A Sneak Peek at Her Cyborg Rangers

Chapter One

The Bar None was quiet for the moment, but Jade knew that wouldn’t last. She’d thought the place was hopping in the winter months, but spring had brought even more customers flocking to the only human-run tavern in Haven colony. She had less than an hour to finish up with the bar droids and then test them to see if her upgrades had any unintended consequences before business picked up.

Kneeling behind the bar wasn’t comfortable, but it was the only way to do a visual scan of the new code. While she worked, she did her best not to think about how much easier this would be if she still had her implants. They’d been ripped out of her during interrogation sessions she’d endured while a prisoner of corporate-backed mercenaries. She’d been one of the best cyber-jockeys in the known systems before the fraxxing mercs had caught her. Now? She was stuck in normal space forever, interacting with machines one keystroke at a time.

Of all the sacrifices she’d been willing to make to escape from Earth, she’d never imagined she would have to give up one of her defining qualities.

The calm was suddenly broken by the thud of booted feet on the tavern’s veranda accompanied by rough male laughter. Someone shoved the door open hard enough it flew back to strike the wall with a loud bang.

Jade froze, her hands locking into fists as an icy chill flowed down her spine. She struggled to think, to move, to do something besides cower like a wounded animal, but she stayed where she was, teeth clenched, muscles screaming with tension, and heart pounding so fast she felt sick.

This was the other price she’d paid for freedom—panic attacks. Her time as a prisoner had left her with more than physical scars, and she was still learning how to deal with the sudden, gut-churning fits of panic that could be triggered by something as simple as a loud noise. She was broken in ways no nanotech or surgery could fix.

Her best friend Maggie hurried out to greet the customers, deliberately standing beside Jade and placing a steadying hand on her shoulder.

“Welcome to the Bar None. Take a seat wherever you like. I’ll come around to take your drink orders in just a moment,” Maggie said.

Several of the new arrivals rumbled words of thanks, some in Vardarian, others in Galactic Common. Thanks to the translators implanted in all of Haven’s citizens, communication wasn’t hampered by language barriers.

“You okay?” Maggie murmured once the others had moved off.

“As a duck in peach sauce,” Jade replied. Her voice was tight and shaky, but she had breath enough to talk, so she’d call that a win.

Maggie snorted. “I swear you make up new expressions just to fraxx with me.”

“Don’t blame me. That was one of my father’s expressions. I have no idea what it means either.” The friendly banter was exactly what she needed to ground herself and regain control. She leaned against Maggie’s leg, trying to slow her breathing and relax her knotted muscles.

It took a few minutes before she was calm again. Then she tapped the screen she’d been working on and activated the upgraded bar system with a still-shaking hand.

“The system and the droids are good to go. We’ll want to test them before it gets busy,” Jade announced as she rose to her feet, determined to keep it together in front of Maggie and the others.

“I’ll test them. You’re on a break,” Maggie stated firmly.

Jade waved her off. “I’m fine. Just need to stretch my back after being crouched on the floor so long. Remind me to talk to Anya about moving the central hub somewhere more accessible.”

Maggie narrowed her eyes and then muttered low enough only Jade would hear her. “If you don’t take a break, I will tell Anya and Saral that you’re pushing yourself too hard.”

“Whoa. You went straight to the nuclear option? How is that fair?” Jade protested. Saral and her two mates ran the tavern’s kitchen, creating some of the best food Jade had ever tasted. The Vardarian female was also a natural caregiver, and she was determined to provide Jade with food, advice, and mothering whether she wanted it or not.

“Who said anything about playing fair?” Maggie smiled and nudged her shoulder against Jade’s. “Grab a seat and relax for a few minutes. Saral has put together a plate for you already. If you don’t stop for a meal soon, she’s likely to come out here and glare at you until you’ve eaten every bite.”

Jade managed a small but genuine smile. “She’d do that. Wouldn’t she?”

“Without a doubt,” Maggie agreed. “She cares about you, Jaybird. We all do.”

