Guest–Cate Ashwood

I want to thank you so much, Skylar, for having me today. Before we get to the interview though, I wanted to mention that I’ll be doing a giveaway at the end of the tour. Every comment that is made on each of the posts will be put into a hat and two winners will be drawn at random to win e-copies of the book. I’ll announce the winners on my website on April 10th.

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1. What is your writing process like?

It’s changed a lot over the last year. When I first started writing I would wait until the “mood” struck and I would sneak into a corner and write for a few hours. It took me quite a while to get through my first novel, and there was a lot of going back and reading what I’d already written. I have the memory of a goldfish and I couldn’t start writing without going back and figuring out where I was in the story.

Now I try to write a little every day (usually between 1500 and 3000 words if I can squeeze it in). It makes more sense for me, otherwise I forget where I was and it takes me a while to get back into it.

2. Name three literature characters that you would love to have dinner with?

1. Claire Waverly from Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

2. Porter from Art of Death by Ana Bosch

3. Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

It would definitely be an interesting meal with a modern-day witch, an undead artist and a genius kid.

3. How/why did you start writing romance?
It’s what I enjoy reading, so it was a natural transition from reader to writer for me, plus I really like happily ever afters, and most characters get those in romance.

4. Do you have a favorite scene in any of your books?

There are a few I like, but the one that is sticking out in my head right now is the scene where Bran takes Evan to the “toy” shop. Evan has had very little experience with anything like that before, and he’s just kind of thrown into it. He handles it like a champ though.

5. What is your dream vacation?

I love to travel. If I won the lottery, I don’t think I would ever come home again. I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few places so far. I’d love to go back to Europe and hop around South America, but other than the coast of Oregon, my absolute favourite place to visit is Disneyland. It is impossible to have a bad day in Disney. Last year, Xto and I went and managed to get the flu the day after we arrived. To top it off, it was 50 degrees and raining hard enough that the bobsleds on the Matterhorn were like individual bathtubs. We still had an awesome time.

6. Are you more an angst or fluff type?

My writing is pretty fluffy. I am a sucker for the ooey gooey romantic stuff. There is some angst thrown in there to (hopefully) balance it all out, but I can’t have a story without a little fluff.

In the books I read, I’m happy with either as long as everything is resolved by the end.

7. What is the most important thing you’ve learned from the publishing process?

To remember why I’m doing this. The excitement of getting published has been awesome, and doing interviews like this one is pretty amazing, but there are also some challenges that I am likely to face in the next little while. I know other authors that are discouraged by bad reviews or negative things that people say about them or their writing. I think what happens sometimes is that people get so caught up in what happens after you hit the “send” button that they forget why they started writing in the first place.

8. Do you write with music? If so, what kind?

No, I find it incredibly difficult to focus if there are other distractions in the room. I do use music though, to get myself in a certain headspace for a scene. I’ll listen to a certain song that I feel fits with a certain part and then write once it’s over. It’s especially helpful if I’ve left off in the middle of a scene and need to get back to where I was.

9. If you were lost on a desert island, what three things would you miss the most? Or what three men would you want with you?

I have nothing but men on this desert island? I can’t complain too much about that!

Really though, I would pretty much die without my Kindle. My family vacations in Hawaii at Christmas every year and I spend 50% of my time on the beach reading. Secondly, my family (or at least a phone to contact them). My parents, my sister, and I are closer than any family probably should be. I talk to each of them at least once a day if possible, and our chats run pretty long. My husband is grateful that we have a good long distance plan or we would be completely broke!

And lastly, my husband (is that too obvious?) We’re newlyweds though, so I haven’t had time to get sick of him yet! 😉

10. Favorite drink ? Food?

Food? Anything that isn’t good for me.

Drink? Day to day I live off of caffeinated beverages; coffee and coke zero. If we’re out for dinner, I prefer Irish beer; Smithwicks if they have it (although most places don’t).

11. The power to fly or the power to read minds? Why?

Oh God. I would have to choose mind reading (although I think that may have quite a few drawbacks), but flying is one of my biggest fears, trumped only by public speaking and spiders). Let’s just say that I am grateful for airport bars.

12. Any favorite m/m authors?

Far too many to name. The list of m/m authors whose work I don’t enjoy is a much shorter list then those I do.

