EXCERPT

CHAPTER TWO

“Shields at full,” Verno announced as I lunged through the bridge’s hatchway, Sully and Ren on my heels.“Weapons system online.”

“Acknowledged.” I slid, temporarily, into the pilot’s chair behind Verno. My adrenaline spiked then receded. This was familiar territory. “What’ve we got?”

“What in hell happened to long range?”

Sully’s question overlapped mine as I tapped the link live on the chair’s armrest console. Gregor would be here in seconds and, in spite of the situation, wouldn’t miss a chance to take umbrage at my location in his seat. I didn’t want his job, but I needed information. The pilot’s armrest console, with feeds from all stations, was the best place for me to find answers.

“Farosian Infiltrator,” Verno said, answering my question and Sully’s as well.

An Infiltrator. A Farosian covert scoutship—Elarwin in design, judging from the elongated bridge and deltoid thruster grid aft, a hint of which I could see outlined on my screen. Sleek, fast, deadly, and with the annoying reputation for jamming scanner signals. Sully’s wasn’t the only ghost ship out there in the big wide darkness. I shunted the data over to the auxiliary console next to Sully at navigation. The alarm ceased abruptly. Then hard footsteps sounded behind me.

Two men appeared, both in nondescript spacer gray coveralls like Verno wore: one tall, lanky, and pale; the other squat, muscled, and dark-skinned. Gregor and Marsh. I pulled myself from the pilot’s seat, not missing Gregor’s eyes narrowing at my location or the similarly withering glance he shot at Ren at communications. We could deal with that later—if at all. Right now we had an unexpected visitor. Gregor’s continuing problems with me and Ren were the least of our worries.

“Farosian Infiltrator,” Sully repeated. “Twenty-two minutes out.”

Gregor dropped into the pilot’s seat. Marsh hustled over to the engineering console.

“What do they want out here? Besides us, that is,” Marsh grumbled. I understood his question. Tos Faros was in Dafir, but out by the Walker Colonies. We were on the opposite end of the sector, heading for Narfial. Not an impossible location for the often-violent supporters of Sheldon Blaine’s claim to the throne, but not their usual one either. At least that’s what Fleet intelligence had taught me to believe.

Of course, much of what had transpired in my life in the past few months confirmed that a good portion of Fleet intelligence was wrong.

Blaine was imprisoned on Moabar when I was, but the chances that the Farosians knew that and further knew I was on Sully’s ship… That thought set me back for a moment. But I could tell them nothing useful. I never saw Blaine.
That they might have an old grudge against Sully was a more likely possibility—on that Marsh’s grumbling comment told me he knew as well.

I studied what little the Karn’s data sweeps were bringing us then checked on our status. The only good news was that the Infiltrator’s weapons’ ports read cold. Even so, Marsh was already coordinating with Aubry belowdecks, committing additional power to the sublight engines. Sully worked on tagging the closest jumpgates. The bridge was quiet except for the occasional human or Takan grunt of frustration, because we still had no definitive ship ID on our visitor. No one spoke until we had options and exits all clearly defined. The Karn could defend herself, but she wasn’t a warship. We needed a way to get out of here quickly, if those ports turned hot and our visitor turned nasty.
Farosian terrorists had never been lauded for their manners. And Sully had been rude to them on several occasions.

“Closest gate and second best, if they get aggressive.” Sully sent a flurry of data to my screens and everyone else’s. “For now, let’s play dumb until we know if they intend to talk to us or shoot at us.”

Running from an Infiltrator in anything smaller than a Maven-class cruiser was a good way to get shot at.

“They’re holding at eighteen minutes out,” Verno intoned.

“No comm signals from them,” Ren added, one hand cupped over the comm set ringing his right ear.

And no ident data that either I or Sully could find. Not even a false one, like ours.

What do they want? I sent the question to Sully along with a deliberate glance, because I still wasn’t sure how to tell when he was mentally listening to me.

Depends if their scans picked us up as the Karn or ID’ed us as a supply freighter.

We had nicely counterfeited registry docs that broadcast us as the Darvo Tureka, under contract to Border One Export. But the Infiltrator had slipped past our long-range scan’s warning sensors. It might have punched holes in our identity as well.

I’d prefer to think not, but if they have, then it’s likely old business. Since they no longer believe I’m dead.
Tage made sure the newshounds disseminated that information three months ago.

But Hayden’s kept me too busy lately to have time to bother with Blaine’s Justice Wardens, Sully continued, and through our mental link I could feel the sneer in his tone at the label the Farosians used for themselves. And yes, they probably know you were on Moabar, but I doubt that’s why they’re here.

