Today's First Chapter Friday is from my super sweet romance, PIKA OMEGA PLUS ONE. It's the third book in my Shifter Towers series, and includes dates at the park and the children's museum.
Enjoy the first chapter of PIKA OMEGA PLUS ONE (Shifter Towers #3)
“I’m going to miss you so much.” The kiss I placed on Odega’s fuzzy head didn’t seem like enough, but it would have to do. I had to leave him behind and catch the bus or I would be late for my first day back to work. “I’ll only be a few hours. Until I get back, Uncle Malone and the girls will take good care of you.”
I kissed my son’s head again then rushed out the door, waving goodbye to him, my brother, and my nieces. My stomach churned all the way to the bus stop, guilt consuming me for leaving Odega behind. It was the first time I’d gone anywhere without him. But I couldn’t bear to be apart from him. Not ever. Not with how I’d lost his father.
At the same time, I couldn’t expect my brother’s husband, Thadeus, to financially support me and my son forever. Thadeus and Malone had been kind enough to take me in after I found out I was pregnant. Widowed and a single parent at the age of twenty-three. But Thadeus wasn’t my alpha, my mate. I needed to repay him somehow.
When the bus pulled up to the stop a couple houses down from my brother’s, I trailed on behind the other passengers using the same mode of transportation. They were mostly young omegas who hadn’t been claimed yet, and a few claimed ones as well. On the bus, a couple young alphas sniffed around like they were selecting their choice of delectables from the dessert cart. Yet not one omega gave them the attention they wanted.
I turned my back to them, hoping I still smelled of Daniel’s claim even though it had been over a year since he was killed in a car accident. I didn’t want any alpha sniffing around me. I had a young child to take care of and didn’t have time to date. Plus, I never wanted to go through the pain of losing someone I loved ever again.
When the bus reached the transfer station, I piled off with the rest of the passengers then rushed to catch the light rail transit. A route I was familiar with, but one I hadn’t taken since going on paternity leave. The train would take me right to the center of town, the stop in the courtyard immediately behind Shifter Towers. I’d made it, and no longer had to worry about being late for work.
Yet other issues plagued my mind. I didn’t think I would ever stop worrying about Odega. I’d never left the house without him since his birth, and those outings were rare. I was a homebody, had a couple acquaintances who were also busy as new fathers, but spent most of my time with my family.
Then there was work itself. I hadn’t exactly left there on the best of terms with some of my coworkers. Didn’t help that the manager we had was known to play favorites and often pitted all of us against each other when it came to who worked the most and best hours, and who got the best positions. I’d worked hard, more concerned about making money than friends, so I’d secured a favorable status. But after taking my six month leave, I could only hope the manager remembered my work ethic.
Walking in between the back two skyscrapers, I headed to Tower One of Shifter Towers. NJ Fresh Foods was on the main floor, with the head office for the chain on the thirtieth floor. Apparently those who were promoted in the company, even at store level, got the chance to visit that office. Though I hadn’t yet. Not even for my original interview. So, that was my goal. I wanted my hard work to be recognized. I would visit the head office one day. I would be promoted so that I could one day afford an apartment for just Odega and I.
Walking into the store, I glanced around for the manager, Hayley. When I called two weeks ago, she’d given me my schedule and then emailed me the paperwork I had to fill out and send to head office to indicate I wanted to come back before my full paternity leave ended. But she wasn’t around. Instead I saw someone else wearing a manager uniform.
No, not him. My stomach twisted and I felt my skin itch, my body wanting to shift.
My nemesis, Randall Bickell, turned around then sneered. “Milo. I heard you decided to come back early.” I’d have believed he’d stolen the uniform if he didn’t have a nametag with his name engraved into it with the words Shift Manager underneath.
With clenched fists, I struggled to remain in my human form. I’d be fired right away if I let myself shift. I wanted to back away and spin around before running out of the store. This wasn’t how my first day back was supposed to go. Instead, my feet refused to move. I was stuck there under his scrutinous gaze. “Hi. Yes, I’m back.”
“Lucky me,” he mumbled, though definitely loud enough for me to hear. “Well, since it’s been a long time since you’ve worked here, and I don’t have time to retrain you, you can be responsible for restocking and cleaning.”
I rolled my eyes. He knew damn well I knew what I was doing and didn’t need to be retrained. It wasn’t as if we had a new or complicated checkout system. He just wanted to punish me for all the times I’d proven I was better at the job than him, rub it in my face that he had been promoted during the time I’d become a father. “Fine. But I can still do the job better than you.”
“I am a manager.” Randall tightened his jaw as his face reddened. “And you will not talk to me like that. You got your first warning. And your work period hasn’t even started yet.”
“Whatever.” I darted past him toward the staff room to drop off my stuff in a locker. I’d get through today and hope most of my time at work had anyone else as the manager.
