I just finished my origin novel to my Playing with Fire book, A Fated Exception. It’s called, Spliced (formerly called A Thief’s Secret), and it’s all about sexy shapeshifter Tyler, the male protagonist in A Fated Exception.
I’ll have to admit, it was a little strange writing from a male perspective, but Modified was primarily geared towards men, so I did have that going for me. It turned out a bit darker than I had intended. People have asked me before if I’m a plotter or a pantser, when it comes to how I write. I usually answer plotter, but I do allow a lot of leeway when I actually put pen to paper. I had a rough outline for this short book (about the size of a Modified volume), but as I was writing it, it took turns I didn’t expect. Those are always the most fun books to write for me, when the characters end up surprising me! I hope it all makes sense in the end.
I haven’t put this up for sale yet, as it will be included as part of a bonus giveaway for ordering the Playing with Fire box set. Our pre-sale will go up shortly, so I’ll post another blog with the links. After the box set goes live, I’ll likely price it at .99 cents in Kindle Unlimited going forward.
Here’s the first chapter, let me know what you think. 🙂
By Kat Stiles
There is an art to thievery. I prefer banks, mostly because of all the goodies in the vault. A single piece of jewelry, plucked from just the right safe deposit box of just the right heiress, could fund me for months. But scores like that don’t just happen. To pull it off without getting caught requires surveillance, attention to detail, and planning. Even with the power to shapeshift.
I was one of many “enhanced,” babies who were genetically modified in utero. It was a procedure my father invented, and I was one of the first successfully enhanced. Others with enough money followed, ultra-rich parents ensuring their offspring were better than perfect. My father had found a way to control genetic mutations, and beyond that, to enhance a single gene or set of genes involved in one functional area. In my case, he had isolated a specific gene involved in adaptation, or survival. It gave me a better immune system growing up—I can recall being sick only twice in my life. The enhancement wasn’t intended to create super powers, it was only supposed to sharpen normal cognitive functions or adaptive behaviors. The super human abilities were only discovered many years later, when the subjects reached adulthood.
Most people viewed the abilities of enhanced as more of a curse than a miracle. Many died, their bodies incapable of surviving the cellular metamorphosis that occurs when a power manifests itself. And that’s when it all came crashing down on my father. Once touted as a genius and the father of new evolution, he became a demon in the public eye. The lawsuits came, an avalanche of them. His company folded and debtors still wanted more. The only thing he managed to save was his Rolls-Royce, which he signed over to me before it all fell apart. I knew it was impractical to keep it. But I wanted a piece of who I was to survive.
I thought of my father often. Everyone assumed he was dead—they found his blood splattered all over his favorite chair in the den, but not his body. I swear it was like something out of an old horror film the day the mansion was stormed, complete with villagers and their pitchforks. They were out for blood, and they got it. The police investigation was a joke—half the country was a suspect. I gave up hope that he had somehow survived, but I found little ways to assist karma on his behalf. Taking from all these rich families who turned their backs on him, balancing the scales just a little, helped me breathe. It gave me a purpose, something so many of my wealthy former friends lacked.
My target: The Edward J. Donalds bank on Reynolds street. It was different from its sister branches strewn about the city in one aspect alone: it lacked a fancy high-tech vault security system. Its location of being within walking distance of the richest neighborhood in the city meant a lot of old money banked there. The bluebloods of the city, people my father was in business with, before he lost everything. You could smell the superiority when you walked in; the air had a subtle aroma of high-priced cologne and perfumes, like an olfactory notice that only the best bank here. The architecture within only reinforced this perception, with its tall ceilings and decorative touches—chandeliers that cost more than most people’s salaries and sconces with more details than you’d find in a sculpture. It was obscenely lavish, no doubt to cater to its high-end clientele.
If I had three pieces of information, I had a reasonable probability of success. The first thing was the person in charge, or who I had to shapeshift into. The second was an idea of whose safe deposit box I wanted to steal. When a single box wasn’t big enough of a score, I’d target a few more, but no more than five. I’ve been surprised by hidden cameras before, and it’s hard to talk your way out of emptying six deposit boxes, no matter what your title is in the bank. The third thing I needed to know was an exit strategy—exactly how I planned on leaving, as well as a contingency plan in the event someone started asking questions. I’m not horrible at thinking on my feet, but it was always more believable to come up with a plausible lie beforehand.
