Excerpt for In Absinthia by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


ALL INCLUSIVE VICTORIANA & STEAMPUNK

Interplanetary master spies, Macijah “Cage” St. John and Phoebe Addison are forced to take vacation time, and she wants to go to Absinthia, an off-world all inclusive interactive vacay planet set up as Victorian London, but with all the future comforts. Cage doesn't do down time, but their boss has other ideas, so begrudgingly, Cage agrees to go to Absinthia. Within a day of their arrival, they get embroiled in a Ripper copy cat series of murders complete with séances, “altered” humans, kidnapping, and affairs of the heart - their hearts, which will always belong to each other.


IN ABSINTHIA

Phoenix Rising – Book 3

Alexandra Christian


www.BOROUGHSPUBLISHINGGROUP.com

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, business establishments or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Boroughs Publishing Group does not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites, blogs or critiques or their content.

IN ABSINTHIA

Copyright © 2018 Rachel A. Wylie-Johnson

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. Unless specifically noted, no part of this publication may be reproduced, scanned, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Boroughs Publishing Group. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or by any other means without the permission of Boroughs Publishing Group is illegal and punishable by law. Participation in the piracy of copyrighted materials violates the author’s rights.

ISBN 978-1-948029-31-5

E-book formatting by Maureen Cutajar

www.gopublished.com


For Tally, the hero of every story.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The book in your hands owes an awful lot to PBS. When I was a child and had to spend Saturday nights with my grandparents, our only choices for TV were Braves baseball or Mystery on Masterpiece Theater. Agatha Christie and her inimitable hero, Hercule Poirot, were as much a part of the family as we were. In Absinthia is most definitely my homage to the cozy mystery. 


CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

About the Author


IN ABSINTHIA


One

The air was close. Humid, heavy, and not quite enough. Phoe moved slow and silent through the gloom. She tried not to breathe. Even an intake of breath would give away her position in an instant. The crackling leaves under her boots weren’t helping. She winced with every crunch, praying that any misstep would be drowned out by the screeching of the strange wildlife that was all around.

“Come out, little bird. Wherever you are.”

Phoe bit down on her lip until she could taste the blood in her mouth. She wanted to call back to him, but that’s what he wanted. Her only chance was the element of surprise.

The autopistol in her hand was getting heavier by the second. Her palms sweat, making the grip slippery. Her thumb lightly grazed the safety switch and she felt the mechanism come to life. She stepped on the gnarled root of a tree and stared up into the branches. Maybe if she could get above him.

Phoe shoved the autopistol into the back of her trousers and heaved herself up to the first branch. The bark was rough and cut into her hands, but she couldn’t worry about the pain right now. She found a foothold and anchored herself as she climbed to the next branch. The whole situation was absurd, she thought as she made her way toward a ledge of interwoven limbs above. Less than two years ago she’d never climbed a tree in her life. She had always been the scaredy cat, but now here she was climbing trees and shooting guns. Her sister Jessica would be impressed.

A tiny fireball exploded over her shoulder. “Come on down now, or I’m coming up after you.”

“Fuck you,” Phoe shouted, feeling to be sure her ear piece was intact.

“Language, Miss Addison.”

Another shot took out a puny limb at her side and Phoe knew she’d been found out. She climbed out to the end of the branch, slowly reached around to her back, pulled out the autopistol, and then fired back in the direction of the voice. It was only for show. She still didn’t have a visual on her opponent. With her newly acquired grace, she managed to stand up on the branch and swing over to another. She looked down and saw that her attacker, master spy and lover, Cage St. John, was staring up into the trees. He was waiting for a clear shot. The autopistols they wielded had been powered down to merely singe the skin, but it would still hurt like a bitch. Not to mention that Phoe really wanted to best him this time.

“I can see you moving around up there,” he called. “Come closer. It’s only a matter of time before I win, you know.”

Phoe grinned, knowing she had a clear shot. She could take aim and get him right in the back of his arrogant, limey neck. Of course, that might not be as satisfying as a little hand-to-hand combat.

She inched out on the limb where she was precariously perched. As soon as Cage turned his back, she launched herself at him. Obviously, he wasn’t expecting the sudden weight and fell flat on his face. Phoe laughed as he tried desperately to regroup. The pair rolled over and over across the ground, each one trying to win dominance over the other.

“I’m so much stronger than you,” Cage growled, rolling on top of Phoe and pinning her down. “You’ll never win.” He banged her wrist against the floor, forcing her to drop the autopistol.

Phoe laughed, hooking her leg around one of his. She used it as leverage to rise up enough to crash her head against his forehead. He was dazed only for a second, but it was enough time for her to slip out of his weakened grasp. As she was crawling away, Cage grabbed her ankle, pulling her down on the ground hard enough to knock the wind from her lungs. She coughed. It felt like her chest was going to explode yet she couldn’t get enough air. He pulled her toward him, but she rolled to her back and kicked hard. The tip of her boot made contact with his cheekbone and he let go.

“Oh really?” she said, still gasping for breath. With a graceful backward roll, Phoe got to her feet and dusted herself off. “I was trained by the best.”

Cage wiped at the blood that had collected at the corner of his mouth. His eyes were narrow and dark, but she knew he wasn’t really angry. This was what he wanted. He’d taught her to fight viciously and with absolutely no regard for fairness. “Flattery won’t get you anywhere.”

“It has so far,” she noted, taking an attack stance.

The lovers circled one another like lions, each one waiting for the other to make the first move. Phoe sprung at Cage, throwing a punch that he dodged easily, then another. When she tried once more, he caught her fist in his and twisted her arm, forcing it behind her back. Her shoulder screamed with pain, but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of hearing her whimper. He pulled her up hard against his chest.

