Interplanetary intrigue and romance combine in this electrifying finale to the Consortium Rebellion trilogy.
As the youngest member of her High House, Catarina von Hasenberg is used to being underestimated, but her youth and flighty, bubbly personality mask a clever mind and stubborn determination. Her enemies, blind to her true strength, do not suspect that Cat is a spy—which makes her the perfect candidate to go undercover at a rival House’s summer retreat to gather intelligence on their recent treachery.
Cat’s overprotective older sister reluctantly agrees, but on one condition: Cat cannot go alone. Alexander Sterling, a quiet, gorgeous bodyguard, will accompany her, posing as her lover. After Cat tries, and fails, to ditch Alex, she grudgingly agrees, confident in her ability to manage him. After all, she’s never found a person she can’t manipulate.
But Alex proves more difficult—and more desirable—than Cat anticipated. When she’s attacked and nearly killed, she and Alex are forced to work together to figure out how deep the treason goes. With rumors of widespread assaults on Serenity raging, communications down, and the rest of her family trapped off-planet, Catarina must persuade Alex to return to Earth to expose the truth and finish this deadly battle once and for all.
But Cat can’t explain why she’s the perfect person to infiltrate hostile territory without revealing secrets she’d rather keep buried…
Coming May 19, 2020!
The wineglass shattered in my hand, slicing deep into my palm and fingers. Red blood welled, but bitter disappointment overshadowed the physical pain.
Stupid, stupid girl. The silent words echoed in my father’s voice.
I should not have checked my com at the party, but communication from my brother Benedict was scarce, and I couldn’t resist. Mistake. Benedict’s latest war update painted a bleak picture, and I’d stopped paying attention just long enough to break the glass.
I’d been doing so well, but there would be no hiding this, not with blood dripping down my arm. I glanced around. I’d stepped out into the garden, away from the rest of the party, but the twilight shadows were not deep enough for me to slip away entirely. Susan, my bodyguard, watched over me from the patio, and it was only thanks to the angle that she hadn’t noticed the injury already.
There was nothing for it.
With a sigh, I tripped on the air and fell into the grass, landing with a yell. Glass shards sliced deeper and I didn’t have to fake the next pained groan.
“Lady Catarina, are you all right?” Susan shouted, her voice full of concern. She was the first to notice, as expected, despite the distance between us. After Ferdinand’s disappearance, House von Hasenberg family members were now assigned bodyguards at all times.READ MORE
Footsteps approached, and I sat up, cradling my bloody hand. Susan gasped and called for a medic from the backup security vehicle outside. “I’m okay,” I assured her, “but the wineglass didn’t survive.”
She bent down to assess the injury. Her dark suit faded into the shadows, accentuating her pale skin and blond hair. Twenty-eight and happily married, she was one of my favorite bodyguards. She met my eyes, expression worried. “What happened?”
I gave her, and the growing crowd behind her, a bright, vapid smile. “I think I must’ve had too much of House Durand’s excellent wine.”
Twitters rose from the bystanders. No one was quite brave enough to insult me to my face—I was the daughter of a High House after all—but they weren’t laughing with me, either.
Susan, who was used to my antics, didn’t bat an eye, and that was somehow worse than the pitying looks from the crowd. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t this person, that I’d built this facade when I didn’t know any better and now I was trapped.
But of course I couldn’t.
So I smiled while the medic extracted the glass from my hand and slathered it in regeneration gel. And I smiled as I moved through the crowd of vicious gossips who barely veiled their clever slights behind concerned looks and condescending advice.
At twenty-one, I was the youngest von Hasenberg heir. People thought that made me gullible, so I played into the narrative. I flitted from group to group, bubbly and shallow, more concerned with fashion and shopping than war and treachery. It was an exaggeration of my normal personality, but some days the mask was harder to wear than others.
Lately it had been harder still, especially when I could clearly hear the whispers that trailed in my wake.
None of them were kind.
It didn’t help that I remained stuck here on Earth while all of my siblings went gallivanting off across the universe. They insisted on treating me like a child, never mind that I was an adult in my own right. I loved them to death, but they were smothering me.
