The year is 3048, Earth is no longer habitable, and man has ed to the stars where they've discovered the secret of immortality
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A Blood Hunter Novel
By Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Nicola Cleasby
All rights reserved.
Rico hurled himself behind the huge trunk of a tree and stood, back pressed against the rough bark, as the missiles whizzed past.
An arrow thwacked into the wood behind him, and every muscle in his body tensed. He reached gingerly around and snapped it off. In the dim light, he held the shaft to his face and cursed loudly — wooden arrows. It was almost as though they were expecting him.
"Goddamn heathen peasants." He might as well be back in the Dark Ages.
In the distance, a pack of hounds bayed for blood. His blood. But they weren't getting it.
He braced himself and peered around the trunk through the thick stand of trees, and spotted the crimson glow of a hundred torches not too far in the distance. Breathing in, he caught the oily scent of burning pitch.
A triumphant roar filled the air. The hounds must have picked up his scent.
Rico cursed and darted off again, weaving through the dense forest with blurring speed. He could outrun the mob and the hounds, but it was a damn poor way to end an evening.
When the sound of voices faded behind him, he slowed down and finally came to a halt. Time to get the hell out of here. Leaning against a tree, he switched on his comm unit.
"What is it?" Tannis sounded irritated, and Rico frowned.
"I need picking up."
"It will have to be later — I'm busy."
He cocked his head to one side, listening for the sound of the mob, judging its distance. His pursuers would be on him soon. Tannis had better get unbusy and fast.
"Tannis, stop whatever it is you're doing, bring my goddamn spaceship, and pick me up."
She was silent for a moment. "I'll think about it."
The line went dead. He stared at the comm receiver on his wrist. She'd cut him off. Gritting his teeth, he imagined the pleasure of tossing her mutant body out of the ship's airlock. Only first, he had to get back to the ship. He pressed his finger down until he heard the line open.
"What?" she snapped.
"Tannis, are you aware that I've rigged El Cazador to blow if I don't input a unique numerical code every twenty-four hours? Come and get me or the whole ship goes up."
"Good try, but I don't believe you. You don't think that far ahead."
He took a deep breath. "Do you remember that time last year?"
"The time I saved your worthless life. At great personal risk to myself."
"So bloody well reciprocate."
A shaft of burning pain shot through his leg and he jumped, then stared down in disbelief at the arrow sticking out of his calf, an inch below the knee. "I've been shot," he said.
"Shot? By what?"
"By a big fucking arrow. Get down here. Now."
He yanked the arrow from his leg and flung it to the forest floor. "Or you're fired," he added and shut off the connection.
His pursuers were close now, so close he could hear the fierce crackle of flames mixed with the rise and fall of excited voices. He ignored the pain in his leg and took off through the trees again. A few minutes later, he skidded to a halt.
Straight in front of him, the land fell away abruptly. He peeked over the edge. A long way below, water roared. A lot of water. A lot of cold water. He hated cold water. He searched the sky for any sign of Tannis, but a thick layer of cloud obscured the moons and he saw only darkness. He jammed his finger onto the comm unit. "You here yet?"
"Have a little patience. I'll be there in five minutes."
"Great, just great. The problem is, I might not be here in five minutes."
"Don't be so melodramatic. Just hold on."
He stared over the edge into the dark, turbulent water. "Hold on to what?"
A low snarl sounded behind him. With a sigh of resignation, he turned to face his pursuers. They emerged from the shadowy tree line, torches held in front of them, before fanning out to form a semicircle around him.
One of the hounds crept toward him, belly close to the ground, growling softly. It reminded Rico a little of the dogs back on Earth, probably even had some real dog DNA in there somewhere. Rico growled back, baring his fangs. The animal got the message, turned tail, and ran.
A tall man stepped forward to stand at the center of the group. He wore the long black robes of a priest, and Rico groaned. Not heathens after all. Bloody religious fanatics. He should have expected it.
When man had fled to the stars nearly a thousand years ago, the old religions had gone into an abrupt decline. By the year 2600, they had all but vanished from the universe, and good riddance as far as Rico was concerned.
But that had changed with the discovery of Meridian.
A rare, radioactive element with the ability to bestow immortality on those lucky enough to afford its exorbitant price, Meridian heralded the evolution of a new class — the Collective. Super rich and virtually indestructible, the Collective quickly gained power. Now, they ruled most of the civilized universe.
