This is not a romance, although it does have a HEA, but before that, I’m going to introduce you to a man you should run far away from and never want to see again.
Don’t believe me?
I knew you wouldn’t, but later, when this is all over, I’m going to say I told you so...
“Maybe we can try again?” Brad said, a buzzing pink wand in his hand.
The high flush on his cheeks and his nervous eyes implied he’d rather not.
I felt much the same, only for very different reasons.
I took the wand from him, turned it off, and pushing the covers aside, rose from the bed. “No, it’s okay, really. I’m going to clean up.” I paused at the door to the bathroom and looked back. “Do you think we can call it a night? I’ve not been sleeping well lately and have a busy day tomorrow.”
“Of course, Hannah.”
As he scrambled out of bed, my gaze returned to the pink abomination in my hand. Opening the bathroom trash, I dropped it in with a shudder of distaste.
Listening to the sounds of Brad dressing in the other room, I stared at my reflection in the mirror.
The girl with the gray eyes.
I was small and unremarkable, with colorless hair cropped short, which stuck up every which way. My pale gray eyes were my one interesting feature. As for my messy hair, I wished I could have blamed it on the rough handling of a lover, but Brad had barely touched me.
He joined me in the bathroom, clothes hastily thrown on. Our eyes connected in the mirror. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“You have no reason to be sorry,” I replied, trying to work out where my life and the choices I’d made had gone wrong and how I’d arrived at this disappointing moment.
His gaze lowered to my naked breasts. He swallowed.
I wished he would do more than look.
I wished he would touch them, squeeze them, pinch them, and put his mouth on them, but he didn’t because men didn’t do such things in polite society. We’d been together two years and had shared complete intimacy exactly twice. Both occasions had been awkward. After the second one, I vowed never to make that mistake again.
The thirst I experienced was one that Brad and his pink wand with fifteen vibration settings couldn’t hope to quench. I was an anomaly, an outlier in a neat dataset that made up the population of Rymor, a throwback to a more primitive time, or so my doctor had told me.
Only the thoughts that consumed me day and night did not feel primitive, but more natural and joyful.
Brad blinked as though coming out of a trance, and his eyes lifted to meet mine.
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
My light smile hid a deeper pain. Despite our time together, it still confused him that I could be comfortable in my own skin. “You don’t need to be sorry for that either,” I said gently. “I’ll call you after the awards, if it’s not too late.”
“I could come with you?” he offered, fidgeting with his wrist piece because it saved him from making eye contact with my breasts.
“I already asked Dan,” I said truthfully.
“Okay then,” he said, bestowing me with a bright, boyish smile that had once stirred tender feelings. That was all they were, though, tender, not the hot, sweaty, heart pounding oblivion I craved.
I smiled back, and if he saw the beginning of his end in it, he didn’t show it.
Beginning, ends, and everything in the middle—we were all subject to the force of time, but I’d long felt the people of Rymor lived a sleepy echo of all they might have had and been.
I was the omega, an anomaly in a world full of betas.
Behind a dividing wall, out of sight and mind and beyond reach, lived all the alphas.
Hannah Duvaul, ancient technology specialist, Serenity Technology Center
“I’m heading home,” I said, logging off the system and hopping down from the high stool, where I’d been trawling through schematics. “There are protests outside Central Station, and I don’t want to get caught up. I’m going to get off at Roland Street and walk the last few blocks.” There had been trouble at the last rally, and innocent people had been injured.
Dan raised his head from his study of the design on his viewer. He was a slight man with a thinning crop of snow-white hair who looked much older than he was. A degenerative muscle disease had left him bound to a personal mover, but his mind, in contrast to his wasted body, remained razor-sharp. With a passion for ancient technology, he knew everything there was to know on the subject.
Then mischief entered his eyes and his lips twitched. “Pff, leaving early. I thought you were going to help me with the bots. We’ve got hours of work to do yet.”
“You know why I’m leaving early,” I said, rolling my eyes at his nonsense while stuffing my scattered gadgetry into my backpack. This afternoon, I would be at the grand auditorium for a prestigious award ceremony. My career was moving steadily in the direction I desired, and in a few months, I would be twenty-five and no longer a minor. While there wasn’t much I couldn’t do, that birthday represented the final step toward adulthood.
“Must have slipped my mind,” Dan said, doing a poor job of hiding his smile. Beyond our desks was a partition, and beyond that were printer banks arranged in neat rows, which generated any components we might need on demand. The small, silver retrieval unit emitted a gentle whirr as it headed toward us, depositing an item Dan had requested for his current project before moving off to get another, its drone fading into the distance.
Our shared occupation made me a frequent visitor to the Serenity Technology Centre, and over the last few years, Dan had taken on the unofficial role of my personal mentor.
