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Sneak Peek!

Here are the first two chapters of the seventh book in the exciting Gems young adult spy thriller series which is due out March 12, 2024.

Keep reading for an opportunity to get an exclusive, never-before-offered hardcover edition of this new novel.
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Chapter 1

Prince Salah al-Din bin Al Hadid walked through the palace gardens at a quick pace. The desert sun blazed overhead with only the umbrella of leafy green palm trees providing any shade whatsoever. The constant rumble of the suitcases rolling along the path behind him didn’t irritate Salah. On the contrary, that sound meant the family was leaving. His family loved the desert. His father especially since it was such an important part of the United Kingdom of Hejaz’s national identity. But Salah preferred the ocean. Preferred the cities. Preferred people his own age.


“What are you so happy about?” his oldest brother asked, causing Salah to hide his smile.

“He hates this place,” his second-oldest brother said.

“I don’t hate it. I just prefer the ocean,” Salah said.

“Why? You’re not a fish.”

“He’s not a man either.”

His brothers laughed.

Salah felt like punching them. At sixteen, he wasn’t afraid to take on one of his older brothers. But if he did start something, it would be two against one, and they’d still kick his butt.

“I’m joking.” His second-oldest brother ruffled Salah’s dark black hair. “You’re so sensitive.”

“We should take him to Jaddah and find him an exotic foreign woman to give him kisses and show him the ways of love.”

“That’s the first good idea I’ve heard this weekend,” Salah said. “I’d like to find someone like…that movie actress who played Wonder Woman.”

His oldest brother laughed. “He wants an Amazon!”

“You can’t handle an Amazon woman.”

“Yes, I can.” Salah paused. “When you say handle…what do you mean by that?”
His brothers exchanged knowing grins. Salah hated it when they did this. 

“Don’t worry. We’ll find you a nice girl in Jaddah who will pepper your cheeks with kisses.” His older brother directed the servants with all their luggage to head towards the fleet of Range Rovers idling outside, parked around the circular drive in front of the palace.

Soon, the rest of the royal family emerged, climbing into the air-conditioned vehicles. Salah was following everyone when he realized his phone was missing. He checked his pockets, then remembered he left it in the bathroom when he took a shower.

“Salah al-Din?” his father asked, noticing him moving in the opposite direction. “Where are you going?”

“I left my phone in the bathroom.”

The king’s eyebrow lifted above his Versace sunglasses. “My son, you must learn to focus. Your generation is too scatterbrained. You jump around like rabbits, unable to settle down and smell the flowers.” 

“Leave him alone.” Salah’s mother came up from behind. “He’s getting much better. At least the boy remembered before we were up in the jet this time.” She kissed Salah on the cheek. “Hurry. The girls and I are starving, and we must eat on the plane.”

Salah jogged back into the palace and climbed the long staircase before he met a man coming down. Bashir was the kingdom’s defense minister. Unlike most of the men in his father’s cabinet, Bashir still had his dark hair along with a finely trimmed beard.

The man grinned. “Forgot something again, Your Royal Highness?”

“Yes, I forgot—”

Bashir opened his palm and presented a cell phone.

“That.” Salah took it from him. “Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome. Luckily, I was doing a last-minute check of the palace.”

“Isn’t that a job for one of Hadi’s men?”

“Hadi has enough on his plate. The royal family’s security is a twenty-four-hour job.”

“You would know.”

“That’s why I’m helping him out. Shall we go?”

Salah and Bashir went down the stairs and almost reached the outside door when a phone rang.

Bashir stopped to check his phone. The man frowned and motioned for Salah to continue ahead.

Salah stepped out into the burning sun. Most of the idling Range Rovers were packed up and ready to go. His mother lingered next to one of the vehicles as she talked with both of her sisters. A servant held an umbrella above her head to block out the sun. His aunts loved discussing royal gossip, and his mother was always happy to oblige.

“Salah!” Bashir yelled from inside the palace.

As the prince turned around, Bashir grabbed him and dragged him inside the palace. Before Salah could ask the man why…

The front windows exploded as a shock wave ripped through the palace, knocking Salah and Bashir to the floor. Shards of glass and pieces of debris showered the large atrium.

The world stopped.

Salah’s ears rang. His mind was in a daze.

He felt the cool floor tiles pressed against his cheek.

What happened?

Before Salah could form any kind of answer to his question, Bashir turned him on his back. The man had a bleeding gash on his forehead. His hair was covered with dust, and his green eyes were laser-focused. The man shook Salah and tried talking to him…but the ringing in Salah’s head made it too difficult to understand, so he pointed at his ear.

