Happy 4th of July!

steampunk159__alt_iconsFor those of you in the US, Happy Fourth of July! :) It’s stormy here today, which has put a damper on a lot of the usual festivities, but, oh, well.

It took me a little longer to get everything straightened out than I would have preferred, but I’m happy to announce that the trade paperback of Galaxy’s Way is finally available. 😀 I’m excited about that. You can find it via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository.

The past couple of months have been really busy—I hate getting behind on posting updates here, but it feels like I blinked and time disappeared. Part of that is being pregnant, part of that has been writing, and part of it’s just been life in general, especially now that summer has arrived.

Side note: being pregnant is really like a giant science experiment. All the things that could happen to your body, and some of them happen and some of them don’t. Never a dull moment. Also, my husband and I found out we’re having a little boy. We’re really excited. 😀 (I’ve thought the baby would be a boy from the start.)

In the midst of everything though, writing has gone pretty well. June in particular was a productive month.

The Guardians: Book 4 is coming along well. I think I’m halfway through. I was hoping to have the rough draft finished by September, but I don’t know if I’ll make it or not. We’ll see. Either way, I’m having fun with the story.

The Stone General is also humming along. The characters have come to life and I’m along for the ride. J I have no idea where certain parts of the plot are going—which is always exciting for me, since I find knowing exactly how everything will play out rather boring.

I’ve made some progress on both Ink Realm and the start of my superhero series, but the aforementioned two novels have taken over my brain and the latter are not getting as much attention right now. Still need to flesh out certain aspects of the superhero series, which is probably why it’s quieted down a little.

Speaking of superhero series, I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoners trilogy. He’s got a very different twist on the whole superhero thing and I’m enjoying seeing how it plays out.

Anyway, have a great Fourth of July!

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‘Galaxy’s Way’ Paperback and Other News…

Impossible--cautionVery excited to announce that the trade paperback edition of Galaxy’s Way will be available shortly. I’d hoped to have it out weeks ago, but ran into a rather interesting snag. My title font, which I also used for the chapter titles and dropcaps, refused to embed. Eventually, I fixed the problem, but it required laying out the book again. Not a huge deal; it just took a while to do on top of everything else going on right now.

The last couple of months have been interesting, to say the least. I haven’t said anything on here before now, but my husband and I are expecting our first child in September. :smile: (Ultrasound is Friday; hopefully we’ll find out if the baby is a boy or a girl.) We’re really excited, but I have to say, being pregnant is a whole new ballgame.

And pregnancy fatigue? Definitely real. For some reason, I never really thought about how much energy it takes to grow a human being. Fortunately, I’m in the second trimester now, and I’m getting some of my energy back.

So, the past two months I haven’t made as much progress on my projects as I would have liked, but I have made progress. The Guardians: Book 4 (still no title yet) has hit the third-way point, and I’m excited about where the story is headed from here. The Stone General is progressing nicely. Ink Realm has been strangely quiet, but I’ll get to it. (I think it wants less competition. :P)

Also, I finally bit the bullet and wrote the first two chapters of the first book in my superhero story. (One of those instances where the characters held me hostage and refused to let my brain move on until I wrote everything down.) That was interesting, because I still don’t have names for several of the characters featured in it. 😛

It gave me a great peek into how big this series’ world is though. This is going to be fun. 😀 Will definitely need a spreadsheet to keep all the characters straight—there are going to be a bunch of them.

I don’t have a title for this series yet either, although I do have a working title based off the main character. The problem is that I’m not sure it’s superhero-y enough. I’m sure that will resolve itself once I get farther into the story, however.

Stories are helpful like that. :)

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Galaxy’s Way: Chapter 3

Galaxys_Way_web_smallGalaxy’s Way

Chapter 3

AWKWARD SILENCE DESCENDED ON THEM while Colin tried to get the circulation going in his fingers again, and Anna tried to figure out what she was supposed to do next. Or say next.

What is Viktor going to say when he hears about this? she wondered. What is Berenger going to tell him? She glanced up through the pitch black to the approximate location of that blasted ledge off of which Lobai’s man had unceremoniously tossed her and a knot of panic clogged her throat. How are we going to get out of this?

“I don’t suppose you have a light on you.”

Startled, Anna whipped around to stare unseeingly in his direction. “What?”

“A light, lass. Torch, flashlight, whatever you want to call it. Something to pierce this black darkness in which we find ourselves.”

Despite herself, a corner of her mouth curled at his dramatic words. “I might. Let me see if I’ve still got it.”

“Lovely choice of words there, darling.”

She made a face. “You know what I mean.”

“Aye.” The laughter in his voice said otherwise.

Grumbling under her breath, Anna proceeded to check her pockets. Womanly hips and thighs were a terrible hindrance to keeping much of anything in pockets; they always made her feel like she was a yard wide‌—‌but she had a few things tucked away in case of emergencies.

Of course, she thought wryly, palming a tiny light, I always thought I’d use this if we lost power to the ship. Not to find my way through a watery cave with a complete stranger. She paused. Even if he does have a sexy voice.

Eyes widening and face flushed, Anna pushed that thought right out of her head. Complete stranger, remember? He could be a serial killer masquerading as a smuggler, for all you know. “Found it,” she announced.

“Oh, good.” Colin sounded more than a touch relieved. “I’d hate to have to blindly stagger through all this.”