But while not everyone could afford Meridian, everyone wanted immortality, and the old religious beliefs had gained a new popularity. The Church of Everlasting Life offered a cheaper, if less reliable, alternative with its promise of an afterlife in paradise.
On these isolated outer planets, the Collective's influence was slim and the Church took advantage of that and jumped in to fill the gap. A shudder of loathing ran through him. Rico had no feelings either for or against the Collective, but he hated the Church as only someone who had lived through the Inquisition could.
"Son of Satan," the priest cried, and the mob behind him roared.
Rico rolled his eyes. "We're not actually related."
A second man stepped forward, dragging a girl with him, and the priest grabbed her hair, tugged back her head. In the flickering light, Rico saw the puncture wounds in her ivory neck and had a flashback to the sweet taste of her blood.
"I have been ordained by God," the priest said, "for the punishment of the wicked and the eradication of evil."
"Get a life," Rico muttered. "Look, it's honestly no big deal — the marks will heal in a couple of days. You won't even know I was here."
His words didn't seem to impress them. Of course, the Church was rarely impressed unless they were slaughtering innocents, and Rico was the first to admit he hadn't qualified as an innocent in numerous lifetimes. If ever.
Five men stepped forward, and Rico watched them warily. They raised their bows, cocked their wooden arrows. Drew them taut and aimed them straight at his heart.
Rico glanced over his shoulder at the icy water below. He was going to have to jump. "Shit."
He tensed himself, ready to dive over the edge, just as the sky filled with noise and light. His gaze shot upward. He released his breath. The shuttle hovered above them, and a laser beam shot out, cutting the ground between him and the archers. A voice boomed from the open hatch.
"Lower your weapons."
But they were already edging backward. The shuttle flew lower, almost touching the ground, and Rico lunged for the open hatchway. "About bloody time."
The mob was almost back in the trees now, but at the last moment, the girl pulled free and raced toward the shuttle. She stared up at them, imploring. "Take me with you, Rico."
He looked at Tannis, raised an eyebrow.
"No freaking way." She reached across and slammed her palm to the door panel.
Rico had a last brief glimpse of the girl. He hoped she'd be okay, that her people would treat her as a victim, though she'd hardly been reluctant.
"What took you so long?" he growled as the hatch slid shut behind him and the shuttle sped away from the planet.
Tannis swiveled her chair to face him. She ran a hand through her short, dark hair and raised one brow in accusation. "Been eating the natives, Rico?"
"Dios, I go out for a snack and all I get is hassle. I've got to eat."
He hobbled across and sank into the seat next to her, rubbing his leg and tossing Tannis a wounded look. His ship's captain was no Florence Nightingale, but dammit, his leg hurt. "They shot me."
"Aw, poor baby." She uncoiled her lean body from the chair and came to stand over him, her cold, yellow eyes looking him over. Reaching down, she tore open his pants leg. The bleeding had already stopped, the wound healing over. "You'll live."
He frowned. "So what kept you?"
"While you were down there playing, I got us a job."
His mood lightened. "Dangerous?"
"For this sort of money, it's probably going to kill us."
He grinned. "Sounds like my sort of job."CHAPTER 2
Lasers blasted from all sides, and the stench of scorched air burned her nostrils. Skylar had passed beyond exhaustion, to where her body reacted automatically, whirling and countering, her own pistols deflecting each incoming shot.
It wasn't enough. At the thought, the speed of the shots increased until the area was a blur of flashing lights. Off to her right, a blaster roared and Skylar dived for cover. A laser beam slammed into her while she was midair, hitting her directly in the chest. She crashed to the floor, and the breath left her lungs in a whoosh.
Ignoring the searing pain, she rolled, came up on her feet, legs braced, a pistol still gripped in each hand.
"My office, now, Lieutenant."
The words sounded in Skylar's mind. At the same time, the shots ceased, and the room lights came on as the simulation unit shut down. Skylar stood for a moment, head hanging, her breathing short and fast as she came down from the adrenalin high. Sweat stuck the material of her jumpsuit to her skin, rivulets ran down her forehead, stinging her eyes, and her chest ached viciously from the laser blast. She needed a shower, and a few minutes to get her shit together before she faced the colonel.
"I'll be there in five, sir."
"I said now, Lieutenant."
"Crap," she muttered under her breath.
A group of trainees stood around the edges of the room, their expressions ranging from awe to fear. None of them spoke, but a tall young man tossed her a towel as she passed. She nodded her thanks and wiped the sweat from her forehead.
