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Fallen Empire Reading Order (and Book 8 is out)

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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I’ve just released End Game, the 8th and final book in my Fallen Empire series. Now that the series has grown to eight novels and several short stories, some folks have been asking about the best reading order, so here’s the list in chronological order. They can be read this way, but with the prequels, you may enjoy them more after you’ve read a couple of books in the series and know the characters.

Fallen Empire Series in Chronological Order:

Remnants — A short story that takes place 2-3 years before Star Nomad. It’s the adventure where Alisa and Mica first meet, and it’s currently only available in the You Are Here SF/F anthology.

Last Command — A novella that takes place 6 months before Star Nomad. It’s from Leonidas’s point of view and shows him carrying out his last mission before the fall of the empire. It’s currently available as a free bonus to those who sign up for the Fallen Empire newsletter.

Star Nomad — The first book I wrote and where the main adventure begins! The ebook version of the series is currently exclusive with Amazon (but if you’re reading this after Spring of 2017, it should be out everywhere), but the paperbacks can be purchased at Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. Also, the audiobooks are being produced by Podium Publishing and are available through Amazon, Apple, and Audible.

Saranth Three — A short story that takes place between Star Nomad and Book 2, Honor’s Flight. It’s currently a bonus for newsletter subscribers.

Honor’s Flight — Book 2 in the series

Starfall Station — A short story from Leonidas’s point of view. It takes place between Book 2 and Book 3. It’s currently available through the free Star Rebels anthology. (This is available on Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, as well as Amazon.)

Starseers — Book 3

Relic of Sorrows — Book 4

Cleon Moon — Book 5

Arkadian Skies — Book 6

Perilous Hunt — Book 7

End Game — Book 8

 

 

Star Nomad (Fallen Empire, Book 1) Available: Read Chapter 1 Here

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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The science fiction adventure series I’ve been talking about for the last few months is finally out! Book 1 (with 2 and 3 soon to follow) is available on Amazon. For the first couple of weeks, it will be 99 cents (you can also borrow it if you’re a part of Kindle Unlimited).

I’m trying KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) for the first 90 days, so it’s just available on Amazon, but I plan to go wide with the series later in the year unless the results over there are mind-blowing. I know you don’t all read on Amazon, so I thank you for your patience.

StarNomadWebSmallHere’s the blurb and the first chapter of the novel:

The Alliance has toppled the tyrannical empire. It should be a time for celebration, but not for fighter pilot Captain Alisa Marchenko. After barely surviving a crash in the final battle for freedom, she’s stranded on a dustball of a planet, billions of miles from her young daughter. She has no money or resources, and there are no transports heading to Perun, her former home and the last imperial stronghold.

But she has a plan.

Steal a dilapidated and malfunctioning freighter from a junkyard full of lawless savages. Slightly suicidal, but she believes she can do it. Her plan, however, does not account for the elite cyborg soldier squatting in the freighter, intending to use it for his own purposes. As an imperial soldier, he has no love for Alliance pilots. In fact, he’s quite fond of killing them.

Alisa has more problems than she can count, but she can’t let cyborgs, savages, or ancient malfunctioning ships stand in her way. If she does, she’ll never see her daughter again.

Star Nomad: Fallen Empire, Book 1

Chapter 1

A dark shape scurried through the shadows ahead, disappearing under the belly of a rusted spaceship. Alisa Marchenko halted, tightening her grip on her old Etcher 50. Rustling sounds came from beneath the ship, along with a low growl. Alisa hoped it was just another of the big rodents she’d seen earlier. Those weren’t exactly friendly, but at least they didn’t endanger anything higher up than her calves—so long as she remained standing.

Mica, her fellow scavenger on this self-appointed mission, bumped into her back, jostling her. Alisa caught herself on the hull of the rusty derelict and grimaced when her palm smacked against something moist and sticky. She wiped it on her trousers, glad for the dim lighting in the cavern.

“Sorry,” Mica whispered, the shadows hiding her face, but not the fact that she carried a toolbox almost as big as she was. Alisa ought to have her leading the way—she could sling that box around with the authority of an assault rifle. “Can’t we risk a light?” Mica added. “We might trip over some unexploded ordnance down here and blow ourselves up.”

“I see your pessimism hasn’t faded in the years since we served together.”

“Pessimism is an admirable quality in an engineer. Pessimistic people check their work three times, because they’re sure something won’t be right. Optimistic people check once, trust in Solis-de to keep the ship safe, then blow everyone up.”

“I think you’re mistaking the word optimistic for inept.”

“They’ve got a similar ring to my ear.”

Alisa looked past Mica’s short, tousled hair and toward the mouth of the massive cavern. The skeletons of dozens of junked ships stood between them and the harsh red daylight of the desert outside. She was tempted to say yes to Mica’s suggestion of light, but the sounds of punches and grunts arose less than fifty meters away. A guttural male voice cursed in one of the Old Earth languages, and someone cried out in pain. A juicy and final thump followed, making Alisa think of a star melon splatting open after falling from a rooftop. Men laughed, their voices rough and cruel.