Every day the thought of getting in my ship and pointing it at a distant planet grew more and more appealing. Only honor, duty, and love kept me earthbound. We’d all worried after Ada had left, and while her story had turned out for the best, I didn’t want to put my brothers and sisters through another round of anxiety.
Not yet, not when everything was so unstable.
So I stayed at the party, because socializing was the one thing I was good at. I mingled, and laughed, and ignored the barbs. And if it all felt empty and hollow, I ignored that, too. House Durand was an ally, and we needed all the allies we could get while at war. I was here to strengthen that relationship.
It was all I could do.
Two days later, I felt like a spring that was wound too tight. My hand had healed, thanks to the regeneration gel, and I hadn’t had any more accidents, but I couldn’t settle. Enclosed in my private office, I paced and worried. I’d designed the space to be soothing, with pale green walls and antique wooden furniture, but right now it felt oppressive.
After months of careful planning, everything was finally coming together, with one tiny exception—I still had to tell my sister Bianca what I’d done. I’d scheduled breakfast with her, so at least I wouldn’t have to carry this anxiety all day. Not that the rest of my schedule was any better. After Bianca, I had to face one of Mother’s official House brunches.
One thing at a time.
I tucked away my restlessness and painted on the face I showed the outside world, then smoothed a hand down my pink-and-blue polka-dot dress. It flared around my knees and made me look young and carefree. My wardrobe tended toward bright colors as a distracting visual camouflage.
I checked my smile in the hallway mirror on my way out. There was too much tension around my eyes. I blinked and tried again. Better.
I didn’t really look like a von Hasenberg. My four oldest siblings had all taken after our father, with strong features, ruddy skin, and light brown hair. Ada and I had taken after our mother, with more delicate features, golden skin, and dark brown hair. Ada had also inherited Mother’s blue-gray eyes, but mine were a more common golden brown.
I joked that my five older siblings had used up all of the good genes, a joke that hit a little too close to home considering how sick I’d been as a child, but I liked the anonymity of not being immediately recognized as a member of my House.
My reflected smile turned wry. I was never anonymous, not really, but sometimes it was nice to pretend.
I continued down the short hallway to the living room. If my office was an oasis of calm, my living room was a riot of color. The walls were white, but large, colorful abstract prints adorned them. My furniture was all brightly hued. A lime green sofa, orange chair, and purple tables somehow formed a beautiful, cohesive design. The interior decorator I’d hired had earned every credit I’d paid her.
This was my public face, shown even to the few friends who were close enough to get to see the inside of my suite. We were all liars, to one degree or another.
Susan waited for me in the hallway outside, wearing her trademark dark suit, today paired with a pale pink shirt. “Going out, Lady Catarina?”
“I am heading to breakfast with Bianca, but I want to stop by a coffee shop on the way.”
She inclined her head in agreement and silently fell in behind me. I liked her because she always instinctively seemed to know if I wanted to be left alone with my thoughts or if I wanted idle chatter to fill the silence.
We stepped outside and I let my gaze drift over the city. Serenity, the headquarters of the Royal Consortium and the only inhabited city on Earth, was just beginning to wake, bathed in the brilliant gold of early morning sunlight.
The city was laid out in a circle and each High House owned a quarter. The quarters were divided into sectors starting from the middle. The Royal Consortium government buildings were in the very center, colloquially called Sector Zero. The family residence for each quarter took up the entirety of Sector One. The other nine sectors contained shops, offices, residences, and all of the amenities found in a large city.
The closer the sector was to the center of the circle, the more expensive it was to live and work there. Also, the buildings closer to the middle tended to be shorter, driving up prices even more due to the lack of supply. It made for an interesting view as the city grew taller and taller in the distance. Sector Ten was almost entirely skyscrapers over a hundred stories tall.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and let the warmth of the sun shrink my worries back into manageable sizes. There were some benefits to being stuck on a planet.
And being able to go outside was a major one. I spent a lot of time outdoors because my earliest memories were of the white walls and locked windows of a medical center. As a child, I’d spent hours staring wistfully out of the small window in my room. I’d been sickly, despite the nanobots in my blood that were supposed to keep me well, and I still carried side effects from my numerous treatments.
I masked the side effects, like I masked my true personality, but these secrets were much more important to keep.
