Hi everyone! Hope you’re having a fabulous Fourth of July holiday. Alas, since my household contains a particularly nervous Chihuahua with Addison’s disease, the Fourth is the most awfulest of all awful holidays around here, but I’m glad to say that all of us made it through with no obvious long-term damage.
I’ve been hard at work on Trigger Warning, book 3 in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, and am now about 47,000 words in (that’s about halfway through your standard novel, if you’re curious). So I thought I’d share a sneak peek (did I spell that right? I have a block about the peek vs peak difference. At least I normally know when it should be pique) of it. Be advised that it is from the first draft of an uncompleted manuscript, so it’s in pretty rough shape and will probably change between now and when ARCs go out, let alone the actual release, but I thought it might be a fun thing anyway.
But first! If you haven’t gotten an ARC of Book 2, Permanent Position, you can snap one up in the “Fierce Feminist Fiction” giveaway on StoryOrigin right now.
And if you want to get an ARC of “Summer Session,” a novella that’s book 2.5 in the series, you can grab one in the “It’s a Family Affair” giveaway on BookFunnel.
And now, without further ado, the first chapter of Trigger Warning:
It’s really depressing how even small pieces of good fortune are followed so often by their reverse.
I had plenty of opportunities to contemplate this universal truth as I sat, stood, and walked through the intermidable orientation process for my new job at Crimson College. I had spent all of the spring semester trying to get this job, and all summer making plans for what I would do when I started it. But now that I was finally here, I was hoping that this portion of the job, at least, would be over. And the future wasn’t looking too good either.
In marked contrast to my previous faculty jobs, which had been notable largely for their professional neglect, my current position as a VAP (Visiting Assistant Professor) of Russian involved a multiday onboarding process. Over the previous two days I, along with the largest and most contingent-heavy group of new faculty in Crimson College’s history, had toured the campus and the dorms, done several exquisitely humiliating team-building exercises, and attended lectures and orientation sessions on the library, IT facilities, campus security, and the zeitgeist of the current crop of undergrads. Which was apparently stressed out. We were given several training sessions on how to recognize drug abuse, binge drinking, suicidal ideation, and potential warnings that a student was about to flip out and commit a mass shooting. As part of that, campus police did a short session on what to do during an active shooter event, from which I gathered that if anyone did come strolling into your classroom with their finger pressed down on the trigger of an AR-15, you were well and truly fucked.
“Nothing,” we were assured by several different deans, “like that is going to happen at Crimson, of course, but it’s always better to be prepared. Everyone is very happy here. The worst we have to deal with is the Gang of Six.”
The first dean who brought up the Gang of Six then skipped on merrily to talking about town and gown outreach without seeming to notice the excited murmer that went through everyone at the sound of this intriguing name. The second dean who mentioned it hastily corrected himself and refused to answer any questions about it. By the time it came up again, during the session with campus police, everyone was burning with curiosity, and when the particularly mousy-looking dean who had dropped the name tried to pretend that she hadn’t said anything about it, several of the new faculty members insisted, actually almost raising their voices, that we be informed what was going on.
“It’s an anonymous group with an anonymous website,” said the chief of the campus police force, when the mousy dean gulped and refused to say anything more. “We’re keeping an eye on them.”
“Are they making death threats? Planning mass shootings?” demanded several voices at once.
The mousy dean gulped again.
“No,” said the chief of police. I had the impression that he was having a hard time not snorting or rolling his eyes. “They,’re, uh, how shall I put this, writing blog posts about social justice issues. We have no reason to believe that they pose any threat of violence at all. But they’ve expressed some, uh, discontent with certain aspects of campus life, so the college administration has decided to keep an eye on them. We always get a few unhappy customers—the Men’s Protection Alliance has been blathering on for months now—but they never actually cause trouble.”
This led to a fierce debate amongst the incoming faculty about the ethics of monitoring student groups and student social media activity, and for a moment it looked like a shouting match might break out between someone from the B School (business) and someone from English, until the police chief broke it up and told everyone we needed to finish the training session on active shooters, because we’d be really sorry if we didn’t and something happened in one of our classes.
