Beyond the Next Star by Melody Johnson


Beyond the Next Star 
Love Beyond 
Book One
Melody Johnson

Genre: Sci-fi Romance
Publisher: Incendi Press, LLC
Audio Date of Publication: September 13, 2022 
Date of Publication: June 23, 2020 
ISBN: 978-1-7351499-0-5 
ASIN: B0897S23JN 
ASIN: B0BF6126L4 


Runtime: 10 hours and 52 minutes
Word Count: 91,815
Cover Artist: Robin Ludwig Design Inc. 
Narrator: Michelle Sobeski 

Tagline: An intolerable order. A desperate charade. A deadly secret.

Book Description:

“She wasn’t dreaming, in a coma, having a mental breakdown, or in hell. She was abducted by aliens.”

Before Commander Torek Renaar can return to active duty, he’s ordered to purchase an animal companion to help relieve his PTSD symptoms. But having been a caretaker for and lost a loved one, keeping even one little human alive is a challenge he feels doomed to fail. It doesn’t help that his animal companion is the newest, most exotic breed on the market, demanding constant attention, daily grooming, and delicate handling. If she doesn’t die first in his incompetent care, she’ll be the death of him.

After witnessing the murder of her domestication specialist, Delaney McCormick allows her new owner to treat her like the pet he believes her to be. If anyone suspects she’s more intelligent than a golden retriever, her murder would be next. She endures the humiliation of being washed, the tediousness of being trained to “sit” and “come,” and the intrigue of hearing private conversations. But in Torek’s care, she finds something unexpected on this antarctic planet, something she never had in all her years on Earth while house-hopping between foster families: a home.

As companionship grows to love, must Delaney continue the charade, acting like an animal and hiding from the murderer waiting on her misstep? Or can she trust Torek with her secrets, even if the truth threatens everything he holds dear—and both their lives?

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Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/DYbFY4LAQ8I  


Audiobook Sample: https://youtu.be/mbmkievDPbU   


Excerpt:

When the lorienok abducted Delaney—after she’d finally accepted that she wasn’t dreaming, in a coma, having a mental breakdown, or in hell—she’d given them a fake name: Jane Smith. Not an exceptionally creative or unique pseudonym by any stretch of the imagination, but having come to grips with the fact that she’d been literally abducted by aliens, her imagination was stretched dangerously thin. Intergalactic kidnapping wasn’t a chronic illness, but for a time—a longer time than she was comfortable admitting to now—wasting away had seemed a preferable fate.

She didn’t accomplish much by hiding her identity. She didn’t have any blood relatives to protect, a criminal record to hide, or a trust fund to safeguard. Delaney Rose McCormick had about as much value associated with her name as did the fictional Jane Smith and left nearly as small a void on Earth. But all Delaney had in those early days directly following her abduction was her name and the hope that everything—the abduction, the tests, the training—was just a big mistake. Which, as it turned out, it was. Her abduction had been the biggest technological mistake in lorienok history, but that didn’t change her circumstances. Days turned to weeks turned to months turned to the abandonment of tracking time. Hope died. She had nothing to her name, but her name, at least, was her own, and she would keep it for herself.

By the time her domestication specialist, Keil Kore’Weidnar, discovered Delaney’s capacity to learn and taught her Lori, his native language, the issue of her name had become moot. He’d already renamed her Reshna, a spiral-shaped handheld tool used to drill into ice. He’d shown her a hologram of it, pointing to the spiral and then to the wild frizz of her unconditioned curls. They had a similar-looking tool on Earth, but they used it to open wine bottles. He’d named her “corkscrew” for her crazy hair.

She’d been called worse names in high school.

She couldn’t say she’d lived in worse places, though. Most of her foster families, with the exception of the Todd household, had been decent people who’d given her clothes, a bed under a roof, and regular meals. Besides clothes, those basic necessities were still being met, so a little gratitude was probably in order. But only just a little, because she also had a cage. And a collar. And if she’d just translated the words and growls of the pet store manager correctly, she had a new owner.

Like most lor, her owner had thick, curved ram horns jutting from his head, and like all lorienok regardless of gender, he was covered head to toe in brown fur. Sasquatch did exist after all; he just wasn’t native to Earth. He was roughly the same size and shape as a human bodybuilder, and in addition to the horns, his nose and mouth protruded slightly into a blunt muzzle, two rows of sharp predator teeth filled his overly large mouth, and pointy bearlike claws tipped each finger and likely each toe on his boot-shod feet.

