06 July 2010

In the Spotlight: Dante I

As our way of saying thank you for the amazing, wonderful, fabulous response to Beyond the Veil’s Save Our SJ fund drive—and to give you a taste of what all the fuss is about—today we’re posting the jacket copy and an excerpt from SJ’s newest release, Dante I. Thank you again from all of us, and especially SJ!

Their love could save the planet—or blow it all to hell.

PIACT Undercover Agents, Book 3

Two years on the Separatist-controlled planet of Dante I, and undercover PIACT agent Tomas Valcino is no closer to contacting the underground rebellion. As if imminent mission failure isn’t bad enough, he can’t shake his lust for the prefect’s beautiful daughter, Yumi Rebyj. The distraction must not tear him away from duty.

Every time Tomas’s eyes find her, Yumi’s insides melt like the molten planet below them. But she’s got her hands full leading the rebels, caring for her sick father, and fending off the Separatist leader’s advances. Plus, she already knows that Tomas isn’t who he says he is. She just isn’t sure whose side he’s on.

An assassination attempt drives Tomas to take Yumi into hiding. In close quarters, all is stripped away. Secrets. Lies. And clothes.

Then the discovery of a new technology drives the Separatists to step up their campaign of cruelty to expose the rebels, once and for all. Tomas and Yumi’s connection is Dante I’s only hope—but it could be too little, too late.

Warning: Hunks, Heroines and major warfare in close quarters—and locked cells. Ahem. We won’t forget the pair of panties that bravely gave its all in the making of this novel.


Chapter One

Yumi Rebyj closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of the man beneath her. Tomas Valcino, a special metals consultant, had arrived on Dante I a mere two years ago. He’d driven Yumi crazy every day since, simply by being around. It must be illegal the way his muscles rippled as he moved; just watching him made her shiver with lust. When he gazed at her, those pale blue eyes never failed to send a tingle running through her body. Still, none of that could compare to having him in bed. Now that was—

“Would you like me to put it in now?”

Startled, Yumi opened her eyes and peered over the railing. Lying on the floor below the catwalk, long black hair splayed against the steel floor, Tomas poked amongst the circuitry of the Secondary Mining Terminal. In his free hand he held a datacard loaded with clean datacubes. His puzzled look as he watched her made her blush. What would he think if he knew the daydreams she had about him? Not that they would be anything other than daydreams. Between running the Bolgër—the resistance forces—managing Dante I’s constant flux of mining skippers, and Tomas’s very obvious lack of interest in her, Yumi very much doubted her dreams would come true.

Suppressing a sigh she leaned back, staring up for a moment at the rock above her. Living in an asteroid circling the molten planet below had a lot of advantages, but unfortunately being able to see anything other than rock wasn’t one of them. Forcing her heart and mind to calm she looked down again.

Tomas still looked at her, expecting an answer to his query.

Yumi glanced over to the main control panel. Zshanna stood there, a curious smile playing over her lips as she waited for Yumi’s directions. Damn. Yumi knew from that smile she’d just told Zshanna far too much, given away too many thoughts. Zshanna, a Poseidian by birth, may be one of the most proficient data operatives Yumi had, but the tech’s psyche abilities could be embarrassing as well as extremely useful. Zshanna had filtered out almost all of the Separatist infiltrators who attempted to worm their way into the Bolgër. Without her abilities the resistance would have been crushed years ago. Of course, it also meant Yumi barely held a secret she could call her own.

There had been only two people Zshanna couldn’t get a fix on. Both were natural Melds with thought patterns so stubbornly fixed and immutable Zshanna was unable to single out anything but the most basic thoughts. The first, five years ago, had turned out to be a Separatist spy who eliminated several of the Bolgër cells and the Federation agents assigned to them, before he was discovered. The second was Tomas, a man with an ironclad history woven in the Ultranet. A history that was a little too perfect. There were also the odd things he did now and then, almost as if he were looking for the resistance forces. The Bolgër kept a careful eye on him, taking no chances that he might be a second Separatist spy.

Still, after one intense session where Zshanna attempted a Meld breakthrough she determined, other than personal things, Tomas’s absolute hatred of the Separatists. The images had been enough to satisfy Zshanna that Tomas posed no threat to the Bolgër. They knew too little to invite him into their fold, and enough not to be concerned about his poking around, so the surveillance on him was light. This was great, not only because of his good looks, but he’d also turned out to be one of the best damn SpecMets Yumi had ever known. In the two years since Tomas arrived he’d improved the special metals extraction and purification process by almost two hundred percent. Incidentally saving a few lives at the same time by meeting the absurdly high Separatist quotient demands. Personal feelings aside, Yumi, and the colony, couldn’t afford to lose him.

She couldn’t afford to lose Zshanna either. If the Separatists ever discovered Zshanna’s abilities the Poseidian would be in the grunge tank, brain dissected, faster than a plasma bubble burst. Yumi would die before she let that happen.

“Ma’am?” Tomas asked again.