That had been followed up yesterday evening with an outdoor picnic where we had hobnobbed with two fresh new deans, the Provost, and the President. That had been so much fun I had seriously considered bursting into tears afterwards, and wondered why I had ever agreed to take this job. Oh right, because I needed the money.
Now, at quarter past eight in the morning, I was pushing my way through the Georgia August heat in search of Lee 032, where the mandatory diversity and inclusion training was scheduled to be held.
I had parked in the designated new faculty parking area on the far side of the athletics center and hoofed it past the tennis courts, around the outdoor track and the football practice field, over the beach volleyball area, filling my shoes with sand in the process, past several dorms, and across the back quad to Lee, the main administrative building. Which may or may not have been named after Robert E. Lee. The college was cagey on that subject.
Sweat was trickling down my sides, soaking my bra and panties, by the time I found an open entrance to Lee. The chill of the air conditioning hitting my wet clothes was welcome at first. By the time I had circled the first floor twice and found the stairs to the basement, where Lee 032 was housed, I was feeling distinctly chilled. And I still had four more hours in here to go.
Lee 032 was a windowless basement space that looked kind of like a church rec room. Round tables, laid with tableclothes in Crimson College colors (crimson and cream, a combo that looked sort of but not exactly like Harvard’s), had been set out around the room.
“There are name tags and place cards.” A woman in a uniform-y non-uniform of a crimson blouse and cream pencil skirt stopped me at the door. Her name tag said Tanika Scott, Assistant Dean of Faculty Development. She looked at a table diagram in her hand. “What’s your last name?”
“Halley,” I told her. “Rowena Halley. Russian.”
“Goodness! That’s not something you hear every day. Welcome to Crimson, Rowena. Here’s your name tag. You’re at table four. Over there.”
I took the name tag and followed her pointing finger to a table in the back corner of the room. The back corner was fine with me. Maybe I could catch a brief nap or at least check my email while I was there.
Another woman was already sitting there, scrolling through her phone. She was tall and fit and looked about my age, so mid-thirties, and had weathered skin and dark blonde hair that had been cut in a very short pixie that flirted with the boundary between attractively gamine and aggressively mannish.
Lesbian, ex-military, I guessed.
“Oh hey,” she said, looking up from her phone as I approached. “Take a seat.” She pulled out a chair for me. “Mel,” she said as I sat down. “Well, Melissa Wilson, but everyone calls me Mel. Arabic.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Rowena Halley. Russian.”
“Nice. Oh hey, are you at our table too?”
A short, slightly plump woman was hovering uncertainly behind me, like she wanted to join us but didn’t quite have the nerve. She was wearing big glasses, an oversized blouse and maxi-skirt, and was the only black person in the room other than Tanika Scott and the woman standing in the background wearing a caterer’s uniform.
“I think so,” she said diffidently. “I’m, uh, Chloe. Chloe Taylor. Chinese.”
“Well don’t just stand there, take a seat,” Mel told her. “And welcome to the torturers’ and terrorists’ table.”
I laughed. Mel winked at me. Chloe swallowed and sat down without looking at either me or Mel. Up close, I could see that her big glasses hid beautifully clear smooth skin, marred only by scars on her temples, presumably from a lifetime of aggressive hair straightening.
I had just opened my mouth to say something comforting to her when my phone pinged at me. I glanced at the screen, and my heart skipped a beat. It was a WhatsApp message from Dima.
“Everyone turn off your phones, please!” a heavyset woman called out in a singsong voice. “And welcome to Crimson!”
And now for this week’s selection of giveaways:
There’s just a couple days left in the “Literary Fiction” Giveaway on BookFunnel, so check it out before it’s gone!
It’s the last week of the “Fabulous, Feisty & Female” all-genres giveaway on StoryOrigin!
It’s hot out there! Celebrate the heat with the “Sizzling Summer Suspense Stories” giveaway on BookFunnel!