It’s the hottest part of the summer in my neck of the woods, so I figured now was a perfect time to share a special sneak peek of my novella “Winter Break” with you!
“Winter Break” is one of the short stories and novellas I’ve been writing about Dima, my heroine’s Russian ex-fiance. The first one, “Summer Break,” is currently being given away as an exclusive bonus for preordering Trigger Warning. If you haven’t already gotten yourself a copy of “Summer Break,” you can preorder Trigger Warning for 99c and send me the proof of preorder to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you “Summer Break.”
All the “Dima” stories are set in the Donbass, the war zone in Eastern Ukraine, where Dima was working as a war correspondent from 2014-16. In “Summer Break,” which takes place in June 2015, Dima discovers that a hit has been ordered against him. In “Winter Break,” which I’ll probably be giving away as a download bonus when Trigger Warning goes live, the plot thickens…So without further ado, here’s the first chapter!
Oh no, wait, I lied. There is some further ado. As is often the case in the Doctor Rowena Halley series, there’s a certain amount of bad language in this chapter. You’ve been warned!
Happy New Year!
Dima hit the little “Send” arrow on WhatsApp before he could think better of it.
She won’t write back, he told himself. Surely after last time she won’t write back. She shouldn’t write back. But…I can’t not wish her a Happy New Year. It would be…uncouth.
His conscience told him that he had been uncouth, and worse than uncouth, on many previous occasions. Also, he had no business texting Inna, not even to wish her a Happy New Year, after what he had done.
He had meant it for the best, he really had. He was painfully aware of how many of his friends and former comrades-in-arms had made exactly the same excuse for their bad behavior, and here he was, repeating their mistakes. It was humbling to realize how much he was like everyone else, at least in this.
He hadn’t meant drive Inna away again. He had broken off their engagement right after New Year 2014. They had tentatively gotten back into contact in the spring of 2015, when he had impulsively reached out to her after Boris Nemtsov’s murder. Over the summer of 2015 he had vowed to himself that he’d get her back somehow or another, once his life was back in order and he could offer her something other than poverty and danger. But here it was—he checked his phone—12:02am on January 1st, 2016, and he was still broke, still in danger, and still separated from Inna. Worst of all, those were deliberate choices he had made.
“Kuznetsov! Hey, Kuznetsov!”
Dima looked up. Two very drunken men were bearing down on him from the other side of the Svobodnyi Donetsk (Free Donetsk) cafe, carrying a bottle of champagne and three glasses.
“You missed the toast! The Kremlin clocktower striking midnight! And now you’re sitting around by yourself! That’s no way to see in the New Year! You know what they say: How you see in the New Year is how you’ll spend it.”
“You’re right.” Dima put his phone in his pocket and stood up. “Don’t want to spend all of 2016 checking my phone, do I?” Don’t want to spend it in masochistic, destructive, pointless…His phone vibrated.
“Just a moment, guys,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “I have to get this.”
“That must be a hell of a story, Kuznetsov,” said Kirill Fainzilberg, the drunker of the two men. Like Dima, he was a journalist, although unlike Dima, he was in the good graces of both the Donetsk and Moscow governments.
“Or a hell of a woman,” said Rinat Mustafaev, the other man. He was only slightly drunk. He practiced, as he had explained to Dima on more than one inebriated occasion, a fluid, culturally appropriate form of Islam, one that permitted indulging in spirits, within acceptable limits.
“What are acceptable limits?” Dima had asked at one point.
“Don’t get so shit-faced you puke all over yourself and pass out in the gutter,” Rinat had explained. Dima had agreed that that seemed reasonable.
Tonight, in keeping with his fluid, culturally appropriate practice of Islam, Rinat was only wavering slightly, and was hardly slurring his speech at all. By the standards of the party they were at, that was practically stone-cold sober. The only person more sober than him was Dima. But sobriety hadn’t stopped him from sending that text.
“A woman?” Kirill grabbed at Dima’s phone. He missed it, staggering wildly and body-slamming Dima instead. “I didn’t know you had a woman. Is she cute? Does she put out easily? Why didn’t I know about her?”
“She’s not from around here,” Dima said, pulling Kirill upright and leaning him against the wall.
“Where is she from? Ooo, I bet she’s from Lvov or something, isn’t she? Or maybe one of those liberal students from Kiev. A hardcore pro-Western, anti-Russian, black-browed Ukrainian beauty. But secretly she thirsts for a real Russian man. ‘Fuck me, you Russian beast, fuck me hard, officer-style, lobster-style, harder, harder,’ she screams, and then when it’s over, she makes you promise not to tell anyone, doesn’t she?”
“You,” said Dima, “talk a lot of shit. I’d say it’s because you’re drunk, but you talk a lot of shit when you’re sober too.”
“A walking chronic case of verbal diarrhea, that’s him,” agreed Rinat cheerfully. “Come on, Kiryusha: let’s leave him. I think there’s someone from the LNR here; maybe you can get a story from him.”
“The LNR? But we’re in Donetsk,” slurred Kirill. “What’s someone from Lugansk doing here?”
“Strengthening the sacred ties of brotherhood and comradeship between the two glorious new republics, presumably,” said Rinat. “Come on: I know you’ve been trying to get an in with the LNR for weeks. Maybe now’s your chance.”
“So has Kuznetsov,” said Kirill. “He should come too.”
“He can make his own way over when he’s ready,” said Rinat, and shepherded Kirill away before he could do anything to annoy Dima further.
Dima finally looked at his phone. He had been telling himself since he had felt it vibrate that it was probably a source, his mother, his uncle—anyone other than Inna. Or if it was her, it was to tell him to fuck off and die and never speak to her again. Which was no more than he deserved.
Happy New Year to you too! said the message. How are you?
I’m fine, he wrote back. He tried to tell himself the sweat trickling down his sides was from the crush of the party and the half a glass of champagne he’d had earlier. Is it the New Year where you are yet?
Not yet, she texted. I’m in California. It’s only two in the afternoon here.
California? Why are you in California?
I’m visiting a friend.
I didn’t know you had any friends in California. Is this someone from grad school?
No. Even over text message he could feel her sudden reticence.
It’s him, isn’t it? he wrote.
I wish you both a Happy New Year when it reaches California, Dima wrote, and put his phone back in his pocket. It vibrated with another message, but he went over to Rinat, Kirill, and the man they had cornered by the drinks table without checking it.
I hope you enjoyed it! Fun fact: Kirill Fainzilberg is named after Ilya Fainzilberg, one half of the Soviet comedy writing duo Ilf & Petrov. I sort of hint that Kirill is his grandson.
I will be back with more sneak peeks and updates on my progress in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, check out the Mysteries with Humor contest currently going on at BookSweeps. The grand prize is an ereader and 30 free mysteries with humor!