Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pre-RELEASE BUZZ - Week 5: Prince of Blood and Steel by A.J. Elmore & Nazarea Andrews

Welcome to Week 5 of the Pre-RELEASE BUZZ for Nazarea Andrews & A.J. Elmore's debut novel as co-authors...

With only days away from the release of Prince of Blood and Steel, we have come to the final teaser before this new novel hits bookstores!

New Adult
The Morgan Syndicate Series
Publish Date:
January 30, 2014
A&A Literary

Seth Morgan has returned home after two years spent building an alliance that will take his family's crime syndicate to a new level in New York City's black collar society. He expects a warm welcome as heir of the Morgan empire. He hopes to finally marry Nicolette, the woman he's loved his whole life.

What he finds is a different world, one where his family's legacy is in ruins. His big brother, Caleb, has changed into someone cold and bitter, plotting to overthrow their patriarch. And Nicolette, daughter of the criminal banking industry, has left the family entirely.

When a vicious misunderstanding leaves Caleb dead, Seth is left reeling. Desperate for truth, Seth is forced to turn to his only remaining cousin, Emma, for support. As he tries to mend his relationship with Nicolette, he begins a search for answers that will take him from the dirty streets to the highest reaches of their illicit empire.

Torn between the desire to protect those who mean the most to him, and a need to learn more about Caleb's death, he grows distant to protect them. As each secret surfaces, he realizes that the only way to restore his family is to take his place at its head, and fully embrace the brutal way they live.


The final teaser this week is actually the first two chapters!! How cool is that!?!
Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City. October 16, 2011
Rain pounds on the tops of two huge black umbrellas, one slightly higher than the other. Two brothers stand as the remnants of a long and winding funeral party that has already departed to seek shelter at a reception organized for the mourners. The brothers have been silent since well before the line of tossed roses ended. Their uncle had stood beside them for some time, wearing heartbreak on his face, watching the men in parkas doing their ghastly work. Even he had turned away when the casket began to lower.
The world around them is a dreary, soggy weight, but the faces beneath the umbrellas are dry. The taller takes a long pull on a cigarette, hand moving mechanically. Mirrored shades set the scenery at an acceptable visibility, dimming the details. The pole of his umbrella rests against his other shoulder. His knuckles are white against the handle. The shorter, darker brother holds his umbrella in his right hand, abandoned in front of him as if it were some sort of lifeline. His suit jacket rests on his shoulders, covering the sling that will confine his left arm for some time. His deep brown eyes are heavy, with dark pools beneath them. The roots of his teeth are numb. Their shoulders are touching. They ignore the cautious glances from the men who start the machinery that will cover their dead father with the earth from whence he came. Ashes to ashes, or something like that.
The Marzetti clan has been mercilessly slaughtered, wiped from the city's books in a series of well-disguised and strategic hits. Anyone with a direct tie to that family's fronts is as good as dead. Retribution seems little more than routine on a day like this.
“He didn't talk to me,” says Caleb, the taller, older brother who has no regard for the serenity of silence he destroys. The younger, Seth, looks questioningly to him, searching Caleb's blank mask for some explanation. He can't tell where his brother is looking and, for some reason, it makes him angry. “He didn't have any last words of wisdom for me,” Caleb says, face front, voice carefully neutral. He introspectively hits his cigarette.
Seth gasps, unable to hide his raw emotions from his family after upholding his charade of 'dealing with it' all day. He had presumed, after the way they had woken him from dead sleep the night his dad died, and rushed him upstairs to speak to his father alone, that Caleb had already had his time with their dad. What Seth's brother is telling him now is that the scene didn't play out that way. His dad's last words play so differently with that change in perspective.
Caleb watches the mud dripping from the mouth of the backhoe as it struggles against the waterlogged ground. He imagines the grave filling with rain before they can cover it, and all Gabe’s transgressions and guilt float to the surface. How many skeletons would that flood unearth? Mud to mud, that is all it comes down to in the end. “He didn't talk to Mikie, either,” he continues, battling against an irrational aggravation at his brother's innocence and surprise.
Seth looks away, eyes unwittingly falling on the same sullied scene as Caleb's. What a fittingly messy tribute to a gruesomely mucked up circumstance. Slowly, deliberately, he answers, “He said that if you find yourself cold inside, you're not fit to be a king.”
Seth can sense the tension take hold of Caleb. He can feel muscles pull and tighten beside him, though Caleb never moves. Seth recognizes the storm that takes his brother, he has seen it a thousand times. Caleb has always been chillingly good at hiding his feelings, but Seth knows them all as well as his own. Caleb is partly jealous, partly crushed that a birthright that should fall to the eldest son has instead gone to the younger. Seth looks back to the other, knowing without a doubt that Caleb can feel the attention. The cigarette burns unheeded. “Family is most important—”
“Don't mock me!” Caleb cries. What is left of his cigarette snaps in his fingers. Ash scatters into the rain as he flings the pieces at the ground.
Seth sighs. Maybe it is too soon to talk about it. Caleb only ever works at his own pace, and he hardly lets anyone in on his progress. Seth looks to his mud-covered shoes. “I love you, Caleb,” he says, voice barely audible over the hum of the heavy equipment.
He sees Caleb in his periphery, watches him jerk his shades off to rub at his eyes with the back of hand. He hears him sigh, too. “I love you too, Seth,” he whispers, and fixes the sunglasses firmly back in place. Only then does he allow himself to glance at his sibling, who looks so much like his dad.