The first hour started out fairly slow. The morning crowd trickled in over a couple hours, so there was no rush for anything. I stocked as I got the chance, and cleaned up the occasional spill as needed. No one really sat at the tables or used the washroom as most customers picked up their order to take to work with them. Nothing I couldn’t handle. At the same time, I knew what to expect at lunch. I had everything stocked and made sure overstock was easily accessible to keep up with the upcoming demand. The first group hit NJ Foods at 11:30 a.m. During that time, those in the food prep stations kept their own area stockpiled with various offerings. I focused on keeping drink refrigerators and snack food racks filled. And when an occupied table became free, I quickly cleaned it for the next patron. When I had a chance, I also checked the bathrooms to make sure the stalls had toilet paper and no one had left a big mess.
The rush at noon was much bigger and lasted longer. Customers were in more of a rush making them much more careless. The lines at cash were long, and everyone was in the way of someone else. I spent more time cleaning up during that hour than anything else. So, by the time the last lunch crowd arrived at 1 p.m., I was still on the floor, trying to fill shelves as fast as possible.
Randall had been too busy trying to speed up the cashiers to bother with me, but at the sound of his cackly laugh, I cringed. He was over at the pizza booth, flirting with one of the employees there. Whatever. As long as he stayed away from me.
I squatted down to fill a half empty chip rack with various flavors. An easy task, and out of the way. Or so I thought until burning liquid slid down my back. “Fuck!” I jumped up and untucked my shirt as fast as possible to get the material away from my skin.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry,” I heard someone say. But his words didn’t matter. My clothes were ruined, and I had another mess to clean up. What a great first day back.
I sat at my desk, watching as the anchor, meteorologist, and head of sports and entertainment signed off for the noon news. My quick two minute report about the car that drove through the front window of La Sandwich Shoppe at West First Avenue went well. In that short amount of time, I’d shown the accident site and interviewed the officer sent to the scene, the owner of the shop, and even a mouse shifter named Herbie, who was a witness. Everything had been pre recorded earlier in the day and I’d even had a quick chance to edit the footage before submitting it for the noon hour program. My first on screen story.
“Nice work!” The producer patted my back on his way past my desk. “Got a special interest story for you next. You’ll have the information after lunch.”
“Thank you,” I called after her. I’d been at Saramto Shifter News Network for several months already, hoping my paid internship position would turn into a fulltime job. Or even part time. Just something more permanent. Until this week, I wasn’t sure that was possible considering I’d never been assigned my own stories. I simply shadowed another news correspondent to gain an understanding of how the equipment worked and what was expected in a report. But when Dannie went on vacation, the station trusted me to tackle some stories on my own. A nice change, but I didn’t know how long this opportunity would last, whether I’d go back to being a shadow when my mentor returned, or whether this was the beginning of me working on my own. Time to shine and prove myself, I guess.
When I’d originally come to Saramto after graduating from Highland University with a Bachelor of Communications Studies, I’d expected to easily find a job. Especially being an alpha. But, it turns out, in this city shifter alphas are given even more priority over regular human ones. And even though I’ve never seen anyone shift in public, the residents of Saramto all seemed to know who was a shifter and who was not. Namely me.
Trying not to feel sorry for myself, considering the new opportunity in front of me, I headed down to NJ Fresh Foods on the first floor to get a bowl of soup and a sandwich for lunch. I might as well be prepared for when my next assignment was given. Dannie had taught me to always eat when I had the chance because I might not get another break for several hours when covering a story. And I wasn’t exactly one to make my own food. I could burn a pot of water. And had many times. So, I simply bought my meals from the various food shops around Shifter Towers. La Sandwich Shoppe, the place I went to for the accident, was absolutely delicious. I first learned about them when they’d catered a network lunch. But most of the time, I went to NJ Foods. They had meals that were prepped daily, and a great selection of choices from various cultures around the world. I never grew tired of eating food from there.
When the elevator doors opened on the first floor, I darted through the crowd now finished their lunch break, and heading back up to work. Though I was hungry, I actually preferred to have a later lunch. Without the crowd, I could take my time selecting exactly what I wanted to eat, and most of the time didn’t have to wait in line to pay for my food.
At the soup station, there were always six to choose from along with the basic chicken noodle and chili. Today they had Kusksu, a traditional Maltese soup, which looked and smelled delicious. Food I never would have had a chance to enjoy back in Malton. Everything there was so traditionally greasy, tasting of fat and salt. I scooped some of the Kusksu into my reusable bowl then slid over to see what they had for sandwiches.
I hadn’t watched where I was going, my eyes too focused on the food. And I tripped over someone. My soup fell out of my hand, and when the container hit the person I tripped over, the lid opened and the soup spilled down his back. I gasped as he jumped up, cursing under his breath. I grabbed a handful of napkins to wipe it off him, but he spun away from me, untucking his shirt in the process.
“Sorry!” I grabbed his arm, trying to get him to hold still so I could help. I felt horrible. “I’m so sorry.”
He shook me off. “Whatever. I need to clean up this mess now.”
“Let me.” It was all my fault. He shouldn’t have to clean up after me because I wasn’t paying attention. I just hoped he was okay, that he wasn’t badly burned.
Wiping up as much as I could off the floor with the napkins, I tossed them in the closest trash container. The guy returned with a mop, the back of his shirt untucked. Though he’d managed to wipe the soup off, the material was still wet from my clumsiness. I reached for the mop. “I’ll do it. It’s my fault.”