Bashir checked both sides of his head, then pulled Salah to his feet. The boy leaned on Bashir as they moved away from the front door and deeper into the palace. He dragged Salah through the hallway where the servant’s quarters were. By this time, the ringing had stopped, and the screams of chaos began. Servants were running everywhere as confusion and fear took over the building. 
Bashir ignored it and kept pulling Salah relentlessly through the mayhem.

“What happened?” Salah managed to say.

“Are you injured?” Bashir asked. “I didn’t see any signs of a concussion.”

Salah honestly didn’t know. He felt no pain. He could stand and move. He wasn’t even sure why he leaned on Bashir so much.

“I don’t think so.” 

Bashir stopped at a locked door. He kicked it numerous times. Hard. Working on the door until the frame itself split, ripping out the door latch. He kicked the door open, releasing a stream of brilliant sunlight.

Salah had never seen the service area of the palace before. A refrigerated box truck sat nearby. Two delivery-men had the truck open in the back as they were loading produce and other frozen foods. They stood there, wondering what had happened. They asked Bashir.

He ignored them as he made his way to the front of the truck. Bashir shoved Salah into the cab as he climbed behind the wheel. The two delivery-men ran over to the door to confront Bashir, but then changed their minds when Bashir pulled out his automatic pistol.  

Bashir slammed the truck into gear and drove off.

Finally, Salah got a hold of himself. “What just happened? Where’s my family? What’s going on?”

Bashir ignored him as the truck flew through the empty palace checkpoint. He quickly got on the main road, still pushing the box truck as fast as it could go.

“Bashir!”

The man blinked. “It was an attack. A bomb.”

The pieces now all fit together inside Salah’s mind. “Wait, we must go back. People must be injured. My family is back there.”

Bashir concentrated on his phone.

“Did you hear me?” 

“The Bear is down,” Bashir said into his phone. “I repeat…the Bear is down. I have one cub. Track my phone. Send team for evac. Possible multiple casualties at Bear’s den number seven. Send everything you have there.”

The Bear was a codename the security men used for his father.
Multiple casualties?

Bashir put away his phone before he glanced over at Salah. “We can’t go back. You’re still a target. I need to put you somewhere safe as quickly as possible.”
None of this seemed real. Salah just saw his mother. He just talked to his father. His brothers were going to take him to Jaddah to find him a girl.

“Is my father dead?”

“I promise to give you information as soon as I get it.”

“So, you don’t know.”

“You should prepare yourself.”

“What does that mean?”

Bashir paused.

“Damn it…why can’t people just talk to me?”

“Salah, to be honest, I haven’t witnessed a blast like that since I worked as a military observer in Afghanistan. If we were standing outside when that bomb went off, we’d be dead.”

“Are you saying—?”

“May Allah curse me if I’m wrong. And I hope…I’m wrong.”

The pit of his stomach began to ache. The dread swelled up inside. 
Salah looked out over the dunes of sand and whispered a prayer to God.
 
 
   
Chapter 2


The large mountain peaks of the Rockies towered over their rental car as it weaved through the two-lane highway that began its long descent into one of the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. The late afternoon sun exposed the deep road cuts into the mountain, which highlighted different layers of colored rock formed millions of years ago. A geologist’s gold mine of information. Some of these minerals even twinkled in the sunlight.  

Nadia Sharif sat in the backseat, next to the window, admiring the wonder of it all. The science geek inside her was in rare sync with the girl who prayed five times a day. Agreeing that some things in this world are beautiful no matter what lens you look at them through.  

The other two girls in the backseat were gawking out the windows too. However, Nadia assumed that neither Emma nor Miyuki cared much about the fascinating geologic history of these mountains. Olivia might be interested. Or would at least appreciate her geeking out about the unique rock structures. However, Olivia drove with a laser focus, taking these twisty mountain roads seriously. Nadia respected that and didn’t want to distract her.

“Mountain goats!” Miyuki yelled as she pointed out the left side of the car.

“Where?” Emma asked, leaning forward towards Miyuki’s side of the backseat and checking the window. “I don’t see them.”

Miyuki pointed. “Follow your eye along that ledge, the one to the right of that patch of snow.”

Nadia leaned over Emma’s lap and went down low to see if she could see them through Miyuki’s window. 

“Oh, yeah. I see them now,” Emma said. 

“Do you see them?” Miyuki asked.

