Captain Qaelan Forster is used to trouble. He lives on the wrong side of the law and he’s on the most-wanted lists. He’s mixed up in his cousin's mess who has problems on a cosmic level—like shape-shifting aliens who want them dead. But Qaelan’s not prepared for the cheeky kind of trouble called Camille Blackstone, whose infamous father has any man interested in his daughter executed.
After Camille drags Qaelan into an impulsive act of rebellion, she finds herself trying to defend the sexy captain from her overprotective father's wrath, even if she has to handcuff herself to the sexy captain to keep him alive. However, it soon becomes apparent there are much more dangerous things lurking in the dark corners of the universe than a vengeful pirate lord. And she's just landed in the middle of it.
Each book in the Atrophy series is STANDALONE but it is best enjoyed in order.
* The Final Dawn
About the Author
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In and out. That'd been the plan. Of course, the plan had gone to shite about two minutes after they'd stepped off the Ebony Winter.
Captain Qaelan Forster doubled over as the man in the ill-fitting gray suit and platinum-plated front teeth hooked a meaty fist into his guts.
"That all you got?" Qae demanded with a grin as he straightened instead of grimacing over the ache like he really wanted to. His arms were suspended above his head, rusted cuffs cutting into his wrists and sweat dripping down his biceps, under his shirt, and down his sides. The stuffy room they were chained up in was all concrete, water dribbling down one wall, a grimy window letting in little light, and quite frankly it smelled like ass. "Rian hit me harder than that yesterday when I finished off his last bottle of Violaine."
"It's true, I did," his cousin Rian put in from where he was similarly strung up beside him, sounding bored, like he had far better things to do than being captured and tortured. Of course, considering what Rian had been through over the years, he probably thought this was a minor inconvenience.
"I mean, if you're going to half-ass it, let's just call it a day and head home."
Another fist to his midsection, almost knocking the breath from him. He struggled to take a deep inhale, but didn't let it show as he straightened once again with a shite-eating smile.
"Keep it up, I might just have a boregasm."
"Boregasm?" Rian repeated skeptically.
"It's like when you reach peak boredom. Which I'm going to. Any second now."
The thug backhanded him across the face, but like the masochist he apparently was, Qae could only laugh after he spat the blood from where he'd been cut inside his cheek.
"This funny to you?" the thug demanded, obviously getting frustrated by his and Rian's lack of fear or intimidation.
"Actually, it's frecking hilarious." He straightened again, hands twitching against the restraints before he remembered he couldn't do anything about wiping away the blood dripping down his chin. "I mean, buddy, you're like a walking bad guy cliché. I really need to know, was that your aim in life, or did it happen by accident?"
This time the thug popped him one in the nose, leaving his eyes watering.
"Ow. Christ on a cracker, would you stop hitting me in the face? Even you'd have to appreciate these cheek bones."
The thug took a step back, actually flustered, but also more enraged. Oh ho, he'd hit a nerve. He sent the guy a wink.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Was this your idea of foreplay?" he drawled, this time grinning for real. "Well, why didn't you say so?"
The thug turned away from him to face Rian, who hadn't gotten his turn of being worked-over yet.
Cracking his knuckles, the thug looked Rian up and down, as though debating where to begin, but seemed to hesitate when he reached Rian's face and saw the cold, calm look in his eyes.
"You really want to touch me?" Rian asked in a quiet voice.
Freck him if it didn't send shivers down Qae's spine. The guy could be straight up terrifying just uttering a few simple words.
The thug pushed his shoulders back like he was trying to make himself look bigger, or tougher, or some shite that wasn't fooling anyone.
"I don't think that's a mistake you want to make today," Qae said, gaining the thug's attention. "So how about you take that chunky ass of yours and go fetch your boss like a good little minion?"
The thug passed a look between Rian and him like he honestly didn't know what to do with them. "No one sees Garnock."
"Hear that Rian? No one sees Garnock." He twisted in the chains to look at his cousin. "Well freck me upside down, if only we'd known that before we left the Barbary Belt. Could have saved ourselves a trip."
"What did you say?" A flash of consternation crossed the thug's face.
Qae looked back at him. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did we forget to introduce ourselves? Name's Captain Qaelan Forster. And this is Captain Rian Sherron —"
The thug took an almost inaudible sharp breath and stepped back.
Maybe he wasn't as dumb as he looked and was having a lot of second thoughts over the fact he'd chained up the universally infamous Rian Sherron and just how dead that was going to make him once Rian got free —
Qae sent his cousin a questioning glance. "Seriously, bro, since you lost the Imojenna, doesn't seem like much point in calling you Captain anymore —"
"Qae." Rian's voice held a certain lilt of exasperation he seemed to reserve specifically for him.
"I'm just saying, honestly, what are you captain of? Maybe you should have taken Blackstone up on the offer of a ship until you could get the Imojenna back."
Rian finally shifted to look at him. More like glare at him. "And be even more indebted to him than we already are? His jobs are causing us enough trouble without owing him for a ship, as well. In case you haven't noticed, while we're standing here, we're wasting time we could be searching for the Imojenna."
