Okay, so I knew it was a new year. March of a new year. I know. I never blog. I can give you a laundry list of excuses. Single mom being at the top of the list. I swear, I thought when kids got older, as in teenager older, you got more time back. Sadly, this is a lie told by other parents who get enjoyment in giving you false hope.
So yes, I say it all the time. I need thirty hours in a day and eight days in a week to get done even a fraction of what I'd like to every week. But...the end of hockey season is upon us. That means my boys won't be playing or officiating. That translates into weekends NOT spent at the arena, watching their "sick skills and drags" (it's a hockey thing) or listening to adults yell at them. And this is a good time to say it... DON'T YELL AT OFFICIALS. Seriously, my boys are still kids and they don't get paid near enough to have forty-year-old idiots swear at them. And yes, I will tell you to get a grip. And you're welcome.
Oh, sorry, rant over. Which is why it's a good thing it's March and the season is damn near over.
I've had a book release. Aquarius Dawning. Book three in my Dark Horizon series. It's a ménage book, so MFM. This is different to the others in the series and mostly because I like to vary stuff. That and Dakota needed two guys. Hell, I need two guys, but... oopps. Outside voice.
Anyway, I'll include the blurb and a short excerpt. But I really wanted to let you know that I'm part of a Writing Process Blog. I'll be putting that up tomorrow and then Thursday, I'll have a guest post by the awesome B.A. Tortuga. This lady is beyond words. I love her work as an author. My favorite of hers is still LIKE CATS AND DOGS... but you won't be disappointed by anything you read from her. And...she has a new release coming out. So come back Thursday and see what she had to say.
Okay...so Writing Process tomorrow, and the lovely B.A. Tortuga on Thursday. And I'll even try to post for my upcoming release at the end of this month. It's book three in my What Remains series. Mutation. A new strain…a brand new war.
Commander Dakota “Dak” Winter is on a mission of vengeance. After being captured and held prisoner in an underground facility on Venitia, she’s seeking justice on the man behind her incarceration—Captain Frank Bane. After years of terrorizing the outer rim colonies for his own gain, the man’s rogue actions are finally coming back to haunt him, and she’s determined to be the one to bring him down…if only she could find him.
Reluctantly accepting help from her father, Senator Jefferson Hayes, she finds herself teamed up with two men from her past—Commanders Kane Paterson and Tanner Jenkins—who seem just as interested in her as they are in capturing Bane. It doesn’t help that she’s been fighting her feelings for them for what feels like forever. Or that they’ve made it clear they’re not looking to remain just friends.
A manhunt across the galaxy might bring her some form of closure. Or it might be the start of a dangerous new adventure.
Six weeks later…
Dakota walked down the corridor, trying not to let the steady click of her boots ratchet up her nerves more than they already were. It’d been two years since she’d set foot on the Coalition space station, and if she’d had her way, it’d have been another two before she’d even considered returning. But after spending over a month hunting for Bane with no success, she’d finally had to answer her father’s request for an audience.
She laughed at the thought. An audience with her own father. Though it shouldn’t have surprised her. He’d rarely taken off his official hat long enough to simply be the man her mother had married. No reason anything should have changed in the time Dakota had been gone.
She bit back the disappointment souring her gut as she stopped at his door, the bold letters lasered into the metal glaring at her. Senator Jefferson Hayes. He’d been governor of Vega Major for the first eighteen years of her life before being elected into office on the High Council. Though she’d rarely seen him during that time. Her mother had decided to take part in a humanitarian mission to Targus when Dakota had turned four, and she’d spent those years trying to survive amidst the chaos. It’d been shortly after her father had taken over his new role on the space station that she’d discovered the true nature of the Council’s business, and that they were largely to blame for the bleak conditions she’d endured growing up. She’d originally believed her father had joined the organization to change that. To make a difference. Instead, it seemed as if he’d spent the past few years exercising every opportunity to prove her wrong.
