Pen Holloway's done with men-in real life. Guys in game are so much less drama. But when her partner from Heroes of Fallen Gods invites her to the convention of the year, she panics. What if he's another jerk? What if he's not?
Cal Burrows is living his dream of being a spy. One of TRAIT's misfit spies, but still a spy. It's the perfect job... until an arms dealer with a taste for blood invades his not-so-secret geek haven. All Cal wanted from ConDamned was to meet his on-line girl. Now, with the threat of mass murder looming, he's forced to choose between keeping his mission a secret and protecting the girl of his dreams.
Despite their attraction, Pen can't help but suspect Cal's hiding something. She also can't shake the feeling he's not as much of a stranger as he seems.
Each book in the Agents of TRAIT series is STANDALONE:
* Gaming for Keeps
* Conning For Keeps (novella)
* Fighting for Keeps
* Dying for Keeps
About the Author
At a young age, Seleste discovered the trick to not being afraid of the monsters under the bed was to turn them into heroes. Since that time, she's seen enough of human monsters that she prefers to escape to fictional worlds where even the worst demons have to play by the rules and the good guys might end up battered and bruised (or dead), but they always win. And really, isn't that the way it should be?
Seleste relocated southeast Michigan with her two kids (and a pair of fierce, attention-hungry slobber-monsters of her own) and is hard at work on her next book.
Read an Excerpt
Gaming for Keeps
By Seleste Delaney, Libby Murphy
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Seleste deLaney
All rights reserved.
Death shone in the troll's black eyes as it lunged at Megara. She ducked the attack and slipped around behind the beast, hoping like hell the magic users had its attention now that she was out of the way. The damn thing was fast for its size. As soon as she could, she swapped weapons, pulling out a wickedly curved blade as long as her forearm. Magic danced on its surface, casting the metal in a blue glow. She plunged the dagger into the troll's back and ice crystals frosted the air as the damage lit up the melee window on the screen.
"Holy crap! Eleven hundred and thirty points of damage! Take that, you ugly fuck." Penelope wanted to celebrate, but her character's attack hadn't been strong enough to kill the troll. And now, nothing anyone else did was pulling its attention away from her. Her hit-points dropped with every thrashing of the beast's club.
On the screen, Megara sliced at the troll again, but as a rogue, her strongest attacks were those that used her stealth skills. In front of the thing? She might as well have been singing "Soft Kitty" to it for all the damage her dagger was doing. With a click of her mouse, she switched back to "Spicer's Stabby Dagger of Doom" for the higher DPS.
She hit it more often, but Pen watched Megara's hit-points sinking lower and lower as the troll swung a club at her head. "Not good. Come on, guys, what are you doing?"
Sadly, she had a pretty good idea. Aaron was playing Maksamar, his healer, tonight, and he would let her die over and over again as long as the group let him get away with it. Somehow he thought that was a good way to teach her what a bad idea it was to break up with his ass. Scowl firmly in place, she punched the key that would — hopefully — help her dodge the next blow from the troll. She just needed to survive the fight, and then Aaron wouldn't have the "distraction" excuse. At least Lohonas was helping. He'd cast a slow heal on her as soon as she backstabbed the troll and he'd been battering the monster with everything he had since then.
Lohonas tells Group:Hey, Darling, can you get just out of range of his club and run him in circles around us?
Oh, that sounded like a really horrid idea, one just destined to draw more baddies on them. But she did so like the way he called Megara "Darling" when they were in group. For a second, she chewed on the nail of her right index finger — her mouse nail, the only one that ever met her teeth. She had to make a decision or she'd die for sure. Finally, Pen dropped her hand to the keyboard, blew out a deep breath, and typed.
You tell Group:Sure thing, Handsome.
She might have the disdain of their healer, but Lohonas wouldn't let her die even if he couldn't bring her back from the brink at the moment. He always had her back, just like she had his. People in her guild had started whispering about Meg and Lohonas as an in-game couple — complete with comments about a wedding by the huge waterfall where the sea dragons played — which was probably a decent chunk of what chapped Aaron's ass. She was pretty sure he was the one who'd started the rant about marrying across guilds.
Like a good little soldier, Pen moved Megara out of range and then ran. She still had the troll targeted and watched as its hit-points slowly drifted lower and lower.
Lohonas tells Group:Good job, Darling. Maks, can you heal her for crying out loud? My touch still hasn't popped, so I'm a little bit useless as anything more than muscle right now.
Maksamar tells Group:With the running around, I can't get a target on her. Hey, cutie, can you stay in range?
Pen bristled, wishing she could stab Maksamar/Aaron, or at least his avatar. Cute had been Aaron's word of choice to describe her when they were together. She'd never liked it much, but the joke had really been on her when he'd cheated on cute with hot and gorgeous. At the same time. They were twins, and their names were pretty much interchangeable. Now Aaron called her cute just to piss her off.
Besides, the range thing was a bullshit excuse. She was running around them in as tight a circle as she could manage. Whatever. The troll was almost dead. Another circle and ...
