EXCERPT: Altredes [science fiction] #LisaBailey

Title: Altredes
Author: Lisa Bailey
Genre: YA, sci-fi/fantasy
Summary: Sebastian Altredes is the heir of the powerful Altredes Family and has been ordered by his father to represent the Altredes in their alliance with the up and coming Mercana Family. Only the man the world knows as “Sebastian Altredes” is really Sabrina Altredes, a woman forced to take the place of her twin brother after he fled from his responsibilities.

Now Seb is dealing with the sharp-eyed head of the Mercana Family, Paul Anthony, and dodging assassins bullets with only her bodyguard Cisero to keep her alive.

** Yes, this is totally my riff on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” **

Looking to be available for purchase mid-spring/early-summer.

Read the excerpt:

~~0~~

Seb was feeling a bit sick. The air in the room was tense and somehow muggy from all the anger and mistrust stinking up the meeting.

The Altredes and the Mercana Families had never gotten along, both wutan groups going head to head for the same territory and trying to edge each other out in business deals. Only now they were trying to form an alliance, or at the very least stop actively working against each other.

This was a once in a lifetime meeting and there was no room for mistakes anywhere. Which only made the whole situation that much more tense.

“Would you like some more water, sir?”

Seb glanced at Young Jim. He looked so idealistic that it was faintly sickening. And also very flattering. “If you would.”

He smiled and hurriedly reached for the water, filling a glass before carefully setting it down in front of Seb. “There you go, sir.”

He was just so young and earnest that she wanted to pat him on the head. “Thank you.”

Once he’d backed away, she turned her attention back to the argument taking place at the table. Her father’s face was red with anger and aggression; she could see his hands fisting and unfisting just below the edge of the table. He wanted to take someone apart.

The head of the Mercana Family–Paul Anthony–was probably only a few years older than herself and looked incredibly bored as he lounged in his seat at the table. His bodyguards, on the other hand, watched everything with a nerve racking hyper sensitivity. It wouldn’t take much for them to have their guns out, shooting anyone that moved.

At least she had Cisero at her shoulder. He was probably the fastest draw she’d ever come across and was frighteningly lethal. So if anything happened, there was a sure chance he would be able to get her and her father out alive.

Not that her father was currently worried about that. He looked like he wanted to leap across the table and throttle Paul Anthony.

It made her sigh quietly and jerk her chin up on her high, stiff collar. She favored a rather severe fashion style that left nearly every inch of her skin covered and gave her what she imagined was a rather dignified mien.

“How dare you suggest such a thing,” her father’s voice was a low rumble that hurt her ears to hear. She hated when he got angry because sometimes his temper got away from him and even though he was always apologetic afterward… she really hated getting knocked around.

“It’s a perfectly logical suggestion,” Paul Anthony said, his voice a cold tenor. He was perfectly serious, his eyes sharp behind the lenses of his glasses. “If we share the area, we both come out ahead and it will give us a chance to see if a partnership between our two Families would be worth our time.”

Seb flicked her eyes to her father’s face. She had to fight to keep from shifting away from him, his tight and angry expression setting off every alarm in her head. He looked like he was about to blow up at any moment and that was really something she didn’t want to have to deal with.

“And you want my son in charge of our portion of the deal?” Rickman’s hand was clenched so tight that it trembled on his knee.

Seb twitched to full attention, wondering how she had missed such pertinent information. Paul Anthony wanted her to be in charge of the Altredes part of their alliance? Why would he want her to do that?

She narrowed her eyes at him, trying to peer in through his skull.

She knew that she was incredibly focused and skilled at whatever task she was given. But she also knew that she was only twenty years old and there was no way anyone was just going to look at her and think that she was ready for anything as important as what he was proposing.

Which probably meant he wanted her to fail. Which put him firmly on her list of people to watch and be wary of.

“I have heard only good things of him, and since I have decided to handle our end ourselves…” Paul Anthony cocked his head. “You don’t think he’s ready for that amount of responsibility?”

“I never said that,” Rickman said. “I am incredibly proud of my son and know that he would do nothing less than an excellent job. However, I cannot help the suspicion that you have an ulterior motive in wanting to choose him.”

The edges of Paul Anthony’s lips twitched up. “Your suspicious nature is somehow oddly delightful. I have no ulterior motive.” He leaned forward with his elbows on the table, cupping his chin. “He is near to my own age and seeing our relative positions in our two Families, it’s obvious that we’re going to be working together far into the future. He is your heir after all, and at some point you will step down and he will be the one I am left partnered with.”

