Hello my lovely followers,
long time no read. I hope you are well (despite the circumstances). Today I have something special: a cover reveal! But not just one regular, no, it’s for Isabelle Adler’s upcoming title in the Staying Afloat series:
Afloat, out February 15.
So with no further ado, let’s have a look at the cover…
Just one more scrolling.
…. Almost there!
…And here is it – isn’t it amazing? Attentative readers, do you notice the small details that have changed? :3
Tell me below (in comments) what you think of it. :3
Series: Staying Afloat 3
Author: Isabelle Adler
Genre: M/M, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, SFF
Orientation: Bisexual, Demisexual, Gay
Sex Content: Explicit
Release Date: February 15, 2021
Publisher: NineStar Press
Length: 70.900 words
Cover artist: Natasha Snow
Warning: Depictions of violence, abduction, physical injuries. Mentions of torture, mutilation, alcohol abuse. Allusions to past rape. Deaths of minor characters
Add to you bookshelf:
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Adrift (Book 1) + Ashore (Book 2) – available on Amazon
No place is safe anymore.
Matt and his crew know it all too well—and it’s especially true now as the war with the Alraki has reached the heart of Federation space and struck close to home. Suddenly, Matt is faced with a difficult choice. He has the opportunity to sway the tide of the war and rectify a past wrong by helping the Fleet obtain a groundbreaking Alraki technology. But to do so, he must risk his ship and the lives of his crewmates.
With Matt’s archenemy, the infamous Captain Rodgers, still on the loose and bent on revenge, the Alraki aren’t the only ones who pose a deadly threat to Matt and the people most dear to his heart. With danger and betrayal haunting their steps, Matt and Ryce must find a way to save their friends even as sinister secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart.
This time, the price of staying afloat might be higher than what Matt is willing to pay.
“Can’t wait to get the hell out of here,” Matt muttered to himself.
A Federation space map slowly revolved on the large canopy screen, illuminating the darkened bridge with the light of distant stars. A red dot flashed sedately at the very edge of the map, marking their current location. The Elysium system was as remote as an inhabited corner of the galaxy could possibly be.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, “remote” didn’t always mean “out of harm’s way.”
Matt set the empty coffee mug on the edge of the console and leaned back, linking his hands behind his head as he considered the vastness of the galaxy, sprawled before him in all its unassuming majesty. At first glance, it appeared to hold endless possibilities, but as it turned out, they were unfortunately limited by constraints that had nothing to do with Matt’s dreams and preferences. Even the parts of the galaxy ostensibly under Federation control weren’t always safe for humans, and out of those, quite a large number of places weren’t safe for him personally.
“Permission to come on the bridge,” a voice chimed over the speaker. Matt smiled and spun around in his chair to greet Ryce as he walked in.
“So formal. Are you going to salute me next and call me ‘Captain’?”
Ryce grinned back at him and leaned down for a quick kiss before sitting beside him in the copilot seat.
“Now who’s being kinky? I thought adherence to a chain of command wasn’t your thing.”
“It’s not. But it’d still be nice to get some respect around here.”
“Knowing your crew, there’s not much chance of that,” Ryce remarked and cocked his head as he studied the map. “Have you been here all morning?”
“Pretty much. And where were you? I didn’t see you at breakfast.”
“I was playing chess with Val in the rec room.”
“Really? Two geniuses playing chess? Could you be any more cliché?”
“Neither of us is technically a genius,” Ryce observed, his eyes still glued to the screen.
“Close enough from where I stand.”
“Val and I have also tested the new power converter for the engine, and, as far as he’s concerned, it’s all systems go.” The digitalized starlight reflected in Ryce’s eyes as he pulled up the specs at the bottom of the screen, making Matt’s attention momentarily slip. “We can be out of this system the second you decide where we’re going. Have you?”
Matt sighed and ran a hand through his hair. His auburn locks had grown a bit too long for his taste, but with everything that’d been going on lately—namely, his engineer having been kidnapped and his pilot having been roped into participating in deadly drag races—he hadn’t had a chance to cut them.
“Not really. Since we’ve changed registration twice in one year already, there are only so many sectors where we could apply for a working permit, and a lot of the others are now a warzone. This whole war business is a real nuisance when you’re on the run.”
“Do you think Griggs is still after us?” Ryce asked. “It has been rather quiet lately.”
“I don’t know, but I’m not planning on hanging around much longer to find out.”
