Read an Excerpt
The Valiant Knox Series
By Jess Anastasi, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Jess Anastasi
All rights reserved.
In Orbit around Ilari, Brannon System
The blaring drone of the battle alarm echoed through the gym, drowning out the raucous conversation of soldiers blowing off steam while they worked out.
Leigh returned the bench press to its frame and sat up, whipping his towel from where he'd draped it over his knee, and then swiping the cloth over the sweat running down his face. He wasn't on duty until oh nine hundred, when a transport of new recruits were due to arrive. But as the CAFF — Captain of the Fighter Force — a call to arms put him on edge like binging on half a dozen double-shot coffees.
He'd worked hard to train his fighter pilots to be the most elite squadron out of all the UEF battleships. He liked to say it was for their benefit, that they'd be more likely to survive out there in the black when they engaged the enemy. But it was just as important for him to know he'd done everything to ensure his pilots made it safely back on deck every day.
"Attention, all available fighter pilots, report to launch deck immediately. Condition code bravo-one, I repeat, condition code bravoone," the ship-wide PA system chimed.
Oh, shit. Leigh shot to his feet and sprinted to the locker room, into the chaos of every single other fighter pilot in the gym grabbing their crap and hauling ass to the launch deck. Bravo-one was a critical code, second only to alpha-one, when the ship itself was under attack.
He ran a fresh towel over himself and threw off the sweat-drenched tank top. Grabbing up his flight jacket and shirt, he followed the wave of personnel headed for the alpha level launch deck.
As he stepped out of the transit, his XO, Lieutenant Teresa Brenner, was waiting for him, his helmet and flight gloves in hand.
"What have we got, Bren?" He tugged on the gloves and took his helmet from her as they jogged toward the shiny row of V-29 fighter jets.
"The CSS are closing in on the troop transport crossing from the Farr Zero. The shuttle isn't going to get here before the enemy intercept. We've got maybe two minutes before our new recruits get blown out of the galaxy."
"Frigging underhanded bastards." He split off from Bren, who went to her own jet, while he scaled the side of his in a few short steps. In a matter of moments, he'd sealed the cockpit and skimmed toward the launch bay, where fighter ships were already streaming out into space like a swarm leaving the nest.
The CSS — Christ's Sunday Soldiers religious fanatics who'd taken over the Brannon system — had split off from the United Earth Coalition, intent on turning the entire galaxy back into the dark ages of fearing God and shunning all "manifestations of evil," which they took to be any type of technology.
Funnily enough, that didn't stop the a-holes from matching them ship for ship and weapon for weapon in the war that had started nearly twenty years ago.
The runway in front of him cleared and he hit the juice, shooting his V29 multi-atmospheric fighter jet into the black void beyond the battleship. His electromagnetic radar screen flickered to life, marking the positions of all the ships in the game. He set a course for the slow-moving transport, the other jets falling into formation behind him like they'd practiced a million times.
Goddamn. No way they'd make the transport before the CSS did. It'd be close, but the enemy was going to arrive a split second before them. Enough time to blow the transport out of the sky.
He switched his comms to encompass all the fighter jets on his tail. "Get ready to go in hot, people. The enemy will be engaged by the time we meet them."
The pilots all confirmed they were weapons-ready. Leigh shifted in his seat, forcing his shoulders down and taking a deep breath, centering himself for the battle to come. It would be chaos; it always was. Weapon's fire and other jets moving so fast, the mind barely had time to register one before moving on to the next. But, before the storm, he always took a moment of calm to blank his thoughts of everything except his focus on the mission objective: protect the transport and get it onto the Valiant Knox in one piece.
A yellow-white flash flared in the distance. The enemy had opened fire on the unarmed transport.
He came up on the scene in another moment, sending a stream of weapon's fire across the top of the shuttle, toward the half a dozen ragtag CSS ships closing in. A trail of smoky debris streaked out from the left side of the shuttle, which appeared to have trouble maintaining a level trajectory.
Hopefully the transport had only taken superficial damage. The CSS had bombed the main UEF outpost on Ilari a few weeks back. They needed every single one of the recruits on board that shuttle to fill out the decimated ranks.