I broadened the parameters on my scanning string, swept the Infiltrator again. Nothing. Damn. Do they know I’m on this ship?

Your faith in my mind-reading skills thrills me, my angel, but the fact is I can’t tell at this distance. Seriously, he added, as I bristled at his teasing response. They should not have any reason to know you’re on my ship. If they do, then we have a crew problem again. And I’m going to have to do some poking around, and that will cause us even more problems. But let’s deal with that after we deal with them.

Sully’s “crew problem” would require using a telepathic probe on his crew with Ren as decoy. Last time he had to do that, we almost had a mutiny on our hands. But it was a mutiny because Gregor and Marsh believed Ren was a Ragkiril. Having to use Ren in that manner and then feeling the vicious backlash directed—wrongly—at Ren had troubled Sully deeply. I didn’t want to see Ren go through that again. I didn’t want to see Sully go through that again.

I hoped the Farosians just happened to be on a similar course to the Darvo Tureka.

“You want a little more distance between us and them, Sully?” Gregor asked.

This was Sully’s normal method—keep pulling away, grabbing up speed, working magic with his sublights that still amazed me, and then punching it, hell-bent for a gate.

Sully glanced over his shoulder. “Keep us at the eighteen-minute range until we can pick up the gate’s outer beacon. I don’t want them pushing in to close the gap, thinking we have something worth chasing, when all we might have here is an aborted jump transit. Let’s play nice, stupid freighter minding its own business. The reason they’re out there may have nothing to do with us.”

An aborted transit that landed you just inside another ship’s short-range grid usually was cause for immediate comm contact and an apology. Even a request for aid, because aborted transits played hell with ships’ systems. But Sheldon Blaine’s terrorists never requested anything. They took.

Though I’d have preferred Gregor’s suggestion for a bit more room—just because I disliked the man didn’t mean I invalidated his expertise—that eighteen-minute separation was enough to keep them from easily taking data from us. At the same time it gave us a workable distance from which to gather data on them.

“Incoming comm transmit,” Ren announced suddenly. “Audio only.”

Sully leaned back in his chair then swiveled toward Ren. “Let’s hear what Emperor Sheldon’s Justice Wardens have to say.”

Ren spoke softly into his headset, giving the command to open the transmission link. There was the usual short double-chime, then: “Mr. Sullivan. Welcome back to the land of the living.”

So much for our nicely counterfeited registry docs. The voice emitting through the speakers was female, with a noticeable drawl common to most of the worlds and stations in Dafir’s Quadrant 3. She had a thicker accent than Guardian Drogue but I’d not heard enough of her voice to place her age. My mind ran through the Empire’s list of known female terrorist leaders, but Sully’s response pinpointed her identity for me.

“Nayla Dalby. Should I be thanking you for the flowers sent to my funeral? Regrettably, I was unable to attend.”

“Flowers?” She barked out a harsh laugh. “If I sent anything, it’d be a plasma torpedo.”

“Such a high-priced offering. I’m flattered.” Sully swiveled back toward me and winked.

Clearly, he wasn’t worried. I was. Commander Nayla Dalby was a ruthless assassin the Empire had yet to apprehend. She was two years my senior. I knew her age because, like me, she’d been part of Fleet. She went AWOL and joined the Farosians about five years ago, taking with her a considerable amount of top-secret data. Data that was never to have left HQ on Aldan Prime. I had no idea what that data was—my clearance wasn’t high enough. Philip’s was, but I never asked him. I just had a standing order to kill her if she came within my ship’s sights.

“Don’t be flattered,” Dalby said. “If I had my way, you’d be eating that torpedo now. But we’ve decided you might be useful.”

“To Blaine? Sorry. Can’t support Sheldon’s bid for the throne. His politics and his proclivity for torture annoy me.”

“More than you’re annoyed by Darius Tage and your dear cousin Hayden?”

Sully’s eyes narrowed slightly then he shrugged, his expression blanking. “What’s your point, Dalby?”

“Don’t you know? The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Limited thinking. Reality has shown that the enemy of my enemy is one more enemy I have to account for.”

“But this enemy doesn’t care that you pulled an Imperial officer off of Moabar. Or that you firebombed one of Burke’s little experiments on Marker.”

Sully sat up straighter. A sudden emptiness told me he’d cut his mental link with me. I swiveled toward him, but I don’t know what worried me more: his mental silence or that Dalby knew about the jukor labs. That meant the Farosians had someone in Tage’s office, Burke’s organization, or—and I shuddered at the thought—on Philip’s ship, the Morgan Loviti.