Dakota glanced down the corridor. More than a few gazes had followed her progress to her father’s office, their disapproving glares still watching her from beneath shadowed faces. She took a deep breath, ignoring the uneasy feeling fluttering through her stomach as she pressed the comm link beside the bulkhead. A tone sounded from somewhere inside before the doors whooshed apart, sending a curl of cool air rushing past her feet. She took one last look down the hallway then stepped inside.
She moved through the small entrance chamber to the larger office beyond. A sizeable desk fronted the room’s numerous portholes, a dazzling view of the rising sun over Vega Major gleaming in the background. Her father had his back to her, his silhouette nothing more than a black shadow outlined by bright yellow light. She walked to the chair conspicuously placed in front of his desk, scraping the legs closer so she could rest her boots on the edge.
Senator Hayes turned at the sound, frowning as she crossed her feet at the ankles. She resisted the grin that lifted the corners of her mouth. He’d never been fond of what he considered childish acts, and she knew the simple gesture was enough to put him on edge.
She leaned back in the chair, giving him a practiced smile. “Senator.”
His frown deepened as he took a step toward her, placing one hand on the back of his chair. “Really, Dakota. If you weren’t going to try, why come at all?”
“Maybe because you didn’t actually ask me.” She arched one brow. “Or am I wrong in assuming this meeting was basically a summons?”
He stared at her for several moments before allowing a small smile to lift one side of his mouth. “You always were a stubborn child. I see becoming an adult hasn’t changed that fact.”
“What can I say, I learned from the best.”
He chuckled this time, pulling out his chair and sinking into it. He placed his arms on the top of the desk, steepling his fingers as he gazed at her. His eyes softened for a moment before he plastered on a smile she’d come to hate. “You look well.”
“That month off on Venitia was a godsend. Did wonders for my complexion.”
His smile faded. “That’s not funny.”
“Wasn’t supposed to be.”
He sighed, scrubbing a hand down his face. “Since it’s obvious you’re not one for pleasantries, we’ll get straight to the point. I’ll assume your foul manner means you haven’t had any luck where Bane’s concerned.”
“If I had, I wouldn’t be here.”
He huffed out an irritated breath. She pushed to her feet and walked to the far porthole, gazing out at the rising sun. She didn’t know what it was about the man that immediately put her on the defensive, but she needed to rein it in. Despite her personal feelings, he’d done nothing but aid in the search since she’d contacted him that fateful day.
She turned, leaning against the wall as she gave him a nod. “Sorry. Occupational hazard. And no, I haven’t found even a trace of him. I don’t suppose the other ships have uncovered anything useful?”
“Other than it appears Bane was up to far more than we ever imagined? Not a thing. Though we have rescued about half of his crew.” He leaned back in the chair, looking every inch the politician he was. “More than a few reported that Bane didn’t make it out before the engines blew.”
“And those men would be wrong.”
“There’s no way Bane led me all the way out there just to watch him die.” She crossed her arms on her chest. “What better way to escape than to destroy your ship while a High Council Senator watches.”
“It’s been well over a month. At some point, we’ll have to consider the possibility that Bane did indeed perish in the explosion.”
A hollow feeling settled in her chest, making it hard to breathe. After all she’d endured, she couldn’t give up now. Not until she’d exhausted every possibility. Until there wasn’t a shred of doubt left.
She pushed off the wall, covering half the distance between them, her fists clenched at her side. “With all due respect, Senator, now’s not the time to simply give up.”
He rose to his feet, his mouth turned into a scowl, when footsteps sounded off to her right.
“Guess the old saying is true…about a woman scorned. ‘Cause sweetheart, I’d rather face a dozen of those snipe creatures on Venitia than you when you’re mad.”
She froze, the familiar timbre of the man’s voice sending a shiver down her spine. A flutter of anticipation awakened low in her belly as she drew a deep breath, slowly spinning to face him. Deep brown eyes gazed back at her, the color almost as dark as his hair. Full, pink lips were curled into a stunning smile that made her knees weaken ever so slightly. He was the perfect personification of every fantasy she’d ever had, and the bastard knew it.