Leave an excerpt of your book of WIP

Since we talked about the toy shop scene, here is a section of it:

Evan gulped audibly. “Nipple clamps? What’s the draw of those?”

Bran laughed, his good humor returning despite his best efforts to remain impartial and distant. He slid his hand through Evan’s hair, ruffling it slightly as he pulled the other man toward him. “We really do need to get you an education, don’t we? Now’s as good a time as any.”

They walked into the store, closer together than two platonic friends should be. Evan didn’t make any attempt to pull away with Bran so close. It made Bran feel warmer, happier. He was totally fucked.

Evan’s first foray into sex toys was quite the experience for him, or so Bran assumed. He had taken all the teasing and ribbing like a champ, smiling and laughing instead of freaking out every time Bran tried to shock him with a story or new toy.

They explored the world of cock rings first—something relatively innocuous—and picked out a few to use on set. For the most part, cock rings weren’t needed, but they came in lots of colors, and Bran let Evan choose a handful to buy.

The next destination on their journey of discovery was the dildos. Bran tried his best not to crack up at Evan’s expression. Bran of course had seen it all before, but watching Evan experiencing the different shapes, and especially sizes, was a sight to behold. He was like a kid at the zoo, seeing an alligator being fed close up for the first time. There was deep fascination thinly veiling sheer horror painted across his face.

In the end, Evan seemed to have made a smooth transition from naïve and innocent to curious and horny as hell. He wasn’t a small guy in the dick department, and he was visibly excited over some of their purchases. Although when you were an eighteen-year-old, it was tough to hide your enthusiasm over anything, so Bran tried not to put too much stock into his reaction. He remembered being eighteen. He might have even fucked a girl if one had let him.

Here is the official blurb for Keeping Sweets:

Days away from high school graduation, with hardly a penny to his name, Evan Lowry needs to earn money for college. When he comes across an ad for modeling, he thinks his luck has changed—until he learns he’s interviewing for an adult film and will be expected to have sex. On camera. With other men.
For gay porn star Brandon Court, the shine has worn off of regular shoots. He and his producer, Les, decide to try something new: a reality-show porno set at a beach house. When he meets wide-eyed and naïve Evan for the first time, Brandon isn’t sure if he wants the kid to get lost or get naked. Naked wins.
On set, Brandon takes Evan under his wing, and over the next month, they are thrown together in every intimate way conceivable—except emotionally. Both Brandon and Evan are terrified of trying for anything deeper, and insecurities and doubts wear on their hopes, but the chemistry between them won’t let them slow things down.
E-Book: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3620
Paperback: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3621

Bio:

Cate Ashwood wrote her very first story in a hot pink binder when she was in the second grade and found her passion for writing. Her first successful foray into romance writing came five years later when she wrote her best friend, who was experiencing a case of unrequited love, her own happily ever after.
Cate’s life has taken a number of different and adventurous roads. She now lives a stone’s throw from the ocean, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband and two cats. Her life is filled with family and friends, travel, and, of course, books.
Cate loves to hear from readers. You can find her here:
Website: http://www.cateashwood.com
Blog: http://cateashwood.blogspot.ca/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cate.ashwood
Twitter: https://twitter.com/cateashwood

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Guest Visit from Rebecca Cohen

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It’s my pleasure to welcome Rebecca Cohen to my blog. She’s discussing medicine and injuries for research in historical novels. Come and read the amazing things she has to say here:

Unsurprisingly, since I’ve written two of them already in my short writing career I love a good historical. As a reader, I like to be drawn in to the little day-to-day details but not be given a history lecture, and as a writer I really enjoy the research that underpins the story. What I really like is finding out something that makes me go, “Really? Surely not!”

I have a particular interest in historical medicine, again hardly a shock given I studied microbiology and virology as an undergrad at university (yes, a whole degree about things that kill people). I was genuinely surprised about how certain illnesses and injuries were treated in the Elizabethan era. Anthony picks up an injury in Duty to the Crown – he should know better than to get involved in duels – and this gave me the excuse to see how he would be treated. Henry VIII famously survived a nasty jousting accident when he was a younger man, and just imagine how English history would have changed if he hadn’t. Many treatments for wounds evolved from battlefield medicine, if you don’t believe me look the development of plastic surgery (but that would a topic for a different post and historical period). Although a far cry from modern medicine there are things that an Elizabethan physician would do that aren’t so different from today. For example, gaping wounds were cleaned with vinegar and stitched up using cat gut or silk, although they were a long way from being disposable sutures we know today.

