spicyRomanceBlack Ice Heart


Science Fiction Romance
Novel

Passion survives in the cold reaches of space
published by Ella Drake
series: Space Grit
September 21, 2015

Condemned and in transit to an asteroid prison, he found what he'd never had before--a chance to love.

***

Ensign Joan Holly has one last mission before transferring to a secretive, elite unit, the Nex. It's what she's wanted since joining the military as a child. All she has to do is escort the most reviled prisoner on Geonate to meet his fate. Simple, since he's immobilized and nobody has ever escaped the Asteroid Pit.

Cenak Bronson never had it easy. He's never been free and never had a future. He accepts his doomed fate until he's rescued by a band of half-aliens, the Scoriah. After the chaos of his breakout, Cenak finds himself reluctantly bound to the only other survivor, his jailer Joan.

But they aren't the sole survivors by coincidence and they weren't captured by the Scoriah randomly. To survive, they join forces, uncovering secrets and lies that change everything. Including the future of Geonate itself.

Black Ice Heart is a full-length science fiction romance novel that begins the Space Grit series and can be read stand-alone

Warning: This novel is intended for readers 18 and older. It contains explicit scenes, language, violence.


keywords : Science Fiction Romance. Space Opera. SFR. Alien.
More : Space Grit

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Excerpt from Black Ice Heart

Copyright © 2015 Ella Drake


All rights reserved

Chapter One

Ensign Joan Holly played a trump card and taking a swig of filtered, re-mineralized H2O, waited for Georgie to react. Georgie didn’t let her down.

Joan’s best friend glared at the winning play on the military-green blanket, then with a huff, threw her cards up in the air. The translucent game pieces littered down on Georgie’s own stubbled blonde cut. Pursing her pink-dyed lips she stabbed at Joan’s card with a fingernail painted in white glitter.

“Not fair. Let’s play again,” Georgie insisted.

“Can’t. Have that appointment with a Nex officer in a few.” Joan smiled at the best friend she’d ever had and had an overwhelming urge to cancel and keep playing cards with Georgie. That would be a mistake, though, and the momentary doubt faded.

Georgie leaned against Joan’s bunk, crossed her legs, and ignored the cards scattered on the floor beneath her. She frowned. “I don’t like that you’re transferring to the Nex. They give me the creeps.”

The Nex were the elite, secretive special ops branch of the Geonate military. Their entire branch wore all black uniforms with no insignia. No names and no individuality made them seem a bit off-putting at times but not creepy. Intimidation had its uses and the Nex were experts.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted.” Joan shrugged. It was the truth.

At the age of six, when she’d been ordered to enlist in the regular military, she met a Nex officer for the first time. Her assigned Geonate training facility had been on a temporary lockdown due to a parent trying to break their child out of the mandatory service. Like everyone not already inside the base, Joan couldn’t report for duty. She had to remain outside but had nowhere to go. In the two days it took to defuse the situation, Joan had stayed with a Nex officer. Joan would never forget the tall, aloof woman in a plain black uniform.

Joan awkwardly patted Georgie’s foot and gave it a squeeze.

“Did I ever tell you about the woman I stayed with before I entered the academy? She was perfect. Always in a pressed uniform. Her hair was cut like this.” Joan ran her free hand over her own short military cut, not buzzed like most, but cut precisely to chin length. “Nothing fazed her. Not even my bawling over leaving my family. When she dropped me off, she said one thing, then she left without a single look back. She said, ‘Never let them see your pain.’ It stuck with me.”

“You see my pain all the time.” Georgie rolled her eyes and just like that, threw off the seriousness of the moment. “Being an uptight pain in the ass isn’t going to take away the pain. Besides, if you leave, you won’t have me anymore.”

“And that is the only reason I’d hesitate.” She gave Georgie’s foot one last squeeze and climbed to her feet. “But I’ve worked hard to get here. I want to be the best of the best.”

“I don’t know.” Georgie’s frown intensified. “Why leave your friends? And what do the Nex do anyway? They’re just some other part of the military that nobody knows anything about. How is it better than staying on the Everquestree and making trade hauls? Military is one thing, but black ops is another. You’re not so cold underneath that I think you really want to leave your entire life behind and disappear behind a black uniform.”

That small doubt flared again and for the first time, Joan wondered if finishing her regular service tour might be a better option than joining the elite troops. The Nex left everything behind partly due to secrecy matters but also to cut off ties that would interfere with missions. Regular military allowed any relationships as long as a military member stayed on assignment. Mandatory military service required children to go to school in academies then serve six years. There were no wars and many professions were housed within the military—including every facet of the trade industry between colonies. Many continued in service. She had no prospects outside of the military.

To mollify her own doubt as much as Georgie’s, she blurted, “I’ll think about it.”

Georgie’s smile bloomed and Joan couldn’t help but grin back.

