Enter the Web

After a month or so of revisions and beta-reading, I’m getting ready to finalize Spider and upload it for pre-order. This is a somewhat unusual book in that it’s not a romance, even a dark romance, of the sort you usually see in dark erotica. It’s certainly very dark, and (I think) erotic, but otherwise departs from a lot of the usual conventions. One of those conventions is the often cartoonish feel of a lot of books I’ve read in this genre, full of stereotypical villains and unrealistic settings—all-powerful crime families, hit men in tuxedos, action scenes torn from the latest Michael Bay movie, and so on. With Spider, I made a conscious effort to spin as grittily realistic a story as I could manage. I wanted to achieve as little suspension of disbelief as I could get by with. That’s part of why Spider has taken me nearly a year to finish (and partly why, if you’re wondering, the third Twin Magic book is so late). I had to do a lot of research and reading to build the setting and the main character.

About that main character: One of my beta readers called him “creepy in a hot-as-fuck kind of way,” but you aren’t likely to fall in love with him. If he scares you a little, or more than a little, then I’ve done my job.

I don’t have a cover yet (still not sure about the title), so instead I’m going to post an excerpt here. Enter if you dare.

spider-lacuna

The man woke with a start. He’d been dreaming of things a lifetime ago and momentarily wasn’t sure where he was. He’d thought he’d heard a gunshot, but he slowly realized the shot had only been in his dream.

The beach in Kuwait City the night before the Marines moved north. The teenaged Iraqi soldier who had come upon them while they were laying the explosives. The bullet he had put through the kid’s forehead with his suppressed MP5.

He pushed the dream back into the cobwebs of his memories and sat up, remembering.

He was in a cheap motel room in Chula Vista, where he had gone after arriving the night before and picking up his truck from the long-term storage lot. After leaving the flight attendant bound on her knees in the airline club conference room.

He thought about finding the woman again. He knew the hotel where the airline put their flight crews up during layovers, and he figured he would have little trouble convincing the desk clerk to give him her room number. He’d have two or three hours to work on her. And after last night, he knew she would let him, husband or no husband.

But he had other things to do. Another woman to worry about.

He climbed out of bed and stretched, first his arms, then his neck, then his hamstrings. After a few minutes, he lay face down on the floor and began doing pushups.

He was nude, and had the flight attendant from the previous night seen him—something he would never have allowed; she would have been blindfolded again—the shock might have been enough to jolt her out of her deer-in-the-headlights fascination with him.

There was a puckered scar about the size of a dime on his left thigh. On his back was a chaotic expanse of scar tissue from his right shoulder blade down to his lowest rib. Around this dinner plate–sized mess of keloid tissue were scattered more irregular scars, the smallest about the size of a pea, the largest about half an inch long, as if he had been stabbed repeatedly with a dull table knife, or perhaps sprayed with fragments of metal.

His hands were rough and heavily calloused, especially along the edges and knuckles. The flight attendant hadn’t noticed it, but he was missing the last joint of his right pinky finger.

On his right bicep was an old, faded tattoo of an eagle clutching a trident and a flintlock pistol. On his left bicep was a tattoo of the word Alex. That one was newer, no more than a few years old.

The rest of his body was as craggy and weathered as his face. His muscles were as hard and defined as any male model’s, but the sight of him would have had any self-respecting talent agent recoiling in horror at the idea of him representing anything anyone was supposed to buy.

The pushups continued for about ten minutes, the pace of them only slowing near the end. When he had counted off five hundred, he stopped and caught his breath for a moment. Then he rolled on his back and commenced doing sit-ups.

Three hundred sit-ups later, he went to the door of the bathroom and hooked the tips of his fingers over the doorframe. He lifted his feet off the floor and hung there for a moment or two, making sure of his purchase on the molding. Then he pulled himself up until he was facing the wall above the door.

His fingers began to ache after a hundred pull-ups, but he ignored the pain—it was nothing to what he had felt many times in the past—and continued.

When he was done, he went to his bag and extracted a pair of nylon running shorts, a gray microfiber t-shirt, his running shoes, and a light shoulder pack. After dressing, he left his room and set out across the parking lot. The motel was just off H Street, a few blocks from the harbor. On his way over, he passed a group of Latino teenagers standing outside a convenience store. They gave him wary looks, one of them staring at him intently. He returned the stare, and the boy dropped his eyes after a moment, not liking what he saw.