Paul Anthony shrugged the shoulders of his expensive pinstriped suit. “Is it any wonder that I would like to start our relationship now?”

Rickman stared at him for a long moment, his expression harsh. Then he threw his head back with a boisterous laugh. “You’re a bright spark, aren’t you? All right, take my son. He will head up our part of our agreement and we’ll share the 13th Territory.”

Seb allowed herself to relax a little, though she still stared at Paul Anthony. She had to wonder what he was really thinking, what plan he had percolating in his brain and how he thought he was going to take advantage of her Family.

Everything that she’d heard about Paul Anthony said that he was a shark. Sure, he looked like an expensive lawyer or something, but he had a reputation for being an incredibly dangerous man.

Good with a gun, quick with a knife, and near deadly with his fists. He wasn’t the kind of guy she relished the thought of going against. So if he wanted her to partner him in their deal, there was a more than good chance that he thought he could manipulate her into screwing up somehow.

There was no way she was going to let herself trust him at all.

* * *

When he was a teenager a bunch of kids at school had teamed together to label him a sociopath. He could have shrugged off the moniker; instead he embraced it as the basis for his new personality and life.

He didn’t go out of his way to make random people miserable. He didn’t kick orphans or drown kittens or anything. But he did look out for the interests of the Mercana Family above all else.

Which meant he had no problem with the idea of bringing the Altredes Family down a peg or two. They’d been in charge of their Territory for much too long.

Rickman Altredes was a tough old bird. He’d probably been raised as a child on whiskey and sour milk to make him as sharp as he was. He was not the kind of man anyone wanted to go against.

His son, on the other hand, was a completely different story.

From Paul’s research, he’d found out that the kid had been sent off to boarding school with his sister when he was thirteen years old and that’s where they’d stayed until they hit eighteen.

Rickman had always been the one to visit them. He’d kept them out of view of his own people and his adversaries alike. Which either showed a powerful protective impulse, or was the act of a man that wanted his kids out of his way more than anything.

Paul was actually kind of curious if Rickman really loved his kids all that much. It was just one of those little perking bits of interest that had him glancing at the kid from under his lashes.

Sebastian Altredes wasn’t very tall and he was built lean and oddly breakable looking. He had a rather sharp, triangular shaped face with a nearly cute nose above too thin lips. His skin was papery and fair.

The kid wasn’t what anyone would call handsome, but there was something incredibly interesting about his face. And when he glanced up and their eyes met… Paul was shocked by piercing green eyes.

Those eyes combined with the dark brown hair and the smooth fair skin sent a series of features that might otherwise be classified as “okay” right up into the arresting category.

Paul Anthony had planned to use this meeting to weigh and measure Rickman Altredes for the possibility of a future takeover. One glance at the fascinating Sebastian Altredes and he was suggesting an actual partnership.

There was just something about Sebastian Altredes that had caught his interest and he really wanted to find out what it was. And once his curiosity was satisfied, he could go back to his plans of taking over the Altredes Family’s Territories and send them spiraling back down into obscurity.

A faintly predatory smile quirked his lips.

If there was one thing he thoroughly enjoyed, it was the idea of winning.

* * *

She could still feel her father’s reluctance when she left to meet Paul Anthony alone for the first time. She could tell that he wanted to call her back, to maybe send her to the safety of her room.

Though he’d been the one to instigate the whole “Sebastian” ruse, there were still times when he wanted to treat her like his little princess. But there was no way she was going to let that happen.

He’d talked her into taking her brother’s place, and there was no way she was going to let him change his mind now. Not when she was finally starting to enjoy her new identity.

She’d never realized before how differently men were treated than women. There was just more of a sense of power or something and she actually really liked it.

People took her more seriously as Sebastian than they ever had as Sabrina. People looked her in the eye and were more straightforward; all of the flattery and lies stripped away because they thought she would be more able to handle the truth or something.

Whatever the differences, she was really starting to enjoy being Sebastian. Plus, the clothes were actually pretty comfortable.

The fashion she had given herself as Sebastian was something she wouldn’t have dared as shy Sabrina. She loved the bold, dark colors and the nearly militaristic folds of her jackets and coats. There was something oddly powerful about knotting her tie in the morning, girding herself in silk armor for war.

Even her father treated her differently. It was as though he sometimes forgot that she was “dear sweet Sabrina” and actually treated her as though she was a strong, independent person with a valuable opinion. It was a strangely heady sensation that she was reluctant to ever give it up.