Griggs, the black-market king of the Freeport 73 station, was the man behind their crew’s recent misadventures, and though they’d managed to strike an uneasy truce, Matt wasn’t naive enough to believe the crime lord would swallow the bitter pill of blackmail without some kind of payback. Having to—literally—piece his engineer back together was more than enough incentive for Matt to look for opportunities elsewhere.
“Tony says we’re due a vacation, and for once, I tend to agree with her. We’ve all been through some tough shit in the past few months, and we all deserve a break while we have the cash to afford it. But before we go booking that luxury resort stay on Nova, I’d like to have all my bases covered.”
Matt shook his head and looked at Ryce.
“What about you? Is there anywhere you’d like to go, even if it’s just for a little while?” he asked gently, reaching out to stroke the other man’s hand. “Have you considered getting in touch with your mother?”
“I don’t think it’s time for that yet,” Ryce said, looking away. “I’m grateful for the money she sent me, of course, but it still doesn’t mean she wants to see me.”
There was something evasive about the way he said it, as if he wasn’t completely sure or completely truthful in his answer.
“Okay,” Matt said slowly.
It really wasn’t his place to pry or push Ryce into being more open about this particular subject; God knew, Matt was prickly about discussing his own family with other people. But he couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. It was silly, really, but there he was, unable to hold back a frown because it implied Ryce didn’t trust him enough to share something a little more personal.
But his disappointment was his hang-up, not Ryce’s. So instead of quietly sulking, Matt squeezed Ryce’s hand in reassurance. The feel of Ryce’s skin against his was still wondrous to him, despite them spending barely any time apart, his own private miracle. Not only because he still couldn’t quite believe a man like Ryce could love someone as flawed as him, but because after everything they’d been through, they were incredibly fortunate to be alive to enjoy their happy ever after. This was what he should be focusing on, not some imaginary slights he was learning to recognize as self-sabotage.
Ryce smiled and covered Matt’s hand with his own, his cool touch sending sparks of excitement down Matt’s spine. “What are you thinking? You have that funny look on your face.”
“Must be the aftermath of last night’s dinner.”
Ryce scoffed. “You didn’t have to be quite so unequivocal about how bad you thought it was,” he chided, but there was a spark of laughter in his eyes.
“I’m actually glad you suck at cooking. Just goes to show nobody can be perfect at everything. And if you’re not perfect, there’s hope for the rest of us mortals.”
“Remind me to gloat with the same level of delight when I discover something you suck at.”
“So pretty much anything?”
“I can think of a few things you’re good at,” Ryce murmured, sliding from his seat and onto Matt’s lap in a fluid motion.
Matt’s heart sped up. He pulled Ryce closer, greedily drinking the kiss as he closed his eyes and lost himself to the whirlwind of stars around him.
He slid his hand over the front zipper of Ryce’s fatigues, but then Ryce withdrew abruptly, frowning, and touched the adapter on his temple, the one linked to Lady Lisa’s computer.
“There’s an incoming call,” he said.
“They’ll call later,” Matt said impatiently. Whoever it was, they could damn well wait another ten minutes. “We’re kind of in the middle of something here.”
“It’s a military channel.” Ryce’s frown deepened, and he stood up to sit back in the copilot seat.
“Damn it.” Matt sat up in his chair, pushing down on his arousal and frustration. His disdain for authority didn’t extend as far as ignoring contacts from the military. This could be Nora, of course, but his sister rarely used encrypted communications simply to check up on him. “Bring it on-screen.”
The face that appeared in front of them wasn’t Nora’s, but it was familiar. The bright white background didn’t look like the bridge of a ship. Something beeped steadily just out of sight, jolting unpleasant memories of Matt’s several stays in medical facilities.
“Commander Walker,” Matt said, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. “Not to sound rude or anything, but why are you calling?”
Matt had been questioned ad nauseam by the man almost eight months ago, after their unfortunate stint on the Colanta-3 moon and the discovery (and subsequent destruction) of a Mnirian superweapon. He hadn’t liked Walker then, and he wasn’t thrilled to see him now, but he couldn’t deny he owed the commander his life after being saved from a slow, oxygen-deprived death in the depths of the alien bunker.
“I’m contacting you on behalf of Major Cummings.” Walker sounded unusually subdued. The stress lines around his eyes and mouth seemed deeper, marring his otherwise classically handsome features. “I thought you should know your sister was gravely injured in the line of duty.”