Jade still didn’t know how to deal with that. Until Haven, Maggie had been her only friend—the one person she trusted to have her back. Haven was different. The beings here were kind, accepting, and honestly concerned about her. It made her uncomfortable, especially because she couldn’t offer much in return.

“I know, Magpie. It’s just weird. You know?” she replied, using Maggie’s nickname. Those names were part of their shared past, the years they’d spent on Earth, struggling to survive the hellhole that was the hive city known as Athens Two.

“I know. Remember, I’ve had a lot more time to get used to this place than you have.”

“Long enough to fall in love with a hot as hell cyborg and learn to be a badass with that fighting stick of yours.”

Kes’tarv,” Maggie corrected her with a snicker. “If Striker or any of the others hear you call it a fighting stick, you’ll wound their egos.”

“Yeah? Then I should probably say it to my bookend bodyguards the next time they start looming over me.”

“They’re not looming,” Maggie protested and then threw up her hands defensively when Jade raised both brows and stared at her.

“Okay. They loom a little. They’re protective of you. It’s kind of sweet.”

“No, it isn’t. They get all growly with anyone who even tries to flirt with me, which doesn’t happen much as it is. They’ve got cock blocking down to an art form, and I don’t know why they’re doing it. It’s not like they’re interested. They don’t trust humans. Not that I can blame them.” She shrugged. “A lot of us are assholes.”

“Truth.”

Maggie caught her by the hand and dragged her back into the kitchen. “Now, get some food and take a break. Shoo.”

She did as she was told. Experience had taught her that a few minutes of rest after a panic attack lessened the aftereffects significantly. Saral waited in the kitchen. The Vardarian female made a disapproving clucking noise and then handed her a plate stacked high with the Vardarian version of sandwiches with a side order of spicey fried tubers.

“Sit. Eat. Rest,” Saral instructed. “You should have mates to take care of you, but yours are slower to come to their senses than most.”

“Mine?” Jade shook her head. “Who would want me?”

Saral snorted. “Is this some sort of human affliction? That none of you can see what is as clear as the sky on a sunny day to everyone else?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now, I’m going to follow your advice and find somewhere out of the way to eat this delicious meal. Thank you.” She nodded to Saral and then to her mates, Antas and N’tev, before fleeing. Saral was kind, generous, and determined to see everyone around her as happily mated as she was. Jade appreciated the female’s good intentions, but she was too broken for any man to want, no matter what their species.

The closest she had to male company were Wreckage and Ruin, but they treated her like a little sister, not a romantic interest. If she couldn’t even interest the two battle-scarred cyborgs who shadowed her like a pair of overprotective gargoyles, what chance did she have with anyone else?

She slipped into the tiny space they called a staff break room and sat down to eat. Three mouthfuls later, the door opened again.

“No need to check up on me, Saral. See? I’m sitting and eating as instructed.”

“It’s not Saral, but she did tell me to make sure you were eating.” Phaedra’s distinct voice and unexpected laughter filled the air, and Jade leaped to her feet. “Phreak? Uh, I mean Princess Phaedra. What are you doing here?”

The fuchsia-haired woman smiled and settled her very pregnant body onto the nearest chair. “I’m here to recruit you.”

*

Wreckage swung the axe with practiced ease, each strike taking another bite out of the trunk of the tree he and Ruin had chosen to harvest from the area around their cabin. The spring sunshine felt good on his bare back, the warmth soaking into his scarred skin. Every stroke of his blade filled the clearing with a crisp, satisfying thwack.

Birds sang in the trees and the breeze stirred a hundred branches and a thousand leaves as it blew through the forest. On the far side of their cabin, Ruin prepared a freshly fallen tree, trimming off the branches and peeling the bark. They’d need more logs to have enough to expand their home, but they had months of good weather ahead and plenty of incentive to get the job done.

It had only taken a single winter for them to realize they’d need more space if they were going to get through the cold, dark days of winter without killing each other, though it got easier once their young charge had been granted full citizenship and returned the colony. Cam had proven himself trustworthy and loyal to his new home.

