AAAH!!!!! I don’t even know where to start when it comes to sharing this news. Siena Saint James Is Not a Spy is now available for pre-order on Amazon!!! Or, the ebook is at least. The paperback and vocab versions will be available March 1!
Exciting as this news is, I’m strangely of two minds when it comes to sharing it.
On the one hand, Siena Saint James Is Not a Spy is hands-down the best thing I’ve ever written. Possibly the best thing anyone’s ever written.
On the other hand, my paralyzing fear of failure and rejection makes it a tad stressful to share these super “close to the heart” projects.
Needs must, though. And this book was so much fun at every turn, it’ll still be one of the best things I’ve ever done even if it only sells five copies. I’ll write a behind-the-scenes post next if you’re interested in that sort of thing!
But for now, feast your eyes on this exclusive, never-before-seen sneak peek from Siena Saint James Is Not a Spy!
When I was twelve years old, I decided I wanted to be a spy. Jennifer Garner was getting her teeth pulled out by a sadistic interrogator in Taiwan, and I thought, this is the life for me.
Alias continued to be my favorite show until its lackluster final season, when I began seriously preparing myself for a life of espionage.
I took karate classes, though I found the studio’s fluorescent lighting unbearable. I studied abroad across Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. I started sitting with my back to the wall. You know, all the things the pros do.
It wasn’t until I was about to graduate that I finally accepted a harsh reality: I was never going to make it as a spy.
My lack of inches wasn’t the problem, though being a five-foot-tall, 100-pound blonde female probably isn’t an advantage when fighting off bad guys.
No, it was something far more sinister…a diabolical curse that rendered me hopelessly disoriented each time I went somewhere new.
In plain English: I have a terrible sense of direction.
I considered the countless times Jennifer Garner sprinted out of a building, a bomb inside mere moments from exploding. Never — not once in all my watches and rewatches — did I see her pause to say, “Wait, if I turned right to get in here…that means I turn left to get out, right?”
My sense of direction was so bad, I got lost in parking lots. And that was without counterespionage agents pursuing me.
Honestly, the prospect of fighting off bad guys didn’t scare me. Nor did the frequent identity changes associated with the job. I fancied I could even disarm a nuclear weapon if called upon to do so. But the embarrassment of getting lost on a mission…
With my dream over before it began, I moved to New York after graduating and began working at a high-end auction house called Belliston’s. Surprisingly, my spy prep translated quite well to the world of art and antiquities. Both fields, after all, are heavily rooted in history, languages, and travel.
I liked working at Belliston’s…but I never lost that initial interest in espionage.
That’s probably why I was so disappointed to hear myself sobbing and screaming, “I swear on my life, I’m not a spy!” at a tender 24 years of age.
No, dear reader, I didn’t stop there for dramatic effect. Well, maybe I did, but there are a few things you should know before we proceed with the narrative.
The first is that, though I love working at Belliston’s, I haven’t had a day’s vacation since I started there nearly three years ago. Sure, I’ve had vacation days, but I used them to visit family. I’m talking about a vacation.
The second is that, though I’m surrounded by immense wealth at work, my salary is only slightly higher than that of your average Walmart greeter.
The third is that I’m a firm believer in intuition. Maybe not everyone’s, but mine is always right. More or less.
All these factors came together shortly after my 24th birthday, when I stumbled upon a heavily-discounted, week-long Krav Maga camp in Israel. I was at the tiny table in our kitchen – if a sink full of dirty dishes and a counter the size of a cutting board constitute a kitchen. Such accommodations were fairly standard in Manhattan, but I considered myself lucky. From seven stories up, one could gaze upon the East River and Roosevelt Island through gorgeous, vintage-paned windows. But that blustery March morning, all you could see was a misty gray.
Facing the window, I sat with one knee up and stared at the phrase “A Trip That Will Change Your Life” splashed across my laptop screen.
I must’ve been radiating waves of excitement because my roommate Christine stopped to see what I was looking at. Clad in silk pajamas and last night’s mascara, she looked like Hangover Barbie. Her physical characteristics included long legs, big boobs, and waves of platinum blonde hair. Makeup, last night’s or otherwise, was superfluous to her obvious beauty.
I’ve known Christine for years – we work together at Belliston’s – but something changed in her demeanor after we moved in together last summer. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was like…she was trying to keep me in my place? Like, “You may be pretty enough to be seen and occasionally photographed with me, but never forget that I am your social superior…”
For instance, I rarely mind how much taller everyone is than I. But Christine lorded her extra ten inches over me, looking down her perfectly-straight nose with narrowed eyes and an exaggerated tilt of the neck.
She comes from some oil billionaire family in Texas, and the contrast with my comfortably working-class origins is only amplified by close proximity. I once made the mistake of asking her opinion on what I should wear for a date.
Standing before my closet, whipping hangers to the side with a look of faint disgust, she eventually settled on a black shift dress. “Who’s this by?”
“Umm…Target?” I responded.
She couldn’t have looked more horrified if I slapped her in the face. “I can’t believe you just said that out loud.”
Christine’s had a tough couple of years, so I tried to ignore (or laugh at) such comments. Coming from a world where she had horses, summers in San Tropez, and a housekeeper diving in front of her with an umbrella if it started raining, Christine never expected to work for money.
