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NIGHT’S FAVOUR #Excerpt by Richard Parry @tactualrain #Fantasy #Thriller #TBR

26 Apr

“Now that’s something you don’t see every day.”  John stood with arms akimbo, surveying the scene.  “Tell me you weren’t here last night.”

A bright yellow line of police tape marked out the borders of the scene, commanding capital letters spelling out Do Not Cross.  Officers moved about, talking to each other, hurrying pedestrians along, shouting at reporters.  It had started to rain again, heavy cold drops promising a downpour.  Val shivered, tugging an arm through a sleeve of his jacket.  At least he’d stopped sweating.  “Fuck it’s cold.”

John nodded.  He wasn’t really paying attention, focused on the scene outside Elephant Blues.  “What do you reckon went down?”

“Went down?  What, like a mob hit?”  Val hunched his shoulders against the rain, shuffling his feet a little.  He needed to get inside with a beer.  Preferably more than one beer.

“Look.”  John’s arm pointed to each item.  “Six ambulances.  But the lights aren’t on, no one’s rushing.  Medics are just wandering about, comparing notes.  No hurry there.  Whatever they came for, it’s happened and moved on.  There’s a billion cops but they don’t look worried — see those two?  Talking like they’re out for a Sunday stroll.  There’s reporters everywhere.  It’s like Al Capone stopped by for a whiskey.”

NightFavour

Valentine’s an ordinary guy with ordinary problems. His boss is an asshole. He’s an alcoholic. And he’s getting that middle age spread just a bit too early. One night — the one night he can’t remember — changes everything. What happened at the popular downtown bar, The Elephant Blues? Why is Biomne, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, so interested in him — and the virus he carries? How is he getting stronger, faster, and more fit? And what’s the connection between Valentine and the criminally insane Russian, Volk?

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Action, Thriller, Urban Fantasy

Rating – R16

More details about the author

 Connect with Richard Parry on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://www.rage.net.nz

Lichgates: Book One of the Grimoire Saga by @TheSMBoyce #Fantasy #AmReading

25 Mar

Kara Magari squinted back up the path she’d just climbed. The gazebo’s roof peeked through the trees, evidence of where she’d been only ten minutes before. Not bad. With her finger in the air, she traced the way she’d taken, starting at the lichgate and going down over each step in her head. Her finger hovered and came to a stop, though, when she examined the base of the hill.

Built into the rock was a marble door, shrouded with overhanging roots and dangling moss that clung to its frame like bangs. She rubbed her eyes, but the closed entryway was still there when she opened them again.

She brushed her hand along the door’s smooth stone. It was simple, with only a round stone knob and a small emblem carved into the rock at eye level. The symbol looked something like a four-leaf clover made out of crescent moons.

Kara’s fingers itched on the handle, but she hesitated.

The ground trembled with a sudden force that knocked her against the cliff. The breeze stopped, dissolving with a hiss into the hot summer sky. She scanned the valley. Several somethings cracked in the ground under her feet.

Thunder rumbled overhead. A dark cloud churned in the sky, and her heart fell into her stomach; there hadn’t even been a single fluffy cloud up there ten minutes ago.

A blinding bolt of moss-colored lightning flashed, striking the ground nearby. The hairs on her arms stood on end. Heat coursed through her calves, and she caught her breath. Her ears rang.

Wait. Was that lightning green?

The cliff trembled as a boom shattered the air. It began to rain. The heavy drops pelted her skin and clung to her hair as another rumble coursed along the far edge of the valley. She needed shelter, and the last place she would go in a lightning storm was up a hill.

She turned back and twisted the door’s handle, sighing with relief as it openedunlocked. Still, as wet as it was outside and as much as she wanted a safe place to wait out the rain, she lingered on the threshold to examine the room.

Mud covered everything from the floor to the ceiling. Since there weren’t any supports to hold the roof, she couldn’t figure out how the ten-by-ten dirt shelter hadn’t caved in yet. The air within was heavy, moist with the rot of dead leaves, and her only guiding light streamed in from behind her. Roots dangled from the ceiling like stalactites reaching for the floor. The wind picked up, howling as it pelted rain against her back.