He swore under his breath and looped in to engage one of the enemy ships, forcing them to break off.
"Bren, take the lead. Harper, Seb, and Lawler, with me. I want an all-points protective formation around that transport."
Leigh cut his ship out of the fight and took a long sweep around the enemy ships. Bren took his place at the head of the main squadron, covering him and the three guys who'd fallen in behind him.
He came in over top of the transport, slowing his speed to a near crawl to match pace. Harper and Lawler settled in on either side of the ship, while Seb got underneath.
"Farr Zero transporter, this is Captain Leigh Alphin escorting you in to landing. Your ship appears to be damaged; do you have a report?"
Radio silence and static met his hail. Hell. The damage must have taken out the comm system. Either that or the pilots were compromised. He repeated the call, but got nothing. Cursing under his breath, he shut down the comm and turned his concentration to keeping an eye out for any enemy ships.
Fortunately, Bren and the main squadron had cut the CSS off from pursuit.
With the shuttle puttering along, the trip back to the Knox crawled by while he worked up a double sweat under his helmet. A few stray streaks of weapon's fire came too close for comfort, but they got the transport into the landing bay without any more damage.
He put his ship down, hardly waiting for the engines to go offline before he pushed his way out of the hatch and slid down the side of the jet. He yanked his helmet off and dropped it to the deck, then jerked off his gloves and pulled the tabs open at the neck of his flight jacket for some cool air. Sweat dampened his shirt, making it stick to his chest. Lawler and Seb hurried over to join him, expressions similarly grim.
The shuttle was still maneuvering into place as he and the guys crossed the bay. A couple of deck maintenance personnel had the fire-dousing hoses out, spraying down the left side of the transport with gray foam.
He snagged the attention of some nearby soldiers as he headed for the damaged ship. "Report to the medico responders and prepare for wounded."
Lawler and Seb hung back while Leigh climbed the short wing to where the maintenance chief had started working to get the hatch open. When the section gave way and lifted, a cloud of thick smoke puffed out.
Not a good sign.
He went to take a step, pulling his shirt up over his mouth and nose, but someone grabbed his arm. He glanced back to see Lawler holding onto him, a grim expression on his face.
"You can't go in yet, not until they get the fire under control."
"I'm not going to stand here and watch these people burn." He shook off Lawler's grip as a couple of passengers stumbled out of the hatchway, coughing and gasping. Lawler caught one who almost fell off the edge of the wing, then slung the guy's arm over his shoulder and helped him down to the deck.
A shout came from the opposite side of the ship. The chief maintenance officer held his comm up to his ear. After a second, he lowered the device again, his face set in tense lines.
"Evac the deck. The fire's taking hold and the transport's engine hasn't fully shut down. The pilots aren't responding. The flight control team is going to seal the deck and vent the atmosphere to prevent an explosion."
A shock of disbelief tightened Leigh's shoulders and upper arms. "And what does the flight control team think is going to happen to all the passengers inside the shuttle when the entire launch bay vents?"
The chief maintenance officer glanced away from the transport, as if he didn't want to know. With steadily thickening black smoke in the air, people were scrambling to evac.
Were they really going to write off a whole shuttle-load worth of their own people?
"If this transport blows, Captain Alphin, it'll take the entire upper port side of the Knox with it. We'd be crippled and lose a lot more than a hundred or so personnel. Yang cleared the call."
The officer shook his head, expression grim as he hurried to the edge of the wing and jumped down.
"Wait!" When the other man paused and looked back up at him, Leigh crouched down on the edge of the wing. "If someone shuts down the engine, will that save the need to vent?"
"The scans show the fire's blocked access to the cockpit. And while we're standing here yacking, it's getting closer to the engine. Not to order you, sir, but we need to haul ass off this deck."
The rest of the launch bay had cleared.
Leigh yanked at the zipper on his flight jacket, pulling it all the way back up to his chin. The material was flame resistant to a point to give pilots a better survival chance at ejecting if their jets caught fire.
"What are you doing?" the chief maintenance officer demanded.
"I'm going to shut down the transport engine. Give me three minutes. If the shuttle isn't offline by then, vent the deck."