Part One
Coup de Main

Chapter 1

Louis Blues and Booze, New York City. January 19, 2013.

He is sitting at the bar, drinking Gentleman Jack on the rocks. The bar is trimmed in neon yellow paled by frosty glass. His back is to her, but he knows she's there.
She sits in a booth for two with vinyl seat covers the color of midnight. She wears a little black dress. She's sipping on a Manhattan, dry. Two more collect condensation beside her. She could be wasted, but she's not. She doesn't want charity drinks from men who want her number. She doesn't even see what they look like anymore when the cocktail server brings them.
Seth can't help but overhear a group of guys his age debating why she hasn’t touched the drinks they bought for her. They don't know her; he takes pity on them. “She's here for the band,” he says without looking at them.
Their chatter dies away as they turn their pack-animal eyes to him. He's wearing a white button-down shirt with a black tie, knot hanging halfway down his chest. His top two buttons are undone, and he's wearing expensive jeans. They don't know what to think of him in their Armani suits and their professional haircuts. One of them snorts indignantly. “This guy has been burned one too many times,” Mr. Corporate laughs, exuding masculinity.
Seth smiles. Once—he's only been burned once. How can he explain that when you're as rich as he is, it only takes once? They cease to be worth his time. They don't understand the situation upon which they have happened, and they obviously don't know him. That's the problem with these uppity types, they never appreciate anything.
Finally, he swivels to face her, muse of his dreams. He orders white wine, Riesling, from the bartender in a bow tie who has suddenly materialized behind him. The professional brigade is bolstered by superiority, the irresistible self, and they snicker at him. He catches the closest server with merely a glance. She blushes. Most likely, she knows who he is. It’s been two years, but he wasn’t forgotten. “Will you please take this to the lady at the booth over there?” he asks, setting the glass carefully in the center of her tray.
“With all due respect, sir, she hasn't touched any gifts yet this evening,” the server says, eyes glancing toward the suits with whom she did not share the same advice, then back to the godly creature before her. Yes, they are suddenly watching the exchange with hardly disguised interest.
Seth smiles. He understands,—the drink is overkill at this point. He slips a ten dollar bill beside his wine and lets his smile disarm. His brother always told him that it didn't matter what he actually said, as long as he smiled. The server's disappointment shows as her expression falls. Seth knows she'd just as soon offer herself in the place of the cool lady across the room, but she leaves him with only two words. “Thank you.”
Seth chases away thoughts of his brother with a deep drink and the thickness of anticipation. He has only been back in town for a couple of weeks. He has stayed off the radar so far, hasn't even seen the brother he has sorely missed, or Emma, or the rest of his family. The city must have time to forgive him for leaving, and he must have time to learn his city from an entirely changed perspective; as an outsider, like he never could before he left.
He's heard things have changed. He's heard that power has been shifting behind closed doors. Even after two years, old connections aren't hard to rekindle. They tell him that traditions and morals on which his kingdom has been based are now failing, a fact that the little communication he survived upon failed to mention.
He left to gain an ally, to expand the empire. Now, he has seemingly lost his place in his family and it's crumbling at its foundation—all rumors from trusted sources that he doesn't want to believe. It is so much easier to focus on her and this moment than face the inevitable.
The drink is being presented. The cocktail waitress is telling her that the gentleman at the bar wanted her to have this. She's taking the wine with wary stiffness. She says, her voice dazed, “Thank you.”
She stares at the carbonation. The wine is something that comes into one's life like news of the death of someone close, unsolicited and gut-wrenching. She passes the glass under her nose. It is fruity and acidic, inviting. She can imagine its taste, full and citric, and her blood runs cold in her veins. In her mind, she sees the night-time cityscape from a rooftop. His arms are around her. She hears him say, “Someday, we'll rule this city. We'll make it everything we want it to be.” They were drinking Riesling together.