Anna switched the penlight on, blinding both of them for an instant before their eyes adjusted to the meager light. The first thing she did was shine the light on her companion, to see what kind of a man he was.

Colin brought up a hand to shield his eyes. In a pained voice, he demanded, “Ow, lass, is that really necessary?”

“Yes, it is.”

Anna quickly looked him over. She concluded he was probably just under six feet tall, had curly dark hair in need of a trim, a neatly trimmed beard, and seemed to be in fairly good shape. She had no idea what his eyes looked like, or what his face looked like, for that matter, since he was still shielding it.

“What’s the verdict?” he demanded, testily, but there was a hint of satisfaction to his words.

Anna snapped the light away from him. “You don’t look like a serial killer. Of course,” she added, frowning to herself, “from what I understand, serial killers seldom do look like killers.”

A brief silence greeted this, before Colin said dryly, “I think we’d best get you out of here, lass.”

“I think that’s a good idea.”

“Don’t suppose you’ll let me see what you look like?”

Anna snorted. “Not while I’ve got the light.”

“Pity,” she heard him murmur.

Rolling her eyes, Anna directed the light around at their surroundings.

Just as she had expected, the light revealed slick, rocky walls and ceiling. They were indeed on a little ledge‌—‌a miniature shore made of rock extending from one damp wall. Another knot of sticky panic rose in her throat, but she forced it down. Get a grip, she scolded herself. It’s not like we’ve been locked in an airless room with no windows and a door that’s been welded shut.

That had happened once, to Viktor. He’d gotten out, but they didn’t talk about it.

Beside her, Colin stood very still, following the light and straining to see if it revealed even a hint of an escape.

So far, nothing had presented itself. Anna continued to play the light around the cavern. There has to be a way out.

All she saw was black water extending off into the cavern behind them‌—‌the opposite direction from the ledge over which they had both been thrown. “Great,” she muttered through gritted teeth. “Just‌…‌great. How in the galaxy are we supposed to get out of here?”

“Point that back over at the ledge, will you?” Colin directed, still rubbing the feeling back into his hands.

Anna obliged, and they both stared at the rocky wall leading up to the ledge. We won’t be climbing that, she thought grimly.

“Nope, no good.” She could hear the scowl in his voice. “We’ll not be scaling that.”

“That’s what I thought. Looks like we’re going to have to swim for it.” Anna scowled too; she wasn’t looking forward to it.

“When I get my hands on that man … ” Colin began, but he abruptly broke off. “Hang on.” He put a hand on Anna’s arm to stop her from swinging the light around any further. “What was that?”

“What was what?” she asked irritably, narrowing her eyes at his hand on her arm.

That.” He raised her arm to shine the light at the cavern wall on the opposite side of the lake from where they stood. “It’s shadowed‌—‌I think it might be an opening.”

“You think it might be an opening?”

Colin shot her a look. Anna could not quite make out his expression, but his voice was very dry as he replied, “If you have a better suggestion for a way out of here, lass, by all means, let’s hear it.”

She swallowed. “I don’t really want to get back in the water.”

“Well, it’s either swim for it or stay here. Ladies’ choice, but I must warn you, I’ll not be staying.”

Anna bristled, her mouth dropping open at his presumption. “Well, I wouldn’t ask you to stay. I’m not stupid.”

Colin shifted closer to her, close enough that she could now make out his features from the light she was shining across the lake. Which, of course, meant he could now see her too. In all my waterlogged glory.

“Don’t be angry with me, lass. This is hardly my doing.”

Why would Lobai throw me down here with you? Anna wanted to snap, but she held her tongue. Might need his help later. “Ugh. Fine.” She walked down to the waterline. I hope it really is another cave. “Let’s do it.”

She regretted her choice of words as soon as they left her mouth, but to her surprise, Colin did not take her inadvertent opening as an excuse to make a suggestive comeback. She did think she heard him muffle a snort of laughter, and rolled her eyes.

When she made to turn off the light, however, he said quickly, “Don’t!”

The sharp, almost pleading, tone of his voice made her eyebrows shoot up in surprise; she glanced over her shoulder at him. “Why? It won’t be easy swimming with it.”

“I’ll carry it in my mouth,” he said grimly, running a hand through his damp hair. “Just‌—‌don’t turn it off. I was down here for hours, and it’s nice to be able to see again.”

“Okay, whatever.” Anna acquiesced with a shrug. Truth be told, she wasn’t that keen on returning to utter darkness either, but he didn’t need to know that.

“You want me to carry it?” Colin’s voice evened out.

“Nah, I got it.” No way am I giving my only source of light to a stranger.

After a brief second of hesitation, Anna stuck the end of the penlight in her mouth and clamped her lips around it. Theoretically, the penlight was waterproof, and it had survived her swim through the lake, but she was taking no further chances. Sitting down on the stone ledge and letting her legs dangle in the chilly water, she inhaled sharply through her nose and slid off into the lake.

The water’s temperature was only marginally less of a shock the second time around. Anna struck out for the cave across the lake without turning to see if Colin was following her. Either he is, or he isn’t‌—‌and I highly doubt he’s going to opt to stay here.

Splashes to her right indicated he had indeed followed her into the water. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye as he came up beside her. He’s fast.

