EXCERPT FROM FINDERS KEEPERS

CHAPTER ONE

Click to buyThe Careless Venture’s intruder alarm erupted through the cavern with a harsh wail. Trilby Elliot shot to her feet, knocking over the makeshift repair table. Sonic welder and integrator cables clattered against the cavern floor.

She bolted for her freighter’s rampway. Overhead, a nest of sleeping bloodbats burst out of the rocky crevices like small, leathery missiles. The panicked bats, a crazed cluster of dark speckles, spiraled in front of her. Screeching, they fled through the wide mouth of the cavern into the lavender twilight.

She reached her rampway just as a silver object flashed across the sky behind them.

“Damn. Double damn.” Another ship here meant big trouble. Even a little trouble was more than she could handle right now.

She sprinted through the airlock.

Coils of black conduit snaked down the freighter’s corridor, humped over the hatch-tread into the bridge. She sidestepped the cables and reached for the alarm, slapping it into silence. A flick of her thumb activated intraship. She shouted the obvious. “Dezi, we got incoming! Take the bridge.”

“On my way, captain.” A reassuring reply came from three decks below in maintenance.

But then, Dezi couldn’t see what she could.

Lights blinked in a crazed staccato on the scanner console. Data, ominous and irritatingly incomplete, spilled down the screen. The incoming ship was small but her malfunctioning equipment refused to pin down its origins. It could be a Conclave scout ship; it could be a pirate probe. It could also be the first of a squadron of fighters from the Gods-only-knew-where.

She grabbed her binocs and laser rifle from the utility locker, tabbed the intercom back on. “Main scanner’s still not cooperating. I’m going outside for a visual.”

A second acknowledgment responded, calm as the first.

Good ol’ Dezi.

A wave of late afternoon heat assailed her as she passed under the cavern’s high arch. She crouched down between a nest of scrub palms and moss-covered boulders, scanned the sky with her binocs. The bright rays from the setting sun flared into her eyes.

“Damnation!” She flicked her thumb against the auto-filter. Nothing happened. The filter was stuck, again. She smacked the binocs against her thigh, winced, and then brought them back up.

They hazed for a moment then adjusted. She panned the horizon, looking for movement, listening for something other than the jungle’s thick silence and the pounding of her own heart. Five minutes passed. Sweat stained her drab-green t-shirt in dark, uneven patches.

Then a flicker, a metallic glint. She locked the binocs on it. The image came into focus and her sweat-dampened skin chilled as she recognized it. It was a Trahtark, a ‘Sko high-powered fighter, its distinctive slant-winged shape silhouetted against the sun’s final flares.

Quickly, she panned a three-sixty. The rest of the squadron must be there, somewhere. Which also meant a mothership in orbit. Somewhere. And somewhere was a place much too close for comfort.

But the darkening violet skies showed nothing. Nothing but the lone Tark.

The fighter blinked in and out of the purpling clouds, skittering like a frightened mizzet on a sheet of ice. Even blind drunk, Trilby knew she could fly better than that. It veered out of a cloudbank. She saw the unmistakable signs of laser damage scoring the portside flank. Now the fighter’s seesawing motions made sense.

It wasn’t the lead attacker, but the prey.

She took another quick scan of the sky. A Conclave border squadron in pursuit of the Tark might pick up her own energy signature. She’d have a bit of explaining to do, then. And no doubt a handful of fines to pay with money she didn’t have. But the scan revealed nothing.

Then the Tark dropped so close to the top of the jungle that she held her breath, waiting for the sound of impact.

It came with a grinding, screeching, snapping sound — metal against damp wood — then metal against rock. The Tark screamed to a halt on one of the few areas of jungle floor that wasn’t submerged under Avanar’s infamous swamps. Trilby was already on her feet, surveying the area with her binocs now set on night-watch. The first glimmer of orange flame licked into the night sky. A few minutes later she smelled a hint of acrid smoke, invisible in the diminishing light.

She panned another three-sixty. A Conclave patrol would have been here by now. But the skies were empty, quiet.

Her breathing and heartbeat slowed to normal. And a wicked smile crept across her face. The Tark’s status had just shifted from threat to profit.

She judged the crash site to be about two miles to the south. A safe distance but clearly workable. Not for a rescue; a Conclave ship in distress would’ve had her already moving, hollering at Dezi to load a ‘scooter with a med-kit.

