Three of a Kind, Book 4 in the sci-fi romance series, The Drift, comes out on June 20th! Until then, enjoy this sneak peek at Chapter One.
Dr. Alyson Jefferies was having the kind of day that made her question her career choices. She’d become a doctor to help people, and she had chosen to come to the Drift because she wanted a challenge. Today, her greatest challenge was staying on her feet with minimal sleep and a steady stream of patients who were mostly victims of their own stupidity. Two bar brawls that got out of hand, a miner on shore leave who got stabbed when he was caught cheating at cards, and a freighter pilot who overdosed on crimson. The dangerous drug was slowly disappearing from the Drift now that the cartel trafficking it had been broken up, but there were still a few vials around. With all the deaths it had caused, it amazed her that anyone was willing to risk their lives by taking the stuff, but they were still seeing at least one overdose a week.
She trudged to the small staff room and filled a mug with coffee so strong it could be used as rocket fuel before heading to her office. She had reports to write and several orders to check up on, including two shipments of supplies that had gone mysteriously missing and another that had somehow been re-routed to the far side of the galaxy. She was running short of everything from healing accelerants to basic bandages. The corporations that owned the Drift and almost everything and everyone here were sending her a message, making it clear that while she didn’t answer to them directly, they were still in control. At least, they thought they were.
As annoying as the shortages were, Alyson was actually relieved by the petty power plays. The corporations had made it clear they didn’t like her working on the cyborgs that had once been their property. They were trying to protect their secrets, which was understandable. Having recently uncovered some of those secrets, Alyson now knew the corporations were right to be worried. They had done some despicable things to the cyborgs. Some of it was on the record, but much of what they’d done was still a carefully guarded secret. If they were sticking to cheap tricks like diverting shipments and short-changing her orders, then they didn’t know her end goal was to reveal the rest of their dirty laundry to the cosmos. If they figured out what she was up to, then they wouldn’t rest until she, and everyone she was working with, were silenced forever.
She dropped into her chair and plunked her mug down on the desk, right beside an identical mug half full of hours-old, cold coffee. There were days she had an entire collection of half-drunk coffees by the end of a shift, and today was looking to be one of them.
She took a moment to refasten her long, blonde hair back into a simple ponytail and then closed her eyes and sent up a prayer to the universe at large. “Just let me have five minutes of peace and quiet. That’s all I need.”
There was no response, only blessed silence. For the first time in hours, she was alone. No decisions to make. No life and death judgments. She exhaled slowly, willing her mind and body to slow down for a few brief moments of rest. It was all she was likely to get until Dr. Basque’s shift started in a couple of hours.
Five minutes later, she opened her eyes and tried to convince herself she felt more alert and ready to tackle the backlog of paperwork waiting for her. That’s when she saw it – a perfectly folded paper pyramid sitting on top of a stack of files in the middle of her desk. It was less than three inches across, made of blood red paper, and it hadn’t been there the last time she’d sat down.
It was only a piece of paper, but something about it made her feel uneasy. The color, maybe. Or the fact that it had suddenly appeared inside her locked office. “Or, I could be overreacting to absolutely nothing because I’m over-caffeinated. Get a grip, Alyson. It’s just a piece of paper… And now I’m talking to myself, too. Fraxxing perfect. “
She picked up the intricately folded object, taking a moment to note the crisp lines and perfect symmetry of the piece. Precision like this took time. Whoever had made this, they hadn’t done it quickly. When she turned it over, she saw two words written on the bottom in black ink. “Open me.”
She unfolded it with care, and though her hands were steady, her pulse was galloping by the time she managed to undo the intricate twists and creases. She smoothed out on the desktop and read the short note written inside.
You’re in grave danger. Protect yourself, or you won’t live to finish what you’ve started.
“Cryptic and ominous. Wonderful.” She turned the paper over, looking for something—anything—more, but that was all there was. No name. No explanation. No hint as to what the danger was, or how to protect herself.
So much for her theory that the petty inconveniences indicated the corporations didn’t know what she was up to. Somebody had figured it out. She stared at the note, wishing there was more to it. Which of the corporations was after her? Who had written the warning, and how the hell had they gotten in and out of her office without being seen?
Security at the med center had always been good, but in the last few weeks, the entire system had been upgraded to the point she felt ridiculously over-protected. At least she had. Until now. “Computer, call up all security footage for the corridor outside my office for the last three hours. Scan and identify everyone who appears.”
Less than a minute later she was staring at a list of everyone who had come and gone from the area around her door. There were no surprises. Herself, several members of the staff, including Anne, their receptionist, and several patients had passed by, but no one else.