When he crossed over Interstate 5, he began running along H Street. He soon reached Bayside Park and turned left. He ran until he had circled the entire park and marina and reached the small sand beach at the north end. He could just barely make out the familiar buildings across the water in Coronado, though it had been many years since he’d been to the base. But he remembered all of it, despite the decades since he first arrived there, not long after boot camp.

He took off his shirt, shoes, and socks and placed them inside a plastic bag in his pack. Then he entered the water and swam the mile or so to the south corner of the park, taking care as he crossed the entrance to the marina. He turned left and continued swimming along the breakwater until he reached the shallows along the south edge of Marina Park and climbed out of the water.

He rinsed off under a public shower, dressed, and ran back to the motel. The same teenagers were in front of the convenience store, but they avoided his gaze this time. When he arrived at his room, a stocky middle-aged man was leaving the room next to his. He could tell from the sweaty flush on the man’s face and the way he avoided his gaze what he had been up to, not that it mattered. It was the sort of thing that went on at motels like this one.

Half an hour later, showered and dressed in his jeans and a blue golf shirt, he walked three blocks up the street. He had picked this motel in part because there was a indoor shooting range not far away. When he got there, he rented a booth and a S&W SD40, and bought 200 rounds of ammunition, paying cash for all of it. He had a gun back in his room—a Glock 27—but did not want to use it here for a variety of reasons.

He didn’t expect to shoot anything during this undertaking; neither did he expect to do any ocean swimming. But practicing skills only when you thought you would need them was a good way to get out of practice in a hurry, and if he needed to do either, it was better to be ready than not.

The rangemaster watched as he meticulously shot the 10-ring out of five straight targets, then amused himself by shooting intricate geometric patterns into the next five. The rangemaster, who was used to this sort of thing given what went on just across the bay, was impressed but said nothing.

The man went to a taco stand for lunch, then returned to the motel. A different man with the same purpose as the previous one entered the room next to his. As before, the man avoided his gaze.

Once back in his room, he went to his bag. Inside was a zippered pouch. He opened it and withdrew the contents: a Blackberry and eight thousand dollars in cash.

The Blackberry was not his; it connected to a special encrypted network and had been given to him by the SAD so they could communicate securely with him when necessary. There were no messages there either, nor had he expected any; the SAD knew he was busy with another job, though he had not told them what. He had only promised to check messages every few days. Having done so, he turned it off and shoved it back into the pouch.

Then he checked his phone. It was a dual-SIM Android model that allowed him to switch between accounts on the fly. Both SIM cards had come from burner phones he had purchased and discarded. He checked both accounts—one was personal, the other business—finding nothing urgent.

He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. Sounds of rough, hasty sex came through the wall from next door, but he ignored them.

Though he remained motionless for about half an hour, he was not sleeping. Rather, he was thinking about the things he needed to do. And the woman. He knew where she was, but he needed to wait a bit longer. He had thought these things through many times, but hard experience had taught him that the little oversights, the unintentional assumptions and shortcuts that could trip him up when it mattered, usually revealed themselves only when the rest of a plan had become rote. So he rehearsed it again in his mind another few times.

Tomorrow he would do a dry run in person. He could do this only once lest the repetition draw attention, so he could not afford to miss something he should have thought of beforehand.

This was the last step. Everything else was ready.

spider-lacuna

Later that afternoon, he went to the convenience store up the street and bought a six-pack of Stone Pale Ale. He didn’t drink very often, but now and then he felt the need to release the ratchet on his life and just do nothing. Things would be getting very tense very soon, so this would be his last chance.

In front of his room was a picnic table and an ancient propane grill. He opened a beer and sat at the table, looking out across the street.

About ten minutes later, a girl emerged from the room next to his and lit a cigarette as she stood in the doorframe. She was younger and prettier than he had expected; he doubted she was much older than twenty. She was short and slim, with long brown hair, and wore a black stretch minidress that looked to have been taken off repeatedly that day.

She saw him looking at her and regarded him warily.

“How’s business?” he asked.

