Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 December Reading List

November was a tough month, and the beginning of December was even worse, so Bujold became my comfort read. It was either that or eating unhealthy amounts of chocolate. So:

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold – The story felt disjointed. I liked the first part, but the second used too many clichés. 3/5 stars Amazon

The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold – Short, good read, but I didn’t enjoy the overall bleak feeling. 3/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold – A bit too many parties for my taste but it was almost as good as The Warrior’s Apprentice. 4/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – The main character spends the whole time obsessing over her dead husband instead of focusing on the terrible things happening around her. The  absence of any kind of explanation at the end makes it feel like one long hallucination. 3/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – Normally, this would get 4 stars from me, but I had a few issues with the book. My grandma was called Maia, so all my life I believed Maia was a woman’s name. It took me several chapters to get used to associate it with a man. The other names are much worse, long and hard to remember, and too similar, which makes it hard to tell the characters apart. The writing is good except for some debut novel typical issues, which makes no sense since this isn’t the author’s first book. But this isn’t what annoyed me. We have this uneducated 19 y.o. boy, who has never dreamed about becoming an emperor so he’s totally unprepared for it, but still he never makes major mistakes, not even once. Really, no one is that perfect! And he keeps whining, and being afraid, and blushing constantly like a bride on her wedding day. He should have been a girl. The other part that didn’t sit well with me was the plot that didn’t seem to go anywhere, we just go with the motion, day after day after day of the emperor’s reign, and then the book stops with no ending at all. Huh? 3/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

The Iron Trail by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black – Kiddie stuff. Not as funny as Clare’s other books. It brings nothing new, and all the characters behave like idiots for illogical reasons at one point or another.  I don’t think I’ve ever been at the right age for this. 2/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff – A sweet, fast read, not very deep and often exaggerated. I would have enjoyed it more if I had been familiar with more of the titles mentioned in the book. 4/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

The Paper Magician by – It reminded me a lot of the magic system in Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist. It feels better written, but we spend too much time inside the magician’s heart. That’s a good way to bring in back story but not when it lasts for half a book and the plot stands still all this time. Oh, and the magician is too perfect and swoon worthy. 3/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Recap

2014 was an exhausting year. A lot has happened, and each bit took its share of work. Let's take a look...


- in Romanian

4 short stories meant for anthologies, out of which:
  • 1 story submitted; project status unknown.
  • 1 project cancelled because of lack of contributors
  • the other 2 projects are still on going, and I'm supposed to send the texts in the beginning of next year.
Note: It's getting harder and harder to write in Romanian. It took me forever to write those short stories.

- in English

1 novel
1 short story collection (7 short stories)
1 fanfic written in the spring for good old times' sake.


- in Romanian

Short stories included in anthologies:

2 short stories submitted to print magazines; 1 was supposed to be published at the end of this year, dunno about the other one.

1 short story published in an online magazine:

- in English

1 short story collection
1 novel
1 omnibus
1 short story
  • The Nightingale Circus (Broken People, #0.5), December, 2014 
  • Broken People (Broken People #1), November, 2014
  • The Impaler Legacy Omnibus, March, 2014
  • The Third Wheel (The Impaler Legacy #3.5), March, 2014


about 70 books read (my list doesn't always correlate with the one on Goodreads)
24 read on paper, the rest on Kindle (I really want a Kindle Voyager! mine is getting old and dirty LOL)


over 160 books formatted for ebook and print.


I know this is a big logic jump, but we had two litters this year, one less successful than the other, and they all took a lot of our time and energy. We began the year with two cats, and we're ending it with four, including two males, which wasn't part of the plan at all. :P


We spent a lovely week in Istanbul in August, in between kittens. Great weather! And cats, a lot of cats among other things.


Several minor, nagging aches, but less colds than usual, which was a relief.

And we had a nice Christmas with a big tree despite the cats, no accidents, and now we're ready for the new year. See you soon!

Story: The Blade Masters

We couldn't end the year without having at least one short story published in a magazine. So...

The Blade Masters (one of the short stories included in The Nightingale Circus collection, the prequel to Broken People) can be read in issue no. 20 of Suspense Magazine.

