In a galaxy where chocolate is literally addictive, one celebrity chef is fighting back, in the delicious sequel to Free Chocolate
To save everyone she loves, Bo Bonitez is touring Zant, home of the murderous, shark-toothed aliens who so recently tried to eat her. In the midst of her stint as Galactic paparazzi princess, she discovers that Earth has been exporting tainted chocolate to the galaxy, and getting aliens hooked on cocoa. Bo must choose whether to go public, or just smile for the cameras and make it home alive. She's already struggling with her withdrawal from the Invincible Heart, and her love life has a life of its own, but when insidious mind worms intervene, things start to get complicated!
File Under: Science Fiction [ Death by Chocolate | Can Cook, Will Cook | Galactic Promise | Addicted to Love ]
About the Author
AMBER ROYER teaches enrichment and continuing education creative writing classes for teens and adults. She spent five years as a youth librarian, where she organized teen writers’ groups and teen writing contests. In addition to two cookbooks co-authored with her husband, Amber has published a number of articles on gardening, crafting and cooking for print and on-line publications.
Read an Excerpt
“Where’s Kayla?” Mertex asks, his polite smile showing a wide mouth full of razor-sharp shark-like teeth. The bald lemon-yellow alien is wearing a brightly-colored collared shirt and long shorts combo, casual beachwear that contrasts the crisp black uniform he’d had on the last time we met. Mertex is small for a Zantite. He’s still big enough to have once picked me up, carried me under his arm, and forced me to my knees so his superior officer could try to eat me. It was not his best day, nor mine, pero, we’ve moved past that, no?
In fact, we’re having dinner together, eating just-caught seafood at a restaurant overlooking one of his home island’s many beaches. Sí. I lived up to my promise and made it to Zant. Bo Benitez on her glitzarazzi tour of the Major Fourteen. The whole galaxy is watching.
“Kayla and Kaliel are coming in a couple of weeks. After Kayla’s graduation.”
Everyone at the table looks at me with sympathy. Kayla was my roommate at culinary school. We were supposed to be graduating together – if I hadn’t spent the last few months on Earth trying to sort my legal problems.
My stylist, my publicist, and my assistant chef are all still staring, like I might shatter from the disappointment.
I shrug. “Que? I’m just happy to still be alive. I could easily have gotten shaved, no?”
Shaved, as in public execution by guillotine.
I have no illusions. Nada. Nunca. If HGB hadn’t needed me to come here to Zant, my head would no longer be connected to my body Pero, the fate of Earth hangs in the balance. This alien race is in the process of filing paperwork with the Galactic Court to legally invade my planet. Earth needed to send a diplomat. They needed a persuasive powerhouse.
They got me. A washed up never-quite-was holostar turned culinary academy dropout and her entourage.
So why exactly are we here? It’s because of chocolate.
Chocolate is the only unique commodity Earth has left that other species in the galaxy want. HGB, the company on Earth that controls cacao, will sell the aliens all the chocolate bricks and cocoa powder they produce. Just not the unfermented beans.
I’d stolen a pod worth of beans and given them to the Nilka and the Krom, in an attempt to forestall war. I’d been naïve, thinking it would be that simple, no?
A number of planets that didn’t get cacao still want to force open earth’s borders at railgun point. Pero, they can’t say it’s to rip away our commodities. They have to claim it’s because we’re acting aggressive towards the rest of the galaxy. Which, given our closed borders and outward-pointing planetary defenses, is kinda true.
I had been guilty of treason against Earth for selling chocolate to the aliens. But the Zantite’s King, Garfex, had liked me, had actually danced with me aboard a Zantite warship – long story – and challenged me to prove my objections to him invading my world. Minda’s on our side in this. She’s also one of King Garfex’s favorites. He’s capricious, and changes the law to suit himself. He’s already changed his mind once, when it was Minda doing the asking.
If we can sway Zant to back out, by proving we’re not dangerous monsters, then the rest of the coalition loses half their warships and mucho momentum. We’re here to convince Zant that Earth deserves a spot in the galaxy. And we’re going to do it with a cooking show.
Pero, no pressure, right?
I can’t complain, though. I’d put myself in this position the minute I left school and committed treason by freeing chocolate. And I’d capped it by volunteering to tour with Minda Frou, Zandywood’s most popular star.