Nadia shook her head.

Miyuki and Emma scooted over so Nadia could get a better look. Nadia caught the snowbank and then traced the outline of the ledge to the right. Five animals with cotton white coats were clinging to the ledge as they crawled along it.
“Yes, I see them now.”

Emma’s grandmother leaned back from the front passenger seat, her white hair braided into one big ponytail. “What a great sense of balance those animals have. When you get older, you appreciate things like that.” 

“Enjoy the goats while you can, ” Olivia called out from the driver’s seat. “We’re about to head into a tunnel.”

Soon enough, the inside of the car went black as the dashing orange lights of the tunnel’s interior flashed through the car, leaving the goats behind.

This week had been fun. Nadia enjoyed spending time in the mountains. They were beautiful and enormous and fascinating and different than anything she had ever seen before. When Emma’s grandmother first suggested the trip, Nadia wasn’t too excited. She’d hoped for Hawaii. Maybe Texas, because Nadia wanted to see if cowgirls existed. Disney World could have been interesting too. As a kid, she always wanted to be a princess. Well, a princess who had her science lab in the castle. How else could she save everyone if a nasty virus struck the kingdom?

Their car emerged from the tunnel, and the daylight returned.
 
“What time is our flight?” Emma asked.

“Nineteen fifteen,” Nadia said.

“What?”

“Seven fifteen, love,” Olivia said. “Remember, Nads, you have to talk to Emma in American.” 

Miyuki covered her mouth and giggled.

“I would’ve figured it out,” Emma said. “We’re gonna get there early. Like, too early.”
Emma’s grandmother sighed. “Trans Global’s app says the flight is already delayed, so we should have plenty of time to find a nice restaurant inside the airport and relax before our flight.”

That satisfied Nadia because she was hungry. She noticed that since being in the mountains, her body burned calories like a super-furnace. She seemed to be hungry all the time.

Her phone rang. It listed an unknown number.  

Very strange. Nadia’s Authority-issued phone was advanced. Every call she received listed a name even if the caller wanted to remain anonymous. The Authority’s systems monitored the world’s communication system as closely as they could, identifying most of the calls that went through public systems. If the call originated from Mrs. B or another member of the Authority, the phone showed her a special identification symbol to know it was legit. But not this one.

Curious, Nadia answered.

“Greetings, Nadia,” the male voice began. “Salutations from the Pacific. I trust that your day has been filled with good cheer and happy memories.”

At first Nadia froze, her mind trying to place the familiar voice. The accent was American. Almost like Ryan’s, but she knew it wasn’t Ryan’s voice. What other boy would be calling—?

“Have I perplexed you, Nadia? Your silence leads me to assume that I haven’t adequately identified our past association—”

“Robert! Is that you, Robert?”

Nadia surprised herself with how strong that sentence came out. Robert was a machine. An intelligence drone had been created by the US Army to look and act like a human being. He was as life like as any boy she had ever met. So much so that—well, she still had a soft spot for him. Robert was a good friend, and hearing his unique voice again was amazing.

“Yes, I’m happy you remember our friendship. Have I reached you at a convenient time? I have been trying to reach you for several days. I even considered the possibility that you changed your phone number—”

“How are you? What have you been up to?”

“My body is performing at normal parameters. How is your body functioning?”

“My body…it’s performing within its normal parameters.”

“That is good to hear.”

“Who did you say that was?” Emma asked.

“I think she said Roberto,” Miyuki replied.

“Who’s Roberto?”

“She said Robert,” Emma’s grandmother corrected.

“Robert?” Olivia asked in shock. “What’s he doing? He’s not supposed to be contacting us.”

Nadia knew she was right. “Robert, why are you contacting me? Is there something wrong? Do you need our help?”

“Our situation here is stable. My apologies. My call was not meant to raise an alarm. On the contrary, I wanted to say hello. My social research has shown that human females worry about their relationships when a good friend does not communicate with them in a timely manner. I realized my error and wanted to alleviate your built-up anxiety. Am I helping you alleviate your built-up anxiety?”

“Oh look, she’s smiling.” Miyuki clapped. 

Nadia ignored the distraction. “Very much so. What have you been doing since I last talked to you? How are the other drones?”

“The other drones are performing within their normal parameters as well. To answer your first question, the day after you left us in Tahiti—which version of my life report would you prefer? I can present an hour-by-hour summary, a daily summary, or a monthly summary.”

“You remember everything?”

“Yes. I keep an internal journal of everything I do so I can review and improve myself.”