So to have her father get so worked up at the idea of her partnering up with a rival turned ally, it probably should have really pissed her off. It was like this gigantic step backward with all the progress she’d made.

Instead she couldn’t help the silly smile that wanted to quirk her lips. If there was ever a choice between laughing and crying, she would always be the one to pick laughter.

Her father’s face was so red and worried looking and some of the things he warned her about were just so patently ridiculous that she simply had to smile.

“What’s so funny?” Cisero asked. He was sitting across from her in the back of the limo, his tablet laying across his knees, but his eyes focused completely on her.

She laughed, her eyes sparkling as they met his. “Did you hear my father today? He honestly thinks that Paul Anthony is going to try something with me. Seriously.”

“I can see where he’s coming from,” Cisero said, his mouth making a little moue.

“What are you talking about?” She cocked her head. “He thinks I’m a guy, so I don’t really have to worry about him hitting on me or anything.”

“Except that I heard he was gay.”

“What?” she asked.

“You heard me,” Cisero said. “Word on the street is that he’s gay. And anyway you slice it, you look like a very attractive man.”

Seb could feel her cheeks heating up. “Stop. Why would you even say anything like that?” She’d spent her entire life being the ugly duckling. It was just one of those things that had struck her fast and young and never left her.

Sebastian had been wildly good looking and all the girls had loved him. Sabrina on the other hand… she looked just a bit too masculine to be considered pretty, though personally she didn’t think she was even half as pretty as her twin. He really was something.

As a man, she knew that she came across as largely androgynous, her features a little too sharp to be what she considered attractive. It was just one of the sad facts of her life, that as either gender, she just wasn’t what anyone was looking for.

She’d come to accept the fact that she would have to focus her life on her career because there was no way she was ever going to find love.

So even knowing that there was no way it could possibly be true, Cisero’s suggestion that she was attractive sent a surge of pleasure through her.

“You flatter me,” she said, fighting the urge to touch her hot cheeks. “Thank you.”

Cisero frowned. “You really are very attractive, and if Paul Anthony really is gay, there’s a real chance he might hit on you. Your father has a real reason to worry.”

Seb shook her head with a laugh. “You’re so funny. You and my father should totally get together and form a club for people suffering from ridiculous fears.”

Cisero sighed. It was obvious that Seb didn’t believe him, so he would have to make sure she was protected himself, since she wasn’t going to do anything to watch herself. She really was too innocent for the real world. It was one of her few true flaws, that and her inability to ever just let things go.

Meanwhile, Seb went back to gazing out her window. She could feel a nervous churning in her belly at the idea of heading into a new situation but there was no way she was going to let her fears control her. Not when her father was expecting her to succeed.

* * *

“I don’t quite understand why we’re even doing this.”

Paul glanced at Andre, quirking his brow. “What do you mean?”

Andre made a face. He was slouched in a chair with his phone in his hand, probably texting his girlfriend. “I thought we were going to bring the Altredes down. So why are we making an alliance with them?”

“What, I’m not allowed to change my mind?” Paul couldn’t help smiling. “I saw something that sparked my curiosity, so I’ll hold off on my plans until I’m satisfied.”

Andre gave him a suspicious look. “We’re not all going to end up dead, are we?”

Paul snorted. “Why do you always have to be so negative all the time? We’re not going to end up dead. Geez.”

“I don’t know, one day I’m going to be right. Then what are you going to do?” Andre went back to texting, his thumbs moving quickly.

“You’re ridiculous,” Paul rolled his eyes. “I don’t even know why I bother talking to you at all.”

“Because I’m your favorite,” Andre said it like it was completely obvious.

“You’re my cousin, that’s the only reason. If we weren’t blood related, it’d be a different story.”

“But we are blood related.” Andre didn’t look up from his phone and his texting didn’t slow.

Paul sighed and glanced at his watch. The Altredes weren’t late, but it was a pretty near thing. And if there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was people that weren’t punctual and left him waiting when he had things to do.

The office door opened and Brisk ducked his head in. “Hey boss, the Altredes are here.”

Paul stood up, tugging the hem of his jacket straight. “Keep them in the main club area. I’ll be right there.”

He waited an extra two minutes after Brisk left before following him out. He didn’t want the Altredes to think that he was too eager. Andre took up his usual position at his left shoulder.

Say what you would about Andre, when it came down to it he knew his business and he knew when it was time to be serious. He also happened to be an excellent shot.