Kara tested the ground with her sneaker. The dirt floor supported her weight, so she tip-toed into the room and left the door open. Rain fell in lingering drops on the threshold before it disappeared into the growing pools of mud. She stuck her hands in her pockets and watched the raging storm outside.

A flash of dark brown blurred past her.

She jumped. A tan flicker snaked along the roof, and clumps of soil fell in sheets. She glared at the ceiling, holding her breath as the settling dust rained onto her shoes.

It had almost looked like a root moving, but that—that was crazy.

Another streak of motion raced down the opposite wall. It passed through a shaft of light, and Kara saw its pointed, wooden tip. Tiny veins sprouted from it like hairs, digging into the dirt so that it could travel.

It was a root moving.

A second spiny vine shot up from the floor and wrapped itself around her leg. It pulled. She tripped, falling into the first root as it snaked along the far wall. Dirt poured over her head, blinding her. The scent of decaying bark made her cough. The root tugged again, and she was yanked onto her hands and knees. It dragged her towards the center of the room. She reached for the knife strapped to her free ankle, the one Mom had—no! She couldn’t think of Mom. Not now.

A third root wrapped around her waist, and another grabbed her hand as she reached for the blade. The roots flipped her onto her back. With a bang, the door snapped shut. Her stomach churned. The floor disappeared. She fell, and the roots let go.

lichgates

“The writing is flawless. The kingdoms and surrounding landscapes breathtaking. The Grimoire is a piece of imaginative genius that bedazzles from the moment Kara falls into the land of Ourea. – Nikki Jefford, author of the Spellbound Trilogy

Spring 2013 Rankings

#6 Kindle Store | #1 Science Fiction & Fantasy | #1 Epic Fantasy | #1 Sword & Sorcery | #1 Teens

Now an international Amazon bestseller. Fans of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Eragon will enjoy this contemporary remix of the classic epic fantasy genre.

—————-

Kara Magari is about to discover a beautiful world full of terrifying things: Ourea.

Kara, a college student still reeling from her mother’s recent death, has no idea the hidden world of Ourea even exists until a freak storm traps her in a sunken library. With nothing to do, she opens an ancient book of magic called the Grimoire and unwittingly becomes its master, which means Kara now wields the cursed book’s untamed power. Discovered by Ourea’s royalty, she becomes an unwilling pawn in a generations-old conflict – a war intensified by her arrival. In this world of chilling creatures and betrayal, Kara shouldn’t trust anyone… but she’s being hunted and can’t survive on her own. She drops her guard when Braeden, a native soldier with a dark secret, vows to keep her safe. And though she doesn’t know it, her growing attraction to him may just be her undoing.

For twelve years, Braeden Drakonin has lived a lie. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. Though he begins to care for this human girl, there is something he wants more. He wants the Grimoire.

Welcome to Ourea, where only the cunning survive.

—————-

Novels in the Grimoire Saga:

Lichgates (#1)

Treason (#2)

Heritage (#3) – Available Fall 2013

Illusion (#4) – Available Fall 2014

Buy Now @ Amazon & Smashwords

Genre – Fantasy

Rating – PG13

More details about the author

 Connect with SM Boyce on Facebook & Twitter & Pinterest

Twelve Houses by Olga Soaje #excerpt #women #contemporary

11 Mar

Once we’re outside, Chloe asks me if I’d like to go for a walk along the wharf. She seems to be seeing me in a new light, kind of the way she used to see toys she had forgotten when they were suddenly discovered by her brother or a friend. The newfound joy and thrill were always the same for her.

Whatever her reasons for inviting me here to visit her, or for the walk, I can’t help feel grateful and think that Nathan is somehow doing magic from up there. As we walk along the pier, the fresh salt air is calming to my soul. I have the feeling she’s gathering her courage for something, so I look at her and ask, “Chloe, would you like to talk about something?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because I know you, and I can see you’re upset about something.”

I’m thinking she’s scared of motherhood and the changes ahead, on top of all the changes I’ve seen so far. Maybe she needs to ask me about the astrological chart I gave her. But instead she takes a deep, purposeful, salt-tinged breath. “Mom, did you ever contemplate a separation?”