“No light,” Alisa whispered.

Mica shrugged, tools clinking faintly in her box. “You’re the captain.”

“Not unless this works, I’m not.”

“I thought you got promoted at the end of the war.”

“I did, but the war’s over,” Alisa said.

The war was over, and the Alliance had forgotten about her in the aftermath, leaving her in the hands of the dubious medical care available from the local facilities. Alisa had eventually recovered after spending a month in a dilapidated turn-of-the-century regeneration tank and two months learning to walk again, but she had little more than the clothes on her back. Worse, she was stranded on this dustball of a planet, billions of miles from her home—from her daughter.

Her fingers strayed toward a pocket with an envelope in it, one of her few possessions. It contained a letter from her sister-in-law Sylvia, a letter written by hand in a time when most communications were electronic, a letter that had taken weeks to find her in the hospital, a letter that explained that her husband had died in the final bombings of Perun Central. Only knowing that her eight-year-old daughter still lived and was staying with Sylvia on Perun had given Alisa the strength to endure the months of rehabilitation and the weeks of scrounging and planning to reach this place, to come up with a way to get back home.

Mica started to respond to her comment, but Alisa turned her back to end the conversation and continued picking her way through the junk piles. Talking was not wise, not down here.

More noises came from the wreckage all around them, including a chewing sound that Alisa found unnerving. A few more steps, and she heard something being dragged through the fine dust on the cavern floor, dust that drifted upward with her steps, teasing her nostrils, making her want to sneeze. She pinched her nose, having no delusions that the men hiding in here were anything but criminals, criminals who wouldn’t care that she had helped free them from the oppression and tyranny of the empire.

As they drew farther from the entrance, the smell of the junk cavern grew stronger, scents of rust and oil and burned wires, but also of butchered meat and carcasses left to the animal scavengers. Alisa was tempted to keep pinching her nostrils shut.

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Mica whispered.

“I know where I left the ship six years ago.”

“That’s a no, right?”

“The engine was smoking by the time I made it in here. I doubt anyone fixed it up to move her.” Another clunk came from the darkness, and Alisa added, “Talk later.”

Soft growls and snarls came from the path ahead. Alisa made herself continue onward. The creatures making the noises did not sound large.

She caught herself reaching toward the side of her head, to tap on the earstar that had hung there like jewelry for so much of her life. Assuming the satellites were still in orbit on Dustor, she could have used it to call up a map of their surroundings, but she had lost it in the crash. Mica did not wear one, either—she’d said she sold hers for food. Apparently, computer and communications tech was easier for her to give up than her tools.

Alisa’s toe bumped into something on the narrow path. It did not feel like a rock or piece of debris. She started to step over it, not wanting to know the details.

A beam of light flashed up ahead, someone heading down the path toward them. Alisa stepped back and grabbed Mica’s shoulder, pushing her toward wreckage to the side of them.

“Hide,” she breathed.

The light was definitely coming in their direction.

Mica found something to crawl under. On the opposite side of the path, Alisa patted around a pile of dusty reels of cable of all different sizes, the mound rising well above her head. She squeezed between it and something large, poky, and metal. There wasn’t room to get more than a couple of feet off the path. She hoped that whoever had the light did not look around.

The beam of light approached, angled down toward the ground from someone’s earstar. The footfalls of several people accompanied it.

Alisa squeezed more tightly into her spot, turning her head from the path, not wanting her eyes to reflect the light. A few male grumbles and curses reached her ears as the men navigated the route, bumping into things, kicking dented cans out of the way.

Before the group reached her, their light played across the thing she had bumped into on the path. A human body, that of a woman. The clothing was ripped, flesh torn away by some hungry animal, but the sightless eyes remained open, an expression of utter terror frozen in them.

Alisa closed her own eyes, not wanting to see, not wanting to wonder if she, too, had been driven down here by desperation, searching for a way off this world.

The men with the light continued down the path without slowing. A faint tink came from the other side, and Alisa winced. She didn’t think Mica had been foolish enough to make noise—there was probably another rat poking around behind her—but the sound might cause someone to look in that direction.

The men stepped over the body without slowing. Alisa watched them out of her peripheral vision, noting the scarred, bearded faces, the greasy hair, the tattoos, and the weapons they carried, a mishmash of daggers, shotguns, BlazTeck energy particle weapons, and rifles collected from who knew where. One carried an e-cannon that looked like it had been torn off one of the ships and modified for hand use. Alisa reminded herself that she, too, was armed, with the Etcher she had traded for, but it carried bullets rather than battery packs, and if she fired it, everyone in the cavern would hear.

The greasy men continued down the path, and she allowed herself to relax an iota. She waited until the light had disappeared and the sounds of footfalls had faded before easing out of hiding. Her long braid of dark brown hair got caught on a protruding piece of scrap, and she resolved to have it cut as soon as she had money. Whenever that would be.

