Locked down on the outskirts of the emerging Chicago wasteland, a more nefarious conflict is brewing, one between Fire Dimas and a ruthless human trafficker with an axe to grind. In the high-stakes game of kidnappers and assassins, Fire and his brother, Ice, will tear the world apart to get what’s theirs, but will that be enough? And what about Rock?
Pinned down in a hot zone with a woman he’s not even sure he likes, Roque “Rock” Dimas is herded into the fiery center of an extinction-level event where only two choices exist: run for your life, or burrow in to the last place anyone sane would go and confront the enemy directly. The problem is, one man against a multitude of threats just isn’t enough…
Welcome to the next evolution of high-octane, post-apocalyptic survival fiction! The Age of Hysteria is filled with fully-developed characters you’ll love and want to know, big post-apocalyptic action, a splash of humor and the kind of nail-biting suspense that rarely lets up.
BOOKS IN THE COMPLETE AGE OF EMBERS SERIES:
- Age of Embers
- Age of Hysteria
- Age of Reprisal
- Age of Exodus
- Age of Defiance
Release date: April 10, 2019
Publisher: River City Publishing
Print pages: 328
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The Age of Hysteria
Sacramento, three days before the attack…
Amber Gunn drove into the parking lot in front of Roque Dimas’s shop and no one knew what to do except stare and try not to wet themselves. Maybe it was because she was the Hollywood “It Girl,” or maybe it was because she’d driven into the lot in a pearl blue Lamborghini Aventador with black matte striping and burnished copper rims.
“Wow,” Roque said.
He ran a hand through his hair, stroked his longish beard to smooth down the more unruly strands and pulled his white t-shirt at the bottom to straighten out any wrinkles.
The thing about this red-headed Hollywood starlet was wherever she went, Amber Gunn seemed to make a statement. The statement she was making right then was clear: I can show up anywhere, even on the industrial side of Sacramento, and my life is still so much better than yours.
“Bro, that’s a four-hundred thousand dollar car,” Leonardo said, breathless. “And I think that’s Amber Gunn. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
“It looks just like her,” Roque “Rock” Dimas said.
“You want me to help her?” Leonardo asked.
He was Rock’s twenty-three year old apprentice. The skinny Italian kid was learning to vinyl wrap cars with both the precision and the speed needed to help take Rock’s shop—Pimp’d Out Rides—to the next level.
“I got it,” Rock replied, stepping outside to greet her. Then, almost as an afterthought, he said, “But I promise I’ll introduce you.”
The Lamborghini’s door opened in typical fashion: straight up rather than out. The woman who got out of the car moved with such liquid grace it stilled him. With long coppery-red hair, big cat’s eye glasses and an overly bejeweled hand, Amber Gunn made her appearance.
Rock set his mouth in a flat, expressionless line, but the truth was, the woman was breathtaking. Looking at her, all he saw was shoes, legs, skirt, blouse and hair. Rock and Amber couldn’t be more different. He wore scuffed white Converse, ripped blue jeans and a vintage white t-shirt in need of a wash. She was ready for the club; he was ready to sweat out the next three jobs in a garage.
He almost couldn’t breathe, which seemed ridiculous. Then again, she wasn’t just an image. She was an ideal. The goal. Guys wanted her and girls wanted to be her.
The second he realized how overcome he was with her, he shut his emotions down. He didn’t like people like her, so by extension, he didn’t like her. That meant, whatever she wanted, or needed, he didn’t have to give it to her, because he didn’t want her money, and he couldn’t care less about basking in the glow of her celebrity status.
“You’re a long way from Hollywood in a car that doesn’t like long drives,” he said, matter-of-fact. He lifted a hand to shade his eyes.
“You’re telling me,” she replied with her trademark smile.
Amber Gunn was nowhere to be found in 2017, but in 2018 she hit her stride and then, all the sudden, she was everywhere—the movies, TV, the internet, magazine covers, daytime and nighttime talk shows…
Rock didn’t go to the movies, but he happened to be dating this yoga instructor at the time who had a thing for Hollywood documentaries, so they watched all three of the E! Channel features on Amber Gunn. Yes, all three.
Rock didn’t want to, but he knew her story well.
Most people did by now.
Amber was an unfortunate girl whose parents died when she was eighteen, a girl who found herself relegated to the street by the age of twenty-one. With the help of a movie producer who saw something in her no one else could see, he nursed her back to health, placed her with an acting coach, then coaxed a pretty incredible acting skillset out of her.