She was suddenly, horribly hyper-aware of Colin’s proximity to her body. Magnified as they were by the combination of the cave’s walls and the water, the splashes he made as he swam beside her sounded uncomfortably close. She could feel the ripples he made in the water competing with the waves she herself was making. In other, ordinary circumstances, she probably would have never noticed a thing, but this underground lake seemed to lend this situation an unpleasantly intimate cast.

Were it not for the penlight tightly clamped between her lips, she might have laughed. Or maybe snorted, though that was sure to earn her a look and perhaps a comment about a lack of ladylike behavior. No, no, she thought with a borderline hysteric laugh building in her throat, that’s something Bear would have commented on.

Maybe Viktor too, depending on how much he’d had to drink that night. Usually he didn’t care how close his little sister came to being just like one of the guys, but sometimes he seemed to get a space mite in his ear and he’d break out a lecture about how Anna need to be just a touch more feminine.

Anna thought that was hilarious, considering he really had no more idea what that was supposed to look like than she did. We live on a freighter, for crying out loud. And her brother had gathered a rather motley crew, if she did say so herself. It’s not like we spend a lot of time around ‘proper’ folks anyway.

Besides, from what she’d seen of your ordinary, run-of-the-mill females, that was an awful lot of flirting that didn’t amount to a can of engine oil. Batting eyelashes and silly little giggles and other insipid behavior that made Anna itch to slap somebody, or attempt to shake some sense into them.

“Credit for your thoughts.” Amusement colored Colin’s voice again. “I can hear you thinking all the way over here.”

Like you’re that far away, Anna thought with a sniff. She did not dare actually move a muscle in her face‌—‌her lips were starting to go numb from clutching the penlight so tightly, and her face was beginning to ache as well.

“You sure I can’t help you with that, lass?”

“No,” she mumbled around the penlight’s handle. They had almost reached the opening by now.

“If you’re sure … ”

It only aggravated Anna further that he did not sound winded at all‌—‌despite the fact that he had been trapped down here for hours with no food.

With a splash, Colin put on a burst of speed and pulled ahead. Anna had a few seconds to admire the surprisingly lean lines of his body cutting through the water before she realized what she was doing and jerked her eyes away from him to focus on the opening. She couldn’t keep her face from burning; she was very grateful that he was in front of her and not in a position to actually get a good look at her.

Colin reached the cave wall a moment before she did and stretched his hands up to the lip of the opening. He just grazed it with his fingertips and Anna realized with dismay that it was a good deal farther up in the wall than either of them had expected. Some of the color drained out of her face as she stared up at the opening; she stopped swimming and just floated there treading water instead. There is no way I’ll be able to get up there by myself.

“Right,” Colin muttered, shaking his head and sending water droplets spattering onto the lake’s surface. He dug the toes of his boots into the rocky wall for traction and reached for the opening again. He failed and dropped back down in the water again, creating waves that rocked Anna up and down.

The penlight wavered; she adjusted her grip on it once more.

Colin set his jaw and tried again. This time, he managed to give himself enough of a boost with his toes that he was able to successfully grab the ledge. The muscles in his arms bulged beneath his sodden jacket as he pulled himself up onto it, leaving a dripping trail of water behind him.

Anna felt a very real fission of fear skitter down her spine and jolted forward through the water, splashing clumsily. He wouldn’t leave her behind, would he? I have the light. She reached the rocky wall and looked up to find a hand stretched toward her.

Colin knelt on the floor of the opening, reaching down. “Come on, lass. It might be best if you give me the light first so we don’t drop it.”

Her jaw ached fiercely, but Anna wasn’t sure she trusted him not to leave her once he had the light.

Colin rightly interpreted her hesitation. “I’ll not take it and leave you here, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He offered her a lopsided grin. “We both know I could have left you down there and found my way in the dark, if I’d a mind to do it.”

That’s true. Anna made her mind up all at once and acted on it. If she stopped to consider it any longer, she knew she’d change her mind. Still kicking her feet in the water to keep herself afloat, she pulled the penlight from her mouth and handed it up to him.

Their fingers brushed as Colin took it from her, and then the light partially disappeared as he laid it off to the side. “All right, lass.” He extended a hand down to her again and they locked wrists. His fingers were cold. “Use the wall to help you climb up and reach!”

He hauled her up out of the water‌—‌with her doing her best to use his support to climb up the wall‌—‌and onto the ledge beside him. They both collapsed onto the rocky floor. The dry, rocky floor, Anna was happy to note.

“Well, that was exciting,” Colin said between breaths. He shot a dirty look toward the lake beneath them. “And that was downright evil. How did Lobai expect you to get out of there?”

Anna darted a sharp look at him, but she tried to keep her voice level. “Noticed that, did you?”

Colin just shook his head, his mouth flattening into a grim line. “I expect your brother will be less than pleased.”

“Probably. I’m less than pleased.” Anna sucked in a deep breath and forced herself to stand, palming the penlight as she did so.

Colin climbed to his feet as well, and motioned to the dark cave tunnel that lay behind them, leading off‌…‌somewhere‌…‌into further darkness. “Shall we?”

Anna scowled at the tunnel. “It’s not like we have much of a choice.”

________________________________________________

Galaxy’s Way is © 2016 by E.R. Paskey

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Galaxy’s Way: Chapter 2

Galaxys_Way_web_smallGalaxy’s Way

Chapter 2

FREE FALL INTO A VOID with no visible bottom was absolutely petrifying. Anna’s stomach abandoned her, recklessly jumping ship. Her mind blurred; the only thought that remained clear was that she did not want to die here.

