Vicky Burkholder with Queen of Hearts

queenofheartsI’m welcoming Vicky Burkholder to my blog today with her novella QUEEN OF HEARTS. It’s a quick read, but not lacking in adventure and romance.

This is the third book in her Gambling on Love series. All three books take place in outer space, on other worlds, and, in some cases, with handsome or beautiful aliens. Like most authors who write fantasy, futuristic, or paranormal romances, she loves creating her own worlds. She hopes you enjoy reading about them.

BLURB – Queen of Hearts, Book 3 in the Gambling on Love series

Adam Chalmers has one hard and fast rule when it comes to passengers on his ship—no lone women. Ever. But when Admiral Keeley Reed of Fleet requests a special service from him, he can’t very well refuse. Adam nearly refuses as his “cargo” approaches him. Amanda Ki. The woman who’d tugged at his heart two years ago. But she’d left him without a word and he’d been transferred as far from her as possible. However, if he doesn’t take her on, the kidnappers who took his sister may get away because she has a way to find the answers he’s been seeking.

Tiny, silver-eyed Mandy is part Halo, a race of warriors known for their deadly ferocity. When Adam left her, she suspected her mother, queen of the Halo world, and Admiral Keeley of setting their separation up. But Adam is her true mate, and she can prove it. Unfortunately, he’s an undercover Fleet agent, and she’s heir to the throne of the Halo world. It will take the two of them working together to overcome politics, danger, and each other in order to have a chance at real love.

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EXCERPT – Queen of Hearts

Adam Chalmers paced the ramp outside his ship. “This is a bad idea. I know this is a bad idea. I can feel it. Something’s not right.”

“Excuse me, boss?”

Adam jumped as his ship’s AI whispered in his ear. He’d forgotten about the damned implant. The scar itched every time he thought about it. The implant was only a few months old. Still, it was much better than the stupid little button he used to wear. Damned thing was always getting lost or caught in cleaning. “Sorry, Thor. I was just thinking out loud.”

“Understood.”

Adam ran his hands over his head, disturbing the tied-back locks. As an undercover agent for Fleet, he hated this part of his job. He wanted action, not this shuffling of cargo and passengers from one planet to another. Though, if he was honest, he and Thor were responsible for bringing in several lowlifes who would otherwise still be out there terrorizing honest people. “I don’t like taking on unknown passengers or cargo. Are you sure the admiral said this is legit?”

“Yes. The credentials and credit background check out, though the information was surface only and the admiral wasn’t forthcoming with details.”

Adam didn’t like the sound of that. “What do you mean?”

“When I dug into the background, I found nothing more than the surface profile we were given. There was no depth to the information. The admiral didn’t even give me a name beyond what I gave you.”

“M. Ki. Which could be anyone. Ki’s not exactly an uncommon name on some planets. Did you check everything?” Even as Adam asked, he knew the answer. Thor was nothing if not efficient. And, though Ki wasn’t unusual, it had connotations that worked on his stomach. There was one particular M. Ki he hoped he never saw again.

“You know I did,” the AI said to his question.

“Yeah. Sorry. But Admiral Reed doesn’t usually use us for official Fleet stuff. Word could get out and we’d be sunk. So why us? Like I said, something about this doesn’t feel right.” He patted his ship. Although the exterior had been carefully crafted to look like it could use maintenance, within the walls were the latest upgrades in technology, and a few that weren’t even on the market yet.

“The admiral’s reasoning has not been made clear to me.”

“Which makes this even more curious. Will we be carrying anything more than the passenger?”

“I’m sorry, boss, but that’s also unknown. The manifest says one passenger to be picked up here, a second to be picked up at our next stop, destination to be given at departure. Both are to be delivered to Tairis Station. Do you want me to contact headquarters and request more information again?”

“No. It’s from the admiral so I can’t exactly refuse. And if she’s being tight-lipped on this, there has to be a reason.”

“Understood.”

Adam glanced at the time. Their passenger was late. The directive had specified that they be ready to go at exactly two and it was now ten after. He paused in his pacing as he watched a woman toting a regulation-sized carryall enter the docking bay, knowing she wasn’t his fare. He had one hard and fast rule—no lone women on his ship. They were nothing but trouble and this one looked like a catastrophe. He took a second look and his heart stopped. He knew that profile, maybe better than he knew his own. Or he had a couple of years ago. But it had been two years. Maybe his memory was faulty. He looked closer. Nope. His memory, as always, was dead-on. And he had a horrible feeling who the M. Ki was. But why would Admiral Reed do this to him? And why now?

The woman was tiny. Her head barely reached his shoulders when they stood side by side. The only difference between this woman and the one he knew was the color of her hair. Instead of the pale, almost white-blonde hair he remembered, she had dark hair that swung loose at her shoulders. She wore a regulation cut jumpsuit, but on her, it was anything but customary. The cut of the cloth and draping of the fabric showed it to be expensive rather than a generic one like most spacers wore. But then, his black trousers, heavy shirt, and knee-high boots weren’t exactly standard issue either.

