Thanks, Kim, for hosting this Blast from the Past! I thought I’d share one of my more unusual books – this one written with my good friend, Venona Keyes. The Trust is probably best described as a gay James Bond meets “The Matrix.” It’s a romance (HEA, of course, since I won’t write a book without one!), but it’s even more an edge of your seat thriller where it’s hard to figure out who the good guys are sometimes. There’s a mystery to be solved that takes “executive” Jake Anders on a journey halfway around the world.
The book was based on an idea by Venona about implantable microchips that “speak” to the host. Artificial intelligence that encapsulates a human personality. Some of the microchips are purely invented personalities. But one in particular is based on Jake’s former mentor, Trace Michelson, who was assassinated six years before. Or was he? That’s the mystery Jake must solve.
The Trust, by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes
Publication Date: June 18, 2012, Dreamspinner Press
Blurb: Eight years ago, Jake Anders was a college kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Then Trace Michelson recruited him into The Trust, a CIA-backed agency whose “executives” eliminate rogue biotechnology operations. Trace was everything Jake ever wanted in a man: powerful, brilliant, and gorgeous. But Jake never admitted his attraction to his mentor, and Trace always kept Jake at arm’s length.
Now Trace is dead and Jake is one of The Trust’s best operatives, highly skilled and loyal to the organization. But the secret agent has his own secret: six years ago, before he was assassinated, Trace designed a Sim chip containing his memories and experiences—and now that chip is part of Jake. It’s just data, designed to augment Jake’s knowledge, but when Sim becomes reality, Jake wonders if Trace is still alive or if Jake really is going crazy like everyone claims. He doesn’t know if he can trust himself, let alone anyone else.
To learn the truth about Trace and the chip, Jake embarks on a dangerous mission—except he’s not the only one looking for the information. Some of the answers are locked in his head, and unless he finds the key, he’ll be killed for the technology that’s become a part of him.
Now, more than ever, Jake wishes Trace were here to guide him. Too bad he’s dead… right?
Chapter One: The Hitman is Hit
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!
Blood gushed from his leg, and for just an instant, he watched it with growing anger. Watched it, that was, until the adrenaline kick-started his brain and he realized he would die if he kept bleeding like this.
Gotta stop the bleeding, he thought with desperation.
He dragged himself to the women’s bathroom, pushed hard on the door, and stumbled in. Between the sound of the door slamming against the wall and the sight of all the blood, the startled women inside screamed and ran out.
Blood coated everything he touched. He leaned against a stall door, and it swung open under his weight. One hand applying pressure to the gunshot wound, he elbowed the toilet-paper holder. He fell to the floor and the roll sprang free. He placed the cheap one-ply paper over the wound and pressed down hard—it only took a minute before the roll was a deep crimson.
He tapped the microphone on his chest and shouted, “Agent down! I need an extraction, now!”
“Who’s down?” came the calm, even voice in his earpiece.
“I am. Sandoval fucking ambushed me. Caught me in the leg. Hit an artery.”
“Anders, where are you?”
“I—” He broke off, looking up to see a slender man leaning casually against the stall door, grinning at him. The Silver Fox, Jason Sandoval. Sandoval wasn’t Jake’s target, but it seemed as though Jake was his. Jake had always detested Sandoval. Now he knew why.
“So… there you are. Thanks for leaving me a trail of bloody breadcrumbs to follow.”
“Agent Anders, where are you?” the voice in his ear persisted. He ignored it.
“Looks like ya got a bleeder there, Anders.”
They had never been friends, but they had been colleagues. Now, Jake wanted nothing more than to blow the smirk off the other man’s face.
“I’ve had worse,” Jake lied. If Sandoval wanted him dead, he’d probably only have to wait a few minutes for him to bleed out. But that wasn’t Sandoval’s style—he had never been a patient man, and Jake knew it.
“Not sure that’s true, but I admire your bravado.”
Again, the voice in his ear. “Agent Anders, who’s there with you?”
“What do you want, Sandoval?” Jake asked. He’d pretty much always suspected Jason Sandoval was insane. Now he was sure of it.
Who the hell is he working for? Foreign government? Private concern?
They had come here as a team, their mission to intercept a scientist who was in town for a conference. But things had gone horribly wrong. It had been a setup, the entire scenario. Three of their own agents had turned their guns against him and his backup team. But why?