I opened my eyes with a sigh. Secrets and lies seemed to be all I dealt in these days. It was exhausting.
Susan and I entered the House transport, and I set the destination for Bianca’s favorite coffee shop. The transport lifted into the air with the familiar, soothing thrum of the engine.
My mind drifted and landed on the exact thing it shouldn’t: the unknown man at the club last night. My best friend, Ying Yamado, had persuaded me to go out with her, and I’d caught sight of him as soon as we walked in the door.
A stranger was hardly unusual, but this man had been captivating. Powerfully built and radiating quiet confidence, he was likely a soldier on leave. He wasn’t my usual type, but I’d been drawn to him like a moth to flame. I’d caught sight of him a few times, but before I’d worked up the courage to go say hello, he’d vanished.
And now my mind was stuck on him.
I acknowledged the attraction and then let the thought go. He wasn’t for me, not even for a night. It took a while, but I let him drift from my thoughts and focused on centering myself for the day to come.
By the time we landed, I felt calmer. It wouldn’t last, but I’d take what I could get.
The small coffee shop in Sector Eight of the von Hasenberg quarter bustled with customers, but the line moved quickly. I was meeting Bianca for breakfast at her apartment, but I wanted to bring her something she loved, and this shop served her favorite coffee. And if it helped to soften her up for the news to come, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.
After securing our coffees, Susan and I returned to the transport and lifted off, trailed by an additional House von Hasenberg security transport—an unfortunately common sight now.
Ian Bishop was the director of House security, and between the attack on Ferdinand and his relationship with Bianca, he’d become even more overprotective, especially once Father kicked Bianca out of her suite in the main house. She and Ian shared a penthouse a block away from the main House von Hasenberg complex, but you’d think she lived deep in a war zone from the way Ian worried.
It was kind of adorable, unless you wanted to walk to see your older sister—then it was just annoying. In the past few weeks, Director Bishop had made a security team shadow me even for the short walk between the main house and their apartment, so I wasn’t surprised that one followed us now.
Bianca’s penthouse spanned the entire top floor and would have cost a fortune if our House didn’t own the property.
Ten stories tall and situated on the corner of the block, the building was made of smooth gray stone. It had a view of the House von Hasenberg gardens as well as the ornate stone main house itself. Personally, I thought Father let her have the location because he wanted her to be able to see what she was missing.
I didn’t think it had worked because in the last two months she’d been as happy as I’d ever seen her, even after the forced move.
The penthouse had its own private entrance from the street. I swiped the identity chip in my right arm over the reader and the entry door popped open. Bianca had always given her siblings free access to her suite, and that practice carried over here, too.
The entryway opened into a tiny lobby with a single elevator and a set of stairs behind a locked door. On the far side of the elevator, another door opened to an office and lounge for visiting bodyguards. While Bianca might not mind her siblings running roughshod over her privacy, that same attitude did not extend to our guards. Both the elevator and stairs opened only here and in the penthouse, so having the guard wait at ground level had been deemed acceptable.
It didn’t hurt that the person making the rules was deeply in love with my sister and would do anything to make her happy.
The elevator required another identity check. I took the few seconds alone to check my smile in the reflective elevator doors. I didn’t usually hide my true feelings from my siblings, but I didn’t want Bianca to worry about me, not when there were so many other, more important, things to worry about.
Bianca’s living room was a study in retro-industrial looks. Silver chain link curtains spanned the large windows and glittered in the sun. The furniture was sleek and black. Exposed ductwork in the high ceilings added additional visual interest, and a single vivid painting saved the room from being utterly colorless.
The air was rich with the smell of cinnamon and sugar, but my sister was conspicuously absent. “Bee?” I called.
“We’re in the kitchen!” she yelled back.
My smile slipped at the we. I didn’t know anyone else was joining us for breakfast, but if Bianca was yelling like that, then it couldn’t be anyone too important. Maybe our oldest sister Hannah was back on Earth. She had taken some much-needed time away, but I hadn’t expected her back for another month or two.
The living room and dining room were one large, open space, but the kitchen was tucked away out of sight. Bianca liked to cook and her vast kitchen reflected that. It had the full range of high-end appliances as well as two oversize synthesizers.