When I’d been in cooking school, I’d had amigos, a goal, una vida.
All that is gone, and for what? I may have shared chocolate with a few other planets, pero those cacao beans have barely sprouted into seedlings, and HGB intends on keeping the supply of unfermented beans as limited as possible. I’m sure they’re already planning to sabotage the off-Earth plantations. That way, chocolate stays expensive – and with such a galactic commodity they still have a reason to be the most powerful corporation on Earth.
Mi hermoso Brill catches hazy reflection in the wall’s polished black rock surface. Most of the buildings on Letekka – the only Island-continent I’ve seen so far of Zant – are made of the same stone, inside and out. Brill runs his hand across the damaged skin on his cheek and across his nose, where it’s rough and tinted orange.
Brill’s from Krom, a planet that’s still not on the best of terms with Earth, despite being one of the ones to wind up with a nascent cacao grove.
So many of the tiny vessels carrying his iron-rich blood had burst when Mertex had thrown him into a blast freezer, inside a muy grande chocolate mold, not so long ago. Again, not Mertex’s best day. Pero, it had been Brill’s, when he’d stopped thinking about himself first and become un verdadero héroe. Him stepping in front of Mertex had saved my life.
Mertex notices, and his yellow skin blushes green.
“It’s not done healing.” It’s hard to tell exactly who Brill is talking to. Is he acknowledging the history between him and Mertex? He looks over at me, “Don’t worry, Babe. It probably won’t even scar.”
It probably will, pero I keep that thought to myself. Let him hold on to his hope and his vanity, and who knows, maybe that healing balm he keeps slathering on every time he thinks I’m not looking will do the trick.
Even if it doesn’t, I still think we make un bien encarado couple. He’s tall and built and strawberry-blonde, with a chiseled jaw and those distinctive Krom chromashifting irises. I’m slim and dark-haired, with a wide smile and a slightly hooked nose that highlight my Mexican ancestry, and just tall enough to fit perfectly in his arms.
Mertex bites at his lip and looks from me to Brill. Then he changes the subject, gracias a Dios. He asks Brill, “Are you sure you don’t want to try the lenmakf? “
“Nah, Su. I’m good with the soup.” Brill’s okay with eating some kinds of fish when he’s in a group where others are eating it, pero today he’s gone strict vegetarian. It’s a Krom thing, especially on un nuevo planeta. It makes sense, given their fragile cardio systems, combined with their do-no-harm explorer nature. While there are limits to the foods I will try, I am more open to exploring local proteins. Still, it’s never been an issue between us.
A Zantite at another table waves at Mertex. Murry smiles even bigger, and my stylist Valeria lets out a muffled, unhappy noise. Which tugs at mi corazón. I can remember being that terrified of a Zantite grin. Zantites are capable of unhinging their jaw to fit something larger than they should be able to into their mouths – and once that something was me.
I flash back to being in the mouth of a Zantite, a single breath away from having my spine severed with razor-sharp teeth. I put my fork down to hide the trembling in my hands as the remembered fear battles with the permanent side effects of my unwanted drug addiction. Which had been forced on me by that same Zantite.
Mi publicist Tawny’s staring out the window, her ice blue eyes intent. Down on the sand, the leaves of some of the plants and the curving edge of the ocean are lit with a phosphorescent glow. This place is muy bonito. I follow her gaze to a dark cliff, level with the restaurant, where shadowy shapes, their hands and faces outlined with fuchsia, are leaping one at a time into the water, then running back up a path to get in line again.
“I used to do that,” Tawny says. She has pixie-cut brown hair and warm-toned brown skin. She’s mixed race, part of it Hawaiian. “When I was a kid, we used to do back-flips off Black Rock all day long, then at sunset, a guy would dress up like an old-time Polynesian warrior, and they’d tell all the tourists that it was going to be dangerous when he leapt from the rock into the sea. We’d never do it at night, though. That was dangerous.”
Mertex looks confused, and I’m sure I’m about to have to explain human cultural history, pero he says, “Weren’t you with your pod? Would they not have cast light-buoys on the water to keep you safe?”
“So those are children,” Brill says. He’s been quiet tonight. I can’t tell if something’s bothering him, or if he’s just trying to appraise the situation. “Learning pods only last until you guys are what, sixteen?”
“Roughly that, though years are longer here than on Krom.”