She was still screaming when she hit black water.

The impact was almost as much of a shock as the cold that enveloped her. The force with which she smacked the water drove all the air from her lungs. She plunged deep beneath the surface with a gigantic splash, driven down by sheer momentum. Her feet did not touch bottom.

Panic and a desperate, blazing need for oxygen brought Anna back to herself. Frantically, she began kicking her feet for all she was worth, trying to drive herself back up to the surface. Her lungs burned; it was all she could do to keep herself from opening her mouth and dragging in a deadly draught of water. Bright spots danced before her eyes.

Just when she thought she was done for, Anna broke through the water to clear air. She sucked in a gasping breath and promptly choked on the water she’d inhaled along with it. Coughing, she nearly went under again, but managed to keep her head above water at the last second. It was difficult; her arms being tied behind her back shifted her weight and made it difficult to keep herself afloat in such a fashion that she could still breathe. Her boots made her feet felt like they had been encased in lead blocks.

These ropes have got to go, she thought frantically, writhing her hands behind her back. One hand came free of the ropes and she went under again while she ripped her other hand free of the knotted mass. She popped back up again to breathe, cough, and resume treading water, but she did not let go of the rope.

Not yet. Not until I know I don’t need it.

Old habit, that. When you lived on the fringes of society the way she, her brother, and their crew did, you tended to hang onto things for a while in case they might prove useful.

The water and the cavern walls magnified her harsh breathing and every cough; aside from a ripple or two, it was all she could hear. The water was cold, but probably not cold enough to prove dangerous. At least, she didn’t think so. Hysteria bubbled up in her chest, but she shoved it down and took herself firmly in hand.

Stay calm. You’re alive. That means you can get out of this.

Whatever this was, exactly.

Anna still couldn’t see anything. She blinked a number of times, even tried bringing a hand out of the water long enough to wave it in front of her eyes, but still‌…‌nothing. Lobai’s minion had disappeared with the lantern, leaving her alone in the blackest black she’d ever experienced. And considering the Iliana had once lost power‌—‌including the backup emergency life-support system‌—‌in deep space, that was saying something.

“I must say, lass, that scream could have woken the dead,” drawled a deep, accented voice from the darkness somewhere behind her.

Anna jolted in fright, inadvertently splashing and nearly dropping her rope, and turned instinctively toward the male voice. Fighting hard to keep her voice from quavering, she called out, “Who’s there?”

“Got on old Lobai’s bad side too, did you?” the voice asked conversationally. “He’s remarkably short-tempered.”

“Who are you?” Fear and annoyance made Anna clench her teeth. “Where are you?”

“There’s a bit of land over here. Found it after a great deal of pointless swimming around, I might add. As for who I am … ” the man sighed, rather theatrically. “You may call me Colin.”

Colin. Great.

“Are you going to tell me your name?”

Anna arched an eyebrow through the dark in his direction. “Don’t know yet.”

“I see. Well, are you going to tread water all day?”

“What?”

“I told you, there’s a bit of land over here. Swim toward my voice‌—‌you can swim, I hope?‌—‌and you’ll find it.”

“Swim toward you?” Anna felt like she was lagging a step behind. “Why would I do that?”

“If you’d prefer to drown, you’re welcome to do it. I must say, though, I don’t fancy having to listen.”

Blinking again, though this time from sheer confusion, Anna considered her options. I can stay out here until I’m so exhausted that I drown myself, I can swim around trying to find a way out, or I can take him up on the dry land thing and go from there.

She stayed where she was.

“Why did Lobai throw you down here, Colin?”

He did not reply for a moment. When he did, his voice was deceptively light. “Let’s just say it was a business deal gone wrong and leave it at that.”

Right.

“Look,” he said, after another awkward pause, “if it makes you feel any better, my hands are tied behind my back.”

That startled Anna; she instinctively flexed her own fingers in the cold water. “You couldn’t get free?”

“No,” he said shortly. “In fact, I almost drowned after his thugs dropped me in the drink. Blasted double-crosser.”

Anna bit her lip, thinking furiously. “Okay,” she said at last. “I’m coming toward you. But I warn you‌—‌my hands are free.” The threat was implicit.

“I’ll not lay a finger on you, lass, unless you wish me to.”

Anna could hear the smile in his voice and it made her bristle. “I don’t think you’ll need to worry about that.”

Colin actually had the gall to chuckle. “If you say so, darling.”

Reluctantly, Anna struck out toward the sound of his voice. Her leather jacket made her movements more cumbersome, but she was not about to shuck it off.

“Keep going,” Colin called out. “You’re getting closer.”

It was very disconcerting to swim toward something she couldn’t see. Anna’s strokes gradually became shorter; without knowing what this ‘bit of land’ looked like, she was afraid of smacking into it and hurting herself.

Colin’s voice grew closer with every stroke as well‌—‌and she wasn’t sure about that either.

“You can take him,” she muttered to herself.

“What was that, lass?” He sounded amused.

With her next stroke, Anna smacked her arm onto something solid instead of black water. She winced, but was too grateful to have found solid ground to worry about the pain shooting up her arm. Looping the rope over one arm, she latched onto what felt like a rocky ledge jutting out into the water with both hands.

“I said — ” she hauled herself up out of the water and sprawled on the rock for a few seconds to catch her breath, “ — how long have you been down here?”

“What time is it?”

“After seven.”