It features our favorite prosthetic-designer knife throwers, Rake and Spinner, and it reveals the events that led to joining the circus.

Happy reading!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Self-Publishing in 2014

This was my third year as an indie writer. I had two big releases in 2014, The Impaler Legacy Omnibus in March, and Broken People in November, followed shortly by The Nightingale Circus in December. Let’s study each case separately.

The Impaler Legacy Omnibus included all three novellas and two short stories in the series, plus one bonus short story, The Third Wheel, which was also released as a free short story for those who had already bought the series.

To promote the release, Alina organized a blog tour for the omnibus edition. I’m afraid I drove her crazy with my control freak tendencies and need to know everything every single day. The blog tour took place over one week in April and included 40 blog stops on various book blogs, featuring reviews, interviews, character interviews, guest posts, and spotlight posts. I was hoping for more reviews, considering the amount of work we put into it, but the ones I got were favorable ones. Still, I didn’t see the spike in sales such tour would make you expect. Instead of the omnibus suddenly becoming my best-seller, the other installments in the series sold more than usual.

For the omnibus, I also released a print edition via CreateSpace. It took a while to figure out the interior layout and the cover requirements, and after that it took even longer for the proof copy to get here, but once it arrived, it looked good and only required some minor tweaking to finalize it. The good part was that I gained confidence in my skills and started offering book formatting services to other indie writers.

I probably should have promoted the omnibus more, but I was already working on a new novel and kind of skipped that part. The sales spiked again in October when I announced the price would go up from $3.99 to $4.99. The novellas kept selling all through the summer, and some people even bought the $0.99 short stories that were free everywhere but on Amazon.

When nothing else sold, Blue Moon Café Series still did despite being a short story collection and me doing no promotion at all. I should write more paranormal; unfortunately, it’s not exactly my thing. However, I took pity on the little book and invested in a professional cover. It wasn’t something planned, I just happened to run into it on a design site, liked it and bought it.

In October, my critique partners finished critiquing the novel Broken People and the companion short story collection The Nightingale Circus, and the final drafts were quickly done. I hired an editor for the novel and a proofreader for the short story collection. The editing process went smoothly and didn’t take overly long. The cover art, however, was a different story. Both illustrations took several extra weeks to be completed, which forced me to delay my plans, and what should have been a double release turned into two separate releases more than a month apart. If I didn’t like the results, I would still be ranting about it. I paid for all this with the earnings made from formatting books all summer.

This time, I didn’t organize a blog tour. I sent to my newsletter subscribers one of the short stories from The Nightingale Circus collection and asked them who wanted an ARC. I also offered ARCs to reviewers who enjoyed my other books. Reviews started to trickle in. For the cover reveal of Broken People, I created a Goodreads event and invited my Goodreads friends. Then I used a Thunderclap campaign to spread the word about the new release. I can’t honestly say either of them were overly helpful.

Another new thing I tried was making Broken People exclusive to Kindle via KDP Select and also have it included in the Kindle Unlimited program, which makes it free for the Kindle Unlimited subscribers. So far, I don’t see any downloads via KU, but it’s still early.

While waiting for The Nightingale Circus to be ready, I started serializing The Impaler's Revenge on Wattpad. A new chapter is posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It didn't get many comments, but it did get read since it entered top 200 in Vampire category. Wattpad is full of vampire stories, so it's not too bad.

The Nightingale Circus was a quiet release, only announced on my blog and social media and accompanied by the usual LibraryThing giveaway. I guess the reviewers were relieved to finally have a cover to associate to the review and a place where to post it other than Goodreads.

It was time for another email blast sent to the newsletter subscribers, announcing the new releases and the upcoming KDP Select free days on Amazon. On a really short notice, I scheduled them for December 25 and 26. I have nothing to compare the results to, but Broken People reached #2 in Cyberpunk category in Amazon Free Top 100 in US, entered top 10 in multiple categories in all of the other countries, and it was #600 in Free Kindle Store. At the end of the two days, there were 800 downloads, including some in the countries where I had few or no sales before that, and The Nightingale Circus sold too.

