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Authors: Cathy Pegau

Caught in Amber

BOOK: Caught in Amber
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Caught in Amber
By Cathy Pegau

Recently out of rehab, Sasha James is determined to keep her head down, complete her parole and never touch amber again. The chip in her neck controls her cravings for the highly addictive drug, but also tracks her every move. Not that she goes anywhere other than work and the halfway house she calls home—a far cry from her luxurious former life as lover of the mining colony’s top drug dealer, Guy Christiansen.

Agent Nathan Sterling has no desire to see Sasha fall back into amber, but his sister has become Guy’s latest conquest and the unexpectedly attractive Sasha is the key to getting her back. So in exchange for an introduction, he offers Sasha the one thing she can’t refuse—her freedom. From the chip, her parole and even the planet if she wants. Though he would be sorry to see her go…

Torn between her growing attraction to Nathan, fear of Guy and the allure of amber, Sasha accepts. But who will save her if Guy refuses to let her go a second time?

80,000 words

Dear Reader,

In the world of publishing, January is an intimidating month. Mostly because we’re thinking about 2013 long before we want to be. In fact, conversations about 2014 have long since started. How’s that for intimidating? January is also intimidating because we’re expected to set goals and promise great things for the year ahead. That, Carina Press can handle.

This year, our goal is not only to continue to provide readers with excellent editorial, but also to add a new category of New Adult to our romance line, in order to increase the number of mystery, science-fiction and fantasy titles we publish; to publish returning authors with connected books; and to grow our romance subgenres such as historical romance, GLBT, romantic suspense and erotic romance. You can look forward to all of that happening in 2013!

In January, we start the year by finishing up Shannon Stacey’s second Kowalski family trilogy with the highly anticipated story of Josh and Katie’s romance,
All He Ever Dreamed.
If you haven’t read Shannon’s books, you can check out the original Kowalski trilogy for only $4.99 per novel. We also enter 2013 with the paperback release of Fiona Lowe’s 2012 RITA® award-winning contemporary romance,
Boomerang Bride.

Other contemporary romance authors joining Shannon in January include Rachael Johns, kicking off a new contemporary series set in Hollywood with
Stand-In Star,
and Liz Flaherty with
Jar of Dreams.
Liz’s debut romance,
One More Summer,
was described by reviewers as “compelling and addictive” and “one incredible story.”

On the other end of the romance spectrum are several paranormal, urban fantasy and steampunk romance releases this month. Coleen Kwan returns with the sequel to her fun steampunk romance
Asher’s Invention
.
Asher’s Dilemma
brings you the continued romance of Asher and Minerva in a clockwork world.

Two other continuing series return with fantastic installments.
Claws Bared
by Sheryl Nantus is the next story in her Blood of the Pride series. And Sandy James offers up
The Impetuous Amazon,
the second book in the Alliance of the Amazons series. Meanwhile, a new paranormal trilogy begins with Stacy Gail’s
Nobody’s Angel,
which brings us a tale of Nephilim and sassy heroines. Look for the second book,
Savage Angel,
in February.

Cathy Pegau takes us into space with her newest science-fiction romance,
Caught in Amber,
while Eleri Stone takes us to a world steeped in fantasy and wrapped with pleasure in
Threads of Desire,
her erotic fantasy romance. Keeping us in the here and now, with more erotic sexy-times, is Callie Croix’s newest erotic contemporary romance,
Covert Seduction.

We’re pleased to welcome mystery author Wendy Roberts to Carina Press with her newest mystery,
Grounds to Kill.
We’re also pleased that Julie Moffett has chosen to reissue her Scottish historical romance,
The Thorn & the Thistle
, with us in January.

Last, to start off 2013, I’m excited to introduce you to our two debut authors. JL Merrow offers up a compelling tale of love through the ages with the male/male historical time travel
Trick of Time.
Romantic suspense author Ana Barrons will blow away fans of suspense and romance with her debut novel,
Wrongfully Accused.
Please join me in giving these two authors a warm welcome to Carina Press (by buying their books, of course!).