“In the evening?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, well, then I haven’t been down here more than a few hours. I met Lobai at three.”

A few hours? Anna gaped in his direction. “And you couldn’t get free in all that time?”

“As I said, his minions were rather‌…‌thorough.” She heard the grimace in his voice. “I believe they’ve cut the circulation off to my hands.”

“Ouch.” Anna made a face. I guess Lobai was serious when he said he didn’t want Viktor as his mortal enemy. There’s no other explanation, other than sheer incompetence.

“I don’t suppose you could — ”

“I’m not untying you,” Anna interrupted flatly. “Not yet.”

Colin changed tacks without missing a beat, “ — tell me your name now?” He paused. “I mean, if we’re going to be bodiless voices in the dark, it’d be nice to at least put a name to yours.”

She caught her lower lip between her teeth. What could it hurt? “Anna,” she said shortly. “My name is Anna.”

“Anna.”

The way her name rolled off his tongue absolutely did not send shivers down her spine.

Scowling, Anna dropped the rope on the ledge beside her and pulled off her boots one at a time. She dumped out the excess water and shoved her feet back into them. The last thing I want to do is lose something in this pitch black. “Ugh. I hate wet boots.”

“That makes two of us, darling.”

“Stop calling me that,” she said, without looking in his direction. It was difficult to gauge his precise location with the way sound bounced around in here, but she thought she was probably within two meters of him on the ledge.

“Force of habit.”

Next, Anna stripped off her leather jacket, shook it to relieve it of as much water as she could, and proceeded to wring out her shirt and vest. Her pants she was forced to give up as a lost cause; the only way she’d get anything out of them was if she took them off‌—‌and that was definitely not happening.

A terrible thought stilled her fingers. What if Lobai threw me down here with this guy so he wouldn’t technically be responsible for something happening to me? Given what she knew of Lobai’s thought process, it made a disturbing amount of sense.

“You’ve gone awfully quiet over there, lass.”

Anna pressed her lips into a thin line and glared through the darkness at his invisible form. I wouldn’t put that past Lobai at all.

“What are you thinking?” An edge slid into Colin’s otherwise jovial tone, as though he was deeply suspicious of the gears turning in her mind.

“I’m thinking Lobai wouldn’t personally harm me because he’s afraid of my brother, but he’d be perfectly fine with arranging for a stranger to take care of things,” she said boldly.

Colin made an exasperated sound in the back of his throat. “I told you, lass, I’ll not lay so much as a finger on you unless you want me to. My mother raised me a gentleman.”

“Oh, really. A gentleman, what? Thief? Pirate?”

“Businessman,” he said curtly. “I run a small shipping company.”

“I see.”

“I hope you mean that figuratively, lass.” Colin paused. “Although‌…‌if you could see in the dark, that would come in particularly handy just now.”

Anna rolled her eyes, scraping her bedraggled braid off the back of her neck and wringing it out. Water splashed down into the black lake. “You’re ridiculous.”

“I’m also in pain. My arms are throbbing, and have I mentioned I can’t feel my fingers?” Though his tone remained conversational, irritation threaded through it.

Anna considered her options. If he’s telling the truth, he could be useful in getting out of here. “Say I untie you — ”

“I’d kiss you for that.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Anna cleared her throat and began again. “Say I untie you. Will you swear to help me get out of here? I have to get back to the — ” she broke off before she gave away their ship’s name and continued, “I have to get back and tell my brother Lobai double-crossed us.”

“Won’t he figure that out pretty quickly?”

“Depends,” Anna said darkly. “At least one of our crew is involved.”

“Ah. That does pose a bit of a problem, doesn’t it?”

Anna ignored this. “What do you say?”

“I swear it. On my honor.”

“All right then. I’ll untie you.”

Picking up the rope, Anna looped it around her waist before rising to a crouch. The ledge was too rough on her knees for her to try crawling, even though the complete darkness surrounding them was affecting her balance. She winced; her boots made a horrible squelching sound with every step. “Talk to me.”

“You have a lovely voice.”

Her cheeks pinked, even as she rolled her eyes. Should have seen that coming. “Will your crew be missing you?”

“I should hope so. I left them strict orders, but it’s unlikely that they will find me here.”

“Let me guess. You met Lobai elsewhere?” Blindly stretching her hands out, Anna began patting insubstantial air and expecting to find a solid body.

“Yes.”

His voice was almost in her ear. Frowning, she shifted toward him and her left arm whacked into something solid.

“ … I believe you’ve found me, lass.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Anna retracted her arm enough for her hand to find a shoulder covered in damp leather jacket and trailed her fingers down a muscled arm to his hands.

Her questing fingertips encountered cold, still-damp coils of rope, and she winced in sympathy. Lobai’s henchmen had tied Colin’s bonds so tight they were biting deep into his wrists. She felt around the ropes, searching for knots, and was not entirely surprised to find something that felt suspiciously like tacky dried blood on his skin. His hands themselves felt stiff and cold.

“He really didn’t want you going anywhere, did he?”

“So it would seem.”

Anna set to work on undoing the knots, but the process was made difficult by the fact she could not actually see what her fingers were doing. Just pretend you’ve got your eyes shut, she scolded herself. You can feel them just fine‌—‌don’t overthink this.

Kneeling this close to Colin, with the damp chill of the lake cavern surrounding them, Anna could feel the warmth radiating off his body. It wasn’t much‌—‌not after he’d spent over four hours down here, but he was considerably warmer and drier than she herself at the moment.

