Sneak Peek at Marked For Risk

Chapter One

After nearly ten years at the same job, Joy had moments when she thought she’d seen it all. The universe invariably took that as a challenge and threw something even stranger her way, but this time the universe had outdone itself.

The entire cruise had been one what-the-hells moment after another. Several of the guests had gotten into a brawl while vying for the attentions of one particularly wealthy male looking for a match. The attention-grabbing and undignified display had resulted in the male raska-shi choosing to contract with all three women, though they didn’t discover that fact until after the mating contracts were signed.

That was why she encouraged their guests to carefully consider any offer before signing. She even gave a seminar on mating contracts and volunteered to act as an advisor, but rarely did anyone take her up on the offer. These women all wanted to escape their current lives and had convinced themselves that anything else was an improvement.

These days, most of them were simply trading one set of hardships for another. It hadn’t always been this way. When Joy had first joined Captain Perez and the crew of the Bountiful Harvest, their galactic matchmaking cruises had been exactly that—a chance for unattached males of various species to meet and mingle with human women. Sparks flew, romances blossomed, and while not every match was perfect, each cruise produced multiple success stories. As the ship’s event coordinator and matchmaker, Joy took pride in every match she helped to make.

As the years passed, though, things changed. Instead of life-mates, the males attending the events wanted breeders or concubines. Mating contracts that protected all the parties had morphed into cold-hearted business arrangements. Some bordered on conditions that resembled slavery more than anything remotely romantic.

“Captain, I think our event coordinator is broken,” First Officer Mika Hooper’s comment pulled Joy out of her dark thoughts and back to the present.

“What? Why?” She raised her head and looked over to the first officer’s workstation. It wasn’t necessary since Joy saw her environment through sensors and not with her eyes, but people reacted better if she made an effort to face their direction when conversing.

“I’ve never seen you make that face before.” Mika had scrunched her face up like she’d bitten into something sour. “In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve seen you without a smile. You usually have one plastered onto your face no matter what’s happening. I actually thought your face was frozen that way, you know, after the accident.”

Joy didn’t react to Mika’s goading. The woman took a perverse sort of pleasure in needling people, and Joy had learned to stay quiet and let the captain deal with it.

“Hooper.” Captain Jodi Perez’s tone was as cold as the void outside. “I’m not going to tell you again. You want to be a jerk, do it inside your own head. The rest of us don’t need to hear it.”

“What?” Hooper shrugged in a half-hearted attempt to look innocent. “She’s a smiler. That’s all I was saying.”

Joy returned to work. Space on the Harvest was limited, so she didn’t have an office. Instead, she used one of auxiliary workstations on the bridge, even though she wasn’t designated bridge crew. The close proximity also made it easy to keep the captain up to date with event scheduling and any problems that cropped up among their guests.

It was her job to keep the guests entertained and happy for the whole cruise, whether they were docked or in transit. At the beginning of each trip that was easy enough. All the passengers were hopeful and full of enthusiasm. They were in the final leg of the journey now, though, which meant the handful of guests still on board were dealing with rejection and self-doubt.

She understood exactly what they were going through. There’d been a time she’d had so many hopes and dreams for her own life… but that was long ago. Before the accident that took her sight and left her scarred and broken.

That’s why she poured her heart and soul into finding matches for the women who signed up for these matchmaking cruises. She wanted them to find the love and happiness she’d never have.

“Bashir. Do you have a few minutes?” Captain Perez asked.

“Of course, Captain. Out here or in your ready room?”

Jodi cocked her head to the side and then laughed. “You’re hoping for a coffee made from my personal stash. Aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am,” Joy admitted without a trace of guilt. Everyone on board knew the captain’s coffee was the best. No one had any idea where she got it from or what magical process made it so damned good.

“You caught me in a generous mood. Hooper, you have the bridge.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Hooper acknowledged.

Joy followed the captain off the bridge and into her office. It was barely bigger than a closet, but it provided the most valuable commodity on the ship—a chance to converse in private.

The moment the door closed, Jodi pointed back toward the bridge. “I wanted you to hear it first. That was Hooper’s final mistake. I intend to fire her the moment this trip is over.”

Joy nodded and exhaled in relief. “Thank you. She’s been… challenging to work with.”

Jodi snorted. “You mean she’s a bitch and a bully.”

