Coming March 24, 2016
Genre: New Adult Dystopian Romance
Cover Artist: Brannon Jones @ B-Dirty Graphics
Cover Artist: Brannon Jones @ B-Dirty Graphics
In the 23rd century, war has ravaged the planet.
A biological weapon has decimated the population, and those who remain have been driven to desperate measures to survive. Over the course of a century, evolution delivers an answer -- the Xeno gene, which provides its bearers with immunity to disease. All adolescent girls are tested for the X-gene, and carriers are obligated to bear children for the good of the human race.
The promise of salvation comes at a terrible price.
Stone Emmerson, heir to a position of supreme power, is surprised to learn his best friend Kella is an X-gene carrier. He's quick to claim her as his own, but as a mere servant, Kella can't help but doubt his motives. Before he can offer the protection of his name, she escapes his household. Mourning her loss, Stone becomes the black sheep among his peers by focusing on the welfare of his people.
While survival and freedom hang in the balance...
Starting over under an assumed name, Kella is a founding member of the X-Diplomats, a radical group dedicated to stopping enforced X-gene testing and promoting equal rights for commoners. Years pass before she crosses paths with Stone again. As the web of deceit that has come between them unravels, their love begins to grow. But can Stone turn a blind eye to Kella's violent revolution and see the justice of her cause? Or will their differences prove too great to overcome?
What price would you pay to break the chains of oppression?
Are you behind on reading the excerpts? Here they are, just click on the links and then come back to read Chapter 3!
October 21, 2282 A.E.E.
“Sweet home Alabama…” Mackella Starke sang along with the song blaring through the Bluetooth speaker she’d unearthed along with its portable friend in a suitcase at her current dig. Surprisingly the ancient device required only a charge and a little cleaning. That it worked at all over a hundred years after being buried was remarkable.
Best she could verify from the information she had, the music consisted of a bunch of what their time called country rock and was sang by a band called Lynyrd Skynyrd. Weird name, but she liked the tune either way.
The slight tingle that announced someone entered her office was almost drowned out by the music’s volume. Glancing over her shoulder, she spied six burly men, each armed with various weapons, as they strode into her office. Turning to face them, she set aside the other Bluetooth speaker she’d been working on in hopes she could get it working again. Devices like these could bring a fortune in profits.
“Gentlemen,” she said, eyeing the purple stripe on the shoulder of their uniforms, which indicated they visited from Stone Emmerson’s Quadrant. A little out of their jurisdiction, but a Regent didn’t concern oneself with something like territory. Regents held all-inclusive power within their Quadrant, so most were avoided at all costs. Even going against their minions was considered a direct infraction against the Regent. Rebelling a directive gained one a web of problems, even when the Regent was outside his jurisdiction. Their word was the law. Judge, jury, and executioner, too. She’d learned that the hard way. Trouble was the last thing she wanted or needed, and her history with Stone could lead to a host of unwanted woes.
Thank God she went by a different name now and wasn’t visually recognizable as his wife.
Deciding she’d borrow trouble only if it presented itself, she scrutinized the male who blocked her view as he stationed himself directly in front of her. The others spread out as if they expected her to run. She’d run once before, and she might again if left with no alternative, but they couldn’t know that. Hopefully.
Kella lowered the volume of the music.
“May I assist you somehow, gentlemen?” The question was directed to the man guarding the only exit, but another voice answered.
“We’re looking for Mack Ellason.”
She peered around the one blocking her view, but then the voice stepped around the man. Shoulder-length, chocolate hair, parted at the side, hung straight and shiny. Square jaw shadowed with scruff and a pair of well-defined, sensuous lips. Straight nose that led to a pair of cool, ice-blue eyes. Eyes that should seem cold but every time he’d turned them on her as kids, they’d warmed her up. He stared straight at her, his confidence large and in her face, causing her to struggle to maintain eye contact.
Stone Emmerson. In the flesh. Sporting new muscles to go along with his grown-up face.
Kella swallowed and folded her arms across her abdomen so their sudden shaking wouldn’t be noticeable, all while praying her sudden spike of nerves remained hidden.