If they moved back into Haven, they’d also be entitled to separate residences that would both be bigger than their hand-built domicile, but neither of them were ready for that. The colony was nice, but it lacked the calm and peace of the forest. After a lifetime of war and then confinement on Reamus Station, Wreckage needed solitude and quiet. The only exception to that rule was the company of his batch-brother, Ruin. The other colonists generally understood and gave them space, welcoming them when they came into town and leaving them alone the rest of the time. It was what they wanted. At least, it had been. Wreckage wasn’t sure about that anymore.

Another swing of his axe made the tree shudder and groan as it gave way. “Timber!” Wreckage called out as he moved adroitly out of the danger zone.

The tree dropped to the ground in a cacophony of breaking branches and tearing wood that ended with a thump he felt through the soles of his boots.

“Why do you insist on saying that when you have no idea what the fraxx it means?” Ruin demanded, his voice clear despite the distance between them.

“Because it’s faster than yelling, ‘Hey, asshole, pay attention to the big tree about to crush you!’” Wreckage called to his batch-brother.

Three seconds later, a fist-sized rock soared over the roof of the cabin. “Hey, asshole, watch out for the rock about to smack you!” Ruin yelled and then added, “Huh, your way is faster. Point to you.”

Wreckage didn’t bother to move. The rock would miss him by ten meters or so. “That gives me ten points. You know what that means?” This time he sent the message via an internal comm link so he didn’t have to shout.

Fraxx,” Ruin swore inside his head. “Already?”

Yep. Which once again confirms that I’m the smart one. We’re going into town tonight and the first round is on you.”

Ruin didn’t respond, which wasn’t normal. The two of them bickered like it was a sporting event, and they were both vying for the championship.

A moment later, Ruin appeared around the side of the cabin. His shoulders were tight, his hands fisted at his sides, and his face was twisted into a scowl. Great. Ruin was in one of his moods.

“Problem?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.

Ruin ran a hand through his dark hair and grunted before answering. “We’ve been in town too much lately. We should stay away for a while.”

“Because everyone is going to forget what we look like if we’re gone long enough? The Vardarians might, but the cyborgs have perfect recall,” Wreckage reminded his friend. This argument had been going on as long as they’d been on Liberty, and he was tired of it. Eventually, someone would figure out their secret. At some point, they’d have to face the consequences.

Ruin’s lips twitched into a momentary snarl. “I know. And I know we’ve had this conversation so many times we can both recite the other’s point of view verbatim, but I…” he trailed off and smacked his fist into his open palm.

“You think I’m looking forward to having that conversation?” Wreckage shot back.

“You’re acting like it.”

“Seriously? That’s the best argument you’ve got?” Wreckage set down the axe and folded his arms across his chest. “We can’t hide out here forever.”

“It’s only been a year,” Ruin argued. “What’s the harm in giving things more time?”

“More time for what? For our brethren to figure it out for themselves? Or for someone to put the moves on Jade while we’re out here hiding?”

“We’re not hiding.” Ruin smacked his fist into his palm again, but it lacked the force of his previous action. “We’re keeping a low profile, but we see Jade every week, and we’re there when she needs us. She’s still recovering. It’s too soon.”

“There’s a small vething gap between too soon and too late,” Wreckage grumbled. That thought had been niggling at the back of his mind for a while now. Jade was brave and tough for a human, but she was still human. They were so weak they’d created cyborgs to fight their wars for them. Jade was stronger and braver than most, but she’d endured hardships and cruelty for most of her life. Then she’d been captured and tortured by mercenaries. He and Ruin knew too well what kind of scars that left.

Jade needed time to heal. But how much? If they left her alone too long, someone else would move in and take the woman they wanted for themselves.

That couldn’t happen. She was the only woman he and Ruin had ever wanted for more than a night. He’d felt it since the moment he’d carried her out of the mercenaries’ ship. She belonged with them, but only when she was ready. Until then, he wanted to stay close enough to ensure they didn’t miss their moment.

“Is Jade the only reason you want to go into town so much these days?” Ruin asked.

“Not the only reason, no. Your cooking is almost as bad as mine, which means the only way to get a decent meal is to pay someone else to make it.” Their future plans included having enough off-grid energy to support a food dispenser, but that wouldn’t happen for at least another year, especially now they were dividing their time between the cabin and their new duties as rangers. Between training sessions and the time they spent patrolling and mapping the areas around the colony, there just weren’t enough hours in the day. Not that he was complaining. Staying active made it easier to forget about the past, and sometimes he managed to push himself so close to exhaustion he actually slept for a few hours before the nightmares woke him.

Ruin nodded in grudging agreement. “Whatever that was we had for dinner last night made me nostalgic for the days of nutri-bars and algae paste.”

Wreckage winced. “You cooked it. Don’t you remember what it was before you turned it into a burnt offering?”

“Something I found in the back of the cooling unit. It was only slightly green and fuzzy, so I figured it was safe to eat.”

“You bastard. I don’t know whether to laugh or worry you poisoned me.” Even if Ruin was telling the truth, it wasn’t really anything he had to worry about. His medi-bots granted him accelerated healing and protection from illness… or food poisoning.

Ruin’s grin faded after a few seconds, and his expression turned thoughtful. “Do you think Jade would like to come out here? You know, for dinner?” He held up a hand. “We’d do takeout, of course. But the place is looking good these days. I’d like to show her around and see what she thinks.”

“Of what? Of the woods? The cabin? Or us?”

“All of it. This is our home. It could be hers, too. I mean, she doesn’t have a permanent job yet, and she hasn’t been assigned housing. We could offer her another choice.”

Wreckage didn’t know whether to laugh or smack his batch-brother upside the head. “Whoa. We haven’t even asked Jade out on a date yet and now you’re suggesting we ask her to move in with us?” He shook his head slowly as he imagined all the ways that could go wrong. “Do I need to contact Skye and some of the other cyborg women to explain to you what a terrible idea that is?”

Ruin cringed. “Fraxx, no. Do not involve the women. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

We would never hear the end of it, because they’d blame me for letting you even consider the idea. As clueless as I am about dating, I do know we’re going to need to make more of an effort than that. We’ll need to romance her and make her feel special.”

“She is special.” Ruin’s sun-bronzed features collapsed into another scowl.

“Yeah, she is.” Wreckage took a deep breath before locking eyes with Ruin. “So, what are you saying? Do you think it’s time we let her know?”

“Not yet.” Ruin chuckled ruefully. “As you just pointed out, we’re clueless about this dating stuff. I think it might be time to start making plans, though.”

Wreckage clapped his batch-brother on the shoulder. “I think you’re right. We can start tonight while we’re having dinner at the tavern.”

“I still don’t think it’s smart to go into town so much.” Ruin ran a hand over his close-cropped beard. “I could grow this out and you could, too. That worked before.”

“It worked because you and I were kept in isolation most of the time. I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life that way. If we do that, we’re not really free.”

“I know,” Ruin said and then followed it with a heavy sigh. “But when they figure it out…”

“Then we’ll deal with it.”

“My way is easier. Feed her dinner. Show her around. Offer to move her in and take care of her. She might say yes,” Ruin grumbled.

“And she might laugh in our faces,” Wreckage retorted. “That’s not a chance I’m willing to take. We’ve still got time. We’ll work on a plan and then dazzle her with romance and flowers and stuff. Maybe Striker has some suggestions. He managed to get Maggie to fall for him and he’s a sullen, silent bastard most of the time.”

Ruin grunted in agreement. “That he is. If he can figure out romance, so can we. Besides, we’re much better looking.”

“Truth. We’ll clean up the worksite and then shower and head into town. I need a brew and decent food. If we’re in luck, Jade will join us.”

Ruin nodded. “I’ll admit, she’s worth going into town for. That, and I’m tired of looking at your face.”

“And I’m tired of eating charred food that may or may not have been green and fuzzy,” Wreckage shot back.

Once he was alone again, he set to work cleaning up the site and storing the tools for tomorrow. He smiled and hummed to himself as he worked, already looking forward to tonight. They weren’t ready to make their move, but they were ready to make a plan. By the time Jade was ready, they would be, too.