"Sir! Captain Alphin! You can't!" the other man called as Leigh strode toward the hatch where black smoke poured out, backlit by the orange flicker of flames.
At the hatchway, he tabbed a three-minute countdown into his watch and leaned into the doorway, groping for the emergency panel. Once he found it, he wrenched it out. The oxygen masks were missing.
Cursing, he reached into the neckline of his jacket and yanked up his Tshirt, which wasn't going to help much — he'd be lucky to make it to the cockpit. But he had to try.
The Knox had to come first, but he was going to do everything in his power to save as many people as possible.
With one last breath of clean air, he plunged into the darkness, mentally mapping the short route to the cockpit. Interior emergency lights flickered intermittently.
He stumbled over a prone form and nearly went down. Stepping carefully over the still figure, he resisted the urge to check for a pulse. With his three minutes ticking away, he didn't have time to make sure every person he came across was still alive.
Heat pulsed against him in waves, making him feel like he was cooking inside his flight suit. Sweat ran down his face and neck. He coughed, his lungs protesting the fumes, the burning chemicals stripping his throat raw and stealing all the moisture from his mouth.
The front of the ship glowed and flickered with dancing flares of orange, deepening to red and blue. Entry to the cockpit looked impossible.
Goddamn it. How the hell was he going to get through that to shut down the engines? He dropped from a crouch all the way to his knees, cutting down an aisle away from the cockpit hatchway. Sweat stung his eyes and he blinked, wiping the back of his hand across his face. He checked his watch. Hell, he'd already used half of his three minutes.
Dizziness started messing with his sense of equilibrium, and he grabbed an armrest to keep himself steady. If he couldn't get into that cockpit in the next minute, he and the rest of the people on this shuttle would suffocate.
He forced himself to shuffle forward, thoughts becoming murky as though the smoke had gotten inside his brain and started clouding his mind. He grasped onto a single thought.
He had to save these people, had to save himself.
His knee knocked something and he dropped to his hands. It was too big for an oxygen tank. Eyes streaming from the smoke and sting of sweat, he brought the cylinder closer to his face to focus on the writing. He couldn't make anything out except a symbol. It was a discarded, likely empty, tank of dousing foam for small fires.
When he depressed the lever, a jet of gray foam shot out. A spike of hope cut through the thickening murkiness of his mind, and he glanced up at the cockpit. There'd be nowhere near enough foam to clear the doorway. Instead, he held his breath, turned the nozzle, and sprayed the foam over as much of his body as he could.
Only forty seconds left.
This probably wasn't going to work. No doubt the only thing he'd achieve would be killing himself ten seconds before this bay got vented.
Nonetheless, he forced himself up, heart pounding a hard, uneven rhythm as he dragged back into the center aisle. Bracing, he took one second to tell himself he was crazy, then launched forward, running for the closed hatchway where flames licked over the surface.
With his flight jacket pulled over his hand, he slapped at the emergency manual override. But the hatch only cracked a bit and stopped. He wedged his arms in and braced against the doorway, yelling out in furious pain as the heat of the metal singed through his jacket.
But he ignored the burn and pushed, widening the gap until he could squeeze through. Inside the cockpit, the smoke wasn't as thick and the air had a weird tang to it. He lurched over to the control panel, forcing his eyes to focus, and hit the emergency engine shut down. The few remaining lights in the cockpit went dark.
He slapped a hand over the comm.
"This is Captain Alphin." His voice came out hoarse, and talking sent him into a short coughing fit. But he swallowed down the spasms in his throat by sheer force of will. "Engines shut down. Get the maintenance crew back on deck and put this fire out. Now."
He didn't wait for confirmation, since the dizziness yanked even harder at him. Bringing a heavy, aching arm up, he grabbed onto the lever for the cockpit's emergency hatch, popped it free, and gasped as clean air hit his face. He slumped to the floor, chest heaving as he sucked in oxygen. His stomach churned, the fumes making him feel sick.
After a long moment, he forced himself back to his feet, bracing a hand on the pilot's chair as he checked the two unconscious men behind the controls. They both had a pulse, but they'd obviously been overcome by the noxious vapors.
Now that he'd opened the emergency hatch, the medics would be able to get the two men out, but there were still people who needed help.