No way he recognized her. She’d disguised her appearance years ago with an outdated and extremely illegal vanity chip. Before the pestilence, V-chips had been used to enhance one’s appearance. She’d dumbed down her looks by changing her black hair to dirty blonde and her emerald eyes to dark brown. Her once bronzed skin tone had been altered to a fair and splotchy quality, and she’d even added a crook to her nose. The tattoo on her neck identifying her as the property of Stone Emmerson had been airbrushed away with a simple push of a button, thanks to the banned machinery. The V-chip was a piece of engineering ingenuity. Nothing freaked the Regents out like equipment the elders had once used since the ancients were the cause of the pestilence that almost wiped out humanity.
The alterations were permanent until a retro scanner—or an R-scanner—was used on her, and that device would erase all her work at hiding her real appearance. Her husband might have one, but she didn’t plan on getting anywhere near it.
Her pet, Retro, must’ve sensed her unease because she placed her paws on Kella’s legs and gave a low squeak. Out of habit, Kella picked her up.
“Mack Ellason.” Stone Emmerson reminded, staring at her from the haughty slant of his head. “You know where we can find him?” he asked as his gaze left her and slid about her establishment.
“You’ve found her.” That got his full attention. His focus whiplashed back to her, and his eyebrows elevated. Pleased her voice remained steady, she motioned to the seat opposite her while taking her own seat. “Care to take a load off, Regent?”
“I’m surprised you know who I am.”
“I read the papers. You’re in them a lot.”
His gaze felt like a twenty-ton meteor headed straight for her. “My photograph isn’t in the papers.”
“No.” She leaned over and retrieved a scandal sheet—similar to the twenty-first century’s tabloids, only these printed the truth the Regent-owned papers failed to account. As she sat forward to offer him the scandal sheet, at least one weapon being primed to fire cracked about the room. Kella just barely caught herself from rolling her eyes. “Call your dogs off. I don’t carry weapons.”
Stone accepted the tabloid, but remained fixated on her. “You’re a relic pirate,” his tone implied her occupation inferred weapon usage.
“Technically speaking, I’m a vintage archeologist. I don’t pirate loot the government already laid a claim to.” Yeah, so she pirated relics before the government’s Regents could claim the stuff. No law against it—yet—even if they loathed the practice.
“Lower your weapons.” Stone studied the scandal sheet and grimaced at his face splashed across the page with a woman named Katarina or something like that. Despite his displeasure, he made no effort to deny he’d been caught in the altercation. Damn him for impressing her with that. “I wasn’t aware Mack Ellason was a female.”
“Does it make a difference?”
“No.” He tossed the scandal sheet back on her desk. “That thing in your lap licking a paw—at least I think it’s a paw—what the hell is it?”
A genetically spliced creature their ancestors created for the fucking fun of it. It was a cross between a kitten and puppy. “A kippy.”
Stone eyed Retro like he expected the pet to tear his face off any second. “They were outlawed. What, fifty years ago?”
“I didn’t make it.” She rolled her eyes. “I found her at a dig site. Or she found me a couple of years ago. I logged her in legally, and no one challenged my ownership. I’m guessing she bred naturally, but I can’t confirm that.”
Giving the thing a cautious eye, he grunted, and glanced at a guard, probably his mental note to double check the filing on Retro. “Maybe no one challenged your ownership because none wanted it.”
“Or maybe it’s because it’s not so weird for an archeologist to own something from the ancient world.”
Another grunt sufficed as Stone’s reply.
“Her name’s Retro. She’s super sweet.” As if to prove her right, the fur-ball began to purr. At least what Kella called purring. It was more a cross between purring and growling.
“Retro’s an odd name.”
“She’s historical and outdated, so Retro is a perfect name.” No one could argue that logic.
Absentmindedly, her fingers slid through the fur, and the purring grew louder. Retro tilted her fur-puffy head toward Kella’s digits begging for more attention in a particular spot.
Satan strode toward her—his human name was James Monroe, but he was Satan in disguise, and he served as Stone’s very intuitive bodyguard. “I’d purr too if she rubbed me like that.”