“I did, but in my line of work, it pays to be diplomatic at all times.” If she filtered everything she said, it became easier to avoid slipping up and saying something harsh to a paying guest.

“I’d last about thirty seconds if I had to do your job.” Jodi sat down behind her small desk and gestured for Joy to do the same. “Speaking of which, anything I need to know? How are the remaining guests coping?”

“The usual issues. I’m concerned that some of them are desperate enough to be vulnerable to the predators who will be waiting to pounce at our next stop.”

“Have you told Maddison about that issue, yet?” Jodi asked while tapping a request for two coffees into the dispenser behind her.

Maddison Summers was the new owner of the Harvest. She’d come on board at their last stop and would travel with them for a time to get to know the ship and her crew. No one knew much about her other than the fact she’d gotten ownership of the ship and the matchmaking cruise business as part of her divorce settlement with the previous owner.

“Not yet. I have a meeting scheduled with her this afternoon, and I’ll explain the problem then. That way she can see it for herself when we reach our next destination.”

Jodi grimaced. “I can’t stand watching it happen and knowing we can do nothing to stop it.”

“Me either. Hopefully Maddison will hate it just as much, and we can convince her to make some changes.”

The conversation paused while the captain turned to retrieve two steaming mugs of coffee from the dispenser. She pushed one across the desk to Joy… and then all hell broke loose.

The deck beneath her bucked and shuddered hard enough her cup of coffee spilled and rolled off the table.

Jodi jumped to her feet with her cup still in her hand. “Shit! Back to your station.”

They rushed back onto the bridge.

“Report! And someone mute those alarms already.” The captain’s voice was almost drowned out by a deep, metallic groan followed by several creaks that sounded like they came from the hull.

 Joy had never heard anything like it, but she knew it wasn’t a good sound. She hurried back to her station and strapped in. She’d gone over emergency procedures with the passengers so many times they should know what to do, but experience had taught her that at least some of them would panic. You can’t do anything about that right now, she reminded herself. The captain had ordered her to her station, so that’s where she’d stay.

“Hyperdrive engine two is offline, Captain. We’ve fallen back into normal space,” Hooper reported.

“Dammit! Get me engineering. They promised me their repairs would hold until we made port,” Jodi barked and then turned toward the ship’s helmsman. Where are we right now? Whose territory are we in?”

Because she wasn’t bridge crew, Joy had nothing to do but listen. What she heard next made the hairs on the back of her neck rise as a chill chased down her spine.

“We’re in… shit. I don’t understand how this happened, ma’am.” The helm officer stared at her monitor in obvious confusion. “According to the nav system, we’re in verexi space.”

That shouldn’t be possible. The verexi weren’t classified as a hostile race, but they were fiercely territorial, xenophobic, and a generally unpleasant species. They also considered humans to be lesser beings and refused to have anything to do with them. If they learned the Harvest was in their territory, they’d be more likely to attack than to offer assistance. She just had to hope they got out of here before that happened.

Judging by the captain’s stormy expression, her conversation with engineering wasn’t going well, though so many technical terms were flying around Joy couldn’t understand the details. Not that she needed to. Her job was to manage the guests, not the ship.

“Captain, we’ve got incoming fire,” Hooper almost shouted, her voice cracking slightly.

“Son of a bitch. Brace!” Jodi ordered. “Who fired? From where?”

More alarms sounded. The captain looked grim as she activated the ship-wide comms and called all off-duty personnel to the bridge.

The bridge door slid open a few seconds later, allowing Maddison Summers with her personal assistant—and sometimes bodyguard—Loris, to join them.

“What’s happening?” Maddison asked. Her complexion was ashen and she had the look of someone fighting back panic.

Jodi didn’t answer. Instead, she pointed to an empty chair. “Sit down, strap in, and shut up. I’ll explain if we live through the next few minutes.”

To her credit, Maddison didn’t protest. She just did as she was told.

The deck bucked again, and this time the lights flickered and died. The emergency lighting kicked in almost immediately, bathing the bridge in a reddish glow that did nothing to improve their situation.

Joy activated a feature of her coronet she rarely used while on the bridge and zoomed in to see what was showing on the captain’s display. Damage reports filled the screen. It only took a brief look to know the Harvest was in trouble. Now she understood why none of the off-duty staff had made it to the bridge. Multiple hull breeches had exposed parts of the ship to vacuum, making it almost impossible to reach their area. Maddison and Loris had only made it because the captain had given them her cabin, which was right next to the bridge.