“So.” Colin cleared his throat. “First double-cross?”

Anna snorted. “Not by a long shot.” There had been others, over the years. This one just hurts more.

“Ah,” he said wisely. “But not like this.”

Anna prided herself on being able to take things in stride; her fingers did not even falter. “What do you mean?”

His clothes rustled; he was probably turning his head to peer sightlessly in her direction. “You know what I mean, lass.”

“Actually, I don’t.” She didn’t like the tone in his voice.

“I see. Well, it goes something like this.” He paused dramatically. “You, I’ll wager, knew there was a chance Lobai might attempt to double-cross you‌—‌he’s not exactly known for his loyalty in the face of a bigger threat‌—‌and prepared accordingly.”

Anna narrowed her eyes, but kept her mouth stubbornly shut.

“Obviously, those plans failed, which means that he paid off your partner. Am I right?”

He was, but Anna couldn’t bring herself to admit it. “What makes you think I had a partner?”

“Oh, please.” Colin chuckled; it was more pleasant a sound than she’d expected. “You have a brother, and Lobai clearly meant you no great harm. You had a partner. And,” he added, only a slight strain in his voice as she yanked on a particularly stubborn knot, “you weren’t suspecting him or her to sell you out.”

Talking to Colin and working on freeing him had helped Anna shove Berenger’s betrayal aside a few minutes, but now a mix of anger, hurt, and utter bewilderment came flooding back. She had to stop and retreat for a second to keep from hurting Colin‌—‌and not caring.

Perhaps sensing this, Colin refrained from commenting.

When she had her breathing and the tears that had stung her eyes under control, Anna resumed her work on his bonds. “Didn’t see it coming,” she said grudgingly. At all.

“He got you good.” A beat. “Was a ‘he’, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.” Anna left it at that.

“Such a gentleman.”

Anna frowned at the back of his head through the darkness, but then her fingers finally gained purchase and the ropes loosened. “Ha. Got it!” She quickly freed him. “There you go.”

“Thank you, lass,” Colin said with feeling.

“No problem.”

Next Chapter

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Galaxy’s Way is © 2016 by E.R. Paskey

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Galaxy’s Way: Chapter 1

ThisGalaxys_Way_web_small book was a lot of fun to write–the twists and turns it took kept me guessing until the end. Here’s the first chapter.

Galaxy’s Way

Chapter 1

THOMAS BERENGER PULLED ANNA DRAYEK aside ten minutes before they were set to rendezvous with their buyer. He was a head taller than she was, with a stocky torso and broad, powerful shoulders. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked in an undertone, pinning her to the bulkhead with dark, serious eyes.

Anna quirked an eyebrow at him. “Of course I’m serious. Viktor can’t leave the ship this time‌—‌we need him here keeping an eye on things.” She smiled, punched his arm affectionately. “That’s why you’re coming with me.”

Still, he hesitated. “If you’re sure … ”

“I’m sure, Bear.”

He shrugged. “Good enough for me.”

“See you on the landing ramp in ten.” Anna clapped him on the shoulder and threaded her way through the freighter to find her brother. Her knee-high black boots thudded lightly against the metal grating that made up the deck in the lower half of the ship. The Iliana was a Delta-class Pythian freighter, which tended to resemble large rectangular boxes with tapered ends. She had four decks, and a cargo hold large enough to carry just about anything they’d ever encountered.

The Iliana was also faster than she looked, which was important when one needed to make a quick getaway from Federation forces.

“Anna!” Viktor’s deep voice called from down the rust-gray corridor.

She whirled around with a smile; the braid keeping her brown, curly hair contained thumped against her back. “All set?”

“All set.” Viktor‌—‌her elder by three years and taller by a head, but similar to her in coloring‌—‌met her halfway and handed her a small leather satchel. “They’re all there. Packed ‘em as carefully as I could, but you don’t want to be dropping that if you can help it.”

“Got it.” Anna slung the satchel over her head and let it slide beneath one side of her battered black leather jacket.

“Hand off at the same time,” Viktor instructed, “or else make him give you the jewels first.”

“I got it, Vik, don’t worry.” She raised her eyebrows at him, smiling slightly. “Bear’s coming with me‌—‌we’ve got this.”

“I know you do.” He patted her on the back. “I just don’t like Lobai.”

“Can’t say I’ve run into many people who do, but … ” Anna shrugged. “At least he pays.”

Her brother huffed a laugh. “True. Okay, get outta here, kiddo. Knock ‘em dead.”

Anna saluted. “Aye, aye, Captain.”

Leaving her brother behind, she made her way to the landing ramp. Berenger was already there with one shoulder propped against the strut, waiting for her. She nodded to their crewmates who had gotten their ground transport ready and turned to him. “Ready?”

He shoved off from the strut. “Let’s do it.”

Anna climbed into the driver’s seat; Berenger would be keeping an eye out for possible ambushes or any other signs of betrayal. She put the transport into gear and they rumbled their way down the landing ramp and out into the late afternoon sky.

Not that anyone unfamiliar with this world would know it was afternoon instead of twilight. Primus was not known for an abundance of sunshine. It was actually more famous for the network of caverns that honeycombed just below its surface. Some had been renovated for comfortable human existence, but others remained in their natural state‌—‌dark and damp.