"Oh, now you want to find the Imojenna?" Qae shot back, a small swell of annoyance cresting within him. He'd been the one shoveling the shite — out on more runs without Rian since they'd made the agreement with Blackstone to do favors for him in return for a berth on the Barbary Belt. Rian did have the excuse the Reidar — a bunch of sociopathic shape-shifting aliens — had a hard-on to see him dead.
Actually, he was surprised the Reidar weren't already here, blasting a hole in this adorable little compound to get to his cousin. But still, Qae hadn't joined Rian's merry little save-the-universe-from-the-slimy-aliens band to be the sludge monkey.
And that wasn't even mentioning the wild-goose chases Rian had sent him on whenever they thought they'd found a clue about the Imojenna. The least his cousin could have done was pretend he was grateful, even if Qae had long ago accepted that the words thank you seemed to be missing from his vocabulary. At this point, he would have accepted a freck-you-very-much from Rian if it'd been said in a sincere enough tone.
Instead, his cousin brought him on bro-building trips like the one they were currently enjoying, complete with one-star accommodations and low-budget bondage without a safe word to be found.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Rian's brow lowered ominously.
"Well, it just seems like you've been more interested in drinking yourself into oblivion and playing footsies with Varean for the past year, rather than actually doing anything about getting your ship back."
Rian's eyes narrowed. Oh, yep, there he went. Stepping himself onto a minefield. But he hadn't stumbled blindly into it. He was hoping if he pissed Rian off enough, his cousin would explode into action and get them out of this before he had to take any more love taps from their new friend over there.
"I'm going to pretend the pain is making you hallucinate and forget that you said that," Rian finally said in a tight voice.
"Oh no, I said it. And I meant it —"
The thug waved at them. "Hey, morons, in case you didn't realize — "
"I'm sorry." Qae added an exaggerated note of incredulity to his voice. "Did you just call us morons? That's kind of rude. Don't you think that's rude, Rian?"
"So rude," Rian replied in a deadpan voice.
"Listen, dick-face, we're trying to have a conversation here."
The thug actually looked taken aback by that.
"So unless you want to do something useful like go get Garnock," he continued, "I suggest you shut the hell up."
The door on the opposite side of the grimy room slid open with a slight whine and a man stepped through. Also suited up like Sunday, his clothes were obviously worth more money and actually fit him. Garnock, if he had to put money down.
"Well, I guess it's true what they say about the pair of you having giant balls." Garnock strolled over to stop in front of them, nodding to his pet, who shifted to stand by the wall with his hands clasped in front of him. "Personally, I'm more inclined to think you're plain stupid."
"Bit of both, actually," Qae replied conversationally.
"Explains how you got captured so easily. Did you really think you could override my security grid without anyone noticing? It's top of the line AI interfaced —"
"You're assuming we didn't want to get captured," Rian interrupted him.
"What?" Garnock was clearly thrown by this, brow creasing in confusion.
"It was his plan." Qae nodded awkwardly at Rian, the numbness in his shoulders starting to creep into his neck. "It's an absolutely shite plan, for the record."
"The best plans always are." Rian settled a look on Garnock that held a steely hint of warning. "You stole a shipment of antimatter transducers from Rene Blackstone and he wants them back."
Garnock laughed. "Since Blackstone stole them from Harpner Co-op, I don't really see how he can lay claim to them."
"Seriously," Qae interjected in a reasonable voice. "If you could just hand them over, maybe even load them onto my ship for us, that'd save everyone a whole lot of trouble."
Garnock laughed, a full hearty chuckle like this was open mic night at the local stand-up club. It went on long enough Qae started thinking maybe the man was a few stars short of a galaxy. Would explain why he'd thought he could get away with stealing from the infamous pirate lord, Rene Blackstone.
Finally, Garnock took a breath and wiped his eyes. "Freck me, I haven't been this entertained since I had the last person who crossed me strung up and set on fire."
Qae sliced a look at Rian, who didn't seem bothered by this information at all. Of course, this wasn't the first time Rian and he had been captured on one of these runs. And when it came to levels of derangement, no one was going to beat Rian.
Good god and gravy, where had he gone wrong in life that getting chained up in some dingy room by a psychopath was an every-other-week thing? At least he could take comfort in knowing the craziest sonuvabitch here was actually on his side.
He didn't think it could have been possible, but the look of utter boredom and indifference in Rian's features actually deepened. "Entertainment's over. Let us down and go get those transducers."
Garnock glanced over at his pet. "Did you hear that? Ordering me around in my own compound." When he looked back at them, all amusement had gone, replaced by rage. He stepped right up to Rian, getting in his face.
"You're right. The entertainment is over. Think I'll send your heads back to Blackstone, so he knows not to bother sending anyone after me in the future."
Rian smiled at him, but there was nothing friendly about the expression; it was all sharp and deadly.
"Oh shite," Qae muttered. Because when Rian got that expression, Qae was pretty much guaranteed to end his day spattered with blood.
His curse made Garnock glance at him and while he was distracted, Rian took the opportunity to lean back slightly and then headbutt Garnock, sending him stumbling back a step.