The band has died away. In the now, she forces her body to turn, hoping to see some blundering idiot who just happened to order her favorite wine, oblivious to the memory it summons. But no, her wide eyes find him immediately. He is casual, errantly comfortable, and brown against white, devilishly sexy. He smiles, the bastard, and raises his rocks glass. He is like a living saint among men, washed in holy neon yellow, back from the blackened hells.
Why now, when she has finally stopped believing his family when they tell her that he's still alive? Her hands are shaking.
Beside him, the suits are wondering in hushed tones how he got her attention. He is lost in her eyes, which have been missing from his life for too long. It's like his dreams have stepped out of his head. She looks more amazing than he could have ever remembered. “White wine is her favorite,” he tells the suits, without looking away from her. She breaks eye contact first. “Excuse me,” he adds, downing his courage as he grabs his long, dark coat.
She is collecting her little black bag and her jacket. She moves toward the exit, leaving the wine abandoned on the table. She hasn't tasted it in over two years and tonight is not a good one for reminiscing. She avoids the eyes of strangers, doesn't take the time to put on the jacket as she rushes out of the bar. The biting cold is like a knife to the chest, but his reappearance hurts more. Her breath rises in front of her and, suddenly, she hates the metal and concrete around her. Who would want to rule this? Her mind goes blank. Her heart aches. She feels so much that she feels nothing.
“Please wait!”
His voice grips her, his first words to her in so long. They seize her feet. Despite all her resolve, she is bound by his voice, like black magic. She stops in her tracks, but she will not face him. “You're dead to me,” she spits through her tightening throat. Tears are fighting to surface. She swore that if she ever saw him again, she wouldn't cry. “You're dead to this place.”
“No,” he says to her back. “The city is cold, but she's not that cold. She won't turn her back on one of her own.”
“You abandoned us. What could you possibly want now?” she asks the night.
His voice and presence surround her, pull her in. She sees him in her memory, two summers ago, against the green of Central Park. She can still feel the warm afternoon rays. That had been the day before he told her he was leaving, the last perfect day and the end of a fairy tale in which she can no longer believe. It was for the good of the family, he said. He would come back soon, and everything would be different.
Well, it's different.
“I had to go,” he says.
“For the family, I know,” she says shortly. But it had been too soon after his father's death. The change of power was too new. They had done it for the opportunity, but no one understood how he could leave at a time like that, and as people do—even family—they turned on him. Her jaw clenches. She bites down on her bitterness. “And now your goddamned family is falling apart!” She turns away.
“Then I'll fix it!” Seth calls. He almost watches her walk away. Almost. But he can't. She feels his fingers close around her arm. “Please wait,” begs the man who would die rather than be a beggar.
She whips around upon the contact, pulled by some invisible force. The moment before her open hand connects with his face, her eyes lock onto his. He has to know she really means this. And she smacks the shit out of him. His head snaps to the side, and a tang rises in his mouth. “Dead people don't speak,” she says flatly and rips her arm away from him. Then she turns on her heel, leaves him stinging in the relentless cold, alone with his hot breath that bleeds white upon the freezing air.
“You sure know how to get a girl's attention,” a voice says from behind him. Seth turns. He's not quite alone. It's one of the suits. He's smoking a cigarette and leaning against the railing to the stairs of the bar. A curious expression plays upon the man's face as he studies Seth, as if he might recognize him. Seth makes a sad smile, for he is merely a ghost in this place these days. Once, he would be followed by reporters and cameras. Once.
“Some people are just born with it.” He shrugs, laughing humorlessly into the night. He looks up at the haze of light emanating from the city. In the south, sometimes he could see the stars. He misses them, suddenly.
“That was some stunt, straight outuva movie.” The suit says, grinning.
Seth laughs again, shaking his head. “No, what you mean to say is desperation.”