He watched as a parade of emotions flowed through her eyes: annoyance, then embarrassment, then resentment, before settling on weary resignation.

“Okay,” she finally said. Then she forced a smile onto her face. “Interested?”

He shook his head. “Not today. Want a beer?”

She stepped forward, and he opened one for her.

“Short on your rent this month?”

He could tell she was a part-timer; the girl she had been was still apparent under the façade she carried when she was working. She nodded.

“How much?”

She shrugged. “About $600.”

He could see she had a silver stud in her tongue. “How come?”

“Some stupid shit. Doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“Guess not. What’s your day job?”

“A checker at Target. I’m off today.”

He nodded. He’d seen it before.

“What about you?” the girl asked.

“I’m between work.”

“What do you do?”

“I solve problems. It varies.”

That was true, though he had found that a person’s definition of problem could vary quite widely. Great wealth such as his clients possessed tended to change one’s perspectives on what that might be.

The girl looked at him curiously. He could tell she could see the military in him, though it was surely for different reasons than Rachel the flight attendant had. The San Diego naval base was only a few miles north, and if she hadn’t had sailors among her customers, she would have seen enough of them around.

Her phone rang. He expected her to return to her room, but she answered without moving from her spot by the door.

“Hey.” She listened for a few moments, glancing at him briefly. “I can see you at 5:00. Would that work?” Her voice was bright and flirty, emotions that were not matched by the flat expression on her face. “I’m near the marina in Chula Vista. Do you know where that is?” Then, “Okay, just call me again when you get close, and I’ll give you directions.”

“It’s not even 3:00,” he said when she hung up.

She shrugged again. “I need a break.”

The man could see that. He finished his beer and returned to his room. He found his zipper pouch and extracted seven $100 bills from the stack of cash. He folded them in half and went back outside. The girl was still there.

“Here. Go home.”

Her jaw dropped as he handed her the money. She counted it slowly, then looked up at him in shock.

“Why?” she finally asked.

“I solve problems, like I said.”

She looked back and forth between him and the wad of bills several times before nodding.

“Okay. Um, thanks.”

She disappeared into her room. He picked up the remaining beers and went into his.

spider-lacuna

About five minutes later, there was a knock on his door. He’d left it open partway for the fresh air—the A/C in his room didn’t work—and he saw it was the girl.

“Hey,” she said. She had on the same dress but was carrying an overnight bag.

“Hello.”

She glanced around behind her and stepped into the doorframe. He could tell she had something to say, but it took her a few moments to get it out.

“Um, I was thinking, before I go . . . did you want to, you know . . . ” She shrugged.

He returned her gaze evenly. “That’s not why I gave you the money.”

“I know.”

He had seen this before as well, a desire to get back to having sex because she wanted to, not because she was paid to.

“What’s your name? Your real one.”

“Tiffany.”

“Tiffany, you are a pretty girl, but I have rather refined tastes at my age. Things that may be a bit much for you.”

Her face paled a bit, but she didn’t move. “I’ve done stuff.”

He nodded. “Shut the door, then.” She did, setting her bag down on the table in front of the window.

The man stood. He was taller than her by nearly a foot. She looked up at him, eyes wide.

“Take off your dress.”

She had nothing on under it, as he had expected. Her pubic hair was shaved, and he could tell from the redness of the skin that she had done it recently, probably that morning. Her breasts were small, but firm and well shaped. There was a red spot—a hickey, he assumed—on the left one at the seven-o-clock position under the nipple. She had another piercing, a little crystal stud in her navel. He had thought at first she was Latina, but he could see now she was a mix of something, which was hardly unusual in San Diego.

“Go stand by the bathroom door.”

As she walked nervously to the bathroom, he looked into her bag. Among the other things inside—condoms, makeup, lubricant, a bottle of water—there was a small collection of lingerie, including a pair of stockings. He took them out, then unhooked the shoulder strap from the bag.

Tiffany waited, motionless, watching him. He opened the loop on the shoulder strap.

“Give me your wrists.”

She slowly extended her arms, crossing one wrist over the other. He tightened the loop over her, then pulled the strap up over the door and closed it, trapping the strap in the doorframe.

Then he blindfolded her with one of the stockings, and used his foot to push her ankles apart, making her hang from the strap.