Were her friends and coworkers alright? What about the passengers? No doubt they’d be losing their minds by now. “How many escape pods deployed?” Jodi asked.

“Six deployed. But those bastards have shot down three of them.” Hooper slammed her hands down on her console. We’re sitting ducks out here! We’re going to die.”

“Keep it together, Hooper. We’re not dead yet.”

“Ma’am, we have another problem,” the pilot called out over the din. “We’re falling into the gravity well of a planet, and we only have partial power to our normal engines.”

“Fuck!” Jodi swore, her composure cracking for a second. Then the captain schooled her features and got back to work.

“Joy, get me everything you can about that planet. Atmosphere, survivability. Can we breathe the air if we go down?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Joy called up the data and sent the pertinent information to the captain’s monitor. Everything she saw looked promising. The planet was uninhabited but had everything they’d need to survive until rescue.

The hull groaned, and the deck twisted and rippled as they dropped deeper into the planet’s gravity well.

The captain bowed her head in defeat as she opened the ship-wide comms again. “This is the captain. I’m ordering everyone to abandon ship. I repeat. Abandon ship.”

She turned toward Maddison and Loris. “That includes the two of you.”

“I should stay,” Maddison argued.

“No, ma’am. You need to board the command shuttle. Once we’re inside the atmosphere, the autopilot can handle the descent and landing on its own.”

“Where do we go?” Loris asked.

“That hatch over there,” Jodi pointed and then spun to face Joy. “Bashir, you go with them and see to their safety. I’m counting on you.”

Joy nodded and unclipped her harness.

“What the hell, Captain? You’re sending the blind party planner? What the hell can she do to protect the VIPs?” Hooper rose from her chair, her face flushed and eyes wild. “I’ll do it.”

“Hooper! You will sit your ass down right now. Your place is here, ensuring we do everything possible to bring this ship down intact.”

Joy moved quietly, trying to join Maddison and Loris and escort them to the access hatch without Hooper noticing.

It didn’t work.

The first officer uttered a deranged howl and hurled herself at Joy. One second she was on her feet, and the next she was flying through the air, and the floor was rising up to meet her. Then everything went black.


Ready for more? Marked For Risk releases April 11, 2023

Sneak Peek at Marked for Strife

Chapter One

Rissa checked the timer and grunted. She still had ten minutes to go, fifteen if she was serious about burning off that extra slice of cake she’d indulged in before bed. The food on this cruise was the best she’d ever had, and it was worth every extra minute of sweat to enjoy it while she could. In a few more weeks she’d be back to her normal life, where food, water, and even air were carefully rationed commodities.

 Life on a space station wasn’t easy, but it was the only life she’d ever known. If her number hadn’t come up in the annual lottery, she might have spent her entire life on Nanu station. She’d have missed out on discovering the glorious indulgences of spending an entire day at a spa, eating every meal from an endless buffet, and sleeping in a bed the size of a standard living cubby back home.

She also would have gone her whole life not knowing how mind-twistingly terrifying planets were. Not the planets themselves but all the things that came with them—toxic plants, dangerous animals, the inescapable pull of gravity, and worst of all, open sky. Just the thought of it made her miss her footing and nearly stumble off the treadmill.

“That’s it. I’m done for the day.” She kept hold of the rail with one hand as she slowed the machine down to a gentle walk. At least no one was around to see her nearly fall on her face. A few weeks ago, it would have been thronging with fit, trim women obsessed about every ounce of body fat and running on the treadmills as if all the demons of hell were chasing them with ice cream sundaes and extra fudge sauce… and now she wanted ice cream slathered in ribbons of warm, gooey chocolate and caramel.

She still had dessert on the brain when it all went to the hells in nine hypersonic handcarts. The deck beneath her feet shuddered, the hull creaking in ways that set Rissa’s teeth on edge. It was the sound of a ship in pain. She’d heard it plenty of times before, but that had been at the shipyard where she worked, surrounded by teams of professionals with everything they needed to put things right.

They weren’t anywhere near her shipyard right now. They were in open space, not the ideal location for their hyperdrive to fail… But that’s what was happening.