Ryce’s sharp intake of breath indicated that Walker had said something terrible, but for some reason, the moments stretched and stretched until the meaning of the words finally registered in Matt’s brain, hitting him with the force of a freight barge.
“How gravely?” he asked, digging his fingers into the arms of his chair.
Walker pursed his lips. “Enough for me to contact you on my own initiative,” he said, his voice clipped.
“What happened?” Ryce asked while Matt was busy remembering how to breathe.
“We were deployed back in the Sonora sector, and our ship, the Lennox, was on her way from Freeport 16 to the Sonora-11 outpost when we were attacked.”
Even though they weren’t touching, Matt felt Ryce tense beside him.
“Attacked? By whom?”
“An Alraki frigate,” Walker said after a pause. “A torpedo took out a portion of the bridge. Major Cummings was lucky to be able to get out before the shields gave and the section was sealed off.”
Matt and Ryce exchanged a look. Judging by Ryce’s startled expression, the same thought must have occurred to him, one that made Matt’s stomach, already tied in knots by the news, lurch with awful premonition.
“I haven’t heard anything about the fighting reaching as far as Sonora,” Ryce said, frowning. “The military bases in this sector are designated mainly for training and redeployment.”
“It hasn’t,” Walker said. “This was…an isolated incident.”
“An Alraki frigate attacking a destroyer battleship in the heart of Federation space?” Matt said, barely recognizing his own voice for the strain. “That’s—”
“Disturbing. I know,” Walker said. For the first time since Matt had met the man, he looked troubled, but a second later, he visibly pulled himself together, as stern as ever in his officer uniform. “By rights, I shouldn’t even be telling you this. But I know how much your sister cares for you, and I thought you should be here by her side. Before it’s too late.”
“My god, Matt. I’m so sorry,” Tony said. “Of course you should go see Nora right away.”
They were all huddled in the tiny galley where Matt had called for an emergency crew meeting. Despite the basic utilitarian decor, it had always felt more welcoming and homelike to him than the kitchen of the house he grew up in.
“We’ll all go,” Val said. All traces of the torture he’d suffered were gone from the engineer’s face, but Matt still had that twinge of guilt (misplaced though it might be) every time he caught a glimpse of the new scar tissue that surrounded Val’s index finger. “Moral support aside, it’s a bad idea to split up when there are still folks out there with scores to settle. Neither one of us should be alone right now.”
That was certainly true—perhaps even more than Val realized since Griggs might not be the only one hot on the trail of Lady Lisa and her captain. Matt hadn’t told anyone about the call he’d gotten from Dylan Rodgers, his old-time enemy (and, coincidentally, one of the most dangerous people in the known galaxy), not even Ryce. He hated to admit it, but the little reminder that he wasn’t off the pirate’s radar had left him rattled, though he did his best to forget about it and focus on things that had to be done. But whether real or not, that particular threat was a worry for another day while there were much more pressing concerns to busy himself with.
Like his sister dying.
“Her ship is stationed in Sonora,” Matt said, firmly stomping down on that particular avenue of thought. “I wasn’t planning on showing our faces there for a long time. As you might remember, there’s still the little issue of Pat Gentry believing we owe him money for his lost cargo.”
“And he settled that score by selling us out to Rodgers, remember?” Tony said, making a face of disgust and tugging on her long braid. “As far as I’m concerned, you guys are even.”
“Besides, with all due respect to the scope of Gentry’s system-wide black-market operations, he’s hardly omnipotent,” Ryce added. “Sonora is a huge sector, and after coming in through the Freeport 16 jumpgate, we’ll effectively be out of his reach—especially considering we’ll be meeting a Federal Fleet battleship.”
“Well, that’s true. Thanks, guys.” The tightly wound band of anxiety around his heart eased a fraction as he looked around the small round table at his crew members. No, he amended. Not just his crew—his family. And family stuck together through thick and thin and vengeful criminals with homicidal tendencies.
“So when are we leaving?” Val asked.
“As soon as we can. I’ve already booked us a jump with Station Control.”
“I’ll make sure we have enough fuel, and then we’ll be ready for liftoff,” the engineer said and headed for the doorway.
“I guess I should say goodbye to some people before we go,” Tony said. “Not that I’m sorry to leave this place, mind.”
“Your friends at the IMA?” Matt asked.
Tony nodded. “I’m glad I’ve had this chance to reconnect and put some old issues to rest.” Her voice took on a note of sadness. “It was nice to finally get some closure. But there’s a good reason the past should stay in the past.”