“No.” The guy, Milo according to his nametag, sighed at me. “Just get more soup and go. This is my job. Don’t worry about it.”
Easier said than done. I’d hurt him and made a mess. It was my fault, and yet he’d suffered for it. “Your shirt. Is it ruined? How much does another one cost?”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Enjoy your lunch, sir.”
How was I supposed to respond to that? I hadn’t fixed anything and only felt worse. Releasing a heavy breath, I heard my dad’s words in my head. You’ll never find a mate if you don’t start acting like an alpha.
I’d heard that advice over and over since puberty. The moment my results had come back. That had been a surprise to me, and an even bigger one to my parents. So much so, they’d had me tested again. Same thing. When I announced I had an internship in Saramto, my surviving father had been overjoyed. He’d believed I would learn to be a proper alpha in a big city. His only restriction was that I stay away from shifters. Kind of hard to do in this metropolis. I definitely felt like an outsider here. And my mentor was a non-binary beta black panther shifter. Great at their job, but not exactly what my dad had in mind.
I didn’t care. I’d always been this way, and I didn’t plan on changing. So what if I was too sweet or not dominant enough for some. When I found the right person or shifter, that wouldn’t matter.
Glancing around, I realized Milo had finished cleaning my mess and had rushed off somewhere. Probably away from me. I refilled my bowl, found a sandwich—though my appetite had dwindled since my spill—and headed for the checkout.
When I sat down at my desk to eat my lunch, I found a new message from the producer. My next assignment. I spooned soup into my mouth as I read. Nothing like any of the stories I’d covered with Dannie. This one involved preparing a five minute piece about the upcoming Children’s Festival on Sunday. the event was a fundraiser for the local children’s hospital, and I had to interview the organizer, some of the participants, and even the children it would be benefitting. The segment was supposed to promote the festival, of which our station was a major sponsor, and encourage those who didn’t have children to donate as well. Not only that, but I was expected to volunteer at one of the booths the day of. Not a problem since I didn’t have any plans anyway. My dad would recommend I go to a local church to meet a “nice omega,” but the Children’s Festival sounded far less torturous.
After I finished my lunch, I made various phone calls to arrange interview times for tomorrow. They all ended up being spread throughout the afternoon at the Children’s Hospital. Good because it meant I didn’t have to travel back and forth throughout the day, but it would lead to a late night tomorrow since the piece needed to be ready to be approved the following morning, and then aired on Thursday’s lunch, evening, and late night news.
Since there wasn’t much else I could do at the station, I decided to go home. I would do more research on past events there, and come up with my own interview questions. Something different than what had been done in past years.
I had just stepped away from my desk when my phone rang. My dad. What part of “Don’t phone me while at work” did he not understand? Though sometimes my hours varied, I was always working this time of day.
I rushed to the bathroom and answered the call. Talking to him at my desk would only distract the other correspondents who were busy with their own stories.
“Hi Dad? Are you okay?” I wanted to somehow make sure he understood not to call unless it was an emergency.
“Fine, Yoni. Why wouldn’t I be?” He sounded confused, having no idea why I would ask that. I wasn’t going to win this argument.
I guess I simply had to stop answering when I was working. “I’m at work. What do you want?”
“No need to take such a harsh tone with me. But at least you’re sounding more like an alpha.”
I rolled my eyes. Why were conversations with him so painful? I know things had been difficult when my alpha father had passed away, but he’d seemed fine before I left, encouraged me to go. He’d said his younger sisters would be his company. Maybe they’d all pissed each other off and weren’t talking. Wouldn’t be the first time. “How are you, Dad? And what is the purpose of your call?”
“Now you’re just being silly.” He chuckled a little. “Anyway, I called to see if you’re coming home this weekend. It’s a long weekend, so I assumed you’d have some extra time off.”
Oops, I’d forgotten all about the holiday on Monday. But, that didn’t matter. I already had plans. “Sorry, I have an assignment on Sunday. I can’t make it.”
“How dare they make you work on a holiday weekend! And a Sunday at that!”
I had to hold the phone away from my ear at the sudden change in his tone. I preferred not to be deaf.
“You’re supposed to come home, go to church with me, and meet a nice omega I’ve been talking about you with. He’s very interested, and very cute.”
My stomach churned. My father’s taste in guys and my taste never seemed to mesh. And no matter how many times I’d told him, he wouldn’t accept the fact. “Well, it’s too bad I have other plans. I’m actually volunteering at the Children’s Festival, a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital here in Saramto. It’s part of my current assignment, and I just couldn’t say no.” And neither could he. Not when it involved charity work.
“Oh, well then. I guess that’s okay.”
I could hear the disappointment in his voice, but I really didn’t feel bad.
“Hopefully he’s still single the next time you come home then.”
Hopefully not. For his sake and mine. Because I was sure we wouldn’t work out. “Maybe. But, I’ve got to go, Dad. I’m just starting this assignment, and I have a lot to do.”