“Shit!” Training had her running for the engineering deck before she could think. It was instinctive, and she made it out the door of the gym and into the corridor before she remembered she wasn’t on duty. She wasn’t even a crewmember. She was a passenger, and she didn’t even have access to that part of the ship. She stopped running, automatically moving to press against the wall so she wasn’t blocking the corridor. With the drive down, they’d have dropped into normal space. That wasn’t a problem so long as they weren’t too close to a planet or a star.

Klaxons erupted, the noise almost drowning out the captain’s orders as she spoke over the ship-wide comms.

Rissa decoded the various alarms. Navigation and proximity alerts screamed as engine failure alarms wailed. Airtight doors slammed shut and locked. That shouldn’t happen. Not unless they were… Fuck.

The gym and other amenities were one deck below the passenger quarters, meaning the escape pods were in a different spot. She’d spent years working on ships like these. Hells, she’d even worked on this particular vessel, and she knew exactly where to go. The only other passenger she ran across was dressed in a spa robe and slippers, and she clearly didn’t have a clue what to do.

Rissa grabbed the younger woman by the arm and hustled her down the corridor. “This way,” she yelled so her words would carry over the alarms.

Hope shot her look of gratitude mixed in with a healthy dollop of fear. “What’s happening?” she called back.

The deck bucked beneath them, hard enough to make both of them stumble, but their hold on each other kept them on their feet.

“Bad shit. Maybe an attack.” It was impossible to convey much information over the noise, and they needed to move, not talk.

Hope’s eyes widened. “Attack?”

All Rissa’s worst fears were confirmed a second later. Another alarm wailed, drowning out all the others. The main lights winked out and were replaced by red strobe lights. Shit. It was time to go. The order to abandon ship had gone out.

“Come on! We need to go. Now!” Rissa knew they were running out of time. The ship was under massive stress, and she felt it twist and ripple beneath her feet. It was damaged, crippled, and fighting against a significant source of gravity… and it was losing.

They reached the evac station. The pod doors were all open and waiting. She pushed Hope to the nearest one.

“Sit down and put the harness on. That’s all you need to do. The rest is automatic. Just hang on, be smart, and don’t go too far from your pod.”

Hope gave her a tight, quick nod and ducked inside.

Rissa waited for three long seconds before moving to the next pod in the row. The first pod sealed before she got inside her own. Hope was as safe as Rissa could make her. The rest was up to her.

Once her own pod dropped free of the ship, Rissa got busy. No way would she sit back and let this thing pilot itself. That was fine for someone with no flight training, but she’d been fixing ships most of her life. That meant she knew how to fly them… more or less. Either way, this pod would crash. That’s what they were designed for. Her plan was to make sure it crashed as gently as possible.


“And this is why I prefer to fly myself.” Rissa looked around the clearing she’d chosen as her landing site. She and the pod were both in one piece, and the only damage she’d done to the area was a few scorch marks on the grass-covered ground.

She’d maintained the same trajectory the autopilot had determined. She didn’t want to wind up too far away from any other survivors. When rescue came, proximity might make the difference between going home and getting stuck here for the rest of her life. That was not going to happen.

It could turn out to be the nicest planet in existence, but it was still a planet. That meant weather, and animals, and an atmosphere that was only held in place by gravity. No domes, no containment units, and no barriers.

“It’s not natural,” she grumbled. “At least, not to me.” She didn’t do nature. The closest she’d come to it was the bio-dome at the heart of Nanu station, but that small area of carefully cultured trees and plants had about as much in common with this place as a candle flame had to a solar flare.

The clearing was covered in some kind of knee-high plant she thought might be called grass. A current of air moved the long blades of orange and gold, making them hiss and rustle. The sound made her uneasy, though she didn’t know why.

She kept her eyes on the ground with most of her focus on her feet. That way she couldn’t see the sky at all, which helped… a little. She needed to retrieve the emergency supplies stored in the pod and drag them over to the tree line. Under the trees, everything was in shadow, and that meant she’d have another layer between her and the open air.

The trees were strange and nothing like the ones she’d seen in the biosphere. They were the wrong color for one thing. Those trees had been green and blue, but these were very different. Reds and oranges mostly, with a few flashes of golden yellow. The trunks were massive things, gnarled and twisted into thick towers that rose far into the air.

She caught herself looking up, squawked in horror, and dropped her eyes back to the ground again. Vertigo hit, and the next thing she knew, she was on her hands and knees as the world spun around her. She squeezed her eyes shut and dug her fingers into the grass as if that was the only thing stopping her from flying off into space.