“Buy you a drink, buddy?”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I've got some business,” Seth says, eyes shifting down the street where he imagines he can still feel her.
“Well, good luck.” The guy laughs, flipping his cigarette at the sidewalk and stamping it out. He is shaking his head in disbelief, then he adds, “This may sound weird, but I swear you look familiar.”
Now, a real smile turns Seth's lips. Perhaps his people haven't forgotten him altogether. He says, “That's because I'm Seth Morgan. And I'll need more than luck tonight. Have a good one.”
He sets off down the sidewalk as the realization dawns upon the other man.
He's not in the mood to play the dangerous celebrity, so he makes his pace quick until he is several blocks away from the little bar. Despite the cold, he convinces himself that it's a good time for a walk, so he wanders for a while to take in the sights and impersonal assault of his city. He lets himself believe that he's walking aimlessly, but he knows he is getting closer to her. He tells himself he won't end up at her door, that he's just a dead man, traveling among his memories; but once his toes are numb and his nose is too cold to run, he turns down an alley that hosts a little stoop about half way down the block. There, he stares at the gray door with the bare bulb above it. He can't quite make himself climb the two steps that lead up to the door. Her address was the first thing he found when he learned that she no longer lived in her father's palatial home, yet this is his first visit. He wants to knock, but his arms betray him. Can it be true that she doesn't want to see him?
“You've gotten sloppy, making scenes in public,” a voice says from the darkness at the other end of the alley. It is a voice Seth has both missed and hated, dressed in a callous tone he can perfectly understand. He has missed the sound, because it belongs to his brother. He has hated it, because the last thing his brother told him was that he was making a mistake.
He sighs in aggravation and turns toward someone who has been his rival and best friend. He does not have an answer, only raises his eyebrows expectantly. He knows Caleb is also someone who won't be rushed into anything, a trait that has been consistently true since childhood. Two years away, and this is the hostile welcome that the only living member of his immediate family has for him. The tall, angular blond spreads his hands before him in a shrug and says, “It only took me a week to find out you were back. I’ve been following you for a week.”
“I'm not hiding,” Seth answers. This isn't the homecoming he had anticipated.
“You couldn't bother to let your only family know that you were back before going to her? You couldn't really have thought we wouldn't know you were here. We own these streets, every crevice and every alley. Even this one.”
Seth stands his ground. He knows there are guns in the darkness. He wonders what they see —a golden-skinned, shaggy stranger; an impossibly casual, relaxed-fit man who was once a clean-cut youth. “Of course I know that. Are you jealous you weren’t my first stop, Caleb? Are you mad you were number two?” he says. How can he say that the readjustment to his city has been damn-near immobilizing? He can't.
“Uncle Mikie doesn't trust you anymore, Seth.”
All the slack in Seth's frame pulls taught. All of his infuriating grace dies around him as rage racks him like a slug in the flesh. Caleb may be the only one who can dismantle his composure so effortlessly, because he is the only one who knows exactly where all the holes are in Seth's emotional armor.
Seth says, “Why is that, Caleb? I left on Uncle Mikie's bidding. He knew it would be like this.” He steps up to his brother, looks him in the eye. “Has there been a snake in our Uncle's ear?”
Blue eyes go so hard they seem they will shatter. “Things change, little bro. Uncle Mikie's plans have changed. He’s looking into something more Eastern,” Caleb says with an out-of-place languor that has been his infuriating manner since childhood. He is looking down on his sibling.
Seth's brow furrows. He looks the differences age has produced in Caleb as he searches for sense in the conversation that spills from them. Just a few lines at the corners of his eyes, a wide, strong jaw, and an impenetrable mask. He is trim and fit, and mad as hell.
Seth says, “I don't believe you. I think that's your idea. People will die if we cross the alliance we have made, he knows that.” I will die, is what he doesn't say. He feels lightning in his veins. No wonder things have decayed so badly if a main player in this game has turned against his own team.