Unlike most, this male wore his hair long. His locks were tied back from his face in a messy bun with a forest-green elastic band. His beard was also long and came to a point at the end, hanging a few inches below his chin. But his eyes were his most striking feature, assuming that one had already become accustomed to the ram horns, claws, abundance of muscle, and close-cropped body fur. His left eye was the same doe brown common to all lorienok—a smidge rounder and larger than human eyes, like calf eyes with those thick lashes and soul-deep stare—but his other eye was ice blue. A thick scar bisected his right brow, eyelid, and upper cheek, slicing directly over that unique, penetrating gaze.

His bearing was regal and confident, the sharp cut of his jawline proud, but his eyes betrayed him. He was sad—horribly sad—and he glowered at Delaney through the wire door of her cage like he was the Greek king Sisyphus and she his boulder, resigning himself to an eternity of labor over an impossible, futile undertaking.

Or maybe Delaney was just projecting because she couldn’t imagine anything more impossible and futile than her current existence. I am not a pet! she wanted to yell. But after witnessing Keil’s cold-blooded murder, she knew to keep her mouth firmly shut. If anyone suspected her more intelligent than a golden retriever, her death would be next.

Accomplishing impossible feats while enduring debilitating injury and sensory deprivation were challenges both expected and anticipated by the young cadets training to enter the combat and strategic intelligence division of the Federation. Qualifying exams were brutal. Training was rigorous. But for the few who didn’t fail, drop out, or obtain an infirmary discharge, the rewards were astronomical. Torek Lore’Onik Weidnar Kenzo Lesh’Aerai Renaar had certainly reaped those rewards many times over, as evidenced by the four property titles bestowed to his name. He’d never been one to flinch when facing a challenge, but this order—the court-mandated appointment of an animal companion to “facilitate mental recovery”—was the challenge that finally made him flinch.

Torek stared at the human—at the beautiful, riotous hair that sprang like coils from its head and would obviously need continual cleaning and grooming, at its tiny stature and lean form that probably couldn’t lift its own weight, at the lovely gray eyes and smooth, bare skin that would need layers upon layers of protective coverings to keep it warm—and he seriously considered the merits of simply retiring from the Federation.

No one would blame him after what had happened. He could return to his home in Aerai and resume the quiet, peaceful, unappreciated toil of plant cultivation he’d abandoned so many seasons ago along with his dreams of filling that home with a family.

The store manager hefted a bound book from the counter and plopped it into Torek’s unwilling arms.

“What’s this?” A tingle of cold dread crept across the back of Torek’s neck.

“Why, it’s your owner’s manual, of course.”

“Of course.” The Federation’s policies and procedures manual was the thickest book Torek had ever had the displeasure of memorizing, and it wasn’t even half the size of this tome.

“You’ll be the envy of all Lorien. The first to purchase a human, our newest species.

She’s the pilot for her breed, of course, but her domestication is progressing fabulously. They dispatched a harvester while she was still in transit, so until the next shipment arrives, she’s the only human we’ll have for a while yet, six kair at the least. You must be thrilled.”

As Torek flipped through a few of the manual’s pages and skimmed the table of contents, the tingle of dread that had started at his neck devoured the rest of his body and intensified to nausea. An entire chapter was dedicated to heating and insulating the human’s living quarters. If her rooms dipped below a specific temperature—Torek brought the book closer and squinted, but no, his eyes didn’t deceive him—and the human didn’t have tailored, fur-lined coverings to retain heat, she would sicken and die. If he didn’t provide her with private sleeping quarters, she would become lethargic and depressed, then sicken and die. If he didn’t feed her three meals a day, complete with a cooked protein, vegetables, and some grain, she would sicken and die. She was even allergic to ukok, a simple seasoning. If consumed, her throat would swell, cutting off her air supply, and she would immediately die.

He would kill her.

Not intentionally, of course, but despite the wild popularity of owning foreign domesticated animals, he’d never even owned a zeprak let alone something as exotic, delicate, and temperamental as this human. She wouldn’t survive a week in his care.

His throat tightened. His breath shortened. His chest ached, and suddenly, black starbursts shadowed his vision.

Not now. Not in public. Not again.



About the Author: 

Melody Johnson is the award-winning author of the “out of this world” Love Beyond series and the gritty, paranormal romance Night Blood series published by Kensington Publishing/ Lyrical Press. She graduated magna cum laude from Lycoming College with her B.A. in creative writing and psychology. 