Fucking traitors. All of them.
“Well, I could watch you bleed to death. Or I suppose I could just end it for you now. Seems a shame, though. You really were a first-class ops guy, Jake. Now your life is fading away, and I get to witness it.”
Jake slowly reached inside his pants.
“Now, now, Jake,” drawled Sandoval, “no cheatin’. Take that hand out of your pocket.”
“I’m trying to stem the bleeding at the pressure point.”
Jake withdrew his hand and flicked his wrist faster than the other man could follow, impaling him in the right eye with a knife. Sandoval staggered backward and out of the stall without uttering a word. Jake reached for his gun, but it was missing. When had he lost it? He needed to finish Sandoval off before he was the one lying on the floor with his brains blown out.
He heard the distinctive muffled “pflnk” of a silencer. With the last scrap of his energy, Jake pushed the stall door open in time to see Sandoval fall backward, hitting the tile wall and sliding onto the floor. He was dead.
“Jake,” came a familiar baritone voice. “Reduce your heart rate, just as I taught you. It will slow the bleeding.”
Jake closed his eyes, and in spite of the ice that flowed through his veins and the drowsiness that threatened to pull him under, he forced himself to meditate. He envisioned the frantic beating of his heart slowing down, imagined the damaged artery closing, the blood clotting, and the wound beginning to heal. The thundering rush of blood in his ears began to ebb, and the dizziness subsided. He slowed his breathing, and his heart steadied.
“Good work, Jake,” he heard the soothing voice say. “It isn’t your time to be with me. Not yet.”
“Agent Anders! Agent Anders!” He wanted to swat the microphone away, but he didn’t have the strength.
He blinked, trying to focus his uncooperative eyes on the figure that stood before him. “Trace?” he whispered as he passed out.
“Fucking traitor Sandoval,” Ryan Roberts growled from nearby.
“If Jake hadn’t killed him, I’d’ve gladly done it myself.” John Carson—Jake recognized the voice.
“He’s a damn lucky bastard.” Ryan’s voice again.
“Un-fucking-believable. Got that tourniquet on and still had the presence of mind to write the time on his leg,” added Carson.
“I gotta hand it to ’im—got Sandoval once in the eye, then turned around and shot ’im to make sure he was dead—all while he’s fuckin’ bleeding to death.”
“Gentleman, Agent Anders needs to rest.” A woman’s voice this time: soothing, no-nonsense, and familiar.
“Sorry, Dr. Carroll.” Carson sounded embarrassed, but Jake could hear the note of concern in his gruff voice. “We just wanted to be here when Jake wakes up.”
“He will regain consciousness when his body’s ready. He’s lost a lot of blood, and he’s been in surgery.”
“We’ll wait,” Ryan replied. Jake almost smiled to hear the stubbornness in Ryan’s voice.
“Agent Roberts, Agent Carson, the director has called a meeting, and you both need to be in attendance.” Stephanie Carroll’s voice was now commanding.
Jake felt a strong hand squeeze his shoulder. “You better get your lazy ass outta here, Anders, or I’m gonna have to beat the crap outta ya.” The sounds of chairs scraping the floor and fading footsteps followed Ryan’s words.
“It’s all right, Agent Anders. They’re gone,” Jake heard a few minutes later.
The dim light of the room was too bright. Jake squinted, blinked several times, and slowly opened his eyes. He had a splitting headache.
“Welcome back to the world of the living, Jake.”
Jake attempted to smile back at the gentle-voiced doctor, but it came out more like a grimace.
“Are you in pain?”
“My head feels like it’s gonna explode.”
“I’ll give you something.”
Jake watched as the tiny woman took a syringe and injected it into the IV in his arm. He felt warmth radiate from the site of the line as his muscles relaxed and the pounding in his head began to lessen.
“Thanks. I think I feel less ‘vincible’ now,” he said, managing a lopsided grin.
She smiled at him. “Jake, I really can’t tell you how impressed I am with the skills you exhibited under the extreme pressure of the situation.”
“I had help.”
“The Trace Sim. He told me to slow down my breathing and meditate. I imagined my artery knitting itself back together.”
“Impressive. I didn’t think the simulation microchips were so detailed in their programming.”
Jake shrugged. “Neither did I. It’s like he was right there in front of me.”