“Separation?” I repeat, trying to gather my thoughts—or form a response, for that matter. She stops walking and looks at me, daring me with her eyes. Her shoulders drop, signaling she has relaxed, since part of her secret is out. I almost can hear Magda spell out, “Uranus just walked in,” referring to the planet that represents sudden and unexpected changes. Ruler of originality and freedom.

“Our marriage wasn’t perfect, Chloe. It had its ups and downs, like many marriages do.” She looks irritated as I walk to a bench and signal for her to join me. I can sense this isn’t the answer she was looking for, nor for that matter, is what I’m about to say next. “But to answer your question, no, I never considered it. We had an unspoken understanding that we could fight, but we’d always find a loving way to understand each other after the fireworks of anger had left.”

She looks disappointed. “I just wish Brian understood me.”

I take her fingers, which are resting on her leg, and give them a squeeze as I ask, “How long have you felt like this?”

She looks at the sea in front of her and begins to whisper, as if talking to the wind. “For some time now, I’ve had the feeling that he’s rushing through life, from the office to the house, and everything in between is a task on his to-do list, and that includes me.” I stroke her hand gently to show my support while she continues to talk. “I tried not to focus on it, to find things to do together, even to get the house to seem more comfortable. But he remained the same, and I…I’m not.”

“Honey, when you two got married three years ago, you both seemed like that. Very serious about life, yourselves, and very career driven.”

A tear slowly glides down her cheek, and I want to reach out and wipe it, but I contain myself and only look at the ocean as I speak. “I can see how changed you are,” I say. “This must be daunting and challenging for your husband, as you’re changing before his eyes and he probably has no clue to what to do.” Then I make myself say what I might regret, but I have to know. “What opened you up? Is there someone else?”

The question is out. When she looks at me, her eyes show a tiny bit of guilt, and she remains silent. So I say, “Honey, I know I’m not your first option for talking, but I’m here and I love you.” I feel joy at having the opportunity to say what so many times I couldn’t, but her reaction startles me. She throws herself at me, rests her head on my shoulder, and cries openly.

“I…I…”

I make her stop talking as I stroke her hair and say, “It’s OK, it’s OK. Whatever it is, it’ll be OK.” My heart is racing, and I’m thinking the unthinkable. My daughter, my pregnant daughter, might be having an affair.

twelveHouses

Can anything good follow the best thing that ever happened to you?

Amelia Weiss loved her husband of thirty-five years very much, but now he’s left her a widow. Without him, she is unable to work in her sculpture studio without crying. She no longer has a bridge to her estranged daughter. And she can’t seem to keep her mind in the present.

But when her daughter reaches out asking for her help and her agent threatens a lawsuit if Amelia doesn’t deliver for an upcoming exhibit, she’s forced to make a choice. Will she reengage with her life and the people in it—allowing room for things to be different than they were before? Or, will she remain stuck in the past, choosing her memories over real-life relationships?

Thrust fully into the present, Amelia stumbles into a surprising journey of self-discovery.

Buy @ Amazon

Genre – Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Rating – PG-13

More details about the author

Connect with Olga Soaje on Facebook

#Excerpt from Forty 2 Days (The Billionaire Banker) by Georgia Le Carre

5 Mar

I hear the soft, thick click of the door behind me, and turn around to face him.  He stands there, tall, dark and throbbing with sexual tension.  God!  How I want this man.  A rough sound rumbles in his throat.  I recognize it.  Blind, earth-shattering desire.  It has been a long time since I heard it.  Makes me rock on my feet.  He shoots out a hand and pulls me hard towards him.  My body slams into his.

I have the impression of stone—unmoving.  It will break, but it will never bend.  But I can bend.  I mold my hips into his.   His erection is thick and hot against my stomach.  The rawness of it awakens that great beast inside me.  Greedy, relentless thing.  It wants more, it wants it all, and it wants it right now.  Intoxicated by the smoldering fire in his eyes my hands snake up his chest and twine around his neck, but his strong hands come up and untangle mine.  He catches them in his and takes them behind my back.  His clasp is a firm handcuff.

Very deliberately he holds me away from him and lets his half-lidded eyes rove my parted mouth, my breasts—thrust out towards him and heaving, down my body, to my legs.  His eyes lift again to meet mine.  I am impossibly aroused.