She nodded again to Matt and Ryce and followed Val on her way out.
“Unfortunately, the past has a nasty habit of surfacing and biting you on the ass when you don’t expect it,” Matt grumbled. He sat down heavily on one of the white plastic chairs, staring moodily at the shiny tabletop. A familiar yearning itched at the back of his throat, but he couldn’t afford wasting time on getting sloshed, no matter how comforting the promise of alcohol-induced stupefaction was.
“Like that Alraki frigate,” Ryce said quietly, sitting down opposite him. “Do you really think it could be the same one?”
“I don’t know. Walker wouldn’t give any more details, so we’ll have to find out what’s it all about when we get there.” Matt drummed his fingers on the table. “But if it was the one to attack the Lennox, and Nora doesn’t make it, I’ll never forgive myself.”
Ryce reached out across the table, stilling Matt’s fingers with his palm.
“You couldn’t have known. And it was a long time ago.”
Matt only shook his head. Granted, those eight months since his decision to take on the ill-advised job offer that threw Ryce and him in each other’s paths seemed like an eon ago. But with everything that had happened in the interim, it hadn’t been enough time to forget the Alraki almost taking over his ship. Ryce’s skill as a pilot and his quick thinking had allowed them to escape that lonely frigate coming at them from the middle of nowhere during their run in the Sonora system, with them losing Gentry’s volatile cargo in the process while using it as a makeshift IED. But it was entirely Matt’s fault for keeping his mouth shut about it all to avoid being accused of illegal smuggling.
“You’re the one who wanted to report the Alraki attack to the authorities, and I stopped you. This one’s on me.”
Ryce made a noncommittal sound. “I admit I haven’t given it much thought, seeing as we were otherwise engaged at the time, but now that I think of it, I can’t come up with a reasonable explanation for this ship being in Sonora at all. I haven’t heard anything about the Freeport 16 jumpgate being hijacked around that time. There’s something terribly wrong about all this.”
The comforting warmth of Ryce’s hand soothed, and Matt wished he wouldn’t let go for a little while longer. He didn’t want to think about all these things right now, even as his mind kept running frantic circles around his guilt. All he wanted was to get his ship in the air and through that jumpgate to see his sister. Perhaps it was a small comfort, but she deserved to know that Matt loved her, that he always had, even when they’d spent years pointedly not speaking to each other.
“I know Nora is a career soldier, and with the war going on, there’s always a risk, but…I just can’t get my head wrapped around it. I can’t imagine her…not being there anymore.”
“Were you two close in the past?” Ryce asked quietly, still holding his hand.
“Not really. We were very different, ever since we were children. Nora was always the serious one.” He smiled faintly, sorting through the half-faded memories. “If she wanted something, she’d stop at nothing to get it, and she was willing to work extra hard to achieve her goals. That was what our father admired most about her, that dedication and focus. I was never that disciplined. But she was a great big sister, and she never failed to be there when I needed her help. Nora talked me into sticking with college when I got overwhelmed with it at first, before Father could find out I was slacking. She just…did so much for me even when I was too proud to ask for it. Breaking away from her was the hardest part of cutting ties with my family.”
Matt shook his head and took another breath. He hadn’t talked about it for so long, it felt like pulling a scab off a wound only partially healed, but there was something comforting in knowing Ryce wouldn’t judge him in the same way all the people in his life had when he’d made those fateful decisions.
“I guess I thought she’d back me up and defend me to our father when I quit the Fleet, but she didn’t, and that was it. We hadn’t spoken in years, but I always kept tabs on her. When she got her command, I was happy for her, even if I couldn’t tell her that. I knew it was what she’d always wanted.”
“You two may be more alike than you think,” Ryce said, a small smile playing on his lips. “You’re both stubborn to a fault, and just as caring.”
Matt blinked, willing away the sudden tears.
“She did come through for me, didn’t she? Even when she didn’t have to, even when she had so much to lose by trying to keep me out of trouble. But she still helped me, like she’d always done. And I’ve done absolutely nothing to repay her. If anything, I’ve made it all worse.”
He bit his lip, looking down.
“We have no choice but to stay positive. She will be fine, and then you’ll make it up to her,” Ryce said firmly. “The major is tough as nails. She’ll pull through.”
Matt nodded, but for the first time in his life, he couldn’t bring himself to believe a lie he was desperate to hold on to.
Author bio – Isabelle Adler
A voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.
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