Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly: Call for Submissions, Issue 3

SFRQuarterly_issue1_coverSci-Fi Romance short stories sought for publication in Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. Must include SF and Romance elements with an upbeat ending. We prefer stronger heroines to passive ones.

Length: 1,000 to 7,500 words.

Payment: $25 (US) paid upon publication, promotional biography with two links, and a complimentary quarter-page advertisement.

Deadline: May 01, 2014.

Rights sought:  six-month exclusive world digital BhlxfbGCIAA5Nj5rights from date of publication; non-exclusive thereafter.

Other info:

One short story will be published per quarterly issue. Please send only edited and polished work, with the understanding that the majority will be rejected. Due to time constraints, we are unable to give personalized feedback on rejected stories.

Stories that tie-in to a previously established world will be considered, but story must stand alone.

All sub-genres of science fiction will be considered.

Any heat level, from sweet to erotic, will be considered. Be aware that the fiction editor prefers her erotica on the literary side.

Original, previously unpublished fiction only. No fan fiction, please.

Submit: Standard manuscript format, please. Send brief cover letter with biographical information and publication history, along with attached story (.RTF or .DOC format) to Diane Dooley:  Fiction@SciFiRomanceQuarterly.org by deadline

 

Posted in Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Short Story: The Brook Beneath the Willow Tree

CopingMy most recently published short story is rather an unusual one for me. It isn’t speculative fiction. It isn’t even a horror story in the way most people understand the horror genre. But it’s my idea of a horror story, being that it’s based in fact. People actually did suffer these horrors.

Several years ago I watched the news documentary that earned Geraldo Rivera a well-deserved Peabody Award. He and a cameraman slipped into a place called Willowbrook State School. The results of their investigation was called Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace. You can see a preview of it here. A few years later I read about how hundreds of unmarked graves were being dug up at Willowbrook,  though authorities had no way of actually putting names to the dead.

Who were these people who died so forgotten? And how did they die so forgotten? My short story, The Brook Beneath the Willow Tree, is the possible perspective of one of them. And it’s the only thing I’ve ever written that made me cry as I was writing it.

I’m sure after this introduction you want to rush out and purchase it. Right? Well, probably not. It is a very sad story. But if you don’t mind the brutal, horrific truth, the story is available in COPING: A Not One of Us Special Publication. This magazine specializes in presenting the voices of those who have been shunned by society, and so is a perfect home for my short story. The issue contains art, fiction, and poetry. 

You can purchase a copy of COPING for $3.50 by contacting john@not-one-of-us

Willowbrook State School was not the only institution like this. They were all across the country. The polio vaccine was tested on the disabled residents of Letchworth Village, considered a model institution in its time. The following video is a visit to its overgrown graveyard. Maybe the boy in my story is buried here. I hope so. It’s a lovely place, even if the graves do have numbers instead of names.

Posted in Horror and Dark Fantasy, The Writing Life | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly: Issue 2

BhlxfbGCIAA5Nj5The second issue of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly is now available. This is a themed issue. Welcome to the wonders of Steampunk Romance!

Get the current issue.

Get Issue 1.

Learn more about Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

Follow us on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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Giveaway of E-Novella: Mako’s Bounty

DD_Makos Bounty_MD

For nine long months, at the behest of the evil Ravenscorp, Mako Dolan has been hunting the space pirate they call The Saint. Now she’s finally lured her prey to a one night stand with a mysterious woman—herself. But Vin Sainte is not at all what she expected. Far from being a ruthless space pirate, his main occupation seems to be rescuing nuns, adopting orphans and praying like a champ.

For nine long months Vin Sainte has been fleeing the bounty hunter from one temporary refuge to the next. Now he’s got Mako exactly where he wants her: weak from gravity sickness and ripe for conversion. Problem is he didn’t expect a foul-mouthed, hard-as-nails bounty hunter to be such a devoted daughter. His head on a platter is Ravenscorp’s price for her mother’s freedom.

They have less than twenty four hours. One will win; one will lose. Mako might be a fearsome predator, but Vin has the Lord on his side. Who will win the bounty?

