Read an Excerpt
"Just who I wanted to see."
Kreslan Piers didnâ€™t need to turn around to know who had sneaked up behind him in the hall. Barley Tankisâ€™ voice haunted his dreams. The bastard had made it his mission in life to bother Kres since basic training. Unfortunately, Barleyâ€™s father was an admiral in the fleet, so complaining about Tankisâ€™ behaviour never produced any results. Kres had learnt that lesson the hard way and had a scar on his arm to show for his efforts.
"Hello, Barley." Kres reluctantly turned to meet his nemesis.
"Hello, faggot," Barley sneered. If his usual expression wasnâ€™t so unpleasant, the tall blond could have been considered handsome with his wide shoulders and icy blue eyes. Unfortunately, it didnâ€™t take much digging to find the vast ugliness that lay beneath the surface.
"What do you want?" Kres had just finished sixteen hours of guard duty after one of his co-workers had come down with a cold. He could barely keep his eyes open. He didnâ€™t need to put up with Barleyâ€™s crap on top of everything else. He longed for a few hours of sleep followed by a trip to the bar to grab a willing bedmate for a round of stress-reducing sex. Hell, at this point he was so desperate he might even be willing to consider a woman.
"I talked to Sergeant Wallace, and he agreed with me that you should guard the creatures tonight."
Kresâ€™ stomach churned over Barleyâ€™s smug expression.
Shit. So much for stress reduction.
Even though he knew it was pointless, he offered a token protest. "I canâ€™t guard them tonight. I just got off sixteen hours. Iâ€™m going to get some food, then go to sleep."
Fuck, he needed sleep.
"So I should go back and tell the sergeant youâ€™re ignoring a direct order?" Barleyâ€™s cold eyes glowed with malice.
Anger pulsed through Kres. He knew he was powerless but that didnâ€™t stop him from issuing a threat that would no doubt go unfulfilled. "One of these days youâ€™re going to get whatâ€™s coming to you."
He had to believe that. It was the only thing that kept him from punching Barley in the face and getting court-martialled.
With a final glare at Barley, Kres turned and headed towards the cargo bay.
"Enjoy your shift." Barleyâ€™s mocking laughter followed him down the hall.
Kres wished he could get away with punching the bastard again, but the last time heâ€™d done that, he had been the one who had ended up in the brig for three days while Barley had roamed free. Kres had learnt his lesson. He only did things to Barley when he knew he could get away with them.
Sergeant Wallace gave him a cool look when he arrived. "Took you long enough to get here."
"I came as soon as I heard you wanted me on guard duty, Sergeant. I just got off a double shift." Kres didnâ€™t bother to hide the annoyance in his voice. His feet hurt, his back ached and he longed for his hard cot of a bed with a fierce need. At this point, a trip to the brig would at least allow him to get some sleep.
"Then you shouldnâ€™t have volunteered for this one," the sergeant barked at him.
"I didnâ€™t, Sergeant," Kres replied through gritted teeth.
"Are you saying Barley is a liar?"
How he longed to say yes.
"I would never say that, Sergeant. But then, as I didnâ€™t volunteer and Barley said you insisted I do this watch, Iâ€™ll let you make the judgment call."
The older man gave him a long, considering gaze. "I like Admiral Tankis. Too bad his son is a prick. Unfortunately, because you were volunteered, I let my other guard go. Iâ€™m going to need you to take this shift, soldier, and then Iâ€™ll make sure Barley takes the next three."
The thought of Barley watching animals for one evening much less three drained away most of Kresâ€™ anger. "Iâ€™ll do my duty."
The sergeant slapped Kres on the back, almost knocking the wind out of him. "I knew I could count on you. Youâ€™re a good man, Piers."
<strong>Excerpt From: The Viking in my Bed</strong>
Oh. That felt just toooo good.
Warm lips on my sweet spot. A lot of guys had made the mistake of thinking my sweet spot was in the obvious location, but I have a thing for having my right armpit licked and suckled, right over this little mole.
A soft beard scraped my skin with just the right amount of pressure. I shivered, arching my body.
I was aware I was close to waking up, like a boat about to bump onto a beach, but the hand stroking my bare chest felt so good I didnâ€™t want to. What was good about Thursday? Thursday was rain, midterms, coffee with Candy, and maybe Iâ€™d be able to squeeze in an hour boarding. Maybe.