“Don’t get all twitchy,” Paul advised softly. “The last thing we want is to be the one to start things. If something’s going to take place, let them be the one to start it up.”

“Then I get to finish it.” Andre’s grin was wolfish.

“As it may be,” Paul said.

The Purple Lion Club was a hostess club. Pretty girls pandering to the whims of men with money, dancing and flirting, but not going any further. Not on company time, anyway. At night it was a rowdy place, but during the day there was only a bare bones serving staff as the Mercana conducted their business. The club was closed to outsiders.

Sebastian Altredes stood with his hands behind his back, his face expressionless. Even in the midst of “enemy” territory, he was completely calm and cool. His two men, one of whom was the legendary Cisero if Paul was correct, were a little more on edge than their boss, but they seemed to be taking things in stride. Which probably meant there was a whole troop of Altredes waiting outside.

Sebastian turned and gave Paul a razor edged smile. “Please treat us well,” he said politely, nodding his head.

Paul couldn’t help admiring his complete aplomb.

There wasn’t much available information about Sebastian Altredes, but he was starting to build himself a reputation as someone to be respected. Paul could see where that was coming from; Sebastian did not look like someone to mess around with, not safely anyway.

Sure, he wasn’t the tallest, toughest looking guy, but he had a capable air to him. He came across as though he could run the business end of things with steel pipe brutality, using his soldiers to handle the rough end of things. The rather severe cut to his suit added to the impression.

“You’re right on time,” Paul said, striding forward to stand a few feet in front of him. “It’s good that you were prompt.”

The edges of Sebastian’s mouth quirked up. “I suppose this is where I say ‘thank you’?”

“Be that as it may, are you ready to see the Territory we will be sharing?” Paul asked.

“Of course.” Sebastian raised his left eyebrow. “That is the reason why we’re here, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Paul turned. “Come with me.”

Brisk had run ahead to bring the car around and had it idling in front of the doors waiting. Andre hurried forward to hold the door open, every line of his body speaking of an earnest need to please. It made Paul want to roll his eyes as he climbed into the backseat.

When Sebastian didn’t immediately get in the car, Paul leaned forward to peer out the door at him. “Get in so we can go.”

Sebastian glanced at Cisero, then seemed to sigh and clambered into the back of the car, sitting across from him. Cisero settled next to him. “I suppose if you were going to kill us, you wouldn’t do it in your own car.”

Paul couldn’t help a laugh. “No. I’d make sure we were using your car if I was going to kill you.”

“Thanks. I’m sure my father would appreciate bloodstained upholstery,” Sebastian deadpanned, then grinned at Paul’s laugh. The car began to move.

“You’re funny,” Paul said, cocking his head. “That’s kind of unexpected.”

“What do you mean?” Sebastian frowned, his brows coming together in a single line.

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “You just don’t look like the kind of guy that has any sense of humor.”

Sebastian scoffed. “Who are you to talk? You look like someone’s accountant.”

Andre made a garbled sound and it was only Paul’s arm across his chest that kept him from lunging out of the seat at Sebastian. “How dare you talk to him like that!”

“Calm down,” Paul said mildly. He gave Sebastian a gentle smile. “So, you think I look like an accountant, do you? Hm.”

“Looks are very deceiving, aren’t they?” Sebastian said.

Paul looked at the younger man. “Very.”

“I thought so. You’re secretly a shark, aren’t you?” Sebastian shook his head. “Your face is a liar. That’s kind of a good trick to play.”

“You don’t make any sense!” Andre almost yelled.

Paul waved him to silence. “He makes perfect sense if you know what you’re listening to. I don’t look like a wutan member, do I?” He wagged a finger at Sebastian. “You really look the part though. Do you practice in front of a mirror?”

Sebastian smiled, though it didn’t touch his eyes, which blazed green fire. “All the time. That’s all I ever do. Practice, practice, practice.”

Paul smiled, the genial expression he had practiced in front of a mirror himself. “It works for you. It’s no wonder you’re going to be the Altredes someday.”

Sebastian’s smile looked about as honest as his own. “Hopefully I’ll do my father proud.”

Paul nodded. They understood each other perfectly.

Sebastian Altredes was no one’s pushover. But Paul Anthony never lost.

They would use this partnership between their Families to test each other for weaknesses. And neither would hesitate to seize the advantage.

I think I’m going to enjoy this, Paul thought with a dark satisfaction.

/ Excerpt

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