As a follower of this blog, you get first shot at reading all my new material, including books months before their official release. All you have to do is volunteer to be a beta reader! And you guys, I’m so dang excited to share this book with you.
Beta readers, like beta testers of new games, “try out” the content. They have a few tasks:
1. Read the book early and for free.
2. Offer feedback, both what works and what doesn’t.
3. Write a review to post on release day (not required but greatly appreciated).
This particular book also has a bonus number 4, which could earn one of you a special mention in the book itself. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, you’re probably curious about the story! Here’s the quick blurb (as I haven’t yet created the full back matter one):
The story is a short-ish novel, one that you should be able to read in a few sittings (unless you really like to cram, then one sitting). My critique partners thought it was one of my best books, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. I’ll include the beginnings of the first and second chapters (so you can see part of both timelines) at the end of this post. Before that, though, it’s time to inform you about Bonus Beta Task #4:
Help Create a Better Title
While all of my critique partners thought the story was good, 2/3 had this opinion:
For the record, they didn’t actually say I should feel bad. They did say it sounded like the title of a legal thriller type story and it wouldn’t sell the book. So, it’s gotta go. However, brainstorming a new one looked something like this:
That’s one big, title-free field.
So, if you, as a beta reader, help me come up with the winning title, you’ll be mentioned in the acknowledgements, in at least one blog post and across my social media posts, and receive a free, signed paperback upon publication. You can use an alias if you’re shy.
If you’re interested in beta reading the book currently known as Dreams of Justice, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the Contact Me page (though that page sometimes loses messages. If you do that and I don’t answer, use the direct email address or comment on this post). I’ll reply with the link you need to download your copy.
And if you’re still not convinced to jump on board, here’s the beginning of the first two chapters. Enjoy!
Beth stumbled through the kitchen door, clutching a bulging paper sack in each arm. Clumsily setting them on the worktop, she exhaled. “Heavy buggers.”
After shaking out her arms and turning on the small black-and-white TV set, she pulled a box of cereal and a bag of apples from a sack. She kept half of her attention on the screen while she put away the groceries—she’d been looking forward to today’s event, the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana, since she first heard of their engagement. Beth would have given anything to attend Tammy’s party, where she could watch the nuptials while munching on delicate finger foods and predicting the names of the future royal children. But she couldn’t neglect her responsibilities, even for something this important. The best she could do was catch the story on the evening news.
With a bottle of oil in one hand and her eyes on the screen, Beth ran her other hand over her sleeve’s worn cotton, imagining what the elegant lace of Lady Diana’s dress must have felt like. Closing her eyes, Beth pictured herself as royalty, standing on a balcony above a mass of people, all of them adoring her and caught up in the romance—her romance. Why can’t I have that?
Her chest filled with longing. As she did countless times before, she took long breaths to bury the feeling.
She gasped and dropped the bottle. It bounced off the worktop edge. She lunged for it. It grazed her fingers but shattered on the tile, splashing pale oil on the floor and her shoes.
“Shit!” Beth picked up the pieces of broken glass in her fingertips and dropped them into the sink. She grabbed a towel and wiped the mess, but that only spread it around. She cursed the car that had backfired so close to her house. As the announcers on TV narrated Diana’s dream come true, Beth struggled to redeem her status as a perfect housewife before Ray got home. A glance at the clock told her that would be any minute now.
She rinsed the towel and squeezed out the water, checking the time again as she returned to wiping the floor. The towel picked up a frustratingly small amount. With another rinse and squeeze, Beth tried to keep her nerves from getting the better of her. What would Ray say if this mess was still here when he got home?
She shook her head—silly girl. He didn’t come home angry every day, and on most of the days he did, he hid away in the bedroom, coming out only to order food be brought to him. Maybe it would be good for him to come home angry, if it meant he wouldn’t see the mess. Am I really hoping for that?
The front door creaked open, and Beth’s eyes darted around the kitchen. She’d only managed to get half of the oil wiped up. If she kept cleaning, Ray would definitely know what a klutz she was. But if she could steer him around the slippery spots until he was gone again, he might miss the spill entirely.
“Honey, where are you?” The door clicked shut.
Damn, he’s in a good mood. “Um . . . I’m in here.” Beth squeezed out the towel, leaving a coating of oil on her hands, and draped it on the side of the sink. She stood in front of the largest part of the spill, in the corner.
Ray found her and bent down, kissing her on the cheek. His brown curls were damp; he must have been caught in the rain on his walk home from the tube.