“Next thing, you’ll be abandoning me for the highlife. Awards today, global domination tomorrow.”
I laughed. “I’ve won an award. You’ve won…like fifty. I think my ego can take the hit.”
“I don’t know,” Dan said with mock severity before giving up the ridiculous charade and winking.
I liked Dan. He was easy to work with, and unusually, an omega like me. I often wondered if that had anything to do with our instant friendship or our love of such an obscure topic.
My career choice baffled most people. No one studied ancient technology anymore. The bots handled repairs and created more bots when necessary. Humans were superfluous in this equation. The technology was simply there and continued to work under automation.
For me, ancient technology held a mystery that had intrigued me from early childhood. Who had designed it? Why had our civilization forgotten everything we once knew? Dan and I spent our time trying to unravel the intricate code so we could understand how it worked. It wasn’t an occupation that appealed to many people. Still, it did have a mysterious and wealthy benefactor who offered grants, making it a viable career choice.
I flipped my backpack closed. “You’ll be there, won’t you?” I felt a little needy voicing this. My sister couldn’t make it, she’d said, but I’d read between the lines. Ella didn’t do big cities. Visiting me once a month stretched her comfort zone to the limit. An awards ceremony with the chancellor in attendance would make her break out in hives.
I loved my sister, but we had very little in common, for all we looked so similar.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Dan said, smiling warmly.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling an unexpected surge of emotion that my parents weren’t alive to see this day.
“Hey,” he said, bony fingers enclosing mine. “It’s okay to miss them, Hannah. They would have been proud of you.”
“Thanks, Dan,” I said, close to tears as I squeezed his hand back.
I left for home, determined not to wallow in my past. It was midday, and the monorail carriages were busy. By the time I arrived at my apartment, I only had an hour before the skycar would collect me for the event.
A buzzing came from inside my backpack, and I fumbled for my cell while slamming the apartment door shut. The luxury of a retina viewer was as yet beyond my means, but the cell did the job. Dropping my backpack on the couch, I found a message waiting from Brad. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to him, but I hit play against my better judgment.
“Hey, it’s me!” he began unnecessarily. “I just wanted to wish you well for tonight. I’ll be watching you on the viewer. But you know, if you’re bored after, I could come over…if you’d like.” He winked for dramatic effect. “I’ve got you a new toy—”
I snapped it off, not in the mood for anything Brad or his toy collection had to offer. Did that make me a terrible person? He was personable, had a good job, acted responsibly in every way, handsome, and fun. Yet last night, I’d recognized that nothing about Brad interested me beyond friendship. I questioned all the steps that had led us to this position, how his persistence had worn me down, how all our friends wanted us to be together. We made a cute couple, apparently.
How did I find myself so trapped?
Even Ella liked Brad on the few occasions when they’d met. My sister’s approval was all but the kiss of death to my interest.
No man would ever appeal to me. I was an omega who spent a good deal of time trying to ignore the unnatural feelings I had. After I ended things with Brad, as I decided I must, I should resign myself to life alone, because it was less painful than going through this again.
Stripping my clothing, I stepped into the shower. As the water fell over me, disappearing into the hidden drain, I reflected on the fact that none of this was Brad’s fault.
An omega couldn’t be expected to fit into a world of betas. Physically, I was different—psychologically too.
I could well remember that awkward conversation with our family doctor while Ella sat in attendance with a forlorn expression on her face. The gene ran in our family on my mother’s side, so this was always a possibility, the doctor had told me.
I might have urges to ‘nest,’ but these would fade as I matured. There were drugs I could take that would expedite the transition, and a form of chemical sterilization that would shrink my slick glands and dampen the other urges that the doctor alluded to only in vague terms.
Even as a child yet to show any signs or symptoms, I shied away from the use of drugs, preferring to let nature run its course.
A few years later, when the slick began to flow, and my mind conjured increasingly dark fantasies, I’d gone to the underweb to find out if this was related to my omega status.
It was, and apparently, these fantasies would fade over time too. There were no alphas inside the wall, and without an alpha, I would never be complete, would never nest, and everything else that differentiated me as an omega would soon be gone.
I snapped the shower off and hit the extractor. Within seconds, my body and hair were perfectly dry.
I dressed without thinking, selecting a respectable lilac tunic dress and matching boots.
“The girl with the gray eyes,” I mused. The auto-dryer had set my hair perfectly straight, but it stuck out from my head every which way. I dragged my fingers through it, trying to flatten it, but it bounced straight back.
My communicator bleeped, indicating my skycar had arrived. Grabbing my bag, I headed for the skyport.