“Yes, just a moment, Tomas,” Yumi blurted out, amazed he didn’t show even a trace of impatience. She became too easily distracted nowadays, maybe because the uprising was so close. “Zshanna, how are the multiplex Riener circuits doing?”

“Around seventy-five percent optimum,” Zshanna answered, grinning back. “They’ll hold if the Secondary burns out again.”

“Okay, Tomas, you can put it in.” Yumi almost cursed, blushing bright red again. Fortunately Tomas had slipped under the unit and couldn’t see her embarrassment. She definitely needed a break from Dante I and the oppressive Separatist culture. Time away, with someone really sexy—like Tomas.

They were rewarded when the Secondary hummed gently back to life. Yumi relaxed a little. It wasn’t a vital piece of the colony’s systems since it mainly worked as a backup in case the Primary failed. Experience, though, had taught Yumi not to delay repairs even on the secondaries.

“Well done everyone,” she congratulated them. “Repaired in less than five hours and we didn’t have to call the Techs in. Good work!”

Her own work had begun though. The Secondary had been sabotaged and she had to find the saboteur before the occupying Separatists did. She’d already set several cells of the Bolgër on the task. It certainly wasn’t the work of the underground resistance themselves. The sabotage had been sloppy and the Secondary of too little importance to destroy. This had been something personal against the Separatists, through a relatively easy target.

She watched Tomas edge out from under the terminal, and the familiar feeling of lust coursed through her. When this was all done, maybe…

“Ah, I see you have it working. Good.” Colonel Marcus Saeger walked up to her smiling. “And I have several pieces of good news for you.”

Yumi grimaced. Good news to a Separatist colonel wasn’t normally something people wanted to hear. Not that she had much choice nowadays. Ever since her father’s illness—losing the supply of Federation anti-aging drugs had finally taken its toll—she’d been called in more often than normal lately to represent him on matters of colony policy. Not for the first time she wished Father hadn’t surrendered so easily to Separatist rule. Yes, they probably would have all died trying to stem a Separatist invasion. Surely, though, it would have been preferable to dying like this, one day at a time.

With a shock, Yumi realized this was the seventh year of Separatist occupation in the Dante system. During those years she’d seen their population steadily decline despite a steady influx of workers. Only seven thousand now lived in The Rock, instead of the nine thousand there used to be. She’d heard rumors the losses were even greater on Dante V, or The Fiver, as her people called the frozen planetoid that spun in the lonely fifth orbit. All the losses, it was pretty obvious to everyone, could be traced to Marcus’s administration, his treatment and frequent execution of Dante’s colonists.

“You know I’m always interested in your good news,” Yumi lied. As she spoke she walked toward the Prefect’s office—officially her father’s office though Yumi would be inheriting it soon. She tried not to think about that too often. “So what’s happened?”

Marcus brushed a hand through his hair. The shocking red color, like the dusky red tone to his skin, had been genetically induced to increase his natural resistance to solar radiation. Marcus’s home, Stallas VI, was one of the nine foundation worlds of the Separatist Dynasty. Its people had been engineered to survive on the planet surface in the high radiation system.

“Well,” Marcus said. “We found your saboteur last night. She was trying to stow away on a shuttle flight to The Fiver.” Marcus spoke loudly, making his presence felt amongst the nervous Control Room staff. “One of your Techs, Stela Magrow, seems she had some complaint with our policies.”

Damn! Yumi swore at herself. She should have seen this happening. The policy Stela felt unhappy about occurred five months ago. The distraught Tech had filed charges against five Separatist soldiers who’d spent one night raping her—simply because they were bored. The charges were instantly dismissed by the Separatist legal system as trivial. The Separatists even refused to undergo tests to determine the father of her unborn child.

Yumi, like every other Dantian, hated the Separatist policies that left Separatist soldiers free to terrorize the colonists. She knew she’d been stupid, but now it was too late. She should have smuggled Stela out of system months ago to one of the Federation-owned safe quarters the Bolgër maintained. Then again, there’d been no physical contact with the Federation for almost five years and no radio contact for almost two. Getting Stela to safe quarters, which had more than likely been compromised, would have killed everyone involved.

Yumi was left with the task of rescuing Stela from the grunge room and hiding the poor woman from the Separatists somewhere in the belly of The Rock. Probably with the small Bolgër army she had in The Crypts. God knew how they’d managed to maintain their forces there for so long without anyone noticing.

Yumi turned into a small tube-like corridor. Here the walls were highly polished, indicating the tunnel had been cut by the V.T.M., the superbly efficient Vinder Tunnel Drill. A few more yards down and she stopped in front of the Prefect’s office. Marcus, with that damned superior smile on his face, stopped with her. Short of taking a small tank into the heart of Separatist territory there was very little she could do for Stela. Unless, and it was rare, Zshanna could find a bribable guard.