“Alright. Let’s try a different approach. Computer, display a list of all the times my office door was opened in the past twelve hours, with timestamps and access codes used.”
The air shimmered as the display changed to her new request. It wasn’t a long list of entries, and at first, everything looked exactly the way she expected. The only access code used was hers. She checked the timestamps, ticking them off one by one until she got to the second-last entry. According to the time stamp, the code had been entered while she was at the other end of the med-center, stitching up the would-be card shark. Someone had gotten in without being seen, and they’d used her code to do it.
Her unease elevated into something closer to fear. If she couldn’t stop this mysterious someone from getting into her highly secured office, how the fraxx was she supposed to protect herself from whoever or whatever was coming for her?
“Computer. Display security footage of corridor outside my office for timestamp thirteen hundred hours, thirty-seven minutes, eight seconds.” Though the computer hadn’t detected anyone in the corridor, there had to be someone there. The door hadn’t opened on its own.
She watched intently, her fatigue temporarily banished by adrenaline. She didn’t see anything on the first pass. No one so much as paused outside her door. “Computer. Rewind to the same timestamp and play again at one-quarter speed.”
This time, she saw something. A shimmer in the air outside her door. Even now, it would have been easy to dismiss it as a trick of the light. It wasn’t.
“Got you.” She froze the image and stared at it, but no matter how long she looked, she couldn’t make out anything except that the distortion was more or less human-shaped. She was about to zoom in for a better look when her comm device erupted in a familiar sequence of chirps and beeps.
She answered the call with a touch of her hand. “What’s coming in, Anne?
“There’s been an accident on board one of the ore refinery ships. The patient was repairing one of the machines and it re-activated. Crush injury to right hand and forearm. ETA is seven minutes. You’re going to want Lieksa on this one.”
“Patient’s a cyborg?”
Anne hesitated a second before confirming. “It’s Nya.”
She locked down her emotions and cleared her mind. Nya needed her to be a doctor right now, not a friend. “I’ll be right out. Tell Lieksa to meet me in O.R. Two. I’ll brief her before Nya gets here.”
Nya was already one of Alyson’s patients. In fact, as one of the few cyborg females on the Drift, she was part of Alyson’s research project. By examining her and several others, Alyson had determined that the women had all been exposed to a substance that rendered them infertile. Now, she was working on a cure. When it was done, Nya would be one of the first to receive it.
Alyson took a quick swig of her coffee and then raced to the surgical suite. Lieksa Kiv was possibly the only person on the Drift who could repair Nya’s cybernetic implants. There was no one more qualified, but Nya had never met the former lab tech, and she wasn’t the kind to trust easily. Like most cyborgs, Nya had little reason to trust the corporations or the techs who worked for them, and until a few weeks ago, Lieksa had been a corporate employee.
The mystery of her cryptic note and the blur outside her door would have to wait. Nya needed her right now, and the needs of her patients always came first.
* * * *
Dirk Trello had his back to the showers, but he didn’t need to see to know the second his brothers finally joined him in the Corp-Sec locker room. They were making more noise than a herd of Nantari rhinos in mating season; laughing, joking, and insulting each other with every breath.
He turned to face them. “Move your asses, or we’re going to be late. I don’t understand how the fraxx can we be identical triplets when only one of us understands the concept of being on time.”
“It’s one of the mysteries of the universe. Like trying to explain why we all came out of the maturation tank at the same time, and yet you have always acted like you’re the oldest and therefore the one in charge,” Blade shot back. He deliberately shook his head, sending a spray of water splattering across Dirk’s dry shirt.
“Someone has to be,” Dirk said, and both his brothers chimed in, reciting the phrase beat for beat with him.
“See, we’re clearly related,” Lance said.
“And yet, I’m the only one dressed.”
“You’re grumpy today. Nervous about seeing the doc or something?” Blade asked.
“We’re not seeing her. Lieksa’s doing the procedure. She said it won’t take more than a couple of minutes. We’ll be in and out so quick the doc won’t even know we’ve been there.”
“Then why are you so twitchy? Lieksa isn’t going to care if we’re a few minutes late.”
“She won’t care, but her boyfriends will. They’re taking her out tonight, and I got an earful from Mack about making sure she got out of there on time.”
Lance chuckled. “Gotcha. No pissing off the new bosses. That, I can understand. You should have said something sooner.”