“What are you doing? Your face is all red.” Reaching over her head, he retrieved a glass from the cupboard. If she hadn’t been standing there, he would have stepped in the mess.
Beth swallowed the lump in her throat. “Oh, it’s nothing. I was just watching.” She gestured to the TV, where Lady Diana stood hand-in-hand with her prince, smiling at her adoring subjects. “Got me a bit choked up is all.”
Huffing, Ray stepped around her to reach the bottle on the other side of the sink, stepping on the tiles she’d cleaned up. He poured amber liquid into his glass. “A bunch of silly nonsense. Waste of money, if you ask me.” Turning, he slipped and stumbled against the worktop, splashing his drink on his jacket. He glided his foot across the tile, then eyed the space behind her. “What happened here?” A scowl took over his face.
“Oh.” Heart pounding, Beth stepped into his line of vision. “I dropped some oil.” She waved her hand, as if he’d wave off the accident just as easily. “I was cleaning it up when you got here.” Her pasted-on smile might be enough to keep a lid on his temper. She reached around him, retrieving the towel.
“How much oil?” Ray set the glass on the counter and bent down. “It looks like a bloody lot.”
“It’s nothing, really. It spreads out, you know?” Beth crouched, wiping the mess while keeping an eye on her husband in her peripheral vision.
He stood tall over her, finally breaking his long silence with, “I’m not made of money.” On his way to the bedroom, he snatched the newspaper off the table. “I’ll have supper in the bedroom.”
Beth released the tension in her shoulders, relieved to finish cleaning without interruption.
The news broadcast cut to commercial, and Beth stood and shut off the set. After another towel rinse, she returned to her chore.
Despite her girlish notions, she didn’t envy the royals. They were distant, living in a fairy tale world. Sometimes a twinge of jealousy would hit her at work, when Tammy would show off a new bracelet, or when a student’s joyously pregnant mum showed up at a meeting.
Beth had wanted those things once. She thought she still did, but how could she change anything? Only two years of marriage had shown her Ray’s ideas of romance and love were wildly different than hers. He’d done a good job of fooling her while they were dating.
“Ow! Bugger!” Beth pulled back the towel. Blood seeped out from under the fingernail she’d pulled back from pressing the towel into the floor so hard.
Oh, well. She had a job to do. Ray wouldn’t wait forever.
Ten minutes later, she held a plate with a sandwich on it and tapped on the bedroom door. When there was no answer, she cracked it open.
Ray was on the bed, reading the paper.
“Hey.” She stepped inside. “I needed that oil to make supper, so I hope you don’t mind this.” She set the plate next to him on the comforter.
Sighing, Ray set down the paper and patted the edge of the bed. “Sit down.” He picked up the sandwich and lifted the bread. “Turkey?”
She settled next to him and nodded.
“I got it on sale.”
“You know things are tight, yes?”
“Of course.” She stared at her foot and muttered, “I do the budget.”
“I’m just saying, you have to be careful,” he said through a full mouth. “You can’t toss groceries around like that.”
“I didn’t break the bottle on purpose.” A knot formed in her stomach. She knew not to expect a ‘thank you’ for the sandwich, but she wasn’t expecting a lecture for an accident.
After setting down the plate, Ray tilted his head and reached out for her, brushing her frizzy, strawberry-blonde curls away from her face.
She held her breath. What would he say? During their courtship, he did this when he told her he loved her. But that hadn’t happened since the wedding. She tried to remind herself that she was lucky a man as handsome and brave as Ray would want to be with her—it was why she married him. Her friends fawned over him constantly back then, impressed not only at his appearance but also how he’d overcome his past. So, she’d buried the voice telling her something was wrong.
“How will you replace the oil?”
Shifting away from his reach, Beth played with the ends of her hair. “I have a little saved up. And I’ll start getting paid again next month.”
Ray leaned forward, reaching out for her. “Come here.”
She scooted towards him, and he put his hand on the back of her neck. Pulling her to him, he mashed his lips into hers.
His breath tasted of turkey and onion, but Beth assumed the role of willing participant. He seemed to have forgiven her for her clumsiness, and indulging him was the least she could do.
Her mind flashed to the news report of Lady Diana waving over the crowd. She was likely kissing her prince now, but under much different circumstances.
BE A BETA TO FINISH CHAPTER ONE!
New York, Present Day
Sonia looked at the alarm clock in disbelief. It’s morning already? She’d never enjoyed waking up to the needs of someone else’s schedule, but since the insomnia hit, mornings had become strict wardens waiting to punish her.