Bottom of line, it was a good year. The sales doubled each year compared to the previous one, so I must be doing something right. For now, enjoy reading the Broken People series. I’ll start working on a new installment in the series soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

KDP Select free days on Amazon – short statistics

Granted, this could have used better planning, but I decided to make Broken People free for two days for Christmas only the weekend before that. I wanted to give my readers a present, and if other people downloaded it, even better.

Since the time was short and the book had been released for only a month and didn’t have that many reviews yet, I didn’t bother with well-known promo sites that do paid promotions. I only sent the dates to a dozen of sites and blogs that feature free ebooks, and a few bloggers I had collaborated with before. I informed my newsletter subscribers, created a Goodreads event and invited my Goodreads friends, announced it on my blog and social media. And then I sat back and waited.

During the two days of the free promotion, December 25 and 26, I was very active on Facebook and Twitter, reminding people the book was free and keeping them updated with the climbing in ranks. Once per day, I posted in several Facebook book related groups, announcing the free dates. And I kept refreshing the sales dashboard page to see the download numbers increase.

At the end of the promotion, there were 700 downloads in US and 800 over all Amazon sites, bringing Broken People to #600 Free in Kindle Store. It reached #2 in Cyberpunk in US and stayed there for a while, and it entered top 10 in several categories on all of the other Amazon sites that had downloads. Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, and Mexico had none, but Japan, India, and Brazil did for the first time ever. It was nice to see my Canadian and Australian readers again; they’re always so prompt at downloading whenever I release something new. Germany’s reaction was surprising because I never had many sales there and now it beat UK by far. I did expect more downloads in UK, but it didn’t happen. Shrug.

It was nice to see the free downloads being accompanied by some sales, particularly for the other book in the series, The Nightingale Circus, but other titles too.

It remains to be seen how this whole experiment with free downloads will affect future sales. If nothing else, it will be like a major LibraryThing giveaway which might or might not bring more reviews in time. Hopefully, it will. And also hopefully, those who actually read the book might discover they like it and turn into dedicated readers. I’d be happy with that.

Oh, what did I tell you? There are two new reviews already, and they are great. :)

"Broken People by Romanian author Ioana Visan is cutting edge science fiction, with a thread of mystery and suspense running throughout. Visan does a great job of creating characters who readers can relate to, and situations that, though science fiction, seem real. Broken People is more than science fiction – it’s a commentary on society’s treatment of those who are different, and how they cope with it.
You don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to enjoy this book."
- Charles A. Ray "Geronimo"

Yes, this is exactly what I want my readers to think after reading this book!

"Keep going, Ioana, you just made me curious about The Nightingale Circus's further adventures. Maybe a war story with the Japanese robot army!" - Liviu Szoke

He he, patience, my friend, we have to get them there first. ;)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Broken People is FREE on Amazon!

Good morning and Merry Christmas!

Did you have your coffee yet? Something sweet to start the day well? Did you check or recheck your presents? Any chance you found an ereader under the tree and now you're looking for something to read for the holidays?

Well, guess what? Santa left under my tree a present for all the book lovers out there!

Broken People is free on Amazon on December 25 - 26.

So go and download it. And when you finish it, you might want to check The Nightingale Circus too. You can thank me by leaving a review. ;) Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Last year, I was whining about having the tiniest tree in our family history because we also had a kitten and we feared he (she at the time - long story, don't ask!) would destroy it.

This year, we have two kittens and two adult cats and a big tree! And everyone's happy. :)

Merry Christmas!
Best Wishes for 2015! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

New Release: The Nightingale Circus

The Nightingale Circus is out! If you read Broken People and liked the characters, this is your chance to find out why they came to the circus and why they stayed. Read a sample here.

About the same time last year, I was in the middle of writing Broken People, but the winter holidays got in the way, and when they ended, it was hard to get back to writing. The novel had taken an unexpected turn, so I started to think about my characters, who they were and what they wanted for real. I had the first three short stories written in no time.

After that, I returned to the novel and finished it, but I kept adding one short story per month just for fun. I guess I had a hard time letting go of the characters, too. And so I ended up with a short story collection aside from the novel.

If you read The Nightingale Circus first, know that all these characters return in Broken People and work together on a big heist. 

