We’re two weeks out from the release of Mongrels United on the booksites (my site comes earlier — see below). That means it’s time for the first chapter. Without further ado:
EXCERPT FROM MONGRELS UNITED
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2022
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Grady had heard rumors about Dere Street over the last couple of years. Not enough of them for her to look into it, though. Mere whispers, spoken from the corners of mouths, or speculated about as “can’t possibly be true.” As most people on the ship were careful about what they said in front of the Captain’s Chief of Staff, one or two drips of rumor probably meant there were even more out there, when she wasn’t around to hear them.
Now she knew the rumors were true. She sidled between clumps of people, keeping Kailash’s back in sight and fighting with the impulse to grab his hand so they weren’t separated.
She had never considered herself a coward, but her belly was cramping with a visceral fear that kept her heart pumping and every nerve on alert.
Dere Street was the name given to the event, rather than the location, Grady assumed. Although there had to be a relationship to the location, too, and she would look it up, later.
Illicit bars and sub-surface gatherings were part of the underbelly of life upon the Endurance, but she had never heard of a temporary bar—or gathering, or party, or whatever this was—taking place inside the Field of Mars. Although, technically, it wasn’t exactly in the Field, but in the primary lane through the field of pipes, conduits, control panels and dashboards, wiring and electronics that reached up close to the roof of the ship. During the day, the forest of piping and conduits and towers were tended by mechanical engineers, while pedestrians used the four-meter-wide lane to pass through the field to reach the Capitol, or the Esquiline, which lay fore and aft to the Field.
At night, most people didn’t wander the ship.
But tonight, enough of them had made their way to the lane, that it was a struggle to get through the clumps of people with drinks in their hands, shouting at each other.
The noise was astonishing. Music thumped loudly—something with a heavy beat that echoed along the wide lane and lifted up to the roof of the ship, far overhead. It belted out among the pipes and service boxes of the Field itself.
Many of the people who were drinking were also dancing. Their drinks were in free-fall pouches, and they bounced and swayed to the beat while talking to others.
Service bots were serving the drinks, which added to the traffic in the lane. The pouches rested on trays fitting on top of the waist-high bots, and no one appeared to be paying for them.
It wasn’t the noise or the drinking that made her wary. It was the quality of the people squashed into the lane. They looked dangerous, although she couldn’t exactly say why.
Perhaps it was the way they kept looking over their shoulders with suspicious glances, checking anyone who came too close to them. Or the way they were dressed. Worker’s overalls on some of them, dark free-file garments for others, lots of jackets with internal pockets—which some of them would reach into with a startled jerk when they saw her, before relaxing and dropping their hands once more.
No one appeared to have dressed up for an evening out, the way Grady would have if Kailash hadn’t pulled her straight out of the office. She saw unshaved chins, messy and greasy hair, ironed-in wrinkles in clothing that came from staying in one position for too long, stains and dusty boot toes.
She had let down her hair and released the clasp at the top of her shirt so she didn’t look like she was still at work, but she still looked out of place. Kailash, with his black pants and shirt and full beard, fit in with everyone else, but as his beard was trimmed, even he looked a little neater than most.
They were drawing attention, and she didn’t think that was a good thing. Grady reached for Kailash’s hand. Screw it.
She tugged on his hand and shouted, “Where is your contact? Can you see them?”
Kailash bent to speak close to her ear. “I’m looking!”
Grady was beginning to understand why Kailash had asked her to come with him, tonight. It wasn’t a place in which to be alone.
They worked their way down the lane, their pace slowing as they drew closer to the heart of the party. Event. Thing. Then she saw why their pace had slowed.
People’s backs were a thick barrier across the width of the lane. They were all facing away from her, looking at something she couldn’t see. Grady was tall for a woman, but had to stand on her toes to see through the shoulders and heads.
Two men—but she could only see their heads. They faced each other. Black, thick hair on the one with his back to her. The other had a bloody face.
Her heart gave a little jolt. They were fighting?
Kailash pulled her around the thick border of watchers, into the edge of the Field itself, stepping over horizontal pipes, and around vertical chimneys and channels. The audience thinned out because of the obstructions and suddenly, Grady could see the fight properly.
Kailash kept going and her hand pulled out of his.
The two men who were fighting were stripped to the waist. As she turned to watch, the taller of them swung his fist at the one with the bloody face. The short man swayed and the fist whizzed past his jaw. The crowd ooohed.