***

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Release day for Marked For Menace!

She survived impact… But her plans burned up on re-entry. 

Spending her inheritance on a luxury cruise is the most reckless thing Hope has ever done, and she’s loving every second of it… right up to the explosion.

Now she’s stuck on a strange planet filled with countless dangers and just one chance to survive. The problem? He’s huge, scarred, and the scariest thing on this planet. He’s also the sexiest male she’s ever seen. His protection comes at a price, though. Her.

The life she envisioned is gone forever, but she might be on the brink of finding something better… if she can let go of what she wants to embrace what she needs.

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Sneak Peek at Marked For Menace

Chapter One

Days like this were a struggle. Not because Menace hated being with his clanmates. They were his brothers, his only family. It had always been them versus the universe, and he’d happily lay down his life to save any of them.

His life would be easier if he did hate them, or at least was indifferent to them. If he didn’t care, he could leave this place and go live somewhere else. It was a big planet. He’d find somewhere quiet and far enough away he’d never be tempted to see his brothers again.

They were his family, but some dark, primal part of him didn’t care about that. Every time he spent too long with the others, his dark side would rouse and pace the confines of the mental cell he’d sealed it inside.

One day, it would break free. On that day, he feared what would happen. Not to him, but to the only family he had—the fa’rel.

The problem was that he didn’t hate them, which was why he was with two of his brothers, helping Mayhem extend the roof of his home. Weaving grass and slender branches into the existing roof wasn’t physically demanding work, but what it lacked in backbreaking labor it made up for with mind-numbing tedium.

Still, it needed to be done, and it went faster when they worked together. This week, he and Strife were helping Mayhem. Next week, the three of them would be at Strife’s home, and the week after that, they’d all be coming to help him prepare his place for the rainy season.

They’d struggled their first year on this planet. In the beginning, they had nothing but the supplies they’d salvaged from the wreckage of their crashed ship. They’d huddled inside the ruined shell as the rain fell day after day. Being in such close quarters had nearly driven him to the breaking point more than once, and he’d spent most of his time outside. Flash floods, carnivorous wildlife, and the constant rain had been better than being stuck inside with his brothers.

Mayhem worked on the roof from above while Menace worked from below. They’d fallen into a comfortable silence that made it easier for him to stay focused on the job and not the proximity of the others. The longer he could work uninterrupted, the longer he could stay.

So of course, his brother had to do something stupid. Mayhem growled and tugged so hard at the thatching he was working on that part of it pulled loose and showering Menace with bits of vegetation.

“If you fuck that up, you can fix it yourself.” He glared up at his clanmate while brushing plant bits and dust out of his beard. A long blade of orange grass hung from one of his horns and he swiped at it absently.

“You grumble more than Strife when it rains. It’s fine,” Mayhem replied unapologetically.

His dark side wanted to grab his brother by the horns and drag him through the hole in the roof. Instead, he flashed his fangs and made a joke. “No need to be insulting. I don’t grumble anywhere near as much as he does.”

A moment later they were caught in a shower of freshly cut branches. Strife had obviously heard them.

“Asshole,” he hollered loudly enough his brother couldn’t fail to hear. Then he sighed and looked around at the mess. “Now we need to stop and clean up before we can start the next section.”

“You’re grumbling again,” Mayhem said.

He swallowed an angry retort and rolled his shoulders to disguise some of his tension. “One more comment from you and I’m going home. You can finish this yourself.”

He didn’t want to leave until the work was done, but it wouldn’t be the first time. His brothers understood. They all had the same problem, though he’d always been affected more than the others. He hid it as best he could, but they gave him space when he needed it. The need to dominate was part of their design, but the verexi had—by intention or by accident—ramped his up to dangerous levels.

He rarely thought about the scrawnies—their name for the race responsible for creating him and his brothers. Thinking about their captors only made him seethe and wish for a chance at payback. Not that the verexi were stupid enough to come down to the planet where they’d imprisoned his clan. Losing control of their creations was an embarrassment for them. From time to time, the verexi would hire mercenaries to try and exterminate the fa’rel. Each time that happened, the mercenaries died and his clan would add a few more weapons and other tools to their limited supplies. Hunting down the mercs was the best way to keep his dark side satiated.

