For fun I’m posting a scene from my work in progress, tentatively titled Why Rapunzel Let Down her Hair. A couple things of note–this book isn’t edited. It isn’t even finished. This scene may or may not appear in the final version. If it does, it will probably get better, potentially with fewer typos. 🙂 But one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten is how Ashley, Hauk’s ex from How Beauty Saved the Beast, will redeem herself enough to be a heroine.
Sure, she’s an uptight rules-monger and persona non grata in the Underlight. But Brayden, the Underlight’s infamous hacker and brilliant playboy, is a serious hot mess. They say opposites attract, and that’s been true since day one for this pair. Together they may find the perfect balance between order and chaos–if they don’t get each other killed first.
For anyone curious, here’s Ash’s first contact with Brayden after the events of Saved. It’s about a month after she left and just before Jolie’s birthday party in Loved. (And to anyone who remembers Brayden’s drunken conversation with Hauk? Yes. Brayden lied.)
Ash’s time in the Underlight inspired her to start digging into the Order of Ananke’s activities, and she was shocked by what she uncovered. Not knowing where else to turn, she got online and found Brayden, a man she doesn’t exactly trust but had one hell of a night with before she left…
Despite the seriousness of Ashley’s endeavor, a thrill passed through her, just knowing Brayden was on the other end of the connection. She could picture his face, lovely even in its rage, and his slim fingers stroking the keyboard. The image brought a blush to her cheeks. She’d known that neither the distance nor the month of time since their night together would be enough to blunt her response to him. Hormones did terrible things to a person.
But this conversation wasn’t about them and the potential she’d thwarted. It was about the CFO of an energy corporation who’d realized a law suit was less expensive than updating a coal mine in southeastern Kentucky to adhere to new safety regulations. But if Brayden figured out who she was, and he probably would, getting him to sit tight long enough to listen and believe her was going to be a trick.
PandorasBlunder: I have information on the OoA’s activities to share.
The cursor blinked at her as she held her breath. Finally…
PrnzChrm1ng: You’re not even disguising your IP. Death wish? Go here: http://freedomofinformationforall.com/landing
More blinking cursor. She didn’t know much about hacking, but she did know that sending people to a website containing malware was one of their primary tools. He was trying to gain control of her computer. She wondered if he’d admit it.
PrnzChrm1ng: So I can cover your tracks.
PandorasBlunder: By giving yourself a backdoor to my computer? No.
As a Washington new hire, she wasn’t exactly privy to classified documents. Yet. But who knew what Brayden could do with even her small entre into politics.
Who was she kidding? In all likelihood he had far better resources than what she could provide. Didn’t mean she wanted to be part of his empire, one more notch on his belt of online conquests. One more notch on his bedpost was enough. She’d wanted that. This was different.
PrnzChrm1ng: Not talking to you if you aren’t anonymous
PandorasBlunder: I don’t hide.
PrnzChrm1ng: Then I’m not talking to you. Bye.
On the other hand she didn’t want to lose him. Where else would she go with the information? Brayden, Hauk and their crew may do a lot of breaking and entering, but they tended to turn over their finds to the proper authorities or the press. They fancied themselves freedom fighters, not profiteers which, on the scale of unethical, was a long way from the bottom of the barrel.
A grey-hat, Brayden called himself.
PandorasBlunder: Wait. Tell me how to do it myself.
PrnzChrm1ng: I couldn’t teach you quickly enough even if I had any desire to.
PandorasBlunder: So I’m just supposed to trust you?
PrnzChrm1ng: Wow, that is funny. Only one of us has spent our entire relationship lying out her ass. Trust is a two-way-street, Miss Priss.
Her face puckered at his personal iteration of her most commonly called out personality trait. Yes, she was Type-A. And he was type-friggin’-Z with no cares and no consequences. But at the memory of Hauk’s bloody and beaten body, she swallowed her pride. If that was the worst Brayden had for her, she was getting off easy. And it also meant…
PandorasBlunder: You know who I am
PrnzChrm1ng: Not going to dignify that with a response. Are you going to let me on your computer, or is this conversation over?
She stared at her screen, debating. In theory she understood what he was saying. Why should he trust her information if she wouldn’t trust him on her computer? But it was a gamble. Brayden had a legitimate ax to grind with her, and this would be an easy way for him to start swinging. Her judgment, too, was totally off when it came to him. The memory of his conspiratorial laugh amid the intensity of their night together made her want to trust him, to overlook a moral code she didn’t understand and give them a chance to reconnect.
She had a weakness for him. It was stupid and reckless when she’d spent a lifetime playing it smart. Her breath quivered, skin prickling as she typed…
PandorasBlunder: No searching for anything not related to security. And once you’ve done what you need to do, you leave. No backdoors that you can get into later.
PrnzChrm1ng: Security is a constantly evolving endeavor. If I can’t get back in, I can’t keep patching holes.
PandorasBlunder: Then be thorough the first time.
More blinking cursor. He could lie about his actions, and she’d never know the difference. Two clichés spun through her head. The first was “deals with the devil never go well.” The second was “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” After a mere twenty-four hours, she felt like she knew Brayden better than she knew the organization she’d been a part of for years.
PrnzChrm1ng: Fine. It’s a deal.
Ashley swallowed, trying to ease the thickness in her throat. This was it. Course set.
PrnzChrm1ng: We need a new handle for you, one that isn’t b7 everywhere
PrnzChrm1ng: b7=b&=b-and=banned. Calling out my real name. Not cool, n00blet.
PandorasBlunder: I didn’t know how else to find you.
PrnzChrm1ng: Yeah, yeah. I’ll add it to your list.
PandorasBlunder: Do I want to know what the title of this list is?
PrnzChrm1ng: Heh. Probably not.
She couldn’t see his face or hear his tone but knew the dry sarcasm his words came with. It should make her nervous. Instead she found her lips curving in a smile.
PandorasBlunder: Greeeat. How about StuckInTheTower?
PrnzChrm1ng: I like it, but too long. How about T0wrGrrl?
PandorasBlunder: Ha. Okay. But does it have to be misspelled?
PrnzChrm1ng: What misspelling? Looks right to me. You gotta let your hair down a bit, my little rules fiend 😉
She stared at the winking emoticon as warmth trickled through her fear. He was joking with her. Like he had when they first met.
PandorasBlunder: Haha! Fine. 🙂
Her cursor hovered over the link to his malware. As soon as she clicked, he’d climb into her computer with unfettered access to her life—passwords, email, web history, calendar, financials, documents. She had full faith in his ability to break every wall and scour every corner, and despite his promise, he probably would. It made her feel more naked than she had the night she’d screamed his name on command.
It wasn’t revenge on Ananke she sought—though what they’d done infuriated her. If that was all, she’d back out now. No, she wanted justice. She’d found more blood on Ananke’s hands than she could stomach, making her sullied from association with a system that preyed on the weak for the gain of a select few. Brayden was her best resource to get clean.
PandorasBlunder: One more thing. Don’t get me killed.
PrnzChrm1ing: Funny. I was thinking the same thing.
Before she could change her mind, she clicked the link and let Brayden in.