What a pig! Kella glared at James, eliciting a chuckle from him.
Really wishing Stone would sit, she pointed at the chair opposite her. “Regent?” Her neck ached from craning her head back to look at him. And damned if he hadn’t turned out better looking than she’d anticipated. Not that she wanted to go running back home to him. Okay, well she did, but she wouldn’t because being owned hadn’t been her goal in life then or now. When he remained standing, she decided to move the conversation forward. “How may I be of service?”
He placed his gloves on her desk and fingered a metal wind-up toy in the shape of a dog. “If you don’t mind me saying, you don’t sound very Northern, Miss Ellason…or is it Mrs.?”
“I’m single, and I’m not from the North. Would you care to see my papers?” Her benefactor had paid a small fortune for her paperwork so she knew they’d stand up to his inspection.
“No need.” He made a waving motion with his hand as if she offered them to him. “I’m searching for Mark Evans. Know where I can find him?”
“No. I deal with his associate, Kris Stoddard. I don’t contact her, she contacts me.”
His dark eyebrows flashed upward.
She asked, “Does something surprise you?”
“You didn’t deny knowing them. I’m not used to straight-shooting, Miss Ellason.”
“Call me Mack.” Why’d she make that offer? She didn’t want him calling her anything. Instead, she wanted him out of her office, out of her Quadrant, and hopefully he’d already forgotten Kella Starke existed. Regardless of her hope, she knew he hadn’t forgotten his only wife. “I have nothing to hide. Mr. Evans isn’t my biggest client. I only have dealings with his associate when he wants me to keep an eye out for something.”
“How do you contact him when you locate the item?”
“I don’t. As I said, they contact me. I might hold onto an item for months before I hear from them again.”
Stone finally sat in the chair across from her desk. He leaned forward and hooked hair behind an ear. Something about the movement reminded her of the boy she’d known from when they’d grown up together. Not wanting to remember those idyllic days, Kella shook the memories aside.
“Are you holding anything for him now?”
“A butane lighter.”
He smiled, and her stomach executed a funny roll.
“Excellent.” She feared this wasn’t an excellent moment for her. “You are my new best friend, Miss Ellason.” They’d been best friends once—before he’d betrayed her and bought her like cattle. “Might be easier to sell if you’re my lover instead.”
“Pardon?” No way she’d heard him correctly. She’d escaped being his lover once before, she wasn’t about to jump back into that particular frying pan.
“No one would believe you were friends with a woman.” James remarked. “Not with your reputation.”
Like James’s reputation was any better. These two kept the scandal sheets in business with their exploits, either drinking, sex, or fights. How Stone found time to manage his Quadrant, she had no idea. Either way, these two were meant for one another.
Seriously, what were the odds of Stone walking into her shop so far from their home? No…his home.
“She’s not what I normally hook—”
“Hold up.” Kella slashed her hand horizontally through the air over her desk, halting Stone’s words. Under normal circumstances it’d be a gutsy move since he could lock her up for disrespect, but all her clear thinking had just flown out the window. “I’m not a for-hire dating service. I’m an archeologist. If you need a date, take your ass through that door”—she pointed to the one behind James—“turn left, walk two blocks, and you’ll find yourself in front of the only bordello in town.”
James chuckled and swaggered toward them. He perched his burly frame on the edge of her desk. She glared at him. The nerve of him defiling her desk with his ass. The piece was a classic for God’s sake, she’d refurbished it herself, and she didn’t want it tainted.
“She’ll do just fine for what you need, Stone.”
Kella ground her teeth together at James’s comment.
Before she could collect her fury and reply, Stone spoke up. “Miss Ellason, I understand your reluctance.”
“It’s not reluctance, but a flat-out no.”
The corners of Stone’s mouth quirked up. “I need to locate Mark Evans as soon as possible, and you’re my best chance.”
“Posing as your new fuck toy—” James gave a full belly laugh, and Stone grinned. “—will raise eyebrows in the Quadrant, Regent.” Thank goodness her voice remained steady as she voiced her lie. “Since I’m a lesbian.”