Though, she couldn’t exactly call what she experienced insomnia. Sleeping wasn’t the problem. Was there a name for dreams that wouldn’t let you rest?
Moving out from under the covers, Sonia shoved her orange, long-haired cat, Ginger, away from where she’d been sleeping on Sonia’s legs. The cat grudgingly slithered to Chris’s empty side of the bed, glaring at Sonia as she settled again. Sonia laughed. Moving six inches was apparently the greatest inconvenience.
The sound of the running shower came through the bathroom door. She slid into the jeans she’d worn yesterday to accompany Chris’s old Nirvana T-shirt, which had become a favorite piece of sleepwear. While she waited for her turn in the bathroom, she headed to the kitchen, selected a K-cup with the strongest roast, and brewed a cup. I’ll need all the caffeine I can get today. As she poured cream into her coffee, she did her best to keep her hand from shaking and the images from her mind. She rubbed her back, sore from the memories of her dreams, however that was possible.
With her hip against the counter, Sonia sipped her coffee and scrolled through the news on her phone. Chris strolled in wearing his freshly pressed suit and a huge grin. “Good morning, beautiful.” Wrapping his arm around her waist from behind, he reached over her head for a mug while kissing her cheek.
She smiled, allowing his affection to bring her back to her real life. “Hey, babe. You look handsome. Big meeting today?”
He set the mug under the Keurig and put a new K-cup into the machine. “Well, since you asked . . . I have a video conference call with the VP.” He started the brew cycle. “Apparently, we won the bid for a huge project, and rumor has it, I’ll be in charge of it.”
“Are you serious?” Sonia spun around to see her fiancé giving her a flirty grin. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” She playfully smacked him on the chest.
“Hey, be nice.” He rubbed his chest as if her hit actually hurt. “I wanted to surprise you.”
“Well, I’m surprised.” A stabbing pain hit her ribs again, causing her to wince. She brought her hand to them.
“Are you going to see a doctor about that?” He pulled the mug from the brewer before it finished dripping and sipped it immediately.
She rubbed her ribs a few seconds longer. “It’s nothing. I just slept funny.” Her stomach knotted at the memories of the dream.
“Sonia,” Chris reached out and took her hand, “this has been going on long enough to assume it won’t go away on its own. Please. Do it for me.”
“I don’t already do it for you?” Smirking, she gazed at the contrast of his pale fingers against her dark brown ones. “I’ll call the chiropractor if it doesn’t get better. How’s that?”
“That’s something, I guess. Let me know if I can help with a massage later.” His eyebrows jumped a few times.
Sonia laughed. “Deal. I gotta get ready for the day.” She set her coffee on the counter and leaned over to Chris for a quick kiss. “I love you.”
“Love you too. Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need it. It’s a perk of being the best.”
“Come on, robot. Just a little?” He pouted.
She shook her head and turned for the bathroom. “Text me when you’ve got the project.”
As she showered and dressed, Sonia forced a song to play on a loop in her head to keep the images out. On her way through the apartment building and to the subway, she tried to focus on the day ahead—two lectures, office hours for her advisees, and probably a meeting with the Biology Department chair. If she was lucky, she might have time for lunch. She took solace in the fact that her colleagues, all of whom had at least ten years’ experience, seemed to have more free time. Maybe being spread so thin was a simple reality of all first-year professors. She had the impression that asking for any time off would be difficult at best and could hurt her chances for advancement. No worries for now, though. She wouldn’t need any time off until she and Chris were on their honeymoon, and they hadn’t even set a wedding date.
After boarding the train and settling into the seat nearest the door, Sonia checked her reflection in the window. Chris hadn’t said anything, but she looked tired. She’d taken to pulling her black curls into a ponytail instead of maintaining her natural hair, and her eyes were puffy. It didn’t matter how many hours of sleep she got; her dreams robbed her of any energy those hours might have provided. They’d grown more frequent and intense over the last few months but always featured the same events: an attack, falling to the floor, and a blade stabbing her over and over.
Sometimes the knife slid neatly between her vertebrae, and sometimes it was shoved through her shoulder blade. Last night it pierced her ribcage and lung, hindering her efforts to breathe normally. She’d complained about the resulting pain enough for Chris to bug her about going to the doctor, but how would a doctor help her with dream-related injuries?
She brought her hand to her ribs again.
BE A BETA TO READ THE REST!