I hope you’ll join me for another excellent year of books at Carina Press. Our 2013 schedule is shaping up to be full of books our team loves and can’t wait to get into readers’ hands, including a new trilogy from Fiona Lowe; a compulsively readable new adult romance,
Rush Me,
from debut author Alison Parr; the last two parts of Jax Garren’s dark Beauty and the Beast retelling; more contemporary romance novels from up-and-coming author Christi Barth; the kickoff of a thrilling urban fantasy series from debut author Steve Vera; more erotic romance compliments of Lynda Aicher; a series of erotic Love Letters from a collection of authors; noir historical mystery
Die on Your Feet
by debut author S.G. Wong; and another installment of Marie Force’s romantic suspense series.

This is only a small portion of the amazing books we have coming up in 2013, so please look for these and more from the awesomely talented Carina Press authors.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Chapter One

There he was. Again.

Sasha sipped her huskberry juice and watched the blond man reflected in the mirror behind the bar. Dressed in the somber clothing of a Revivalist, like herself, his broad shoulders filled out his long, dark coat like no other man in the room. He walked with a quiet confidence that drew the attention of more than a few people and had them moving out of his way on their own accord—definitely
not
in the unassuming nature of a typical Revivalist. Veering off behind her to the right, he didn’t seem to notice her as he navigated chatting patrons and servers with colorful drinks on their trays.

But she’d noticed him. Twice before tonight. The first time had been earlier this week, while Sasha had been grabbing a quick bite at a local coffee shop before work. He’d strode past her table, eyes on the counter, and placed his order without seeing her. His profile had been handsome enough in a serious, lived-in sort of way. Brooding, almost. But it was the way he carried himself—the way his shoulders narrowed to a tapered, fit waist—that had caught her eye.

He’d started to leave then turned and smiled at something the server said, and his face had changed from merely attractive to charming. The severity in his eyes softened, making him more approachable. If she’d had the nerve to do anything like approach him, that is. Sasha had only smiled in response, surprised he’d affected her at all, and hid her grin behind her cup so he wouldn’t catch her looking at him.

She’d almost felt sorry to see him go.

Then two days ago, at the PubTrans station near the halfway house where she lived, his blue eyes found hers as she boarded a train car. Their intensity took her breath for a moment before he disappeared into the crowd.

Maybe he lived in the neighborhood. Maybe she’d run into him at the market where she worked. Maybe they could have coffee together sometime. A nice, normal conversation with a nice man. A decent man.

Sasha gave herself a mental shake. Right. And the offender status chip in her neck was just for the hell of it. Seeing a stranger three times in the same week was no coincidence. Not when it came to her.

“Getcha ’nother?” Trent, the skinny old bartender, stepped in front of her, cutting off the view of the room.

Damn. She’d lost her bead on the guy.

Sasha gulped the last of her drink, shivering at the citrusy tang on her tongue. “Less ice this time.” She slid the tall glass toward Trent and tilted her head to glance in the mirror behind him. No sign of the blond man. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? “I’d like to taste the juice.”

Trent’s bushy gray eyebrows rose in proper, albeit false, indignation. “Me? Water down drinks?”

Sasha mimicked his expression. “You? Charge a credit for a credit’s worth of product?”

The barman laughed as he refreshed her glass with more of the ochre juice and less ice, she noted, as she smiled back. “Just don’t tell anyone I’m giving you the real deal. I’d go broke in a week,” he said.

“For what you charge for a whisky fizz, which I know is mostly fizz, I think you can afford to give me straight juice.”

Sasha tensed as she felt a prickle of awareness on the nape of her neck. Trent continued to smile as his gaze settled over her left shoulder.

“What’re ya drinkin’, sir?” he asked.

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

Sasha relaxed a micron and rolled her eyes. Not the most original line she’d ever heard, but she liked the sound of his low tenor. “Hope you like huskberries.”

She turned toward the newcomer and froze. The blond man.

Her heart thumped in her chest, and she resisted the impulse to scoot back on her stool.

Though just under 200 centis tall, he seemed to loom over her even when he was an arm’s length away. Beads of water glinted in his cropped hair and spots of melted snow dotted his broad shoulders. A thin scar ran across his forehead, making it appear he was in deep concentration. Or frowning. His blue eyes bore into hers; there was no hint of the softness she’d seen at the coffee shop.

Sasha studied him for just a moment, boldly meeting his gaze. He hadn’t smoothed out the crinkles around his eyes with nano treatments, hadn’t bothered to get the scar erased. The imperfections made him more genuine, more substantial than the people she used to run with.