“Oh, sorry. I’ll let you go then.” He acted as if I hadn’t already told him I was at work. “Make sure you do well on this assignment. I’m proud of you.”
“I love you, too, Dad.” I hung up the phone and shook my head. When would he stop? Being an only child had been nice while growing up, but now I wished I’d had a sibling simply to take some of his attention off me.
Even more anxious to leave the station, I loaded my laptop and phone into my messenger bag, and then headed to the equipment room to sign out what I would need for the interviews tomorrow. I was still too new to get a station vehicle to use, but my daily travel costs were paid for, and the hospital was easily accessible by public transportation between both my apartment and the station. Plus, it wasn’t as if I had to travel anywhere near Jackson Street. That’s one neighborhood Dannie had warned me to avoid, no matter how big the story seemed. So, I usually left my car at home, unless I drove back to Bolton.
Before catching the light rail transit to the stop near my apartment, I returned to NJ Foods. I wanted to grab something for dinner, and try to apologize again to Milo. I searched the entire store, even tried to listen beyond the customer areas for his voice. But, I think he had already left. I’d have to keep coming back until I had a chance to see him once again. For some reason, I couldn’t let what had happened rest, couldn’t stop thinking about him. Even when on the phone with my dad, I’d pictured Milo when my father talked about finding an omega for me. I don’t know why. I was sure the guy hated me. But I had to make it up to Milo somehow. I just needed to figure out a way.
Today's First Chapter Friday is from the second book in my Kaddim Brothers series. It is a story about a shy space racer, a baker afraid of getting his heart broken again, brothers and teammates working to bring them together, and an unexpected pregnancy that changes everything.
Enjoy the first chapter of GENJ (Kaddim Brothers #2)
Stars, I can’t wait to get home!
Deploying flaps and slats, I slowed my jet as I approached the runway. All indicators showed I was in the correct position. I closed the throttles and flared. My main landing gear touched down, followed by the nose gear. Using reverse thrust to slow down even faster, I then applied the brakes for a perfect landing. Today’s practice was complete.
Once I taxied around to my designated spot on the tarmac, I glanced around to make sure the rest of my team was in place before opening the canopy. It was a successful training day, and Ilam, our newest teammate, proved once again he could do anything. The kid had absolutely no fear when it came to attempting new maneuvers.
I unbuckled my harness, took my helmet off then made my way down the steps one of our team’s mechanics had positioned beside my jet.
“Nice flying today,” Hanziel, the head mechanic, said as I stepped onto the tarmac. “How did everything feel?”
“Great!” I patted him on the back. “You fixed the throttle, so it was a smooth ride.”
“Good to hear.” He made his way around to the rest of my teammates before we hopped into the hovercart to take us to our dormitory. As usual, Xac and Qé cuddled together in the rear, sharing intimate touches.
My oldest brother, Ret, also the leader of ORIXA, was reviewing the same maneuver we’d just flown with Ilam, as if he hadn’t already proved he could do it. I felt sorry for the kid. Although Ret spoke highly of Ilam when he wasn’t around, my brother never let our team’s newest member rest once we landed.
And I was up front, as usual. The way it had been since Ojokun got into an accident then left the team because he was in love with my younger brother, Vawn. I kind of missed the days when it was Ojokun up front brooding instead of me.
Suddenly, I felt someone shove my shoulder. I glanced over my shoulder to find Ret staring at me, a sly grin across his lips.
“What?” I had no idea what was going on in his head. Hopefully he wouldn’t tell me we’d be returning to the simulators for more practice. I was worn out. Plus, I wanted to talk to a friend of mine from my home planet, Orez. It wasn’t very often our schedules and the time difference between planets gave us a chance to chat. I’d been waiting all week for this.
I shielded my eyes with my hand as I tried to block the glare from the sun. “Who? What are you talking about?”
Rolling his eyes, my brother sighed. Ilam giggled beside him.
“Utahn. Your boyfriend. Invite him to the upcoming family and friends weekend.”
I huffed out a breath. “First of all, he’s not my boyfriend—”
“Yet,” Ret interrupted. “Probably would be if you’d just ask him.”
I pretended I hadn’t heard. No way was I going to take relationship advice from someone who had a new being in their bed as often as possible. “And second, he has his own business to run. On Orez. It’s not easy for him to get time off.” It didn’t matter how much I wished he lived closer.
“It would be if you’d claim him then get him to be our own personal baker here.” My brother shrugged as if life was that simple. “That way you would get your dick wet as often as I do, and I could enjoy all the sweet treats from home.”
With a gulp, Ilam turned away. I swear I heard him sniffle, too, but I didn’t have time to figure out what was up with him. I needed my brother off my case.
“Fine, I’ll invite Utahn. But don’t expect him to come.” Resting my feet on the dash, I crossed my arms and closed my eyes. Maybe it was better to be up front. By myself.