The Nightingale Circus is available via Amazon and Smashwords, and soon through other channels too. If you read it, please take the time to leave a review on Amazon and GoodReads. Thank you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cover Reveal: The Nightingale Circus by Ioana Visan

The Nightingale Circus
by Ioana Visan 

Don’t be shy and come inside! The Nightingale is waiting to take flight!

Welcome to The Nightingale Circus! Listen to the singer with an enchanting voice. Watch the knife throwers who are also prosthetic builders. Here is a telecharger on the run and a ballerina with no lungs. There is a broken pole dancer and an Asian bot. You’ll be amazed by a regular girl who becomes exquisite and frightening at the same time.

They’re better known as the famous Nightingale, the Blade Masters, the Magician, the Swan, the Firebird, the Rocket Girl, and the Golden Lady.

They are all waiting to tell you their story about how they came to the circus and why they stayed.

This is a companion short story collection to Broken People.

Coming to your ereaders this December! 

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Impaler's Revenge Wattpad Serial

A year ago, the last novella in The Impaler Legacy series, Order Restored, was being released. To celebrate this and bring more attention to the series, I'm starting a new experiment. I'm going to serialize the first novella, The Impaler's Revenge, on Wattpad. So, yes, you will be able to read it for free, provided you have enough patience to wait for each installment. New chapters will be posted on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The goal is to get more readers interested in the series, especially those who aren't so sure they want to read yet another story about vampires. But this story is different. It's a political thriller with vampires, no YA, no erotica, no paranormal romance. So give it a try.

If you don't like to wait, The Impaler's Revenge is available on Amazon for only $0.99. Or you can get the omnibus edition, which includes the entire The Impaler Legacy series. Your call.

Either way, start reading here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 November Reading List

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – I fell in love with the story right from the beginning, and it was one of those rare cases when the writer’s voice was just as compelling as the story. 4/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

Sixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson – The world building was interesting, but the story dragged, and by the time we got to the interesting part, I had lost interest. 3/5 stars Amazon  

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett – Over three quarters of the book, the story deals with three unrelated plots that seem to go nowhere, and the real plot is revealed only at the end, before the final battle. Plus there’s unnecessary rape, so meh. 3/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository 

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean – Chase was my favorite character in the other books in the series, but here she turned out to be just another scared woman with little power to begin with, which was disappointing because I expected her to be badass. 3/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository 

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe A lot of adventures, rather fun, so I expect the series can only get better after this. 3/5 stars Amazon Bookdepository

Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Promotion with Thunderclap

I did no blog tour, book blitz, or Facebook party to promote the release of Broken People. Instead, I choose something new and allegedly less time consuming, a Thunderclap campaign.

I created the campaign on October 12, and it was approved the following day. Because the editing and the cover art weren't finalized, and I had no strict release date, I chose a later date, November 20, for the campaign to go live to have plenty of time for people to join.

And then the hard part began... for a campaign to go live, it needs at least 100 supporters to join with their Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr account. If this goal is reached, the same promotional message is automatically posted to their feeds.

So first I invited my friends and dedicated readers to join, but once friends expressed their doubts regarding the app that requested to access their profile and was apparently gaining too much freedom, it became clear I had a problem. I had researched it online and found no issues raised connected to Thunderclap, but it was also my first time using it, so I couldn't swear by it. And if friends didn't trust it, how could I expect strangers to join?

The solution was to find people who already had on going campaigns and support each other. I stalked Twitter for several days, and the supporter number increased nicely with as much as a dozen supporters on a good day. Then, since there's a group for anything on Facebook these days, I found a group dedicated to supporting book related Thunderclap campaigns. Everything worked out nicely from that point on, and on November 10, the campaign was fully supported.

I didn't stop there but continued to promote the campaign and support others until the last day. On November 20, there were 321 supporters with a 1,439,565 social reach.

The numbers looked good, and once the message went live, I sat back and waited. There were some retweets, but I saw no spike in sales, so as far as I'm concerned it was a waste of time.

I think it works if you already have a big following, willing to support and promote the campaign for you, or if the message announces a big discount or free books. So unless that's the case, I won't bother with it again.

Monday, November 17, 2014

New Release: Broken People

Broken People is out! Hurry up and read the preview sample here. :) And now for the story behind the story...