When the spinning stopped, she didn’t open her eyes right away. She just stayed where she was and tried not to throw up. “I fucking hate planets,” she groaned as she waited for the queasiness to subside. Once it had, she hauled herself to her feet and made her way back to the pod. She had shit to do, and the faster she got it done, the sooner she’d be inside her emergency shelter. She needed a roof over her head as quickly as possible.

She dragged everything over to the edge of the clearing and arranged the carton with the emergency shelter so the entrance pointed toward the forest. She followed the instructions printed on the side, doing a sweep to make sure the area was clear of rocks and other debris that might puncture the shelter once she activated it. Then she leaned down and pressed the large button below the instructions. First she heard an explosive whoosh followed by a loud, prolonged hiss of air, and then the shelter inflated. It expanded away from her position, just the way it was supposed to.

Once that was done, she lugged a second container inside, sealed the doorway, and sat down on the floor with a sigh of relief. Yellow had never been her favorite color, but right now the garish Day-Glo shelter was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen. Now she just had to make herself as comfortable as possible and wait for rescue. Surely that wouldn’t take long. Humans weren’t signatories to the Galactic Legion’s Unified Agreement, but they were recognized as sentient lifeforms. Anyone who heard the Bountiful Harvest’s distress beacon would be compelled to offer assistance. It was legion law.

That meant someone would come for them. In fact, they were probably already on their way.

Ready for more? Marked For Strife release May 17th. PREORDER NOW

Marked For Mayhem is here!

Her last shot at love just crashed and burned… Literally.

 Bella signed up for the interplanetary courtship cruise hoping for travel, adventure, and maybe a chance at romance. Now she’s crash landed on a strange planet with no one around but a horned, alien hottie who showed up and laid claim to her gear, her ship… and her.

He’s too brash, too pushy, and much too young for her. He’s also not taking no for an answer…

This wasn’t the adventure she imagined, but it might just be the romance of a lifetime, if she can stay alive long enough to enjoy it.

**Buckle up. This sci-fi romance contains an alien with fur, fangs, horns, and a very possessive attitude when it comes to the woman he’s claimed for his own.

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And if you missed the prequel – pick up Marked For Rage, too!

Operation Sunset is here!

book cover. Handsome male standing on a space ship deck. Book title: operation sunset

She’s the woman he can’t forget… and the one he can never have.
Three years ago, Crispen met the woman of his dreams, only to discover they were about to be co-workers, too. Aria had rules against mixing business and pleasure, so he’d taken the next best option and become her best friend… until he had to make a decision that changed the course of both their lives.

Now, what’s left of their friendship will be tested. They’re going undercover to take down one of Nova Force’s greatest enemies, and they’ll have no one to rely on but each other.

She thought she couldn’t have it all. Had she been wrong?
 Aria lost more than her leg in the explosion that nearly ended her career. She’s still counting the costs, but she’s afraid that at the top of the list is the only man who got past her walls and into her heart—Crispen.

Their new assignment puts them in enemy territory with dubious intel, no backup, and a plan that didn’t survive first contact with reality. To finish their mission, they’ll have to risk more than their lives… they’ll have to put their hearts in the line of fire.

Read Chapter One for Free: Click Here

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Sneak Peek at Operation Sunset

Chapter One

Cris left the Malora’s med-bay the moment the computer announced he was cleared to return to duty. While he still believed that doctors made the worst patients, after a single day of bedrest he was willing to admit that medics were almost as bad.

Or maybe it was just him.

His face was still a little tender in spots and his skin itched in some unpleasant places, but Dr. Li had assured him it would only be a matter of hours before his new medi-bots repaired the last traces of the surgical alterations.

“Don’t poke at it and it will heal faster, Lieutenant,” had been Tyra’s parting advice when she’d left the med-bay a few hours ago. She’d said it was to let him rest, but he was pretty sure she just needed to get away from his grumpy ass. He’d have to apologize and claim it was pre-mission jitters.

She might even pretend to believe it.

His team was a tightknit crew that had grown even closer since circumstances had forced them to live on board the Malora. Astek Station was being decommissioned after the Grays’ last attack, and their new home was still under construction. For security reasons, Dante’s family was on board too. Nico was a key witness in an upcoming trial against Bellex Corp and Tyra was openly affiliated with both Nova Force and the group of rebellious cyborgs currently sitting at the top of the Gray Men’s hit list.

