When you guys signed on to my private readers group, I promised you’d have access to special stuff that I’m not sharing with other people. THIS…is that special stuff. All I ask is that you not share it with the world just yet – some of it is unedited, and no one likes to show their typos. 🙂 If you can’t keep it to yourself, just direct your friend to the group via readers.athenagrayson.com/freebook. I hope you enjoy the special things I share with you here. As always, you can get in touch with me direct at athenaATathenagraysonDOTcom if you have any questions or feedback. Thanks for being a reader!
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The Good Stuff
Huntress: Treska's Inspiration
At first glance, Huntress of the Star Empire is an adventure across exotic worlds, starships, and some hot sexual tension between the bounty huntress and her target.
The namesake of the series, Treska, is a bounty huntress whose very identity began with tragedy. She first came to me in the wake of a letter sent home from my son’s preschool about how to talk to the littles about the 9/11 memorial parade passing close by his school. I realized that my son–and all the kids his age or younger–were born into what the pundits like to call a “post-9/11” world–they’d never not hear about that day, and never fully understand all the changes both subtle and overt that our society went through since that day, or how it profoundly changed many people (in both positive and negative ways).
A surprise alien attack shocked the entire star system and re-shaped her society in such ways that a decade later it was unrecognizable. But Treska lost her memories in the attack, so the new society is the only one she’s ever known, and she believes in its tenets whole-heartedly.
When her prisoner, Micah, shows her how different the star system used to be, she’s forced to question what she believes to be these fundamental truths.
Huntress: The Hathori, The Restoration, and Sexytimes
I’ve been talking a lot about how tragedy influenced the Huntress of the Star Empire series, but it’s not all doom and gloom–the human spirit is an amazing thing, and the darkest of times often give birth to the brightest of hopes.
This is where the sexytimes come in…
Got your attention there, did I? <g>
When I wrote the original draft of Huntress, I knew that there wasn’t really a market for it–it was too romancey to be sci-fi, too sci-fi to be romance, and not hot enough to find a place to live in the then-exploding sci-fi erotic romance market. I expected to write it, then shove it in a virtual drawer and forget about it, because I couldn’t take the sci-fi out of the romance, and I couldn’t take the romance out of the sci-fi, because when we leave Earth for the stars, we don’t leave our hearts behind.
Because people are bound to be people, I knew that any system that imposed adherence without dissent (especially for “security reasons”) coming out of a free society would necessarily produce the rebels, iconoclasts, and dissidents to challenge it.
Out of that, the Restoration was born. For the people who could not or would not adhere to the dominant worldview, who realized that their response to the attacks was the single greatest determining factor in whether or not the attacks were successful, the Restoration was their collective middle-finger to the attackers.
I thought you said “sexytimes”
Haha, I did! One of the member worlds of the Star Empire is Hathor, a lush world whose inhabitants are near-humans with incredible skills in diplomacy, negotiations, and social interactions. Their empathy-oriented culture revolves around the sexytimes, but when the Union demanded stricter adherence to self-restraint and asceticism, the free-love philosophy of the Hathori earned them brutal condemnation and official sanctions. For the Hathori–and those they care about–sexytimes aren’t just fun–they’re an act of defiance.
Fallout: Scions of the Star Empire #2
Something is rotten in Landfall’s Spires–Princess Ione’s reputation is in ruins thanks to the scandal. She’s gained the wrong kind of attention from the Trust, she’s forbidden to see Den, and the only person to even give her the time of day is the journalist who can’t stop writing hit pieces on her for the gossip feeds. But when tragedy rocks the Academy and it looks to be her fault, she’ll have to discover who her friends and enemies really are.
Awakening - Excerpt from Fallout: Scions of the Star Empire #2
“Awakening” – An Excerpt from Fallout: Scions of the Star Empire #2
©2017 Athena Grayson This unedited preview is for members of my private readers’ group only! Please don’t redistribute elsewhere. Please don’t share my typos, okay? 🙂
At first, there was blackness and silence. A tiny blue pinpoint light formed from a great distance, growing closer and brighter. She became aware of sounds around her. The lights defused, going from a pinpoint to a soft glow behind her eyelids. Tinged with red at the edges, which neutralize the blue but gave everything a slightly less pitch-black feel.