No lo sé what that means in terms of years on Earth.
What would it have been like for Mertex to have been a child here? I study the kids out on the rock, and suddenly, the line of moving hands becomes a circle, and in the middle, there are two pairs of hand-outlines, grappling with each other, waving wildly. Then one of the hands disappears.
Oi! Shock knifes cold through my stomach. “En serio? Did one of the kids bite that one’s hand off?”
Brill stands up from his chair so fast that he knocks it over backwards. “We have to get down there!”
“No,” Mertex says. “You’d get hurt trying to break up brakks.”
“But those are kids,” Brill protests.
Mertex pulls aside the neck of the tunic to expose his right shoulder, where a thick scar runs over the outside, outlining a shiny patch where a graft was once required to keep the arm. “And I was a shy kid, Brill. But don’t worry. No one will die out there tonight. Their lives are all bound to each other, and if one of them comes up missing, it would be… bad… for the rest. Executions here are swift, and our justice is without mercy.”
I look down at my plate, not hungry any more. I sneak a look over at Mertex. He’d said his life is bound to mine and Brill’s, that he is our protector on this planet. It’s suddenly a chilling thought.
Brill slowly sits back down.
Tawny looks over at him. “I never realized you were so protective of children, Mr. Cray. Do you have any of your own?”
“Of course not! Ga!” Brill looks from Tawny over to me, and I can’t read his face. It’s always seemed that even asking Brill if he wants niños would be pushing our relationship too far. Most Krom see humans as an inferior species, and a Krom/Human crisscross is bound to be an outsider everywhere.
Heat floods my face, and suddenly I need to get out of this room, surrounded as I am by a hundred giants who would be so quick to dispense justicia against niños, but even more by one man, whom I love more than anything, but still don’t completely trust with my heart, or my future.
“Let’s go down to the beach,” I’m on my feet, headed for the door before anyone has a chance to respond.
I don’t want to get too far ahead, so I sit down on a bench by the doors. After a minute, this Zantite guy sits down next to me, keeping his hands in his pockets. I guess he figures it’s non-threatening. He’s wearing the beachwear, pero his pants are long.
“You’re Bo Benitez, aren’t you?” He’s speaking Universal, but with an accent that sounds a bit like he’s gargling rocks.
I don’t deny it. “It is an honor to make an initial impression of you…”
“Rex. I apologize thoroughly. Where are my manners?” He falls into the proscribed language. “And I also, Bo, bearer of the Invincible Heart.”
I make solid eye contact. “I also cook, and do things I actually have control over, mi amigo.”
I’ll never understand the Zantite fascination with me for having taken the rage drug that they give to suicide soldiers – taken it and survived. Which is yet another reason I am here, instead of a more traditional diplomat. Even if, back home, hardly anyone knows about my addiction. It’s been kept out of the Earth feeds, and the Zantites have shown enough respect to do the same. But that doesn’t stop their rumor mill.
“Shame about you and the IH. I understand Earthlings never get over it, that the need to feel that power again just keeps getting stronger and stronger, no matter how long it’s been. How bad is it for you?”
I shrug. “It’s manageable.”
Which is a lie. Him just talking about it has me sweating, has my hands itching to reach for something that isn’t there. I never wanted IH in the first place, had been forcibly injected with it aboard a Zantite warship. It’s not fair – but then addiction never is.
“I suppose it must be manageable, if you have no choice.” He leans back, and the bench creaks under both of us. The Invincible Heart is a controlled substance – one that even the Krom, with their mission of “discovering” commodities to trade throughout the galaxy, consider too much of a menace to touch.
I hold up a hand, letting Rex see the tremors. “Coffee helps control some of the symptoms, pero I haven’t found a place to get any since we landed.”
“There’s an excellent coffee shop just a few streets that way.” He points inland, then leans towards me, the scale of him intimidating, the hints of teeth revealed when he smiles down at me feartastic. “But how much would it be worth to you to have another dose of what you really need?”
I blink. “You have military grade rage drugs on you right now?”
He shrugs. All Zantites are bald, and the moonlight glints off his head. “I can get it. I’m a doctor’s assistant aboard the Infinite Destruction, and I’ve had to hand it out to the guys going on those missions before. Twice. Hard to do, you know.” Because IH is lethal to Zantites after the effects wear off, no exceptions. Having to administer the drug is exceedingly rare – unless the ship’s captain is loco. Pero, the fact that they will do it at all makes the thought of them invading Earth even more terrifying. The guy looks down at me. “At least it wouldn’t kill you.”