This was ‘Sko. Which was, as far as she and every other Independent freighter captain were concerned, just another word for intergalactic garbage.

Pricey intergalactic garbage, but garbage all the same.

She catalogued her options. The sun had slipped away as she watched the ship, and the night air wrapped around her bare arms like a damp and heavy cloak. The first of Avanar’s three moons had risen, pale and sickly.

Not the most ideal conditions in which to perform a salvage attempt, especially on a fire-damaged ‘Sko fighter. If she waited until morning, the flames licking at the starboard wing of the Tark would have died, the metal cooled. And the ‘Sko pilot, if injured, would be weakened, or preferably dead. Probably should wait until morning, although she’d be battling sweltering temperatures then.

But the fire flickered out as she watched. Doused, she assumed, by an emergency extinguisher system.

That was good. In fact, it could be more than good, she told herself, realizing she’d already made the decision to inspect the downed Tark in spite of the encroaching darkness and unknown status of the pilot. It was the answer to her problems. With minimal fire damage, there was sure to be something salvageable, something to sell at Port Rumor or Bagrond. ‘Sko components were rare and brought more than decent money, even at salvage rates.

Decent money was something Trilby was a bit short of right now. And her supply of indecent money was running perilously low...

She caught the glint of Dezi’s metallic, somewhat humanoid form as she turned around. The DZ-9 ‘droid waited at the base of the Venture’s rampway. The bulky freighter loomed over him, almost protectively. They’d been in the middle of repairs when the alarm had wailed in warning.

"Looks like we got a keeper," she told the ‘droid as she trotted towards the slanting metal rampway. "Bring out two AGS with loaders. I’m going to grab some more firepower, just in case we’ve got company."

She patted his tarnished shoulder as she passed by. "Thanks, Dez."

"You’re quite welcome, captain. It’s always my pleasure to be useful."

She ducked through the airlock, grinning, as Dezi’s voice trailed off behind her. Four months ago that small courtesy would’ve sparked a big dissension. Jagan had always found her habit of thanking Dezi annoying. ‘Droids were one of many things that didn’t require appreciation, in his way of thinking.
But she was no longer concerned with Jagan Grantforth’s way of thinking, and so was free to revert to her impulsive and irresponsible ways. Or however it was that Jagan and his mother had termed how she lived her life.

She could still see his handsome and haughty face on his last transmit: "Mother was right. You are nothing but low class trash from Port Rumor."

Better than high class trash from Ba’grond. She’d wanted to tell him that, but never did. By that point in their relationship, she knew they didn’t even speak the same language.

She shook off the bad memories, plucked her faded service jacket from her closet then went in search of an extra laser pistol that worked.

She stepped off the ramp to find Dezi complaining about one of the AGS.

"I do believe, captain, that the support stands for these units must be replaced very soon. You can see here where this bar is completely rusted. Should something of a greater weight than I be seated—"

She sighed. "We’ll add it to the list, okay? But the AGS are going to have to wait until we get the comm pack back on line and my portside scanner replaced. AGS stands aren’t going to be a whole lot of help," she said, straddling the bulky scooter, "in avoiding ‘Sko nests between here and Port Rumor."

"I was only making the suggestion for future reference."

"You’re very thorough. I do appreciate it, believe me."

"Well, thank you. I always try to—"

"Dezi."

The ‘droid cocked its tarnished head in Trilby’s direction. "Yes?"

"Let’s go. There’s a wreck waiting for us."

"Oh, yes. Right. I was just about to—"

But Trilby had already gunned her scooter, activated the anti-grav unit and dropped over the ledge and out of sight by the time Dezi reached the point of explaining just what he was about to do. And doing it.


She set the AGS down as close as she could to the smoldering wreckage. The ‘Sko fighter had flattened an area in the jungle at least twenty feet wide and three times as long before it ended up in a grove of gnarled harelnut palms. One of the bronze giants tilted sideways, its long drooping fronds sooty and brittle from contact with the remains of the Tark’s fire-blackened engine. Headlamp flooding the scene before her, Trilby flicked the safety off her pistol.

The sleek fighter was skewed into the soft ground, its starboard wing ripped from the fuselage. The port wing impaled the thick fronds of another tightly packed grove of palms. But other than that, it was surprisingly intact. She didn’t know if she should give credit to the pilot or the auto-guidance system.

