Authors: Ros Baxter
New in the fresh, sexy world of The Seek: he can't trust anyone, so why should he trust his heart?
The universe is a very dangerous place when there's a price on your head.
The year is 2098, and a quiet revolution has begun in the space stations of New Earth. The ruling Council has dug in to fight for a new home on Eden 13, but a group of rebels is working from the inside to support the embattled Haitites.
Reetor is twenty years old and a deserter from the elite Avengers. He has joined The Backlash, and become an outcast, hunted by the Enforcers. On the outside, he has learned that his fears about New Earth are well founded. He has finally found a mission that matters, but he's living on borrowed time. The Backlash desperately needs friends on the inside and Reetor's role is to connect with the rebels and get them the help they need.
But something deadly and surprising threatens to disrupt his mission â a lethal bounty hunter with a body made for sin and a heart of pure ice.
Ros writes fresh, funny, genre-busting fiction. She digs feisty heroines, quirky families, heroes who make you sigh and tingle, and a dash of fantasy from time to time.
Ros has published
, a romantic comedy co-written with her sister Ali (Harper Collins),
Fish Out of Water
Lingerie for Felons, White Christmas
Home for the Holidays
Seven Deadly Sins
Bold and the Beautiful novellas (Pan Macmillan).
In her spare time, Ros is also a public servant, consultant, mother, lover and taxi service. There is nothing you can teach her about using a slow cooker, or making a quick and easy meal sound more appealing by giving it an exotic name or interesting backstory.
Ros also coordinates “Tomorrowgirl”, a short story competition for remote Indigenous girls in Australia. You can find out more at
Ros lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, Blair, four small but very opinionated children, a neurotic dog and nine billion germs.
Special thanks for this novel go, as always, to my support crew â my husband, Blair, my sister, Alison, and my babies. Next comes the lovely Kate Cuthbert of Escape Publishing, who backed the short story (
) that was the kernel of the New Earth concept. And to Adam, Polina and all the Escape crew.
Also to my fellow Escape artists who are cool, funny and supportive. I can't imagine any other vocation where your colleagues are so encouraging.
To the reviewers and readers who have been so interested in New Earth, and who have supported my other books along the way as well â thank you; you make it possible to keep going when the demons of doubt yowl at the door.
And last but not least, to the women who hold up my life â those wonderful girlfriends who step in to help with the load of work, life, mothering and writing when it all seems TOO BIG. Without you, I'm toast. Or at least, checking into rehab.
To Quinn, my rebel hero.
A strong hand landed on Reetor's shoulder and every muscle of his body tensed in readiness for a kill, one hand on the pod, one on his sabre. The landing dock was empty at this time of day, just as the Commander had intended in planning it this way. His mission was not to be fodder for speculation in The Bunker.
âSteady, Sunshine,' the hand's owner warned, and Reetor's face flushed automatically.
He was going to have to work on that Pavlovian response shit.
He turned. âCommander.'
The sight of her hit him as it always did, low and painful, somewhere between his heart and groin. Man, it was going to take an act of God to dislodge this woman from his psyche. And the people of New Earth didn't believe in God anymore.
Commander Alis Aix was known to most of The Backlash as X. To Reetor, she had been first a saviour, then a mentor, and finally, a lover. All in the space of a year. She had taken the terrified runaway, afraid for his sanity, and given him a new life and something to desire again.
But that was all over now.
X was so beautiful it hurt your eyes. She was also twice Reetor's age, hard as nails, and his boss. And married.
Reetor didn't know if he loved X, but he knew for sure that whatever he felt for her, he had royally fucked up in acting on it. Because if he hadn't written his own death sentence by getting involved with X in the paranoid crucible that was The Bunker, her husband would. If he ever found out.
And Reetor hoped to fuck he didn't.
X's husband was the oldest, meanest son-of-a-bitch Reetor had ever clapped eyes on. The Backlash called him Y, in some rare stab at humour, and Y had hated Reetor from the moment he'd first clapped his cynical eyes on him. Y had come to the Backlash from Avenger HQ, and he'd never quite relinquished the code.
To Y, the Avenger-deserting Reetor was the worst kind of pussy. The smartass kind.
For his part, Reetor knew one thing with complete certainty: one day, he would kill that sadistic fucker. And he would enjoy it.
But right now, he needed to focus on whatever the hell X wanted to say to him.
She stood before him, hands on her hips, sleek blonde bob framing an expression softer and more contrite than he was used to seeing on her face. She stuck out her chin, and he was sure it was to remind him she was no pushover. âI wanted to say thank you,' she said, her brown eyes narrowing as she reached out to touch his shoulder. âI know this will not be easy. I know what happened to you on Hydra.'