The branch manager with access to the vault was a woman in her forties named Margaret Jones, but her coworkers called her Peggy. From what I could observe, she assisted with vault requests throughout the day, so that part was just a matter of timing. As far as what to steal, there were three prizes I wanted: the heirloom necklace Lacey Vanderklein just inherited, a whopping 15 carats worth of flawless diamonds; the 5 carat diamond ring Simon Kensington recently returned to the vault, after his fiancé ran off with a plumber from the southside of the city; and a gold-plated bracelet with a heart charm, worn from years of use. If I could time it right, I could be in and out within the two-hour window around lunch—the busiest time when unusual behavior would be least likely to be noticed.
Shapeshifting itself wasn’t the hard part. Rearranging my cells, taking on the appearance of those I’d touched—that was just a matter of picturing the person and transforming. The tricky part was the mannerisms. Everyone has their own little ticks, be it rubbing foreheads, biting nails, or picking at scabs or zits. Of course, I had mine too, and that’s what got me in trouble most of the time. Without even thinking about it, I tend to massage the back of my neck when talking to people. That or rub the bridge of my nose, especially when dealing with someone particularly stupid. But the one that gave most people pause was, without a doubt, my tendency to fidget with pens. I flipped them through my fingers, disassembled the ones that came apart, even clicked them on and off, when I got really nervous.
If I could keep my cool and avoid pens, I would be unstoppable.
As a matter of course, I always dressed sharp. Even when doing surveillance, it made it easier to work unchallenged. It’s ridiculous how much you can get away with by just looking like you belong. Tailored suits from a time in my life when money wasn’t a concern, helped to pull off the façade. My closet also contained a choice of respectable but loose-fitting dresses; though I could change my molecules into any form, I couldn’t create clothing. I carried either a backpack or a large tote to store a different set of clothes in, depending on which sex I had shifted into, and how sophisticated my character was.
Before I left my condo, I shifted into a gorgeous but refined brunette female I met earlier at the coffee shop. Beautiful women leaving my place only contributed to a perception of me as a playboy. In truth, it had been too long since I had the pleasure of female companionship. It was irresponsible and dangerous, for someone like me.
I chose a woman to pull off the heist because people trust women more than men, an inarguable truth. And pretty women? They could practically murder someone on the street and get away with it.
The cop standing guard just inside the bank entrance smiled at me as I approached. I covertly brushed his arm as I greeted him, an older man likely on the verge of retirement. I tried not to screw with cops as a matter of principle if I could avoid it, but if it all went to hell, I could change my clothes and morph into him to get away. Contingency plan, check.
I took a deep breath and exhaled. The massive interior swallowed me whole, and I was nothing more than a beautiful adornment to the professionally designed décor. I willed my feet to keep moving. These were all merely people playing at life, just as I was, I reminded myself. Performing one small task after another, muddling through the day fueled by a coffeehouse recyclable cup tucked away in a corner obscured from customers’ view.
Peggy was with the tellers, behind a tall glass barrier that was supposed to keep them safe from people like me. I approached an open teller and was greeted with a friendly but mechanical smile.
“How can I help you?”
The teller was probably in his twenties, dressed in a moderately nice suit and tie. I returned the polite smile and cleared my throat.
“I would like to inquire about renting a safe deposit box.”
“Sure, I can help you with that.” He grabbed some forms and started rambling a set of instructions to fill them out.
“I have some…concerns. Can I speak to the person who handles these? I believe her name is Ms. Jones.”
“Absolutely, let me see if she’s available.” He slid me the forms and of course, a pen. “You can hold on to these in the meantime.” Another flat smile and then he left to find her.
I dismantled the fancy pen as they discussed me, her eyes taking me in from afar. She nodded and left the confines of tellerland to meet me. I abandoned the pen innards on the counter, pushing them off to the side so the teller wouldn’t see the disemboweled mess.
“Ms. Margaret Jones, nice to meet you,” She offered her hand, which I gratefully shook.
“Come, we can discuss your concerns at my desk.” Her expression seemed honest, sincere. I frowned as we walked to her office. It shouldn’t have mattered, but I hated deceiving genuine people.
She closed the door behind us to her office: a large room with a fireplace, small conference table, and a monstrosity of a wooden desk, which I’d have expected to see a CEO seated at more than a branch manager.
The chairs positioned opposite it were riveted leather, cold and yet somehow comfortable. I took a seat as she settled into her tall, ergonomic desk chair. A computer monitor and keyboard were on the left side of the desk, and she appeared to be logging in.