“I wish I had the time to hear your summary, but we’ll be flying home soon. We’re in Colorado on vacation.”

“Would you like me to send it to you in eBook form?” 

“Yes, I would.”

“As you read my daily summaries, if you have any suggestions or ways I could improve as a person, I would welcome the feedback.”

“Of course, I’d love to help you improve.”  

“Excellent. You are a good friend to me, Nadia.”

A feeling of warmth flowed over her. Her brain seemed to be filled with electricity, like all her neurons were firing off at once and overwhelming her cranium. 
“I value our friendship too, Robert.” 

There was a pause.

Everyone in the car listened. Hanging on Nadia’s every word. 
The call hadn’t dropped. Robert just wasn’t speaking.

“It was wonderful to talk to you. Please call me again…in a timely manner.”

“I will. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Robert.”

Miyuki shook with excitement. “You love him! Your face is red.”

“I don’t love him. We’re friends. I’m just happy to hear from him.”

Emma laughed. “Your face is so red it could stop traffic.” 

“I was surprised. Unprepared.” Nadia could feel her skin heating up. She didn’t like where this conversation was heading. “Leave me alone.” She turned away from her friends and focused on the snowy mountain peaks, wishing she could bury her head into one of those snowbanks to cool off. 


Two hours later, Emma’s grandmother turned in their rental car and marched the four girls through Denver International Airport. Their flight was delayed, but the Trans Global manager assured them that their flight to San Francisco would depart at the new time. Once they sorted and tagged their luggage, Nadia followed everyone into the terminal in search of something to eat. Their terminal was packed with travelers, most of them wanting to eat dinner as well. Luckily, Olivia found an open table at a sports bar that served food.

Nadia excused herself from the table. “If they come around, can someone please order me a cheeseburger with fries?”

“Order the onion rings instead,” Olivia said. “That way we can mix’em with my chips and share.”

“Just as long as you two sit together on the plane,” Emma added.

“That’s fine with me.” Nadia slipped out of the restaurant portion of the bar and walked down a few gates to the women’s restroom. It was before the next flood of arriving flights, so Nadia had plenty of stalls to choose from. 

After Nadia flushed the toilet, she was about to step out of the stall when she heard another familiar voice…

“Bejesus, that was fecking unbelievable,” a female voice said in a strong Irish accent. 

“Why are ya being so cross? That college boy was easy on the eyes.” Another young female with a similar accent.

“He wouldn’t stop bothering me.”

“He was flirtin’ with ya. Instead of complaining, you could have had some fun with it.” 

“I don’t want any fun. I want to sit on the plane and read my fecking book.”

A knot formed inside Nadia’s stomach. An uneasiness radiated through her nerves as she cracked open the stall door. At her angle, Nadia could see the mirrors above the sinks. Two identical twins with freckles and red hair were freshening up their make up. The twins were around Nadia’s age, and unfortunately, she knew both of them.

Why were Bridget and Sophia here in Denver?

Nadia slipped back into her stall as her mind highlighted the dangers. These girls were trained Venomous operatives. They were intelligent, ruthless, and a bit insane. Who knew what these crazy girls would do if they caught her inside here? Her best choice was to stay put and gather intelligence. She placed her ear to the side of the stall door and eavesdropped.

Bridget laughed. “Don’t wipe it off. Now you’re just being silly.”

“Don’t fecking care,” Sophia said. “I don’t need to wear makeup to sit on the plane and read a book.”

“Suit yourself. We’ve come this far to meet him, and if you want to look like a tired old housewife from Dublin—”

“I don’t look that hideous, do I?”

Who are they here to meet? Is it someone from Venomous? Is it a terrorist? Some international criminal? Nadia’s mind couldn’t help but wonder.  

“Right now, you look deranged with half your face covered with make up. Make a choice. On or off.”

“Bullocks. Help me fix it.”

“Hold still.”

Nadia waited as Bridget helped Sophia with her face. Her heart pounded the entire time.

“We’d better get on it. His plane should be pulling into the gate now.”

The girls packed up their things and headed out of the restroom. Nadia cleaned her hands as fast as she could and dried them as she slipped out of the restroom. She quickly scanned the crowd and feared she had already lost them. But her eyes caught Bridget moving in the opposite direction of the sports bar, with Sophia right next to her.

Nadia’s spy training kicked in. She removed her headscarf and fluffed her hair out a little to appear more American. She tailed them and called Olivia.

Their onion rings would have to wait.

 
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