Excerpt:

Sebastian reentered Anthony’s room. Dr. Langton had helped Anthony remove the rest of his clothes and Anthony now sat propped upright in the bed. The physician, in his long dark robe, was bent over stitching Anthony’s wound closed. Anthony sat with his head tipped back and his eyes scrunched shut, biting down on a piece of leather as the doctor worked on him. The wound was bathed again and redressed in more clean cloths. Dr. Langton removed the piece of leather from Anthony’s mouth, wetted another cloth, and wiped Anthony’s face to remove the perspiration. “All done, my lord. You need to rest now and move as little as possible so not to tear your stitches.”

“I will ensure that he does,” said Sebastian.

Dr. Langton turned to him and bowed. “Lady Bronwyn.”

“Will His Grace be all right?”

“As long as he rests and keeps the wound covered, then he should recover fully. I understand it was your maid that applied the first set of bandages.”

“Yes, Miriam.”

“She did an excellent job—for a woman. But she should be more than capable of changing the dressing as needed. I will also have the apothecary make up a draft to manage the pain and others to help rebalance the humors.”

“I can’t thank you enough for coming so quickly, Dr. Langton.” Sebastian glided over to the nightstand on the other side of the bed to where the physician was standing, and removed a gold coin from Anthony’s coin purse. He pressed it into Langton’s palm. “This should recompense you for your services.”

He nodded as he accepted the coin. “Thank you, my lady. You will need to pay the apothecary directly for the drafts. I will ensure that they are with you by the end of the day.”

“Wallace, the steward, will see to that.”

The physician left, leaving Sebastian and Anthony alone. “That looked unpleasant,” said Sebastian.

Anthony grimaced. “It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life—I never want to have stitches again. Now come back and lie on the bed. You can mop my brow and pander to my every need.”

“Your only needs are bed rest and sleep,” replied Sebastian, but took the place on the bed where he had been before Dr. Langton had arrived.

“I disagree; I have many needs.”

“That may be so, but first you need rest. And that means every part of your body.”

“Now I have an even more compelling reason for hating that damn cur, Valois!”

But as well as the important things like medicine, I love the mundane stuff as well. Did you know that the first match didn’t show up until the 1680s (thanks to phosphorus being discovered in 1669), and the friction match wasn’t invented until 1827, so this was too late for my story. Also, it wasn’t until the Stuart era that people started to use forks at the dinner table.

So as you can see, I’m pretty much a history nerd. Better get back to those books if I want to dig out more for next in the series.

Links:

Blog: http://rebeccacohenwrites.wordpress.com/

Duty to the Crown: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3637

Duty to the Crown:

Despite the uncomfortable clothing and the gossip at court, Sebastian Hewel is still enjoying the role of Lady Bronwyn, wife of Earl Anthony Crofton. But when Queen Elizabeth asks a favor of Anthony, Sebastian’s world fractures and his heart threatens to break. The Queen wants Anthony to seduce Marie Valois, the beautiful daughter of a French noble, to discover the whereabouts of her father, who is wanted by the King of France.

Sebastian knows Anthony can’t refuse the Queen, especially since he has something of a reputation at court. But the situation is further complicated when Marie meets Sebastian without his disguise—and starts flirting with him. Her brother, Nicholas, arrives at Crofton Hall, not happy that his sister has been linked to a man like Anthony, only to find his own head turned by Lady Bronwyn and her acerbic wit. Contending with the attentions of both siblings—and a very jealous Anthony—would be bad enough. But then Sebastian’s uncle demands Sebastian and Anthony stage Bronwyn’s death to avoid discovery….

Wow!

I just peeked over at Amazon (I have no reviews there and feel less nervous to look, LOL), and I was shocked how well Exposed is doing! It is an amazing feeling. What truly blew me away and made me do a happy dance all around the house is that I am right next to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray. How amazing is that?!

It’s incredible. I’m so honored and shocked. And um…slightly freaking out.

 

A Visit From Chris T. Kat

Skylar, thank you very much for having me on your blog! I’m excited to share my new release Too Good To Be True?, which is a sequel to Seizing It, with you and your readers. It released on February 27th.