“Is it about the security system?” she began, as she finished on the computer. “Because I can assure you, we have immediate—”
I groaned, grabbing my abdomen.
“Ma’am, are you all right?” Alarm registered on her face, and her hand went to the receiver of her desk phone.
“Yes, I…” I closed my eyes, squinting. “Cramps, they’re so bad on the first day…” Something one of my girlfriends told me about her cycle. Hopefully, plausible enough.
“Should I call a doctor? An ambulance?”
I attempted to stand and faltered. She moved out from behind her desk to help me. Her proximity, with the door closed, was the opportunity I waited for.
“Forgive me,” I whispered, as I slid my arm beneath her throat. I shifted into a male body builder’s form and applied a sleeper hold to cut off her oxygen. She tried to scream but could only manage a high-pitched gasp. It wasn’t long before he body slumped, unconscious.
I dragged her limp body behind her desk, took her shape, and then did a quick change into her clothes, leaving her in her undergarments. I took the keys from her pocket and turned to her console. It didn’t take a computer genius to figure out the software, and in seconds I accessed the database behind the vault. I wrote the safe deposit box numbers for the items I wanted on my palm. A large manila envelope sat on the corner of the desk, the perfect container to store the jewelry. I snatched it, emptying the pages it contained on the desktop.
Everything was going so smoothly. For once in my life, I—
A soft knock sounded on the door, and a small waifish woman entered. “Peggy?”
I smiled the kind of scared, awkward smile that bounces onto your face when you’re caught doing something wrong but still have a glimmer of hope you can pull it off.
“Yes?” In my mind, I cursed my hand that now massaged the back of my neck.
“I’ve got some papers for you to review.”
I couldn’t tell whether the confused expression she wore was my cover blown, a headache or just her natural expression. Before she could walk any farther into the office, I scurried over to her.
“Of course, I’ll get to this as soon as I can.” I took the papers from her and ushered her out of the room. I turned the lock on the inside of the door and locked it shut behind us both.
“Is everything okay?” the waifish woman asked.
I exhaled, only then aware I’d been holding my breath. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just busy…” I caught myself rubbing the bridge of my nose and had to force myself to stop. “Is there anything else you need?”
That seemed to placate her. “No, you look stressed out, is all. I can help you, if you—”
“Thank you, I’m fine,” I said, mustering up as much confidence as I could.
“Oh, you’ve got the TPS reports done? Already?” She reached for the envelope in my hands.
I backed away from her. “No! I…I’m not done with them yet.”
“Ooooookay. I’ll check back with you later.” She looked at me sideways, before walking off.
I bolted to the vault, fishing the keys out of my pocket. The lock on the gigantic metal door was a Charlton, world renown for being impossible to pick. The key itself was noticeably different from all the others on her keyring, having a microchip and unique teeth. I slipped it into the large metal door and opened the elaborate lock.
Unsure of how long the real Peggy would be out, I worked with unearthly speed.
Three boxes. The first two went without a hitch—I snatched the prized items I wanted and emptied the rest out of the boxes for good measure. Those elitist pricks wouldn’t even blink at the theft. There are plenty of other breathtaking pieces in France for them to acquire, and the insurance would more than cover their losses.
The last box I couldn’t open fast enough. I sifted through the papers, digging to no avail. The bracelet wasn’t in there. I sighed. It was stupid to think he would want to safeguard such an insignificant trinket. I thought maybe, since these were my father’s papers that it would’ve been included, stuffed in between the pages as haphazardly as they were taken. I had to face the fact that it was likely discarded. Still it wasn’t a total loss, the paperwork was useful.
I gathered the expensive jewelry and stowed the papers in the envelope. I was just about to leave, when I noticed the camera in the corner.
Shit. It wasn’t that I was worried about getting caught. I took Peggy’s form, after all, and I never even did surveillance in my own form. When it came to thievery, I was nothing if not careful. But I couldn’t bear the thought of that poor woman going to jail for my actions.
I turned away from the camera and shifted into someone else, a plain-looking man about the same size as Peggy, with no discernable features. When I was first learning to shift, I practiced in front of a mirror and could see glimpses of my real form as I changed. I got better at it, but it was a reasonable precaution to take. I faced the camera and gave a little smile and wave. Who says you can’t have fun while robbing a bank?
And then the door to the vault moved, opening slowly.