Publisher: Decadent Publishing

Buy links for e-formats: Decadent PublishingKindle

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Sound like something you might enjoy? Then here’s a very easy entry rafflecopter giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Five Anti-War Songs and a YouTube Addiction

Courtesy of erjkpunczyk/flickr

Courtesy of erjkpunczyk/flickr

*sigh* A YouTube addiction is a serious thing, you know. The time I have to put into it boggles the mind! Hours go by and I find myself watching live performances of people I’ve never heard from countries I’ve never visited and whose language I don’t speak. I love it. *sigh*

Sometimes I wonder if there are others out there like me. Sometimes I start making lists of musical themes I want to blog about. So here goes.

I was on an anti-war song kick recently, and started making a list of my favorites. The list went on and one, so I sub-themed it, then sub-sub-themed it. (I can hear you! Stop calling me a geek!)

So here’s my list of five great anti-war songs recorded by British artists in the 1980’s, which was a fantastic decade for music. In no particular order of preference, except for the last, which is one of the greatest and saddest songs ever written. Hats off to Eric Bogle.

1) Red Army Blues  by the Waterboys (1984)

Is it an anti-war song or an anti-Stalin song? I can’t decide. I just know I love it. My husband doesn’t, objecting to the length and the bombastic saxaphone. What is your opinion? Too much? Leonard Winters does a superb job of editing old footage to this song. Many powerful images, and be warned… many disturbing ones.

2) Enola Gay by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1980)

Painful and haunting. Thoughtful and addictive. Synthpop taken to another level. Simply perfection.

3) Army Dreamers by Kate Bush (1980)

A song as unique, original, intense and eccentric as its writer and performer.

4) Island of No Return by Billy Bragg (1984)

A song about the Falklands War. There aren’t too many of them, and certainly none with this kind of ferocity and sadness. Slideshow courtesy of zzjabzz.

5) And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by the Pogues (1985)

Many artists have recorded this song, but none match the gruff tenderness of the Pogues’ Shane McGowan, spitting out the brutal lines with complete and utter believability. majorsnag does an excellent job with images and editing.

Posted in I Call It Genius, Other Stuff | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Announcing the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly!

SFRQuarterly_issue1_cover

The Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly is a free digital magazine devoted to all things sci-fi romance. It’s a convenient, one-stop destination for science fiction romance news and information.

The first issue  launched November 15, 2013. Each issue will cover a three-month period.

Content you’ll discover includes:

* Topical columns on a variety of SFR-related subjects

* Honest, in-depth book reviews

* Information about new science fiction romance releases

* An exclusive, original sci-fi romance short story!

The team behind Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly is K.S. Augustin, Editor-in-Chief, Diane Dooley, Fiction Editor, and Heather Massey, Releases Editor.

For more information, visit scifiromancequarterly.org

Or follow @SciFiRomance on Twitter

*Permission to forward granted*

Posted in Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance | Tagged | 2 Comments

Call For Submissions: Steampunk Romance Short Stories

SteampunkShort stories sought for the upcoming Steampunk issue of Science Fiction Romance Quarterly.

Length: 1,000 – 7,500 words. Stories must include Steampunk and Romance elements with an upbeat ending.

Payment: $25 (U.S.) paid upon publication, promotional biography w/two links, and a complimentary quarter-page advertisement.

Deadline: January 31st, 2014.

Rights Sought: Six month exclusive world digital rights from date of publication; non-exclusive thereafter.

Other Info:

Story must be inspired by the pictorial prompt given by the editors (see above).

Only one short story will be published so please send edited and polished work with the understanding that the majority will be rejected. Due to time constraints we are unable to give personalized feedback on rejected stories.

Stories that tie-in to a previously established world will be considered, but story must stand alone.

Any heat level from sweet to erotic will be considered. Be aware that the fiction editor prefers her erotica on the literary side.

Original, previously unpublished fiction only; no fan fiction, please.

Submit: Standard manuscript format, please . Send brief cover letter with biographical information and publication history along with attached story (.rtf or .doc format) to Diane Dooley: fiction@scifiromancequarterly.org by January 31st, 2014

Venue: Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Editor-in-Chief: K.S. Augustin

Co-ordinating Editor: Heather Massey

Fiction Editor: Diane Dooley

http://www.scifiromancequarterly.org/

Posted in Other Stuff, Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Cuter Side of Horror

 

Smiling DogI wrote this story a while back and have had it out on submission from time to time to no avail. The general consensus seems to be that it’s far too cute to be a horror story. So rather than keep going with it, I think I’ll put it up here for free. Have a Happy Halloween, everyone!

