Unlike my Durga System novellas, which are designed to stand alone, I wrote the Bulari Saga to be one overall story arc — though each book is meant to be a satisfying read on its own.
Don’t worry. I hate cliffhanger books, too. 🙂
I normally share the first chapter or prologue of a new book when I launch it — but since Crossfire begins a day or so after the climax of Double Edged, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a section that wasn’t super spoiler-y.
Fortunately, one of my favorite scenes made the cut.
I edited the following section to avoid a couple of spoilers, but please enjoy the gloriousness that is Starla’s girl gang blowing off steam. I’ve just finished the draft of Bulari Saga 3, and am plotting out Bulari Saga 4 — and it’s been fun to watch these ladies take up more of the spotlight.
Read on for the excerpt.
Trouble is dead. Long live trouble.
Killing the leader of a violent cult was supposed to make the city a safer place, but instead it created a power imbalance that’s left a deadly war raging in the streets of Bulari.
When Willem Jaantzen is approached for help by local casino magnate Phaera D, he has the sinking feeling the only way to end this war is to betray the people he loves the most. And he’s starting to suspect that Phaera wants more from him than just his help.
Whatever decision he makes feels like the wrong one. And as his goddaughter chips away at the mystery surrounding their latest discovery, bringing peace back to the Bulari underground is quickly becoming the least of his worries.
Music thrums through Starla Dusai’s chest, beating like a fever through the packed dancers.
Simca’s incandescent in hot pink, sequins shimmering off her minidress, stacks of rainbow neon cuffs glowing on her brown arms. Her black hair’s in a thick queue, braided through with strands that spark in the light like starbugs, and the spikes of her stilettos flash a different color with every step.
Leti’s in liquid turquoise from the band of her black fedora to the fine weave of her suit to the sharp-ass points of her gleaming dress shoes. Her tie drinks up the light, luminous black silk.
Starla’s in silver that probably makes her pale skin gray and ghostly, but she loves the feel of the flounced skirt swishing against her thighs, loves the way it makes her look like she actually has curves.
And it must be working, because she’s had no shortage of guys to dance with tonight. A Ganesh-class transport, the Maria Elena III, is still in orbit, and every nightclub in the city is flush with travelers and crew.
The beat transitions to double time, the bass picking up to a low rumble that pulses once on one and twice on four and Starla loves this song, she claps and raises her hands with the rest of the crowd, lets her hips move how they want. The latest guy yells something to her but she’s left her lens at home tonight and she closes her eyes to bask in the rhythm, ignoring him. Whatever he’s trying to tell her doesn’t matter. She’s not going home with anyone.
The beat transitions again a few minutes later and the guy’s gone. Leti is dancing in his place, her moves light-years beyond the grind he’d been attempting. Starla grins and takes Leti’s proffered hand. Simca shimmies her hips through a gap in the dance floor to join them, and the whole world shrinks down to this moment: sweat and color and light and bodies against bodies, all shot through with the pulse of the music.
“Water,” Simca signs after a moment, and Starla nods — she’s been parched for ages, but having too much fun to leave the floor.
“You must be boiling alive,” she signs to Leti. Starla’s overheated in her skimpy dress, but where she and Simca are both gleaming with sweat, Leti is dapper as ever.
“Girl’s gotta look good,” Leti signs back. She pulls out a silk handkerchief and dabs at her dark brow, tucks it back in her pocket. “Sorry I ruined your chances tonight,” she signs. “Every man on that dance floor thinks you’re with me now.”
“Good,” Starla signs. “I’m not in the mood. But Simca . . .” She lifts her chin and Leti glances back to see Simca at the bar, trios of waters and shocking blue cocktails lined up in front of her. Guys on either side of her are trying to get her attention.
Leti laughs, elbows her way between Simca and one of the guys, gives her a Hey, babe look and a wink. She starts handing drinks back to Starla.
They find one of the few reasonably lit booths where they can see to talk. “Hopefully now I’ve ruined both your chances to go home with a boyfriend-of-the-week,” Leti signs with a smile. “Tonight’s supposed to be girls night.”