After I finished writing The Impaler Legacy series, I felt it was time to return to my first love, science fiction. When I visited Bratislava a few years ago, I very much enjoyed the old city, and I wanted to write a story that had the action taking place there. I had this image of a man standing in the window of an old building, watching a woman in a building across the street. I wondered what he was doing there so, between other projects, I started plotting on and off.

It felt like a cool idea, so I decided to make it my NaNo project. Now, my idea of NaNo is a bit different than what everyone else is doing. When I’m working on a story, I usually write 1,000 words per day, except for the weekends. For NaNo, I wrote during the weekends, too. It was tough, but at the end of November, I had 30,000 words written … and I was only half-way into the story. What initially had been planned to be only a novella had turned into a novel.

For a long time, the story was called “With a Flick of the Wrist”, like Queen’s song, which could serve as soundtrack. However, in the end, it became clear the story wasn’t about a trick but about the people in it. Writing each individual story felt like the next natural step, so if you fell in love with Broken People and don’t want to let go of them just yet, you might want to check out The Nightingale Circus. It’s a short story collection revealing how the main characters came to be in the circus and why they stayed. It will be released soon, too.

Broken People is available exclusively via Amazon for the time being, and it's free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. If you read it, please take the time to leave a review on Amazon and GoodReads. Thank you.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

10 Years of Absolute Skating

It's hard to believe that Absolute Skating has been online for 10 years. When I designed the site back in 2004, I had no idea it would become so successful and still exists after a decade.

To celebrate the event, the AS crew, including yours truly, have posted an article in which we share our memories and experiences. Read here.

Are you a skating fan? Visit Absolute Skating!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: Broken People Excerpt

An excerpt of Broken People is available on ReadWave and Wattpad, but just in case the links aren't working, I'll add it here as well.


Broken People


Columns of smoke rose from the food stands lined up along the sidewalk. Despite the closed windows, a whiff of the spicy scent made its way inside the attic, tickling Dale’s senses. Or maybe the stench was lodged inside his nostrils. Either way, it made his stomach rebel. He couldn’t wait to leave Bratislava. After two months of preparation, he was ready. All he had to do was pick up Cole, do the job, and get the hell out of there.

He glanced over his shoulder at the deserted attic. Shadows darkened it as night fell over the city, hiding the bed, the table, the chair, and the old armchair abandoned in the corner. A heavy wooden trunk rested against a wall decorated with marks left by posters long gone and an old, mechanical clock that somehow still found the power to work. It didn’t look like someone had been living here for a long time, but it didn’t have to. He’d paid good money to rent the attic without having his stay registered at the police station. Officially, he’d never been there.

The last rays of sunshine trailed over the buildings on the right side of the street, setting their façades on fire. At the farthest end, a flash of gold lit up the top floor window. A fair-headed silhouette fiddled with the window lock, then disappeared inside. When the sun was gone, the light went on, but no one bothered to pull the curtains. Feeling like a stalker, he turned his attention back to the street and watched the traffic.

The bells tolled in the nearby church tower, and Dale stepped away from the window. It was time. He took the jacket from the back of the chair and put it on, patting his pockets as he moved. Everything he needed was in there, including a knife and a gun with a silencer. He opened the trunk and picked up another gun from the pile of contraband weapons. He slipped this one in the waistband of his jeans. He didn’t know what surprises Cole might bring with him since he arrived days earlier than planned.

Since no one came up here to visit, locking the trunk was just an old habit. Except for the old lady in the apartment below, no other neighbor knew he occupied the attic. He kept odd hours, made no sound, and never turned on the lights. How would they know? He did, however, make sure to turn the key twice to keep the homeless people out. More than once, one had stumbled in and fallen asleep on the staircase. It wasn’t worth the risk.

On the second floor, Dale caught a glimpse of a pair of crossed eyes watching him from behind thick glasses, and a head full of hair in large curlers underneath a colorful scarf. Mrs. Potec hurried to close her door before he could wish her a good evening. She probably relegated him to the same category, or worse, as the rest of the bums. Other than slamming the door in his face, she had never bothered to acknowledge his presence, for which he was grateful. The one time Dale had held the front door open for her, she’d looked at him like he was going to rob her. Thank God she hadn’t called the police.