“Blessing of the Suns Trinity,” she whispered for the fallen woman’s soul, then stepped past the corpse. “Mica?”

“I’m here.” Her voice sounded subdued, perhaps because she, too, had seen the body.

The path opened up as they continued down it, hurrying in the opposite direction from the men. An old conveyer belt stretched across a cleared area, with the skeletal shape of a crane rising up from the shadows. Alisa’s heart sped up with anticipation. She remembered walking past this spot on her way out of the cavern years ago.

A gasp came from behind her, followed by the sound of something clunking to the ground.

Alisa whirled around, raising her gun. The darkness lay thick along the path, towers of junk stacked high to either side, and she couldn’t see much.

“Mica?” Alisa risked whispering. That had sounded like her gasp.

A flash came from the side, followed by the scent of burning tar. A homemade fire starter had been thrown to the ground, and flames leaped up, bright enough to reveal Mica—and the big man holding her with his hand around her neck. A wiry man stood at his side, his hand blazer pointed at Alisa. Mica’s toolbox lay on its side in the dust at her feet. She struggled briefly, then grew still as her captor’s grip tightened. An utterly pissed expression contorted the angular features of her face.

Alisa admired her lack of fear, but felt a twinge of disappointment that her comrade had let herself be captured so easily. As a pilot, Alisa had fast reflexes in the sky, but she doubted she could shoot both men before the one with the blazer shot her.

“Thought I heard something,” the big man holding her crooned. He was one of the ones who had walked past them, with so many scars on his bare arms and face that they must have been self-inflicted. Despite his height, his features were gaunt, with no fat under the stringy flesh of those arms. “Got some pretties to add to our collection. This one feels good. Be fun to cut on her a little.” He leered and shifted his grip so he could grope Mica’s breast. “Spider, get that one’s gun. Can’t be having some girl shooting at us while we’re working our art.”

Mica radiated fury, and she tried to bash her head back and hit her captor in the face, but he was too tall. She stomped on his foot, but he wore hard boots and didn’t seem to feel it.

The wiry man grinned, displaying a mouth of missing teeth, and bounced up and down. He did not speak but took a step forward, holding out his free hand as he kept his blazer pointed at Alisa’s chest. She kept her Etcher pointed at his chest, too, assessing him in the dancing firelight. His chest looked stockier than his narrow frame would have suggested. Was he wearing body armor under his clothes? On the chance that it might deflect bullets, she shifted her aim to his eye. He halted, squinting at her, and twitched his free hand toward his big comrade.

“Why don’t you release my engineer and let us go about our business?” Alisa asked, trying to sound calm and reasonable. “We fought for the Alliance. We’re not your enemies.” Or your playthings, she added silently, horrified at the idea. She doubted talking would do any good, but maybe it would buy her a moment to think of something better to do.

“Alliance doesn’t mean worm suck down here,” the big man said. “Empire, Alliance, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. None of them make it easier to find food around here. Spider, a girl’s not going to shoot you. Get her damned gun.”

Alisa didn’t want to shoot them, not when it would alert everyone in the cavern to their presence. She was also well aware that she wasn’t wearing body armor or anything else that would deflect attacks.

“Oh, she’ll shoot you,” Mica wheezed, not as daunted as one might expect by the hand around her throat. The big man had her arms pinned, but she eased her fingers toward her shirt pocket so she could reach it. “She likes shooting people. Mostly imperial asteroid kissers, but I bet she’ll make exceptions for greasy troglodytes whose only memories of bathtubs come from their ancestors who colonized this hole.”

Spider had started toward Alisa, but he paused at Mica’s words. More the part about Alisa’s willingness to shoot him, rather than that bathtub insult, she wagered.

“Enh, just blow her away, Spider,” the big man said. “Ain’t worth getting killed trying to steal a veruska’s stinger.”

The wiry man nodded firmly, his hand tightening on his trigger. Seeing the determination in his eyes, Alisa fired first, then flung herself to the side. She rolled under the conveyer belt as a crimson blazer bolt streaked through the air where her head had been. Spider shouted in pain, but Alisa knew she’d only struck a glancing blow, if that. She prayed the hulking man wouldn’t break Mica’s neck as she scrambled into the shadows, expecting Spider to fire again.

Instead, a boom erupted from nearby, the noise hammering at Alisa’s eardrums. One of the men yowled, the sound a mingle of frustration and agony.

Alisa couldn’t tell which one it had been. She rose to a crouch behind a support under the conveyer belt, using it for cover as she sought a target. Acrid blue smoke filled the air from whatever explosive had been detonated.

Spider rolled about on the ground, almost smothering the flames from the fire starter. He clutched his ear, blood streaming between his fingers, his mouth open as if he were screaming, but nothing came out. Alisa had landed a better shot than she’d thought.