‘I had half a dozen fantasies of what I wanted to do to you when I got you naked.  Tame sex is not one of them,’ he says, as he plucks out the pins in my hair and flings them away.  Released, my hair falls all around my face and shoulders.

‘My beautiful whore.  Once I was good to you and you kicked me when I was down; now you get what you deserve.’

Without warning he grips the two sides of the high collar of my lovely dress and rips it into two.  I clutch the torn ends of my ruined dress together and stare at him in shock.

He looks down at me, breathing hard.  Strangely, he is as cold as ice.  My mind is in unbelievable chaos.  I have misjudged the extent of his fury.  Underneath the façade of calm he is seething with anger at what he perceives to be my duplicity.  I want to cry at the wanton destruction of something so beautiful, but in fact I am too shocked to cry.

‘Dress only in what’s in the box and meet me in the bedroom,’ he commands curtly, and walks away from me.

42Days

Beyond the seductive power of immense wealth lies… Dark Secrets

Devastatingly handsome billionaire, Blake Law Barrington was Lana Blooms first and only love. From the moment they touched his power was overwhelming. Their arrangement quickly developed into a passionate romance that captivated her heart and took her on an incredible sexual journey she never wanted to end.

The future together looked bright until Lana made a terrible mistake. So, she did the only thing she could… she ran.

Away from her incredible life, away from the man of her dreams, but she should have known a man such as Blake Law Barrington was impossible to escape. Now, he’s back in her life and determined that she should taste the bitterness of his pain.

Shocked at how rough the sex has become and humiliated that she is actually participating so willingly in her punishment, she despairs if she will ever feel the warmth of his touch–the solidity of his trust again? And even if she can win his trust, loyalties are yet to be decided, and secrets to be revealed–secrets that will test them both to their limits.

Will Lana be able to tear down the walls that surround Blake’s heart, and break him free of the brutal power of immense wealth?

Can Blake hold on to Lana’s heart when she discovers the enormity of the dark secrets that inhabit the Barrington family?

Lana has always believed that love conquers all. She is about to test that belief…

Buy @ Amazon

Genre – Erotic Romance

Rating – PG-18

More details about the author

Connect with Georgia Le Carre on Facebook & Twitter

The Wings of Dragons (The Dragoon Saga) by Josh VanBrakle #excerpt #fantasy

15 Feb

Excerpt 3

Grasping the rock Balear had thrown at him, Iren whipped around and launched it, not bothering to aim or even care what he hit.

In truth, he could damage little. His chamber had little adornment: a hard bed with three discarded blankets and a dresser with the few outfits he’d fished from the trash. The only object of merit was a large painting hung on the wall beside the dresser. As if guided by fate, the rock struck its frame, and the artwork clattered to the floor.

The harsh sound yanked Iren from his temper. He knelt and retrieved both the stone and the fallen painting. They were his finest treasures. The stone, little more than a black pebble, had come from the ocean. The surf had tossed it until it had worn perfectly smooth. Years ago, one of the castle children had brought it home, but his mother had commanded him to get rid of it. Iren swiped it that night, his only possession that had ever touched the sea.

As for the painting, while he couldn’t truly claim to own it, he still considered it his. It had hung in this tower since long before he arrived, yet it apparently held such low value that no one bothered to remove it when he took up residence. Still, he couldn’t help feeling a deep attachment to it, the only thing in his room he hadn’t stolen or pulled from the garbage.

Iren surveyed it closely. “No harm done,” he whispered with relief.

Returning the painting to the wall, Iren stepped back and took in its splendid image: a serpentine dragon. Though unsigned, the painting’s remarkable realism made the great beast almost come alive. Blue streaks and hairs off its spine accentuated its gleaming white body. Its wings stretched beyond the painting’s borders, so that they appeared to extend forever to the heavens. Though its mouth opened wide in a silent roar, its expression invoked not terror but majesty.

The painting’s frame held a small plaque that read, “Divinion, the Holy Dragon.” Iren smiled, proud of his unshared knowledge. It gave him a small satisfaction, knowing something the vast majority of the populace did not. Though everyone called Haldessa’s tallest spire the Tower of Divinion, few understood the name’s origin. Growing up, Iren overheard mothers tell their children that long ago, the tower served as a temple to worship dragons, sacred creatures that brought balance to the world.