Reetor shrugged, refusing to let his brain connect with the images of the Hydrentian Headhunters circling his class. He would not remember. He wouldn't think about how they had smelled, and the way his stomach had turned to water at the sound of their battle cry. âI'm different now,' he said simply.
âThere was nothing wrong with you then,' X said, stepping closer to him, right into his personal space, so close he could smell that exotic moonfruit perfume she wore and the musky scent of her hair.
He shut his eyes. She knew what she was doing. Damn, he was so outclassed and outplayed by this woman. Even now, after her brutal rejection, he wanted to reach out and wrap his arms around her, take her tiny body in his embrace and press her against him so she could feel what she was doing to him. She turned him on just by looking at him. âMusta been
wrong with me,' he said, working hard to keep his voice light.
He wouldn't think about the morning she'd told him it was over.
For a couple of months there, he'd stopped feeling alone. But no one tells you loneliness is so much worse after you get used to something else.
Those brown eyes had been so cold.
It's been real, but I've moved on.
And what had he said?
He shuddered as he recalled the childish line:
I'll always be grateful to you, X.
He supposed it was true, but he did wish he hadn't sounded quite so much like a needy newly-ex-virgin. He hadn't meant grateful for all the mind-blowing sex, although that had been more than enough to make any twenty-year-old kneel down and give thanks. He'd meant grateful because she had let him stay when he had found his way to them, and when her husband had wanted to evict him back into the stars. Or worse. And grateful because she had been someone to talk to, in between all the sex. Someone who knew about the world before the Apocalypse, and who didn't buy into all the bullshit about not talking about it. X had taught him a lot, and not only how much it was possible to desire a woman.
She crossed her arms over her chest and he waited for her to explode. Her temper was legendary, matched only by her husband's. Then a change came over her face. âYou know you might not come back, don't you?'
âGee.' He tried not to think about the truth of it. âGreat pep talk, Commander.'
She smiled. âI'm not telling you anything you don't know. You know how dangerous this is. Not just getting there, but making the connection, being our envoy.'
He nodded, and swallowed. âI want to go. I've got a lot to make up for.' He thought about how he had run out on his class when they needed him.
âHmmm,' she went on, stepping back from him and putting her hands back on her hips. âBut because you might die, I'm going to say this. I had to leave you; you know it. He would have killed you if he'd found out. You know he wanted to anyway.'
âSo you did it for me?' He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice. Again, he hated himself. He could hear his whining and internally gave himself a swift kick. She would have left him anyway, eventually, with or without a husband. A boy like him would never have been able to keep a woman like her, despite all the mad love they'd made.
This time she scowled at him. âSurvive, Reetor,' she said, her eyes narrowing. âI told them you're the only one who can pull this off. You have the brains; that's what I saw in you that first day, and I haven't been disappointed. So do it, and survive. Things between us are done, sure, but I want you to live.' She paused briefly and swallowed hard. âSurvive, and come back. You can have a life here. Not with me, but a life.'
Reetor saluted and then turned back to the pod without speaking. This place was already full of things he could never forget. He slid into the navtube and more memories assaulted him. It had been hard to find private places to meet with X.
How many times had they fucked in a navtube, X biting her lip to try to stay silent, Reetor feeling like his world had shrunk to this?
How the hell would he ever focus on this flight?
He looked out the visor and watched her standing there as he performed the preliminary manoeuvres. He wanted to believe she looked so sad because she cared about him the way he cared about her, but he was too smart to kid himself like that. To X, he had been a beautiful distraction, perhaps even a way to give her husband the bird for all his sins. But he had not captured her heart, so this trip would be the end of it. He would come back â if he came back â rid of the visions and memories of her. He would do it consciously, empty his mind of her the way he had emptied his mind when he had learned to survive the cold and the pain as an Avenger-in-training. X had been his first chapter in the Backlash.
But that chapter was over.
And he wouldn't think about it anymore.
Reetor worked the controls smoothly. He had been driving pods since he was twelve years old. You didn't wait until adulthood to get your driver's licence on New Earth. And the woman who had adopted him after the Apocalypse had been a navigator â part of the small group of scientists and techs who had learned about flying ships pronto when Earth got blown to bits eighteen years before.
His adopted mother, Jintu, had taught him everything she knew before she had crash-landed one day on Temer and the owners of the planet had made an example of her, sending her petrified body back to Earth Two as a macabre warning.
There were few places the refugees of New Earth were welcome.