Despite his pain, Spider hadn’t dropped his gun, and even as Alisa lined up her aim for another shot, he glimpsed her through smoky air. He fired wildly in her direction.

She ducked back and targeted him through the support legs. Though a blazer bolt slammed into the belt a few feet away, sending shards of the machinery flying, she forced herself to find the calm in the chaos, to take a careful second to ensure her aim was true. She fired once.

Her bullet slammed into Spider’s forehead, and his head flew back, striking the earth and sending a puff of dust into the air. His arm fell limp, landing in the flames. He didn’t move it, and the smell of burning clothing and flesh soon scented the air along with the acrid taint of the smoke. Alisa grimaced. The war had taught her to kill, but she would never find it anything but horrifying.

Mica and the big man had disappeared, only her toolbox remaining, along with a dark smudge in the dust next to it. Alisa hopped over the conveyer belt to investigate, aware of shouts coming from all parts of the cavern. Most were inarticulate, a few in languages she couldn’t understand, but an enthusiastic call of, “Fresh meat!” made her shudder.

She couldn’t stay around here, but she couldn’t leave Mica, either. She was cursing herself for not seeing which direction they had gone when she glimpsed the remains of a warped casing on the ground. She picked it up, sniffed it, and dropped it immediately, the pungent scent familiar. Her fingers tingled from the brief contact.

A shuffling came from piles of scrap, and Mica walked into view, rubbing her neck and grimacing. “Animal.”

“Was that a rust bang?” Alisa asked, remembering the explosives the ground troops had often led with when assaulting imperial ships and fortifications. The acidic smoke could corrode even state-of-the-art combat armor. It was not as deadly to skin, but she’d seen people horribly disfigured and even killed from close contact.

“Sort of a homemade version.”

“That you kept in your pocket?”

“I keep lots of useful things in my pockets.” Mica picked up her toolbox, and they moved away from the body and the still-burning fire starter. “Don’t you?”

“I have half a chocolate bar and three tindarks in mine.”

“How’d you get chocolate in this hole?”

“I traded the painkillers the hospital gave me before kicking me out.” The medicine was highly coveted out in the lawless streets of the backwater planet, and Alisa had gotten her Etcher and a multitool out of the deal too.

“You didn’t need the painkillers?” Mica asked.

“Not as much as I needed the chocolate.”

“You’re an odd woman.”

“Says the engineer who carries rust bangs in her pockets. How did you manage to use one of those on that big brute without being hurt yourself?” As they walked, Alisa waved at Mica’s rumpled overalls, as faded and stained as hers—it hadn’t been an easy five months for either of them. Those overalls weren’t any more damaged, however, than they had been when they’d headed into the cavern. “You appear remarkably un-corroded.”

“The rust bang was insulated.”

“How?”

“It went off in his pants.”

“Ah. How did it get in there?”

“Must have fallen in.” Mica’s typically dour expression faded for a moment as she winked. “You rolling around in the dust and shooting people was a suitable distraction for it to do so.”

“Glad to hear it.”

Alisa managed a brief smile, amused that she had been worried her ally couldn’t take care of herself.

Lights flashed on the rocky ceiling far overhead, and the sounds of excited shouts grew closer. Shoes pounded in the dust nearby, reminding Alisa that they had made a lot of noise.

She turned her walk into a run, veering toward an aisle choked with piles of parts and some kind of vine that had no trouble growing in the dark. Though she worried that the half-starved brutes who called this place home would catch up with them, she felt more sure of her route now. The aisle had been a road the last time she’d been in here, with the place slightly more organized back then, and with fewer corpses along the way.

A gun fired behind them, and the sounds of a squabble broke out. Alisa hoped the scavengers would be satisfied that they could search—or eat—Spider’s corpse and wouldn’t look further, but she didn’t slow down. She couldn’t count on that, nor could she count on safety once she reached the Star Nomad. It had been inches from derelict status when she’d seen it last; the Suns Trinity only knew what condition it was in now. She was probably delusional to believe that Mica and her toolbox could fix it.

As they neared the back of the massive cavern, the shouts growing distant behind them, Alisa finally slowed down. Her lungs forced her to, even if her brain didn’t want to acknowledge the need. It was just as well. They ought to return to proceeding with caution.

“Is that it?” Mica whispered, pointing past Alisa’s shoulder.

They had reached another clearing, this one with a slender beam of daylight slashing down from a hole in the cavern ceiling. It provided just enough illumination to make out the hulls of four ships parked around the area. Grease and oil stains smeared the dusty ground in the open space, suggesting a fifth ship had rested there once. If one craft had flown out of here, Alisa hoped that meant another one could.

She stopped to stare at the familiar shape on the far side of the clearing, a tangle of emotions and memories washing over her. This ship had been responsible for her mother’s death, and six years hadn’t changed Alisa’s feeling of aversion toward it. Aversion and resentment. The clunky old freighter was even less impressive than she’d remembered.