Of course, no one used it for that purpose now. Nobody believed in the dragons anymore. Most had forgotten that they even had names, let alone what those names were.

As Iren looked at the dragon’s face in the artwork, though, for a moment he saw more than a painting. The creature stared out at the room with sky blue eyes, eyes that eerily matched Iren’s. Their gaze bored through his body, and a sudden hopelessness washed over him. Barely conscious of his actions, Iren backed away from the painting and collapsed on his bed, burying his head in his hands.

The Wings of Dragons

From fantasy author Josh VanBrakle comes an epic new trilogy of friendship, betrayal, and explosive magic. Lefthanded teenager Iren Saitosan must uncover a forgotten history, confront monsters inspired by Japanese mythology, and master a serpentine dragon imprisoned inside a katana to stop a revenge one thousand years in the making.

Lodian culture declares lefthanded people dangerous and devil-spawned, and for Iren, the kingdom’s only known Left, that’s meant a life of social isolation. To pass the time and get a little attention, he plays pranks on the residents of Haldessa Castle. It’s harmless fun, until one of his stunts nearly kills Lodia’s charismatic heir to the throne. Now to avoid execution for his crime, Iren must join a covert team and assassinate a bandit lord. It’s a suicide mission, and Iren’s chances aren’t helped when he learns that his new katana contains a dragon’s spirit, one with a magic so powerful it can sink continents and transform Iren into a raging beast.

Adding to his problems, someone on Iren’s team is plotting treason. When a former ally launches a brutal plan to avenge the Lefts, Iren finds himself trapped between competing loyalties. He needs to figure out who – and how – to trust, and the fates of two nations depend on his choice.

“A fast-paced adventure…led by a compelling cast of characters. Josh VanBrakle keeps the mysteries going.” – ForeWord Reviews

Buy @ Amazon & Smashwords

Genre – YA epic fantasy

Rating – PG-13

More details about the author

Connect with Josh VanBrakle on Twitter

Website www.joshvanbrakle.com

Storm Without End (Requiem for the Rift King) by RJ Blain @rj_blain #excerpt #fantasy

14 Feb

“Do you think they’ll actually go to war this time?” she asked, lifting up the missive and waving it in the air. The vellum crinkled, giving it the appearance that it had been read and considered several times.

“That isn’t our concern,” Breton replied. He hesitated before continuing. “It wouldn’t surprise me. Kelsh and Danar have always been at war. The question is whether or not it’ll be official this time. Unless they call the Council, we can do nothing.”

“If we don’t find him before someone else does, they’ll go to war with us.” Her brow furrowed as she picked up one of the root quills and dipped it in ink. The scratch of writing was the only sound in the room until she finished the reply. “We’ve been practicing since it happened.”

Breton didn’t need to ask what she spoke of. Something was happening, but he didn’t know what. No one did. He wasn’t certain if he could call it evil, but it wasn’t good either. There was one thing he was assured of: Whatever caused the feeling was dangerous and it was affecting all of the Guardians.

“Do Arik’s Queens feel it too?”

Riran nodded. “We want to help find him, but we can’t risk our mares. None of us have geldings or stallions. But, we can free you of this work and make it so you can go out and find him for us.”

She refused to meet his eyes, staring down at the vellum as though it held the secrets of the world within the letters written on it. The corners of Breton’s mouth twitched up.

“By ‘you’ do you mean me or the Guardians as a whole?”

Riran thrust the sheet of vellum at him. He took it and read through the document. The message from Kelsh was neither report nor letter, but the vague sort of missive that Breton hated the most. It wasn’t addressed to a man. It wasn’t even addressed to the Rift King or His Majesty. Even worse, the tone of the writing was so dismissive that Breton wanted to shred the page.

The sight of Kalen’s handwriting partnered with the careful and neutral tone of the Rift King hurt. The pressure in his chest grew until he wanted to lash out from the frustration of it all. She’d done it just right, even mastering the flicked curl added to many of the letters. It was a Kelshite habit that Breton hadn’t quite managed to convince the Rift King to remove from his writing.