“You can do better than this,” he growled against her ear.

“You’re right,” she hissed, bringing the heel of her boot down on his kneecap. He groaned but tightened his grip around her shoulders. She used him for leverage and flipped her body backward, shoving him down and landing on her feet. Before he could recover, she’d pulled the dagger she always kept at her hip and had it poised at his throat as she straddled his waist. “Much better.”

For a moment she thought he was going to fight back, but he flashed his vampire eyes and offered a playful wink. “Think you can get that blade away from my jugular, love?”

“How do I know you aren’t trying to catch me off guard?”

“Well I guess you don’t,” he replied. His voice had lowered, becoming the gravelly baritone that suggested he had lost interest in war and was moving quickly on to love.

Phoe dropped the dagger and leaned in, crushing her mouth against his. His arms slid over her thighs and around her waist as he sat up and pulled her into an embrace. Her eyelids fluttered as she took in the intoxicating flavor of his kiss. She didn’t want it to end, but this was HQ and there was no kissing in the HQ. She pulled back, drawing a pained growl from Cage. “Training session abort,” she called.

The warm, wet jungle where they had been sparring melted away to a sterile, gray room. The branches and limbs where she’d been stalking Cage only moments ago were nothing more than moveable catwalk planks that had been suspended from the ceiling. The training facility at the new headquarters for the Bureau for Espionage and Strategic Tactics (B.E.A.S.T.) in London was state of the art. The sparring room could be almost any environment from city rooftops to deserts to the jungle—technological wizardry courtesy of the Interplanetary Union.

Phoe got to her feet and offered a hand to Cage. “You thought you had me, didn’t you?”

“I totally had you,” Cage retorted as he pushed his sweaty curls away from his forehead.

“Oh, so you let me win?”

“Absolutely.” He winked and slapped her rear playfully as she reached for a towel. “But seriously, you’re a remarkable wonder, Miss Addison.”

“You think so?”

“I really do. You’ve learned so fast. And so much in the six months since Sugoi. I think Maurice has been really impressed.”

Phoe turned up her water bottle up and drank deeply before handing it to Cage. “That must be why he’s been sending us all over hell’s half acre.”

“Well, why wouldn’t he? In the last six months, you and I have thwarted an eshar factory, broken up a human trafficking ring feeding slave labor to the colonies, infiltrated a gang of Corsairs stealing keystone, and put that idiot Dagger away on an off-planet prison colony. I think that qualifies us as ‘employees of the month.’ Don’t you agree, Mueller?”

Phoe turned as Stefan Mueller strode into the room. Stefan was exactly the type of guy she would have lusted after in St. Francisville. Tall, blue-eyed, and built. He was the epitome of a dumb blond. He was a good babysitter, and a great friend to Cage, but he wasn’t exactly putting the “intelligence” in Central Intelligence.

“Absolutely, St. John,” Stefan answered in a gruff, accented voice. “Whatever it is, I say yes.” He smiled at Phoe and took her hand. “Especially if it involves the new swallow.”

Cage rolled his eyes and stepped between them. “I’m sure you’ve come in here for a reason.”

“Oh, yeah. I was with Wilder. He asked if I would give you this.” He handed over a thin panel of tempered glass.

“What’s that?” Phoe questioned.

“It’s a holo that apparently couldn’t be sent to my eSlate,” Cage replied. He brushed his fingertip over the surface and a holographic image of Wilder appeared in the air in front of them.

“Agents O-six-one-one and O-two-one-four, you are hereby deactivated for a period of no less than thirty days effective the third day of November.”

“Bloody hell. What for?” Cage exclaimed.

As if the hologram could hear him, it answered, “According to provision fifty-five-A-thirteen-zero-two of the Interplanetary Union guidelines for government employees, class Ultra, any agent with the IU or its subsidiaries must take a mandatory vacation every six-month period.”

“When did they decide this?” Cage asked.

Mueller shrugged. “Some kind of new legislation coming from the IU. Something about us getting too stressed out with putting our lives in danger.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“I think it’s kind of nice,” Phoe said. “A month’s holiday will do us some good. Besides, I need to check on things in Louisiana.”

“It is not nice,” Cage snarled. “I’ve no interest in lying around like some old carpetbag while there’s so many more interesting things to do.”

“I thought you enjoyed going to St. Francisville.”

Cage sighed and began shoving things into his tote. “I do, but we’re on a roll, Phoe. We’ve put Dagger away and we’ve got the vampire covens on the run. It would be crazy to drop all that now. Not when we’re finally making progress.”

“We’re not the only agents, you know.” She couldn’t help chuckling at his expression. He was like a little kid whose ice cream had fallen on the sidewalk. “Come on, babe. All that stuff will still be there when we get back. A vacation could be just what the doctor ordered.” She slid her arms around his waist and nuzzled into his chest. Her fingertips trilled along the hard pectoral muscle that bulged against his sweaty T-shirt. “Some time alone. We wouldn’t have to spend the whole time in St. Francisville. We could take a little holiday. Get our heads clear. Somewhere exotic?”

“I get the distinct impression that I’m being manipulated.”

Phoe giggled. “No more than you deserve.”

Stefan cleared his throat, evidently sensing that there was about to be more PDA than he was willing to handle. “You know, if it’s exotic that you’re looking for, I got an ad on my eSlate that you might be interested in.” He pulled his slate out of his pocket and began flipping through it. “You know how you get all these holo-ads? Well this one is for this new rec colony called Absinthia.” He tapped the ad and a flickering hologram appeared before them. It showed people moving slowly down a crowded street in period clothing. The street was lined with gaslights and intricate façades.


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