Earning the 2021 Maggie Award of Excellence, Beyond the Next Star (Love Beyond, book 1) is an exciting branch from Melody’s paranormal romance roots, keeping the dark grit from her Night Blood Series and taking it to new worlds. Her first published novel, The City Beneath (Night Blood, book 1), was a finalist in the “Cleveland Rocks” and “Fool For Love” contests. 

When she isn’t writing, Melody enjoys swimming, hiking, reading, and exploring her new home in southeast Georgia. 

Stay in touch with Melody on social media or her website: http://authormelodyjohnson.com/ 



 

 





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The Meaning Wars Omnibus: A Queer Space Opera by Michelle Browne




The Meaning Wars Omnibus: A Queer Space Opera
The Meaning Wars 
Book Six
Michelle Browne

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Publisher: Magpie Editing
Date of Publication: Nov 10, 2022
ASIN: B0BHXRZ8NP
Number of pages: 550 
Word Count: 237,000
Cover Artist: Kateryna Kyselova

Tagline: Two best friends search the galaxy for love – while an oppressive human government hunts for them.

Book Description: 

Two best friends looking for love.

An oppressive interstellar government.

Adulthood has never been so stressful…

For the first time, all five books in The Meaning Wars are united as a complete collection. In this queer space opera featuring a diverse cast, a found family navigates the politics of revolution and freedom. 

Join Crystal, a wormhole engineer, and Sarah, an English Literature graduate with a chip on her shoulder, as they try to find romance and friendship – while an oppressive interstellar government watches their every move. 

As Crystal deals with her faltering marriage, Sarah makes risky career decisions – by doing what’s morally right. Running from the surveillance state of the Human Conglomerate, will the Interfederation’s multi-species alliance prove their salvation? A crew of old friends and a union of renegade space pirates may be their way out. But first, they have to save rebel icon Patience Ngouabi from arrest and certain torture – and make sure they all get out alive.

Fans of Ruthanna Emrys’ A Half-Built Garden and Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series will love the cosy yet intense adventures of this crew of misfits fighting for political and social justice.


Excerpt:

The leaves and trees here were soft shades of blue, ranging all the way to bold indigo. It was a sharp but not unlovely contrast against the pale sky, which looked white or a little yellowish because of the thick, protective atmosphere, shielding them from the insistent blue luminance of the F-class star. They’d seen patches of gold and yellowish plains, and even plenty of familiar Earthly green plants, which grew here quite well, but the native vegetation tended towards navy, periwinkle, and turquoise.

“Good job back there,” said Sarah in a whisper. “I thought you were gonna crack, to be honest.”

“Me too. But I kept thinking, ‘What would Sarah do?’ and I just tried to look bored,” Toby whispered back. He shot her a smile that started a bit wan, but gradually brightened. “Hey, we did it. And now we’re going to rescue someone.”

“Speaking of,” said Paulo, stumping over, “I finally got this shit figured out. Goddamn map was in really poor resolution and didn’t account for this fucking river valley having a flooded area. They sent me archived shit. I just figured out the discrepancies.” He sighed. “Sorry for snapping at both of you. I’m just worried and stressed.”

Sarah inhaled and let out a long breath. “You and me both. It’s not like I’m rescuing someone who’s basically my hero or anything, while caked in mud and preparing to flee for our lives—oh wait, yes I am. This is a nightmare.”

Toby bumped her shoulder and wiggled his feet in his boots, sluicing the mud off. “At least you’re not having this nightmare alone.”

Paulo pointed. “C’mon. Over there. Who knows how long we have before there are guards or a collection force? Those fake identities won’t hold forever.”

A cold pit formed in Sarah’s stomach. What if this was an elaborate trap? She’d seen that letter, sure, but did they know for certain that Patience was still alive? What if the guards had found her already?

“We’re in disguise,” Toby ventured, a tremor in his voice. “Um. Just so you know. That’s why we look like guards. But we’re not.”

There was a rustling. Didn’t sound like anything bigger than a rabbit—if those had even been introduced here.

The two guards circled them both, the person with sideburns keeping their gun trained right at Sarah and Toby’s faces.

“Wait. There’s supposed to be a woman here that Patience talked to,” said the one on the right.

Silently, a third person crept out of a hidey-hole Sarah hadn’t even noticed. Moss and a snarl of brush against the arch of a tree root parted and revealed a rather small woman with dark skin and large, anxious eyes, and a larger gun.

And then, abruptly, Sarah was face-to-face with her—Patience Ngouabi.