Image courtesy of thezartorialist.com

Furbaby

It wasn’t my idea. Murray from Accounting mentioned one day that he’d gotten his wife a puppy after the kids left home. His wife hadn’t handled the empty nest any better than my Martha. According to Murray it gives them something to love and suddenly the good cooking and the efficient housecleaning starts again. It worked for Martha too. Sort of.

I’d been miserable since the second of our two sons had gone off to college. Martha slept or wept or stared at the TV that wasn’t even turned on. She sighed and whispered about how quiet the house was. For me it was bland TV dinners and a growing pile of my dirty laundry. Not long after that I noticed how dusty and unkempt the house was. She didn’t cook my favorite meals; she barely noticed my existence. It was a far cry from the good wife she’d once been. She barely showered and it was a rare day that she even got dressed.

One day I couldn’t find my golf clubs. My repeated demands for them resulted only in Martha burying her face in the couch cushions. I knew it was time to take action. Yelling had no effect. She refused to go to the doctor. My threats to leave her were ignored.  In the end I took Murray’s advice and went to the local pet store.

The thing was a hideous. I couldn’t believe I was paying good money for something so repulsive, but Murray had said something small and ugly would appeal to Martha’s overactive maternal side, just like it had his wife’s. I bought all the accouterments—dog biscuits, collar, leash—and took it all home, putting everything in the living room. I picked up the dog. It was small and warm and shivering, then deposited it in the crook of Martha’s arm. She ignored it— until a small pink tongue came out and licked her hand. Her eyes opened and she petted it on its bony head.

I went to bed hopeful that night, envisioning a clean house, a lovingly prepared meal, my golf clubs gleaming and propped up in a sensible place. I’d soon have my wife doing all the things she used to do and my life would be perfect again. I’d be able to focus on my work and my golf and my newspaper and my coin collection. Martha would take care of the rest. I slept well.

Things improved. The house was clean, at least. Martha still wasn’t speaking to me, though. I would hear her having long phone conversations with the boys or whispering endearments to that horrible little brute. It was all so unfair. The boys never spoke to me unless asking for money and the dog had taken a dislike to me. It would bare its teeth and growl at me any time I came near, then hide behind Martha’s legs as if I’d tried to hurt it. I decided to bide my time. Things were getting better. Soon she’d be tackling the laundry and cooking pot roasts and polishing my golf clubs again. Soon.

And then it happened. I came home from work to the smell of sizzling meat. I hovered over the stove, dipping my fingers in to steal a piece of the food. Martha appeared and smacked my hand. She smacked it hard. “Not for you!” she snapped. I held my smarting hand and looked down at the little beast that was rubbing against her ankles. I swear it was smiling at me, its tongue hanging out in a grotesque insult, its black eyes twinkling in self-satisfaction. I decided right then and there that the little monster had to go. Murray’s plan was a spectacular failure. I would get rid of the dog and find some other way to restore Martha to her wifely duties. Maybe it would get out and be run over? Maybe a bigger neighborhood dog could accidentally kill it? I would think of something.

I went upstairs. My dirty golf clubs had been tossed carelessly on my bed and my smelly laundry was all over the floor. And on my pillow, right there, on my pillow, was a brown coil of feces. A small yip made me turn around. The monster was smiling at me again, its stubby tail wagging. I picked up my five iron and advanced. It seemed to have lost its fear of me; it just stood there— waiting. I lifted the club over my head and brought it down as fast as I could towards that bony little skull, but it darted out of the way just in time. It retreated from the bedroom, still smiling, still wagging. I rushed at it, swinging the club again.

It all happened so quickly. The rush out of my bedroom, a sharp turn to the left, the damn dog basket in my way and the long, painful fall to the bottom of the stairs, my head smashing against every single step. I remember Martha calling the ambulance and comforting, not me, but the damn little monster, now trembling and whining as if in fear. But when she went to the door to let the EMTs in, that little brute smiled at me again. It smiled in victory.

I lived, obviously. If you can call my existence in this nursing home living. The shattered jaw, the broken spine, and the head injury left me paralyzed, speechless, but completely compos mentis. I listen to Martha when she visits. She smiles as she accuses me of driving our children away, of treating her like a doormat, of being a complete failure as a father and a husband. All the time the monster grins at me from her lap. It licks her hand as she tells me the boys are moving home and of how much she got for my golf clubs.