Too Good To Be True? is an m/m contemporary romance story. The main characters are Kit (Nikita) Hall and Dale Miller. They’ve met and fallen in love three months ago. Kit works as a receptionist in a veterinary clinic and in addition is a freelancer (translations). Dale Miller is a veterinarian and Kit’s new boss.

Kit is also epileptic, which he tried to hide from Dale in the events of Seizing It. In Too Good To Be True? Dale is well aware of Kit’s epilepsy and fears for his lovers health because he recognizes Kit’s increasing stress level. At first he doesn’t know why Kit’s health is taking a turn for the worse but he does his best to support Kit—even when Kit tries to block him.

But that’s not all Kit has to deal with. Before he met Dale he had been together with a man called Hutch who abused him. That relationship ended in an assault and Hutch now resides in a psychiatric clinic. Still, the relationship has left scars on Kit’s soul. He’s scared to trust anyone, to open up and be vulnerable again. He constantly bounces between shy and aggressive because he doesn’t know how to handle his emotions and Dale’s good-natured personality. He just knows he’s drawn to Dale in a way he’s never felt before.

Kit and Dale simply “clicked” but their love is put to the test when Kit’s epilepsy spirals out of control and Kit’s flashbacks take a toll on him. So far, Kit has resisted any kind of help to cope with his trauma. For a long time he suppressed the hurtful memories and declined to come to terms with the abuse from Hutch. In Too Good To Be True? everything seems to fall apart for Kit, especially when Dale grows frustrated with Kit. Has life been too good to be true? Find out in the sequel to Seizing It!

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Sequel to Seizing It

Buy link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3604

Blurb:

Three months after Kit falls in love with Dale, his epilepsy takes a turn for the worse and his nightmares and flashbacks about his abusive ex intensify. His work at the veterinary clinic and as a freelance translator only adds to the stress. As Kit’s life flies out of his control, his last tether of sanity frays as Dale grows frustrated with Kit’s stubborn independence.

Dale wants to be Kit’s rock—to step in to help—but the walls Kit builds may be too hard to break through.

Excerpt from Chapter Four:

My head snapped back to look at him. His face was grim, his eyes blazing. I couldn’t keep up the eye contact.

Apologizing wouldn’t do it anymore, I realized. Shivers surged through me, and I wrapped my arms around my torso, not for the first time wishing I would think before speaking.

“Oh for crying out loud! Kit!”

Strong arms engulfed me, lifted me off my feet for a moment, and I clung to him like I had never clung to anyone before. “Don’t leave. Don’t leave. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, please, Dale, I swear, I didn’t!”

“You accused me of causing you to have a seizure if I want to talk to you, Kit.”

I heard Jackson yipping before a wet tongue licked over one of my hands that fisted Dale’s shirt. My hand shook when I pried it away from Dale’s shirt and instead patted my dog’s head. In a trembling voice, I said, “Yeah, you got one stupid owner.”

“Don’t.”

“But I am. I never want to act like I do, and yet I still do. Isn’t there some kind of training I can try?”

“You’re always snapping when you feel threatened. It’s what you do. I wish you’d finally trust me enough to know that I’ll stick around and will never hurt you. Never. No matter how much you try to rile me up, I’ll never beat you. I’m not Hutch. You can stop testing me,” Dale said.

For a moment I froze. Was that what I was doing? Challenging him? Trying to see if he really wouldn’t lift his hand against me? “You think that’s what I’m doing?”

“Yes, I do. I understand why you’re doing it, but it gets exhausting after a while. If I was like Hutch, don’t you think I would’ve beaten you up by now?”

“I suppose so.”

“Oh, and there’s another detail. You act extremely bratty before and shortly after a big seizure. You haven’t acted this way since we first met, probably because you took your medication on time and stuck to a well-thought-out daily schedule.”

“I….” I trailed off, frowning. “We’re having exactly the talk you wanted us to have. How did you do that?”

“I’m a tricky bastard.”

“I love you,” I blurted. Suddenly it was of utmost importance to tell him that, not to placate him or anything, but to voice my feelings for him aloud.

“Love you too, kitten.”

“Even if I’m a pest?”

“You’re a good-looking pest.”

Chris T. Kat

Chris T. Kat lives in the middle of Europe, where she shares a house with her husband of many years and their two children. She stumbled upon the M/M genre by luck and was swiftly drawn into it. She divides her time between work, her family—which includes chasing after escaping horses and lugging around huge instruments such as a harp—and writing. She enjoys a variety of genres, such as mystery/suspense, paranormal, and romance. If there’s any spare time, she happily reads for hours, listens to audiobooks or does cross stitch.