I took in the scene at a glance. An unknown man and woman sat at the bar while Bianca bustled around. My sister had on a casual outfit and flats. The only time Bianca went without towering heels was around close friends and family. So who were these two and why had I never met them before? They turned my way, and I froze.
It was the man from the club.
I blinked and switched into public mode, mind racing. What was he doing here? I had a feeling that the pause hadn’t gone unnoticed by either of them as they tracked my progress into the room.
The woman had pale ivory skin, strawberry blond hair, and a lean build. Her eyes were sharp and neutral. Not unfriendly, more like undecided. The man had light brown skin, dark hair, and heavy musculature. His square jaw had a few days of dark stubble adorning it. His features were too strong for traditional beauty, but he was damn attractive all the same. His expression was even more guarded than the woman’s.
He did not seem to recognize me. That should have brought relief, but I felt a vague sense of disappointment instead.
Both of them wore close-fitting black shirts. I’d bet utility pants and boots hid behind the bar. Not Consortium types, then. Were they Ada’s friends from Sedition?
I realized I’d been staring for a beat too long and turned to my sister with a wide smile. “Bianca, you didn’t tell me you had visitors,” I admonished. “I would’ve rescheduled! And I apologize, but since I didn’t know you had guests, I only brought coffee for you.”
She accepted the coffee with a hug and a grateful smile. “These aren’t guests, these are my friends Alexander Sterling and Aoife Delaney.” She pronounced the woman’s name EE-fa. “They helped me rescue Ferdinand. I wanted you to meet them.”
I turned back to them. “Thank you so much for your help,” I said sincerely. I’d gotten only the barest of details out of Bianca about how she’d found Ferdinand and gotten him out, but based on the introduction, I bet these two were a big part of it. We owed them a great deal.
The woman waved off my words. “Your sister more than paid us,” she said. Her voice was pleasant, with just a hint of a lilt. She was likely lower to middle class from one of the more isolated planets where Universal Standard wasn’t taught as rigidly.
Bianca put a tray of warm sticky buns on the small table in the kitchen’s breakfast nook. “Shall we talk over food?” she asked a little too brightly.
I narrowed my eyes at her. What was she plotting?
While Bianca could have easily ordered food from the synthesizer, she preferred cooking. And, truth be told, synthesized food had nothing on Bianca’s cooking, so I was always delighted to eat at her table. Today she didn’t disappoint. The informal kitchen table was laden with four different kinds of pastries, all homemade, as well as bacon, eggs, and roasted potatoes.
The round table seated four. I sat next to Bianca. Alexander took the seat across from me and Aoife sat on my left. If anyone else noticed the tension in the air, they didn’t show it. I was generally very good at reading people, but Alexander gave me nothing other than that he had good manners. I had to force myself not to stare at him.
“How goes the investigation?” Bianca asked.
My gaze cut to hers, but I couldn’t tell what she was doing. “I don’t want to bore your guests,” I demurred. Why would she bring up House business in front of strangers? I was looking into Ferdinand’s kidnapping. Both Hannah’s husband, Pierre, and House James were involved, and that wasn’t information we wanted shared.
“Not guests,” she reminded me, “friends. And they are here to help.”
I kept the shock and suspicion off my face. “Help how?”
“From what I’ve seen, you’ve wrapped up everything you can do here. What is your next step?”
While Bianca had been chasing after Ferdinand, I’d muscled my way into the investigation here on Earth, and I’d refused to give it up once she returned. Bianca had reluctantly agreed to let me help, but only if we worked together.
No one trusted me to be able to do anything on my own.
We had found the ties between Pierre and House James, but hadn’t been able to tie House James to any of the other Houses or the Syndicate, despite Bianca’s uncanny ability to gather intelligence. Either House James was acting alone or they were being very, very careful.
But so was I.
Over the last two months, I’d slowly expanded my circle of friends to include Lynn Segura and Chloe Patel, the two young women who had been caught talking shit about Bianca. Lynn was a genuine delight. Chloe was not. But both of them were friends with Stephanie James, youngest daughter of House James.
And every year, Stephanie James hosted a summer retreat at House James’s estate outside Honorius. It was part vacation and part informal networking event, but mostly it was a chance to get out of Serenity and have some fun away from censorious eyes. It also coincided with the stunning annual Bouman meteor shower.