"Fuck!" Just like she'd worried, she picked up another mob. A low-level spider wouldn't be a big deal except ... there went the green highlight around her screen-name. Poison. Lovely.
You tell Group:Can anyone cure poison? Like ... now would be good.
As soon as the troll blinked out, she spun Megara around and stabbed the spider. She managed to wander a couple steps closer to the group and then fell onto the ground — the game equivalent of passed out and dying.
Lohonas tells Group:Maks?
Maksamar tells Group:Where IS she?
Penelope shoved away from her desk, the leg of her chair banging against Worf's hip. The Newfoundland raised his big black head and let out a low rumble. Not a growl, more of a doggie WTF?
"Hey, you're lucky it wasn't a wheel over your tail. Not my fault you nap so close." After scratching his shaggy head for a few seconds, she glanced back at the screen, hoping her life force wasn't bound too far from where she died. Long corpse runs sucked, especially when she shouldn't have died in the first place.
She blinked at the screen. Not dead.
Her gaze drifted to the chat window where her group was yammering about the loot and who got what. Maybe she and Aaron were moving past the stupidity at last. It would make being in the guild with him a tiny bit more comfortable. Considering he'd been the one who started her playing Heroes of Fallen Gods and invited her to be a member of Crimson Blades of Eternity, she'd dealt with more than her fair share of grief since they split up. She stuck around because it was easier than trying to start over getting to know new people. There were far worse guilds out there. The devil she knew and all that. A full health bar was still a full health bar, and she wasn't about to argue about how stupid he'd been acting earlier. She scrolled up to catch up on the chat.
Lohonas heals you for 15,000 points.
Of course not. She should have known better.
Lohonas always kept her safe, though. He was a paladin from the Fourth Wall, a different guild the Crimson Blades raided with sometimes. After the breakup, she'd thought about asking if she could join the Wall, but felt stupid running from her problems. But Aaron hadn't stopped being a problem, and now Lohonas was coming to the rescue again. For that many points, his life-touch must have popped at just the right moment. The spell basically brought her back to full health.
Every time he had to use it on her she felt guilty — especially if it was because Aaron was being an ass. She could only hope Lohonas wasn't off to a Waller raid after leaving here or his friends would be pissed. He could only use the ability once a day, game-time. Ignoring the rest of the chatter, she typed out a message.
You tell Lohonas:Hey, Handsome, thanks for the heal. I owe you one. Where're you off to now?
Lohonas tells You: Top secret stuff. I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. No worries, you can touch me next time. ;-) But, just to clarify, pretty sure that's at least two you owe me.
Pen rolled her eyes at the screen but couldn't keep from smiling. She might have dated Aaron in real life, but Lohonas was the guy she adored. Funny, smart, and always willing to help out. She'd met him her first week playing and had actually been the one to suggest raiding with his guild just so she could talk to him more.
He'd been the one holding her virtual hand when Aaron cheated. Granted, he didn't know what exactly had her so upset, but he'd taken her on an ice giant hunt that led her to places in the game world she'd never been before. Hell, she hadn't known a couple of the caves existed. And while they fought monsters, they bantered like they'd been friends forever. If there was one person in the entire game she wished she knew in real life, it was Lohonas.
But ... as Aaron proved with the way he treated most people, someone could be totally different in game than out. She really, really liked Lohonas and dreaded the idea that the guy behind the avatar could be a massive jerk. The relationship they had in-game was fantastic and not worth ruining with too much reality. She'd cling to their banter and history instead.
Even now when she almost died, he wasn't going to let her forget that time she took the swan dive off a cliff. She'd had ten stinking hit-points left for her swim to shore. She could have lived. Maybe.
You tell Lohonas:Good to know you're keeping track.
Lohonas tells You:Only for you, Meg. Most people aren't worth the effort. Besides, keeping you in my debt means you have to spend time with me every now and then.
You tell Lohonas:Glad to know someone cares, even if it is just so you can get me alone in a dark cave filled with monsters. But ...it's a date. I'll try to get on this weekend.
Lohonas tells You:I'm going to be a little busy this weekend, but if you name the time and place, I'll be there. Later.
And then his name disappeared from the screen as he zoned. She sighed, wishing her guild cared as much as he did. Actually, that wasn't fair. It was mainly just Aaron. She'd need to make sure someone else was healer next time so this shit didn't happen again.
At least the troll had the Blade of Quickening she'd been pining for — it was the entire reason she'd agreed to hunt the damn thing tonight. She clicked on the body, only to find everything gone but the monster's ragged tunic. A quick scroll through the chat screen confirmed her immediate suspicion. Right there after the cash split ...Aaron took the damn blade. She had to resist the urge to punch her twenty-four-inch screen.
Stupid real guys making her game life difficult.
You tell Group:I think I'm done for tonight. Camping.
Penelope hit the keys to make Megara sit and start the cycle that would take her out of the game. She didn't even have the motivation to get someplace safe first. Tonight, she was just done. Time for a bath, and a book, and ...