She and Berenger were headed for one such natural cavern, known as Ninh’s Cavern.

“Stay sharp, Bear,” she said as they made their way through thinning traffic to the edge of the city. “Ninh’s Cavern is more out of the way than I’d have liked for a drop.”

“Don’t know why we couldn’t have just met up over a drink like normal people.” Berenger’s dark eyes scanned their surroundings, checking for anything out of the ordinary.

Anna snorted. “Chalk it up to Lobai being eccentric. At least he pays well.” She nodded to their right. “Ninh’s Cavern, coming up. Where do we park?”

“Hit your lights and just coast in. Park far enough in that nobody could see us from the outside, but not so far in that we can’t get back out in a hurry.”

“I like the way you think.”

A moment later, Anna parked and killed the engine. She paused before exiting the vehicle. “Bear, if anything smells fishy‌—‌if anything looks wrong or something strikes you as out of place‌—‌we cut our losses and scram. Got it?”

“Understood.” His smile was a sharp flash in the darkness. “There are other stars in space.”

“Exactly.”

Here at the cave system’s entrance, the rocky walls and floor were only slightly damp from condensation. Anna had never been in here before, but she and Viktor had done as much research as they could. Unfortunately, all they had been able to determine was that Ninh’s Cavern contained an underground lake somewhere, which the City eventually planned to tap.

“How far in is the meeting place?” Berenger asked in an undertone, hovering protectively just off to Anna’s right flank. He shone a small light ahead of them.

“Third cavern,” she replied quietly. “Lobai said we couldn’t miss it.”

He was right.

Their cavern gave way to a smaller tunnel with several bends. Around the second bend, they saw a faint glow ahead of them.

Bingo. Anna tightened her left hand on the satchel’s strap. She wore black fingerless gloves; had worn them for years.

The glow gradually grew brighter the closer they approached, until they left their tunnel behind and stepped out into a larger cavern.

Their buyer‌—‌Lobai, a short, slight man with graying hair and an iron face to match his iron will‌—‌stood in the center of the cavern, his hands wrapped around the handle of a cane. Two burly men stood behind him, and two lanterns sat on the cave floor behind them.

“I see you brought more company than you were supposed to.” Anna stepped out of the tunnel ahead of Berenger.

Lobai turned cold brown eyes on her. “I prefer to hedge my bets, dearie.” His eyes flicked from Berenger to the pistol holstered at her right hip. “I see you brought a friend.”

“Never leave the ship without one,” she said cheerfully.

“Do you have my merchandise?” Lobai extended a hand to her.

Anna lifted the leather satchel in one hand, but did not unsling it. “Do you have our jewels?”

Lobai nodded to his bodyguards and limped forward. “I do.” Thrusting a hand into his breast jacket pocket, he withdrew a small black velvet bag.

So far so good. Anna nodded to Berenger and met Lobai halfway. Unslinging the satchel, she dangled it toward him with one hand while reaching for the velvet bag with her other.

They smoothly traded items and she stepped back to inspect the jewels. Untying the bag, she shook its contents out into her gloved palm and turned them this way and that in the light. Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and one particularly large emerald winked up at her. She fished a jeweler’s piece from her pocket and inspected a few of the jewels, before nodding in appreciation and sliding them all back into the bag.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Lobai. Viktor sends his regards. You know how to get a hold of us if you need something in the future.” The bag disappeared into her shirt and Anna nodded to Berenger. Time to get out of here.

“Not so fast, dearie.”

The back of Anna’s neck prickled; she felt ice trickle down her spine. Now what? They’d dealt with Lobai before‌—‌she’d dealt with Lobai before‌—‌and there had never before been a deviation from their usual exchange. Slowly, she pivoted to regard Lobai. Her hand hovered over her pistol butt. “Yes?”

Beside her, Berenger’s hand dropped to his own pistol.

“I’m afraid we’re not finished here.” Lobai shook his head, tapping his cane against the cavern floor. “We have one other matter to discuss.”

What is he talking about? Anna arched a haughty eyebrow, belying her internal consternation. “Is that so?”

Berenger drew his pistol in one fluid movement‌—‌and jabbed it into her side. “You’d better listen to him, Anna.”

Anna stared at him, her brown eyes wide with shock, before her face froze over. Out of their entire crew, Berenger was one of the few people she and Viktor both trusted. One of the few people she was reasonably certain wouldn’t screw them over for anything short of a vast, vast fortune.

When she found her voice, it sounded very thin and cold, like it was coming from the top of a mountain. “How much are they paying you, Bear?”

“Enough,” he said shortly. He pressed the muzzle of his pistol a little harder into her side. “Give me the jewels, Anna. Easy, now.”

He promptly relieved her of her pistol.

“Don’t suppose you’d reconsider?” Anna asked lightly, while she raced through all of the different ways things could go from here.

“The jewels, Anna. Left hand.”

She twitched her shoulders in a semblance of a shrug. “Had to try.” Slowly, she brought her hand up and fished inside her shirt for the velvet bag. Stony-faced, she pulled it out and held it up for Berenger to snatch.

“Toss them here,” Lobai instructed.

Anna expected Berenger to comply, but he hesitated. “You never told me what you’re going to do with her.”

Oh, galaxies.

“Do with her?” Lobai smiled‌…‌it was not a pleasant sight. “I don’t intend to do anything much with her.” He turned his cold eyes on Anna. “Your brother is not a man I’d wish as a mortal enemy.”