Thursday was not vivid blue eyes staring into mine. A wide, delighted smile, like a kidâ€™s smile. Plump ribbons of braided blond hair that framed a tanned face. Miles of muscle that I was...stroking?
I sat up.
"Good. This will be better when youâ€™re awake, yes, seiÃ°maÃ°r?" a heavily accented voice boomed.
He was so loud I covered my ears. The guy on top of me had a chest like a fog horn.
"What are you doing?" I squeaked.
I was naked. Since Iâ€™d moved into college residence, I could sleep naked, which saved a lot of time on laundry. My two other roommates were guys, so itâ€™s not like I was going to offend their tender sensibilities.
"I am making love to you, of course," the gigantic blond bellowed.
"Stop shouting!" I yelled.
He frowned, looking like a puzzled golden retriever. "You shouted."
"I live here!" I said with, I have to admit, very little logic. "Listen, Conan, can you get off me?"
He was built like Arnie and he was squishing my legs into my bed. This had to be a set up. I wondered who wanted to yank my, uh, tailâ€”which was hard enough to wag right now.
But so was Conanâ€™s.
"I am not called Conan," he told me stiffly.
"Uh huh. So how much did my friends pay you?" He pushed back the blankets. His name might not be Conan, but if they made a rubber to fit his dick, it would be Conan-sized. I stared, my mouth watering.
Focus, I scolded myself. Just because he has the kind of cock Iâ€™d love to suck, I mean love, going down as far as I could on the monster and holding those big rocks and squeezing them...
Right, focus. I got out of bed and grabbed some briefs off the back of a chair.
Conan got out of bed and stood there, hands on his hips, as naked as Michelangeloâ€™s David.
"Whereâ€™d you put your clothes?" I looked around, then sniffed. "Do you smell smoke?"
"You ask a lot of questions," he noted.
"Is that a new kind of weed? What is that smell?" Had I left the boiler plate on again? Geez. It smelled like scorched earth in here. It hadnâ€™t been that long since Iâ€™d done the laundry.
"It is the mark of my passage to this world," Conan said.
Mark. I saw the hardwood floor was scuffed up. There was a burn on my fake wood wall and a seared heap of cloth that was a weird red colour. I stared at the wool, trying to figure out why it looked both familiar and strange. Oh, it had been dyed with raw madder. Iâ€™d helped Mom mix that natural dye for her weaving projects. I picked up the cloth, seeing fragments of a round neckline and cuffs with metal links featuring a snarling animal face. Wow. Mom would be really into this. I was about to ask Conan where he got the shirt when I noticed something else...
"Oh no, my graphic!" The new knot design Iâ€™d finished the night before was scorched, the paper curled. Damn. I stuffed it carefully in my messenger bag. Maybe I could photocopy the design. I wanted to show it to my prof later today.
I looked at the guy Iâ€™d woken up with.
He was very tall, towering over me. He wore a neatly trimmed dark blond beard. On either side of his face were golden braids, though the rest of his hair was long and free.
He was gorgeous, but obviously obsessed with some kind of role-playing. Figures thereâ€™d be something wrong with him since Iâ€™d woken up with him. Iâ€™d always picked the lemons in the barrel.
But he had a sweet smile.
And I had class in less than an hour.
I tossed more of my clothing, looking for a clean T-shirt. I found one with palm trees and camels my Mom had snagged for me on a trip to Cairo. It was clean. Now I needed my favourite pair of stonewashed jeans.
Conan was still standing there, glowering at me like I was a servant boy whoâ€™d forgotten to dress his royal highness.
"Okay," I said. "I gotta get to class. It was real funny." I swallowed. How he got me so hard, so excited. How he felt covering me. "Ha ha. Now go, your Lordship."
"I am Freyr GrÃmsson," he continued, in a language I didnâ€™t understand. Maybe it was Middle-earth. I found my jeans.
"Thereâ€™s coffee and, I think, some left over pizza in the fridge," I told him. "Bye."
I sneaked one last look at him over my shoulder as I snagged my backpack.
He took my breath away. Glowing golden skin, glowering at me out of electric-blue eyes, hands on his corded hips, the kind of hips with dimples created by muscles. He had scars on his body too. Probably some kind of makeup to go with his persona. His cock hung long from a thatch of blond hair almost as bright as the gold on his head. Holy geez. I gave it a wistful glance and then slammed the door behind me.