Rian leaped lightly into the air, lifting his legs to hook his feet around the chain above his head like a goddamn circus acrobat. A second later, he'd freed his wrists and dropped back down to his feet. His hands were still cuffed in front of him, but Qae knew from experience that wasn't going to slow him down.
Garnock started to recover, but before he could fully straighten, Rian grabbed a handful of his hair and kneed him in the face, sending him to the floor. The thug rushed over and Rian went from dropping Garnock to a spinning kick in one fluid movement. He took the thug's legs out from underneath him and then came down on top of him, planting a knee on his chest as he reached down and yanked the nucleon gun from the waistband of the thug's pants.
"Do I need to kill you?" Rian asked in the same tone of voice someone would ask do you want ketchup or mayo with that? at a sandwich bar.
The thug shook his head, holding his hands out in surrender.
"Any other weapons?" Rian demanded.
Again, the thug shook his head, looking like he was about ready to wet himself.
"Uh, Rian, a little help here."
Without bothering to look at him, Rian swung the nucleon gun up and let off a single shot. It hit the chain midway and split it, sending it dropping nosily to the floor.
"Show off," Qae muttered, unhooking the chain from the cuffs on his writs.
Rian stood up and stepped over to Garnock. The man's face was a mess, nose bleeding, probably broken, considering the way his eyes were already beginning to bruise and swell. Still, he was reaching into his jacket.
Rian blasted him across the top of his shoulder with no warning, leaving the man screaming and curling into himself in pain.
"Do I have to kill you?" When Rian repeated the question, this time there was a hint to the tone that suggested maybe he was really hoping the answer would be yes.
Garnock didn't reply, breathing heavily and glaring up at Rian.
Rian pointedly shifted his aim to line up Garnock's forehead.
"No!" Garnock held up a hand. "No, you don't have to kill me."
Rian gave an almost imperceptible nod. "Now, about those transducers you stole."CHAPTER 2
Tripoli, Barbary Belt
Several days later
Home sweet bar.
Qae stepped through the doors of the establishment he'd been frequenting for the past year since involuntarily relocating to the Barbary Belt.
"Wyl, my hand is empty and my creds are in the black," he called across the crowd to the barkeep, Anwyl, whom he'd gotten to know very, very well in all the best ways.
By the time he reached the polished length of local white wood of the counter, there was a glass of fine bourbon in front of his usual stool.
"How was your trip?" Wyl asked as Qae took a long swallow.
"The usual. Hijinks and frivolities were had by all. Especially the people Rian shot."
"Do you guys ever go anywhere without Rian shooting people?" Wyl asked dryly as he filled up the glass that had emptied too quickly.
"Not in living memory." He saluted Wyl with his new drink and then turned to survey the crowd.
The usual patrons were present — the "middle class" of pirates. Not total psychopaths, but no uptight d-bags, either. Just people looking for a good time. Which was partly what he liked about Wyl's bar. No matter how long between visits, nothing really changed.
Besides the occasional run for Blackstone, there'd been more than a few weeks on end where he'd been off chasing another dead-end lead trying to track down Rian's missing ship, the Imojenna. They still hadn't even been able to work out if it had been seized by the Inter-Planetary Coalition military, Reidar, or both. Because jezus knew the shape-shifting bastards had infested the government by killing off world leaders and military officials and replacing them with alien body doubles. The problem was, Rian didn't know how far the infiltration had actually gone.
He didn't want to say it, but he was beginning to think the old Nirali Classer had been scrapped the second the bastards had gotten their hands on it. But Rian wouldn't give up until he got the Imojenna back.
So instead of doing respectable not-a-space-pirate things like cough-illegal- cough-salvage and cough-contraband-cough-cough-supply-runs, he'd burned more than a small amount of fuel searching the outer systems and central systems for any sign of his cousin's ship. And it was always nice to return to Wyl's bar to find the same-old, same-old.
As he lifted his drink to take another mouthful, the door opened and a woman walked in. Not just any woman. This one was a crowd-stopper. Literally. The bar fell almost completely silent as she paused just inside the doors.
She swept a confident gaze around the bar like she owned the place, and he suddenly got the feeling his luck was about to change. Okay, so maybe that feeling was a kind of warm, tingly one starting somewhere south of his weapon's belt and radiating outward. But never let it be said he didn't go for what he wanted, no matter the odds.
The crowd parted for her as she walked forward, giving him a better glimpse of her leanly muscled figure, all sleek and moving deadly like a panther. She came across as lethal and feminine in the same breath, something he couldn't ever ignore.
Half of her straight, black hair was swept carelessly up, braided and clipped back, the rest falling to the middle of her back. It was a little tousled from the wind, but sexy, making him want to grab a fistful of it while he kissed the hell out of her. He couldn't quite make out the color of her eyes from here, but they looked like they might be some shade of blue.
"Put your tongue back in your head before you lose it."
Qae swiveled on his barstool to see Wyl sending him a warning glare that held a hint of exasperation. Qae knew Wyl's cautioning didn't stem from jealousy or anything. They'd both enjoyed that night together a few months ago, but in the same instance, neither of them had been looking for anything more.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Entropy"
Copyright © 2018 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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