As soon as we arrived at our dorms, I hopped off the cart before it had fully stopped at the entrance to the third floor. In a hurry to get to our team’s quarters—five bedrooms and a shared common space—I banged my shoulder going around the corner of the corridor. I brushed off the pain, used to such accidents wherever I went. While I was anxious to call Utahn, it wasn’t to ask him to come to the family and friends weekend. I simply wanted to see his pretty face. I’d had a crush on the omega for as long as I could remember. I’d never pursued him, though, since he’s my younger brother’s best friend. When that brother decided to fall in love with one of my teammates, I realized all those rules about who one should and shouldn’t date weren’t as important as I once believed. Yet, I wasn’t ready to start any form of relationship with Utahn beyond friendship. We both had commitments that kept us busy and away from each other. Plus, I still wasn’t sure he liked me that way. Being friends with someone was not the same as being intimate.
After powering on my comm unit, I scrolled through my brief list of contacts to find Utahn’s code. With a nervous flutter in my stomach, I called him. It was always hit and miss with him, but I thought I might have better luck today.
My screen scrambled before the static cleared to reveal a face shaped by the gods. Round cheeks, full lips, and eyes that seemed to disappear when he smiled. All framed by dark-brown locks. Perfection. My heart swelled every time I saw him. “Hi, Utahn! How are things?”
A faint blush spread across his cheeks, something that happened at the beginning of every conversation we had. “Hi, um, I’m good. It was a busy day at the bakery, but I’m glad to see you.”
“I’m glad to see you, too.” I sat on the edge of my bed, trying to think of a way to ask him about the family and friends weekend. Might as well. It wouldn’t hurt to, I guessed. But I slipped off the bed. My ass hit the floor with a thud, and I scrambled to catch the comm unit before it met the same fate.
“Are you okay? What happened?”
I heard the concern in Utahn’s voice before I was able to steady myself, along with the screen. “I’m good. Just slipped.” Instead of trying to get up again, I remained on the floor. I didn’t want to crack the screen on another comm unit.
Utahn giggled, his nose wrinkling in the most adorable way. “How can you be as clumsy as you are and yet race for the team with the best ranking for the last two seasons?”
I shrugged, slightly embarrassed, but this wasn’t something Utahn didn’t already know about me. “I don’t have to move much in my jet. I only have to be able to read the controls and fly.”
With a wide grin, he shook his head. “You always manage to make me smile. And I need that after a long day.”
That was exactly what I wanted to do, even if it meant making a fool of myself. “Were you busy today, then?”
“I wouldn’t say busy.” He twirled his finger through the hair above his ear. “Steady though. When one customer left, another came in. Thank goodness I had Gugait there to help me. Otherwise, I would still be downstairs getting dough prepared for tomorrow.”
“Ah, he’s the one who’s pregnant, right?”
Utahn nodded. “Yeah, he has a couple months left before he’s leaving for Olaria to be with his mate and raise their family there. I’ll be lost without him.”
I gulped, wondering if this was the opening I needed to invite him, or if he’d consider it ill-timed. I guess I wouldn’t know unless I asked. “Um, while Gugait is still on Orez, do you think you’d have the chance to visit me? There’s a family and friends weekend coming up.”
Utahn raised his eyebrows, his expression otherwise blank. Stars, had I misread our friendship? Had everyone lied when they told me he liked me, too?
“I guess that’s a no. Forget I said anything.” I wished I’d be able to forget, too, but I’d likely replay the moment of rejection over and over in my mind for days.
“No.” He waved a hand in front of himself. “I mean, yes. I’d love to come. You just…”—he scratched the side of his head—“caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to have an opportunity to see you again for a while.”
“That’s a yes?” My heart pounded, waiting for his confirmation. I’d dreamed of him coming to visit me for so long. In the past, I’d only seen him when he’d traveled with my brother to watch the whole team race.
He nodded. “I have to make sure Toufan can help Gugait, but if that’s okay, then definitely. I’ll book a hotel room as soon as I know for sure.”
“Hotel?” Stars, I hadn’t thought about that. He wasn’t my brother. I couldn’t expect him to crash at our dorm for the weekend. “Oh, I’ll arrange that for you. Let me know if you can come and then I’ll book it.”
“Genj, I’m fully capable of making my own reservation.”
“I know. But you’ll be my guest, so it’s my responsibility to make sure everything is taken care of for you.” I hoped he didn’t find me too forward, but I didn’t want him to have to pay for anything. “I’ll make your flight arrangements, too. Leave it all to me.”
“Oh, you are the absolute sweetest.” A soft blush crept across his cheeks. “I cannot wait to see you in person again.”
I couldn’t wait, either. I would be buzzing with excitement until then, thankful we didn’t have a major race between now and then. The event was always held during long intervals when we didn’t have to travel. A chance to give racers a break and spend time with friends and family we didn’t see for months at a time, whether on Eurebly or back home. Ret would still have us training hard up until then. He didn’t believe in time off, always going full force with everything he did. It sucked when we were growing up. Though, as much as I complained about him as our leader, I couldn’t imagine being on any other team.
“Has anything exciting happened on Orez since I last talked to you? Are our families doing well?”
He shrugged with a faint smile. “I think everyone is well. I haven’t really done anything but work. And I haven’t heard about anything new from Vawn when he stops in to visit. The girls are growing fast though.”