She did her best to hide her body’s reaction to him. The way her nipples beaded into tight buds or how a warm flush raced through her, settling uncomfortably between her legs. Two years and he could still turn her on with nothing more than his voice.
She crossed her arms on her chest again, hitching out one hip. “Well, I’ll be damned. Kane Paterson as I live and breathe. And here I thought you were still fighting the good fight. Hadn’t realized you’d switched sides along the way.” She nodded at him. “I suppose this means Tanner switched as well. You Targus boys do tend to travel in pairs.”
A chuckled sounded from the entranceway, and she turned as the man in question leaned against the bulkhead separating the two rooms, the broadness in his shoulders making the other chamber look even smaller. Unlike Kane, his features were lighter, with piercing hazel eyes and sandy brown hair that was slightly longer than Kane’s cropped style, though decidedly military just the same. He wore a similar outfit—Coalition issue pants with a long-sleeved shirt that emphasized the sheer strength of his frame. Muscles bulged beneath the thin fabric and it was all she could do to keep her features schooled. Damn, but the man was impressive, and not just his physique. She’d had the opportunity to see him fight on more than one occasion, and she knew he was just as deadly as he looked.
He gave her a roguish grin, not hiding the way his gaze perused her body. “Hello, Dak. Long time, though it sounds as if you haven’t changed a bit.”
“On the contrary. I’ve learned quite a bit these past few years. You’d be surprised how the outer rim planets rub off on you after a while.”
He tilted his head as if trying to judge her claim for himself. “In a good way, I hope.” He straightened, moving over to stand beside Kane. “And you know that Kane and I are intimately familiar with the outer rim planets.”
“Growing up on Targus isn’t quite the same, as I’ve discovered. It’s fairly tame compared to other settlements out there, but I’ll give you boys the benefit of the doubt.” She turned to her father. “All right. What’s up?”
He arched a brow. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Don’t patronize me. I know a political agenda when I see one. And there’s no way you just happened to have Kane and Tanner as part of your entourage at the same time you summon me here for a meeting.” She gave the boys a passing glance. “There’s no amount of cosmic Karma to make this purely coincidental.”
Her father shrugged. “And you claim I’m the suspicious one.”
“Again. Occupational hazard.”
He nodded, motioning to the chair. She considered her options, realizing there really weren’t any. Despite what she wanted to believe about herself and her independence, there was no way she was getting out of there without hearing what her father had to say. And if she were honest with herself, she owed the man that much.
She ran her hand through her hair, glad she hadn’t tied it back as she ambled over to the seat, sinking into it. Kane and Tanner walked across the room, stopping on the opposite side of her father’s desk—within reach but far enough away to convey their intentions. They were here because of the good Senator, and that’s where she suspected their loyalties lay.
A pang of disappointment burned hot in her gut. There’d been a time she’d wondered if there might be more than simple friendship between her and the boys. That the sudden pounding of her heart and the fuzzy feeling in her head whenever they were around meant she’d somehow succumbed to the possibility of an arrangement she’d denied all these years. But it seemed obvious that any feelings they might have shared had faded with the years they’d been apart—years she’d spent running supplies between the ravaged colonies in the outer rim while it appeared they’d embraced the very establishment that made her illegal activities a necessity.
She eased back in her chair, maintaining just enough tension in her muscles she could react to any change in the situation as she met her father’s gaze. “I sincerely hope this isn’t the part where you tell me to run off and be a good little girl, because I think we both know that’s not an option. Not where Bane’s concerned.”
The lines around his eyes crinkled with humor. “You haven’t played the part of the ‘good little girl’ in years. I’d be foolish to believe you’d embrace it under these circumstances.”
She resisted the smile that tugged at her lips. “Then why call me here? Surely it wasn’t for personal reasons.”