* * *
William (Bill) Bremmer, Chancellor of Rymor
The grand auditorium of Serenity’s government district was packed to capacity. I had frequented the venue on occasions, for everything from business functions to charity balls. Today, it thrummed with pretentious nobodies and enough media to ensure no awkward moment escaped capture.
The light marble floors reflected the black color that dominated the attire in the room. The political elite and the political aspiring butted up against society’s greatest nerds who’d had the misfortune to win an award, thus forcing them from the confines of their nerd caves, where, if their clothing was any indication, they should return as quickly as possible.
“Try and look happy, Bill,” Margaret said, smirking as she lifted a fluted glass to her ruby red lips.
“I don’t look happy?” I asked, raising a brow as I waved an overly attentive waiter away. I was the chancellor, so I couldn’t be seen to overindulge in alcohol—drinking anything publicly was a sure road to ruin.
“You look positively joyful,” she deadpanned. “But I know you, and I can tell when you’re faking it.”
She had honey brown hair and a perfect hourglass figure that I’d no doubt had been acquired via a robotic surgeon at significant cost. I’d fucked Margaret on a few occasions, but I had no desire to make it more exclusive than that. We were both adults and she was an attractive woman, but I’d been in the game long enough to be suspicious of everyone and everything.
My polite smile gave no indication that her comment had grated on my nerves. She didn’t know me, but she’d like to. Whether her interest in me was for political gain or personal, I neither knew nor cared. She wouldn’t be the first junior senate member using her charms to try and climb the ladder, nor would she be the first person enamored with the prestige and power of my position.
I was a willing participant in the game. It didn’t sway my decisions—a point I’d made abundantly clear, not that it stopped Margaret.
Maybe I did Margaret a disservice? It didn’t matter. I wasn’t interested in her on any level beyond the one we’d already shared.
“I’ve never seen so many ghastly outfits,” she said, nose wrinkling in disgust as she sipped her drink. I might not be allowed to drink, but Margret was knocking them back. Soon, she would become bold in making a play for my attention. While I tolerated her antics behind closed doors, I was ever mindful of public impressions.
“Not everyone has a designer budget, Margaret,” I replied neutrally. I’d lost count of the number of conversations I’d had recorded in public locations like this. The media were vultures, ready to swoop in and feast on a slight of any magnitude.
The arrival of my personal assistant, Theo, saved me from further awkward conversation. With a slim build and rich auburn hair, he possessed a naturally serious demeanor and was old in his ways, despite being only a few years past his majority. A data tablet rested in his hand, and his head was inclined in the manner of one waiting to interrupt.
“If I might be excused, Margaret,” I said, and not giving her a chance to voice an opinion, I joined Theo.
“They’ll be calling you in ten minutes, sir,” he said, indicating the way through to the stage wing. “Would you like the details now?”
I tried to drag up enthusiasm for whatever badly dressed geek I was about to present an award to, but I was only human, and it was hard. “Yes, please.”
“You’ll be presenting the Lovert Award on behalf of the Historical Technology Society,” he said as we navigated through the crowd, climbing a short set of steps before going into the narrow passage that led directly to the stage itself. “The winning nominee successfully dismantled and rebuilt a class 77 repair bot.”
“A what?” I was distracted from the conversation by our arrival in the stage wing and the vision of nervous beauty standing on the opposite side, talking to a stage assistant. Between us, a bumbling young man with too-short trousers delighted the crowd with a list of thank-yous he read from a crumpled piece of paper.
Paper? Who the fuck used paper anymore?
“Class 77 repair bot. It’s a—”
“Yes, I know what it is,” I said, forgetting about the various support staff milling around. “Why the fuck would anyone dismantle one and put it back together again?”
“For the, ah, challenge?” Theo phrased it as a question, clearly as confused by this as I was.
“And we hand out awards for this?” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” he said, glancing down at the data tablet as if to double-check. He didn’t need to double-check, and I shouldn’t question him. During the three years he’d been my personal assistant, he had never once fucked up or made a mistake of any kind.
“Omega,” I said, only I wasn’t looking at Theo, and realizing this, he followed my line of sight.
“Yes, sir, that’s Hannah Duvaul…the technical historian you’re presenting an award to.”
My eyebrows crawled for my hairline, and I snorted out a huff. “And she likes to reassemble repair bots for fun,” I mused. “How delightful. Age?”
“Good,” I said decisively, because I wanted her and I always got what I wanted. “I think that’s a politically palatable age difference.” I pinned my assistant with a look. “What do you think, Theo?”
He looked toward Hannah before turning back to me. “Yes, sir,” he said. There was a pause where I was sure his machine-like brain was churning through numerous snippets of information. “It would be acceptable, if a little unorthodox.”