<strong>Excerpt From: Retribution</strong>
â€œCommander Rave Anders, a panel of your peers has found you guilty of theft of government property. You are hereby dishonourably discharged and sentenced to thirty days on the penal colony Devilâ€™s Island.â€
Rave fell to his seat in disbelief as the panel left the room. Just like that, his military career was gone, like so much smoke. Most would think that was the worst thing, but it wasnâ€™t. The worst was Raveâ€™s lover, Kain, couldnâ€™t be found.
A hand landed on his shoulder. He turned, hoping to see Kain. His stomach sank when he saw his friend, Sela instead.
â€œItâ€™s no use, Rave. Itâ€™s as if heâ€™s disappeared. His parents donâ€™t know where he is, either. Iâ€™m sorry.â€
He rested his head in his hands. â€œI canâ€™t believe it, Sela. Heâ€™s out there, somewhere, hurt. Heâ€™d be here if he was able.â€
Rave looked up at Sela and saw the guards approaching behind her.
â€œIâ€™ll do what I can to find him, Rave.â€
He gave a sharp nod and turned to follow the guards to the pod waiting to take him to Devilâ€™s Island, his thoughts in turmoil. How would he survive the next thirty days? Being in the military put a target on his back and Devilâ€™s Island was one of the worst prison colonies in the universe. His heart ached at the thought of Kain, alone and hurt while he could do nothing about it. Nothing really mattered if Kain wasnâ€™t safe. The guard shoved him into the craft and shackled him to the seat.
After the criminals were processed, the ship started the journey to Devilâ€™s Island.
â€œHey, youâ€™s that military thief? Yep, you is. Youâ€™s the guy whose got fucked up the ass, but then, I hear ya like that, donâ€™t ya?â€ The passenger beside him snickered. â€œIâ€™m sure youâ€™ll get plenty of action on DI.â€
Rave leaned over and yanked him close enough that Rave could smell the manâ€™s putrid breath. â€œShut the fuck up.â€
â€œNo need to gets with the rough stuff. I ainâ€™t after that pretty ass,â€ the man mumbled as Rave shoved him back into his seat.
Rave closed his eyes to block out the upcoming nightmare. He had two hours to devise a plan that would keep him from getting killed while being detained. He had a lover to find.
One step at a time.
His thoughts drifted.What had happened?
That question played over and over in his mind. One minute, Kain had left the ship. The next, the Alliance had boarded the ship and arrested Rave. Two days before the ship docked, the crew had conducted an inventory and those government boxes hadnâ€™t been there. The Alliance had shown up, and suddenly, there the boxes had sat, pretty as you please. Something wasnâ€™t adding up.
Rave didnâ€™t do suspicion. He placed his faith in all his crew and expected their trust in return. Kain had never given him a reason not to trust him. Hell, Rave loved the man. He couldnâ€™t love a traitor, could he? Focus, Damn it! Worry about now.
The force of take off glued him to the seat. He swallowed then bit his lip. He wasnâ€™t prepared, not really. All the training in the world couldnâ€™t prepare a person for a prison colonyâ€”an open world full of the worst criminals in the universe. He couldnâ€™t figure out why the Alliance wanted to send him to a high security planet. He should have been shipped off to one of the minimum security colonies.
When the flight smoothed out, Rave forced himself to relax. He had to get some sleep. He wouldnâ€™t get much on DI. Rave prayed he would wake from this nightmare, wrapped in the comfort of Kain arms, ready for their morning romp.
Kain, where are you?
<strong>Excerpt From: One Breath, One Bullet</strong>
Year 2546The Dark Continental Republic
I hated the heat of the desert.
The mask on my face was confining, filling with the condensation of each breath I dragged into my lungs and forced back out in shallow gasps. The goggles over my eyes should have protected me from the yellow and grey cloud of Chemsense the Dark Continental Republic Army had unleashed on our battalion, but I could feel my eyes watering, the liquid gathering in pools that threatened to make my skin too damp to maintain the protective seal.