Not surprising if he was a Revivalist—the religious movement known for its belief in simplicity above technology. But was he? He carried himself with a confidence she’d seen in few men in or out of the movement. Which left...what? What could he possibly want with her?

“No ice.” He slid an anonymous, green five-credit chit across the bar.

Trent poured the juice and moved off when someone called for a beer.

“You’re following me,” Sasha said, silently daring him to deny it. “Why?”

What had she done to catch this man’s attention? She had no one to contend with but herself, and liked it that way.

He sipped the drink, his mouth pursing, and broke eye contact with her as he set the glass down on the bar again. “I’d rather not go into it here, Miss James.”

Apprehension shimmered up her spine, stiffening it as her chin rose. Any notion of interest fled. That was not the response she’d expected from him. Something along the lines of, “I saw you at the market and thought you were cute,” would have been preferable. Easier to play along with. And less disturbing.

Did she know him?

Music thumped into her skull from the speakers around the room as she racked her brain, but she couldn’t place the man prior to seeing him this week. No surprise in that, though. Before returning to the civilized world, her brain hadn’t exactly been functioning properly.

Correction: her brain hadn’t functioned properly before rehab. If it had, she wouldn’t have been caught, tried and convicted.

“We aren’t going into anything anywhere,” she said. “Why are you following me, and how do you know my name?”

Her whereabouts were far from secret, but it wasn’t like she posted them on every street corner. Especially not in this neighborhood. She was in the system, now and forever, but that didn’t explain his knowing her.

Unless he was
part
of the system. Shit.

“You’re a lawman, aren’t you?” The offender status chip embedded in the left side of her neck seemed to tingle. Why was a lawman following her? And poorly, if he’d allowed her to see him. Or had that been intentional?

She’d been on her best, boring behavior for the past eight months, checking in at the parole kiosk each week and submitting a urine sample, as per the conditions of her release from the Nevarro Correctional Rehabilitation Center.

“My name is Nathan Sterling.” He held her attention with his pale blue eyes and ignored the question. “I need your help.”

Sasha snorted a laugh, hoping she sounded undaunted and relaxed. She had no reason to fear this guy. She hadn’t done anything wrong. “Unless you’re looking for a discount at the market where I work, I think you’ve got the wrong girl, Mr. Sterling.”

“That could come in handy,” he said, smiling. He did have a nice smile, even for a lawman. “But I’m looking for something else.”

She arched her right eyebrow. “Try the Water District, two blocks over. Plenty of women, or men, willing to give you ‘something else.’”

Sterling shook his head; the smile melted. “Not looking for that either. I need to contact Guy Christiansen.”

Sasha’s entire body went cold. Guy Christiansen. She’d rather have a Bidarki puma chew on her leg than be associated with him ever again. Better yet, send Guy to the untamed planet twenty light years away and have the puma chew on
his
leg.

If Sterling wanted to meet Guy, there was no way she wanted to know Sterling.

Turning toward the bar, she raised the huskberry juice to her lips, wishing now she’d had Trent splash a little vodka into the glass. It amazed her that her hands weren’t shaking, because she felt as if she were on the steep down-phase of an amber slide, complete with nausea.

Amber and Guy. Guy and amber. The two went together like death and decay.

But amber without Guy? That wasn’t nearly so bad an idea.

Don’t.
Her hands jerked at the self-inflicted mental slap, and juice sloshed onto the bar.
Not now
.
Not ever again, remember? You promised.

“I can’t help you,” she said as the liquid trickled across the wood.

* * *

Sterling studied Sasha for a minute, letting her collect herself. Head bowed, the longer top strands of her dark auburn hair curtained her eyes. Shorter hair in the back left the fair skin of her neck exposed. Slender, white hands gripped the glass, the fingernails ragged but clean.

Her appearance now, her Corrections intake pic from almost five years before and the shots he’d seen while she was with Christiansen could have been three different women. This, he surmised, was closer to what Sasha would have been like if she hadn’t met Christiansen—beautiful in a strong, quiet way. Under different circumstances, he might have bought her a drink. Asked her to dinner. Unfortunately, circumstances put them nowhere near that possibility.

He shook off the image of her gray eyes lighting as he’d watched her in the coffee shop, reminding himself who she was. What she had been. What he needed her to be.