For many reasons, she was one of the most beautiful women Sarah had ever met, known, or heard of. Her skin was perhaps duller and less perfectly even in tone than it looked in interviews, but was still the glorious brown of fresh clay, with a hint of rust.

Still, she had the angelic features Sarah had seen in so many interviews: that heart-shaped face, broad, gentle nose, soft cheekbones, and full, plush lips. Her wide, dark eyes searched Sarah’s face in momentary confusion.

She had really been hoping to meet Patience under different circumstances—not while going by a dead woman’s name. If she took Patience’s hand, she thought, Patience would be touching the skin of a dead woman, not Sarah’s.

“I’m Sarah Jean White,” she said, just managing to hold her voice steady, trying to pretend she wasn’t starstruck.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to do the formal introduction later. There are soldiers on the way!” said Patience, without much of her name.



About the Author:

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partners-in-crime and their cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people’s manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.












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Release Day Blitz A Raven Remix by Sarah Hualde


A Raven Remix
Paranormal Penny Box Set 
Books 1, 1.5 and 2 
Sarah Hualde

Genre: YA Paranormal Cozy Mystery
Date of Publication: 11/15/22
ISBN:  9781736756645
ASIN:   B0BKFLD85D
Number of pages: 550
Word Count: approx 80,000
Cover Artist:  OlivaProDesign

Book Description:  

Most people run from death,
But not Penny.
She chases it down.

Penny’s premonitions put her friends in peril. Join her as she stalks the bird of death by following the musical clues he leaves behind.

Will she and her cheeky cat, Spades save the day?
Or will the Raven be one step ahead?

This Paranormal Penny Boxset features books 1, 1.5, and 2 in the Paranormal Penny Mystery Series.

Join Penny and Spades as they thwart murderers before they strike.


Amazon     Kobo     Apple     BN

Excerpt:

It wasn’t life that flashed before my eyes as Betty Fae thwacked me between the shoulder blades. It was death and disaster—replays of all the faces of shock and sadness worn by acquaintances of my past. Death of one sort or the other followed that stupid Raven.

I remembered them all. Vividly. The writer, the homeschool mom, the surfer, the politician. They were among the near-strangers I’d encountered and endangered.

Following their faces came the really painful pictures. The friendly child advocate, the sweet boy next door, and losing my aunt and uncle. After them, but always above them, followed the loss of my sister and father.

All because of the same intolerable bird. Gracious enough to give me a glimpse of their perils before nudging them to the brink. Impending doom sat, staring at me, from the cup of the only friend I had in town- Janice Rockland. It lingered there amid the froth bubbles, telling me Janice Rockland had twenty-four hours, at most, left to live.

My eyes watered. My throat closed all the tighter. Even after it dislodged my Belgian waffle. Air battled past my suffocating emotions. I gulped it down, despising myself and fearing for my boss.

Janice and Betty Fae offered me a glass of water and napkins, thinking they’d saved the day. Little did they know. Trouble had just landed in their small town.

Janice watched me through the rest of the meal. If I told her she was about to die, would she be able to eat? I sipped my coffee and avoided conversation.

Long ago, I’d explained my weird glimpses to one of the Raven’s victims. Instead of believing me, my friend grew increasingly sarcastic about my confession. He mocked me. I didn’t blame him. I’m not sure I would’ve believed me, either. In the end, his sarcasm killed him.
Laughing and gesturing like a mad bird to make fun of my premonitions, he’d lost control of his bicycle and collided with a garbage truck just as it was lowering its load.

No, I wasn’t about to tell Janice about her Raven. I’d keep watch. Stay sharp. Once the bird made an appearance, he wouldn’t leave until his prey was dead. Accidentally or with malice aforethought.

The next song, movie quote, television commercial, or anything ominous could clue me in on how to save her. At least I could give it a shot. If I didn’t keep a constant eye on Janice, her death would be on my head.


About the Author:

Sarah lives in California, in a home that brings her happiness and hay fever. She loves God, loves her family, and loves freshly brewed coffee. She has a husband who cooks, a son who stop animates, a daughter who loves animals, a dog that follows her everywhere, and a turtle who scowls at her condescendingly.

Her mother raised her on Mary Higgins Clark, Diane Mott Davidson, and Remington Steele. Her grandmother shared True Crime stories with her as they plotted how to get away with the perfect murder. It’s no surprise that Sarah became an award-winning spinner of suspenseful tales brimming with quirky characters. Mysteries are in her blood. Not that she could survive one of her own stories. She confesses, “I’d be snuffed out by chapter two.”











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