retreated and pointed the hair conditioner at him.

“Back off or you’ll get hurt,” she yelled.

The man ignored her.

Emma pointed at the ground and gave a little squirt, unleashing a small fireball that lit up the taxiway.

The young man jumped back.

Emma pointed it at him. “Move away.”

Tattoo man held up his arms as he backed away. Behind him, the man with the bushy eyebrows was digging something out of his pocket.

She gave another squirt above the second man’s head. The fireball lit up his eyes in terror as his hand froze on the grip of a gun still in its holster.

“Both hands up. Now!” Emma yelled, the actor inside her slipping into the new role of a bad-ass female cop.

The two men backed away. Now Emma would back them up to the plane, force them to take the girl off. Then the little girl would run to Emma’s car, and she’d drive her to safety. But Emma realized a flaw in that plan.

Where was that third man who got off the plane?

The answer came from behind as the man’s thick arms clamped down on Emma like a vise. His arms were too strong to break out of. Emma did try to roll forward and toss the big man off her, but he quickly lifted her feet off the ground, making it impossible.

She took her mascara pen and rammed it in the side of her attacker, who shook her until Emma dropped both the pen and the hair conditioner. The man’s arms continued to squeeze her mid-section, convincing Emma she was about to be literally crushed to death.

Emma kicked the man’s shins as hard as she could, making it painful for him to hold on to her.

It worked.

The man’s grip loosened enough that Emma brought her foot up and used it to push him off her. Now free, Emma spun around and jumped into a fighting stance. She cocked her arm back for a palm strike when Emma saw the face of her attacker.

It was Aardvark.

Emma rubbed her eyes as if they were malfunctioning.

The man was bald, with a chest the size of a refrigerator. He also had a long scar running down the length of his throat.

Aardvark smiled as he held up his hands in surrender.

“What are you doing here?” Emma yelled, still trying to be heard over the engines. “What’s going on?”

Suddenly the plane’s noisy engines were both shut off. The two other “kidnappers” put down their hands and simply walked away as if someone on a film set had yelled cut.

A middle-aged woman emerged from one of the small private hangars near the taxiway. Her short blond hair whipped around in the breeze. Emma recognized her too. It was Lioness. Her Authority training instructor. Which meant…this all had been a test.

End of Sample.

GIRLS ONLY LIVE TWICE is now available at these online book retailers.

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Man with the Golden Falcons

The next Gems young adult spy novel is coming out tomorrow and I’m so excited! This will be number four in the series and here’s a sneak peak at the first chapter…

Chapter 1

Emma Rothchild peered through the high-powered binoculars at four armed terrorists guarding the entrance to a small Namibian village with circular huts and thatched roofs. Three out of the four wore some sort of headscarf while the fourth terrorist wore a Yankees baseball cap. Emma didn’t care much for the hat. Not that she didn’t love the Yankees, because she was still a New York City girl at heart. However, that Yankees cap didn’t belong on the head of some dirt-bag who kidnapped young women and assaulted them because they had the nerve to want an education.

“May I see?” Miyuki’s sweet voice asked.

Miyuki Kaiko wore sunglasses as her straight dark hair flapped in the desert wind. Her normally pink-tinted skin had a slight orange burn. The rubber wheels of the Yamaha motorcycle she sat on were half buried in the hot sand.

Emma gave her friend the binoculars, then checked her own face in the dune buggy’s side mirror. Her creamy white skin was baked orange as well. Even with a gallon of sunblock, the desert sun was still brutal on a girl’s skin. At least her blond hair didn’t look too bad, although it was probably dry as heck now.

“If you can distract them, I should be able to race inside for a little mischief,” Miyuki said with a hopeful grin.

Emma shook off her personal appearance and studied her target instead. The terrorist-held village was tucked under a high cliff that overlooked the South Atlantic Ocean. Any ships passing by would easily miss the village. Something the terrorists had obviously thought of when they took over the village and ran off all the people. Emma noted a barbed-wire fence that protected the perimeter of the village.

“I wish there were a ramp on the outside so I could jump the fence like Evel Knievel!” Miyuki said.

“Who?”

“Evel Knievel! He jumped all kinds of things with his motorbike. One time, he jumped over a row of thirty school busses.”

“Why did he do that?”

“Because it’s fun!”

Emma ignored her friend’s enthusiasm and listened to the nerves poking at her stomach. Personally, she wasn’t looking forward to this part of the operation. Driving a dune buggy in the desert wasn’t a problem—there were fewer things to hit out here as opposed to a city street—no, the problem was the creating-a-diversion part. If Emma didn’t get close enough to the terrorists, then her diversion wouldn’t work, and her friends would be trapped inside that village forever. And getting close meant Emma would be close enough to get shot.