The Nomad hadn’t been a beauty even in her heyday, and now dust dulled it further, coating every inch of the boxy hull while cobwebs draped the twin thrusters. Shadows hid the top and the front of the craft from her view, but she knew they would be equally neglected. She and Mica would have to assess the hull carefully, see if it was possible to make the craft spaceworthy again. Alisa ought to be able to advise her engineer on that. She certainly knew the Nomad well enough. Long before her mother’s death, Alisa had grown up on the ship, learning to fly and helping her mother run cargo from planet to moon to space station throughout the system. Under the empire’s rule, her mother had been forced to pay taxes and tolls at each port and had barely eked out enough of a profit to keep her ship in the sky and her daughter fed. But through sheer determination, she had kept Alisa fed. She had been a good mother—a good person—and emotion thickened Alisa’s throat as the years seemed to slip away, and she missed her anew. And she once again resented that the old ship had given out without warning, life support disappearing, her mother unable to—

“Captain?” Mica asked.

Alisa stirred, pushing aside the memories. “Yes. That’s it.”

She took a deep breath and walked through the dust toward the craft. She went slowly, looking left and right as she crossed near the light of the sunbeam. Just because they had left the other scavengers behind didn’t mean there couldn’t be more back here. The hatch was closed on the old freighter, the wide cargo-loading ramp folded away inside.

A bronze plaque had been bolted to the hull next to the hatch. It was too dusty to read, but she knew what it said: Property of Finnegan’s Scrap and Holding Company.

She had been there the day old Finnegan had affixed it, the day she sold the ship to him. Even if she had been grossly underpaid by the unscrupulous businessman, Alisa hadn’t been in the mood to argue back then, not with her mother’s death fresh in her mind. Still, she knew she couldn’t use that for justification of what she meant to do now. Steal it.

But Finnegan had died in the bombings of Dustor’s nearby capital—she’d researched that when formulating this plan—and nobody had come out to claim this junkyard in the year that had passed since then. People had likely been stealing from it for months, ever since the security guards had quit patrolling and the lowlifes had moved in.

As she neared the hatch, a growl came from under one of the other ships. As she turned to look, something furry with a spiky ridge along its back burst out of the shadows. A sand badger. Forty pounds of fangs, fur, and bad temperament. It sprinted straight at her, snarling.

Alisa whipped her Etcher toward it and was an instant from shooting when she remembered the need to be quiet. If she fired, the noise would only draw more scavengers, and she couldn’t simply run and hide now. They had to stay here long enough to fix the Nomad and get it flying.

Jerking the gun up, Alisa met the giant badger’s charge with a side kick instead of a bullet. She pivoted on her left foot, launching her right toward the thing’s bristly snout, glad the hospital had returned her sturdy boots to her upon release. The sole crunched into the badger’s face, halting its charge but not its ferocity. It twisted its neck, snapping at her leg as she retracted it. She launched a second kick without setting down her foot. This time, it saw the attack coming and scuttled to the side more quickly than something with such short legs should have been able to.

As she danced away from another charge, Alisa yanked her multitool off her belt, flicking it to extend the laser knife. Mica ran in behind the creature, an oversized wrench in hand. When Alisa kicked the badger in the snout again, Mica lunged in and clubbed it in the back. The blow probably didn’t do much harm, but it made the sand badger spin around, its spiked tail nearly whipping Alisa in the leg. The creature snarled and charged toward Mica, who scrambled back as she waved the wrench back and forth like a fencer’s foil.

Alisa sprang after the badger, slashing with the laser knife. It cut through the spiked tail, lopping it off and eliciting a squeal of pain from the animal.

She winced at the noise and darted in, hoping to finish it off, but the badger was done fighting. It scurried back into the shadows, leaving a trail of blood in the dust.

Alisa let it go, doubting she could have caught it anyway. As she stood, gun in one hand and multitool in the other, she tried to slow her breathing so she could listen and hear if anyone was coming. All that filled her ears was the sound of her own ragged breaths. She hadn’t recovered her stamina yet, and it annoyed her how long it took for her breathing to return to normal.

Mica returned her wrench to her toolbox and joined her. “Remember how skeptical I was when you told me that if I joined you, we’d find a ship that could take us back to civilization?”

“Yes.” Alisa flicked the multitool again, retracting the laser blade and sticking it back in her belt sheath.

“I wasn’t skeptical enough.” Mica curled a lip at the bloody stump of badger tail lying in the dust, then looked at the freighter and curled her lip even further. “A Nebula Rambler 880? They stopped making those fifty years ago.”

“That just means it’s a classic,” Alisa said, though she couldn’t help but remember how her mother had died and shudder. The ship had gone from feeling like home to a cemetery overnight for her.

But it was the only ship she was going to find that nobody else had a claim on and that might still be spaceworthy. Assuming they could fix it. And assuming it had enough juice left in the battery to open the hatch so they could get in. She wondered if it would still recognize her as an authorized entrant.

“Yeah?” Mica asked. “Does it have shag carpet?”