According to the Variety Magazine Rock had in the shop’s waiting area, Amber just signed on to star in the next “Star Wars” spin-off series. Now there she was, standing right in front of him.
“Rock Dimas,” he said, extending a hand.
She took it and said, “Amber Gunn, but it seems you already know that.”
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure who you were until my employee told me you were an actress or something.”
“Oh,” she said, her smile faltering some. “I was wondering why you weren’t acting star struck.”
“First off, I’m not fifteen. Second, I don’t do star struck,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. He knew he should smile, soften the edges of his attitude a bit, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“I love my fans, but sometimes, honestly, a girl can only take so much squealing and uncomfortable laughing before things get exhausting.” She said this in a very down-to-earth tone, as if it was the most adult thing this twenty-something had ever said.
This surprised him.
He was used to seeing the bubbly version of her in romantic comedies (rather, in the commercials for romantic comedies) and the tough-as-nails version of her in action films (he’d seen two of them and they were good).
He wasn’t sure what he expected when he first met her, but he didn’t think she’d be so pragmatic, so, almost…normal.
Clearing his throat, standing up straight, he said, “I think when Leonardo meets you, he’s going to squeal and laugh uncomfortably. He’s my apprentice, but he’s also young enough to still think Hollywood walks on water.”
“We do,” she grinned, pulling off her sunglasses. He’d seen her with freckles before, but now he didn’t see a single one. What he did see were her big green eyes.
Now he liked her even less.
Instead of letting his distaste show, he walked around the gorgeous blue super car and saw the problem right away. Amber followed his eyes to the hood of her car. There was a tear in the vinyl and a fair amount of rippling in the surrounding wrap.
“Yeah,” she said. “Apparently there’s some blistering, too.” She pointed to the other side of the hood, closer to the windshield.
He saw four or five problem areas.
“Is this isolated to the hood,” he asked, “or are there other spots on other panels?”
“Just the hood.”
“How long ago did you buy this?” he asked.
“Just now. The seller was from San Jose. He met me in Sacramento with the car on a flatbed. I’ve only had it for like half an hour.”
“Did the seller tell you that you’d need this done?”
“He did. I got a steal knowing I’d have to repair it, maybe even do a full wrap.”
“You won’t need a full wrap.”
“I would appreciate it if you could check over the rest of the car for…issues while you have it.”
He walked around the car, acutely aware of her presence, but refusing to show even one ounce of interest in her. After all, she was just a person with a pretty good job who got paid a lot of money to sell her soul to the highest bidder.
“Looks like it’s just the hood,” he announced. “I can wrap it, so long as you have the colors.”
She reached inside the car, came back out with a printed piece of paper and said, “The guy I bought the car from, he said to give you this.”
Rock took the sheet of paper, recognized the distributor and found the listed color codes for the pearl blue and the matte black. “I can get this for you in a day or so and have the job done in three.”
“Three days?” she asked, a little pouty. “I’d prefer you do it in two.”
He ran his hand along the affected surface of the wrap, then said, “I can do a crappy job and get it done in two. But then you’ll be back somewhere else, dragging my name through the mud because you insisted I do a three day job in two. The only thing I see is you unhappy. Is that what you want?”
“It’s just tape,” she tried reasoning, her youth now starting to show. Perhaps she was not so pragmatic after all.
“No, it’s not just tape, Ms. Gunn. There’s a process. And then there are measurements that must be exact. Judging by this right here”—he said, flicking the edge of the wrap along the front lip of the hood—“I’d say the person who did this either didn’t prep the surface properly, or they didn’t do the post-wrap heat. And the cut isn’t right either. The wrap was too short by one, maybe two millimeters.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“If the vinyl is pulled too tight without enough post-wrap heat, then your adhesion will be for crap and a wrap like this will last you one, maybe two years.”
“It’s fourteen months old,” she said.
“There you go.”
“Can’t you like, pull it tighter?” she asked. “Maybe glue it or something? I mean, you have to have adhesives for this, right?”
“The original wrap has to go,” he said. “And this is a half million dollar car brand new, right?”
“I didn’t pay that for it.”
“With all due respect, the only people who would primer a car like this, or rush it knowing what it is—or who you are—are either hacks or morons.”
“That’s not true,” she said, losing her confidence by the second.
“You’re right. Maybe not just hacks or morons. Maybe it’s also guys being told they only have two days to do a three day job by women with no experience in vinyl and no respect for people’s knowledge of their craft. And just so you know, it’s only three days if I put your job ahead of someone else’s.”