In her black coat, plain shoes and modest skirt, she appeared to be just a working girl unwinding after a day on her feet. Functional over fancy. Not like the provocative designer clothes she’d worn in the old pics he’d obtained. Then again, she wasn’t with Christiansen any longer.

He knew the name Guy Christiansen would cause her distress. He’d viewed her court files, noting Sasha’s mouth curl into a sneer when Christiansen had denied his involvement in the amber market and claimed
she’d
left
him
. According to Sasha, she’d become addicted to the powerful drug—known as being “caught in amber”—during their decadent three-year relationship.

She never specifically stated Christiansen was involved in the drug trade; that would have been suicidal. When the relationship deteriorated, she’d maintained, Christiansen had thrown her out of his multimillion-credit mansion, forcing her to do anything to feed her habit. Including the attempted theft of a bracelet from a jewelry store she’d frequented with him. Christiansen had done nothing to help her during her trial.

Sterling had counted on her hatred of him to aid his own cause, but now she seemed as afraid as she was angry. She’d raised her defenses in a nanosecond. He couldn’t blame her; Christiansen was bad news. The fear in her gray eyes was something he wouldn’t have wished on anyone, even a former amber addict. It was something he never, ever wanted to see in the face of someone he cared for, but he would if he couldn’t get to Christiansen.

Kylie.

His gut clenched while he schooled his features to remain calm. Sasha James had to help him. He had nowhere else to turn. And what Sterling had learned about the drug dealer made Sasha the perfect tool.

“Can’t help me, or won’t help me, Miss James?” he asked quietly, sliding onto the stool beside hers.

She slanted a glance at him. The faint lines at the corners of her eyes had been etched there by hard living, not long years. Older than Kylie by a decade, Sasha wasn’t thirty Earth standard years yet. At the moment, the emotions on her face aged her well beyond that.

“Both,” she said and stared into her drink again. “Goodbye, Mr. Sterling.”

He leaned toward her. “Look, I know about Christiansen—”

“No.” She turned so quickly, their heads would have cracked together if he hadn’t moved fast enough. Her eyes blazed and a strand of hair clung to her forehead. “You don’t.” Fists tight atop the bar, only her voice quivered. “You don’t know
anything
unless you’ve been sucked into his world. Into his promises and lies.” Her breath was rapid and shallow, her pulse rabbit-running beneath the pale skin of her throat. “Good
bye,
Mr. Sterling.”

Sasha stood, fished a green cred chit from the pocket of her black coat and tossed it on the bar. Legs stiff under her thick wool skirt, she pushed through the crowd and walked out.

“Shit.” He rose and followed her into the night.

Nevarro winter struck his bare face as soon as he opened the door. At least the snow had stopped for the moment. Summer, autumn, winter, spring, it was all the same on a planet just within their sun’s habitable zone.

He let his vision adjust to the blue glow of the street lights and flashing adverts and searched the walkway to the left as an older-model ground car rumbled past, trailing a cloud of steam. Sasha lived two blocks down and one over in that direction; it made sense that she’d head there.

Using the zoom and light enhancer of his artificial right eye, he scanned the walkway several blocks ahead. Pairs and small groups of folks, but no single girl with her build. A few ground and air taxis loaded and unloaded at the other bars along this street. Would she have flagged one down? Damn the void.

But if she was wary of him, afraid he’d follow, maybe she’d go right. He turned and refocused.

There she was, between the bar and the PubTrans station a block away, shoulders hunched against the cold and clipping along at a faster rate than he’d expected.

Sterling jogged to catch up. Four meters ahead of him, she whipped around and stopped. The red and yellow lights of a mercantile display splashed orange across her narrow face.

“Get away from me or I’m calling the constables.”

Wouldn’t that be ironic?

She turned and continued walking, hands shoved deep in her pockets, her breath silver puffs in the cold. He had no idea where she was going, since her flat was in the opposite direction, and the nearest constable station was a half a klick from here.

“Please, Sasha, hear me out,” he said, drawing even with her.

She shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself. “I don’t know how you found me or why, but just forget it, whatever it is. I want nothing to do with him. Or you.”

“Even if it means getting even with him? Taking him down a peg?”

BOOK: Caught in Amber
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