She placed her headlight on wide-beam, throwing a swatch of light over the wreckage. Dezi followed suit.
"You start aft. I’ll take a look up here." She grabbed a hand beam from the AGS’s utility compartment and played it over the cockpit area. The canopy had sheared off, leaving the cockpit open and exposed. She steeled herself for the inevitable mangled remains in a flightsuit; she’d seen no chute deploy prior to impact so obviously the pilot didn’t have a chance to eject.

But the cockpit was empty.

"Oh, great," she said softly, then, louder: "Dezi. Over here, now."

She heard the thudding of his feet on the ground. "Can I be of assistance?"

"Watch my back." She transferred her beam to her left hand and brought her pistol, primed, into her right. "Our pilot’s disappeared."

The ‘droid stepped closer and inspected the empty cockpit. "Highly unusual."

"Tell that to the pilot when we find him. ‘Cause he’s not in there. Which means," she played her beam in a slow, wide circle around her, "that he… or she… is out there. Somewhere."

The night seemed to close in on her. The pale light of the moons elongated the shadows, and they danced and wove eerily in the periphery of her high beam.

Someone or something was out there. She listened carefully, hearing only the sound of her own breathing and the slight squeak of Dezi’s joints as he moved in the opposite direction. She damned herself for not latching the datalyser on her utility belt. But the life-form sensor had been relegated to her growing pile of nonfunctional equipment.

Well, live and learn. She hoped she would manage the former long enough to do the latter.

She swept the area with her beam again, probing the recesses of the night, searching for the telltale red of the ‘Sko uniform. Blood red, like the carnage they caused devastating trade depots, mining colonies, cargo freighters. The ‘Sko acquired, butchering whoever stood in their way, including their own wounded.
She shivered slightly, in spite of the hot night air.

You’d better be dead, you motherless-son-of-a-Pillorian-bitch. After all, she didn’t ask for the ‘Sko to crash, right in her front yard. But the fact that he did, and the fact that Trilby was, as far as she knew, the only sentient being on a world that most of civilized space wanted nothing to do with, gave her the unalienable salvage rights. Finders keepers. It was worth the risk.

She desperately needed the money. And only someone as desperate as she was would be crawling around in the Avanarian jungle at night, looking for a—hopefully—dead ‘Sko.

She found his boot heels first and froze in her stance. A male, from the size of the boots. Her beam traveled up the length of his uniformed legs. Black. Not red.

The black form lying face down in the deep grass wasn’t moving.

"Dezi!"

The thudding steps came quickly this time.

"You appear to have found him." The ‘droid’s beam played up the length of the man’s back and over a head covered with dark hair. The pilot had fallen face first, his arms extended crookedly over his head.

"He’s dead, isn’t he?" Trilby asked hopefully.

Dezi bent closer to the pilot’s head. "Actually, no. There is evidence of a slight respiration."

"Damnation." Trilby hunkered down next to the pilot, the light from her beam illuminating his pale profile. The long grasses hid all but one dark brow and a closed eye. A purplish bruise had already formed on his cheekbone.

She pulled at the dark cloth of the jacket collar, revealing a black shirt, and a collar with a distinctive gray diamond-shaped design. Beneath, she found the pulse she was looking for. It was strong.
Again, she swore. Softly. "I can’t, we can’t just leave him here."

"Captain. I strongly advise against bringing an Ycsko—"

"He’s not ‘Sko, he’s Zafharin, judging from the uniform."

"The Empire. Well, yes. That’s different."

Was it? Trilby asked herself as she and Dezi carefully loaded the unconscious form on the expanded pallet of the AGS. The Empire and the Conclave, in which she claimed a loose citizenship, were rivals, maintaining a trade relationship with only the barest sheen of civility. But they had been enemies in the past. The Imperial-Conclave War had ended about three years ago.

She wasn’t political but neither was she stupid. The Zafharin Empire was powerful, very powerful. If it hadn’t been for the advent of ‘Sko aggression, they probably would have annexed all of Conclave space years ago.

A three-year old truce declared she could no longer look upon the man on the pallet as her enemy.
But she could still be careful. Very, very careful.

He had, she reminded herself, been dumped on her doorstep courtesy of the Ycsko. That alone would take some explaining...