“I appreciate that,” she said.
“I didn’t say I was going to do that,” he replied.
“Like you said, I’m not one of your squealing fans. I don’t care about Hollywood, or the movies, and I’m certainly not star struck by any stretch of the imagination. You people have lost your freaking minds, as far as I’m concerned. No offense.”
“It’s not my ecosystem,” she replied, taken aback.
“Yet you reside in it,” he said. “Like I said, I don’t mean to offend you, but people like you are usually told whatever it is you’re told because you’re the talent and you don’t piss off the talent, right?”
“I suppose,” she said, putting her glasses back on.
“Well here I’m the talent, not you,” he said. “Here you’re just a paying customer, and I have lots of those. Some days more than I can handle.”
“I’m only a paying customer if I decide to use your services,” she said.
“Let’s be real, Ms. Gunn. You have a reputation to uphold. Imagine driving all the way to L.A. with that tear in the wrap. The wind shear alone will lift and pull at it in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. So now you roll into Hollyweird in your three-hundred thousand dollar car with what looks like some burnout’s version of an after-school project for a hood wrap. And you don’t have either the time, the patience or the resources to flatbed it out there—”
“I have assistants for that,” she said.
“Perhaps you should have sent them instead. At least when they drive this beast into the city all wonky and ratchet, the paparazzi won’t be flocking to photograph the car. Can you imagine the societal beating you’d take for driving a car like this into that human cesspool?”
“I wanted to drive it home.”
“Nevertheless, what I’m saying is the job will take me three days if I put your job ahead of my others.”
“I’ll double your price if you can get it done in two,” she said.
“You’re not really listening, are you?” he asked.
“Time is more valuable to me than money, right now,” she said, straightening her back and fixing him with a look.
“Same here,” he said.
Now she was stuck. She knew it and he could see it. For a second, he wanted to smile, not because he was a sadist, but because he won.
Sac town just beat Hollywood.
“Looks like we’re at an impasse,” he replied, not taking his eyes off her, not blinking.
The truth was, he was up to his ears in work and though he wasn’t short staffed, he was certainly understaffed, which not only made him impatient, it made him cranky. Add that to his other list of problems and the last thing he needed was some Hollywood floozy telling him how he needed to run his business.
She stared at him for a moment, then something in her expression changed. Like she had the big, bright idea. The way to fix all this. The way to win.
“You know how nerds always get that fantasy that some amazing looking superstar will show up on their patch of grass in the middle of nowhere important and somehow they’ll make this unexpected love connection that eventually turns into great sex right before the superstar leaves town and heads back to her real life, forever changing the nerd?”
“I haven’t heard that story,” he said, holding up three fingers. “Three days.”
“You could write that story, Rock. I mean, I’m not a bad looking woman, you’re not a bad looking guy. C’mon man. Work with me here.”
“How did you get here?” he asked, his patience drawing thin. “I mean, who sent you?”
“The buyer,” she said. With a little extra bite to her tone because he wasn’t budging, she said, “He assured me you were the best at what you do.”
“He also said you were very cute, but that sadly, you were into girls.”
Rock laughed at this. Was she actually becoming human? He didn’t think that was even possible. To this, he said, “I am, and I am,”
“Well, I happen to be a girl…” she said, toying with her hair, now laying on the charm. He wasn’t going to lie, her behavior was not entirely ineffective.
She was an actress though.
“And I happen to like your Lamborghini,” he replied, causing her to drop her hair and frown. “Look, I appreciate you being forward and all. And it would be flattering if I was into that sort of thing, but the truth is, you caught me at a time when morality matters to me. I don’t do random sex, certainly not with actresses, and I won’t overcharge you—as you so eloquently suggested—just because I can. That’s bad business.”
“Are you always this standoffish?” she said, her tone changing back to “business Amber.”
“To women, yes.”
“And here I thought I should be the one playing hard to get.”
He didn’t know how to reply, so he just looked into her glasses where he thought her eyes should be. All he saw was his own reflection, one of him in each lens.
“So I can have it early on the third day?” she asked, barely masking her disappointment. “Because if I can have it then without you having to get your panties in a twist about three days, I think I can live with that.”
He took a deep breath…
“On the morning of the third day, assuming I get the wrap tonight or tomorrow, I’ll give it an early inspection and call you if it’s good. If there are not issues, then you can come pick it up first thing in the morning.”
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