Then her dad went to jail for insider trading and the family fortune evaporated in a dizzying series of fines and asset seizures. Overnight, she became vulnerable to the horrors of reality, like the monthly rate of an Equinox membership.
In some ways, I admired her. She refused to lower her standards, so she worked her ass off as an influencer when we weren’t already working our asses off at Belliston’s. That’s why she was so status-conscious, I think. All that remained of her former life was her appearance. She could afford the clothes, but was still figuring out how to regain the lifestyle.
Barefoot and smelling vaguely of vodka, Christine leaned down to read my screen. Masses of platinum, extensions-laden hair weighed heavily on my shoulder. “What the hell is Krav Maga?” she asked.
I resisted the urge to slap the laptop closed. “Israeli martial arts,” I said. “I’m thinking of going to Israel for an intensive week of it.”
Her face lit up in amusement. “Oh my God, Siena. Imagine little old you fighting someone! That is hilarious.” Then she booped me on the nose like I was a dog, or she was Alexis from Schitt’s Creek. The show struck a chord with her for obvious reasons.
I emitted a half-smile, my default response to her mildly condescending comments, and returned my attention to the screen. Christine had already moved on to her next task by the time I looked up.
Holding a cup of coffee, she was filming an Instagram story on her way back to bed. “Hello, loves! Now, this is sponsored, but I would never recommend a product I don’t use myself…”
And she started going on about some hair-growth vitamins that were unopened on our counter.
Dripping sweat, I ran for my life down Tel Aviv’s glorious coastline. At five in the morning, I was trapped in a chronological no-man’s-land. Shops were closed, late-night revelers had staggered to sleep, and sun-seekers hadn’t yet awoken. The only witness to my plight was the starving sun. After a night in captivity, the fiery orb consumed the sky and sea, leaving barren fields of pink and orange in its wake.
The mob was still behind me, though I didn’t dare turn around. When one is being pursued by men armed with guns, knives, and sticks, the auditory sense is sufficient, and I could hear them shouting.
The sand was doing funny things to my legs; it was only a matter of time before I stumbled. The sun warmed my back, wondering if I’d make a tasty aperitif. I searched desperately for a location — any location — where I might have the slightest advantage in a fight.
Despite the formidable weaponry behind me, the sand eager to trip me, and the sun threatening to consume me…I knew the biggest threat was actually the Mediterranean Sea to my left. Its gently lapping waves looked peaceful, but I’d be pitifully easy to drown. In a nautical confrontation, the tallest person nearly always wins, and few adults in the world are shorter than I. None of the guys behind me fit the bill. They all topped me by approximately 12 inches.
I thanked God I spent so much time on the beach while studying abroad. I’d traversed this path hundreds of times that beautiful semester, and even my directionally-challenged brain couldn’t befuddle something as straight as a shoreline. If I kept going, eventually I’d hit Ramat Aviv and Tel Aviv University.
There wasn’t a chance I’d make it to campus, though. It was two miles away, at least. But if I could make it another quarter mile or so, I’d reach a wide boardwalk. There, the sand transitioned to smooth, wooden slats that rose high above a rocky part of the coastline, and a thick metal railing protected pedestrians from falling.
In Burn Notice, Michael Weston talks about how he likes fighting in bathrooms. “Lots of hard surfaces,” he says in his characteristically deadpan delivery, slamming an attacker’s face into a sink.
I decided a railing wasn’t a terrible alternative. If nothing else, it protected me from the sea and forced the bad guys to stay in front of me.
The men were closing in, but their weapons made it difficult to sprint at full speed. I’ve never gone running with a golf club, but I imagine it’s rather unwieldy. A burst of adrenaline got me to the boardwalk, and I could’ve cheered when my feet reached the stable wooden slats. The railing wasn’t far now! Staggering as I slowed, I positioned my back to the metal. Then, in preparation for the coming onslaught, I put my hands on my knees and gasped for air. Sweat trickled down my temples.
The aggressors formed a semicircle before me, and I straightened to meet them. There were four, bulging biceps and admirable pectorals heaving beneath their Krav Maga tank tops. Most looked like they could carry me under one arm.
I should’ve been terrified. The simulation was meant to feel as real as possible, minus the rubber weapons, but I couldn’t help but smile at the absurdity of it all. This felt like real spy training. And quite frankly, there wasn’t a chance that “The Farm” where CIA agents train was half as beautiful as Tel Aviv.
One of the artificial assailants was an instructor. Hailing from Australia, he introduced himself as Matt at our meet-and-greet the night before. My inner art historian went into overdrive after landing in Israel, and I couldn’t help but think he looked nothing like Jesus’ tax collector friend. Approximately 6’4”, his oversized arms were covered in tattoos, one of which revolved around a large, fanged spider. His nose had the crook of an appendage repeatedly broken. If he filed his teeth down to fangs like the Vikings, they wouldn’t have looked out of place.
The men adjusted their grips, awaiting further instructions, and I forced myself to rationally recall yesterday’s introductions. Matt had normal, 21st century teeth and a crinkly-eyed smile. Plus, he had an Australian accent. No one sounds mean with an Australian accent! Maybe he was bullied as a child, and now he uses tattoos to deter confrontation. And he teaches people how to defend themselves for a living! He can’t be all bad…
But who was I kidding? Even in my thoughts, my voice was whimpering.
“Not a bad runner,” Matt growled, eyeing me like the fly in his spider tattoo, “but let’s see how you fight…”