Echoes of Possibilities is now out from Noble Romance Publishing (http://www.nobleromance.com), and includes my story, 'The Monitors':
The Monitors by Stevie Carroll
Stuart is a monitor: a human back-up to the computer controls on a deep space colony transport. Working alone for months at a time, with long periods between shifts spent in cryogenic stasis, his contact with other people is limited to the change-over of shifts, and brief stays on distant planets between jobs. Born blind into a universe where genetic 'abnormalities' are screened out at conception, Stuart has come to see himself as superior to the 'normals' in some respects, but lacking in others that have nothing to do with sight. He dreams of an academic research post, a family and a permanent home, always wondering what woman will love 'a guy like him'.
Claire, deaf since a childhood illness, has broken away from her overprotective family, and wants to see as much of the universe as possible. Having spotted Stuart from afar before joining the ship's crew, she is delighted when their shifts overlap, and is unafraid to demonstrate her attraction to him. The instantaneous, intense chemistry between them breaks down Stuart's inhibitions about sex on duty -— and on a first date, at that —- but will Claire willingly put her travel plans aside until he's ready to travel with her?
The noise of the shower stopped, to be replaced by that of the hot air dryer. A couple of minutes after that stopped I heard footsteps enter the chamber. They sounded female, but I don't like jumping to conclusions.
As the footsteps drew closer, I caught a whiff of one of the popular floral body-sprays. It's marketed as unisex, but a good 90% of those that wear it are female. In my experience, anyway.
“Hello,” she said. Definitely a female intonation, but I couldn't place the accent. I'm good at accents, usually. “I'm Claire, and you are . . . ?”
I told her, and asked how she was finding being revived so far.
“Getting used to it,” she said. “You don't look like a Stuart.”
“Why the hell not?” It was a perfectly good name. Took a lot of choosing, I remember.
“You don't look arrogant enough to be a Stuart. You look more like a Jake.”
I considered the matter. Jake always struck me as a bit of a sissy name. Like a softer version of Jack. I'd been told that with my curly hair, slightly over-long at the end of a shift -- it was always slightly too short at the start and just perfect in the middle month -- and my neatly trimmed beard, I looked quite piratical. Jack is a good piratical name, I supposed. Maybe I'd use it if I ever needed an alias.
“Well, I'm Stuart,” I said. “Follow me.” I turned and started to walk toward the chamber's main exit. “Anything you want to know, just ask.”
“Could you turn round and repeat that, please?”
Her pertinent facts put her as coming from Sol Four. I'm from Sol Five-point-Three and I didn't recognize the accent at all. I've learned over time that normals are more freaked by my eyes than they are by what some of them term as my 'ignoring them', so I kept on walking. I could hear her following, moving a little faster than I was.
She put her hands on my shoulders. That floral perfume smelled better on her than on anyone else I've known to use it.
I stopped. I like to know where people are, but I don't like them in my space. Not even when they smell as good as she did.
She pushed and pulled me into a position where we were face to face. I could tell from the way her hands rested on my shoulders that we were pretty much of a height, but then I'm not tall for a guy.
“I said, could you repeat that.” She spoke slowly, as if addressing a very young, or developmentally delayed, child. “I need to see you talk.”
Now that was a surprise.
Longer excerpt available at https://www.nobleromance.com/ItemDisplay.aspx?i=128
The other stories are:
Fight or Flight by Jenna Byrnes
Robert Mackenzie is running for his life. In 2145 Chicago, the police have bounties on their heads and if caught, are forced to fight to the death in arena-type matches. In a seedy pub, Mac discovers a woman who looks very familiar. Although she denies it, he quickly realizes, she's the one person who's more hunted than anyone else in the civil war-fractured United States. Katherine Garza is wary, stubborn and more beautiful than anyone he's met in ages.
Exhausted from months of hiding and being on the run, Mac knows he doesn't look like anyone Katy could trust. But he might be her only chance as Progressive soldiers dig deep into the trenches in order to wipe out the opposition. Katy's determined to do things her way. Mac is all for that, as long as he's really calling the shots. Together, they must work as a team to stay alive. If they don't kill each other, first.
Star's Embrace by DC Juris Captain
Jacob Meryl has lusted after Maltinian Ambassador Arlite Parvone since he first laid eyes on her, but the timing has never been right. At least, not until now. A late night call for help from Arlite sends Jacob on a mission to investigate a potential slave vessel -- and to win Arlite's heart.
Initiation by A.B. Gayle
"Life" has taken a dramatic turn for Cedric, whose incarnation was described in Reversal, a short story in Noble Romance Publishing's anthology, Echoes of the Future. The sex slave cyborg now has a new mistress, Jen.
Jen was different. She was bred to be different: taller, stronger and faster than the majority of her clan. She accepted those differences because without them she could not fulfil her role as warrior and protector. What she found difficult to accept was her inability to satisfy her sexual desires. Her fellow bounty hunters managed to build meaningful, loving relationships. Why couldn't she?
Cedric was also different, but he was constructed to be different. One of a kind. On a desperate mission to learn from the best -- the feared warriors of the Anasazi clan -- his decision to join their all-female space-faring crew as combat cyborg should mean the secret of his unusual past would be safe. Wouldn't it?
Buy the e-book at https://www.nobleromance.com/ItemDisplay.aspx?i=128
See a larger version of the cover: