And now for the good news that I teased yesterday!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve signed the contract with my publisher, Dog Star Books/Raw Dog Screaming Press, for the sequel to STEEL VICTORY. STEEL MAGIC will be released in 2016, and follows the adventures of warrior-mages Toria and Kane as they set off on their first contract as professional mercenaries.

You can find the official press release here, but here’s the teaser blurb:

“In Steel Magic, warrior-mages Toria and Kane are finally ready to begin their mercenary careers and debating between monster hunting and cushy bodyguard jobs. Instead, they are hired to investigate a much more serious problem—the world’s mages are disappearing. But when a friend is kidnapped, they’ll have to travel across the globe to save her, save themselves, and save magic itself.”

I started writing this sequel pretty much immediately after signing the contract for STEEL VICTORY. I know one of the greatest frustrations of fantasy/science fiction readers is having to wait years between installments in a series, and I am determined to buck this trend. In fact, I had the first draft of book 2 in the hands of RDSP only a few days after the launch of book 1! And if you’re keeping track of my NaNoWriMo progress, you know that I’m already hard at work on book 3.

Thank you so much to everyone who has read and reviewed STEEL VICTORY so far. Starting the sequel before the first book saw the light of day was a real leap of faith, and I’m thrilled by all the positive feedback I’ve gotten in the past few months. STEEL MAGIC is definitely written for you.

As a special treat, the first scene is included here behind the jump. (Please note that this is not the final version.)

Toria knew funerals were more for the living than the dead, but she couldn’t help imagining her old teacher scoffing at all the fuss. She sat with Kane on a wooden bench in the back of the chapel as the officiant droned on about remembrance and honor. Toria toyed with the hem of her skirt, wrapping a loose thread around and around her slender fingers. Kane captured her hand in his darker one to stop her fidgeting.

As the heads in front of her all bowed in prayer, she lifted her gaze to the large stained glass window at the front of the chapel. The chapel was nondenominational, and the glassworks’ abstract shapes were designed to be as inoffensive as possible. Master Procella had been a lifelong bachelor, not particular about his religious leanings, but his sister had planned the funeral. In all likelihood, Marcos would rather have had them all dancing around a bonfire while keeping the drinks flowing.

He’d been the first mage in Limani to welcome her and Kane, the city’s first bonded warrior-mage pair in over a century, with open arms. He had fully supported them splitting their attention between the mage school and the local mercenary Guildhall rather than insisting they dedicate their increased power to magic alone.

Kane nudged Toria up as he stood, so she was just a tad behind in timing. Her partner was much better at paying attention to social cues, but he was also less affected by this loss. Marcos Procella had been Toria’s original magic instructor, first leading her through exercises in sensing the power around her and later in the more delicate skill of manipulating bioelectricity. Her first lesson had been at five years old, when she started showing evidence of mage talent. That had been almost twenty years ago. He had been the only other storm mage in the city of Limani, and she had learned much from him over the years. He’d have been irritated to die peacefully in his sleep. She tried not to remember Master Procella as she had last seen him, frail and wheelchair-bound. She would much rather recall the vibrant man who had taught her to throw lightning. How to mesh her energy with Kane’s earth power. How to appreciate fine wine.

The officiant led a final moment of silence while they all stood, then he stepped down from the podium, robes flowing around him. Toria waited with Kane while the majority of the funeral’s attendees filed out of the chapel before leaving. The double doors at the rear had already been thrown open, and the summer’s oppressive humidity cut through the chapel’s pitiful excuse for air conditioning. Toria pushed a short lock of brown hair behind her ear, feeling the hair at her neck frizz.

Kane captured her hand again as he led her out of the chapel into the bright sun. With her free hand, she pulled her sunglasses from the neck of her blouse and slipped them on. The body had been cremated and only family had been invited to the following dinner, so she and Kane milled about with the other friends and acquaintances.

She resisted the urge to call up a breeze. A summer storm was threatening to break, and they didn’t need the sudden deluge that the colder air would bring forth.

“Ms. Connor? Mr. Nalamas?”

They both turned at the hesitant voice approaching behind them, and Toria resisted the urge to correct her use of their titles to “Master.” This was neither the time nor the place for being that sort of a stickler. A woman also dressed in a sensible mourning skirt and blouse led two elementary school-aged children toward them, a boy and a girl. Toria had noticed them on the other side of the chapel during the service, sitting farther toward the front. The girl’s blouse had come untucked, and the boy’s tie was loosened. Both had red-rimmed eyes that matched how hers must look under her shades.

Toria could sense the power emanating from the children. Their element was air, if she wasn’t mistaken. The summer heat sat heavy around them, but she didn’t feel the breeze that stirred both kids’ blond hair. That meant their control still needed work, but at least they were keeping the breeze within shields. Master Procella had reprimanded her many times over her years of training for messing with the weather patterns as she grew into her power. These kids were doing pretty well for their age and obvious emotional stress.

