QSFer Carole Cummings has a new MM fantasy book out:
As he pursues a man who is not what he seems, Constable Dallin Brayden learns the lines between enemy and ally, truth and deception, and conscience and obedience are not only blurred, but malleable.
Constable Dallin Brayden knows who he is, what he’s about, and he doesn’t believe in Fate. “Wilfred Calder” has no idea who he is or what he’s about, and he’s been running from Fate for as long as he can remember. When Wil flees after witnessing a murder, it’s Dallin’s job to pursue him. Along the way, he’s pulled into a maelstrom of ancient myth, fanatical religion, and the delicate politics of a shaky truce between two perpetually warring countries—all of which rests on the slender shoulders of the man he knows is not Wilfred Calder.
Even Dallin’s success proves a hollow victory. Wil is vengeful, rebellious, and lethal, and his tale of magic and betrayal rocks the carefully constructed foundations of Dallin’s world. Suspicious and only half believing, Dallin must question not only his own integrity and his half-forgotten past, but the morality and motives of everyone around him—including those who hold his own country’s fate in their hands.
Second Edition. First Edition published by Torquere/Prizm, 2010.
“THIS ONE’S yours, Brayden.”
Dallin watched the leather folio skid across the desk and come to rest with a smart slap against his mug. Coffee slopped over the rim, and he scowled. Elmar stood grinning at the chief’s elbow, snorting wolfishly. Dallin ignored him. He’d never liked Elmar.
Lips pursed, Dallin wicked up his lamp and tipped a nod to Jagger. “Chief.” Swiping coffee from its flyleaf, Dallin opened the folio. “What’s this, and why’s it mine?”
“You’re good at this sort of thing,” Elmar supplied, still with that arsy grin. Dallin wondered what that grin would look like with a few less teeth. “That is, it’s within your purview of interest, I should say.” A waggle of thin eyebrows beneath a lank fringe of greasy brown hair. “A pretty little piece too, innit, Chief?”
Jagger rolled his eyes with a slight clench of teeth, then turned on Elmar. “Have you got that request to the Ambassador finished yet?”
Elmar’s grin finally fled. As did he. “Right away, Chief” was all he said as he scarpered.
Jagger watched the back of him with a sour grimace. “That’s the sort as gets shot by his own in the army.” Dallin covered his smirk as the chief turned back to him and waved a hand to the folio. “Witness,” he said. “There was murder done at the Kymberly last night.”
Dallin snapped his glance up. “Murder?” He stared. He’d lived in Putnam for more than twenty years, been a constable for nigh on ten of them, and yet, even after two tours in the cavalry and all the violence inherent therein, murder in the more civilized Putnam still gave him a mild shock. Dallin focused on the few sheaves of paper inside the folio. “And at the Kymberly, by the Mother.” He shot another glance at the chief. “Was it robbery?” The significance abruptly caught up with him, and his heart did a bit of a flip. “Not Ramsford?”
Medeme Ramsford—respectable proprietor of the respectable Kymberly, onetime companion, and best friend in the long years since.
The chief shook his head. “Master Ramsford is unscathed, but for p’raps a few bruised knuckles.” He shrugged at Dallin’s quizzical look. “He had to pull the brigand off the victim, and the brigand didn’t want to let go.”
“Bloody damn.” Dallin sighed in relief. “Is this the man, then?” He held up the prisoner profile. “There isn’t much here.”
“And I wouldn’t make bank on what is,” Jagger told him. “That’s the witness—or the instigator, depending on what you manage to wring from him.” A frown from Dallin got another shrug from the chief, this one a little uncomfortable. “It would seem that the fight started over who would keep company with this….” He took the paper and scanned it quickly, then handed it back. “This Calder.”
A prostitute. Bloody hell. Dallin slumped. Now he understood Elmar’s sly digs.
“And you want me to slap him around a bit.” His voice was flat, but he couldn’t keep his jaw from tightening. He’d thought that was finished, at least between himself and Jagger. “I never touched the woman, damn it, and I won’t be used as some sort of ogre to scare the whores into—”
“I want you to question him because I don’t fancy letting Elmar or Payton at him. Have I ever done else to make you think otherwise?”