The suns were high overhead as she crossed the courtyard from the training center to the office block, and it was a relief to enter the relative coolness of the corridor. Pausing outside the colonel's office, she rubbed her hands down the sides of her jumpsuit and ran a calming mantra through her mind. If she wasn't careful, the colonel would pick up her inner turmoil and he'd terminate her first solo mission before it even began. The mantra completed, she tapped on the door and pushed it open without waiting for an answer.
The colonel stood at the far side of the large room, hands behind his back, staring out of the window to the courtyard beyond where a group of new recruits were being put through their paces. He turned as she entered the room, and she saluted.
He was dressed identically to Skylar in a black jumpsuit, with the violet insignia of the Corps on his chest, long boots, and a weapons belt strapped at his waist. Although he was tall, he always reminded Skylar of a boy dressed up as a soldier, until she looked into his eyes and saw the centuries reflected there.
She'd heard he'd only been eighteen when he'd taken the treatment, and while some people changed over the years, the colonel hadn't aged at all. His gaze wandered over her, his eyes narrowing as he took in her disheveled state.
"You were hit?" he asked nodding at her chest.
She glanced down and saw the rusty scorch mark where the blast had caught her. "I was training, sir."
"I know, Lieutenant. I asked if you were hit."
"Yes, sir. I was careless."
"Either that or you raised the simulation unit to level eleven, when the maximum recommended level, even for trained operatives, is eight."
Crap. Had she? No wonder those newbies had been giving her odd looks. She kept quiet; there wasn't much she could say.
The colonel pursed his lips, then shrugged. "At ease, Lieutenant. Take a seat."
Skylar sank down into the hard upright chair in front of the desk. The colonel took the seat opposite and leaned back watching her for a moment. She tried not to squirm under the intensity of his stare.
"Your recent psych profile threw up a few concerns."
More crap. "It did?"
"The consensus is that you're becoming less integrated into the whole. Any idea why that might be?"
What could she say? That recently she'd felt so alone. That all the voices in her head just made her feel more disconnected. That she was worried she'd made a huge mistake and was going to have to live with it. Forever. The concept of forever filled her with fear.
But if she said any of those things he'd bust her out of his army so fast she'd be spinning. And this was better than before; over the years, she had found some respite in the action. And if she just got this mission and got away for a while, then maybe she could work her way through her problems.
"No, sir. I'm fine, sir."
"What about Aiden's death?"
"We weren't close."
But his death had unsettled her. Maybe because she had been thinking they were indestructible, but Aiden's assassination had proved that a lie. So maybe 'forever' wasn't quite so long after all.
"Hmm. Well, in the end, it was considered your particular ... issues would be an advantage for this posting, as you'll be working alone. Afterward, we'll review your case."
"So the mission is on?"
She maintained her rigid control, but a smile tugged at her lips. She had tried not to think about it, but as relief flooded her system, she knew she might have gone crazy if she had to go back to her old command. Or even worse, if she was kicked out of the Corps altogether. Then she wouldn't belong anywhere.
"Tell me what you have so far."
She forced her mind back to the mission. "I've made initial contact with the captain of a ship I think is suitable —"
"Show me," he interrupted.
Skylar reached across the desk and flicked on the monitor. She brought up her mission files, then sat back as the colonel perused them, his brows drawing together in a small frown.
"Why this ship? This crew?"
Skylar considered what to say. The truth was, she wasn't sure. She'd reviewed over twenty possible ships looking for a suitable candidate. But she'd always come back to this one. Something about El Cazador tugged at her interest, and little did that these days.
"Gut instinct, mainly," Skylar said. The colonel was a big one for his officers using gut instinct provided they could back it up with logic. "But the ship has everything we need. The crew is a motley bunch of misfits with moral flexibility and mercenary tendencies, but they're also good at what they do."
"Mainly low-level smuggling jobs which keep them just below the scanners. Plus the odd misappropriation of property — but to order, not random robbery."
"And something else. The owner has a reputation as a womanizer — I thought I might use that, go in as some sort of bimbo, try and get him off balance."
The colonel considered her, his eyes running down over her figure, making her want to fidget in her seat. Okay, so she wasn't exactly bimbo material, but she was sure with a bit of effort she could clean up okay.
"And you're good with that?" he asked.
"I can control the situation."
"I'm sure you can. You have an impressive reputation for keeping men at arm's length, Lieutenant."
She bit back a scowl. Was that a good thing? Anyway, it didn't matter. She would use the womanizer aspect to get in there, maybe distract him a little, but the real hook would be the money.
