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SANDY WILLIAMS

Shades of Allegiance

Shades of Allegiance

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She will do anything for vengeance.
He'll do anything for her.

Book Three of the Anomaly series.

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LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER ONE

The Tin ’n’ Tenth hadn’t changed in half a decade. Dark and dank, the crowd of dregs gambled away their credits at ancient data-tables and broken booths draped in shadows. Someone hammered a fist on a table near the back, cracking the already splintered surface. There, the gamblers’ hoods were drawn back, revealing the men’s faces. Ash recognized Kristio—an old acquaintance, not a friend. Friend implied trust, and trusting was the quickest way to get yourself killed on Glory.

Ash noted the faces of the others sitting near him, then scanned the rest of the pub. Like her, most of the occupants wore hoods pulled low over their faces. The Tin ’n’ Tenth was one of the few establishments that didn’t require its patrons to reveal their identities when they entered. That was one of the reasons she’d chosen to come here. That and the hope that she still knew the man who owned the place.

Pulling her longcoat around her, she walked across a floor that was caked with the ever-present mud and muck carried in from the streets outside. The air stank of shit mixed with cheap alcohol. The precinct bosses stayed far away from the filth and stench—another benefit to the secluded pub—and after five years of assignments in cleaner atmospheres, Ash had a hard time not gagging.

Breathing through her mouth, she headed toward the bar and the tall, thin man who stood behind it. She didn’t recognize him. If he was the new owner, entering Brightwater Precinct had been a risky waste of time.
The bartender limped toward her. Definitely not the proprietor. He was too young to own the place. From a distance, his hollow face and height had made him appear older, more world-worn. She’d forgotten how heavy a toll this planet could take on people.

“What do you want?” the kid asked.

“Disruptor with a shot of rom,” she said, taking a seat in the middle of the row of nine stools.

The kid froze. “What?”

She repeated the order.

He glanced over his shoulder to a curtained doorway, and Ash kept her hand close to the weapon hidden under her longcoat.

“Let me check the stock.” The kid limped to the back room.

Her gaze shifted from the curtain to the mirror along the back wall. The center stool gave her a good view of the entrance and the narrow hall that led to the alley. It also kept her close to the counter, which was bullet and heat resistant. She’d learned that little tidbit of information over a decade ago when a very well-planned scheme had gone bad.

She tapped her fingers on the water-stained counter. A minute passed. Then another. Chances were the man she’d known was dead. So many people from her past were.

The curtain moved again, and beneath her hooded longcoat, Ash smiled.

Aksel was a big man. Tall, broad, and ugly as a mottled spaceship. He didn’t walk toward her; he lumbered, a mean-looking beast of a man.

“What did you want?” he demanded.

“A disruptor with a shot of rom.” Her smooth words were a light, whimsical hello.

Aksel stared, undoubtedly trying to make out her features hidden beneath her hood.

“We don’t have rom.” He rested his hand on the bar, thumb and index finger extended, his other three fingers curled under.

“I’ll take a vorix then.”

The code phrase hit him like a shock wave.

Fuck. Me,” he whispered. Then the biggest grin in Brightwater spread across his pockmarked face.

“Hello, Aksel,” she said.

“You were dead. How in Cast’s name are you here?”

“Keep your voice down.”

Aksel gave one quick nod, then said, “What do you need?”

That quickly, he offered help. It plucked a string of guilt stretched across her chest. She had been good at manipulating people—still was, actually—but she didn’t like the instant loyalty. She should have been greeted with anger and suspicion.

“Who’s the kid?” she asked, sidestepping his question.

The tall boy stood in the doorway, half his body hidden behind the curtain in a way that said he had a weapon held ready to shoot. That was more like it. Either the kid had orders or the kid was smart.

“A project,” Aksel said.

Beneath her hood, her eyebrows rose. Aksel couldn’t see most of her face, but he must have guessed at her expression.

“You aren’t the only one who started new hobbies.”

“Philanthropy.” She sniffed. “You should know better.”

“Some things stuck.” He reached beneath the bar.

Ash had her Covar halfway out of its holster before she froze. So did Aksel. His eye twitched, then slowly he raised his hand and set a bottle of vorix on the counter.

“I wouldn’t betray you,” he rumbled.

She slid the Covar back into place. “Someone did. Only a handful of people were in on the scheme.”

She didn’t have to say which scheme. Aksel had helped her out on more than a few, but it was her last one—the one designed to take down Scius, the strongest and cruelest boss on the planet—that had ended with the deaths of dozens of men and women who’d committed themselves to the fight.

He pushed the vorix toward her. “It wasn’t me.”

She shrugged like it didn’t matter, like she didn’t care, but betrayals had hammered her world, and those craters didn’t heal easily.

She reached for the vorix and thumbed the cap on top. When it loosened, frost coated the outside of the glass, chilling the ale inside.

“You made it off-planet,” Aksel said. “You’d been erased. Not a sign of you left behind. Everyone thinks you’re dead. Why would you come back?”

She took a casual sip of the vorix. “I need to contact Neilan Tahn.”

His expression hardened back into that killer-beast look that said get the fuck out of my bar.

BOOK SYNOPSIS

Lieutenant Ramie Ashdyn is going home--or rather, to the hellhole that is her home world. With vengeance driving her, she's intent on tracking down the criminal who can help her unravel the conspiracy that's threatening the Coalition.

Unfortunately, old enemies are sabotaging her efforts, jeopardizing the lives of the few people she trusts. To accomplish her mission, she'll need to be cunning and ruthless, and that means scrapping her conscience and burying emotions are adversaries could exploit.

Of course, being cunning and ruthless would be easier if the Coalition hadn't sent "Rest in Peace" Rykus to retrieve her. Ash is the only person who can detect the telepaths who have infiltrated the government, and Rykus must keep her safe until they can escape the planet. But with secrets between them and Ash determined to contact the Known Universe's most feared crime lord, staying alive--and together--might be an insurmountable feat.

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