“I’m glad you found her.” Yumi smiled as the doors automatically slid open. It was a lie, of course, but she daren’t let him know how she truly felt. “We need more manpower on the ore-smelting line. She can join the other prisoners there. It won’t take more than a few days for her to regret her actions.”
Yumi walked into the outer office, passing Vhal and Melindra. The two assistants sat behind their desks busily working on the latest ore shipment and mining figures. Their desks, like most of the furnishing in Dante I, were fabricated from crushed rock obtained from the tunnel drills. Here and there within the highly polished surface of the dark-gray stone was the sparkle of silver, copper and gold.

“I’m afraid Stela can’t join the line,” Marcus said. Yumi’s stomach twisted, anticipating his next words with dread. “She died an hour ago while under questioning.” Marcus made sure Vhal and Melindra heard everything he said.

Stiffly, barely able to keep her temper, Yumi walked the last few steps to the inner office in silence. Touching her fingers to the lockpad she stepped back and let the door slide open. Once inside, with the door closed, she turned to face Marcus. Only sheer determination prevented her from shouting at him.
“I wish you would refrain from this continued depletion of our personnel resources.” She spoke calmly in spite of seething with every word. “We’re twelve percent undermanned as it is and we’ve had no replacements from The Fiver, or out of system, for over six months.”

Marcus, unruffled by her words, simply sat on the edge of the desk and looked at her. A knowing smile pasted on his face. A stupid, aquiline face she wanted to slap silly.

“The second piece of good news,” Marcus continued, “is your father has given us permission to marry.”
“Father has what!” Yumi held onto a tall cabinet next to her. Weakness washed over her. What had he done to her father! No. Doctor Lasky ranked as Second Lieutenant in the Bolgër. He’d never let a Separatist, even a colonel, near her father. Not while her father remained too ill to care for himself. Walking carefully to the desk, Yumi went behind it and sat in her father’s chair. She refused to show her fear to this murderer. “I understood Dr. Lasky’s orders were no visitors,” Yumi said. “I’m surprised he let you in.”
“Dr. Lasky is in the infirmary.” Marcus’s face held a look of, Yumi assumed, mock sympathy. “Several members of the Bolgër assaulted him last night. He’ll be lucky to survive.”

Yumi shook her head sadly. It wouldn’t be the first time Separatist soldiers had disguised themselves as resistance fighters, just enough of a disguise to confuse the few witnesses who’d see the attack.

Marcus’s men always made sure there were reliable witnesses to make the Bolgër unfavorable to the frightened colonists. “I took the liberty of assigning Dr. Krog to your father,” Marcus added. “He assured me a short visit wouldn’t tax your father too much. Just long enough for your father to understand my arguments for a strong male leader in the colony. Appreciating that, he agreed to our wedding.”

“Ah.” Yumi nodded. In other words Marcus’s men hospitalized Dr. Lasky so Marcus could install his favorite toady, Dr. Krog, in Lasky’s place. Then Marcus had the freedom to torture her father until he agreed to the wedding. It had to have been torture. Yumi knew her father enough to know he’d never go against Dante I’s deeply ingrained custom of Prefect inheritance. Neither would the workers accept non-family inheritance—which was why Marcus forced her father to approve of this marriage.

Seriously concerned for her father’s safety, and that of the colony, Yumi shuffled the papers on the desk. Trying to calm her nerves, she filed the unneeded ones in a drawer—she’d sort them later. For now she daren’t allow her thoughts to wander through dangerous assumptions. She needed to think clearly. The stakes in this deadly game of occupation and resistance had suddenly tripled.

“So when is the wedding date?” Yumi continued as steadily as she could. “How long do I have to get the wedding dress ready?” By how much did she need to accelerate the rebellion preparations?

“Three weeks,” Marcus said, looking way too smug. “My Procurer is already working on your wedding chains.” He took the remaining papers from her hand and scanned through them as he spoke. “You should be proud. General Tarug himself will be arriving on the Ultimate tomorrow. He’s decided to stay for the wedding.” He extracted a couple of the reports, folded them and put them in his pocket, then dropped the rest on the table.

Damn. She’d have to see if Vhal and Melindra could work out which reports were missing and duplicate them.

Obviously deciding business was over, Marcus leaned forward. He grasped her around the back of her neck and forced a hard, unwelcome kiss on her. Stunned, Yumi couldn’t react immediately because Marcus stepped away before she could brain him. Being out of reach and unable to cause him physical damage was, in itself, probably a good thing.

“I’ll call on you later,” he told her as he stepped toward the door. “I’m going to start organizing this colony the way it needs to be done.”

Organizing the colony? Chains? For her wedding?

Yumi shuddered. The chains meant Marcus planned for a typical Separatist ceremony. Yumi couldn’t let it happen. She refused to be given to his best men the night before the wedding then dragged to the ceremony the following day—bruised, beaten and very naked. In a true Separatist marriage the woman became little more than a slave.

Yumi gritted her teeth. Thanks to the Federation’s anti-aging drugs she’d had seventy-three years to learn how to control what her father called her hair-trigger temper. Somehow they’d accelerate the rebellion by three weeks. The only trigger Yumi intended to pull then was one that blasted a bullet through Marcus’s heart…


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