Sounds both subtle and sharp began to fill her ears and draw her attention away from the dark and the quiet. She focused on one sound in particular — a steady beep-beep that was hard to hear, yet impossible to ignore. She became aware of breathing next, of the rise and fall of her chest and the strange heavy feeling in her arms and legs. Instinctively, she tried to test out the feeling, gauge its parameters and the limits it placed on her.”She’s coming around.”
“She’s coming around.”
“Easy there, sweetheart. Don’t thrash.”
Of course the command prompted the exact opposite response from her and she attempted to lift her arms from her sides.Soft hands with slender female fingers pressed her arms down. “Every time I say don’t struggle, they always do the opposite.”
Soft hands with slender female fingers pressed her arms down. “Every time I say don’t struggle, they always do the opposite.”
“Next time, tell one of them to fight it.”
“And handle an irate noble family and its wrath? No thanks. I’ll stick to being disobeyed in the operating room by half-conscious kids.”
“Like the one that’s listening to you now?”
The female voice spoke again, this time with a much softer, gentler tone. “Berrin, sweetheart, it’s time for you to wake up now. You’re in the surgery, everything went fine and you’re completely safe. But if you struggle, you’re going to have one honey of a headache. Open your eyes gently when I count to three. Dim the lights. One, two, three.”
Berrin was coming to remember where she was and why she was there. This time she didn’t fight or struggle. But she did open her eyes. The blue glow, the red tinge, the blackness all faded replaced with a dim we will its operating room. To attendance in medical scrubs peered down at her. The scene was completely familiar save for one significant difference.
Initializing… The tiny text in the bottom corner of her peripheral peripheral vision illuminated briefly. And a soft male voice sounded directly in her ear. “Good morning Mistress. I am online and functional. My designation is EV–1X. You may address me as Evix.”
Berrin remembered everything now. The medical attendants helped her to sit up. The woman who’d been grousing about her patients ignoring her orders still had a firm touch, but her expression was much more relaxed. Presumably because Berrin had stopped fighting the restraints she was slowly loosening.
“Main network. Run initialization diagnostic on the EV–1X unit now. Authorization medico–448.”
Berrin tried to speak, but she found her mouth was horribly dry, and ended up in a fit of coughing.
The male medic patted her back and handed her a glass of water. “Easy now, there’s a good girl. The anesthesia is hard on your throat. On the upside, your procedure went well with no complications. Your EV unit will come fully online as soon as the initialization diagnostic finishes running.” His voice was encouraging, and Berrin immediately relaxed.
She couldn’t lie to herself—the procedure had been somewhat nerve-wracking in the hours leading up to her surgery. Yes, everyone in her social class had an AI chip interface embedded behind their ear after a certain age. Yes, it was a rite of passage and proof that she was truly growing up. And yes, the enhanced interface with the AI would help her excel and exceed expectations much better than any study group, extra tutoring, or even a social connection with the Princess could.
But that didn’t stop her from being really nervous about someone opening up her brain and putting something in it.
Scandal: Scions of the Star Empire #1
Scandal: Scions of the Star Empire Book 1
On the surface, princess Ione Ra and her friends seem to have it all. Money, power, fame. Fortunes are won and lost based on their every whim. But the fortunes are not theirs to lose. The sons and daughters of the most powerful families on Landfall have nothing but their reputations to call their own.
When the right scandal at the wrong time threatens to knock Princess Ione’s reputation into the trash can, damage control sends her after notorious gossip journalist Jaris Pulne, a thorn in her side since age twelve. For Denaat Hades, caught up in the scandal with Ione, notoriety is what he desperately needs to emerge from his father’s long shadow, but fame could expose secrets that could get him killed.
What starts as a social scandal soon reveals that there is more at stake than reputation. When scandal runs afoul of the secrets of the most powerful cabal on Landfall, even her crown can’t protect her from the consequences.