I was on my knees and I couldnâ€™t remember when Iâ€™d stopped walking. I wasnâ€™t far enough away yet. The shouts of the DCR soldiersâ€”and the sonicpops of their weapons as they picked off States soldiersâ€”were muffled but still too close. My body tilted, and I planted my hands into the sand without thought. I collapsed into the dune when my right shoulder ground together, bone against bone, tendons ripping. I thought those DCR goons had only managed to dislocate it, but this pain was worse than thatâ€”a grinding impact of racking, vision-blackening pain that didnâ€™t ebb even when I flopped onto my back and let my arm lie unmoving in the scorching sand.
My mantra, pounded into me through years of training, repeated in my head as I consciously stilled my body.
Hesitation is my enemy.
Solitude my ally.
Death the only real victory.
A ferocious hot wind whipped around and over me, driving sand into my open wounds, like a million simultaneous pricks of a pin. If the wind kept up like this it was going to drive away the lingering cloud of Chemsense. And I needed the thick, toxic cover if I was going to make it over the dune and out of sight of the DCR forces.
If I was going to survive, I had to keep moving.
My body was drenched in sweatâ€”mine and the ripe remnants of the soldiers Iâ€™d fought hand to hand. My ribs on the right side were crushed and with each breath I wondered if this would be the inhalation that sent a spear of bone into the soft, vulnerable flesh of my lung, collapsing it and killing me before backup could arrive.
I ripped the transport chip out of the hidden pocket where it was sewed into my tattered uniform. My thumb hovered over the button as my mind warred with the instinct just to press it. But I couldnâ€™t simply transport out of this clusterfuck. The transition would be too much of a shock to my mangled body.
If I was going to succeed, I had to keep moving.
The thought was all that propelled me. There was no desire to survive left in me. No want of more from life. It was my orders, my mission, that forced me to sit up, shift to my knees and stumble to my feet.
My right arm hung loosely at my side. My firing arm. Without it I could never be a sniper again. And that should have been the least of my concerns, but I couldnâ€™t silence the part of me that contended that death would be preferential over never shooting my rifle again.
I staggered, then caught myself before falling again. The pain of my disconnected shoulder was almost too much to bearâ€”a jolt of red, angry agony that sliced across my vision with each step forward. Silver droplets swam in my peripheral eyesight, a sign that my already throbbing head was on the verge of erupting.
I trudged through the unending sand of the DCR desert because I had no other choice. To stop was to fail. And I didnâ€™t fail. The sand felt thicker than the detritus of an American Federation riverbed. My feet sank deeper than into the suck of a United Union bog. I moved slower than the day Iâ€™d taken my first tentative steps off the hospital bed in the States when I was five years old and my legs had nearly been taken by the sonic explosion that had destroyed the only home I would ever know.
And I knew this desert was worse than all of those places because I was dying.
I was closer to death than Iâ€™d been in the Peopleâ€™s Republic of Singapore the night Armise took a blade to my throat.
The name rushed through me like endorphins, heating my already boiling blood. I barely had enough brain cells left active and firing to stand, let alone move, but my hate for Armise fed me like a vial of surge emptied into my bloodstream.
That Iâ€™d fucked him more times in the last year than I wanted to count didnâ€™t matter.
That there had been a part of me anticipating he would be on the ground in the DCR when I arrived was like a psychotic practical joke.
Heâ€™d had the infochip I was seeking the entire time.
It had been inches from my fingers when I drove into him last night. But he had waited until my soldiers and me were trapped in a standoff with DCR forcesâ€”sonicrifle to sonicrifleâ€”to let me in on that vital piece of intel.
I wouldnâ€™t let him so easily get under my skin again.
I might not have eliminated him, but Iâ€™d obtained the infochip Iâ€™d been sent to extract. And Iâ€™d taken Armiseâ€™s finger in the process. I choked on the laughter that bubbled up in my throat. Too bad the missing digit wasnâ€™t on his firing hand.
If nothing else, I would survive to kill him.
Whatever this was between Armise and me ended here. Now.
But even in my haze I was aware of how irresolute that promise sounded.
I kept moving.
Until I wasnâ€™t anymore.
Blackness overtook me in an uncontrollable instant.
<strong>Excerpt From: To See The Sky</strong>
AJ4982â€”known as AJâ€”squinted at the â€˜employee wantedâ€™ cards pinned on the wall of the agency. He could only read the figures on the cards and had no idea what jobs they offered. He didnâ€™t care, heâ€™d do anything to raise the credits for his sisterâ€™s medicine. Finally he spotted one with the figure 500 printed at the bottom in bold black lettering. He grabbed the card from the wall and marched over to the clerkâ€™s desk.