“Just in the rec room.”

Mica snorted.

Alisa reached for the sensor panel beside the hatch.

A shadow dropped from the sky.

She sprang back, jerking her gun toward the figure that landed beside her. A hand, an impossibly strong hand, clamped onto her wrist, squeezing until she gasped, her fingers loosening. Her gun was torn from her grip, and she was thrust backward before she could contemplate a kick or a punch.

The force of the thrust stole her balance, and she tumbled to the ground. Though she managed to turn the fall into a roll and come up in a crouch a few feet away, it didn’t matter. She’d lost her Etcher, and she was too far away to use the laser knife. Not that it would have mattered. Dread filled her as she recognized her opponent—and the fact that he was pointing her own gun at her.

~

Pick up the book now: Star Nomad: Fallen Empire, Book 1

Snake Heart (Chains of Honor 2) Available Everywhere

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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SnakeHeartWebFor those of you following along with my Chains of Honor series (a spin-off set in the same world as my Emperor’s Edge series), the second book, Snake Heart, is now available. If you haven’t checked out the first book, you can read the first few chapters on my site: Warrior Mage preview.

Here’s the blurb and the store links for Snake Heart:

Tasked with an impossible mission, hunted by the very people he wants to protect, Yanko White Fox is the only one who can save his nation from famine and anarchy. Armed only with his fledgling skills as a wizard and accompanied by allies he’s not sure he can trust, he must track down an ancient relic before his enemies find it first. But countless obstacles stand in the way, including his mother. The deadly and infamous pirate Snake Heart cares nothing for the family—or the son—she abandoned, and wants the artifact for herself.

You can grab the novel at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Google Play, Kobo, and Smashwords. Thanks for reading!

Patterns in the Dark Audiobook Available

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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patterns-in-the-dark-audiobookHello, audiobook fans!

As you may already know, Podium Publishing is producing my Dragon Blood series. If you haven’t grabbed it yet, the first three books are available in one collection (a crazy good deal if you buy with Audible credits or if you already own the ebook, since you can add the audio for only $2.99 through Amazon).

Now, the fourth book in the series, Patterns in the Dark, is also available.

You can pick it up at Audible, Amazon, or iTunes.

Thanks for listening!

Shattered Past, a New Fantasy Adventure Novel (links and excerpt)

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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While I was debating whether to write any more novels with Ridge, Sardelle, Cas, Tolemek, etc., I decided (a beta reader may have convinced me) to write another side story, this time with Therrik getting a chance to be the hero (or maybe anti-hero?). And he’s not alone. I’ve brought in a new heroine to add to the cast.

If you’re looking for a new action-adventure fantasy novel to read, one with a little romance, then here’s the blurb and the first chapter of Shattered Past:

ShatteredPastWebAn elite forces officer with a dreadful reputation.
A bookish paleontologist with a love for mysteries.
An ancient stronghold full of secrets that will take both of them to unearth.

Professor Lilah Zirkander (yes, she’s related to the famous pilot, and no, she can’t get him to autograph your undergarments) is looking forward to a summer in the paleontology lab, researching and cataloging new fossils. But that summer takes an unexpected turn when the king sends her into the Ice Blades to a secret mine where ancient dragon bones have been discovered. Rumor has it that they’re cursed and dangerous, but Lilah is more concerned about dealing with the outpost commander, a fierce officer with the temperament of a crabby badger.

As punishment for irking the king, Colonel Vann Therrik is overseeing the hardened criminals working in the remote Magroth Crystal Mines. He would like a chance to redeem himself—and escape the loathsome duty station—but nothing is going his way. Cursed fossils have delayed production, miners are trying to escape, and now a scientist has shown up, making demands on his time. Worse, she’s the cousin of his nemesis General Zirkander. As if one Zirkander in his world wasn’t bad enough.

Investigating the fossils leads Lilah and Vann into the depths of Magroth Mountain where centuries-old secrets lurk, and a long-forgotten threat stalks the passages. To have any chance at survival, they’ll have to work together and perhaps learn that neither is what the other expected.

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Chapter 1

Professor Lilah Zirkander walked down the aisles between the desks, setting exams facedown in front of students who alternated between looking warily at her and gazing longingly at the clock. She stood between them and their summer vacation. Well, they stood between her and an exciting summer project too.

“For those of you who need to pad your academic résumés—or need extra coursework to complete your degree—Professor Haytar has informed me that we’ll need a couple of assistants for our summer project,” Lilah said.

“Are you going out to the field again, Professor?” Natashi, a third-year student, asked. She was one of the few students who had seemed to enjoy the class, taking it because of an interest in the subject matter, rather than because it satisfied a math requirement, without actually requiring much math. As if math was something to shy away from. Hmmph.

“No, the project will take place in the science lab.”