Links:

Blog: http://christikat.blogspot.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/christi_kat

GoodReads:http://www.goodreads.com/ChrisTKat

DSP author page: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=605

Thanks for being here, Chris!

A Visit From J.R. Loveless

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Last week’s winner is now well on her way to enjoying the signed copy of His Salvation! I hope she enjoys it. 🙂 Thank you for participating everyone. We are on week six! It’s amazing how fast this is going by! Where has the last five weeks gone? Gosh, sometimes you wonder if we’re all just running to keep up with the world or if we’re really living our lives. This week’s competition is for another tote bag with the His Salvation cover on it. I heard Tali Spencer is really enjoying hers! Keep reading to find out how to enter to win.

I don’t know if you’ve all heard, but I’ll be attending RainbowCon 2014 in April next year. I’m very excited about it and I hope to meet a lot of new people, including some of my readers! I’d love to sit down and have a chat, see what your thoughts are on my books, what questions you had about my characters. Maybe we’ll get that chance next year. It will be the first official convention I will be attending as an author. It is a bit intimidating actually as I have never been comfortable being the center of attention. Thankfully my friend Sui Lynn will be there to hold my hand, LOL. She was my partner in crime in Tennessee when we went to the Silver Publishing Retreat. However, we weren’t in the spotlight so to speak.

Public speaking is a bit of a problem for me. I may seem chatty online, but it’s a lot different being behind a computer screen than being in front of a crowd of people. I was never very good at oral reports or getting up in front of the class for homework. My fear mostly boils down to having been bullied and teased throughout most of my school years. Although I have always been shy even as a little kid, but the majority of it comes to being afraid of being put in the spotlight to be made fun of again when I already had to deal with it. I’ve been through a lot of that, even by family, and it made it hard to really succeed until I was forced out of my shell when I was 19 years old by an ex-boyfriend.

My defense mechanism for my fear of public speaking has gotten me the label of ‘standoffish’ because I tend to hold myself back until I feel more comfortable. The most memorable time that I was told I gave off that sense would have to be when I went to a lesbian club here in Fort Lauderdale called New Moon with my friend and three of her friends. I was standing out front with them, having a cigarette (yes, I did smoke back then), and watching people around me (I am a people watcher lol) when my friend starts talking to this woman and her friend. The woman, a firefighter for a local department, was clearly into my friend while her friend ended up flirting with me. She even gave me her phone number and told me to call her to meet up for lunch. She was a very pretty woman, but I just wasn’t into her. I think I would have taken her friend up on it though, LOL. Just to see if it went anywhere as I kind of found her friend attractive. I think I’ve always been bi-curious, but never acted on it.

Anyway, back to the point, it is going to be very interesting to see how public speaking works for me in the upcoming events. I know when I attended Gay Days in Orlando back in 2011, I found it hard to talk to anyone just walking by like Amy Lane. Oh, now there is a woman who is a shining of example of how outgoing I would love to be. She is the type of person who can pull you into a conversation and keep you interested for hours! She kept pushing me to talk to passersby and people who stopped at the booth. She even advertised my book for me :). But it shows that I tend to need someone to hold my hand for these things to really feel comfortable doing that. When I traveled to California for work last year by myself that was the scariest thing I’d ever done in my life and though I felt exhilarated for having done it, it’s not something I would find easy repeating!

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To enter this week’s contest for the gorgeous tote bag featured in the picture above, all you have to do is comment and tell me what are you intimidated or afraid of in your life? Are you afraid of public speaking as well? Are you intimidated by powerful men/women? Is there something that leaves you shaking in your boots petrified? Do you find it hard to speak your mind? What are you scared of and is there something that caused it?

Thanks for joining me again this week. 🙂 I hope I have managed to keep each week fresh and interesting. As with the previous weeks, below is an excerpt from His Salvation. I did receive an email this week to tell me that His Salvation received a ‘Joyfully Recommended Read’ from joyfullyreviewed.com. Read it here: http://www.joyfullyreviewed.com/recommended-reviews/march-2013-recommended-reads/his-salvation-by-j-r-loveless

 Blurb: In an attempt to atone for his sins and find some solace, ADA Agent Gabriel Romero helps other Deviants in need. But with threats from both sides—Normals and the Deviants who despise them—he finds it harder and harder to outrun his ghosts, especially after a difficult mission to rescue twin brothers held at an enemy compound, where Gabriel meets Alexander Ryker. Gabriel finds his new charge unexpectedly attractive, and that’s a complication he does not want—one he thinks he doesn’t deserve.