It’s a weekly chance for them to blow off steam, and after the events of the last few days Starla has plenty of steam to blow. Simca, too; she’s got an air of wild abandon about her tonight that’s stronger than her usual, stronger than past times they’ve cheated at cards with Death and walked away grinning. Someone on their team didn’t walk away this time. And following the initial numbness, that knowledge makes the crush of bodies more captivating, the cocktails sweeter, the beat more intoxicating.
Starla almost feels like she’s in a trance, and when she catches Simca’s eye and sees her intensity, her fever, she knows Simca feels the same.
Leti works in media, some complicated consulting job helping vid stars and politicians and night club owners with messaging and news appearances. Starla understands just as much about her job as Leti understands about Starla’s work designing security systems for Admant. Leti knows Starla’s godfather is Willem Jaantzen, but she has no idea the nature of the jobs Starla sometimes hires Simca for.
Leti’s only aware that something happened at work this week, and she accepted the usual brush-off when she asked about it. Tonight, she’s slipped into the role of chaperone, letting her girlfriends work out whatever they need to on the dance floor and putting up enough guard for three.
And they need her tonight, god knows — this club is thick with horny single dudes from the Maria Elena III. Starla and her friends have barely claimed their booth when a man elbows up to the table, leans in with a conspiratorial smile to say something to Leti. Leti frowns at him. “I’m deaf,” she yells. It looks like he’s shouting louder — or maybe it’s just loud in the club, because Simca yells back at him across the table.
The man abandons Leti and leans towards Simca. Starla can’t read his lips, and Simca’s angled away from her, but she recognizes the drug-pusher’s gesture of one hand flashing open to reveal the glittering blue tab in his palm. Shard. He pops the tab under his tongue with a glassy grin, then pulls a bag from his pocket for Simca.
Simca’s shaking her head, shooing him out of the booth. He gives her an apologetically wounded look — Hey, just trying to offer a good deal — and sidles off, ignoring Leti and Starla.
“Fucking pushers,” Simca signs. She takes a drink and makes a face after the man’s back.
Leti waves a hand to dismiss him. “Hey, did you end up signing with that new agent?” she asks Simca, and Simca rolls her eyes, the conversation swirling back to her latest search for a wrestling agent who’s not scammy. It’s not a night out without fending off at least one shard pusher, these days.
Starla follows along with the latest dramatic twist in Simca’s agent saga, but only half-heartedly; talk isn’t doing it for her tonight, and as soon as the last drops of cocktail are emptied from their glasses, she drags Leti and Simca impatiently back out to the dance floor.
Only now the energy is different. The beat is still steady, but a knot of people at the far edge of the crowd have stopped dancing, stillness rippling out from them as heads turn to see what’s happening.
Starla elbows her way through — it’s not her job, but sometimes there are fights, and if she can help she will. Plus, throwing a few punches might feel almost as good as dancing tonight.
She stops at the edge of the crowd, eyes wide.
Everyone’s staring, and no one’s helping. There’s nothing to help.
The shard pusher from earlier is convulsing on the floor, mouth split open like he’s screaming, tears of blood streaming from his eyes, black ichor leaking from his nostrils. His fingers claw protectively over his chest; bloody blisters form on the backs of his hands, his neck, his hairline as Starla watches in horror.
A scatter of his product has fallen out of his hand and is glittering on the dance floor. Starla hadn’t been paying attention earlier, but now she sees his shard looks different from what she’s used to seeing in clubs. Something about the color, the shape of the package is oddly familiar, and she realizes with a start where she’s seen it before: in the drug-cooking operation that had been working out of the warehouse her godfather, Willem Jaantzen, is purchasing.
Others are pocketing the shard even as the pusher spasms in death. Starla signs for Leti to give her her handkerchief, then scoops up one of the strange shard tabs herself. She tucks it in her purse. No one seems to notice, not with the screaming man acting out his dying moment on the dance floor.
Starla grabs Leti’s and Simca’s hands and drags them to the exit.
She’s not going to stand around and watch yet another person die this week.