The colonel rose to his feet, and she knew the meeting was over. "I'm sure you have arrangements to make. I'll speak with you again before you leave. And Lieutenant ..."
"I'm sure you'll make an excellent 'bimbo,' but maybe you should get a little outside help with the disguise."
Skylar gritted her teeth and kept her thoughts to herself. "Yes, sir. I'll be sure to do that, sir."
She managed to maintain her blank expression until the door closed and then she grinned. The mission was on.
* * *
The star cruiser grew smaller in her monitor until it vanished, leaving her alone in the vastness of space. Inside, some of her inner tension relaxed, and she sensed the first stirrings of anticipation. Finally, she checked her coordinates and brought the small shuttle to a standstill.
"Are you ready, Lieutenant?" The colonel's words sounded in Skylar's mind.
"Yes, sir. I've arrived at the rendezvous point."
"You know how important this mission is to us?"
"I do, sir."
"Could you put me on visual?"
She wanted to ask why, but she already knew the answer. She flicked on the monitor and tried not to scowl as the colonel's face filled the screen. He scrutinized her for a minute, his lips twitching in obvious amusement.
"Thank you, sir." Despite the sarcasm in her tone, the colonel just nodded.
"Okay, then I suggest you lock down the link. Good luck."
"Thank you, sir."
Excerpted from Break Out by Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2012 Nicola Cleasby. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the first book, Break Out, Skylar Rossaria is on her first solo mission for the Corps. The Corps is a specialized military unit that is part of the Collective, a group of immortals that rule the universe. She enlists the El Cazador and her crew to break a prisoner out of a maximum security prison, an impossible task but one she is determined to complete. What Skylar didn¿t plan on however was the sizzling attraction she feels for the El Cazador¿s sexy owner and pilot. A two thousand year old vampire with magnetic sex appeal, Ricardo Sanchez, accepts the job, looking forward to a large payment and an even better bonus. He knows Skylar is hiding secrets and keeping him at a distance because of that, but refuses to let her get too far. Will danger catch up with them before Rico has a chance to collect though? Break Out was a fiery novella that I didn¿t want to end! Full of sexual tension, mystery, humor and flaming hot sex scenes it kept me turning the pages until the very last. The story flowed perfectly for its length and the characters were superbly written. I loved Skylar and Rico, and the dynamics of their relationship. The secondary characters are just as loveable and I couldn¿t wait to see more them in the second installment! If you like a mix of sci-fi, urban fantasy and paranormal romance then Nina Croft¿s Blood Hunters is the series for you! Action, intrigue, an immersing plot and captivating characters I loved every second of Break Out and Deadly Pursuit. Nina Croft is a new-to-me author but has quickly turned into a must-read author! I look forward to more installments in this fantastical series! **part of a series review found on my blog @RBtWBC
Break Out is wild, funny, and sexy-a fantastic, out of this world read. I don't remember the last time I laughed more at a couple. Rico and Skylar are just as funny as they are sexy. Rico is a great guy. What's not great about a cocky, womanizing, and gorgeous, bad-ass vampire? He's every woman's dream. A very bad, bad, but good, vampire. But Rico meets his match in Skylar. She's tough, independent, and a kick-butt, beautiful woman. Skylar is the one woman that might just tame Rico's womanizing ways. The romance between these two is steamy hot, and humorous. Skylar hire's Rico for a job. Rico's crew is all women, and their tough. I also liked Tannis. She's the captain of Rico's space cruiser, and the perfect sidekick. She takes Rico's ego down few pegs. And she's one woman that's not dazzled by Rico. Break Out is full of action, adventure, humor, and hot, sexy romance. It's romance where you want to laugh instead of cry. The storyline is strong and well-developed, with this new power called the Collective that rules most of the civilized universe. It has all claims to meridian, a rare radioactive element that gives them immortality. You'll have one wild and sexy adventure on this spaceship with Rico, Skylar and the rest of the crew of Blood Hunter. I recommend Break Out as fantastic, must read!
Thank you for a great paranormal story Bingaux
I enjoyed this; quick, fun read! I'll have to go check out the author's other books. Recommended.
It was OK and an interesting story but lacked something.
Seductive and alluring Rico is all man and not. Better and Skyler is superb in being the seductress as well as the lamb. Very well written and it actually held my attention for the entire book. I did not feel there were any low areas at all. Can't wait to read the second book. Loved it.
Quick fun read.
I really like it. I have never read this author before and was surprised. I have purchased the next book and look forward to it.