That was the part I did miss. I wasn’t getting to see my nieces grow up. Yet, I had seen my family more often since Vawn hooked up with Ojokun. They actually traveled to watch the occasional race now, something they’d never done before.
Utahn and I chatted for a while longer before ending the call. And instantly, worry crept into my gut. What if Utahn only said yes to be nice? Or what if he visited and realized he didn’t really like me? We’d never been together much without my younger brother around. Talking over the comm unit wasn’t the same as in person. Stars, I couldn’t screw this up.
Today's First Chapter Friday comes from the first series I completed. It's a dystopian series, and while each book is a romance story on it's own, it is important to read them in order to fully understand everything that is happening in this fictional world. While this is a MF romance, there are FF scenes. The second book in the series is a FF romance, and the third is a MM romance. Meanwhile, there are many secrets learned in each book. Happy reading!
Enjoy the first chapter of NEVER GONNA LET YOU GO (The Underground #1)
If only I could touch his sexy body again.
Standing at the edge of the camp, Calla Jacobs couldn’t stop staring at the toned and tanned body of Erik Edwards, aerospace mechanic for mission SFAE3, while he worked to repair the core drill. She tried to tear her gaze away, willed her feet to move so she could get to the plains of Airondelle, but it just didn’t happen. She watched as sweat trickled down the center of his back, and she closed her eyes, breathing in his pure, masculine scent. The memory from years ago, of running her hands across the wide expanse of his upper body and through his thick, blond curls, only made things worse. She didn’t love him anymore—at least not in the way she had when they’d dated. And still, Erik would always hold a place in her heart. They’d grown up together, been best friends, even after they’d broken up, until he’d married Holloway.
Erik snapped open a bottle of water, took a large swig, and then poured the rest over his head with a heavy sigh. She could almost hear the water sizzle.
Oh, to be one of those water droplets cascading down his bare chest. She’d enjoy the water so much more if she could stand close enough to lick it off of his body before it dripped to the ground. Grimacing, she clenched her fists. Jeez, pull it together.
Their mission on the barren planet did not include sexual affairs. In fact, except for already established marriages, sex was forbidden outright; the mission could not be compromised by all of the emotions and distractions a sexual bond brought. She and Erik had ended their three-year relationship for that reason— they’d both dreamed of being a part of the mission responsible for confirming the existence of a planet capable of sustaining life. And neither of them had felt ready to get married. They’d promised to wait for each other until they’d served their time and had remained friends throughout their training. Two months before their departure date, Erik had eloped with the mission commander, Melina Holloway, a woman Calla could never compete with in terms of brains and beauty. A quick divorce had followed, but the short-lived marriage had left Erik with a chip on his shoulder. And he’d refused to talk to Calla about anything other than the mission, if at all.
“What do you want?” His gruff voice jerked her from her thoughts. “You’re supposed to be out studying those tapir things. I’m not one of your specimens, so move on.”
He’d turned into such an ass since his tryst with the commander. And still, Calla couldn’t stop the desire coursing through her body as she stared at his half-naked body. She hadn’t been with anyone since him, and every other male in the camp was at least old enough to be her father. Mission or not, on Earth or Airondelle, she still craved a man’s touch. Erik’s touch.
“Seriously, Jacobs, leave or I’ll report you to Holloway.” He growled the words as he continued to work on the drill. “She’ll put you on mess duty for the rest of the mission.”
Calla cursed Holloway for changing Erik. What could have happened between them to turn her once best friend into someone who couldn’t stand the sight of her?
“Did someone mention my name?” Calla cringed at the sound of her commander’s unwelcome voice. If she didn’t acknowledge her, perhaps the commander would continue to walk past her. She didn’t know Holloway very well, had avoided her since Erik’s involvement with her. In truth, she could find no reason to get to know her any better. Many crewmembers called Holloway a bitch, among other names, behind her back yet acted like googly-eyed teenage boys when she disciplined them for insubordination.
“Jacobs, follow me,” Melina said, her tone sharp.
Shit! If only she’d gone straight to the Jeep instead of stopping to drool over Erik. She didn’t need to be reminded of Holloway’s authoritative prerogatives as commander, a position she dreamed to one day be in. The thought entered her mind too often already.
As she followed the commander, she glanced back at Erik. He didn’t even appear to notice she’d left, as if she was a bug he’d squashed and thought of no more. What had she done to deserve to be treated like shit? Sure, she didn’t have a perfect, shapely body like Holloway, but in the past, he’d told her he loved her.
Holloway stopped at the mess tent, opened the flap, and closed it again without stepping inside. “Too busy in there. Let’s go to my quarters.”
The commander’s tent sat beside her own closet-sized one, with the mess, medical, and storage canopies separating their sleeping area from the men’s.
Ducking through the entrance, Calla reined in her envy. Not only did the commander have ten times as much room as Calla, Holloway also slept in a queen size airbed. I’m sure that’s so much more comfortable than the wretched cot I have to sleep on.
The commander pulled out a chair from her makeshift desk. “Sit down, Jacobs. We need to talk.”