That sounded a lot like a green light. “I can cope with unorthodox,” I said. “I am the youngest chancellor, after all.” My little victim had an air of innocence and didn’t appear anywhere near as nerdy as the rest of the bumbling buffoons who were here to collect an award.
She looked a lot like marriage material.
Nothing in me rebelled at this idea. She was gorgeous, obviously intelligent, and had a beguiling sweetness that blazed like a fucking beacon.
I wanted to corrupt her.
Correction, I was going to corrupt her.
“Sir.” Theo’s voice stirred me from my erotic life plan. “You’re next, sir. It’s time for you to present the award.”
* * *
I was nervous as I waited in the wing to collect my award. The kind stage assistant did his best to distract me with tales of miss-steps, but my return smile was awkward. I understood he meant well, but stories of people who had fallen over, stammered lines, or other delightful disasters while under the media spotlight were not helping my quest to remain calm.
If anything, it set me up perfectly to join their illustrious ranks.
“I’m not helping, am I?” His hazel eyes searched mine as his lips tugged up in a disarming smirk. “My bad, I’ve never met an omega before, and I’m legitimately fascinated. Here…” Fishing in his jacket pocket, he pulled out a small metal flask. “Works like a treat. I promise, no one who takes a shot of my happy juice ever falls on their ass.”
“Is that alcohol?” I asked, incredulous.
He winked at me. “Going to have to trust me as an expert of stage mishaps here, Hannah. But apple juice doesn’t cut it when someone’s as nervous as you are.”
I shot him a withering look, although it held no heat. “Fine.” I took the flask from him, unscrewed the lid, and gulped a mouthful down.
He chuckled when my eyes watered, and I fought for breath.
“Gets them every time,” he said as he tucked it back in his pocket.
It hit my stomach like a tornado. Within seconds, heat engulfed my body. “Wow.”
“Feeling better?” he asked, still grinning.
“That worked really fast,” I said.
“It needs to.” He nodded his head toward the stage. “I forgot to mention, you’re tonight’s random selection, and the chancellor will be presenting your award. Well, I say random, but between you and me, there’s nothing remotely random about it. You’re young, pretty, and will make a far more interesting subject for the news and media outlets than the rest of the gorillas who show up for these technology awards. So, yeah, not random…unless anyone asks, which they won’t because they’d rather look at you too.”
I gaped during this rambling confession, but it was too late for worries. The occupants of the packed venue were clapping, and my head swung toward the stage as the chancellor walked out, smiling and waving toward the crowd.
Somehow, my feet moved without tripping. I took the heavy lump of crystal from him and went through the motions of saying polite words.
True to the prediction of the stage assistant, I didn’t trip or otherwise make a fool of myself, but the whole time, all I could think about was the man I stood beside. I wasn’t a person interested in politics. If you’d asked me before today, I’d have said politicians were all sharks with a god complex.
Yet William Bremmer seemed entirely natural and charming, especially with the way he passed the heavy award to me carefully, making sure I had a good hold, his attentiveness bordering on protective. While I said a simple thank you to my sister, who had encouraged me to explore this unusual career choice, and of course, to Dan, my wonderful mentor, I became the object of his direct and unwavering interest.
After he escorted me from the stage to the applause of the crowd, it also seemed natural for him to stop and ask me a little about myself while the show staff bustled about and pretended not to be watching and listening to everything we did and said.
I wasn’t connected to reality. I existed in an alternate plane of existence, and later, if you were to ask me, I couldn’t recall a single word.
But I remembered the way it felt to stand beside him, remembered the faint scent of his cologne and the striking beauty of his aqua blue eyes. He was tall for a beta, with a lean whipcord build and the kind of underlying power that the omega side of me was always drawn to in a man.
Something wicked lurked beneath the surface of his smart designer suit that I couldn’t put my finger on.
Not in the way he looked, for his golden brown hair and blue eyes held an almost angelic beauty.
Not in the way he acted, for he exuded polished charm and sophistication.
But underneath his beautiful façade and civilized charm, lay something deep, dark, and dangerous. He drew me in, and like a lonely planet caught in the gravity of a black hole, escape was not an option.
So when he asked me, toward the end of that conversation, if I would meet him the next day, I enthusiastically replied yes.
Content Advisory: Extremely dark, graphic content, mind-games and manipulation, SA, violence, and gore.
Heroes in this series range from sweet to pitch black.
Grab your copy!
Sept 14th 2022 Book One: https://tinyurl.com/TheGirlWithTheGrayEyes
Jan 14th 2023 Book Two: https://tinyurl.com/TheWarriorInTheShadows
March 14th 2023 Book Three: https://tinyurl.com/TheMasterOfTheSwitch