“Not if everyone's precious prince is already dead,” Caleb says, his expression distorting in a way that Seth recognizes as menacing. There's a blur of movement, merely a twitch, and he feels the end of a gun barrel push against the bottom of his chin. He laughs, and it is so cold, the realization that his brother has drawn arms against him.
This is the culmination of silent and prolonged grievances. Of leaving too soon and staying so long.
Caleb says, “Mikie doesn't trust anyone anymore, but he knows now that you've got some major pull, you'll take everything away just like you always do. And in his eyes, you're the only one who can take everything away from him.”
Hatred runs through Seth colder than the ice around them. His eyes narrow. He is about to snap, he doesn't care if it gets him shot by his own people. He's taken a bullet before. Everything he worked for, the new opportunities for a real stake for his family, all of it has been undermined before it has had a chance. He says, quietly, “Are you saying that our uncle is planning a coup, Caleb? Really? And you really expect me to believe that Mikie wants me dead? We're supposed to work together, not turn against each other. Don't be an idiot about this.” The metal is biting his skin.
He can hardly endure that his brother is holding a gun to his head.
“It's hard to work together when you're in another hemisphere,” Caleb spits. “The family hasn't worked together since Dad died. You're such a self-righteous prick.” He pushes the gun harder, stretching Seth's neck a little.
“I think you're mad that Mikie sent me and not you,” Seth manages through grinding teeth. Just as brothers will do, he goes straight for the jugular, brings up a painful issue that has haunted Caleb. There is a part of him, small and hard, that believes his flesh and blood intends to kill him. “Just like you've always been mad that Dad picked me.”
“Or maybe I've been back here in reality for two fucking years, alone,” says Caleb, bitterness lacing his words. “Maybe I've seen everything fall to shit around me. Maybe I’ve been the one trying to protect the innocents we swore to keep safe. Maybe, for once, I actually know what the fuck I'm talking about.”
Seth seethes as his brother pushes him. Soon, the whole city will melt from the heat of his rage. He has devoted two years of his life to gaining the trust of the syndicate's new business partners. He has been watched by the FBI, the DEA, and who knows what other departments, not to mention the Cubans themselves. He has been cut off from everyone he loves, missing his dead father, who never warned him the reins would be so hard to control. He had always thought it ran naturally through some divine fountain of intuition, but he could not make it seem as simple as his father had. His soul hurts. He locks his stare onto his brother, raises his hands at his shoulders to show that he will not fight, and says, “If you really think you can pull the trigger, our customs say you’ll die right after me.  What would Dad say if he saw you right now?”
“Dad's dead!” Caleb screams, drawing back into a swift pistol whip to his brother's jaw. He leans his face in close and softly says, “Your customs are dead. I'm already dead, like you.” As if some silent alarm is triggered, two figures emerge from the end of the alley. They are cousins.
Seth finds himself against the icy pavement, head ringing. The right side of his face goes numb. The slap he has already received seems like a good dream now. He remembers where he is, her apartment. Caleb had always managed to ignore some glaring details that might prove to be obstacles for him. Caleb says, “This whole family is dead, Seth, and it's not about blood anymore, it's about business. It's time for a change, or we'll be extinct because of old customs. All I have to do is twitch my finger, and that change begins. If Dad could see you, bleeding on the pavement upon your triumphant return, playing the victim when you're just a self-centered little fuck. It's pathetic, because it's easy to see, you're still just a fucking child.”
The cousins reach for Seth's arms, but Caleb screams, “Get away! I can do this myself!”
The anger that has been growing for the two longest years of his life breaks at the sight of Seth on his knees, and his body reacts violently. He lands several kicks in Seth's ribs, the impact of each earth-shaking in its magnitude. Caleb has always been violent, but never before has he been so ruthless in an attack; he shows no compassion and doesn't hold back in the least. He says, “You look like Dad, and your face is making me sick,” and points the gun at Seth's forehead.