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RITA Award Finalist - Best First Book
AAR Desert Isle Keeper - Dec 2008
2005 RIO Award Finalist
10th in the Locus Top 20 Best Seller List - Aug 2005
Sapphire Award Winner
PEARL Award Winner
EPPIE Award Winner- Best Paranormal Romance!
ERA Award Winner
CataRomance Reviewers Choice Award - Best SciFi

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here to buy from Books A Million

"Linnea Sinclair's Finders Keepers has the trappings of military SF on a grand scale: battleships, interstellar conflict, goofy androids, plenty of intrigue and an inscrutable alien menace to the human race. Don't be fooled by the familiar scenery, though—the core of this novel is the love story...

Sinclair manages the sexual tension between her main characters skillfully, drawing readers into an intricate dance of attraction, conflict and thwarted desire. The author's sure hand with characterization makes each twist of this emotionally laden storyline as suspenseful as any well-wrought battle scene. It all works because there is real substance in the attraction between Trilby and Rhis. The two have genuine shared interests, they are temperamentally suited, and each struggles honestly with the barriers posed by their divergent backgrounds and different mother tongues.

What's more, Finders Keepers offers some tidy exploration of the ways in which people reinvent themselves when thrown into unfamiliar situations....

With peppy, laugh-out-loud dialogue, an outstanding cast of supporting characters and a big serving of adventure in the mix, Finders Keepers is guaranteed to show readers a pleasant and thoroughly entertaining time."

--A.M. Dellamonica for Science Fiction Weekly

"Let's be honest, we romance readers love our kick-ass heroines! Whether they are walloping the backsides of medieval warriors, planting their slippers up the breeches of a Regency Lord, or bruising the buttocks of a contemporary alpha male, we are rooting for them all the way! Well, folks, I am thrilled to tell you that now the galaxy is the limit. Linnea Sinclair has masterfully created science fiction romances featuring the most vibrant heroines who gleefully kick interstellar butt across several star systems, and Trilby Elliot may be one of the best!... I strongly urge you to consider any of Linnea Sinclair's novels - whether writing under this name or as Megan Sybil Baker, she proves that love makes not only the world go 'round, but also the local galactic cluster and several nearby nebulae as well!"

--Celia Merenyi for A Romance Review

"Captain Trilby Elliot has parked her rattletrap ship on an uninhabited planet to make repairs when an enemy ‘Sko ship hurtles in the forest nearby. But instead of salvaging useful parts from the crash, she salvages a Z’fharian man, Rhis Vanur, who turns out to be both very useful and very inconvenient in his own special way...

Trilby and Rhis are well-rounded characters of the type you don’t consistently encounter in futuristic romances, or any romances, for that matter. They do not fall fully into romance stereotypes, being more reminiscent of inhabitants of the novels of, say, Anne McCaffrey or Tanya Huff. They dwell neither in angst-land nor cutesy comedy land, and for me characters I can like and understand will make or break a novel.

More specifically, Trilby is tough, capable and independent, which I just adore in a female protagonist, and doesn’t need Rhis any more than she needs another hole in her spaceship. This makes it all that much more convincing when she begins to fall in love with him...

The plot is pure, rollicking space opera, with suspense, computer programming, backstabbing, space battles and galaxy-wide threats galore... I recommend Finders Keepers ... take it to bed with you and stay up late flipping pages."

--Jody Wallace, Editor, SFROnline

AWARD OF DISTINCTION: EXCEPTIONAL MERIT from Heartstrings Reviews!

"Finders Keepers has the "wow!" factor in spades. While at heart a rich, deep, complex sci-fi novel that will thrust readers into a dazzlingly different orbit, Ms. Sinclair has managed to incorporate an equally rich, deep, complex romance into the plot; the kind that makes a romance reader more than a little weak in the knees. The sci-fi and romantic elements mesh beautifully... Quite simply, this is a fascinating futuristic romance. The plot and characterizations are detailed, dynamic and deeply immersive and make this super-charged sci-fi release twice as interesting as anything this reviewer has come across before...Well-developed and wonderfully imaginative, Finders Keepers has "exceptional merit" written all over it. Linnea Sinclair is definitely an author to add to one's auto-buy list. [T]his is one terrific, not-to-be-missed, action-packed sci-fi romance!"

