Series: Staying Afloat, Book Three
Author: Isabelle Adler
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/15/2021
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, sci-fi, spaceships/pilots, action-adventure, space battles, abduction, aliens, alien ships, bisexual, demisexual, military
No place is safe anymore.
Matt and his crew know it all too well—and it’s especially true now as the war with the Alraki has reached the heart of Federation space and struck close to home. Suddenly, Matt is faced with a difficult choice. He has the opportunity to sway the tide of the war and rectify a past wrong by helping the Fleet obtain a groundbreaking Alraki technology. But to do so, he must risk his ship and the lives of his crewmates.
With Matt’s archenemy, the infamous Captain Rodgers, still on the loose and bent on revenge, the Alraki aren’t the only ones who pose a deadly threat to Matt and the people most dear to his heart. With danger and betrayal haunting their steps, Matt and Ryce must find a way to save their friends even as sinister secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart.
This time, the price of staying afloat might be higher than what Matt is willing to pay.
Afloat is the third book in Isabelle Adler’s exciting debut series, Staying Afloat, and concludes the series. For best enjoyment, advise reading the books in order.
Isabelle Adler © 2021
All Rights Reserved
“Can’t wait to get the hell out of here,” Matt muttered to himself.
A Federation space map slowly revolved on the large canopy screen, illuminating the darkened bridge with the light of distant stars. A red dot flashed sedately at the very edge of the map, marking their current location. The Elysium system was as remote as an inhabited corner of the galaxy could possibly be.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, “remote” didn’t always mean “out of harm’s way.”
Matt set the empty coffee mug on the edge of the console and leaned back, linking his hands behind his head as he considered the vastness of the galaxy, sprawled before him in all its unassuming majesty. At first glance, it appeared to hold endless possibilities, but as it turned out, they were unfortunately limited by constraints that had nothing to do with Matt’s dreams and preferences. Even the parts of the galaxy ostensibly under Federation control weren’t always safe for humans, and out of those, quite a large number of places weren’t safe for him personally.
“Permission to come on the bridge,” a voice chimed over the speaker. Matt smiled and spun around in his chair to greet Ryce as he walked in.
“So formal. Are you going to salute me next and call me ‘Captain’?”
Ryce grinned back at him and leaned down for a quick kiss before sitting beside him in the copilot seat.
“Now who’s being kinky? I thought adherence to a chain of command wasn’t your thing.”
“It’s not. But it’d still be nice to get some respect around here.”
“Knowing your crew, there’s not much chance of that,” Ryce remarked and cocked his head as he studied the map. “Have you been here all morning?”
“Pretty much. And where were you? I didn’t see you at breakfast.”
“I was playing chess with Val in the rec room.”
“Really? Two geniuses playing chess? Could you be any more cliché?”
“Neither of us is technically a genius,” Ryce observed, his eyes still glued to the screen.
“Close enough from where I stand.”
“Val and I have also tested the new power converter for the engine, and, as far as he’s concerned, it’s all systems go.” The digitalized starlight reflected in Ryce’s eyes as he pulled up the specs at the bottom of the screen, making Matt’s attention momentarily slip. “We can be out of this system the second you decide where we’re going. Have you?”
Matt sighed and ran a hand through his hair. His auburn locks had grown a bit too long for his taste, but with everything that’d been going on lately—namely, his engineer having been kidnapped and his pilot having been roped into participating in deadly drag races—he hadn’t had a chance to cut them.
“Not really. Since we’ve changed registration twice in one year already, there are only so many sectors where we could apply for a working permit, and a lot of the others are now a warzone. This whole war business is a real nuisance when you’re on the run.”
“Do you think Griggs is still after us?” Ryce asked. “It has been rather quiet lately.”
“I don’t know, but I’m not planning on hanging around much longer to find out.”
Griggs, the black-market king of the Freeport 73 station, was the man behind their crew’s recent misadventures, and though they’d managed to strike an uneasy truce, Matt wasn’t naive enough to believe the crime lord would swallow the bitter pill of blackmail without some kind of payback. Having to—literally—piece his engineer back together was more than enough incentive for Matt to look for opportunities elsewhere.
“Tony says we’re due a vacation, and for once, I tend to agree with her. We’ve all been through some tough shit in the past few months, and we all deserve a break while we have the cash to afford it. But before we go booking that luxury resort stay on Nova, I’d like to have all my bases covered.”
Matt shook his head and looked at Ryce.
“What about you? Is there anywhere you’d like to go, even if it’s just for a little while?” he asked gently, reaching out to stroke the other man’s hand. “Have you considered getting in touch with your mother?”
“I don’t think it’s time for that yet,” Ryce said, looking away. “I’m grateful for the money she sent me, of course, but it still doesn’t mean she wants to see me.”
There was something evasive about the way he said it, as if he wasn’t completely sure or completely truthful in his answer.
“Okay,” Matt said slowly.