Lilah handed out the last exam to the sandal-wearing boy in swimming trunks who had drawn his answer to the last essay question. Had it been an anatomically correct drawing, she might have awarded a small amount of credit, but his dragon skeleton looked more like a lizard skeleton, and it included genitalia completely inappropriate to either.

“Most of our government funding was siphoned off for military use this year,” Lilah added when Natashi’s face fell with disappointment, “so we can’t afford any projects that involve travel.”

Lilah also found the news disappointing, since she enjoyed her annual escapes from the campus, but a quiet summer without any students to teach would be appealing too. She secretly hoped that nobody took her up on the offer for extra credit. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the kids, but teaching left her feeling fraught. Research was so much more appealing than dealing with people, especially young people. They were so… recent. And mouthy. Who could fathom them and enjoy their company? She much preferred fossils.

“We will be undertaking an intensive cataloging project in the lab. All those fossils that were unearthed in the Sundaran Ice Field last summer are waiting to be studied and labeled for a museum exhibit this fall.”

“Dragon fossils?” the student with the propensity for drawing asked, his gaze jerking from the window to Lilah’s face for a rare moment of eye contact.

“It’s an amazingly complete collection of Glophopteris rugoniana specimens.”

“Gloph-what?”

The student behind him slapped him on the back. “Plants, you idiot. It was on the test.”

“Ferns, to be exact,” Lilah said. “Giant ferns from more than three million years ago. Iskandoth used to be quite the tropical haven.”

Several sets of shoulders slumped. Lilah admitted that fern fossils didn’t pack the museum the way that dragon bones did, but there was so much to learn from studying them. And dragons were frustrating. She had given ten years of her life to trying to identify their ancestors so someone could complete their phylogenetic tree in a manner that made sense. Alas, she had never found the missing link. Plants had proven less of a mystery, thanks to the fact that their fossils were so much more easily found.

Shouts and cheers and the stamping of feet came from the hallway, some lenient professor letting his or her class out early. Typically, Lilah would not be disposed to do the same thing, but when two-dozen hopeful sets of eyes turned in her direction, she sighed and relented—it wasn’t as if those distracted brains would process anything else she said today.

“You can come see me after class if you’re interested in the summer work or in my paleobotany class in the fall,” Lilah said and waved toward the door. “Go. Enjoy your—”

The rest of her words were buried in the slamming of books, rustling of clothing, and overall noise of a mass exodus. Lilah dropped her arm and headed to her desk. Let them enjoy their youth. She planned to enjoy the solitude of a campus largely free of noisy students.

“Professor Zirkander?” Natashi asked. She was the lone student left in the room, and she looked oddly nervous as she clutched her books to her chest and smiled tentatively.

“Yes? Are you interested in the cataloging project?” Lilah liked Natashi more than her other students. She studied hard, earned good marks on her papers, and showed a genuine interest in the field. She also dressed appropriately for a place of learning, eschewing the swimming trunks and sandals fashion that had cropped up of late.

“Maybe, ma’am, but I was also wondering… uhm, you’re related to General Zirkander, the pilot, aren’t you?”

“He’s my cousin,” Lilah said warily, having a hunch as to where the conversation was going. She endured such inquiries at least once a month. Multiple times a week after a newspaper article highlighted the actions of Wolf Squadron in driving off some Cofah attack farther up the coast. “I don’t know him well,” she added, waving vaguely toward the north. The capital where the flier pilots were based was more than two hundred miles up the coast.

“You don’t visit him?”

“Why would I do that? I don’t need anything from the capital. I don’t even have a horse for traveling that far.”

“But he’s General Zirkander!” Natashi said with the dreamy look that suggested she probably kept a few newspaper clippings of him in her notebook, ones that highlighted his face with hearts drawn around it.

“I can’t imagine what we would talk about.”

Lilah distinctly remembered Ridge—Ridgewalker, thanks to his parents’ fondness for quirky names—teasing her for reading books instead of playing with the other kids at one of those dreaded family get-togethers they had endured as children. He was an only child and had been delighted to run around with age mates, hurling balls like a fool. Lilah, with three older brothers, hadn’t been nearly as enamored with the idea of siblings and playmates.

“Oh.” Natashi bit her lip. “Well, uhm, just in case, would you be able to get his autograph for me if you happen to see him?”

Lilah forced herself not to roll her eyes. She was thirty-seven now. Entirely too mature for eye rolling. “If you haven’t graduated by the time I see him next, I’ll keep it in mind.” Along with the fifty-odd similar requests she’d had in the last year. At least Natashi didn’t pull out a bra and brazenly suggest that Ridge might like to sign it.

A throat cleared in the doorway. A short-haired, clean-shaven man in an army uniform leaned in, looking at the student and then at Lilah.

“Professor Zirkander?” he asked.

“Yes?” Lilah waved the man in, though she couldn’t imagine what would have brought him to the science and history college. Classes? There was a small navy outpost a couple of miles outside of town, where soldiers visited to practice sea-based exercises, but they did not usually have the time or interest to enroll. “You’re not looking for General Zirkander’s signature, too, are you?”