“Must have slipped my mind.” It didn’t matter that they were going to see Lieksa and not Dr. Jefferies, thoughts of the willowy blonde doctor had distracted Dirk all day. He’d never wanted a woman the way he wanted her, and she wasn’t interested. The more they flirted, the harder she pushed them away. It was a losing game, but one neither he nor his brothers could seem to stop playing.
“Told you, it’s the good doctor. She’s messing with your head, Dirk.” Blade said.
“Like you’re any better.” Lance reached out to tug on Blade’s long hair, tied back into a ponytail instead of loose like he usually wore it. “This is a new look for you. Trying to look slightly less disreputable, are we? Might I suggest trimming your beard, too? You’re a mess, man.”
“Shut up.” Blade swatted Lance’s hand away. “Nice shirt, by the way. That’s new.”
“Shut up, yourself. I liked the color, that’s all. The clerk at the store said it’s the same shade as my eyes.” Lance smoothed a hand over the dark green fabric.
Blade opened his mouth to make a retort, but Dirk cut him off. “Okay, so we’re clearly all having the same issue – Dr. Alyson Jefferies. Glad we got that cleared up. Can we go now?”
“Fraxx, yes. Before we start talking about our feelings or something.” Blade closed the door of his locker and grinned. “Have I mentioned how much I love this new job? Good pay, nice job perks, and they’ve even got our names on our lockers. It’s the little things in life that make all the difference.”
“I’ve heard little things are good for amusing little minds,” Lance said, and the two of them were off on another round of insults.
At least this time they were walking while they did it. It didn’t matter if they were seeing Alyson today or not, he was determined to be on time. Manners weren’t programmed into their behavior protocols, and it certainly wasn’t a skill they needed on long-haul freighters, mining ships, or other odd jobs they’d worked for the last eighteen months. It was something they needed if they were going to get Alyson’s attention, though.
Fortunately, Corp-Sec headquarters wasn’t far from the med-center. They made it with seconds to spare, despite the heavy throng of off-duty workers and mining crews on shore leave that filled the space station’s main causeway. If the early crowd was any indication, the next shift at Corp-Sec was going to be a busy one when the newly freed crews starting enjoying themselves in earnest. Thankfully, they were off work until tomorrow. Tonight’s trouble was someone else’s problem.
The waiting area was empty, but judging from the weary expression on Anne’s face, it hadn’t been a quiet day. “Hey, Anne. We’re here to see Lieksa about getting a new comms channel activated.”
“Technician Kiv is unavailable. A cyborg came in an hour ago with a nasty crush injury, and Lieksa is repairing her implants. You can reschedule, or…” Anne trailed off as she checked something on her screen. For a moment, her lips curved up into a mischievous grin, but when she looked up again, her features were carefully schooled once more. “As it happens, Dr. Jefferies is free right now. She’s done this procedure before. Would you mind seeing her, instead?”
“We wouldn’t mind at all.”
None of them had ever had to chase a woman before. It was fun, at least at first. Lately, it had been more frustrating than enjoyable. They wanted Alyson, and none of them had any idea how to make that happen. If Anne was willing to help them out, then they’d happily accept the favor.
Anne nodded, and he caught another glimmer of a smile. “I’ll let her know. If you would follow me, I’ll take you to your room, and you can get settled. Do you know which of you is going first?”
“That would be me,” Blade said. Blade was always the one charging in first. He volunteered for the most dangerous assignments, took the toughest jobs, and stood between the world and his brothers, protecting them as best he could. This should be a simple procedure, but none of them had been to see a lab-tech since the day they were freed. This was unknown territory for all of them.
Anne left them in one of the nondescript rooms of the med-center. The second the door slid shut, Dirk turned to Blade. “Don’t screw this up for us. No flirting. No innuendoes, and try to be a gentleman.”
Blade snorted with laughter. “None of us know how to behave that way.”
Lance chimed in. “It’s easy, Blade. Just do the exact opposite of your first instincts, and you should be fine.”
“Asshole,” Blade shot back.
“I rest my case. Next time, drop the locker room insults and try to be charming, instead.”
Dirk slapped his open hand against an open stretch of countertop, making everything sitting on it rattle and jump. “This is what I’m talking about. It’s time we stepped up our game. I don’t want to be drifting around the galaxy alone for the rest of my life, and I know you don’t, either.”
His brothers quieted and then nodded in unison. Dirk nodded with them. Despite being genetically identical, they didn’t always agree on everything. When they did, though, there wasn’t a force in the universe that could stop them.
You’ll have to wait until June 20th to read the rest of the story. If you want to have Three of a Kind delivered to your e-reader on release day be sure to pre-order it now, and enjoy getting it at 20% off the cover price.