The Farosians infiltrating Fleet had been a long-standing concern. Blaine’s supporters worked with limited resources. What ships they did have were like the Infiltrator, small and fast, but nothing that could seriously threaten a starport or station. But if they were to ever get a heavy battle cruiser, like the Krista Nowicki, or a destroyer, like the Loviti, the situation would get that much more dire. They could go from being hit-and-run terrorists to a workable force to be contended with.

That was one of the reasons Fleet wanted Dalby dead. She knew too much about those kinds of resources.
“In fact,” Dalby was saying, “we’re damned pleased.”

“Your point?” Sully repeated, his tone controlled. The energy I could feel vibrating from him—even without the link—was not. I glanced at my console. The Farosian ship still had weapons ports showing cold.

“We can help you take down Tage. Stop Burke’s jukor labs.”

“And why would you help me?”

“Because you can persuade the Imperial Fleet to side with us.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it quickly before my voice betrayed my presence. The Farosians would never settle for allying with Fleet. They wanted Fleet’s power, Fleet’s ships.

Sully laughed harshly. “Fleet hates me, Dalby. Maybe as much as they hate you.”

“But they don’t hate Chasidah Bergren. Or should I say Chasidah Bergren Guthrie? Wife of esteemed Admiral Philip Guthrie. I have my sources, Sullivan. Her arrest created serious schisms in the ranks. Oh, yeah , it was hushed up. But you weren’t the only one who made plans to spring her from lockup on Baris Starport.”

Sully was very still. I shot a glance at Ren. He leaned forward, shoulders stiff, silvery eyes narrowed as he listened intently.

“And you weren’t the only one trying to get her off Moabar,” Dalby was saying. “You just got there first.”

Thad had told me he’d been trying to get me transferred off Moabar. Then Philip admitted the same thing. Is that what Dalby referred to, or were there others? Sparks, my engineer, had opted for early retirement shortly before my court-martial. I remembered the pained, angry transmit he’d sent me, damning Fleet’s actions. It wouldn’t have been beyond him to rally some of my crew. But enough to create the schisms Dalby mentioned? It didn’t seem possible. I was a good officer, but I didn’t have the kind of adulation that was part and parcel of the Guthrie name.

“Far-fetched,” Sully said, leaning back in his chair, steepling his fingertips together. “Even if I could convince Captain Bergren to plead Blaine’s cause to her former comrades—and I doubt she would—there’s no guarantee that would persuade the entire fleet to mutiny against Prew.”

“If the Admirals’ Council ordered it, it might.”

“She’s not married to Philip Guthrie anymore.”

“Oh, but he’d listen.”

If Dalby thought bringing up Philip’s name would sway Sully to her side, she was very wrong.

“No,” he said firmly. “It you want to stop the jukor labs because it’s the decent thing to do, because your own people on Tos Faros will suffer if you don’t, or because Tage is likely to let a few loose on Moabar to tear Blaine to shreds, then fine. But I’m not going to help you put Sheldon Blaine on the throne. Trading one lunatic despot for another is not an improvement.”

“Even if the trade involved Thaddeus Bergren?”

This time I went very still and cold. Stop Tage and Burke, destroy the jukors, save Thad. It was all such an incredibly attractive package, there had to be a catch—a big fat ugly one. But even if there wasn’t, putting Sheldon Blaine on the throne and his Justice Wardens in charge of the Empire was not something I could live with.
Sully was looking at me, brow creasing. I waved away his concern. It was time to make my presence known.

“You overplayed your hand, Commander Dalby,” I told her. “I have no reason to believe you’d deliver on your promises. I do have every reason to believe, though, that you’d use my brother as your hostage. I’m not going to have my family or the Empire held prisoner.”

“Captain Bergren.” Dalby’s voice held a slight note of surprise, but whether it was because I was on this ship or simply at the bridge at this time I didn’t know. “We will have this conversation again, soon. And your answer will be very different. Trust me on that...”

More sample teasers from SHADES OF DARK:

Shades of Dark Sneak Peek #1

Shades of Dark Sneak Peek #2

 

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CTRR Award Winner!
RRT's Perfect 10!
AAR's Desert Isle Keeper
Starred Review from Publisher's Weekly
Romance Reader at Heart Top Pick!

 

Four and a Half Stars! RT's highest rating!