“Shows what you know.” I hop down off the bench. “That stuff keeps building up in the Earthling liver. Takes longer, and more doses, but it kills us just as dead.”
I head away from the guy, down the path toward the beach, sure mis amigos will follow. And in the meantime, it’s nice to be alone.
As in Tawny-free.
HGB doesn’t trust me. They’ve bugged my dorm, my phone, my jail cell – and now my person. Not that I can blame them. After all, I did commit theft/treason when I stole a cacao pod out of one of their facilities. Pero, they’d had me bugged well before that, just for consorting with a Krom.
They’d have chosen someone else for this diplomatic mission, if they’d had any choice. Pero, I had volunteered aboard a Zantite warship, where I had just risked my life to find out that the Zantites were looking at colonizing a planet at the edge of Earth’s solar system – and that they were holding a conference to discuss whether or not it made sense to invade mi planet. Minda chose me. King Garfex approved her choice.
It would have been awkward for HGB to say I’d been executed and they were sending someone else. Tawny’s here officially as my publicist. She’s really my babysitter.
I ditch my jacket – along with Tawny’s camera, which she doesn’t know I spotted – in a nearby trash bin.
I’m wearing a sleeveless blouse underneath, and I’m enjoying the feel of the cool night air against my skin as I walk down the path towards the sand – right up until an oversized hand grabs my arm.
At first I think the Zantite I’d been talking to on the bench followed me, pero he hasn’t moved, and this guy had been standing so still I’d mistaken him for a tree in the dark. He pulls me off the path, into the shadows cast by the real trees. There’s still enough moonlight to get a look at him. It’s the tall Zantite with the concave area on the right side of his skull that I’d met at the spaceport, the one who had come in the same welcoming party with Mertex. Murry and Dent Head had seemed to be on the verge of a fight.
When he leans down close to me, this guy’s breath smells like fish and rum – pero mostly rum. That can’t be bueno. Mi corazon’s hammering.
Brill comes out the restaurant door, looking around to see if I waited for him.
If I shout, this Zantite might panic. He hasn’t done anything overtly violent, hasn’t even said anything yet. I’ve had a sublingual installed in my head since I was a teenager. The device is wired to both my brain and my vocal chords. More than just a phone, it helps me process and remember languages. Pero, the handiest feature is that I can use it without needing to speak. I open my channel and make a sublingual call to Brill’s handheld.
He answers immediately, his voice warm and concerned inside my head. You okay, Babe? You seemed upset.
Half way down the path to the beach, I bubblechatter at him. I’m in trouble, but I’d rather not cause a galactic incident.
So no guns, Brill says, starting to wander towards me. The pitch of his voice doesn’t even change.
“Say,” the dripsy Zantite slurs in passable universal, “Is it true that you that you shot that brat Crosskiss with his own vapgun?”
“I did.” I try to slide my arm out of the guy’s fist, but he’s not quite alchafuzzed enough.
“That makes you a hero. Good thing I don’t have to kill you to give Mertex the fright of his life.”
When we’d landed, Mertex had met us at the spaceport, pulled me aside and said he’d vowed to Minda to keep me and Brill safe, which somehow links our lives to his. So whatever’s about to happen to me should leave the poor muchacho terrified.
Dent Head brings my hand up, closer to his mouth.
I squeak. He might not realize humans bleed a lot more than Zantites when we get bitten. And I’m rather attached to that arm. “Wait! There’s still enough IH in my system to make you sick.” I speak slowly, in Zantite, in case he’s drunker than I thought – and to give Brill, who’s hearing all of this over my sublingual, time to do something. “You know – Noble Race – suicide drug – Crosskiss tried to use me as a murder weapon.”
The Zantite laughs. He raises my arm higher, till he can get a good look at my wrist, which he touches with a device that was concealed in his other hand. There’s no pain, pero the world goes dark, and the last thing I hear as my consciousness falls away is Brill, both over the sublingual and in the darkness, saying, “Babe?”
Excerpted from "Pure Chocolate"
Copyright © 2019 Amber Royer.
Excerpted by permission of Watkins Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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