Lohonas tells You:Hey, Darling, I don't have much time, but I wanted to ask you something. Will you meet me in the city so we can talk for a sec?
As much as she wanted to just curl up with the new steampunk novel she was reading, this was Lohonas. Penelope moved Megara, breaking the camp cycle. It was a haul to the city without any magical enhancements going, but for once she didn't run into any trouble.
As soon as she zoned, Lohonas's stylized elfish face filled the screen: golden skin, almond-shaped green eyes, and a mop of pale sage-green hair. If she got past the hair color, she could almost close her eyes and picture the face behind the avatar. She bet he was handsome. Probably blond or that kind of sandy, surfer-boy brown, but she'd lay odds the eyes were actually green, and he probably had a dusting of freckles — the kind that were paling as he got older but would have stood out when he was a kid. Hell, for all she knew, he was a kid. The thought made her squirmy, and not in a good way. No. She wasn't going to go there. He was a great guy and definitely an adult. Other options need not apply.
You tell Lohonas:Hey there, stranger.
He led the way to a little alcove in the tunnel where they sometimes hung out to chat and settled to the ground. A second later, a glowing orb of light illuminated their tiny corner of the virtual world. She typed in the command for Meg to sit but, before her butt hit, a message popped up on the screen
Lohonas tells You:I know we talked about fighting this weekend, but ... have you ever heard of ConDamned?
ConDamned was a big deal. Not quite E3 for gamers or Comic-Con for the print crowd, but a mishmash of games and comics and books and movies. It was the kind of thing geekboys had wet dreams over. And it was this weekend, less than an hour's drive away.
You tell Lohonas:Yeah, I haven't been in a while, though.
Lohonas tells You:Well, Heroes is having an unveiling of their new expansion, and there's going to be a contest. They take your characters, max out your stats, and you and a partner fight some of the new uber mobs. The last team standing at the end of the battles wins an all expense paid trip for two to E3.
And there was the gamer mecca itself — the idea almost had her drooling. She had heard about the contest, but Penelope couldn't figure out what any of this had to do with her. People had signed up for that stuff months ago. If he thought —
Lohonas tells You:Before you get too excited, I don't have a spot in the contest, but I heard they might still have some openings for con attendees. I don't know if it's close enough for you, but ...
A gamer convention with her favorite person from Heroes of Fallen Gods? And maybe playing for a chance at E3? Where the hell did she sign up?
Then again ...
Pen chewed frantically on her mouse nail. The best possible outcome? Lohonas would be a great guy; they'd hit it off and develop a real-life friendship. The worst? She shuddered. Aaron was proof positive that not everyone lived up to who he pretended to be online. Not to mention some of the horror stories she'd heard from people who had given online dating a try. The odds of best-case scenario were pretty slim considering how many ways the meeting could go wrong.
Still, she hadn't been to ConDamned in a long time and it would be a lot more fun than the raid the Crimson Blades had planned for Saturday. With her mind tearing through possibilities faster than the Winchesters' Impala ate up the road, her nail chewing grew more and more intense until she ended up biting her finger. She jerked back and looked at just how close to the quick she'd been getting. If she kept worrying at the nail, she'd be bleeding soon. The need for a break from the stress with work and Aaron and ... everything had hit critical levels.
You tell Lohonas:I hadn't planned on going, and I'm not sure I can. And ... this is going to sound dumb, but I'm afraid to meet you.
Lohonas tells You:I didn't think you were afraid of anything. I thought you were the girl who took on a nest of desert vipers on a dare. Naked as I recall.
Heat rose in Pen's cheeks. It didn't matter that he was talking about her character. In the gaming world, that was her.
You tell Lohonas:Yep. You scare me more than death. I just don't want the friendship we have to be tarnished by reality. Does that make sense?
It took him a long time to answer. Long enough that Pen had started to type an apology. Though she wasn't sure exactly what she was supposed to be sorry for. Friendship was a good thing, right?
Lohonas tells You:I get it. I'd like to say you have nothing to worry about, but there's always a chance. How about this? You let me know if you're going to be there, and if we happen to run into each other, fantastic. If not, it wasn't meant to be.
You tell Lohonas:Are you getting romantic or fatalistic? I can't really tell with you. :P
Lohonas tells You:Har-har. Well, if you decide to go, I have it on good authority that if you call the hotel, you can still get a room if you say you're with the other convention — some banking thing.
You tell Lohonas:I will definitely see what I can do. And who knows. Fate has made stranger things happen than you and me bumping into each other at a convention, right?
Lohonas tells You:We found each other here among millions of people. So yeah, Darling, stranger things have happened. Crap. My boss is calling. Gotta go. Let me know what you decide.
You tell Lohonas:Will do! And tell your boss to suck it. It's WAY after hours.
Excerpted from Gaming for Keeps by Seleste Delaney, Libby Murphy. Copyright © 2013 Seleste deLaney. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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