As a lover of both paranormal and sci-fy, picking up this to read was a no brainer. Who would have thought to combine vampires with space aliens. I love the characters, Rico and Skylar. Their personalities were funny and vivid. The action was ongoing and didn't let up. In fact once I started this book, I was unable to put it down. Croft created a fascinating world that I can't wait to revisit in Deadly Pursuit.
3.5 - "There's always a choice." Stars. Space is definitely the 'final frontier' for me when it comes to reading a romance novel. I can honestly say it isn't an area that I would normally look for my romance 'jollies', and in truth it probably isn't a genre that I will be rushing out to buy more of in future. But Break Out is written by Nina Croft, so that changes things a tad for me. I love her writing and haven't read a bad book by her in the past, so I pulled out my Lightsabre, fired up my Lego Millenium Falcon and strapped myself in to venture into the unknown, and I am happy that I did. Nina, as usual didn't let me down. He wanted her to know who he was. What he was. Sexy Vampire Rico, and the elusive intriguing Sklyar, as well as the rest of the crew of the El Cazador pulled me in, kept me interested, and left me looking for more at the end. Thankfully, book 2 Deadly Pursuit is due out at the end of October, so I don't have to wait too long too, continue boldly going where I haven't been before! ARC generously provided via Netgalley, in exchange for the above honest review.
Vampires, genetically altered human beings, galactic spaceship pursuits, pirates, action, romance and sexual tension. This book has all the makings for a great storyline. I enjoyed Breakout it reminded me of two of my all time favorite sci-fi TV shows, Firefly and Farscape, but with a rogue sexy Vampire born in the 15th Century to spice things up. The storyline was fast paced and the characters were entertaining, snarky, mysterious and likeable. Even the over sexed lazy Alpha male Vampire Ricardo had me wanting to join the mixed matched crew of the El Cazador. It’s the year 3048 and humanity has taken up residence in outer space. Humans have discovered a radioactive mineral that produces the effect of immortality upon the user. The catch is that the material is difficult to obtain and extremely expensive which means it’s mainly the elite super rich who have access to the treatments. Those with ever lasting life are known as the Collective and they have taken control over the universe. The Collective isn’t the only group wielding power over the universe. A religious fanatical group known as the Church is attempting to eradicate altered humans from existence. Many of those standing against the Church and the Collective have formed a group known as the Rebels. One of the members of the Rebels managed to take out a high member of the Church. Skylar Rossaria an elite military intelligence officer within the Collective has been tasked with the impossible mission of helping that Rebel escape from the deadliest and tightest maximum-security prison in the universe. In order to complete her mission she needs a disposable crew with the ability and the means to help her. After careful research she sets her sights on the pirate crew of the El Cazador. Skylar uses her feminine charm, a convincing cover, and loads of financial credit to lure them in but her mission doesn’t go as smoothly as she anticipated. She finds herself overwhelmingly attracted to the Rogue Vampire Rico and she’s developing friendly feelings toward the rest of the El Cazador crew. Will her lust and emotions get in the way of her mission? Will the crew discover her true identity and kill her? And why does the Collective want her to release a Rebel prisoner? If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush with some sexy space times and gripping storytelling, jump onto the El Cazador and enjoy the crazy ride in space. I can’t wait to read the next books and find out more about some of the secondary characters. Copy provided for review. Reviewed by Joy for Crystal's Many Reviewers
wow love the book
Break Out is the first novel in the Blood Hunter series which is a sci-fi romance set in the year 3048. At first, while reading I was a bit confused on what what was going on and trying to get all the characters straight in my head. The world building is great in that the concept is completely new and not something tired. Yes, there is a vampire as the hero but he is not the normal vampire. He is more nostalgic of when he was human. This is definitely a series for a reader that likes to read something that is not the norm. The world is not one that we would recognize. I did really like how all the secondary characters interacted with each other. The majority of the secondary characters are females who are super strong, independent and don't let Rico push them around. The relationship between Rico and Sky is definitely one that doesn't happen often. Both lost their spouses years ago. Rico was a womanizer before meeting Sky. Rico is able to break down Sky's walls. I like how Croft made Rico more human than vampire. I enjoyed reading this novel in that it isn't what I normally read. The characters were well written and not plastic. There was enough set-up for future novels in the series. I would have preferred more of a cliffhanger at the end of the book but the ending was sweet.
I'm glad I gave this book a try. One of the better SFR Ive read this summer. I'll be buying the next book in the Blood Hunter series for sure.