Joan left Georgie in her own quarters. Lately, they’d spent a lot of time in Joan’s room aboard the Everquestree because Georgie thought her roommate was boring. Joan wasn’t sure how she rated above boring, but she did play a mean hand of cards.

The corridor was quiet. They’d extended their stay in orbit over Geonate on a request from the Nex. Since those orders had come through, the ship had been subdued. Then an officer had come aboard and requested a meeting with Joan. She’d hardly seen a crew member since. Guess they thought the black uniform would rub off on them and hid in their quarters.

Joan frowned and those strange second thoughts tried to wiggle in again but she banished them.

She reported to the captain’s office a minute early and signaled her presence.

“Come in, Ensign Holly.” The lone occupant greeted as the door slid open.

The captain of the ship wasn’t there. Behind his desk, a non-descript woman in a black uniform stood and gave a short bend at the waist as greeting. Joan returned it. The officer gave Joan a quick up and down.

Joan wasn’t quite as pressed in her green uniform, but her nails were plain—unlike Georgie’s glitter polish—and her hair was precise. She kept her face in a completely neutral position and it seemed to please the Nex representative.

“The Nex have accepted your application.” The woman’s scrutiny remained on Joan’s face. “Your psychological and intellectual test scores were promising. No undue emotional attachments and a capacity to follow orders. You’ll do well.”

Joan didn’t twitch. Squelching any surprise and pleasure at finally attaining her goal, she didn’t dare show it.

“Good.” The officer gave a nod and came around the desk. “You will not be official until your transfer, which will happen after the Everquestree’s next run.”

“Yes, officer.” Joan replied tonelessly at the pause.

The Nex officer stopped in front of Joan and stood at parade rest. “You will perform your usual duties but keep an ever diligent eye on the special prisoner who will be aboard.”

“Special?” she asked. It seemed to be what the officer wanted and she nodded her approval at Joan’s question.

“Cenak Bronson will be transferred to the Asteroid Pit for execution. You are to be sure nothing goes wrong and he meets his sentence. Understood?”

“Understood.” Joan replied.

Later, when she prepared for bed and the prisoners were loaded into the cargo bay of the ship, she finally had time to process it all. Why did the Nex want an extra diligent eye on a prisoner on his way to the Pit? No prisoners had ever escaped from a transfer or from the Pit. Ever.

There was no way this transfer would be any different than the others.

Even if Geonate’s most hated man was aboard.

*

Geonate’s most hated man glared at Joan through a face plate. Seemingly unaffected by the feeding tube that completely muted him, he managed to convey his displeasure. His body encased in an immobility suit, Cenak Bronson did the impossible. He managed to be intimidating like none of the other prisoners in the hold of the transport. Or any other prisoner who’d ever been in this hold. His pale blue, nearly-white eyes still showed alert intelligence. The other incarcerated felons didn’t bother to wake up this far into the trip. But his gaze held challenge and his eyebrows lifted for a moment as if amused by her involuntary step back.

“Why are you still awake?” Joan murmured. Of course it was impossible for him to answer—even if she wanted his response.

She’d never had a prisoner stay awake the entire trip. For countless runs, she’d been a part of this twenty-person crew. Usually guard duty rotated, but this—her last voyage—she’d been assigned to watch this one prisoner from beginning to his scheduled end. Definitely overkill. Despite his menacing demeanor, there was no real reason to keep such close tabs on the immobile and partially sedated prisoner Bronson.

It was unusual in every way, and the other crewmembers knew it. Even though she was under Nex orders and they didn’t question her schedule, several still completely avoided her.

Someone entered the hold and Joan glanced over her shoulder.

“Why bother giving that to him, Joan? Let him die.” It was one of the corporate guards hired as extra security. In a wide-legged stance, he thumped the side of his leg with an electroshock wand. The thin, silver rod measured about the same length as her forearm and crackled with white light that zinged down from the handle. Her spine crawled with an icy chill. She’d met the guard before but she’d never seen him wielding the shock wand. There was no need for one. Not with all the prisoners practically comatose.

A sudden suspicion bloomed inside her. Her mouth went too dry to speak.

The guard continued, “That one’s just gonna get signed in, read his sentence, then spaced. End of the line for our Cenak here. Nothing but cold death, hey buddy?”

She jerked her head back around to face Bronson and those icy eyes sparked. Swallowing hard, she steadied her hand and jabbed the injector into the console built into his suit. The thick needle pressed into the small receptacle in the special plating on his chest. Depressing the plunger, she concentrated on reading his monitored body functions and voiced the results aloud, “Nutrient levels sufficient.”

On her first mission on the Everquestree, she’d asked why they hadn’t automated the injections. It was to enforce personal checks on the prisoners. This one prisoner, this one time, maybe they could have automated his. She shuddered.