He looked back toward the gap in the open hatchway he'd squeezed through. Nothing but a constant trickle of black smoke underlaid by a hellish orange glow. His guts tightened, but he braced against the surge of apprehension and forced himself to step back into the inferno.
Mia Wolfe sucked in a long gasp of sweet, artificial oxygen, then held her breath and lowered the mask onto the face of her friend Penny, who'd been sitting beside her during the flight.
Eyes streaming from the stinging smoke, Mia couldn't see past the small space where she crouched between a row of seats and a bulkhead. The ship had jolted a few moments ago.
Please, let us be landing. But the hatch hadn't opened, and no one seemed to be trying to escape.
She held the mask against Penny's face as long as she could stand holding her breath and then had to shove it against her own mouth to gasp in another breath. Two this time. Dizziness started blurring the edges of her mind. But for every gulp of air she took, Penny breathed the toxic smoke without even realizing. She'd been knocked unconscious in the initial impact. And when Mia had taken cover, she'd dragged Penny to the safety of the corner with her, as far from the steadily spreading flames as they could get.
Excerpted from Damage Control by Jess Anastasi, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2015 Jess Anastasi. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Warning: Almost Rape Damage Control answers several questions I had about the war and how it started. I liked all the subterfuge the CSS is now using to fight. I obviously don’t want the CSS to win but I like that their advancing warfare is creating new elements to the fighting and ramping up the tension of the story. I can’t wait to see what comes in the next book. I really liked Leigh in this one, even when he was being a stuffy military Captain. Though he wanted to resist Mia once he realized he couldn’t, he went all in on his feelings. They were a little bit of insta-love but this has never bothered me so I didn’t mind it here. I loved how much Leigh cared for Mia and how he wanted to protect and defend her whenever possible. Plus, let’s be honest, isn’t it always a fantasy that the man who loves you will give up anything and everything to be with you? Leigh does this with little reservation even knowing how drastic the consequences could be. This isn’t a criticism per se, just personal opinion. I’m just not a fan of all the military rules and regulations that control every aspect of a person’s life. This book is military sci-fi romance so there’s nothing I can do there, I did know what I was getting into. Some things seemed a little too easy for Mia to access and it makes me wonder how safe the Valiant Knox really is. Maybe she’s just that amazing of a hacker but I would expect some top level security on a battle ship at the front lines. Also I would have assumed there would be cameras everywhere but maybe this is just a misconception I have about spaceships. Though it’s mentioned a few times that Mia or Leigh have turned cameras off or hacked into systems I just figured a military space ship would be one place where it’s really hard to keep something secret. I wasn’t overly bothered by this but the thoughts did cross my mind a few times.
I have to admit that I am usually not a fan of SyFy, but let me just tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It was just enough to allow me to get lost in the book and I was surprised with every twist and turn in the plot! Very well thought out and written I thought. The characters were ver well developed and likable. Captain Leigh Alphin is know for being a stickler for the rules and has earned his nickname honestly. When he rescues Mia and she joins his ship, Leigh knows that he is going to have to keep himself under control. He is 15 years older than Mia and if he falls for her, he risks being thrown in to military jail and that would just not be ok. Captain Leigh Alphin and his crew are on a mission to decrease the amount of damaged that is being caused by the CSS forces. This is a group that frowns upon technology and will do whatever they can to stop it. They are out for the kill seems like. While all this is taking place, they find out that there is a traitor among those on the ship. Mia is recruited to help find out who it is. When she and Leigh begin to work together, their relationship begins to take a turn and you get some romance worked into the plot. The ingenuity of Mia and Leigh tend to get them into bigger trouble sometimes than they were originally, but eventually it all works out in the end. I was able to loos myself in this story and get into their world with no problem. Such a great read. I am looking forward to what Jess Anastasi has in store for us next and I am going to go back and read the other books by her as well.