Window Dressing - Excerpt from Scandal: Scions of the Star Empire #1
“Window Dressing” – An Excerpt from “Scions of the Star Empire Episode 1 – Celebrity”
©2016 Athena Grayson This unedited preview is for members of my private readers’ group only! Please don’t redistribute elsewhere. Please don’t share my typos, okay? 🙂
Ione Ra stared out the immense, domed window at the night city before her. The glow from the crowded strato-scrapers surrounding her own provided a steady background illumination against the congested atmosphere, broken only by the pinpoints of vehicle lights moving in horizontal and vertical traffic patterns. Even the stationary lights, though, blurred together for her, given the haze of alcohol and the recreational pharmaceutical nicknamed Sugar currently running through her veins.
Landfall, legendary city at the center of the universe, at least for everyone who lived there. Scene of a thousand different children’s stories. Once upon a time, when we first fell to earth… As if only princesses and heroes came from the stars. “Back when Landfall was a village” was the ancient headmaster’s response when any of the students at the Academy asked his birth year. Also, probably the last time the old man had any fun, especially at these events.
“What’cha lookin’ at?” A masculine voice purred in her ear.
She turned away from the observation glass. “Nothing,” she murmured.
“The party’s in here,” Den said. Auburn hair tamed for the evening and dress uniform fitted like a second skin, Denaat Hades moved with the easy carelessness of having several thousand credits always at hand and the power to go along with them, whether it was earned or not.
She smirked. “All I see is another dull Academy cotillion.” She slanted a glance at him. “Only this time, you’re the show piece in the honor seat.”
Den put a hand on his chest. “Oh, you wound me, princess. I’d hoped you’d hold my family crest when I show my prowess to Landfall’s most worthy.”
“We are Landfall’s most worthy,” she retorted.
“I mean the Elders. The Cultural Trust.” He put his arms around her waist and slipped behind her. “The dried up old husks who pass judgment on our chromosomes? The ones with final say in whether or not we’ll ever be allowed to have sex?”
In the middle of enjoying the warm, syrupy feel of his body against hers, cold water doused her. She washed it down with another sip of champ-ale. “How much would I have to pay you for your sword to accidentally slip and skewer one of those ghouls?” She was only half-joking. The Cultural Trust enjoyed near-universal popularity among everyone with an address above the 800’s, and below the 800’s, who cared? When the Trust blessed an alliance of families through a wedding, doors opened, celestial choirs sang, and money and power magnified, spraying everyone in the vicinity with good fortune. When the Trust read an ill omen in the match… She pushed away fears of shame and obscurity.
He kissed her below the earlobe. “By the way, you look fantastic tonight.”
“I know.” She said it without arrogance, just the secure knowledge that several thousand of her own allowance credits dangled from delicate straps around her shoulders and neck. The crystal-bead micro-sheath dress was her only protection from the elements. Silver filament made of carbon-silk held the opalescent crystals together in a mesh punctuated here and there by platinum clasps. Larger teardrops of alternating crystal and platinum brushed the tops of her thighs, where the dress ended. The stones caught the light and threw it back in dazzling rainbows around her.
“I love you,” Den said, out of nowhere.
“Do you?” She slanted a glance towards him. Or do you simply love me because I’m richer than you?
“Naturally, darling,” he said, slipping another drink into her hand from a passing hospitality ‘bot.
She wrapped her fingers around the delicate glass of champagne. A week ago, she wouldn’t have even questioned Den’s declaration. She’d have responded in kind, pressed her body against his, and given him another make-out session that would leave him frustrated and panting, and her wanting more. A move carefully calculated to keep his interest from waning.
But everything seemed different now. Emptier. Landfall’s soaring strato-scrapers, the massive arcologies that housed the entire world in which she moved, once felt as if they were the universe itself. At least, the parts of it that mattered. The movers and shakers and power-brokers of the settled solar system either curried her favor as daughter of the ruler, or jockeyed for position among themselves. What used to be the Grand Game—alliances and feuds, negotiations that turned on a social snub or a carefully-timed acknowledgment—lost its luster.