Seth spits blood at his brother's feet. His insides ache. His head is raging. What was left of his faith in humanity breaks into tiny pieces and pits into his gut. He's dizzy. He searches to the very dregs of his cruelty and whispers, “Dad was right. You are too weak to handle power.” Every word wrenches from his body, each like a brutal stab of red-hot metal.
Caleb delivers another blow to Seth's cheekbone with the butt of his gun. He watches the blood run into Seth's eyes and from his mouth. Seth makes wavering eye contact, despite the fact that it hurts to open his right eye, despite the blood and pain shooting through the side of his face. He is well aware that he is provoking a man who is already well past his threshold, but he is past the point of sense. Both brothers are breaking—he can tell that Caleb is about to cry, and Caleb doesn't cry.
The cousins, distant relations, know too, and they shift uneasily. Nothing good can come of this encounter now. They exchange worried glances as Seth tries to pull away from them and stand. They have been told that Seth is idealistic, and crazy, but at this moment, maybe he's right. The thing about Seth is that he has this personality with the gravitational pull of a star. When he's around, you feel his warmth like you need water; and when he's not, shit gets cold.
Caleb speaks, shakes them all into the moment. “You don't understand, Seth. You never did. I am more like our family than you could ever hope to be, because you are weak.”
Seth's head hangs. Blood and saliva run freely onto the pavement. He hears the mechanical clicks of a gun. His brother is going to kill him.
“Do it and you're dead,” a voice says, female, familiar.
Another gun has come into play as the elder Morgan crew's attention was diverted. Caleb freezes because he can feel the lifeless chill of a barrel trained on the back of his head. The cousins make for their guns, but fortune has not favored them, and they are too slow. A second gun is immediately on cousin number one, and number two receives a quick kick to the groin.
“Get out of here, you pieces of shit,” she spits, pushing her weight against the gun that is resting against cousin number one's head. His eyes roll to his boss, pleading for the permission to retreat. His knees are buckling under him. Caleb's head barely flicks to the side, and number one is gone down the alley without so much as a glance at his commander. Number two limps behind him. She trains both guns on Caleb.
“Nicolette,” he drawls, “how nice to see you, as always.”
“Why are you here?” she asks flatly. She is all jeans and black sweater now, all pink nose and gun barrels. Her hair is down and still slightly curled. Her expression is violent—no bullshit or you might die.
“Listen, Nic,” he says, raising his hands slightly in innocence.
“Don't 'Nic' me. What the hell are you doing here? I told you to stay away. That wasn't conditional.”  She walks around him, stands in front of him with guns in his face. “And this—” She nods toward Seth, who has become motionless. “You beat your own brother? I've always known there was something wrong with you, but this is too much.” She leans forward. “Get the fuck out of here, huh?”
He coldly eyes the guns. He’s lost his ground. To stand up to her now would be a move that would leave him alive, but without testicles. “Of course, I was just leaving,” he says, taking several steps backward. She can see a loss of composure seeping into his arrogant eyes. He knows he fucked up, real bad. Caleb bows. “Good night, princess.” Then he turns and leaves, melting into the night. He does not look back.


***About the Authors***

Nazarea Andrews
Nazarea Andrews is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. She loves chocolates and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids. She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, and overgrown dog.

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A.J. Elmore

A.J. Elmore is 29-years old, has a BA in Journalism from the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications as Marshall University, and lives and works in Huntington, in southern West Virginia as a bartender novelist. She writes across an array of fiction genres, and even dallies in poetry at times. She strongly believes in experience as inspiration and research, and whole-heartedly supports the idea of artistic community and cross-genre, cross-media collaboration.

A.J. has seven tattoos and two dogs. She enjoys live music, and a diverse range of writing styles. She has been writing creatively and therapeutically since childhood.

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