It really wasn’t his place to pry or push Ryce into being more open about this particular subject; God knew, Matt was prickly about discussing his own family with other people. But he couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. It was silly, really, but there he was, unable to hold back a frown because it implied Ryce didn’t trust him enough to share something a little more personal.
But his disappointment was his hang-up, not Ryce’s. So instead of quietly sulking, Matt squeezed Ryce’s hand in reassurance. The feel of Ryce’s skin against his was still wondrous to him, despite them spending barely any time apart, his own private miracle. Not only because he still couldn’t quite believe a man like Ryce could love someone as flawed as him, but because after everything they’d been through, they were incredibly fortunate to be alive to enjoy their happy ever after. This was what he should be focusing on, not some imaginary slights he was learning to recognize as self-sabotage.
Ryce smiled and covered Matt’s hand with his own, his cool touch sending sparks of excitement down Matt’s spine. “What are you thinking? You have that funny look on your face.”
“Must be the aftermath of last night’s dinner.”
Ryce scoffed. “You didn’t have to be quite so unequivocal about how bad you thought it was,” he chided, but there was a spark of laughter in his eyes.
“I’m actually glad you suck at cooking. Just goes to show nobody can be perfect at everything. And if you’re not perfect, there’s hope for the rest of us mortals.”
“Remind me to gloat with the same level of delight when I discover something you suck at.”
“So pretty much anything?”
“I can think of a few things you’re good at,” Ryce murmured, sliding from his seat and onto Matt’s lap in a fluid motion.
Matt’s heart sped up. He pulled Ryce closer, greedily drinking the kiss as he closed his eyes and lost himself to the whirlwind of stars around him.
He slid his hand over the front zipper of Ryce’s fatigues, but then Ryce withdrew abruptly, frowning, and touched the adapter on his temple, the one linked to Lady Lisa’s computer.
“There’s an incoming call,” he said.
“They’ll call later,” Matt said impatiently. Whoever it was, they could damn well wait another ten minutes. “We’re kind of in the middle of something here.”
“It’s a military channel.” Ryce’s frown deepened, and he stood up to sit back in the copilot seat.
“Damn it.” Matt sat up in his chair, pushing down on his arousal and frustration. His disdain for authority didn’t extend as far as ignoring contacts from the military. This could be Nora, of course, but his sister rarely used encrypted communications simply to check up on him. “Bring it on-screen.”
The face that appeared in front of them wasn’t Nora’s, but it was familiar. The bright white background didn’t look like the bridge of a ship. Something beeped steadily just out of sight, jolting unpleasant memories of Matt’s several stays in medical facilities.
“Commander Walker,” Matt said, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. “Not to sound rude or anything, but why are you calling?”
Matt had been questioned ad nauseam by the man almost eight months ago, after their unfortunate stint on the Colanta-3 moon and the discovery (and subsequent destruction) of a Mnirian superweapon. He hadn’t liked Walker then, and he wasn’t thrilled to see him now, but he couldn’t deny he owed the commander his life after being saved from a slow, oxygen-deprived death in the depths of the alien bunker.
“I’m contacting you on behalf of Major Cummings.” Walker sounded unusually subdued. The stress lines around his eyes and mouth seemed deeper, marring his otherwise classically handsome features. “I thought you should know your sister was gravely injured in the line of duty.”
Ryce’s sharp intake of breath indicated that Walker had said something terrible, but for some reason, the moments stretched and stretched until the meaning of the words finally registered in Matt’s brain, hitting him with the force of a freight barge.
“How gravely?” he asked, digging his fingers into the arms of his chair.
Walker pursed his lips. “Enough for me to contact you on my own initiative,” he said, his voice clipped.
“What happened?” Ryce asked while Matt was busy remembering how to breathe.
“We were deployed back in the Sonora sector, and our ship, the Lennox, was on her way from Freeport 16 to the Sonora-11 outpost when we were attacked.”
Even though they weren’t touching, Matt felt Ryce tense beside him.
“Attacked? By whom?”
“An Alraki frigate,” Walker said after a pause. “A torpedo took out a portion of the bridge. Major Cummings was lucky to be able to get out before the shields gave and the section was sealed off.”
Matt and Ryce exchanged a look. Judging by Ryce’s startled expression, the same thought must have occurred to him, one that made Matt’s stomach, already tied in knots by the news, lurch with awful premonition.
“I haven’t heard anything about the fighting reaching as far as Sonora,” Ryce said, frowning. “The military bases in this sector are designated mainly for training and redeployment.”
“It hasn’t,” Walker said. “This was…an isolated incident.”
“An Alraki frigate attacking a destroyer battleship in the heart of Federation space?” Matt said, barely recognizing his own voice for the strain. “That’s—”
“Disturbing. I know,” Walker said. For the first time since Matt had met the man, he looked troubled, but a second later, he visibly pulled himself together, as stern as ever in his officer uniform. “By rights, I shouldn’t even be telling you this. But I know how much your sister cares for you, and I thought you should be here by her side. Before it’s too late.”
Meet the Author
A voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.