Once out on Venturska Street, the stench of rotten fruit, cabbage, sausages, and the spices the vendors put in the food—poor men’s drugs—hit him full force. By the time he returned, he would have a headache and would want nothing but sleep. Dale forced himself to walk forward, following the middle of the pedestrian street. The streetlights flickered to life, and through the steam rising from the pavement, people looked like ghosts.

Tonight, it was less crowded than usual, which was both good and bad. Good because he would notice if he were being followed, and bad because it made it harder to hide and get lost in the crowd if he were. The trick was to remain incognito and not give into the little girl with huge eyes and baggy clothes who usually begged in that corner of the square. Street rats always remembered and came for more. He couldn’t afford that. So he ignored the filthy, open palm, the other one hanging limp and useless from the wrist, and he didn’t give her the spare change in his pocket like he wanted.

The little girl threw him a murderous glare and showed him a set of tiny teeth laced with bits and pieces of metal.

Dale increased his pace. He quickly passed the human statue and the blind harmonica player who gathered in the square each evening. Someone tossed a coin into the tin can at the human statue’s feet, and the blind man stretched out a hand to pick it up. Like a cobra, the human statue’s arm shot out and clawed at the blind man’s hand, the wide sleeve failing to hide the artificial tendons and the ripped, fake skin. They’d be at each other’s throat before the night ended, but by morning, they’d be good drinking buddies in whatever bar was still open at dawn. He’d seen them leave together on occasion.

Ignoring the budding conflict, Dale took a swift turn to the right and entered a dark and narrow alleyway that opened into a square yard, unusually empty for this hour. He crossed it and followed a labyrinth of quirky little streets leading to the outskirts of the old town.

At the end of the pedestrian area, Dale stopped on the sidewalk near a streetlamp to check his watch. Cole was late.

A few people rushed around him, hurrying to get home in time for dinner. The sign of the restaurant across the street blinked invitingly, but the aromas tickling Dale’s nose turned his stomach.

Two cars rolled down the street with their windows open, neither of them stopping. The drivers were looking for someone, but not him. Meanwhile, it had started to rain. Dale pulled the collar of his jacket up around his neck. A gust of wind rolled a flyer intoone of the forming puddles. The cheap ink was already dissolving in the water, but not before Dale saw the mechanical arm throwing cards and flames, announcing The Nightingale Circus was in town. So that was where everyone had gone.

His attention distracted by the flyer, it took Dale a moment to notice the black van with tinted windows coming straight towards him. It stopped, the engine running, and the back doors opened. Something big fell on the pavement with a loud thud, and the van took off with a roar.

Dale had the gun in his hand but hesitated to fire at the van. More than likely, it was bulletproof, and shooting would draw attention. A patrol officer might have strolled in to inquire about what was going on. Instead of wasting bullets, he ran to the body lying motionless by the curb and, grabbing him by the shoulder, turned the man onto his back.

Cole’s face was barely recognizable under the bloody mess, and his hands had been burned to the bone, making what was left of his enhancements visible, all melted together along the bones. A good technician could replace those in due time, but he couldn’t do anything about the ruined muscles and nerves.

“Oh, fuck…”


Dale struggled under Cole’s weight as he carried the heavier man up the stairs. His army-issued enhancements hadn’t finished the recovery cycle and, therefore, were not ready to be used. He’d rented an unlicensed taxi to take them around the old city to an entrance closer to his building. With the city center being a pedestrian area, he still had to carry the unconscious man a couple of blocks. Fortunately for both of them, the pouring rain had chased the street walkers inside, so there hadn’t been too many witnesses. By the time he arrived at the attic, Dale was covered in blood and the sickening sweet-smelling, clear liquid seeping off Cole’s burns.

He dumped his human cargo on the unmade bed and ran a hand over his face. Water trickled from his short hair down the back of his neck, wetting the part of his shirt the jacket had managed to protect. Now what? He needed Cole to be awake and able to use his hands, or the entire operation would fall apart. If it did, there wouldn’t be another chance to do the job any time soon. Someone else would have to start from scratch, and if there was one thing Dale disliked most, it was failing. He’d invested too much to lose it all. So much work and so much hope wasted. Millions of peoples’ lives at stake. But maybe not everything was lost.

It was the main reason he hadn’t taken Cole straight to the hospital. Aside from the risk of having the police involved, none of the local hospitals could help with Cole’s problem. The required technology wasn’t available. Since the war had started in the east, communication with Japan had been cut, so spare parts weren’t delivered anymore. Prosthetics fell apart left and right, and few places remained where they could be fixed.

Cole’s soft moan set Dale into action. He grabbed a small leather box from the trunk and opened it. It took two seconds to fill the syringe with the contents of one of the small bottles and inject it. Cole went quiet again. The strong painkiller would keep him down until morning, but it wouldn’t heal him.

By the light coming in through the windows, Dale found his way across the attic and looked outside. He didn’t spot any suspicious activity in the street, but he picked up the infrared binoculars from the windowsill to double check. The food stands were closed at this hour, and most of the beggars had left, too. A patrol officer chatted with the working girl stationed outside the bar next door. It must be a slow night for both of them.

Something moved in a corner of the square. The little girl was still there, hidden under a pile of flattened cardboard boxes. At least the rain had let up, turning into a soft drizzle that promised to stop soon.

Dale’s eyes trailed to the heavily decorated building at the end of the street. The entire top floor glowed like a symphony of lights, but only the room with a balcony interested him—more accurately, the woman sitting and writing at the desk interested him. Tiny golden flashes surrounded her hands as they moved over the papers. There was his solution.

It took guts to approach the Golden Lady, but it was worth the risk if he could convince her to help him. If he couldn’t … well, there were other ways. Decision made, Dale towel dried most of the water from his hair and changed his jacket. He moved the guns to the new one and hid a blade in his boot. He didn’t expect a need to use them, but one could never be sure in this line of work.

After checking on Cole one last time, he left the building. The cold October air hit him hard, making him shudder. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Dale headed towards the rag bundle hiding behind the steps.

A pair of eyes set too close together fixed on him, watching his every move.

When only one meter separated them, he bent his knees to get to her level. The little girl scrambled back and pressed herself against the wall, ready to bolt. He wouldn’t have been surprised to hear her growl. She sat there, her bottom lip trembling while she stared at him, eyes wide.

Dale pulled his right hand out of his pocket and held it out, palm open.

The girl yelped at the sight of the shiny coins and scrambled forward, rushing to cover them with her good hand. Then she glanced up and down the street to see if anyone had noticed the small fortune.

“There will be more for you if you take me to see the Golden Lady,” Dale said in a whisper.

The inquisitive glare shifted from him to the balcony, and after a few seconds of struggle, greed won and the girl nodded for him to follow her.


“Just a moment,” Aurore said, calmly finishing adding up the long column of numbers before looking at the man standing in the doorway.

Tall, dark, and handsome, for those who liked the roguish type, but the short black hair and cold, gray eyes made no impression on her. She paid more attention to the set of his jaw and the way he carried himself when he advanced into the office. Strong physique, though too light for a bouncer. This was a man who knew what he wanted and was used to getting it.

He didn’t avoid eye contact while he crossed the room and continued to hold her gaze after stopping in front of her desk. He was a little too close for comfort, but he’d been searched before being allowed to come upstairs, so she didn’t fear him. Besides, no one dared attack the Golden Lady.

Satisfied with her assessment, Aurore put down the stylus and leaned back in her chair. A pair of lacy gloves rested on the corner of the desk, but she didn’t bother putting them on. She wouldn’t hide in her own home. If he dared to barge in here, he better put up with the sight of her hands, too.

“Little Rosie told me you have something for me…,” she said, pausing to give him another up and down look. Scruffy, old but good boots, a jacket that had seen better days … not flashy, but all good quality clothes. He was not from around here. Not a low-life, small-time scum, either. A hint of worry around the eyes combined with determined lines at the corners of his mouth. Ah. The man was desperate. “Or, more exactly, what can I do for you, Mr. …?”

“Dale Armstrong,” the man said. “I need access to your technician.”

He had guts, Aurore had to grant him that. If that was what he needed, no wonder her golden hands didn’t bother him.