"Hi, Iâ€™m Landon. How can I help you today?" the bespectacled clerk said as he took the card from AJâ€™s outstretched hand. His eyes widened slightly as he scanned the job details before turning back to AJ.
"Put this back where you found it," Landon ordered as he passed the advert back.
"I want to apply for the job," AJ stated.
Landon looked him over, taking in his messy hair, ragged clothes and swiftly assessing him to be one of the uneducated masses. "You canâ€™t do this job."
"Iâ€™ll do any job."
Landon looked at the card again and cleared his throat before reading the text. "â€˜Wantedâ€”Laboratory Technician with at least three years experience in bio-science for temporary assignment in sector R9â€™. Still think you can do the job?"
AJ ducked his head, embarrassment sweeping over him.
Landon gave him a sympathetic glance. "Can you even read?"
"I can read enough," AJ snapped.
"You can read figures, the same as the rest of the lab rats," Landon corrected. "You can tell the time, see what things cost and make sure youâ€™ve been paid correctly. The scientists need their staff to be properly educated. Now, what was your last job?"
"I was a runner down in the tunnels," AJ replied reluctantly. With the surface of the planet uninhabitable after the Last War, the human race had taken refuge beneath the ground. The underground community was outgrowing the caverns they inhabited at an alarming rate. The original emergency caves had filled as soon as the survivors took refuge. Within just two generations the cave system could no longer hold everyone and the tunnelling downward had begun. More than five hundred years later the digging still continued, with twisting tunnels stretching out in every direction as they struggled to accommodate the ever-increasing population.
"Iâ€™ve got nothing for a runner these days," Landon said. "Since the collapse in sector C14 workers in the tunnels are being laid off. No oneâ€™s hiring at the moment."
AJ knew all about the collapse in C14. He had lost a friend in the accident and several lab rats from his own sector had been injured badly enough that they would never work again. AJ had been in sector C13 at the time of the collapse and he could still hear the screams from the neighbouring sector as the roof caved in on the diggers and runners who were trapped within it.
"Iâ€™ll do anything."
Landon sighed and tapped the screen of his hand-held computer. "Can you wait tables?"
"How much does the job pay?"
"Ten credits a night."
"Thatâ€™s not enough."
Landon gave him a stern look over the top of his glasses. "Lab rats canâ€™t afford to be picky."
"I need five hundred credits in three days."
The clerkâ€™s jaw dropped. "What sort of trouble have you got yourself into?"
AJ bristled at the implication he had done something wrong. "Itâ€™s for medicine for my sister. The physician has given her three days if she doesnâ€™t get the lung decongestant. What have you got thatâ€™ll get me the credits?"
Landon shook his head. "Iâ€™m sorry. Iâ€™ve got nothing. Have you thought of moving her to a less dusty sector?"
"Of course I have. We donâ€™t have the credits to move either. There must be something I can do to get five hundred credits." AJ had no intention of giving up. He had too much at stake.
Landon contemplated him for several minutes before glancing around the office. When he appeared satisfied no one lingered in earshot he leant forward and lowered his voice. AJ inched closer as well.
"Iâ€™ll do anything," he repeated.
Landon gave a small nod. "Okay, hereâ€™s the deal. Officially, we donâ€™t offer this sort of workâ€¦"
AJ breathed a sigh of relief. "And unofficially?"
"If youâ€™re collared you can earn upwards of one hundred credits a night, depending on what youâ€™re prepared to do."
"What do you mean?" AJ had never heard of the expression â€˜collaredâ€™.
"Some of the waiters wear collars to advertise theyâ€™ll accept credits for sexual favours."
AJ jumped backwards as though heâ€™d been bitten. "Prostitutes?"
Landon waved his hand frantically. "Keep your voice down."
AJ cringed. "I canâ€™t have sex for credits."
"You can get your credits in a single night if you find someone whoâ€™ll accept your prices. You set your own. Get lucky and you could make your five hundred with a single blow job."
AJ looked at the three collars Landon pulled out from his desk drawer. The first was red, the second blue and the third silver. They were all about an inch wide and each sparkled in the dimly lit cave with blinking coloured lights.