As if in answer to his thoughts, a sharp series of beeps erupted. He’d never been here the other times, but he knew what that alarm meant. The verexi’s hired killers were back.

It was time to go hunting again.

He followed Mayhem to the small shelter that protected some of their most important assets—a cobbled-together mess of components that allowed them an illicit link to the verexi’s satellite network. It warned them when anything entered the planet’s atmosphere.

“What is it?” he asked Mayhem once the other male had a chance to look at the monitor. Strife joined him at the door and they both waited for confirmation of what was happening.

“We’re about to have company.”

Good. That would take the edge off his anger and give him a few days of relative peace. Long enough to make sure everyone’s homes were ready for the coming rainy season.

Mayhem and Strife knew more about computers and constructs than he did, but he’d seen enough to understand. A cluster of small ships fell away from a much larger one that continued on its original heading. The bigger ship would fly over his territory and should land on the far side of a range of hills while the smaller ships were descending rapidly toward fa’rel territory. In fact, one of those vessels should land in the area he’d claimed for himself.

Even better. He’d be hunting on familiar ground.

They watched the screen, trying to estimate where the ships would land. The system lost track of them as they neared the surface, but Menace knew where to start looking. Each of them had a ship coming down in their claimed territory. It was an odd strategy, one none of them had seen before. None of them understood what the enemy was up to. Not that it mattered. They were the enemy and they would die.

“When will they stop trying?” Menace asked, slapping his fist into his open palm.

Mayhem turned away from the monitor. “Let them come. This is our home and we’ll defend it.”

“To the death,” Strife added.

“To the death,” Menace repeated, meaning every word.

The three of them butted heads, their horns clacking as they touched. They bid each other good hunting and set out.

Menace didn’t bother taking the stairs. He vaulted over the railing a split second faster than Strife, both of them bounding from limb to limb, letting gravity do most of the work.

His claws carved new gouges in thick branches as he descended, slowing him enough to let him land on his feet. He was already sprinting toward his territory when the distinct sizzle of a signal gun discharging sounded followed by an ear-piercing screech intended to catch the attention of anyone who’d missed the light show.

He didn’t bother slowing to look. He knew what had happened. Mayhem had sent up a bright green flare, letting the others know a hunt was underway. Since only three ships were nearby, the hunt would be short and simple, each of them dealing with the invaders in their territory. The rest of the clan would prepare their defenses and wait. They didn’t have communication equipment. When a flare went up, everyone returned home and got ready. If another clanmate arrived with news, they’d react. Otherwise, they would stay near home and prepare.

Menace raced through the forest, using the shortcuts he’d long since memorized to reach his territory as fast as possible. Their territory was set out in a rough circle, and each of them claimed a triangular section with the crash site at the center. Most of the others had built their homes a short run from the middle.

He hadn’t. His house was near the distant boundary of the land he’d claimed for himself, and as it happened, it was the opposite edge from where he’d estimated the ship would land. Going home to gear up would waste valuable time, so he chose a different route—one that would take him to the right area and straight to a cache of supplies he’d placed for this kind of scenario. He didn’t know if any of the others had done the same thing, but he assumed at least some of them had.

They’d spent too many years stashing food and hiding what few items they’d managed to create or steal from the scrawnies to stop now. They’d want to be prepared for anything. Just like him.

The cache was stored in a cave partway up a hill. It wasn’t large, but it was high enough to stay dry even in the rainy season, and he’d fashioned a door heavy enough to keep out any of the local fauna. He stayed there sometimes when he didn’t feel like facing the summer storms that drenched the forest and sent lightning dancing through the clouds overhead.

He only took a few minutes to gear up, tying greaves to his lower legs and securing wide bands of leather to his wrists. He fastened a short kilt of boiled leather straps around his waist and adjusted the fit so it didn’t rub the fur over his hips. He hated wearing the thing, but it offered too much protection to forgo it. Not that it would do much against blaster fire, but the mercenaries weren’t the only dangerous predators on this planet. Teeth and claws were a much more common threat, and he’d likely run more of them than the mercs.