They were bare knuckle fighting. Probably for a monetary prize. But that would be dwarfed by the side-bets happening around the edges. She spotted members of the audience leaning toward each other, shouting in ears, making bets, changing bets. Inner wrist to inner wrist connected—the bets were placed.
The taller fighter bobbed and moved around the tight circle of space, watching his opponent, and Grady saw him properly for the first time.
He wasn’t just tall. He was solid through the shoulders, and very fit—his thick chest muscles gleamed with sweat, which also glistened on the ridges which cascaded down to the band of his trousers. He’d spent time beneath the sunlights without his shirt, for he had a mild tan. His thigh muscles beneath the trousers were as strong as the rest of him.
Grady’s attention pulled back to his face. He hadn’t been bloodied, yet, but she could see a red bloom on the corner of his jaw which would be a deep bruise by tomorrow. He’d taken a few blows to the face.
It was an interesting face. Black brows over pale eyes, a straight nose, and full lips. A dimple in the center of his square chin. The line of his jaw was sharp beneath the stubble. High cheekbones made the cheeks beneath fall straight to the jaw, and made his face look strong.
Grady forgot her fear. She forgot that she was the Chief of Staff to the Captain of the Endurance. For a single moment, she was a creature of pure feminine reactions and appreciation. She could easily imagine drawing closer to such a powerful man and appreciating the sheer animal physicality of him.
She watched him land a punch, this time to his opponent’s jaw, which wrenched the man’s head about and sent him staggering into the audience, who pushed him back onto his feet.
Kailash came back to her side. He’d noticed her fall behind.
Grady leaned closer to him. “Who’s that?” She nodded her head at the tall fighter.
Kailash looked and rolled his eyes. “Sweetheart, you don’t want to go anywhere near that one.”
There was a note of knowledge in his voice that made her ask, “That’s your contact?”
“Stars, no!” Kailash gave a mock shudder. “That’s Nash Hyson.”
The name told her a lot. “That’s Hyson? His Forum photo is out of date.” Although it had been years since she’d seen Hyson’s profile. Hyson and her moved in different circles. Some of the churning in her gut eased. It sank into a pool of disappointment. “He’s trouble.”
“More trouble than a dabble is worth,” Kailash agreed. They could speak at just under a shout, back here, for the thick rope of people watching the fight muffled some of the music. “This is his party, you know.”
“I’m shocked,” Grady said, her tone flat. “Only Nash Hyson could arrange something like this.” She recalled what she knew of him, which was very little. Two facts she could recall with ease. One; that he was one of the richest men on the ship. And two; his father had been the very last Skinwalker.
Neither of those facts accounted for his trouble quotient. It was the bar he ran in the Palatine that was the source of his sour reputation. More whispers said he ran gambling tables in one of the rooms in the building he’d purpose-built to house his bar.
But the bar alone did not explain his amazing wealth. He owned other businesses or had a controlling interest in them.
Hyson also outright owned, one hundred percent, the Dreamhawks tankball team, which had won the championship for ten years straight. Although that had to be the least lucrative of Hyson’s business, for no one went to tankball games.
Kailash tilted his head, considering the fight with narrowed eyes. “Hyson is a curiosity,” he said thoughtfully. “He’s seen with all the interesting people.”
“Captain Carpenter is seen with all the right people,” Grady shot back. “Believe me, I know. I spend most of my day making sure he is. And Hyson isn’t among those people.”
Kailash rolled his eyes. “I mean interesting, not politically correct.”
Grady smiled. “You have interesting people in your bed, too.”
“Nash isn’t seen with just lovers and partners,” Kailash said quickly. “Although plenty of those, too. Maybe he beds everyone who can make him richer or more influential? It’d be a way of coaxing them, wouldn’t it? I mean, look at him.” He did just that, as Hyson shifted around the circle. “Look at that broad back, hmmm?”
Grady nudged him again. “What else?”
“Fancy a bit of nasty yourself, Grady Read?” Kailash asked.
She shook her head firmly. “This is his party. It’s illegal in about three different ways, including the fist fight for money—”
“I brought you here as a friend, not as the Chief of Staff with a direct line to the Civil Guard!”
She made a patting motion in the air with her hand, to calm him down. “It’s all minor stuff, but it’s right out in the open. It’s…rude. It’s flaunting outrageous behavior at the whole ship. Which makes me wonder what’s going on here that I can’t see.”
“That law-abiding streak of yours will get you into trouble here,” Kailash warned her. “Let me find this idiot I’m looking for, then we can get out of here.”
“You don’t like it here, either?”
Kailash grimaced. “I like conversations that don’t need me to shred my voice box to be heard.”
