Sig was awake enough to know that he shouldn’t be alive, but he couldn’t seem to make his body work. His eyes refused to cooperate and his head weighed like a ton of bricks. He fought harder, swimming laboriously through layers of gray fog.
“Shhh.” A gentle hand touched his face, but that only made him struggle harder.
Charlie. I have to get her to safety.
It took all his strength, but he finally worked his eyes open. She hovered over him, her dark hair smooth and tidy. How could she look so elegant after crashing on a barely-populated colony? He tried to sit up, or at least lift his head, but nothing responded. He couldn’t feel his fingers or toes, couldn’t sense whether he was cold or hot, dressed or nude, on a bed of feathers…or nails.
She leaned down and pressed her mouth to his ear. He felt that much at least. “We’re safe, for now. A colonist named Gage has taken us in. As best as I can tell, he’s living in the wilderness between Bostonia and York.”
She sat back up and raised her voice slightly. “Yes, your name is Henry, and my name is Charlotte Wilder. Do you remember now?”
A man loomed into Sig’s vision, a large, broad shadow that dwarfed her. Danger sent shards of ice through his body. No, that was his heart pounding harder. His heart. Hadn’t it been cut all to hell? What did she do to me?
“Well, I’ll be, he’s awake,” Gage said with a huge smile. “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”
“He’s not out of the woods yet.” Charlie pulled at something on his chest. From the sting and tug, it must be a bio-bandage. He welcomed any sensation, even pulled chest hairs. “But he’s doing much better. How do you feel, Henry?”
“Danger.” His lips fumbled the word, but he was sure she understood.
Humming as though they hadn’t crashed, he wasn’t on death’s door, and a huge wild man didn’t loom behind her with God only knew what kind of weapon, she prodded his chest with gentle but sure fingers. “Yes, you’re still in danger, but the wound is healing nicely.”
He gritted his teeth, silently screaming at the stranger to go away so he could talk to her. There’s so much we need to do. If the bounty hunter tracks us down, while I’m sick and weak…
“Everything’s taken care of.” She leaned down, her gaze heavy with significance as though she knew he was desperate to gain information. “All you need to do is heal. Right, Gage?”
“Aye, Miss Wilder. I wiped away our tracks and fetched the other things you asked for. Not much I could do about the debris other than toss some branches on the hull to disguise it. The winter snows have even York piled up to their ears. No one’s going to be coming out here any time soon to look for you.”
He knows too much. Sig tried to convey the urgency with only his eyes. Don’t trust him. Don’t trust anyone.
Maybe all this concentrating was doing his frozen limbs some good, because he managed to shift his head enough to look down at himself. Pale pink skin covered his chest, not a gruesome gaping wound. Dread tightened like a fist in the pit of his stomach. How long have I been unconscious to heal like this?
Terror pounded in his skull and he struggled harder, thrashing his entire body. We have to get away from here!
Charlie pressed against him, using her slender body to try and still his struggles. His strength ran out quickly, leaving him shaking and so sick with worry he wanted to weep. I’ve failed her. Snows or no, the Queen’s Ravens won’t be far behind.
“Trust me, Henry.” She kissed his cheek and rubbed her palms on his shoulder in a soothing circular motion. Bare skin. He felt that much. “I’ve got everything in hand.”
“I can’t move,” he whispered, his voice more broken than he cared to admit. “I don’t even feel my arms.”
“I’m so sorry, but I had to tie you down. You thrashed too much with fever and I was afraid you were going to harm yourself even worse. Let me loosen the ties and see if you feel better.”
Tied. Thank God his eyes were closed, so she wouldn’t see the horrible darkness that knowledge must be spreading in his eyes. He hadn’t been tied up in a very long time.
Dark memories threatened from his childhood. Memories he’d killed a long time ago. He’d always thought those feelings of helplessness would stir him into a murderous rage, but all he felt…
Whatever bound his wrists loosened. His fingers tingled, cramped muscles stretched, and a surge of enormous relief washed over him. Peace. That’s what this feeling was. After all the suffering he’d survived as a child and the countless executions he’d committed in effort to blot out those memories, he’d never felt this completely at peace.
He flexed his fingers and turned his head to see his arm stretched out on a pillow. A strip of white cotton still tied his left wrist to the simple wooden headboard. His other arm sagged, too, still bound but looser and more comfortable.
Sensation coursed through his body, tingling like fire ants nibbling his extremities. Charlie finished loosening the tie and turned back, leaning down over his chest. “Better?”
He closed his eyes and nodded. So much better. Impossibly better. He’d hated the last woman who made him helpless. Every time he accepted a contract on a female mark, it was her face he saw when he terminated the target. He often made wry jokes about all his regrets, but in truth, his only true regret was that he hadn’t killed her himself.
So why don’t I hate Charlie?
“So you’re a pilot as well as an assassin.” Lady Wyre had traded in the slightly scorched gown for a high-waisted spotlessly delicate linen that made Sig shake his head. “What other talents do you possess?”
The linen was so fine and thin he could see the darker hint of her thighs despite the petticoats she wore. The hem and bodice were thickly covered with silver embroidery and pearls. On Britannia, she’d be the perfect picture of a genteel lady heading to her country house. She’s got a lot to learn about living on the run.
They slipped through the heavily armed Britannia shields using a tiny backdoor loophole he’d paid a small fortune to open. Breathing a little easier, he initiated the illegal contraband engine he’d acquired from a desperate Razari. It’d need a bit to warm up, but once charged, they’d hit Kali Kata in a matter of hours.
If one of Her Majesty’s ships happened to board him, they’d take one glance at that tiny crystal powering the ship to unheard-of speeds and throw him into the Tower before finding his female partner aboard. Luckily they won’t be able to catch us once we hit Razari speed. “Do you have any gowns a little less conspicuous?”
Up went her nose and she gave him that delightfully regal stare that somehow made him appear shorter than her slight five foot height. “A Duchess has a duty to always look her absolute best.”
As gently as possible, he pointed out the obvious. “You can’t be the Duchess of Wyre any longer, sweetheart.”
She sniffed and a sudden bolt of terror struck his heart at the thought that she might burst into tears. He hated crying. He’d actually botched a few marks in the past because he hurried up to silence all the moaning and messy sobbing. If she was a crier, it’d be damned tempting to slit her pretty throat and toss her into deep space.
“I hope you stocked tea on this miserable little boat. I need a cup. Badly.”
Suspicious, he risked a glance at her and thankfully found her eyes completely dry. “I’ve got a nice black from Zijin. Just whirl your chair around one eighty degrees and hit the replicator.”
She didn’t fuss about having to make her own tea or complain that a replicator’s brew wasn’t as good as the real thing, a pleasant surprise. After leading a life of privilege, she couldn’t be faulted for snobbish ways, as long as she wasn’t a bloody prig at the same time. That he couldn’t abide.
She surprised him yet again by handing him a cup, too and also asking—instead of ordering. “Where are we going?”
“It’s going to be hard to disappear off the grid, unless you leave Britannian space entirely. We’ll have to fuel up somewhere, so I planned to stop at the Colony. Then beyond, wherever you want to go.”
“Britannia space grows wider day by day. The Razari certainly didn’t expect a warship to show up on their front door.” She sipped her tea in silence for a few moments. “I’m not afraid of correcting my mistakes, Sig. As long as you’re not afraid to point them out to me.” She chuckled at whatever she saw on his face. “Besides, now I have a reason to go shopping again. What do you recommend?”
“Dark colors, simple utilitarian materials. No embellishments.”
When she pouted, he couldn’t help but laugh. “No silk?”
“Absolutely not. Only a woman of a blooded House would wear silk outside of Britannia. If you look like a lady, there will be questions.”
She blew out a long breath. “This is going to be harder than I imagined. I expected to live without servants, high fashion, and the tedium of Society. In fact, I relished the opportunity to live on my own for once in my life. But no silk? Oh dear. That might…” She sniffed and damned if her bottom lip didn’t quiver. “Break me.”
Dread chilled Sig’s stomach. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. “Don’t make me toss you out the airlock, Charlie.”
She burst into laughter. “You should see the look on your face. Why, Lord Regret, I do believe you’re queasy. Are you by chance air sick?”
An alarm blared, cutting through her teasing. Instantly calm and alert, she set the cup of tea aside and took up position beside him.
He scanned the readings. “Unknown ship.”
Sig shook his head. “Not a warship. I’m also not detecting a merchant signal. Not good, not good at all. Someone was waiting for us to lift out of port, probably a bounty hunter. I need another five minutes before the Razari crystal is fully powered.”
“What kind of cannon do we have?”