Anna rolled her eyes. “You have a funny way of showing it.”

“Oh, please.” Lobai waved a wrinkled hand. “He’ll be bitter for a few months, no doubt, over the loss of the jewels, but you and I both know there are more to be found out there.” He tipped his head toward one of his bodyguards. “Tie her up. You,” he looked back at Berenger, “toss me the jewels, if you please.”

Berenger obeyed, and Lobai caught them one-handed.

“You could just let me walk out of here,” Anna offered, as one of the burly men approached her with a length of rope. Her heart started to pound in her chest. With Berenger a traitor in possession of her pistol and holding a gun to her ribs, the odds were not on her side. “Leave me here, drop my pistol in the vehicle, and go out first.”

“I do intend to leave you here, dearie, but I don’t trust you that much.” Lobai’s eyes glinted with sharp amusement.

Anna just barely restrained a snort. He doesn’t trust me? After all this?

“Pirates have a certain‌…‌reputation, after all.”

“That was a giant misunderstanding, and you know it,” Anna retorted, glaring at him as his minion wrenched her arms behind her back and trussed her up.

“I’m afraid I know nothing of the sort.” Having safely stowed his jewels away, Lobai took this moment to investigate the contents of the leather satchel. A little of the tension cording his lean frame eased; he looked up to meet her eyes. “You and your brother are meddling in things far beyond your ken. When you get back to Viktor, tell him that.”

Anna gaped at him, confusing rapidly outpacing fear and irritation. “You came to us, remember?”

Behind her back, she tested the bonds around her wrists; they were tight, but not so tight that she couldn’t work her way free. She fought to keep her expression steady. His help is rather inept‌—‌I could just walk out of here after them. This is his plan? She swallowed. Either that or he knows about ‌—‌

She squeaked in surprise as the burly man abruptly picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. “Hey! What are you doing?”

“I promised we wouldn’t lay a hand on you,” Lobai said with a nasty smile, “but I can’t have you following us out of here too soon.” He waved a hand toward his minion. “Do it. And mind what I told you earlier.”

Anna barely had time to wonder what that meant before her captor picked up on one of the lanterns and she realized she was being carted further into the cavern. “Hey!” She kicked her legs, but it was futile. His arm was like iron over the back of her thighs, and with her hands bound, all she could do was stare down at his back‌—‌and uninspiring rear end. I don’t want to look at that.

“Where are you taking me?” she demanded. “Lobai, this’ll get out! You can’t just double-cross us and waltz away!”

“Except that I will, dearie. Remember what I said,” Lobai called after them, his voice echoing weirdly through the tunnel. “Tell your brother you’d be best off packing up and flying to another sector.”

“Wait!”

Anna’s heart leapt for an instant at Berenger’s shout, but at his next words, it plummeted like a stone.

“She’s still got her comlink.”

Lobai laughed. “She shan’t need it where she’s going, but if it makes you feel better … ”

Well, that doesn’t sound good. Fear filled Anna like a choking cloud, but she forced herself to turn it into anger. She glared at Berenger as he hurried toward her. “You’ll regret this.”

Berenger just shook his head, slipping a hand inside her jacket and relieving her of her comlink. “We’ll see about that.” He tapped her captor on the shoulder to let him know he could resume walking before turning and heading back toward Lobai.

Sensing further argument would accomplish nothing, Anna shot his retreating form another poisonous glare and settled down against her captor’s back to seethe and work on slipping out of her bonds.

And to wonder exactly how far into Ninh’s Cavern she was being taken.

This lout’s only got the one lantern. That means I’ll be finding my way out in the dark. Gulping, she glared at the cavern floor. Can’t be that hard to get out. And it’s hardly darker than deep space.

With a tiny jolt of trepidation, she realized her captor’s footsteps were echoing louder than they had just a moment before. We’re in a bigger cavern. She worked harder to free her hands.

“This is where you get off, girlie,” the man said, in an unsurprisingly deep voice. “Have fun.”

“What are you — ” Anna broke off as he stooped to pitch her off his shoulder‌—‌and the light from the lantern revealed that they stood on the edge of a dark, gaping maw. “No!” she gasped in horror. “Please. Don’t — ”

The man unceremoniously tossed her over the edge.

Free fall ripped a terrified scream from her throat‌—‌the sound bounced off the cavern walls and echoed.

In the distance, Lobai smiled and continued on his way.

Next Chapter

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Galaxy’s Way is © 2016 by E.R. Paskey

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Release News: ‘Galaxy’s Way’

I am Galaxys_Way_web_smallabsolutely thrilled and delighted to announce that Galaxy’s Way, my newest stand-alone space opera novel, is finally available!!!

The ebook is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords.

The print edition will be available in a couple of weeks.

Here’s the jacket copy:

Galaxy’s Way

Anna Drayek and her brother unintentionally crossed the Federation and got themselves branded pirates. Now they and their crew work on the fringes of the civilized galaxy.

Their latest job should have been easy. Bring the goods to a little backwater planet, get paid, and disappear again. Instead, Anna finds herself betrayed and stranded…and, thanks to an archaic law…accidentally married to a complete stranger.

Colin Dupree is flirty, handsome…and he just so happens to own his own freighter, the Galaxy’s Way. What’s a pirate to do?

Team up with her new husband and his crew to track down the buyer who double-crossed them both, of course.

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