"Chaz and Sully are back, and their lives haven't gotten any easier! Picking up after Gabriel's Ghost, the singularly impressive Sinclair thrusts her dynamic lovers into a maelstrom of trouble. The first-person, high-octane action is exhilarating. When it comes to futuristic romance, it doesn't get better than Sinclair!

Summary: Things are going to hell in a handbasket for partners and lovers Chaz Bergren and Gabriel Sullivan. They survived the last serious attempt to assassinate them, but this time it's publicity that could destroy them. Chaz's brother Thad has been arrested and charged with treason. Chaz's ex-husband, Imperial Admiral Philip Guthrie, warns that Thad is being forced to reveal that Sully is a rare and feared human Kyi-Ragkiril, whose telepathic abilities make him an abomination to many."

—Jill M. Smith, Romantic Times BOOKreviews

Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly!

“RITA winner Sinclair's sequel to 2005's Gabriel's Ghost mixes space opera with romance …the smashing climax will please everyone.”

Romance Reviews Today: A Perfect 10!

"Buckle yourselves in and prepare for a ride you will not soon forget! Linnea Sinclair has written a masterpiece of science fiction fantasy with SHADES OF DARK. This is the sequel to her award winning GABRIEL'S GHOST that turned me into a sci-if fanatic, and don't be surprised if you find yourself doing the same....Linnea Sinclair is always an author you can count on for amazing stories and is one of the best in the business. SHADES OF DARK is going down as one of my favorite books of all time and well deserves RRT'S Perfect 10 award for excellence!"

—Kate Garrabrant, Romance Reviews Today

"Linnea Sinclair takes space opera to a whole new level in this intense, sensual intergalactic adventure full of raw emotions, tough choices, and a love that spans the stars. An instant addition to my very small keeper list, and a must-buy not only for fans of science fiction-romance, but for fans of gut-wrenching, sexy, high-stakes romantic adventures."

—Jessica Anderson, author of Nightkeepers

"I highly recommend this and Gabriel's Ghost to anyone. In fact, Shades of Dark will probably make my list of top 10 reads of 2008."

The Book Smugglers

“Starting right where RITA winning Gabriel’s Ghost left off, Shades of Dark is a rip-roaring tale of danger, passion, and hard choices. Chasidah Bergren, formerly a high flying Fleet officer and starship captain, was on a prison planet on trumped up charges when Gabriel Ross Sullivan, rogue and mercenary, rescued her. Now they’re lovers and partners in hunting an evil adversary, but too many people want them dead, and the Empire is not a safe place. Worse for Chaz is that Sully’s psychic powers are changing in scary ways that threaten not only their love, but possibly her life.

“No one blends romance and science fiction like Linnea Sinclair, and Shades of Dark is another sizzling page-turner!” –Mary Jo Putney, author of A Distant Magic

"Shades of Dark is one of those rare entities; a sequel that is as good, if not better, than the original. It is a sequel to Gabriel’s Ghost and it picks up the story a few months later. Not much has changed in that times, including the strong characters for which I am very grateful. The author has the ability to write very real characters with unique strengths and weakness. Thanks to his telepathy, Sully and Chaz are connected at an incredibly deep level. Despite this the insecurities and miscommunications that occur in all relationships still exist, helping to define and give life to the characters. The supporting characters are also well written, including the alien Taka’s and Stolorth’s. The story is more complex this time around, as the insane logic behind the Jukor breeding program is fleshed out. The author allows the characters (and the reader) to gradually uncover the various pieces of the puzzle, resulting in an intriguing storyline that draws the reader in. The climax of the novel is unexpected and avoids the trap of trying to tie up to many loose ends. Indeed, there could possibly be another sequel tucked away somewhere in the author’s mind; a prospect that both intrigues and excites me. This story is a compelling page-turner and a novel that firmly places Linnea Sinclair in my select group of must have authors."

—Alex, Coffee Time Romance Reviews

 

"Linnea Sinclair is a master story teller, every word has meaning, every story is a work of art. This story picks up on our favorite characters, Chaz and Sully and it should not be missed, it is a breath taking tale! I couldn't put it down. I can't wait for the next Linnea Sinclair book! Keep them coming."

—National Award Winning Author, Rae Monet



Top Pick!

"SHADES OF DARK is a romantic, science fiction roller coaster. If you like intricate plots and fascinating characters, you will love Sinclair's latest, the sequel to GABRIEL'S GHOST. ..Sinclair has done a spectacular job of world and character building with this book."

—Heather Hiestand , Romance Reader at Heart

Copyright © 2008 Linnea Sinclair, All rights reserved.