“Yes?” Kane said. “Can we help you?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You don’t know me. I’m Dana Sjolander. These are my kids, Reed and Maggie.”

Kane folded his tall frame to kneel in front of them. “Hey, guys. I’m Kane.”

Maggie ducked behind her mother, but Reed stepped forward. “Hi. Is it true you grew that oak tree behind the mage school in less than a day?”

That startled Toria into a laugh, which was a welcome relief from the melancholy she’d felt since learning of Master Procella’s death. She hadn’t thought about that tree in years.

Kane echoed with his own chuckle, shaking his head. “Hardly. A certain storm mage, who shall not be named, accidently struck it with lightning. I only repaired a lot of the damage. That tree was there long before we were born.”

Maggie also giggled, and Dana beamed down at her kids. “I knew that couldn’t be true,” she said, “but who was I to tell them otherwise? They got the magic from my late husband. I’m just a nurse.”

“It’s nice to meet all of you.” Kane shook Reed and Maggie’s hands before standing to also shake their mother’s.

“How can we help you?” Toria asked.

Dana glanced around at the mourners clustered in little groups around them, though most had begun to drift toward their electric town-cars in the neighboring parking lot. “This probably isn’t the right time for it, and I’m sorry for that. But I wanted you to meet the twins. They need your help.”

Toria heard Kane ask what was wrong, but she had already called forth her magesight, bringing the magic that filled the world into focus around her. She faded out her familiar shields, violet prismatic structures that surrounded her and Kane. Kane’s own fluid emerald shields, like forest shadows at dusk, faded next. Next, she tuned out the chapel, which emanated with the benevolent ambient rainbow of power fueled by generations of worship.

Dana had spoken true. The mother had no magical ability to speak of, but her gentle cerulean aura was echoed by the whirlwind of azure and indigo hues that surrounded both of her children. Both of their shields needed work, but Toria’s had been just as disjointed at their age.

At first glance, she saw no major problems. Smooth shields came more from experience than from power, and she saw none of the fluctuations that signaled illness or injury. There was also no tarnish that indicated a curse placed upon the children, nor any other signs of darker power.

“No, no,” Dana said. “They’re fine. It’s just that we’re in a bit of a dilemma. Were the two of you planning on taking over the mage school?”

Kane turned to her, an unspoken question in his eyes, but Toria shrugged in response. She’d heard nothing about the mage school in recent memory. To be fair, she and Kane had been wrapped up with finishing their college degrees in the past few months. Graduation had been less than two weeks before, and since then, their focus had shifted to relaxing and catching up on all the movies and books they’d missed with their overloaded schedules over the last two semesters.

“What’s going on with the school, ma’am?” Kane said. “We graduated almost five years ago, and we haven’t kept in touch very well.”

“I guess not,” Dana said. “Master Procella was the last master there. Without him, my kids have no one left to teach them.”

No one left? Toria had no words. Maybe they should have kept in better contact.

Kane spoke first, ever the diplomat. “Well, that’s definitely something we can look into,” he said. “And I will keep you informed of what we decide. But I’m afraid we can’t really make any commitments now.”

“I understand,” Dana said. “But if no one takes over the school here in Limani, and I can’t find any other mages in the city to train them, the twins will have to go to school up north. I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m worried about being so far from them. Not to mention the tuition costs.”

“They certainly can’t go untrained,” Toria said. “And I promise we won’t let that happen. Something will work out.”

“Thank you,” Dana said. “Here’s my number. Please, call me anytime.” She pressed a business card into Toria’s hand, then took each of her kids by the hand and led them toward the parking lot.

“Well,” Kane said. “I was not expecting that.”

“I had no idea,” Toria said. “You?” This was the distraction she had needed from mourning Master Procella’s death, but not the distraction she might have wanted.

“Of course not. We’ve been living and breathing schoolwork for almost a year. I haven’t spoken to another mage except you in ages.” Kane tucked Toria’s hand in the crook of his elbow and led her toward the parking lot.

It was true. Maximillian Asher, the head of Limani’s Mercenary Guild, had sat them both down after the unfortunate events with the Roman army two summers ago to discuss their futures as mercenaries. He’d been polite, but firm. Chemistry and literature where honorable courses of study, but neither would help in their chosen career field. So they had added political studies to their course loads, overloading their schedules every semester to accommodate the extra classes and still graduate on time.

“We can’t take on two students,” Toria said, feeling the need to state the obvious. “Neither of us is air, we have no experience teaching, and Max will never let us push off our journeyman rotation any longer. Hell, we should have done it after high school.”

“I know,” Kane said. “But we can’t let those kids go untrained. And they probably aren’t the only students at the school right now. We have a responsibility to them.” He unlocked their town-car when they reached it but didn’t open the driver’s side door.

Toria stared at him over the roof. “Looks like our vacation is over.”

I hope you’re as excited for the rest as Sam and Dean are!