I lie here fantasizing about murder: first the dog, then Martha and, finally, and most painfully, that god damn Murray from Accounting. 

 

Posted in Horror and Dark Fantasy | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Luke Walker: New Release and Interview!

Author Luke WalkerI’m always happy to have author Luke Walker come visiting. This time he’s got a new release to tell us about.

 Welcome back to my blog, Luke. What’s been happening in your part of the world?

All the sex, drugs and rock and roll that comes with being a writer. Not really. All the hard work, email checking, subbing, rejections and the occasional acceptance that comes with being a writer. Outside writing, decorating my house and wondering how soon I need to grow my winter beard.

I’ve already got my winter beard started! So, tell us about your latest release.

Mirror of the Nameless is a novella that owes quite a bit to writers such as HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. My original plan was to write something in their style, but I realised pretty quickly that wasn’t going to happen. Their style isn’t mine, and if I’d carried on with that first attempt, it would have been an insult to them and a terrible book. So I decided to use my own style but do my best to keep their atmosphere.

Basically, it’s set in a world not a million miles from our own. However, their world is ruled by three gods. Three not very nice gods. Because of this and because everybody knows the gods can destroy everything whenever they like, a lot of people don’t care much about rules or law. Crime is everywhere. Pollution is destroying the planet. And sacrifices are regularly offered to the gods by the authorities and by rogue worshippers. If you’re old or poor or seen as a trouble-maker, the chances are you’ll be sacrificed. My main character, Dave, is a forty year old dad whose daughter Ashleigh is away at university. Dave keeps his head down and stays out of trouble. But when his daughter’s boyfriend Tom finds him to tell Ashleigh is on a mission to rid the world of its gods, he knows he has to find her before she’s offered to the gods.

Sounds like a good read. What else are you working on?

I’m currently halfway through the second draft of a full-length horror novel. While I don’t like to talk too much about works in progress, I will say it opens with several people who have no connection to one another being kidnapped all over Britain and then transported to a remote location in Scotland. Once there, they find out the man who arranged their kidnappings has some nasty plans for them. If they’re going to survive, they need to find out if anything does link them all and then fight back against a man who has one more awful secret about who he really is.

I’m hoping to have to this draft done by the middle of October. While it rests for a month, I’ll work on freshening up a couple of older books which I think have some life in them.

You write both Horror and Dark Fantasy.  What’s the difference between them?

The-Red-Girl510x765Tough one. I class my first book, The Red Girl, as out and out horror. Its follow-up, ’Set, is a dark fantasy simply because it deals with more fantastical issues (angels, demons, and Heaven and Hell working together to prevent the end of everything) and there’s a lot less graphic violence than most of my other stuff.

'SETOf course, there’s much more to the differences than that. It’s in the subject and characters and mood of a particular book. While I tend to head towards the darker side of fiction in whatever I write, I sometimes don’t know if I’m going to end up with a horror piece or a dark fantasy. In that case, it’s best to let the mood and characters decide.

What have you been reading recently?

Apocalypse CowI just finished Michael Logan’s Apocalypse Cow, which was great fun. The title made me laugh so I added it to my pile of books and enjoyed every page. It’s a funny, frightening and exciting story of a manmade virus which affects cows to start with, then spreads. Before long, Britain is overrun by angry animals all out to make a meal of us. If James Herbert and Robert Rankin had written a book, it would be this one.

Other than that, I recently read Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough. I love Sarah’s stuff and this was another winner. While the Jack the Ripper murders are happening, there’s another murder spree going on from a totally different killer. Sarah uses a shifting POV so you really get into the heads of the men investigating the crimes as well as those who are part of it in different ways. I’m currently reading Black Angel by John Connolly, and Dark Room by Steve Mosby. Enjoying both immensely.

Describe your dream vacation.

My wife and I went to Portugal for our honeymoon four years ago. We were a couple of miles outside the main tourist area which suited us perfectly. We didn’t want to be slap bang in the middle of a load of bars so having what felt like our own area but not being too isolated was very cool. Other than that, I’ve got some friends in Canada I haven’t seen in years so a holiday near Toronto would be fine with me. And if you’re talking somewhere in the UK, I like old places with character and history. England’s history hasn’t always been pleasant especially when it comes to other countries, but we do have plenty of places worth visiting. Give me a week in the Peak District or somewhere rural like Devon, (and as long as there’s a pub), and I’ll be happy.