Despite the frosty reception from the stubborn agent who rescued him, sheltered telepath Alex feels an instant connection through the pain he sees in Gabriel’s eyes, and he does everything he can to gain his attention. The realities he must face while mastering his ability are hard, but failing to learn to defend himself is not an option. Soon he’ll need his newfound strength to convince Gabriel he deserves to live and love again.

Excerpt:

“FIGHTING for your life isn’t about being tough or macho,” Jackal stated calmly, twisting the large, very sharp double edged knife in his hands expertly. “It’s about staying alive. It’s about being focused on a goal and achieving that goal by any means necessary.”

Alex eyed the shiny blade warily. He still didn’t want to do this, but if Gabriel wanted him to learn it, he would.

“You have to let go of who you are and how you think. Holding back isn’t going to save your life or anyone else’s. It’s just going to leave you open for your attacker to hurt you and kill you.” Jackal suddenly spun and threw the knife toward the nearby target. The knife hit with a very loud thwack and Alex winced, biting his lip hard.

Striding forward, Jackal yanked the knife out of the target. “I’m going to show you how to disarm your attacker, where to strike to take them out, and the best types of blades to use. This is a double edged blade and is one of the better blades to use since both sides are sharp and you can use either edge to cut your attacker.” He turned the blade around and grabbed Alex’s wrist, setting the handle in his hand. “The handle should be slightly longer than your palm so that you can strike your opponent with it. Like this one, some knives have a metal pommel on the butt to make striking more effective.

“One of the biggest indicators of an opponent’s skill with a knife is the hold they have on the handle. There are four styles of grip: a fencer’s grip, the hammer grip, the reverse grip, and the ice pick grip. The fencer’s grip, the one I least recommend, as if your hand is struck you may very well drop the knife, is when you hold the handle between your thumb and forefinger, allowing the other fingers to wrap loosely around the rest of the handle.” Jackal moved Alex’s fingers, showing him the grip. “Ever seen the way a fencer holds their weapon? The point is held out toward your attacker, but despite allowing you maximum reach for the blade, it’s the least effective of the four.”

Jackal repositioned the knife, turning the blade along Alex’s wrist, one edge facing outward. “This is the reverse grip. You’ll see the blade is run along the inside of your wrist. The grip hides the knife, but in order to strike your attacker you have to be close to them. Also not a grip I would necessarily recommend, as it puts you in reach of your opponent.

“The ice pick is just what it implies. The handle is held in your fist with the knife pointing downward,” Jackal instructed as he once again moved the knife. “It allows you maximum penetration when trying to cut through protective clothing or body armor. Also not one I would recommend, as you leave your chest open for a strike and easily indicate your attack to your opponent.”

“There’s so much to remember,” Alex murmured softly, shivering at the feel of the heavy handle in his palm. “What’s the fourth grip?”

“The fourth and most effective is the hammer grip. You hold it like you would a hammer, in a tight fist with the blade pointing up and one edge pointing outward. Keep your wrist flexible as you move. Your attacker is less likely to knock the blade from your hand, and it allows you to use the butt of the knife to strike with if necessary. You can use this grip to slash, chop, or thrust the knife at your opponent.”

Jackal moved behind Alex, kicking his feet slightly apart and putting his right hand under Alex’s right elbow while gripping his left wrist and pulling it into his lower stomach.

“The next important technique is your stance. You also want to hold the knife out in front of your body with your free hand close to your midsection to protect your vital areas. Your free hand is like a shield, yet you can also use it to parry, throw anything you can, distract them, balance yourself, or even grab your attacker’s weapon. Just remember, it’s better they cut your hand than to lose your life.”

Stepping around Alex, Jackal slid another knife from his weapons vest. “The first thing you want to do is look for open targets. They don’t always have to be vital areas. Most people skilled in knife fighting will protect those areas instinctively. Drawing first blood is a psychological thing and gives you a huge advantage. Regardless of where you hit, keep striking them. Disabling them by going for the weapon hand is a good course of action as well.

