I wrote a science fiction romance series of four connected stories involving alien empaths kidnapped by the Sectors crime syndicate and forced to serve their nefarious ends. Each of the empaths receives help from a human hero or heroine and of course there's a Happy Ever After ending in each.
One challenge I faced was in making each story different from the others. (The books are standalone.) When it came time to write Two Against the Stars, I thought well what if the empath, Carialle, has already managed to escape her interstellar mob controller through a twist of fate, and has gone to ground as an undocumented laborer, living off the grid and under the radar...but then she's confronted with a situation she can't ignore and makes the difficult decision to help a stranger...
The story: Empathic priestess Carialle has escaped the evil Amarotu Combine, but she’s hardly out of danger. Not when she risks everything to rescue a drugged man from a crooked veterans’ clinic. By lulling the clinic staff to sleep, she reveals her powers. And once again, criminals are after her and her rescuer.
Marcus Valerian, a wounded Special Forces veteran, never expected to have his life threatened by the clinic that’s supposed to help ex-soldiers like him. But when he wakes from a drugged state to find a lovely woman urging him to run–he does. In his family’s remote fishing cabin, he suffers the agony of withdrawal, soothed only by her powers.
In their idyllic hideaway, the two also discover a nova-hot attraction flaring. But can they stay alive long enough for it to become more? Not if the Combine has anything to say–they are not giving up until Marcus is dead and Carialle is their weapon.
She lingered to watch the patient as the others left the room, inhaling sharply as her still active senses ‘read’ him.
At his core was the blue fire of a true warrior of Thuun. His aura blazed with it.
Small patches of the dull gray intruded around the edges of the flames, probably from the inject he’d been given. The flames were distorted in a disturbing fashion she’d never seen before, blurry. Odd pools of oily black drifted in the center of his aura, three of them, walled off from each other by twisted knots of bright white so glaring she had to shut down her observation, which had never happened to her before.
“Hey, you ok?”
She jumped as Peters tapped her shoulder. “Sorry, I—I was surprised at how agitated the man was when he was brought him in.”
“Yeah, the patients are usually a lot farther gone by the time we get them. He’s a big prize.”
“What do you mean?” Disturbed by her vision of the blue flames, as well as those mysterious black pools confined by the white lights, Carialle kept walking toward the next area she was due to clean. Mustn’t appear to be slacking off, especially with the owner on the premises.
“Sweetie, what do you think Mrs. Trang is running here?” Peters kept pace with her.
Puzzled, she said, “A rehab clinic.”
He shook his head. “Yeah sure, in the other part of the building. Over here, she keeps them alive so she can scrape their veterans’ benefits. And she takes the payments for all the fancy therapy, nutritious foods, supplemental meds and special care they’re supposed to be receiving. Nice little racket. Her and the doc are in it together. He directs suitable patients her way and she gives him a kickback.” Peters leaned closer, as if the way to her reluctant heart was to share his employer’s secrets with her. “This new guy ain’t even supposed to be here. He was Special Forces, badly injured in action, then got himself tortured by the Mawreg before he was rescued. The military ran him through rejuve regeneration to fix his body but his mind is fucked up. He was supposed to go to a fancy, high end rehab clinic on the eastern continent but Trang and the doc diverted him here. Forged the records. No one will ever know he existed. Much less find him.”
“Why?” Horrified, she exerted pressure to keep him talking for once. This new patient wasn’t her problem, not at all, but the glimpse of the blue flames rattled her to the core. Assisting a warrior of Thuun was the highest duty of a priestess. But I’m not a priestess and he can’t be a warrior of my god—he’s human. I don’t know him, I owe him nothing. But despite her frantic denials, she was under a compulsion to understand the situation more fully.
“Special Forces are awarded a more generous pension than these other poor bastards who were regular military, maybe five times as much. What she really wants from our new resident though is his veterans’ acres. He’s entitled to prime real estate, courtesy of the grateful Sectors.”
“How will she acquire land meant to be his?”
“The drug she gives them, toranquidol? It destroys the mind over time but there’s a point in the process where free will is gone but the victim retains certain functions. She can make them do anything she wants. She’s gotten rich off of having these poor bastards change their wills, sign over property, you name it. Even married one or two of them along the way for the death benefit and life insurance payouts. He’ll sign the forms to give her the veterans acres.” Peters chuckled, sounding as if he admired Mrs. Trang’s ingenuity at scamming. “I guess what the Sectors authorities don’t know won’t hurt them. I mean, who cares, right?”
“But don’t the patients’ families—”
Peters shook his head. “She and the doc pick their targets carefully. No family, no one to ask awkward questions. Or interfere.”