She perched on the plastic contraption, an uncomfortable thing compared to the hover chairs back on Earth, wondering why Holloway was giving her such a stern look rather than the smile she often wore. Perhaps she reserved smiles for the men. Flirting with her wouldn’t work. She wasn’t interested in women.
Holloway crossed her arms. “Why are you so obsessed with him?”
The commander’s question interrupted her inner grumblings. “Pardon? Who?”
“Edwards. I see the way you stare at him. You remind me of a teenage girl with a crush.”
Bitch! “We used to be friends.”
Holloway laughed. “Oh no, not the way you practically fall over yourself whenever he comes within ten feet of you. I mean, I understand the attraction. He’s hot and one of the few men who haven’t gone soft since Planet Core took over the city.” She sat on her bed and removed her polished black boots. “They all think PC will make their lives easier. Little do they know….” She shook her head. “Anyway, why aren’t you and Edwards friends anymore?”
Calla wanted to be nice to her commander, she really did, but the woman was sticking her nose in her personal business. She stood up. “May I speak freely?”
“By all means.”
The amusement on her commander’s face fueled her anger. “We’re not friends anymore because of you. He married you then turned into a complete asshole. What did you do to him?”
Holloway rose from the bed and moved so she hovered only inches away from her. Her nostrils flared. “It wasn’t my fault. We got married, had two days of nonstop sex, then he woke up the next morning, said it was all a mistake and asked for an immediate divorce. I’d like to know what happened as much as you.”
Her stomach clenched at the mention of Erik having sex with someone else. But she could no longer hold a grudge against her commander. She hadn’t been dating Erik when he’d married the woman, and Holloway seemed to know as little about the change in Erik as she did. She and the commander were probably both going through the same thing. “I’m sorry. We just used to be so close and now he barely talks to me.”
“I know, hon.” Holloway rested a hand on her shoulder, giving her a comfort she’d always longed for from her own parents and had only ever received from Erik. “We both deserve better. Much better.”
But she didn’t want anyone else. Couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Only Erik. She was ready to break the rules if he showed some interest. Calla turned, ready to get back to work, to get her mind on something else before she broke down. The only time she allowed herself the luxury of crying over Erik was at night, before she fell asleep. Alone. “Is that all, Commander?”
“No. I wanted to tell you what a great job you’re doing out there. I know it must be tough to do all of this research by yourself, but you’re exceeding Planet Core’s expectations.” She leaned closer. “That’s because we women know how to get our work done.”
Calla smiled. Other members of the crew had often been caught napping when they were supposed to be drilling and taking samples. She wouldn’t even consider such a thing. Working for Planet Core had proved to be the opportunity she’d always wanted to escape her parents’ control. They’d never cared what she did until she’d moved to the city with Erik. Then they’d cut off her funds to get her to move back home. Planet Core had given her an education, a job, and a place to live. Without Erik though, living in the city seemed pointless. She was lonelier than she’d ever been.
The commander stepped back out of Calla’s personal space. “I want you to call me Melina. I really want us to be friends, regardless of what happened with Edwards. There aren’t too many women set to go on the missions, so we need to stick together.”
A friend? She wanted nothing more than someone to talk to, someone to trust. Erik had once been that for her. She missed the bond they’d once shared. Missed having someone else to count on. She’d needed a friend for so long.
Tears trailed down her cheeks, and she was helpless to stop them. She’d held so much in, self-doubt forcing her to live in darkness. Now she could see a hint of light.
Arms wrapped around her. Melina’s. She welcomed the comfort, rested her head on her new friend’s shoulder, and cried.
“It’s okay, hon. You’re strong. You’re tough. You prove that every day out in the field.” She rubbed her back until all of her tears were spent and then wiped the moisture from Calla’s face. “Just don’t let any of them see you weak. That’s when they’ll walk all over you. We need to stick together.”
Staring into her eyes, she noticed her commander’s expression change. She recognized the desire, the lust. Holloway brushed her thumb across her bottom lip.
She gasped, more from wanting to take Holloway’s thumb into her mouth and the tingling need in her loins than surprise at the commander’s touch.
Releasing her, Holloway walked to the other side of the tent. She kept her back to Calla. “You’re dismissed. The mission is almost over, and you still need to catch a rapat.”
She rushed out of the tent toward the Jeep, grabbing her backpack along the way. Not only was she surprised by Holloway’s show of desire, but also by her own body’s response.
Pulling the camera from her backpack, Calla considered what might have happened if she’d remained in Holloway’s tent. Would they have kissed? Her stomach fluttered and dampness spread between her legs as she thought about Melina’s soft lips.
Wait! She wasn’t attracted to women, never had been before. Then why couldn’t she stop thinking about what Holloway’s lips would feel like on hers and all over her body?
She took a deep breath. Sexual relations of any kind are forbidden during the missions. While repeating those words over and over, she spotted a perfect place to set up for her study—a large crancait bush on the edge of the field where the rapat fed. The bright red berries decorated the bush in stark contrast to its deepgreen, oval-shaped foliage. She crept through the waist-high vegetation, trying to make as little noise as possible. Although the foreign planet had not been shaped by an ice age like Earth, it did boast fields all the way to the horizon similar to the prairies where she and Erik had grown up. Erik should be the one she thought about kissing, not Melina, not a woman. She knew everything about him, or once had. But Erik had turned into an asshole, and Melina wanted to be friends. Maybe more? Her body warmed at the thought.