It made for a crowded ship with limited personal space and even less privacy. As the only single team member on board, he knew far more than he wanted to about the sex lives and relationship challenges of his teammates. It also meant they knew why he was on edge these days, and it had almost nothing to do with his surgical alterations or even the fact this might be his last mission with this team.

It was because he’d be seeing her again.

They were on their way to collect the missing member of their crew. Aria had made a full recovery and was ready to reclaim her place on the team, which was wonderful news. The problem was, he didn’t know if her return meant it was time for him to leave. Team Three had been her crew before it had been his. If she couldn’t forgive him for his failures, he should be the one to go. He’d taken enough from her already. He wouldn’t take her family, too.

An excited whoop pierced the air, snapping him out of his broody thoughts.

“I’m going to beat you again! You’re too slow, Mama.”

Two seconds later, a small pair of feet appeared at the top of a nearby ladder and Nico leaped down, trusting the grav-plate to catch him before he landed on the deck.

“One day, one of those is going to fail and you’re going to break both your ankles,” Cris said.

“That’s what Mama says, too, but it hasn’t happened yet!” Nico replied and then turned to look at Cris. The boy’s grin vanished and his entire demeanor changed. He dropped into a fighter’s crouch and raised his fists, looking like a miniature replica of his adopted father.

“Who the fraxx are you?”

Veth. He’d forgotten about the changes to his appearance. “Easy, Booster Rocket. It’s just me, Caldwell.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed. “Lieutenant?”

“Yup. Your mama did a good job making me look different. Didn’t she?”

Nico’s hands dropped and his eyes widened in surprise. “Holy fraxx, it is you!”

The soft hiss of the mag-lift doors opening filled the momentary silence.

“Language, Nico!” Tyra scolded as she stepped into the corridor.

“Busted,” Cris murmured in sympathy.

Nico’s face fell. “Sorry, Mama. But the lieutenant surprised me!”

Cris waved at his face. “The first real-world test of my new disguise was a success.”

“Ah. In that case, I suppose we can make an exception.” Tyra wagged a finger at Nico. “But only this one time. We’re going to be arriving at the colony soon and I expect you to be on your best behavior for at least the first three days.”

“Three days?” Nico wailed. “Dad said two.”

Tyra raised a dark brow and Nico hung his head in defeat. “Three days. I can do that.”

“I know you can.” She pulled the boy into a hug that lasted until he squirmed in protest.

“I’m going to be late for my robotics lesson with Magi—I mean Ensign Erben. I need to go, Mama.”

“Go on. Have fun and try not to blow up anything.”

Nico rolled his eyes. “That happened one time.” He waved at them and then took off down the corridor at a speed that would have made some athletes jealous.

     Tyra watched him go with a wry smile. “I’m still not convinced giving him the medi-bot treatment was a good idea. He had too much energy before we dosed him with nanotech.”

“But now at least you and Dante can keep up with him.” Everyone on the team had taken the treatment, and the offer had been extended to immediate family members. Tyra and Nico were the only ones who hadn’t had nanotech already, and within hours of their reunion with Dante, he’d taken them for their injections. It had nearly killed the big man, not knowing if they were safe after Astek Station was attacked.

Cris had gotten a taste of that feeling as well when their last mission had gone sideways. None of them had expected the Gray Men to sacrifice six of their own in an explosion meant to take out his team. When Nyx and Aria were caught in the blast, he’d experienced the worst pain of his life while waiting to see if they made it out. Then he’d gone through something even more painful when Nyx had appeared with Aria’s battered, mangled body in her arms.

Months later, the memory of that day was still enough to make his heart ache. To save her life, he’d had to carve off pieces of his best friend, the woman he’d wanted for years. No one could expect forgiveness for something like that. He’d taken her leg and left her with two choices—leave the job she loved or accept the nanobot treatment and a cybernetic limb to replace the one she’d lost.

She hadn’t quit the team.

“Do you think she’s going to like the new look?” Tyra asked softly.

He didn’t need to ask who Tyra meant. He gave what he hoped was an indifferent shrug. “I doubt she’ll notice.”

“Going against the odds? That’s not like you.”

“What odds?” he asked, but he already had a good idea who to blame.