What her jumpsuit didn’t hide was the lush body underneath. She was definitely not heavy, but nicely rounded. At least, that was what he’d seen on the surface. She had curves in all the right places and just enough of them to draw the attention of every man, and more than a few women, in the place.

Which was unfortunate, as one of the people whose attention she drew stepped out from a ship that had seen better days. Titus Harman wasn’t much better than his ship. Unfortunately, probably due to blackmail, Titus had connections high up in the hierarchy of the station, which gave him the choice jobs. It also made him a dangerous man to cross. Though Adam couldn’t hear much, he could tell from the woman’s demeanor that she wasn’t happy. She tried several times to sidestep Titus, with no luck. If Titus weren’t such an ass, he’d feel sorry for the slob. Adam leaned against his ship to watch the scene he knew was coming.

Titus grabbed the woman. Instead of frantically fighting back, she calmly kneed him in the groin and executed a perfect round-kick to his head. He went down like a sack of discarded spare parts and she wasn’t even breathing heavy. Interesting how everyone else in the bay had disappeared. She looked up at Adam, her eyes narrowed.

“Friend of yours?” she asked as he joined her.

“Not mine.” Adam glanced down at Titus. He was out cold. Then he looked back up. “Hello, Mandy. Been a while.”

“Adam.” She nodded once at him. They were all so civil. It had been two years since he’d seen her. He’d been working on Cygnus II when they’d met. She’d been his planet contact, but he never found out exactly what she did, just that she seemed to have unlimited funds and everybody danced to her tune. They’d had an immediate and strong connection, but, as his boss had so pointedly informed him, she was off-limits. After a month working closely together, she was in his blood like no other woman had ever been before or since. They’d grown very close, even with the admiral’s restrictions. Their last night together had been so hot he’d nearly combusted, but before anything more than heavy groping could happen, they’d been interrupted. And that’s when everything started to shut down. A day later, he got the message that she was gone and he was being transferred to a planet so far away, it was nearly another universe. Even though he’d tried contacting her, he’d never heard anything back. So that was that. End of story. Over and done with.

Shit. Could he come up with any more clichés for the ending of something he’d thought held promise?

“Can I help you find someone?” Adam asked. “I know most of the ships in dock. I can point you in the right direction.”

The tiniest of grins ran across her face as she stepped over Titus. “Point me and not escort me?”

“Sorry. I’m waiting for a fare. So…?”

She’d been studying him almost as intently as he’d looked at her. He was glad he’d at least put on a clean—or cleaner—shirt this morning. “I’m looking for the Dealer’s Choice, Captain Adam Chalmers.”

Adam’s tongue stuck in his mouth. No. It couldn’t be. He prayed to every deity he’d ever heard of that she wasn’t his fare. “What do you want with me?”

“I’m your fare.”

His stomach sank to a new low and his mouth dried up like the deserts on Arieal I. “You’re M. Ki? Why the subterfuge?”

“No subterfuge. Ki is one of my names, just not one I use very often.”

“Try never.” Well, almost never.

“Would you have taken me if I’d announced who I was?”

“No, and you know it.” Damn. Damn. Damn. Three weeks with her on his tiny ship would be an eternity. He tried a different tack. “My contract states no lone women. Period.”

“And yet, the contract is signed, witnessed, and unbreakable. If you didn’t read the changes, that’s not my problem.” She stuck her toe in Titus’s side. He didn’t move. “As you are well aware, Captain Chalmers, I am perfectly capable of handling myself.”

“That’s not the point.” He glanced at her eyes as they flashed silver at him. That was odd. He remembered her eyes as being gray, like a stormy sea, not this luminous shade of silver. He loved her eyes. And her lips. And… Damn. He forced his gaze away from her and stared at the wall behind her.

“Then let me tell you this,” she stated. “There will be no problem on your ship because I won’t allow it. I can control myself, Captain. Can you?” She glanced around as several security people entered the bay, looking in her direction. “I suggest we continue this discussion on board your ship.”

“Hey, lady, you’re the one with the fast feet. Not my business if you’re in trouble.”

“Adam, there are things going on here that are deeper than you know. Please. Can we at least get on board and talk? Keeley said you’d understand.”

Adam’s instincts kicked in as she named his boss, Admiral Keeley Reed. Very few people knew who she was, and who he was. It was enough to make his decision, though he still didn’t like it. “Welcome aboard the Dealer’s Choice, Miss Ki. Thor, fire up the engines. We want a fast exit.”

 

AUTHOR BIO

Vicky Burkholder resides in Pennsylvania near the area where her ancestors settled in 1741. She lives in a three-generation home and is lucky enough to have two other writers in residence. At various times in her life, she has been a journalist, writer, editor, teacher, short-order cook, computer specialist, DJ, and librarian. Her writing spans the fantasy, science fiction, paranormal and romance lines from YA to adult. No matter the age or genre, all of her books have a touch of romance in them and have to have a happily ever after ending.

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