When guests weren’t busy trying to steal kisses while watching space rocks burn up in the atmosphere, Honorius had some of the best haute couture shopping in the ’verse. House James also offered an assortment of entertainments on their sprawling estate, including an excellent hover bike rally-cross racecourse.
Invitations were highly coveted in Stephanie’s circle of friends and acquaintances, and this year Chloe was finally old enough to help her best friend host—a task she had taken up with gusto.
Based solely on our brief friendship, Chloe had been cheeky enough to invite me, and through me, Ying Yamado, the daughter of High House Yamado. She was aiming high, which is exactly what I had expected. If even one of us accepted, it would be a major coup for her.
I had let her stew for two days before accepting, and then I’d talked Ying into accepting, too. But now I had to break the news to my overprotective older sister. In front of friends.
“I’m attending Stephanie James’s house party in two days. I will be gone for at least two weeks.”
Bianca smiled, which immediately put me on guard. That was not the reaction I’d expected. “That’s perfect,” she said.
Concern whispered through me—something odd was going on. “I thought you’d be against it,” I said, fishing.
Bianca’s smile softened just a tiny bit. “I don’t love sending you into danger, Cat, you know that, but we need information, and right now, you’re the one best positioned to get it.”
I glanced at our silent dining companions. They were both pretending to focus on their food, but I caught Alexander’s gaze. His eyes were a rich, warm brown. Despite his guarded expression, he had kind eyes, not what I would expect from a man with his build. Once again, I was struck by the fact that he looked like a soldier—or a bodyguard.
And then, like a light blinking on, suspicion hardened into certainty. I turned back to my sister. “Bianca,” I said slowly, “why are Ms. Delaney and Mr. Sterling here?”
Bianca’s smile never faltered. If anything, it got brighter. I was not going to like whatever came out of her mouth next.
She proved me right when she said, “Aoife is going to be your bodyguard while you’re in Honorius.”
“I already have a guard,” I reminded her. “Several, actually.”
“None like me,” Aoife said without an ounce of humility or arrogance. It was less a boast and more a statement of fact, one I was inclined to believe based on nothing more than her attitude and confidence.
I might be the most sheltered of my siblings, but I was still a von Hasenberg. I’d grown up around—and trained with—all types of people until the side effects of my childhood became too difficult to hide. Aoife had the calm self-assurance of someone who knew that she could take anyone in the room and come out ahead.
I briefly wondered how she would fare against me.
It was a silly thought because I’d given up real fighting long ago—it was too dangerous for me. But that didn’t mean I was going to roll over. “That may be true, but I’ve worked with my current guards for years. I know and trust them.” I also understood how they thought and how they might be influenced.
Aoife’s flawless composure was impossible to read, but I smiled apologetically at her. She inclined her head slightly, seemingly not offended.
My eyes snagged on Alexander. For such a big man, he had a way of fading into the background that was almost uncanny. If not for my humming awareness of him, I might’ve overlooked him completely.
“And you?” I asked him directly. “Why are you here? Are you Ms. Delaney’s partner?” I glanced between them. “Or husband?”
A slow smile broke over his face and he chuckled quietly. My breath caught. He was utterly captivating when he smiled and for the first time I envied the beautiful woman next to me.
I felt his gaze like a physical weight and fought the prickling awareness trickling through my system. He focused on me intently, but I’d bet half my fortune that he also remained aware of everything else happening in the room and could react in a heartbeat.
What would it take to capture all of his attention?
I shoved the question away. He wasn’t for me. Someday, I would marry for the good of the House, and until then, I preferred my men more manageable.
“We are partners,” he said. His voice was low and delicious, a velvet rumble I felt in my chest. He had no discernible accent.
Partners could mean anything from business partners to romantic partners. Without knowing which, I had to stop mentally ogling him. I didn’t pursue taken men.
I turned my attention back to Bianca. Mischief flittered through her expression before she smoothed it away. “Alex is here for you.”
I forced myself not to react to the tiny thrill of pleasure I felt at the words. I frowned at her, not liking where this was going. “What do you mean?”
“He’s going with you to Honorius as your plus one.”COLLAPSE