“Are all of you this proficient?” Breton asked.

“Yes,” Riran replied.

“Get this mess cleaned up and I’ll think about it,” he said. He lifted Gorishitorik from the desk and held the old sword in the crook of his arm.

“We’ll need a few days.”

“Fine. Oh, Riran?”

The woman looked up from the stack of papers in front of her. “What is it?”

“Scheme against Kalen again and I’ll separate your head from your shoulders. Understood?”

Riran paled and jerked her head in a nod. Inclining his head, Breton turned and walked through the room, not caring how many of the stacks he bumped against on his way out.

StormWithoutEnd

Kalen’s throne is his saddle, his crown is the dirt on his brow, and his right to rule is sealed in the blood that stains his hand. Few know the truth about the one-armed Rift King, and he prefers it that way. When people get too close to him, they either betray him or die. The Rift he rules cares nothing for the weak. More often than not, even the strong fail to survive.

When he’s abducted, his disappearance threatens to destroy his home, his people, and start a hopeless and bloody war. There are many who desire his death, and few who hope for his survival. With peace in the Six Kingdoms quickly crumbling, it falls on him to try to stop the conflict swiftly taking the entire continent by storm.

But something even more terrifying than the machinations of men has returned to the lands: The skreed. They haven’t been seen for a thousand years, and even the true power of the Rift King might not be enough to save his people — and the world — from destruction.

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Fantasy

Rating – PG – 13

More details about the author

Connect with RJ Blain on Facebook and Twitter

Serving Time (The Timemakers Trilogy) by Nadine Ducca @NadineDucca

24 Jan

CHAPTER 3

Eneld lay between the tangled sheets of his bed, curling a lock of Katherine’s raven hair around his finger. A brilliant crescent Earth hung low in the sky, only the tip visible through the bedroom window.

He ran his hand down her back. “Just five more days to go.”

Katherine stirred. Her warm body pressed against his. “Done packing?”

“Almost.” He glanced at his travel box, which sat in a corner of the bedroom. He could already imagine it going around in circles on the luggage retrieval carousel at Mars Spaceport. Like every other piece of luggage, it would be coated in a fine layer of rusty dust. That damned dust got everywhere.

The comm-link on the nightstand beeped, startling him. “You have a new—” His hand darted out to silence it.

“Who is it?” Katherine snuggled up against him, her eyes still closed.

“Just a reminder I programmed. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.”

She looked up. “Pre-Mars vaccines?”

“Yup.”

“They’re using the new versions on you, right? The ones with the reduced side effects?”

Eneld grunted. “They’d better.” He couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his life seeing the world in black and white. A “minor side effect,” “only ten percent chance of ever happening” was what those bastards down at the Lunar Base CDC claimed.

Still, he had to admit that visual impairment was the lesser of two evils—far better than becoming nesting meat for the latest form of Martian parasite. Every few weeks, someone came across a new species among the vegetation, almost always in the most unwitting and unfortunate of ways.

A chill tickled his spine. He needed a distraction, quick. He drew the covers away and pulled Katherine on top of him. “C’mere, you.” He cupped her breasts and plunged his face between them.

Between shrieks and giggles, Katherine cried out, “Watch those manners!” She tugged back and arranged the sheets around her, lifting her chin in mock defiance. “What would the Team Leader say?”

Eneld grinned. “Nice rack.” He squeezed her breasts.

“Ow!” She slapped his hand.

Uh-oh. Too much. He’d better make up for it, fast. “Sorry, babe. Come here.” He tried to press her down against him, but she shrugged away and sat up, straddling him.

She pulled a strand of hair away from her eyes and quietly stared at him.

Eneld set his hands on her thighs. “Hey? Come back.”

After a little bit, she said, “I was just thinking. You know…down in the lab, there are people who’d kill to be you right now.”

“Someone thinks mighty highly of herself.” He grinned. “But I guess my bed is pretty comfortable…” He ran his hands up her thighs and squeezed her warm ass.

“I’m not talking about that—although you should know I do have other options.” Katherine wrinkled her nose. “I meant Rusty and Spinach. I wish I could be there when they start tunneling.”