On her way to the red-berried bush where she planned to take pictures of the creatures, she stopped to ensure she hadn’t spooked the herd while her mind wandered to places it shouldn’t. Good, they haven’t moved.
Arriving at the crancait, she spread out a blanket to lay her equipment on and turned to affix her camera to a tripod. She’d never gotten this close to the herd for her footage. She’d managed to remain downwind and the warm breeze not only helped to disguise her scent but also her movements.
With no natural predator—at least none she’d discovered—the rapat flourished on this part of the planet. Their round pig-sized bodies resembled the tapir of Earth, but with the addition of a longer, elephant-like trunk. Their lips smacked and teeth ground together as they ate their fill of grasses. The smell of their dung reminded her of molasses rather than that of any Earth animal.
After adjusting the camera to record video footage of their feeding and social behaviors, she sat down to write her notes. Instead, she could only think of Melina, and the moment in her tent, which could have led to something else, something more than friendship. Something she needed just as much. She sighed. I’m attracted to Melina. What does this mean?
Nothing. She needed to focus on the mission. The rapat. She’d been observing the creatures during daylight hours—two more than she’d grown used to on Earth—for a week now, yet she found herself no closer to figuring out a way to capture one without using Earth tranquilizers. With no idea how the drugs would react with one of these creatures, she refused to take the risk. If the rapat were to be tested as a viable food source for the people of Earth who would one day settle here, she needed to capture one by indigenous means.
The thought of killing and preparing one of the fascinating creatures for consumption repulsed her, but she’d already collected samples of all of the vegetation. The berries, leaves, and bark of the crancait all proved to contain toxins that, when consumed over time, would kill a human. Perhaps the rapat avoided them for the same reason. She’d tested the dry, pink-flowered vegetation the rapat fed on, but found it lacked too many of the vitamins and minerals necessary for human life. Until the next crew arrived to survey another part of the planet, the rapat remained their only option. She had to capture one, test it, skin it, and then prepare its meat for freezing. Planet Core would process the meat for consumption when they returned to Earth, if the rapat proved viable. Thank goodness I don’t have to eat one because I don’t think I could.
Tired of waiting for one to approach her, Calla decided to take action. She needed something to focus on to keep her mind from drifting to inappropriate thoughts about her commander. With only a week left on Airondelle, she needed positive results to be considered for any future missions. She pulled out the dagger she kept sheathed in her boot for defense against any yet undiscovered creatures on the planet. Creeping through the grass, she spotted her target—a young rapat, brown with pink spots, just old enough to begin wandering away from its mother. Ready to attack, she gasped as the herd snuffled out a warning cry and then bolted in front of her. Shit! Every one of them took off, bounding across the fields, and she couldn’t come up with any reason why. She hadn’t moved an inch.
Vegetation rustled behind her. The sound grew closer. She spun around to face a possible attacker, her knife held high.
“Whoa, Jacobs. Put the knife down.” Holloway stood before her, arms raised in submission. Even dressed in her camo uniform, her chestnut-colored hair pulled back in a severe ponytail, she still eclipsed any model from any of the fashion emagazines. Beautiful.
Calla struggled to keep her hands by her sides and cursed under her breath. Anger was better than revealing her other feelings. “You scared my herd away.”
Her commander smirked as if she’d done it on purpose. “It’s a good thing, too. You were about to kill one.”
Calla kept her mouth shut. Yelling would do her no good, only get her reprimanded. Even though she wanted to be friends, Holloway still remained her commander for the rest of the mission. “I had no other choice. Without anyone to help me, that is the only way I’ll bring a rapat back to the camp.”
“Well, today is your lucky day. Edwards finished fixing the drill, so I don’t have to ride everyone’s ass to keep them busy.” Holloway stepped closer, and Calla inhaled the woman’s appealing citrus scent. “Now I’m all yours. I want you to go back to camp right now and get some sleep. I’ve read your notes and I think we’ll have better luck if we come back during the night.”
As soon as the commander drove away, Calla breathed a sigh of relief. No more awkwardness. She packed up her equipment and returned to camp. She’d wanted to study the rapat at night all along, but she’d never been able to convince anyone to go with her, and no one was permitted out of camp alone at night. Holloway wasn’t her ideal tagalong—since she’d started having sexual thoughts about the woman—but with only one more week on the planet, she’d settle for anyone.
Wanting a quick bite before she tried to sleep away the afternoon, Calla stopped by the mess tent. Erik sat at the picnic table inside, all sweaty and sexy and still shirtless. She joined him after grabbing a snack pack—a mix of dried fruit and seeds. He was the one she was supposed to fantasize about, not Holloway, not a woman.
“I heard you got the drill up and running.”
He turned toward her and glared. “Yep.” Then he stood up, put the food packaging in the recycler and left.
Fuck him. She’d had enough.
Jessica E. Subject is a USA Today bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal Romance.
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