But those men wouldn’t shoot a pretty blonde girl in a dune buggy, would they? Not if she acted friendly. Emma found that most guys would loosen up when she smiled at them.

“Are you ready?” Miyuki asked.

Emma took in a deep breath. She reached for the sand goggles hanging around her neck and placed them over her eyes. “No, but let’s do it anyway.”

“Okey dokey. I’ll wait for you.” Miyuki jumped on the starter and the Yamaha roared to life. She put on her helmet and slipped on a face mask with a pipe attached to a slim oxygen tank on the bike.

Emma started the dune buggy and put it in gear. Lately, Nadia had been teaching Emma how to drive a stick, and so far Emma had the basics down. Well, kinda. At least she didn’t stall the car most of the time by letting the clutch out too early. Emma concentrated as she eased her foot off the clutch and squeezed the gas pedal. The engine revved and the transmission engaged…throwing the buggy backward.

“Damn it.”

Emma hit the brakes. Wrong gear.

Miyuki watched her through those scary-looking black goggles, probably wondering why Emma couldn’t get her crap together.

“I got it. Don’t worry,” Emma said as she found first gear and the dune buggy went forward through the sand.

As she cleared the second dune, Emma knew the terrorists at the front gate had now spotted her. She was committed. Emma put her foot to the floor and let the buggy bounce along the sand like a happy dog playing in the snow. When Emma was about five hundred feet away, she turned the wheel and did a few donuts, kicking up sand and letting the wind carry it into the air. She then eased her dune buggy back on course towards the checkpoint.

Emma noticed the men gripping their weapons as they spread out into defensive positions.

At two hundred yards, she waved at them and smiled.

They aimed their weapons at her.

Her heart beat faster than the dune buggy’s pistons. This was a terrible idea. Olivia’s grand plan was about to get her shot. But the actress inside Emma was still in character. She was portraying a fun-loving girl out for a joyride, and that girl wanted the whole world to have fun too. Her character would say, What terrorist camp? That girl only saw some local people standing around a fence, and she wanted to brighten their day.

Emma yanked the wheel hard to the left and did a few more donuts, causing the sand to kick up and surround her dune buggy before she braked to a stop. She allowed the sand in the air to clear before she climbed out of her buggy.

The men had their weapons drawn, but Emma could read their faces from here. They weren’t sure what they were looking at.

Emma slipped off her goggles and waved at them again. “Hi! I didn’t mean to disrupt your large family get-together. I’m only passing through. I’m sure having fun in your desert. My family and I are from Texas—the Lone Star State. Y’all have a lovely country. It’s so sandy.”

Emma felt her character would be from Texas. Maybe her daddy had hit it big in oil and gas a long time ago and invested it in real estate. Anyway, Emma went with that and her thick Texas accent.

The three men with head scarfs all checked with the man in the Yankees hat. That man lowered his rifle.

“You’re American?” he asked in decent English.

“Well, I’m a Texan. But basically, yeah.” Emma rubbed the sand off her legs and readjusted her tank top. The other men were shouldering their weapons. A few cracked some grins. Yes, they were all getting a better look at her. So far they didn’t look too alarmed. “Do you mind if I play around in your large sandbox out here? If I’m disrupting anything, you just let me know, and I’ll go elsewhere.”

The man with the Yankees cap walked toward the buggy. “Come here.”

Emma played stupid. “What’s that, sugar?”

“Come. Let us speak with you.” The man with the Yankees hat was getting closer. His eyes wandered down her legs and stayed a little too long on her tank top.

A shiver went down Emma’s spine. Her body was telling her to run. Her eyes were noticing a pistol strapped to the man’s side as well as the rifle hung over his shoulder. If she let him, he would grab her and drag her into the compound to do God knows what

Emma swallowed her fear. She needed to act. “My daddy warned me about talking to strange men in the middle of the desert.”

The man in the hat gestured for her to approach him.

Emma backed away. “It’s nice for y’all to invite me to lunch, but I have other places to visit, so I’ll just be on my way.” Emma hopped back into the dune buggy. As her hands touched the steering wheel—the muzzle of a pistol pressed against her cheek.

The man with Yankees cap was not smiling now. “You…come with us.”

Emma knew she would mess this all up. Now these men would kidnap her too.

Olivia would be pissed.

A motor revved in the distance.

The man took his attention off Emma as he glanced over at the dunes.

Emma seized the opportunity. She slapped his arm to the side and fell back on the passenger seat while twisting her body towards the threat. Then she used both legs to drill the man in the face with her sneakers.

Emma jumped on the clutch, shoved the stick into first, and feathered the gas pedal, coaxing the dune buggy forward. As the men were breaking out their rifles again, Emma spun the dune buggy in circles, kicking up the sand around her to obscure their vision. She then pointed the dune buggy away from them as she felt around in the back seat and took out a gas mask.