He pulled the lone chair at the window table over to the bathroom and sat in front of her. A flush was spreading over her pale skin, and he could smell her growing arousal.

“Are you afraid of me, Tiffany?”

“No.”

“Hmm. And why not? Most people are afraid of me.”

She swallowed hard.

“I trust you.”

“We’ve just met. You don’t know me at all.”

“I know.”

He nodded. This was interesting.

He leaned forward in the chair and began tracing his fingers over her body, up and down, back and forth. She quivered under his touch, breath coming more unevenly. He gently felt her breasts. The flesh was firm and springy. He lightly tugged on her nipples until they stood out. He flicked his fingers over them.

He stroked her legs, the insides of her thighs, avoiding her sex for now. He continued touching her like this until she was shivering and breathing hard.

Then he reached between her legs, finding her slick. He brought his fingers to his nose, smelling the lubricant she had used that day, and the real fluids he had drawn out. He traced the tip of his finger over her inner lips, back and forth, touching her clitoris lightly.

In some ways, he’d often though that stimulating a woman in this fashion was not unlike sitting in a spider’s web, waiting for one’s prey to draw closer. Just as one had to be patient and wait for the best moment to strike, the arousal he was stoking needed to be brought forth in stages.

So when the muscles in Tiffany’s abdomen began to quiver in incipient release, he slowed his movements, then stopped. He expected her to protest, but she didn’t. She just stood there, breath ragged, and waited.

He began again in about a minute, starting exactly like he had the first time, just touching her up and down for a while, then her breasts, and then finally between her legs.

Her thighs were wet and sticky by now, and it took much less time to bring her close to her peak. And again, when her stomach started to twitch, he stopped.

She whimpered softly, but said nothing. He went to her bag and found the bottle of water. He gave her a small drink and set it aside.

Five times, he went through the same routine, each time stopping her short of release. By the last time, she was shivering and shaking in frustration, but still had said nothing, nor had she done anything to escape her confinement.

The man sat back and regarded her, intrigued. This was not the sort of girl he would have expected to find selling herself out of a motel room. She had potential. Not for him, necessarily, but there were others who might be interested. There were wealthy men who regarded the absence of a girl like this from their lives as a problem needing to be solved.

He waited several minutes, watching as Tiffany’s arousal began to ebb. He could tell she was unhappy with this, but again she said nothing.

Finally, he resumed, this time going straight for her breasts, then between her legs. Stroking her briskly now, he brought her up to the brink of orgasm—then stopped.

She cried out in frustration, arching her back, trying to push herself forward for him to touch. He waited just long enough for her arousal to plateau, then took her sex in his hand. He slipped his middle and ring fingers inside of her, pulling up, trapping her clitoris against his palm. Then he began rubbing her rapidly.

The climax that ripped through her was so intense that her legs flailed against him and her entire body shook uncontrollably. She cried out again as he lifted her up by her sex, curling his fingers back inside her and continuing the stimulation through her peak, which went on for long seconds. She was taken by a second orgasm, then a third, before he released her, letting her hang against the door twitching and gasping for breath.

A minute or two later, he freed the strap from the doorframe and carried her to the bed, limp as a ragdoll. He tied the strap to the headboard, pulling her down the mattress until her arms were taut. Then he turned her over, pushing her up to her knees. He found the other stocking and tied her ankles together.

The man undressed and found a condom in Tiffany’s bag. Unprotected sex with married flight attendants was one thing, but a professional—even a part-timer as young as this girl—was a different matter.

She moaned softly as he entered her from behind. Her sex was flooded with her fluids and still twitched and throbbed in the aftermath of what he had done to her. He held her narrow waist and moved in her slowly.

For a few minutes, he simply focused on himself, but before he grew close to finishing, he returned to working on the girl. Her arousal had ebbed only a little, and a minute or so of firm downward thrusts had her whimpering and shivering under him. When he felt the tremors of her release subside around him, he withdrew, untied her ankles, and rolled her over. She spread her legs, lifting her sex toward him, moaning for him to take her again.

He entered her, driving hard against her clitoris. He drew one last orgasm from her thin body before letting himself go. He lifted up on his arms and watched himself pumping into her bare sex before finally stabbing forward with a grunt and ejaculating inside her.

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