“A simple cut or stab wound will not stop your attacker. Even a direct stab to the heart can still give them the chance to retaliate. There are multiple soft spots and major arteries in the body. The main ones are here”—Jackal touched the cool steel of the blade to the side of Alex’s neck—“here”—he lifted Alex’s arm and indicated the fleshy underside of Alex’s bicep—“and here.” Jackal pressed the knife close to his groin.

“Your opponent will bleed out in minutes, maybe even seconds if the cut is deep enough.”

Alex’s eyes widened, and he stepped back. “I… I don’t know if I can do this.” The idea of actually taking someone’s life caused his stomach to churn. How could he possibly kill someone?

Frowning, Jackal replied, “You may not have a choice, Alex. Whether you like it or not, you are a Deviant. We don’t always have the chance to decide if we want to kill someone. If someone is attacking you and intends on killing you, it’s either kill them first or be killed. There are several places you can cut muscles or tendons to disable your opponent, but only disabling them still gives them the opportunity to attack you again. It’s also not a smart idea, as you really have to get close to them in order to hit the right tendon.”

Alex wanted to go back to the farm, to be safe with his Grams again. He didn’t ask to be a Deviant. He didn’t even have an active ability like his brother did. Why would anyone think he was dangerous? His eyes burned as his chest tightened, and he rubbed at his heart. Despite knowing Jackal spoke the truth, it still caused bile to rise in his throat, and he found himself unable to speak.

Over the course of the next hour, Jackal instructed him on movement, stance, and disarming his opponent. Some of the moves reminded Alex of the martial arts training he’d already received at the ADA. By the time they’d finished, Alex’s clothing clung wetly to his skin, soaked in sweat. He wiped at his forehead with the back of one hand, holding out the knife to Jackal. Jackal shook his head and gently pushed his hand back to him. “Keep it, kid, it’s yours.”

“But I—”

Jackal cut him short. “Just keep it, Alex. You may never know when you’ll need it.”

He sighed and nodded. Jackal passed him a sheath to carry it in. “You can strap it to your ankle or just carry it in your waistband.”

Jackal stopped him as they were leaving the training room. “I thought like you once, Alex. I didn’t think I could ever hurt someone, could ever allow myself to do it, but watching other Deviants die the night the concentration camp was attacked changed something in me. I saw the hatred, the cruelty those Normals carried inside of them for our kind, and I knew if I wanted to survive I had no choice.” He squeezed Alex’s shoulder lightly. “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want, but we never hurt someone just to hurt them. The people I’ve killed over the years wanted to kill me or one of the people I care about because they fear us, and the fear they carry makes them hate us.”

Alex remembered something Grams once told him and Jason.“People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and that fear makes them do things they wouldn’t normally do. Things that may seem horrifying to others, but to them makes perfect sense at the time.”

The sheath of the knife dug into his palm as Alex’s grip tightened. “I don’t want to be like them.”

Surprise entered Jackal’s face. “You could never be like them, Alex. Defending yourself is not the same as attacking someone for being who they are.”

“Isn’t it the same thing, Jackal?” Alex demanded. “Where is my killing them for hating me any different from them killing me because they hate me?”

Jackal stared at him for a long moment, unable to come up with a response to Alex’s logic. Finally, he sighed and leaned his shoulder against the doorframe. “You are truly a good person, Alex. And I understand what you’re saying, but sometimes those people don’t leave us a choice, and it’s not always the Normals who want to hurt you. Our own kind will also try to do so if they find something to gain from it. Not all of us, but look at Vincetti. The man locks up Deviants, brainwashes them until they agree to join him or they go insane from the constant torture, and doesn’t care one ounce when those Deviants are killed for what he considers his cause.”

Before Alex could reply to Jackal, his entire body sang out, and he closed his eyes, breathing deeply. “Gabriel’s almost here.”

Jackal gaped at Alex. “How can you possibly know that?”

He opened his eyes. “I can feel him,” he stated simply.

“You’ve got it bad, kid,” Jackal teased, lightly punching Alex in the shoulder.

Alex flushed and looked down at the ground. “It’s not about that. I feel a connection to him.”

Cackling, Jackal shot him a look, causing Alex to blush even harder.

He glared at Jackal. “I’m serious!”

“Whatever you say, Alex.”

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