He flashed a smile of appreciation at her. No questions, no panic. She leaped straight to the heart of the issue and prepared to blow them out of the sky. “Henry might be little, but our ship is loaded for bear.” He reached over and pulled up the armament program on her display. “Fire at will. We have plenty of ammunition.”
Concentrating on the controls, she still managed to quip. “You named your ship Henry?”
“Be nice to him,” Sig warned as he programmed in a zig-zag flight pattern with a little more zig than zag to hopefully buy them time. “He’s your ticket out of the Tower of Londonium.”
“Good boy.” She patted the dashboard and winked at Sig. “Fly faster, dear Henry.”
Taking return fire as quickly as she managed to get off a shot, the ship shimmied. Sig kept a wary eye on the shields, which were dropping at an alarming rate. Another hit and they might lose their port engine. Come on, Henry. Fire up that blasted engine so we can get out of here!
Lady Wyre whirled her seat around. “Where are my trunks?”
“You don’t have time to change your gown,” he gritted out. “I’m pushing the engines as hard as I dare to get us some breathing room, but I need you to keep them off my tail as long as possible!”
“Oh for goodness sakes.” She left her chair, stumbling against the panel when they took another shot that rocked the ship sideways. Fortunately, the panel she accidentally knocked open contained her precious trunk. She rummaged in it and quickly returned to her seat. “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, so to speak, Lord Regret. I can help with the shields and possibly…”
She plugged a slim stick into the panel and her dainty hands flew over the keyboard. “There. I can’t wait to get my hands on Henry’s nether regions to fully explore that Razari engine. All they brought to me to study was the crystal.”
Amazingly, the shields increased back to eighty percent capacity.
“You should have a bit more horses under the hood, too.”
Shaking his head, he increased the throttle and Henry leaped ahead like a charger taking the next fence. “My dear Lady Wyre, if we weren’t getting chased by a bounty hunter, I’m afraid I might have to kiss you.”
“Bloody hell,” she muttered, slamming her fist down on the panel.
Taken aback, Sig kept his gaze straight ahead. Stupid tongue. Too familiar by half and me out of Society for years. No wonder she’s offended.
“Oh don’t be a mamby-pamby. If you dare to steal a kiss, give me your very best effort and I may reward you with a bedding you’ll not soon forget. I’m frustrated because evidently I’m a wretched shot. If we survive, I want your solemn word of honor that you’ll see to it that I receive proper training on marksmanship.”
“Done and done.” Another blast rocked the ship, and this time poor Henry didn’t recover. He wallowed to the port side. Cursing beneath his breath, Sig hauled on the controls but the ship was sluggish to respond. “Damnation, we’re sitting ducks here. Don’t do this to me, Henry!”
“Incoming.” Her voice was tight and low but not panicked. “I’m trying to intercept. Hold on…”
The explosion sent the ship rolling back to starboard. Shrapnel splintered off the hull, jabbing into his left side and chest. He fought to bring the ship out of the roll, but pain choked him.
No. That was blood.
“The hull is compromised.” If anything, Lady Wyre’s voice became even more measured and calm as their situation worsened. “Redirecting shields with my device. Hold on, Henry…”
Sig glanced down. A long piece of twisted metal protruded from his chest. Once he pulled it out, he’d probably die in minutes. I have to find a place to land and fast. A place where we won’t fall into Britannian hands as soon as we try to dock.
There was only one blip on the radar that was settled but not firmly in Britannian control. Whatever she’d done with the shields had settled the ship’s roll, but the controls were still sluggish. He tried to plot the new course, but his fingers were numb. His hands felt like blocks of ice.
“Tell me what to do.”
“New course.” He tried to breathe shallowly to ease the pain. “Americus.” She said something, but pain blanketed him in a gray daze that words couldn’t penetrate. He couldn’t help but laugh, even though it sent shards of agony through his heart. I never thought I’d die in a shipwreck at the hands of a bounty hunter.
I’ve been Snoopy dancing ever since I got the news a few days ago, but I couldn’t share until the list was made public. Lady Doctor Wyre has been nominated by the Romantic Times for 2011 Best Paranormal/Fantasy/SF Erotic Romance! The official list is here.
Seeing my name and book listed with such fabulous company is such a tremendous honor I get all choked up just thinking about it.
Now, if only I can find a way to GET to the RT convention in Chicago next year!
Ashia of The Romance Reviews names Lady Doctor Wyre a TRR Top Pick!
The worldbuilding is impressive and just incredible! It was so real it felt I was there, and the author lets the reader into her world and experience it without info dumping. … I love this book, and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series.