Rusty and Spinach were twenty-foot-long biometal earthworms. Along with a couple hundred smaller offspring earthworms, they had been shipped to Mars to chip in with the Soil Restoration Program—“restoration” synonymous to returning the rich Martian soil to its former barren state.

Eneld shrugged. “You won’t miss much. Worms release their payload… New wasteland here… Run for your life there…”

“And the jungles will finally stop spreading. Imagine what it’ll look like. The rusty soil against the wall of ferns.” Excitement glimmered in her eyes.

“Yeah…” Eneld held her gaze, not so sure about his own feelings about the project. Like Katherine, he’d grown up amid horror stories of the genetically engineered Martian jungles. As a child, the swift fly-by images of the endless green canopy had fascinated him. Nothing like that existed on Earth anymore.

After graduating from university with a degree in robotics engineering, he had traveled to Lunar Base Technological Center to specialize in biorobotics. Three years later, his head still full of dreams, he had accepted the office of Team Leader of the Martian Soil Restoration Program. At that time, he’d believed his team would find the ultimate solution to the red planet’s problem.

However, by the time Eneld came into office, the various branches of the Martian Terraformation Project were immersed in finger-pointing battles, because, despite their efforts, the jungles had spread over three quarters of the planet.

Every attempt to control the wilderness had ended in disaster. Be they rugged adventurers or the meek lab rat type, the last three Team Leaders to visit Mars had vanished into the foliage. Now it was Eneld’s turn to go.

He sighed. “I don’t know why we don’t just call it quits.” Yes he did. Mankind wasn’t going to give up halfway through a conquest, no matter the difficulties.

Katherine opened her eyes wide. “What? Don’t be silly! This time we got it.”

“Listen, Kathy, that’s what everyone’s been saying for the last twenty years. And look where we are now. We shouldn’t even be calling Mars the ‘red planet’ anymore.”

Katherine pursed her lips. “The problem is that the teams before us used the wrong techniques. Trying to wall in the jungles was simply ridiculous, and hacking away at the trees taught us how virulent their sap is. Spraying—we both know how that turned out.”

“Another Team Leader gone,” Eneld mumbled.

Katherine poked his chest. “But this time we’re getting it from below. Rusty, Spinach, and all the other earthworms will attack the root of the problem, literally. The jungle won’t suspect a thing.”

“You’re talking about it as if it were some beast we’re trying to hunt down.”

“In a way, it is.” Her black eyes locked onto his. Katherine was one of the few engineers who held the assumption that the entire Martian jungle functioned as a mega organism, each plant and crawly critter working together to feed, grow, and, come the day, procreate. That spectacle would be anything but pretty.

Eneld sat up against the headboard and nuzzled her neck. “Enough talk. I’ve got something better we can do.”

But Katherine drew back. “All this talk about Mars making you nervous?” She chuckled. “Get over it. You’re going there in less than a week.”

“I know, okay? I don’t need you to constantly remind me.” He shifted. Katherine was starting to feel heavy.

“You think Marsworms are going to burrow into that little head of yours?” She walked her fingers across his chest and tapped his forehead. “We’ve got vaccines against them, you know. Good ones.”

A knot formed in Eneld’s stomach. Sure, Katherine could joke about Marsworms—she wouldn’t have to spend the following months wearing earplugs and resting in short naps with one eye open.

“We might have a vaccine to inhibit Marsworm larvae growth,” he muttered, “but what about the constrictor ivy? We don’t have anything against that.”

Remote-controlled bots sent into the depths of the jungle had discovered a macabre garden of human-shaped bush sculptures. Some were huddled on the ground, while others were forever locked in a panicked run, legs apart, arms spread. Dozens of colleagues had died, smothered by the ivy. Those images had never reached Earth, but Eneld, as the new Team Leader, had been forced to sit through a disturbing movie session.

Katherine leaned over him, her breasts hovering deliciously close, and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Tell you what. I’ll go instead. Just appoint me, and I’ll get the job done.”

Eneld reached out to grope her. “Huh? You?”

“Well, since you’re obviously having second thoughts about it… I am the most experienced worm-wrangler—after you, of course.” She smiled and slowly rocked back and forth.