That cut off his bodyguard’s humor, but Stone’s consideration narrowed on her. Stone made a weird gesture of sucking on his teeth while he ruminated over her confession.
While both men assessed her or processed their next stupid move, she ventured into the muck of the conversation. “Does Mark Evans and Kris Stoddard know you’re looking for them?”
“I don’t think so.”
“But you can’t be certain?”
He shrugged and snagged the wind-up toy off her desk.
Praying he didn’t turn it over and see the inscription on the bottom of the toy, one he’d given her, she continued as if not nervous by his perusal. “Why don’t you use your vast Regent resources and have him tagged?” That could be done with the press of a button.
“I require discretion.”
That easily translated into a couple of different scenarios. At the heart of his dilemma was that he didn’t want anyone to know he tracked the man. It also meant Mark Evans wasn’t a fugitive. He’d be easier caught as a fugitive. But the Director definitely had something on Stone Emmerson. An interesting idea and one she wanted the details on to secure her own safety. Or Mark Evans had something of Stone’s he didn’t want others to know about. Probably nothing illegal since Regent’s made the law to suit their needs.
“I’m not a very discreet person, Regent Emmerson, so—”
“I know everything about you, Miss Ellason, so I know you’re lying. You’ll give me what I want or I’ll contact your Regent and advise him you’ve not complied with my requests as he assured me you would. Care to see my papers from your Regent?”
She bet her next paycheck he expected her to cave after that spiel. Disappointing him would be her extreme satisfaction. A slight grin tugged at her lips, but she killed it a moment later.
“Yes, I would like to see your papers from my Regent.” Kella rose to her feet, strode around her desk and retrieved the wind-up toy from Stone’s grasp. He looked up at her, but his eyes got hung up on her breasts for a moment before traveling to her face. Pig! “Now look who’s lying. The Regent himself.” He opened his mouth to speak, but she kept talking. “You need a new fact checker since they missed I was female. Hard to know everything about me if that vital detail was missed.”
The words settled between them. Stone’s jaw clenched, and she suspected he ground his teeth. Ignoring the sudden unease of his men, made obvious by the way they resettled their weight, she gave her husband a fake smile. “Bring me those papers, and you’ll have my full cooperation. Until then, I’m not a citizen of your Quadrant and not obliged to follow your directives.” She strode to the door, opened it, and motioned toward the exit. “Good day, gentlemen.”
James gave her a hard look before turning his gaze to Stone. “We could force her.”
A chill raced along her spine. They could demand her compliance with ease and given his rank, even her Regent wouldn’t do anything about it. There might be some pomp and political tangoing because he failed to follow the right protocol, but at the end of the match, Stone would still have his way. At the suggestion, she noticed a few of his soldiers’ slack frames went taut.
Stone shook his head and rose to his feet in a move that revealed more of a predatory nature, rather than a life filled with political pageantry. That resulted in a rush of nerves. She knew next to nothing about him anymore.
Three of his six soldiers moved out of the room onto the wooden sidewalk, two taking point on either side of the opening and the other one disappearing from her line of sight.
Stone didn’t even look at her as he moved toward the door. Just as she was about to sigh in relief that his larger-than-life presence vacated her office, he clutched her throat in his hand. Their gazes locked, and her breath vanished, not because of his hold, but because of the way her body reacted immediately to his touch.
“I’ll return tomorrow.” His hold pinched where his thumb pressed into her neck, right over where his ownership-tattoo was etched into her skin but hidden thanks to the elders’ contraption. “I’d caution you not to run, but I think I might enjoy the chase.”
And with those words, he released her and pulled on his gloves as if he hadn’t just kind of threatened her. He joined his soldiers, and the lingering two vacated her office a minute later. Only James remained. He gave her a smirk while using the tip of his knife to clean from beneath his fingernails. She understood his silent threat. He’d slice and dice her with pleasure if Stone required a heavy hand.
Once they were out of sight, she breathed a sigh of relief.
revealed March 2, 2016