Thank you so much, Ashia!
What I like though is how the ménage à trois makes sense in this story considering the context of the setting, and how the author takes the trouble to show me how the two men care for Charlotte and how she for them, instead of relying of cheap gimmicks like “two weird gay guys from outer space who needs a human woman to make them whole” or something equally ridiculous.
She does comment that she wished the novella was much longer. I’m pleased to say that I plan to write at least one more novella that explores their relationships even more, tentatively titled Lord Regret’s Price.
Thank you, Mrs. Giggles!
A huge HUGE thank you to Su at Earthly Charms for designing these incredible character cards for my new release! I highly recommend her for quick, lovely designs — and I can’t wait to hold these little beauties in my hands!
These are all in pdf format.
If you’d like a complete set, send your snail mail addy to joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com. It might be another week or two before they’re printed and shipped, but I’ll get them out as soon as I can. (P.S. If anyone’s going to RWA or any other con and can take some of these along for me, please let me know!)
Updated: I will ship internationally too – as long as you don’t mind me throwing in a few extras to make the postage worthwhile! Feel free to share them with your friends!
As soon as I saw this necklace, I knew I had to buy it for some lucky winner.
If you take a close look at the cover for LADY DOCTOR WYRE, you’ll see that she’s wearing a necklace. That necklace is the key to keeping Sig alive.
As her creations returned to their origin, the locket seemed to catch fire between them, molten metal searing her breast. Too tiny for her human eyes to see, her assemblers crawled out of his pores and cells. All year long, she wore the locket against her skin, allowing her body heat and life energy to infuse the battery cells within, so that if he ever needed a jolt, all he had to do was reach her. She’d also programmed her assemblers to emit alarms if his life energy ever ran too low, so even if he were too injured or weakened, she’d always be able to find him.
While she would mourn his death, she had an ulterior motive for such a detail—the tiny nanobots could never be allowed to fall into enemy hands.
If you’d like to win this necklace, simply comment on this post and tell me your favorite etsy or other hand-crafted shop (preferrably online so I can shop!) or simply throw your name in the hat.
For extra entries, you can rate or review Lady Doctor Wyre. I’ll automatically pull in all rates/reviews from GoodReads, Amazon, or B&N (existing ARC reviews do count). If you rate/review it anywhere else (your personal blog, etc.), please comment with the links — or drop me an email so your extra entries are counted. Twitter counts too — just use @joelysue so I can see your tweet. Note that I can’t easily keep track of the “new” RT feature, so the old classic style is best to ensure your tweets get you the extra entries.
This giveaway is open to anyone on the planet, even if you’ve won something before, and will remain open until April 8th. The winner will be announced April 9th on the blog. If the winner hasn’t responded by April 11th, I’ll draw another name.
Tomorrow’s the day!
If you want a copy early, then this is the place. I want to know about Regency tropes that you absolutely love.
The kooky spinister trying to save her brother from ruin.
The young debutante “ruined” by some ridiculous scandal years ago that was a misunderstanding.
The “beast” or “black duke” who might have murdered his wife…. (He usually has a name like the Devil of Blackmore.)
I think I just summarized several Amanda Quick plots! I’m pretty sure I have a whole bookshelf of her delightful Regencies somewhere. Or maybe you like the traditional Regencies. Our hometown library had a huge shelf of them and I’m pretty sure I read them all.
Tell me about your favorite Regency trope or book — or simply throw your name in the hat — in comments. At 5 PM CST *** today *** I’ll pick a winner so you can have the book to read before its official release tomorrow.
Lady Doctor Wyre releases next Tuesday, March 29th from Samhain Publishing (pre-order available)!
Susi, the Geeky Bookworm says:
An inventive setting with an enthralling adventure plot. The mix of historical, steampunk and science fiction is masterly woven together and the detailed view you get in the novel will leave you breathless.
Thank you so much, Susi! I hope to expand more on the developing romance and the men in particular in the next novella!
It’s Steampunk in Space for Joely Sue Burkhart’s new series. The Victorian-esq society is brilliantly crafted, multidimensional and intriguing. The futuristic aspects of this story will resonate with those who like such space tales as Whedon’s Firefly, while erotica fans will enjoy the ménage and bondage scenes. Burkhart has done an exceptional job of integrating these moments, and the heroine’s dominatrix tendencies, fully into the story. Readers will be anxious for the next installment in this universe!