“Sure. Whatever. Listen, when you’re done here, how about some coffee?” The guard was still behind her and watching.

“I could use some coffee and a break.” She flicked a quick glance at the guard. His blond hair was cut short and his pale skin had the same cast as most of the crew. None of them saw the sun enough—not even the five extra contractors aboard for this trip. Five extras. Another reminder of what had plagued her this entire trip. Why all the extra effort to keep an eye on Cenak Bronson? “Jim, right?”

“No.” An ugly snarl briefly flickered across the guard’s face. “It’s Giba. Giba Copia.”

Uneasy at his response, she didn’t point out that they’d never actually exchanged names and he wasn’t wearing a uniform with a name tag like she was.

“I won’t be done for a bit. After I dose them all, I have to go up to the ready room to file a report,” she lied.

Something about Copia didn’t sit right. And it had to do with Cenak Bronson. She was certain. Whatever was going on with Copia had to be why this prisoner had stayed awake for the entire voyage. It was the first clue she’d had to why Bronson could accomplish such an unusual feat. The only way to get to the bottom of it was to leave Copia alone with Bronson and see what happened.

As if to confirm her growing suspicions, Copia sent a quick glare toward prisoner one. Cenak Bronson may be a mass murderer headed to execution, but it was her duty to get him there to see that sentence carried out. Georgie may tease her about being aloof and cold but one thing no one ever teased her about was her dedication to duty.

For this one trip, Bronson was her duty.

“Meet you there in thirty? Then get coffee?” Copia tapped his leg with the buzzing rod again.

“Sounds good.” She thumped Cenak on the suit’s console, a small ritual she did once done with the daily routine. She didn’t bother re-checking the wall of immobile, standing prisoners she’d just injected with nutrients. They hadn’t moved a hair for forty-two days. They all came to around the same height, a few inches shorter or taller than her own of five-eight. Cenak stood almost a foot taller. His shoulders were so broad they’d had to put him on the end and use two spaces. His suit had to have been altered to get his legs in them, as his thighs seemed as thick as her waist. He couldn’t be a natural born human.

She stepped lightly on the metal stairs. Normally, she’d head up two levels to the situation room where she’d log in and verify she’d made her rounds, that all the prisoners not only still had functioning consoles but also passed visual inspection.

Instead, she stopped on the first landing and carefully slid open the manual door panel to enter the cargo level. Only after she shut the slider behind her did she breathe easily. She tapped her intercom.

“Hey, Georgie. Quick, I need a favor,” she whispered.

“Yeah?” Georgie answered with an annoyance that meant she’d been heads down in some research on the latest minerals found in Delta Five.

“Use your systems check console to open the door to the second floor stairwell and close it. Then I owe you a martini.”

“Sure. And not that stuff like last night. Who in the hell did you bum that rocket fuel off of? He sure lied to you. That was moonshine or my panties aren’t pink.” The swish of the door opening and shutting punctuated that last audacious comment.

“They are not pink. They’re horrid puke green like everyone else’s.” Joan ran a hand over the uniform in question. Green pullover. Green slacks. Green utility belt. Green bra. Green boots.

“I snuck a pair on.” Georgie cut the link.

Joan slapped a hand over her mouth to keep the laugh inside. Of course Georgie had snuck on pink panties when Joan hadn’t bothered or cared about such amenities. She’d been too busy sneaking on a few bars of Nequafarian confections. Her last mission merited a goodbye to her favorite indulgence. She didn’t know what she’d miss more—the Geonate military or the Nequafarian treats.

Shaking her head, she picked her way past the nearly empty cages of cargo. After the Everquestree transported prisoners to the Asteroid Pit, they loaded crates full of mined ore, made a round-trip stop to trade goods on the planet Ferrashi—currently in a bloody civil war that had been waged since before Joan was born—and then made supply runs throughout the fleet before starting the process over again.

On the other side of the level, she reached a slider. Careful to keep it silent, she manually opened it and padded down the corridor to the hold. Sweat broke out along her hair line and her breathing seemed loud in the deserted staircase. Usually, the crew used the main stairs or the lifts. The external stairs were mainly for emergencies and maintenance. She stopped before the last portal.

Gripping the handle, she bit her lip and leaned forward. She couldn’t hear a thing. She hoped someone had done regular maintenance on this thing even though it was rarely used.

Damn it, Joan, just do it.

The door slid open a fraction and she expelled a breath. She concentrated. But there didn’t seem to be any movement inside the hold. Not that she heard over the rushing in her ears. Then, a harsh sound cut through the noise in her head.

Crack.

Sizzle.

Dread filled her. There was no doubt what was happening on the other side of the portal door.

More : Space Grit
Available from:
may use affiliate codes

Amazon Kindle Nook Kobo iBooks

no affiliate code
Amazon: US · UK · AU · CA · DE

In Print:
Amazon Print Create Space
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