“Uh, no, ma’am. I already have that.” He lifted a beige folder as he walked down an aisle toward her desk. He stopped a few paces away, clasped his hands and his folder behind his back, and looked at Natashi. “I can wait, but I need to speak with you in private when you’re done, ma’am.”

He nodded at Natashi, giving her a slight smile. He wasn’t much older than she was, and he was handsome in his tidy, pressed uniform and his polished boots. Natashi would do much better to stare dreamily at him, rather than at pictures of someone who had crossed forty already.

“I’ll send you a message about the summer project, Natashi.”

Lilah dismissed her student with a nod, curious as to what was in this soldier’s folder. She was inclined to think uncharitably of the military, especially since they had been getting so much of what should have been the college’s funding of late, but she was sure this youngster hadn’t had anything to do with it. Besides, he had a sweet face and reminded her of Lieutenant Bakstonis from the Time Trek series. She wondered if her visitor had read the popular books and would understand the reference.

As soon as Natashi disappeared, shutting the door on her way out, the soldier opened the folder. “My name is Lieutenant Sleepy, ma’am. I’m from Tiger Squadron, and I’m here to fly you to the capital.”

“Pardon?”

“Sorry, it’s a nickname. You can call me Lieutenant Derkonith, if you like. Or Jhav.” He smiled and glanced at her neck, where she still wore the promise necklace her late husband had given her. At least, she thought that was where he was looking. Breasts weren’t far from necks, after all, and a lot of male gazes got hung up on her chest, no matter how demurely she dressed. At least the young men—students, as well as soldiers—weren’t usually impertinent enough to grab, bump, or make assumptions that her chest was available for handling. She’d had to snap at a couple of the distinguished professors over the years and had earned a reputation for being… difficult. As long as they let her keep researching and publishing papers, they could call her whatever they wished.

“My confusion wasn’t derived from your name, Lieutenant, but rather from your belief that you’re flying me somewhere.”

“Oh. Well, that’s in the orders, ma’am. I’m to allow you time to pack clothing and to collect whatever tools and equipment you need.”

“How generous of you. What happens if I refuse to go with you?” Lilah accepted the paper, so she could see for herself what this was about.

“He said you wouldn’t, ma’am, especially on account of your classes being finished today.”

“He? General Zirkander?” She bristled at the idea of a cousin she hadn’t spoken to in nearly five years making assumptions about her.

“Uhm, King Angulus, ma’am.”

She blinked and stared down at the paper, glancing at the signature on the bottom. General Zirkander’s messy scrawl was on there, yes, but King Angulus Masonwood III had also signed the page. Nerves twisted in her belly. What could the king want with her? She’d never met the man or even been in the capital for one of his public speeches.

Reading the entire document might help. She started at the top, mumbling to herself as she skimmed it. “…your presence humbly requested… possible dragon fossils unearthed… top-secret facility… determine if the bones are legitimate, and if so, if they should be removed for study or if demolitions can continue.” She gaped up at the pilot. “Demolitions?

“I don’t know anything about the facility or the demolitions, ma’am. I’m just here to give you a ride to the capital.”

“Is that where the bones were discovered?”

“No, ma’am. But we’ll pick up General Zirkander there. Oh, I was told to tell you to pack warmly.”

Lilah looked toward the courtyard, which was lined by lavender bushes that had been blooming for weeks already. “Somewhere in the mountains?” she guessed.

The pilot shrugged. “I’m just a lieutenant, ma’am. They don’t tell us much. I assume the general will give you more details. But I do know enough to recommend that if you have any weapons, you may want to pack them too.”

Weapons?” That was almost as alarming as the idea of demolitions in an area of scientific importance. Were they going somewhere that wild animals would be a problem? She did have a collection of hunting rifles, though she hadn’t been out on safari since Taryn had passed away, so she hadn’t practiced with them in years. It was rare for rhinos and wildebeests to rampage through the streets of Port Yenrem.

“Do you have any, ma’am? The general said he’d send a bodyguard along, but it might not be a bad idea if you take a pistol or at least a dagger. In case, uhm. Well, I’m not supposed to know this, but I heard the general growl something about Colonel Therrik being in charge of where you’re going.”

The way the pilot said the name made Lilah think she should be familiar with it. She knew of a few historically significant Therriks, but hadn’t run into a modern person with the name. Was it some other soldier who was mentioned often in the newspapers? If so, she wouldn’t know about it, since she much preferred historical texts to current events.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine, ma’am. I shouldn’t have said anything to alarm you. Besides, the king said he’ll give you some orders to take with you, orders that will ensure Therrik is polite to you.”

The man had to be forced to be polite to a woman? That didn’t sound promising.

“Is this Colonel Therrik not someone known to cooperate with visitors from academia?”

The lieutenant rubbed his jaw, as if in memory of a painful punch. “I think he’s more likely to eat visitors from academia.”

~

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