“Go find your contact, then.”
He didn’t move away immediately. Instead, he glanced once more at the fight, and shook his head with a touch of reluctance. “I’d take a swing at him myself, but I like to be in control. Alas.”
Grady grinned and dug her elbow into Kailash’s side. “And Marko would never forgive you.”
Kailash waved that away with an impatient motion. “Marko is old news.”
“Already?” The revolving door of Kailash’s love life never failed to fascinate her. As she didn’t have time for a single note of romance, she vicariously enjoyed Kailash’s affairs and dramas.
The crowd ooohed loudly enough to pull her attention back to the fight. Hyson had just slugged his opponent in the belly, for the man was bent over nearly double, a hand to his gut.
The next hit would be to the exposed chin, driving the man up and off his feet, she guessed.
But the punch didn’t happen. She shifted her attention to Hyson himself.
He was staring at her. At her.
Hyson’s eyes were magnetic, holding her attention. Drawing her toward him.
Grady drew in a breath that burned all the way down to her toes. It ignited her body in a way she had nearly forgotten. No, she hadn’t felt anything this intense, not with any of her three indifferent lovers over the years…
Then his attention snapped away as his opponent surged forward from his bent position and rammed his shoulder into Hyson’s unguarded belly.
Hyson went down with a heavy grunt and landed on his back with an impact that Grady thought she could feel through her feet.
“Oooh, that hurt,” Kailash commented, his arms crossed.
Hyson got his arms up to protect his face as the other man straddled his hips and beat at him with his fists, at whatever vulnerable point he could reach.
The crowd screamed their delight, waving their hands in the air as if they wanted to punch Hyson out, too. Their expressions were animalistic. They smelled blood and the end of the fight, and it wasn’t happening the way they’d expected. They’d been surprised.
Hyson reached out with one hand and slapped the other man on the shoulder three times. He was tapping out.
The watchers went crazy.
“That’s my cue,” Kailash said. “Want to stay here while I find this joker and do the deal? It’s a bit quieter, in this little pocket.”
She nodded. It was quieter, but that was relative. She had a feeling that when they left the noise behind, she’d discover that her head was still pounding with the same beat as the music.
The winner of the fight was handed a towel to wipe his face clean of the blood, while other hands held out his clothes and possessions. Another two people stepped into the circle and stripped off their clothes. One was a woman, powerfully-built. She didn’t stop at her breastband, either. She stripped it off with the same casualness as her opponent removed his shirt. No one seemed shocked at that, although Grady could see the gleam of interest in some of the gazes around her.
The woman brought her fists up in the classic guard position, then extended a finger and beckoned her opponent toward her.
He danced closer. She snapped out her fist, directly against his nose. Blood spurted.
Grady looked away, uncomfortable. It wasn’t right to watch someone get hurt. She didn’t enjoy it the way the spectators did. Also, the fight was completely illegal. If she wasn’t going to shut it down, she should turn and walk away, even if this was the quietest spot in the lane.
Her decision made, she turned and stepped over the low pipe, intending to head in the direction that Kailash had gone. They could leave the field at the other end of the lane, then circle back to the Esquiline using the Artery magline, or if they really had to, the back tunnel.
Nash Hyson stepped in front of her. His smile held an edge.
Morale on the Endurance is at an all-time low.
Grady Read is one of the youngest Chiefs of Staff to the Captain to ever serve. She is supremely ethical and hard working. Nash Hyson, on the other hand, is one of the Endurance’s richest citizens, lives life at light speed, is friends with all the wrong people, and is absolutely the last person Grady should be seen with.
When Nash’s father dies from unknown causes, Nash’s hunt for answers brings him and Grady together to investigate what they believe is a deadly threat to the Endurance, one that might explain the misery that grips the ship and makes life unpleasant for everyone. They struggle to keep their relationship purely business, even though their mutual attraction is powerful.
Their investigation uncovers a decades-old conspiracy, and brings them into the sights of those who will do anything to keep their secrets…
Mongrels United is part of the science fiction romance series readers are calling gripping, superb and fantastic. Written by award-winning SFR author Tracy Cooper-Posey, it is set aboard the marathon-class vessel Endurance, a generation ship a thousand years from its destination. If you like the smart, romantic SF of authors like Linnea Sinclair and Anna Hackett, you will love the Endurance series. Dive into this thought-provoking science fiction romance series today!
This book is part of The Endurance SFR series:
A Science Fiction Romance Novel.
If you pre-order Mongrels United directly from me, you will get your copy a week early — that is, next week.