“You can’t afford my technician,” she said. He didn’t argue. “Since you know that already, why come to me?”

“You own all the jewelry stores in the city,” Dale said.

Aurore nodded. “That’s common knowledge.”

“You also own all the pawn shops.”

She didn’t advertize that part of her business, but most people knew it anyway. “So?” Throwing her business into her face was not the right way to win her cooperation.

“You’re the only one who’s part of both worlds. One way or the other, you’re most likely to find me what I need.”

Sound reasoning, but it didn’t explain how he planned to pay for it. Aurore brought her hands together and tapped her fingers on her chin. The artificial skin that covered her prosthetics was warm and soft to the touch. “What is it that you need exactly?”

“A good and trustworthy technician.”

“A good technician is hard to find these days,” Aurore said. “There aren’t many left.”

“That’s why I came to you. I don’t want a hack. I want a good one.”

“It doesn’t matter what you want. Besides, mine has gone to Vienna and won’t return before the end of November. Come back then, and maybe we’ll talk.”

“I can’t wait that long.”

She straightened her back, ready to stand up to him and the anger boiling below the carefully constructed, calm appearance. The tension in his eyes gave it away. Had someone wronged him? “Funny, you don’t strike me as someone who wears prosthetics.”

“It’s not for me.”


She waited for him to continue, but he didn’t volunteer more information, and she didn’t particularly care to listen. It was time to send the visitor on his way.

“Regardless—” Aurore got up and walked around the desk so he could see her golden knees peeking from between the hem of her white skirt and the top of her beige, deer leather boots, “—you will have to wait. I don’t have anyone else waiting in the wings for a job like yours to show up.”

“You don’t know what my job is,” Dale said between gritted teeth. In two steps, he had a blade pressed against her throat. “My friend has burned his arms. I have only two weeks, and I need him to be able to use his hands by then. So think hard.”

This wasn’t good. The security downstairs was obviously slacking. She’d have to do something about that. Instead of panicking, Aurore held up her right hand. It was perfect, all except for the golden glow. “Do I look like I care?”

It took him a couple seconds for the words to sink in. “Well, there goes my leverage,” he said, releasing her.

“There wasn’t much leverage to begin with,” Aurore said, resisting the urge to check her neck. He acted too much like a professional to have nicked her.

Dale shrugged with a rueful smile. “So, are you going to set your goons on me?”

“Yes, sorry. I have a reputation to protect.” She reached for a button on her desk. “What happens in two weeks?”


“Don’t play dumb with me. I can get my ‘goons’ to make you spill it.” Her hand froze on the button. “You’re not from here, and you need a pair of working hands by a certain date. What happens in two weeks?” Aurore’s hand hovered above the button, next to an ad for the museum open night and a Nightingale Circus flyer.

Dale’s eyes briefly stopped on the two flyers.

“You want to enter the Hrad?” The open night was scheduled in two weeks, which meant access to the Bratislava Castle would also be free. “That’s a bold move. Why didn’t you say so?”

“So you can send me to a hack technician? If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, fine,” Dale said. “You’re the mayor’s protégé, but even you wouldn’t get away with it if I got caught. There’s a fortune stored inside the Hrad. That’s how I was planning to pay you. You’re into jewelry. There must be something you’d want in there.”

He didn’t know even half of it. There was something she wanted badly, but it wasn’t jewels.

“Well, in that case…” Aurore hesitated, her eyes scanning the desk. “I know someone who might be able to help. He doesn’t only do maintenance. He builds things from scratch. Of course, it depends on how badly your friend is injured and if you can keep him out of harm’s way long enough…” Catching a glimpse of the surprised look that flashed over Dale’s face, she smiled. “Do you think I don’t know what’s happening in my city, right across the street from me?” Shaking her head, she picked up the flyer and handed it over. “Ask for Big Dino.” From a drawer, she pulled out a business card with gold engraving, handing that over, as well. “Tell him I sent you. Do not tell him how you plan to pay for his work, just say I guarantee you.”

Dale slipped the two pieces of paper in his pocket and started for the door. In the doorway, he turned. “Why did you change your mind?”

“We haven’t had any excitement in this town in way too long. But it will cost you…”