Tyra laughed. “No one told you? The current odds are seven-to-one she does a double take the first time she sees you.”

“I’m going to kill Magi.”

Tyra’s lips twitched as she tried to stifle more laughter. “It wasn’t his idea. You’ll have to take that up with Nyx. Apparently she got the numbers from Chance, though.”

“Chance. The cyborg who can calculate odds with almost omnipotent accuracy? Why is she involved in…” He groaned and started to bury his face in his hands. Then he remembered he wasn’t supposed to touch that area yet. “The Nova Club crew are taking bets on this?”

She patted his arm. “I’m afraid so. I made my bet before I started your surgery. Now I’ve seen the result, I think I should have doubled the amount. She isn’t going to recognize you.”

“You think surgery changed me that much?” He’d been surprised at the difference in his appearance, but he still saw himself beneath the changes. His cheekbones were higher now, his nose given an artificial bump to make it look as if it had been broken a few times, and his eyes, hair and skin color had been altered. A few other minor cosmetic tweaks and he’d been changed enough that no facial recognition software would be able to connect his new identity to one Lieutenant Crispin Caldwell, known officer of Nova Force.

“The procedures are part of it, but that’s not all that’s changed.” Tyra raised one dark brow and gave him an assessing look. “You’ve spent hours in the gym since you got back. I’ve seen your charts. I know how much muscle mass you’ve put on lately. It’s changed the way you look and move. You’re different now, Trip.”

“Yeah?” He gave her an exaggerated grin and flexed his biceps, puffing out his chest at the same time. “Do you think I’m ready to take on Buttercup?”

She laughed and shook her head. “Not yet. Dante has genetics on his side. But I wouldn’t bet against you if you went up against Sabre.”

“I’m not going to test that theory, but I appreciate the thought.” He had no intention of testing his skills against the team’s second in command. That was a no-win scenario. Either he got his ass handed to him or he wound up on kitchen cleanup duty for a month.

“Probably a wise choice. He’s been grumpy since Bobbi left to start up the new legal team.”

“And once we drop you and Booster off at Haven, Dante’s going to be in a foul mood, too. We better be fully stocked up on ice cream and chocolate or morale is going to crash and crater.”

Tyra smiled, but the expression didn’t reach her eyes. “You’ll take care of him for me?”

“Of course. That’s one of the few parts of my job I’m still needed for. But honestly, the best thing for Dante will be knowing you two are safe and well-protected. The colony is about the safest place I can think of. After that last attempt to mess with their nanotech, the entire population is on high alert.” He winked at her. “And besides, you are going as guests of royalty, with a suite of rooms in the palace and everything. Nico might never want to leave.”

“That’s going to take some getting used to. I don’t suppose you have any pointers for me? I heard your family rules a planet.”

Years of practice made it easy to hide his reaction, but he still felt it. The twist in his gut as his past came out of the shadows to sink its claws into the life he’d built after leaving home.

“It’s only half a planet,” he corrected her with a light, bantering tone and a genial smile. “Just be yourself. From what I understand, the prince and his anrik aren’t much for courtly protocols and their mate is a human cyber-jockey with authority issues. You’ll be fine.”

Tyra smiled. “That’s what your sister said, too.”

“She’s pretty smart. Not as smart or as charming as me, of course, but she’s a close second.” He gestured to his face. “I’ll have to message her soon and show her your handiwork.”

“She won’t recognize you at first.”

He grinned. “Then maybe I should make sure her three husbands are home when I message. A little jealousy is good for a relationship… or so I’ve heard.”

Tyra shot him a wicked little smile and then launched an unexpected verbal salvo. “I’ve discovered that the most important thing in any relationship is honesty. You should probably try that sometime.”

She left him reeling from the impact of her words and headed off down the hall toward the med-bay.

They all thought this was something that could be fixed with a few simple words. That if he just told Aria how he felt, things would all fall into place for the two of them.

They were wrong.

Aria knew exactly how he felt about her. Their chemistry had been hotter than a supernova from the moment they met. That hadn’t stopped her from ending things the moment he’d walked into his first team meeting and discovered they weren’t just lovers… they were teammates.

Soon, they might not even be that.

Honesty wasn’t going to fix this. He didn’t know what could. If this was their last mission together, he’d do all he could to keep her safe. He’d failed her too many times already.


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