--Cheryl Jeffries for Heartstrings Reviews

"FINDERS KEEPERS by Linnea Sinclair takes romantic sci-fi to an all new level—a book that’s equally balanced in the amount of science fiction, fantasy, high-tech gadgetry, plot, and romantic subplot. A wonderful book... not to be missed. "

--Jennifer Wardrip for Romance Junkies Reviews

"Trilby owns her own cheap freighter and works it with a single robot helper, plying the space lanes for whatever work she can find at a time of increasing tension between three empires. Rhis, a Zafharin commander, has escaped from the Sko and literally crashes near where she has been repairing her ship on an uncharted planet (to save docking fees). One thing leads to another, romance blooms, and there's corruption that has to be stopped before a new war breaks out. Linnea Sinclair's Finder's Keepers (paper from Bantam Spectra) is light romantic fun, from a writer with a lot of promise. "

--Henry Leon Lazarus, Central City's Weekly Press

"I should say at the outset that I enjoyed this book. I rather like my SF with the blood dripping from the bulkheads whilst this story has a deal of romance in it, but it was a good adventure story. Those who like a bit of romance in their adventures will enjoy it all the more, whilst those who do not will be able to put up with it for the story of which romance forms but a part.... The characters are well-rounded and not merely cardboard figures which gives the book more depth than perhaps a straight forward romance would have. The story is skilfully written with a number of twists and turns in the plot which is space opera at its best filled with suspense, double-dealing and space battles and unfolds against a background of a universe with its own political, economic and social structures. The author creates this background with a light touch without needing great slabs of narrative which in itself is a great skill....I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it."

--Paul Hanley for SFCrowsnest.com

“Linnea Sinclair is one author to put on your “must” read list. FINDERS KEEPERS is knock your socks off storytelling with riveting characters that send you into orbit and keeps you there. Electrifying action that is nonstop, superb secondary characters, the threat of great danger from hostile factions, betrayal and everlasting passion. This one is a keeper!”

--Suzanne Coleburn, Reader To Reader Reviews

From the NoveList Read-Alike Articles:

"Readers of Castle/Krentz's Sweet Starfire Futuristic Romance should seek out Linnea Sinclair's Finders Keepers. In this fast-paced adventure combining an otherworldly clash of values and priorities with a Cinderella story, an impoverished independent space captain teams up with the Empire's most feared military leader, without knowing his real identity, to ferret out a highly-placed traitor before it is too late. The humorous banter among the various characters, as well as the gradually developing trust between Trilby and Rhis, are major appeal factors. "

Lynne Welch is an Ohio librarian specializing in Readers' Advisory and Electronic Reference services.
NoveList Read-alike List
NoveList/EBSCO Publishing © 2003

Four and a Half Moons! Excellent!: "This book proves that Sci-Fi can indeed exist in union with Futuristic Romance. And that—gasp!—a good space adventure can document two people falling in love. It even has room for well-done sexual tension. In addition to the romantic plot, FINDERS KEEPERS has: disreputable freighter pilots, ‘droids with attitudes, Heroes that are beyond human but are also endearingly human, space battles, asteroid fields, battleships and space stations, trans-galactic jump gates, arrogant corporate scum, and inter-galactic politics. You want it? It’s there...

Ride with Trilby and Rhis on a roller-coaster of political and financial machinations and against an amazing backdrop of life in deep space. Author Sinclair’s prose is tight and intense. You’ll feel as though you are in the cockpit, the ship’s controls in your hands, speeding through space with your hair on fire."

--Brenda Thatcher for Mystique Books

Four Teapots! A Rich, Top Notch Read: "Finders Keepers is a lusty tale of intrigue & battles, with a shipload of humor, cultural misunderstandings & technology. [It] has just the right ingredients of comedy, action, passion & clashing cultures that I simply could not put it down! A deliciously amusing & entertaining read."

--Rebecca Brown for RebeccasReads.com

Five Stars! Winner: Reviewers Choice Award! "Linnea Sinclair takes the reader for a quite a ride with Finders Keepers. Combining some excellent Sci-Fi with passionate romance, Finders Keepers is one book you do not want to miss."

--Debby Guyette, CataRomance Reviews

Five Thumbs Up! "I read Finders Keepers in one sitting. It’s an action-packed adventure that will keep both science fiction and romance readers on the edge of their seats."

--Lillian Cauldwell, Reviewer and Host, The Lillian Cauldwell Show

Copyright 2008 Linnea Sinclair, All rights reserved.