“Must you always make it so hard? I’d like to think we’ve broken down a few barriers between us over the past six weeks.” He shook his head. “Like it or not, Dakota, you’re still my daughter. And while I may not have excelled at the role of father in the past, it doesn’t mean I don’t care what happens to you. And knowing Bane had the audacity to hold you against your will—on Venitia of all places—doesn’t sit well with me. So don’t assume you’re the only one who wants to see the man brought to justice.” He tugged his shirt down as he sat up straighter. “But that’s the crux of the issue, isn’t it? Justice over revenge.”
She smirked. “Are you suggesting my intentions are less than honorable?”
“Not in the least. But it’s come to the attention of the High Council that your enthusiasm has become borderline obsession. And with all the reports of his death from the survivors…quite frankly they’re looking to call it quits on this one.”
The statement hit her like a physical blow. Though she supposed that on some level, she’d expected no less from the Coalition, it didn’t ease the sudden thrashing of her heart or make the heat burning in her gut wane. She pushed to her feet. “Are you ordering me to abandon the search? ‘Cause I’m fairly certain that’s not really within your jurisdiction. And with my previous indiscretions pardoned, I’m not sure you have any authority over my actions at all.”
She took a step away when Kane and Tanner moved, each darting to one side and effectively trapping her between them. She didn’t flinch, raising an eyebrow at them as her palm landed on the butt of the stun gun holstered on her hip. Their gazes fell to her fingers then back to her face, twin scowls gracing their lips.
Kane crossed his arms on his chest, his expression speaking volumes. “Seriously, Dak? Do you honestly think we would hurt you?”
“Never thought you’d join the Coalition, either, but it seems you’ve proven me wrong. And I’m sure you’re more than aware I didn’t reach for my blaster.”
He huffed, rubbing his hand across his head. “So the fact you were only considering stunning us is supposed to make me feel better? And you haven’t even asked us why we joined.”
“I’m pretty sure there isn’t a reason good enough to win me over.” She sighed, removing her hand as she kicked at the floor. “Fine. But you can drop the wounded routine until you don’t outnumber me two to one.”
Heat flashed in Kane’s eyes though she couldn’t tell if he was angry or aroused. “Not much of a chance of that happening anytime soon, sweetheart, so you’d best get comfortable with the current configuration.”
She glared at him. “I never said I wasn’t comfortable, just cautious. And for the record, I’ve seen you boys fight. I’m not so delusional that I believe I could take either of you, let alone both of you together—not without something to tip the scales in my favor.” She leaned closer to Kane, ignoring the way his scent wove through her senses, instantly raising the temperature in the room. “And I thought my set of brass balls was what you boys admired most?”
Kane took the step separating them, pressing his body against hers. “Only when it’s not directed at us.” He trailed his fingers through the strands of her hair resting against his shirt. “But I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your edge.”
Her breath lodged in her chest as he stood there for three agonizingly slow heartbeats before moving back. A chill beaded her flesh with bumps, and she missed the heat from his touch, however innocent it’d been. She glanced at her father, curious as to his reaction to Kane’s outward display, but the man seemed more amused than anything.
She shook her head again, releasing a steady, deep breath in an effort to stay grounded. “Can we just cut to the bottom line in this discussion?”
Her father glanced at Kane and Tanner as he palmed his hands on his desk. “You know, I thought having these two gentlemen here would tame that wild streak in you just a bit. But I see that wish is a tall order to fill. Fine. Bottom line. The High Council is revoking its official involvement as of today and recalling the vessels it sanctioned toward finding Bane.” He waved off any reply she might have made. “However, I’ve managed to convince them that on the off chance the reports are a decoy, and that bastard is still out there hiding, you should be allowed to continue as a representative of my office.”
She waited for him to continue, but when he simply stared at her, she furrowed her brow. “But?”
“If that was all there was to it, you would have sent me a communiqué. Obviously there’s a hidden catch somewhere…a reason you wanted me here in person.”