The chief stared, gaze level and hard, until Dallin’s hackles smoothed again and he glanced away. “You have not, sir,” he said, chastened. In fact, he’d asked Dallin the question once, and when Dallin had testified that—as little as even he’d believed it—the woman had bounced her own head off the table before screeching her accusations, Jagger had merely nodded, accepted Dallin’s word, and signed off personally on all the reports. Dallin supposed it wasn’t Jagger’s fault the other smarmy gits wouldn’t let it go. Payton had bloody congratulated him. Slimy little shit. Dallin cleared his throat. “My apologies.”
Jagger accepted this with a small nod. “It isn’t like it was before.” His mouth set in a thin, bitter line. “These men aren’t veterans of Aldrich’s army like you and me—honor is something they talk about, not something they know, and it’s only got worse since Wheeler took command. People view this truce as a victory and affirmation that Wheeler’s ways are the right ones, not the capitulation it really is, and all the while, we become more and more like our enemy every day. Men like us are getting steadily pushed out of positions of rank and authority to make way for the types who would as soon pull a few fingernails as ask a simple question.” He shook himself with a surly snort. “Which is neither here nor there at the moment, but the bottom line is that as long as I am in charge here, we do things the old way—our way.
“Here is this Calder’s statement, and those of the other witnesses.” He slid more papers at Dallin. “The truth is, even had I not already decided as much, Ramsford asked that I assign you. He says you’ve been a friend to him, and he’s concerned for the… lad.” He cleared his throat. “And in truth, I’m not sure I trust any other with this witness. This man, this… this boy… I can’t tell.” The chief looked away. “I’ll say no more. Ask your own questions, draw your own conclusions, then report them to me.”
“But… wait—witness, not suspect?” Dallin lifted his gaze from the papers. “We have the murderer in custody, yes? So why did we bring this man in? Did no one interview him at the scene?”
“I interviewed him at the scene. I decided the… situation required further enlightenment.”
Dallin shrugged. “As you wish. But I’m not sure I understand what I’m to do with him. All these statements seem to say the same thing. One man killed another—one is on a slab, and one is in a cell. What exactly am I meant to wring from this one?”
Jagger sighed, pulled out the chair opposite the desk, and lowered himself into it tiredly. There were circles under his bloodshot eyes, and his skin was pallid gray. He must have been dragged from his bed for this some hours ago. He leaned into the desk and folded his hands atop it.
“The victim and the assailant were both Dominionites.”
Dallin’s stomach gave a little flip. “That’s….” He pushed a low whistle between his teeth.
“It is,” Jagger agreed. “The talks in Penley go bad enough as it is. The last thing Cynewísan needs is to give the Dominion an excuse to make them go worse. If I can help it, Putnam will not be giving them that excuse.” His big hands opened. “I’m sending a courier with a request to their ambassador for instructions on what they… suggest we do with this Orman.”
“The suspect.” When Jagger nodded confirmation, Dallin smirked. “May I suggest Corliss for courier duty?”
“You may. She’s due for a day away from the brood, I imagine—an overnight will be good for her. Anyway, she’s likely the only one I can trust not to get drunk and start a fight at the inn.”
Dallin loosed a mild snort as he flipped through the papers. “I wouldn’t take that bet.”
Carole lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania, USA, where she spends her time trying to find time to write. Recipient of various amateur writing awards, several of her short stories have been translated into Spanish, German, Chinese and Polish.
Author of the Aisling and Wolf’s-own series, Carole is currently in the process of developing several other works, including more short stories than anyone will ever want to read, and novels that turn into series when she’s not looking.
Carole is an avid reader of just about anything that’s written well and has good characters. She is a lifelong writer of the ‘movies’ that run constantly in her head. Surprisingly, she does manage sleep in there somewhere, and though she is rumored to live on coffee and Pixy Stix™, no one has as yet suggested she might be more comfortable in a padded room.
…Well. Not to her face.