What’s your best piece of advice for an aspiring writer?

Finish what you start. It’s easy to say you’re a writer when all you have to show for it is a load of notes on books you’d write if only you had the time, or a bunch of books you’ve started and binned because you find that even when you get to 20,000 words, you’re not even halfway done. It’s hard work, but if you want to be a writer, you finish what you start. You also make a lot of sacrifices. You know all that time you spend online or watching TV or seeing your friends? It’s gone. Unless you don’t need to work a 9-5, you make sacrifices to get your stories written. That’s not to say you don’t need downtime. Of course you do. Just be careful that downtime doesn’t eat too much into writing time.

Join places like absolutewrite.com. Read what experienced writers have to say. Pay attention. And read published books. Half of being a good writer is reading widely. Read the classics. Read current stuff. Absorb words. Roll around in them. Live stories written by people long dead. Enjoy written fiction as much as you enjoy creating your own fiction.

The writing business can be pretty gruelling. What keeps you going?

A lot of coffee. And stubbornness. And a thick-headed refusal to stop. And the enjoyment of telling stories. And my wife. Always my wife.

Mirror of the NamelessBlurb: In a world controlled by three monstrous gods ready to destroy everything at any point they choose, Dave Anderson knows the only way he can survive is to do the same as everybody else – keep his head down, question nothing and hope he doesn’t end up sacrificed to the gods. That’s his plan until he discovers his teenage daughter is risking her life in an attempt to rid the world of its rulers.

Terrified of losing his daughter, Dave joins her boyfriend in a frantic search while trying to avoid the authorities eager to offer him to their dark lords. The men must fight their way through a country governed by fear towards a derelict manor where a weapon for change and hope awaits. Here, a long-dead writer has left clues pointing to an object that might free the world of its terrible masters…or lead to something far worse…

Thanks for joining us, Luke. Best of luck with the new release!

Buy links: Amazon US  Amazon UK

You can pester Luke on Twitter and at his blog (he likes it).  Or add/rate/review his books on Goodreads.

 

Posted in Author Interviews, Horror and Dark Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Guest Post: Veronica Scott

veronica-scott-headshot1I’m thrilled to welcome author Veronica Scott to my blog. I’m a big fan of her last Science Fiction Romance, Wreck of the Nebula Dream (I chat about it here) so I was glad to hear that she had a new SFR release. Want the details? Take it away, Veronica…

* * *

Thanks for having me as your guest today, Diane! I’m happy to say my new Science Fiction Romance novel, ESCAPE FROM ZULAIRE is available now. The story takes place in the same universe as WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM, but the two novels aren’t connected in any way. My heroine in the new book, Andi Markriss, does work for the same galactic shipping company that Mara was employed by in WRECK, but that’s the only tiny connection. Good old Loxton Galactic Trading – they like to hire strong willed, independent women who stay cool in a crisis.

Here’s the book’s blurb:

Escape-from-Zulaire2x1000Andi Markriss hasn’t exactly enjoyed being the houseguest of the planetary high-lord, but her company sent her to represent them at a political wedding. When hotshot Sectors Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane barges in on the night of the biggest social event of the summer, Andi isn’t about to offend her high-ranking host on Deverane’s say-so—no matter how sexy he is, or how much he believes they need to leave now.

Deverane was thinking about how to spend his retirement bonus when HQ assigned him one last mission: rescue a civilian woman stranded on a planet on the verge of civil war. Someone has pulled some serious strings to get her plucked out of the hot zone. Deverane’s never met anyone so hard-headed—or so appealing. Suddenly his mission to protect this one woman has become more than just mere orders.

That mission proves more dangerous than he expected when rebel fighters attack the village and raze it to the ground. Deverane escapes with Andi, and on their hazardous journey through the wilderness, Andi finds herself fighting her uncomfortable attraction to the gallant and courageous captain. But Deverane’s not the type to settle down, and running for one’s life doesn’t leave much time to explore a romance.

Then Andi is captured by the rebel fighters, but Deverane has discovered that Zulaire’s so-called civil war is part of a terrifying alien race’s attempt to subjugate the entire Sector. If he pushes on to the capitol Andi will die. Deverane must decide whether to save the woman he loves, or sacrifice her to save Zulaire.