*I received an ARC from Entangled Publishing in exchange for an honest review* Damage Control is an action/suspense/sci-fi romance. The book blurb does a good job of describing the basics of the story and the author did a great job of creating a believable world in which the story is set. Captain Leigh Alphin, captain of the fighter force on the battleship Valiant Knox, is exactly what you want a hero to be. He's a handsome, strong, commanding figure who is not afraid to lay it on the line for the woman he is falling for. Mia Wolf, a new recruit slated to become a fighter pilot, is a beautiful, intelligent, capable woman who would sacrifice her own happiness in the best interests of the man who has stolen her heart. The chemistry between these two characters is intense, even as they search for the traitor on the ship and battle the enemy. The romantic scenes are more sensual than explicit but still pretty hot. This is a well-written story that is more than just a romance and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Being Captain of the Fighter Force on the Valiant Knox starship is a position Leigh obtained through hard work and perseverance - and someone is trying to bring it down. The war with the CSS has taken an even deadlier turn, with moles on board the ship working to cause its destruction. When the new batch of recruits is set upon in transport, Leigh saves the life of the bright and beautiful young woman Mia. As a recruit under his command she's off limits - but there is no denying the scorching heat between them. When Mia is attacked on board, she uses her hacking skills to delve deeper into the mystery, and ends up joining Leigh in his pursuit of the spies within. Engaging in an illicit affair will endanger them in more ways than one - can they catch the ones bent on destroying the ship before they get caught themselves? I loved this story! The worldbuilding was excellently done, giving a full picture of the factions involved in the war between the United Earth Forces and the ultra radical CSS, a religious cult bent on taking earth and its colonies back to a pre-technology time. The huge starship Valiant Knox is well detailed and easy to picture. (It's entirely possible that I had mental pictures of the Starship Enterprise decks while reading the story). The romance is a forbidden one, the commander of the starship being attracted to the new recruit. Leigh and Mia work very hard at denying this attraction, knowing that being found in any kind of compromising position will endanger not only his well regarded military career but Mia's up and coming one as well. But of course in the end they can't keep their hands off each other, especially when working together to find out who is sabotaging things on the ship puts them in close and private quarters in the dead of night. The love scenes between them were pretty steamy, but I appreciated that they each felt equally tortured by their feelings and the knowledge that even though it felt right to be together, no-one else would see it that way. There is lots of action and intrigue right from the start, and along with the romance, it made for a real page turner. Knowing that there was a spy (or two or more) among their trusted friends makes the story taut with suspense, not to mention wondering when someone would find out about the relationship developing between Mia and Leigh (because we just know that someone will discover the truth!). As the story reached it's peak and conclusion, I liked the way everything fell together, the consequences that occurred for all involved and the satisfactory ending for Mia and Leigh. I'll definitely be looking for more from this author. 4.5 stars.
I'm not generally much into sci-fi, but the description hooked me, so I gave it a try. I must admit, I really enjoyed it! I didn't wind up putting it down until 4AM when I turned the final page. Lots of intrigue & action with some hot sex thrown in to boot! Leigh Alphin is the Captain of the Fighter Force of the battleship Valient Knox. He's worked hard to achieve all that he has and is considered a legend to new recruits. When the enemy opens fire on an unarmed transport bringing in the new recruits, he rushes to help and risks himself to get the people on board rescued. In the smoke filled transport, he stumbles across Recruit Mia Wolfe who is trying to get help for her unconscious friend Penny. Leigh helps them get out and to the medical team. After the chaos is all handled and calmness has restored, Leigh finds himself heading to the med level to check on how the recruits are doing ... especially Mia. They share a moment when he goes to her exam area, and he lets his guard down as he comforts her. The next day, he discovers Mia has been assigned to his unit and he's not happy about the close moment they had shared the day before, or about the attraction he feels pulling him to her every time he sees her. Mia and her hacking ability ends up helping Leigh a great deal to try to track down who in his unit and on board the battleship is working for the enemy. Their time together brings them closer and closer and they eventually give in to the passion that they can't get off their minds when they are around each other. Will their secret get out and cost him his job? Will she be thrown out of the program? And when danger strikes, will they be able to track down the enemy fast enough to keep everyone safe?
Military Commander falls hard and fast for new recruit. I love watching the conflict between what is more right. Their love is against regulations but OMG why is it so hard to remember that. This book takes that conflict very seriously and I loved watching it unfold. A fantastic scifi romance.