She took a huge gulp of her champagne. Bah! She was being silly. Things were the way they were. Den’s affection would never be assured, because in the world of wealth, privilege, and power over entire populations, relationships were always threesomes – you, him, and your money. You learned to share, and to carefully arrange things so that you were always slightly more appealing than your crowns and credits.
But a lot more accessible, she reminded herself. Even if she wanted to leave, to do something about it, nearly all of her money was tied up in expense accounts, allowances, trusts, and long-term investments. As much for her own protection as anything else.
“Something’s bothering you, love, isn’t it?” Den said.
What gave it away, the brood or the black frown? “I’m fine,” she lied. “It’s nothing.” That I could trust you to help me with.
It was all about control. She drank more champagne, and moved her free hand down to one of the crystal beads dangling from the hem of her skirt. A twist of her fingers released the spring-loaded hypo-needle and she stabbed it into her fingertip. Almost immediately, the rush of the Sugar high hit her, limning everything with a sparkling aura. Especially people.
She swayed in time to the background music, and Den put a hand on her back. The crystals of her dress nullified the warmth of his hand, so when it slid from the dress to her bare skin between the straps, she shivered. The Sugar haze made her wonder if it wouldn’t be so bad to just succumb…to declare her intentions towards an alliance, and screw the consequences.
Right now, however, Den’s intention was only towards getting her out of her dress. Tonight’s party was all about either making a leap in status, or reinforcing the current pecking order. The easiest and most enjoyable way for her boyfriend to do that was beside a glittering female with power in her own right.
Coward, the thought came out of nowhere, from a small, usually silent voice in her head. Coward, it repeated. She shied away from the voice, wrapping herself in hard crystal held together by gossamer threads.
One seriously downing side effect of the high for her was that the Sugar let out what she called her voice of responsibility. She technically had no responsibilities other than keeping herself alive and in the spotlight with the rich and powerful, but that little voice told her differently. It told her that she was running out of time. Soon, the Trust would take her genetic samples and feed them into its great vault, where she would be weighed and measured for usefulness by her chromosomes. And found lacking.
You won’t do a thing about it, will you? You’ll just stand here and drink and shoot yourself into a genteel stupor, let Den chew on your neck until you get tired of it, then stagger off to your pretty little prison and pass out. Instead of doing anything about it. You think you’re the crystal. You’re nothing but the thread.
She preferred to think of herself as practical. Life was full of reality, and reality was that she couldn’t do anything about it. She glanced down at her dress. The carbon-silk threads were indeed as thin as thought. But they were strong enough to do what they were designed to do—ornament an ornament.
This is what I am. Is it all I am?
Sure Thing - Excerpt from Scandal: Scions of the Star Empire #1
“Sure Thing” – An Excerpt from “Scions of the Star Empire #1”
©2016 Athena Grayson This unedited preview is for members of my private readers’ group only! Please don’t redistribute elsewhere. Please don’t share my typos, okay? 🙂
This scene happens right after Den’s exhibition duel with a blademaster, carefully designed to elevate his status according to the rigid protocols of their society, after he’s broken those protocols in a bid to upset the event in his favor.
Only moments later, while the sweat still poured off Den’s body, the door burst open. “You cheeky bastard!”
The peridot tint of her skin faded under the pink of her cheeks. Every glittering crystal on her barely-there dress quivered with her movements, and her heels clicked over the marble flooring. She stalked right up to him and jutted her chin out, their bodies close enough to touch. The crystals on her dress radiated a coolness he welcomed, but the rest of her pulsed with a fury that would best be described as radioactive.
“Princess.” He lifted both his eyebrows. “Me? Who licked my honor-gift from the end of my blade?” He flicked the fastener on the last strap of his torso protection and let it fall to the floor.
Her eyes followed the movement, then fixed on his bare chest. “I–” She took a deep breath. “Well, I could hardly let you take all the spotlight.” She tried to glare at him, but her eyes kept sinking downward.
He grinned. Nice change, having the daughter of Emperor Magnus Ra dry-mouthed and tongue-tied in front of him, instead of the other way around. “Bit of a miscalculation on your part, isn’t it, princess? The odds on our alliance are in the stratosphere. If you’re not careful, we could be a sure thing.”