* * *

So the idea for ESCAPE’s plot is based in a real life incident that happened in India in 1857. The events in India during this period go by many names, depending who’s telling the story, but one common term is the Sepoy Rebellion. I was always fascinated how so many British women and children in India at the time were caught totally unaware, suddenly in the middle of a really awful war, and the people they trusted and looked to for help were the very ones determined to kill them. I always wondered how it would feel to be in the middle of such a situation and what I’d do.

My novel is not a retelling of the Sepoy events in any way. Unlike WRECK, which was loosely based on the sinking of the Titanic, ESCAPE only takes the very basic idea and then runs with it. When the book starts, the heroine knows things aren’t quite right, she’s a guest at an isolated compound hundreds of miles from safety…and then one afternoon Sectors Special Forces Captain Tom Deverane shows up and says it’s time to leave now.

Here’s an excerpt from events later that night:

A pair of night hunting birds called from the woods behind them. In the parking area on the other side of the celebration hall, a groundcar alarm blared then abruptly cut off.

            Andi stood up, putting her glass down on the bench before resting her hand on Deverane’s arm. “I think we’d better go. Everything you’ve told me today is making me nervous, although I still find it hard to believe there’s danger to Lord Tonkiln’s family, or any of the others out here.”

            “Maybe the Naranti mediators can reduce the tension levels. I understand it’s worked before,” he said. “Not my problem, however. Command doesn’t want any Sectors citizens caught in a Zulairian concern.”

            She turned her head away from him. Even with their own citizens getting killed in the crossfire, the Sectors would take a hands-off stance, leaving the people of Zulaire to solve the problems. The offworld government didn’t care if it meant years of local bloodshed. “Sectors doesn’t want to have to get involved, you mean.”

            “Right.” Crisply, Deverane nodded. “Zulaire provides some essential minerals, from the Abuzan Range, but we’ve secured and supplied the mine to withstand a two-year siege.”

Andi took a last look at the lake, trying to imprint the quiet scene on her memory. “What did Lady Tonkiln say when you decided to spend the night?”

            “A lot of gracious nonsense. The old harridan didn’t mean a word of it. She left it to Iraku to decide where to quarter us. He must dislike outworlders even more than she does, because he stuck us in the big transport barn with our vehicles.”  He smiled, but his clenched jaw betrayed his true feelings on the subject.

             “You’re not serious?” Andi did a double take. “You’re an officer. Weren’t you provided a room in the main house?”

            “Iraku offered a room to me. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to sleep in a posh mansion while my men bunk in a garage.” Tossing the remainder of his drink into the shrubbery, Deverane set the heavy, engraved glass on the bench.

            She shivered, rubbing her arms, trying to soothe away the goosebumps brought on by the night breeze.

            Giving her a concerned look, he stood up. “I’m an idiot. I should have thought to ask if you had a wrap before we came out here.”

            “It’s all right. I’ll be fine. I’m upset about my friends and concerned about everything you just told me.”

            “The situation report was a lot to take in, I know.” Deverane moved closer to her, heat radiating from his body. Slowly he reached out with one hand to circle her wrist, tugging her gently closer, until she was right up against him. “Better?”

            Andi nodded, placing her hands on his chest, enjoying the feeling of their bodies together, the implicit intimacy holding promise for what might happen later.

            The lights along the path and beside the benches flickered and went out, plunging them into darkness.

            Glancing around, Deverane frowned in the moonlight. He released her, keeping one hand around her wrist and putting the other on the butt of his blaster. “Is that normal?”

            “The generators have been known to be troublesome in the summer. Probably nothing.” The moment was gone, the spell she’d been under broken. Am I disappointed? Relieved? Things had been moving way too fast between them for people who had just met. “Fortunately, we still have enough moonlight to see the path.” Andi took a step toward the clubhouse.

He tightened his grip on her wrist, forcing her to stop. “Wait.”

            Yelling broke out in the large building on the rise behind them. Glaring, spora­dic flashes burst from the general direction of the parking area and from the main wing of the celebration hall itself. Making the forest brighter than day, a sizable explosion obliterated the light of the two moons for a moment. Clapping her hands to her ears at the concussion, Andi ducked, crowding into the reassuringly hard-muscled captain.