His mouth curved into a wide smile. “Are you sure you don’t want to be a politician? Because you’d be very successful at it.”
“Pretty damn sure.”
“The catch is standing beside you.”
She shifted her eyes to Kane then Tanner before returning her gaze to her father. “You’ll have to be a bit more precise. How are Kane and Tanner the catch?”
Tanner laughed, drawing her attention. “Isn’t it obvious, darling? We’re your new partners.”
She scoffed, wondering if she was the only truly sane person in the room. “Partners? Sorry, boys, but I work alone.”
Tanner merely shrugged. “Times change. Looks like you’ll have to, as well.”
She opened her mouth to protest when her father pushed to his feet, scraping his chair back.
Hayes ignored the glare she flashed him. “This isn’t negotiable. While I was able to convince the rest of the Council that your expertise as a runner was our best chance at unearthing Bane’s location if he is still alive, they weren’t willing to simply give you free rein. Not with their reputation riding on the outcome. So I made them a deal. I told them I’d send my two best Commanders with you…as insurance. That way, the Council can be assured that any action taken against Bane is based solely on the basis of bringing the man to justice.” He gave her a long, hard look. “And not just to satisfy your pride.”
She tensed her jaw, holding back the stab of pain that flared in her chest. “So you are saying my intentions are less than honorable.”
“No. I’m merely hedging the bet in my favor. And preventing any possible repercussions against you should the outcome be less than desirable.” He walked out from behind his desk, stopping beside Kane. “We both know how single-minded you can get when you feel you’ve been slighted. And if a high ranking officer wasn’t involved, no one would care. But this goes far beyond your plight on Venitia. Bane’s become a symbol of every injustice the Council’s ever been accused of. The proverbial black sheep if you will. The very outcome of the war is riding on whether or not the man’s guilty of the charges laid against him and how the remaining members deal with his guilt, should it be proven. Even if your history wasn’t quite as questionable as it is, the other members still would have insisted on some sort of military involvement. To save their own asses.”
“So why call off the search?”
“Because we simply don’t have the resources to continue scouring every inch of every dusty planet. It leaves us too vulnerable to other insurrections. And if Bane is alive, it’d be the perfect time for him to capitalize on our reduced tactical presence…if he were so inclined.”
She laughed, shaking her head. “You’re still not convinced the man is guilty, are you?”
“I voted to give the man a promotion so he could have more control over our substantial resources. I’m not happy at the prospect that my trust in him was misplaced. But if he’s guilty, I’ll be the first one to imprison his traitorous ass for the rest of his life. All I ask is that you abide by the conditions set forth by the Council.”
“You mean the ones that specify I can’t be trusted.”
Hayes tsked her. “Really, Dakota. You’re a runner. What are they supposed to think? The fact they agreed to anything is quite a leap forward. And it’s not as if I’ve paired you up with two soldiers you don’t know or trust.” He crossed his arms on his chest. “Unless you’re going to stand there and tell me you no longer trust Kane and Tanner to have your back. As I recall, you three got into quite the trouble back on Targus.”
“That was before they joined the Coalition—before I decided going solo was the only viable option.” She looked pointedly at Kane. “Though I’m certain they’ll try to convince me their reason was more than justified.”
Kane never let his gaze waver from her face. “It was. Not that you’ll listen. You always were too stubborn for your own good. Not to mention proud.”
She sighed. “Not so proud I’ll give up the opportunity to hunt Bane down.” She held her hand out to her father. “Deal.”
He smiled as he grasped her hand in his and gave it a firm shake. “You’ll leave immediately. I’ll have all the information we’ve gathered transferred to the Aquarius. Witness testimony and planetary scans. Make of them what you will.”
She nodded, backing up and heading for the doorway. She paused just shy of the threshold, giving Kane and Tanner the once over. “Just know this. I’m not the inexperienced girl I was before, and this isn’t Targus. So I hope you boys are up for a ride.”