He grinned at that thought. More than once, the local wildlife had reduced the enemy’s ranks before the fa’rel joined the hunt. Menace was fine with that. He was happy to share the kill with anyone or anything, so long as they didn’t get in his way.

He armed himself with a variety of weapons and then jogged further up the hill to a rocky outcrop that offered a good view of the valley they called home. The boundary of his land was marked by a slow-moving river they called the bend.

Bysshe had tried to argue for something more poetic, but the android’s suggestions were all shot down by the fa’rel. It was a river. It had many bends in it. The name was simple and obvious. Bysshe had muttered about their lack of imagination, which seemed odd coming from the only artificial lifeform in their clan. Bysshe was an honorary member of the fa’rel despite the fact he’d been created by humans. He never spoke about how he’d ended up under the control of the scrawnies, and none of them had pressed him about it. The past didn’t matter. Their future was uncertain. All that mattered was the moment and the memories of those they’d lost along the way.

As he scanned the river with one of the few sets of functional binoculars they possessed, he couldn’t help but think about one of his clanmates. Rage had been the oldest of them, and he’d done what he could to protect them from the worst of the scrawnies’ cruelty. He would have loved this planet with its open sky and stretches of forest so vast you could lose yourself for days. Rage had died in an escape attempt not long before the verexi finally gave up on their experiment and pretended to arrange for the surviving fa’rel to live the rest of their lives on an uninhabited planet. They’d even sent down supplies, though the containers were mostly full of useless gear like bathtubs instead of what was promised.

None of them had any idea why their captors had provided them with anything at all. It didn’t make sense. The verexi had promised them a new life, but their plan had always been to kill them. Bysshe had figured that out and warned them once they were on the ship that brought them here. The crash landing was the best they could manage once they had taken the ship’s AI offline.

Rage had missed his chance at freedom. He’d died trying to find a way for them all to escape. It wasn’t fair. Menace smacked his fist into his flat palm. Nothing in their lives had ever been fair, but losing Rage stung the most. One day they would take the fight to the scrawnies. Then, he’d dedicate every kill to the brothers he’d lost, starting with Rage.

When he spotted debris along the edge of the river, his thoughts of revenge shifted from the future to this moment. The enemy appeared to have crashed their ship into the water. A tiny ship. Hmm.

He increased the magnification until he could make it out clearly. Not a ship. An escape pod. At least that’s what he assumed based on the fact it had inflated some sort of flotation device to keep it from sinking. He’d initially expected a scout ship, but that wasn’t the case. This pod was a one-way delivery system, not really a ship at all.

His grin widened until his fangs showed. If the three small ships were all pods, the larger ship must have had serious issues big enough to make it crash. If they could get to the wreck before the mercs could destroy it, there would be plenty of supplies and weapons to scavenge.

Today was a good day after all.

He put away the binoculars, checked his weapons were secure, and set off toward the river. It was time to go hunting.

***

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It’s release day for Her Alien Spymaster

She went into cryo-sleep a prisoner and woke up free…

 Skye thought freedom meant she could make her own choices. What to eat, where to live, and who she’d love. She’s learning that life doesn’t work that way, and fate has a mind of its own.

The cynical veteran spymaster wasn’t the male she’d have chosen, but he’s the one she’s destined for… Except he doesn’t believe she is his mate. In fact, he’s certain he can’t have one at all.

A spymaster lives for duty – no possessions, no attachments – and absolutely no mate.

 Yardan has lived by those rules since the day he took his oath. His duty is to advise and protect Prince Tyran and Haven colony, and lately he’s failed them both. He needs to redeem his honor and uncover the mole in their midst, but first he has to deal with a beautiful cyborg who insists they are destined for each other.

Skye is smart, desirable, and a distraction to his investigation. Could she also be the spy he’s hunting for? Or is she something more dangerous? Like the mate he is forbidden to have…

Enjoy your sneak peek and read Chapter one now, or Buy it today.

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