Eneld squeezed her breasts, a lopsided smile forming on his lips. “‘Worm-wrangler’ is a terrible name.”

“Then you come up with one.” She bent down and planted a quick kiss on his lips. Her hair smelled of coffee and cream.

”You’d have to study all the regulations.”

“I’m a fast learner.” She kissed his forehead, her breasts grazing his chin. “You can teach me. I’m sure you’re an excellent teacher.”

“You’re just buttering me up.” Eneld chuckled.

She drew away. “Aw, you got me. Still…I’d do anything not to let an opportunity like this slip by.”

Eneld let his head drop against the headboard. She’d said it. Opportunity. He wanted to groan every time he heard the word. Opportunity was what had pushed him to leave Earth and accept a job on the moon. An even greater opportunity was what now drew him into the sputum-coated jaws of Mars. What was he trying to prove to the world? That he was some sort of savior? The knot in his stomach tightened. He gently pushed Katherine aside and lowered his feet over the edge of the bed.

“What’s wrong?”

He rubbed his forehead. “I…uh…I’ll be right back.” He stumbled to the bathroom. With a push of a button, the door locked after him. He leaned over the sink and took a deep, shaky breath.

Damned Soil Restoration Program.

Living on the moon was pleasant enough; he enjoyed having the crescent Earth hanging over his head, its oceans winking down at him. But Mars…Mars was war. His heart thumped against his chest. How fitting that man’s attempt to domesticate the god of war should go so askew.

And they weren’t turning back. No matter how many of them died trying, they wouldn’t give up until they conquered what they had set loose.

He glared at himself in the mirror.

Or it kills us all.

As much as he hated to admit it, he could really use a fix. He opened the medicine cabinet and took out a small, chromed case. He popped the lid off, slid the tab, and a fine line of white dust emerged. It tickled and stung as he snorted.

He tilted his head back. That was damned good stuff.

Throx was illegal in almost all regions of the system, but Eneld dedicated a generous portion of his salary to keeping acquaintances in the right markets. When he left Earth to go to Lunar Base, he took along a short list of recommended dealers. Buying his fixes on the moon wasn’t a problem. The population of Mars, however, was comprised of only a handful of nerve-wracked scientists, most of who screamed and covered their ears if you approached them too suddenly. Not the type of people you could buy throx from.

When he asked his usual dealers if they knew who could supply him on Mars, they all shrugged and gave him the same curt response: StarCorp. The quote the company offered was steep, but if he cinched his belt a little, he could afford it. Nobody else dared deliver to Mars, anyway.

He rubbed his nose and looked down at the case. Without giving it a second’s thought, he slid the tab again and another white line emerged. He stared at it, suddenly hesitant. Change was coming. It was searching for him, fumbling around with outspread arms, stubbing its toes against the furniture. He could feel it inch toward him the closer departure day came. Maybe he should call it quits. Maybe Mars was the change he needed as well as an excuse to stop snorting throx. He’d miss the giddy arousal each line caused, but he’d save a lot of money.

He let out a quick sigh and snorted the line. A sharp pain needled him between the eyes, and he pinched the bridge of his nose. The blanket of red dust on his travel box, the biometal earthworms, even the tangled jungles all faded into irrelevance. Change might be coming, but throx would always give him the same carefree high.

When he returned to the bedroom, Katherine was dressing.

“Whoa, hey, leaving already?”

“Yeah. I’ve got a lot of work. And may I remind you of your ridiculous no-sleepover policy.” She poked his chest.

“I know, I know.” Eneld wrapped his arms around her waist. “But can’t you stay a little longer?” He undid a button on her shirt, his lips brushing against her neck. “C’mon…I’m leaving soon…”

He felt Katherine relax in his arms, her warm breath against his ear. “All right, if you insist.”

Good girl. Her hungry lips traveled down his neck and chest. He gently urged her lower. A brainiac in the workshop and a total slut in bed, Kathy never needed much coaxing. Eneld glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Almost eleven o’clock. He’d have to take round two easy if he wanted to make it to his early appointment. Throx could only go so far.

Serving Time

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Genre –  Science Fiction/Fantasy

Rating – Adult

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