She slipped it over her mouth, turned on the oxygen, then pointed the dune buggy towards the checkpoint. The men were struggling to see through the sand, but they fired anyway. Emma’s windshield exploded.

Emma ducked down and turned the wheel hard to the right, making more circles in the sand. But this time she clicked a switch on the buggy’s dashboard, which unleashed a plume of gas that blew out of a third tailpipe. The wind carried this gas toward the checkpoint, making the men cough and cover their mouths.

Wearing a gas mask over her face, Miyuki raced her motorcycle towards the checkpoint. All four guards were passed out. Miyuki stopped her bike to pull open the large wooden gate.

Emma put the dune buggy in gear and gunned it through the front gate while Miyuki followed her inside the camp.

Buy it now on Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Brainstorming A Gems Novel

Hello from Oklahoma.

I hope you and your family are doing well. Here in my state, some places are beginning to open up from the virus lock down. Normally I’m an optimist but I’ve decided to keep my own self-distancing habits up for a while as well as wearing a mask in public settings. Let’s hope things get back to a “new normal” later this year. Now, let’s switch gears and talk about something fun!

At the beginning of this month, I began brainstorming a new Gems novel. The way I start that process is by asking myself some questions. Which Gems character will this book focus on? What will the book reveal about them that a reader doesn’t already know? I might ask myself where will this new adventure take place? I like picking locations that I’d love to visit one day. This makes researching fun. How about a foot chase along the great wall of China? Or a motorcycle pursuit through the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii?

Hey, that sounds awesome! *writes down idea feverishly in a notebook*

Where was I? Oh yes…

Next, I decide what kind of novel it will be. It could be a standalone adventure with some character development thrown in. Or maybe another Venomous vs. The Authority confrontation. There could also be an interesting story element or subplot that started in another book that I could expand and explore in a new book.

After that, the real brainstorming begins. What’s the Gems mission? What do they have to do? What horrible tasks can I create that will force the main character to do things they don’t want to do? Soon I place these tasks into a three-act structure like you see in the movies. In the first act we find out what the Gems have to do. In the second act they begin their adventure and encounter tasks and obstacles that are in their way. The third act is the fun act. That act will always have some huge mountain to climb in terms of a character’s task. It will be the most dangerous. Most dramatic. And hopefully the most exciting part of the book in terms of bringing all the story and character elements together to make a great ending.

When I’ve brainstormed all those various elements, I now have a road map for the next part of my process–which is the actual chapter-by-chapter outline of the novel itself. But I’ll tell you more about that in another email.

What would you like to see in the next Gems novel? More spy gizmos? More action? More kissing with car chases and explosions? Reply and let me know in the comments below.

Stay safe and all the best,

Doug

Special Shout Out

Winter by Marissa Meyer

I recently finished Winter by Marissa Meyer. What an excellent closing novel to the Lunar chronicles series. This is one of the best young adult science fiction series I’ve ever read. Marissa Meyer does a fantastic job re-imaging bits and pieces of the old fables such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and turning them into an original and exciting space adventure. I highly recommended the entire Lunar Chronicles series.

Thunderdog is Out!

tdThe Gems are back with a new adventure. Here’s the blurb…

Can they save thousands of teens from becoming weapons of mass destruction?

In Japan, sixteen-year-old Miyuki always felt like a square being pounded into a round hole. She turned her back on tradition and earned the fury of her father. The father who burned her with a cigarette and sent her off to live with strangers in a strange land. Now Miyuki is one of the Gems, a group of four talented young ladies who spy for a mysterious world-wide organization known simply as The Authority.

When a new energy drink called Thunderdog causes a rash of violence at their high school, Miyuki and the Gems are sent to Japan to find out why. The visit forces Miyuki to see her father, now a senior executive of the beverage company that produces Thunderdog.

As Miyuki struggles with family, the Gems uncover a dark trail of conspiracy, bigotry, and a diabolical plan that would see most of the great cities of the world burn.

Can Miyuki convince her father to help? Can the Gems stop thousands of teens from becoming weapons of mass destruction?

Thunderdog is the third book in The Gems Young Adult spy thriller series that features genuine characters, heart-racing action, and lots of international intrigue. Think Gallagher Girls meets Totally Spies.

The eBook is at a special price of $2.99 (£1.99) for only the first 7 days of its release. Here’s where you can download your copy…

(Please note: This post contains affiliate links)

Amazon
Amazon UK
Apple
Google Play
Nook
Kobo

Or you can order the paperback at these fine booksellers online…

Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Amazon UK

Have a great August!

All the best,
Doug

Young Adult Author