“When our bodies are under acute stress, we often imagine things,” she replied in a kind but patronizing tone.
Jake guessed that she’d heard the recording of his call for help and had wondered why he’d spoken Trace Michelson’s name.
“He seemed so real. Not like the usual Sim.”
Her answer was what he’d expected and hoped for: reassuring and kind. “The brain is an amazing organ. In times of severe stress, it can be a powerful tool to ensure survival.”
The tension in his shoulders abated with her words.
She’s right. It was probably a combination of the Sim and my own imagination. Either way, it worked, right?
She offered him a sympathetic smile. “You need to rest.” She checked the IV and made a notation on the chart at the foot of his bed.
She turned to leave, then paused as if considering something. “You know, Jake,” she said with a contemplative hand to her chin, “applying a tourniquet made from the toilet roll spindle and your torn shirt was quite remarkable, given the extent of your injury. But you didn’t really need it—the artery had already begun to heal on its own. It appears Dr. Michelson’s techniques are more effective than we originally thought. Quite fascinating.”
“Tourniquet?” It was the second time someone had mentioned it since he’d regained consciousness. But he didn’t remember a tourniquet, let alone applying one to himself in the heat of the moment.
“The one you placed on your leg before you lost consciousness.”
“I don’t remember that. The last thing I remember is Trace.”
“Writing the time you placed the tourniquet on your leg required true presence of mind, Jake,” she continued, undaunted. “We were able to quickly ascertain how long the circulation had been compromised.”
“I don’t remember that either.” He frowned.
She gave him another reassuring smile. “You really must get some rest now. I’ll be back to check on you later. Would you like something to drink?”
“Something more than ice chips?” he asked with a hopeful expression.
“I’ll see that you get some water.”
“Thanks.” He closed his eyes. He heard her walk out of the room and close the door behind her.
Tourniquet? Writing the time on my leg? And who killed Sandoval? I couldn’t have shot him; I didn’t have my gun….
It made no sense. An image of the man with dark hair and slate-blue eyes filled Jake’s mind. He’d seen that face many times while training with his Sim. He had known the real man himself years before—Trace Michelson had recruited Jake into the Trust. But for years, it had been only a virtual Trace who had inhabited his mind, training him, sharing his knowledge with his host as all Sims did.
This was different. He was so… real.
He forced his eyes open again and stared up at the ceiling. The gray acoustic tiles provided him with no answers.
“Idiot,” he muttered as he fought the overwhelming urge to sleep. “Of course he wasn’t there. He’s been dead for nearly five years.”
About Shira: Shira Anthony was a professional opera singer in her last incarnation, performing roles in such operas as Tosca, Pagliacci, and La Traviata, among others. She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle. Shira is married with two children and two insane dogs, and when she’s not writing, she is usually in a courtroom trying to make the world safer for children. When she’s not working, she can be found aboard a 35’ catamaran at the Carolina coast with her favorite sexy captain at the wheel.
Shira’s Blue Notes Series of classical music themed gay romances was named one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Word’s “Best Series of 2012,” and The Melody Thief was named one of the “Best Novels in a Series of 2012.” The Melody Thief also received an honorable mention, “One Perfect Score” at the 2012 Rainbow Awards.
Shira can be found on: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shira.anthony Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4641776.Shira_Anthony Twitter: @WriterShira Website: http://www.shiraanthony.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
About Venona: Venona Keyes is a modern woman who believes in doing it all; if doing it all is only in her head. She amazes people that she can be wholly unorganized yet pack a perfect carryon suitcase for a ten-day trip to Paris. Ms. Keyes is a believer in the just in time theory, and can be seen sprinting to the airport gate before the plane door closes.
Venona has experienced love and loss at the deepest level, and is thankful for writing and daydreaming, for it kept, and still keeps, her sane. Writing also introduced her to some of the most supportive and wonderful people, to which she will always be grateful.
Venona is a voracious reader, loves her feline boys, volunteers at an animal shelter, attempts to cook everything in her CSA boxes, is an accomplished speaker, is a seasoned triathlete, and enjoys swimming, biking, hiking, skipping, and her beloved overgrown garden.
You can find Venona Keyes: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/venona.keyes Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5255358.Venona_Keyes Website: http://www.venonakeyes.com/