In one fluid motion, he had his blaster in hand. Still keeping his grasp on her wrist, he drew Andi farther away from the path, taking cover behind a wide, multiple-trunked tree. Placing himself between her and the build­ing, he leaned out, reconnoitering the pathway. The screams and shouts were increasing in intensity and number.

Andi huddled against the tree, rough bark scraping her arm. He was right, this sounds like the beginning of war. Trembling, she had to lock her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering as one piercing shriek rose above the rest of the general uproar.

“I’m afraid we missed our deadline for a clean escape.” His voice was harsh, the words angry. “Come on.” Pulling Andi to her feet, he laced his fingers in hers and drew her from the safety of the tree, setting a course around the edge of the lake to the east. Andi stumbled in her high-heeled dancing shoes over rocks and branches.

Wait.” Digging her heels into a softer patch of ground, she forced him to stop, yanking her hand free. “Shouldn’t we go back, try to help?”

“We’re overwhelmingly outnumbered.”  He frowned at her, nostrils flared as if he could scent the enemy forces. His stare was unblinking.

Eyeing the blaster in his hand, Andi raised her eyebrows.

Deverane sighed. “Even with a blaster. This was a well-planned, well-timed attack. You and I can’t afford to be caught in the middle of it. We’ve got to get back to the Tonkiln house and my men.”

Across the lake, one of the Obati mansions on the far shore exploded into flames. Andi gasped. “The attack is spreading.”

“This is worse than I thought.” Grabbing her shoulder, he turned her toward the lake and gave her a gentle push. “Are there any boats? We need to keep this head start. No time to creep around the edge of the lake.”

“The boats were drawn up on shore late this afternoon for the end of the season. This way.”  She led him to the lakeshore, where the going was easier. Kicking off her stiletto heels as soon as the ground changed to beach sand, Andi ran faster than she’d ever managed in her life.

Not even breathing hard, the captain kept pace. Swiveling his head, he evaluated the situation. “I don’t like us being so exposed in the open.”

“There are the boats.” Andi pointed to the line of gaily painted pleasure craft resting in the sand about ten yards ahead. Holstering his blaster, Deverane sprinted, grabbing the first boat in the line. He dragged the small craft across the sand into the lapping water. By the time she skidded to a halt, his hand was stretched out to her as he gestured impatiently. “I’ll boost you in. Come on.”

Holding her shoes above her head, she waded out, gasping a little at the coldness of the water. With one hand he helped her shimmy up and over into the boat, where she landed with a thud. Scrambling on hands and knees to the stern, she sat at the control panel, trying to remember the simple instructions she’d received earlier in the week. As Deverane fell over the side, she had the motor revving to the red line. Leaving a broad wake gleaming in the moonlight, the little pleasure craft shot straight across the lake.

He crouched low on the bench amidships and ran his hand over his hair. She hoped he was planning their next move. Blaster in his hand again, he reconnoitered the shore with deep suspicion. “Any obstacles in this water?”

Chilled in her half-drenched party clothes, she shook her head, wishing her expensive dress could shed water the way his uniform was engineered to do. “Not this direction. Can you contact your squad?” 

“I’m trying right now.” He showed her the tiny comlink cradled in his other hand. “No answer, which could mean anything or nothing, but probably isn’t good.”

“Do you think the Tonkiln house has been attacked?” Andi worried about heading into an even worse situation than the one they’d left behind.

Not looking at her, he just shook his head. “Let’s deal with that when we come to it. Don’t steer straight to the dock—we’d be too obvious, sitting ducks. We need to land and work our way to the house without attracting attention.”

Angling the boat off to the east, Andi set a course to avoid the dock as ordered. “I never considered an attack on the family’s home. Lords of Space, what about the kids? Sadu and his two little visiting cousins—their Shenti nurse went home to her village last night—there’s only old Iraku and a few of the housemen there to protect them.” Worry about the younger family members gnawed a pit in Andi’s gut. “Lady Tonkiln must be terrified.”

“I have to extract the Sectors citizens, not risk my men trying to rescue anyone else against over­whelming odds. The Tonkilns aren’t my concern, understand?” His voice was flat, the words dismissive.

Andi jerked her head around to stare at him. “We can’t ignore the danger to them.”

 “Lady, I have orders.”

 * * *

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