The Heights of Perdition
Publication Date: December 20, 2019
Genre: Sci-Fi/ Fantasy/ Romance (Christian Themes)
There is nothing Aeris St. Cloud wants more than to win her father’s love and the acceptance of her family unit by joining the Military Academy at New Hope. But after she is captured by the fearsome space pirate, Captain Chainsword, Aerie is certain falling in love with her nation’s arch enemy is the last possible way to earn their coveted esteem.
Driven by vengeance, Exton Shepherd never set out to save anyone. As he circles the war-torn world in his pirated starship, the Perdition, he only sees his father’s ghost lurking around every corner and the looming darkness on the horizon. When Aerie unexpectedly tumbles into his life, he finds he cannot trust her, anymore than he can ignore her. But just like the raging war down on Earth, it’s tempting to think he can …
When the war ascends to the heights of the Perdition, Aerie’s loyalty, and Exton’s heart, are put to the test. But will love be enough to save them – and others – from certain destruction?
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Aerie knew the instant she was no longer alone.
It had been only an hour since the last medic came to check her chart, vitals, etc.—anything to wake her up and make her feel uncomfortable for a few moments, before tucking her back under the covers gently and leaving the room without giving her any information.
It was comforting that they weren’t torturing her. Yet.
But the medics were all similarly trained, as far as Aerie could see. Their footsteps were light and brisk as they walked in through the door, and their jackets, while clean, were full of various supplies and medicines, making them floppy and lopsided. Their movements were impersonal, regimented—but still kind enough that she was unable to escape the thought of her mother.
When Aerie heard his even footsteps, measured out with rigid certainty, she knew he had come back to see her.
She almost shook her head. No, she scolded herself. Don’t think of him that way. Captain Chainsword. Or his ghost.
Calling him by his real name proved to be a mistake. Captain Chainsword had been her adversary, the familiar, inhuman face of the ultimate enemy. Exton was an unexpected surprise—a human being with a heart full of pain and humor that might have made her laugh if she wasn’t supposed to hate him.
Separating the two identities was wiser. The enemy did not deserve sympathy.
Although she had to admit, now that she’d seen his face, he didn’t look a lot like the Captain Chainsword she’d seen in the capsule, or the one whose picture dominated the defector’s list at the education center. Even if he were to wear all the clothes, and the wig, and the hat, she would only see past them.
She peeked at him as he grabbed her chart and began reading it while he headed toward her. She quickly squeezed her eyes shut.
Aerie instantly regretted it. There was nothing she wanted more than to see him, to watch him … to make sure he didn’t smother her or inject her with poison.
Soft scuffles sounded against the floor as he pulled up a chair beside her.
For a long moment, she wondered what he was doing as he sat there. Was he watching her? Did he know she was awake?
More likely he is just reading through my chart, she realized, as the screen beeped while he made notes.
Finally, after interminable moments of waiting, he spoke. “How’s my favorite patient today?”
His voice was soft and husky, both irritating and intriguing, a siren’s call to pleasure despite the promised pain.
Just as she remembered it.
Against the darkness and the long hours of isolation, Aerie allowed herself to admit she’d been wondering if he would come and see her again. The medics were nice enough, even if their questions were annoying and repetitive; memories of her unit and comrades were dull or worrisome, and thoughts of escape proved to be elusive.
All proved to be poor company when compared to the pirate captain.
Frustrated, she sighed and opened her eyes. “How did you know I was awake?”
A smirk crawled up onto his face at the sight of her eyes. “I wasn’t talking to you.” He gestured to the small cat that had jumped up on his lap. His fingers curled around the kitten’s ears as she purred in expectant appreciation.
Aerie folded her arms across her chest and narrowed her eyes at Moona. “Traitor.”
Moona ignored her, as her own eyes closed with happiness. “The downfall of freedom,” Exton said with a shrug, “is that people can make the wrong choices.”
“Is that supposed to be some kind of insult?” Aerie asked, her temper flaring.
He raised his eyebrows. “I was only making a general observation,” he told her. He leaned back in the chair, shifting Moona into his arms while he continued to pet her. “One you’re no doubt familiar with, besides. But if you want to talk about something else, I’ll listen.”
“Ha!” Aerie wrinkled her nose at him. “Like I would tell you anything. I see your game.”
“I guess you haven’t missed me any since our last discussion,” Exton said.
There was no way she was going to tell him the truth regarding that. “Please. It’s not like you’ve been waltzing around thinking about me for the past two days,” Aerie retorted.
“What if I have?”
She sputtered at his reply. “What?”
There was a coolness behind his blue eyes that she hated as he looked at her. “What if I have been thinking of you?”
Aerie frowned. He had to be taunting her, and deliberately, too, she decided. “It would likely only be because you don’t know what do to with me yet,” she wagered.
“There is that question,” Exton agreed easily enough. “What will we do with you?”
“You could take me back to the States,” Aerie suggested, knowing it was a gamble.
“Are you concerned about your unit missing you?”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“What do you know of my unit?” Aerie snapped angrily, wondering if he was able to read her mind.
“I could take you back,” Exton agreed. “But I could just as easily kill you and save myself the trouble. Or I could just kill myself, and save the URS the trouble.”
“That was my next recommendation,” Aerie replied in a biting tone.
“One thing you should know,” he told her, “is that I am not prone to take counsel.”
“And I am not prone to play the part of the invalid.”
“The medics have finished checking your blood and replenishing your fluids,” Exton said, glancing down at her chart. “Decontamination is complete, your vitals look good. And they even noted you seem to have a pleasant disposition.” He glanced up at her with a roguish grin on his face. “I’ll have to correct that, won’t I?”
She only glared at him in reply. What was it about him, Aerie wondered, that made him so insufferable?
It should have been easy to hate him, but somehow she didn’t—and she hated that she didn’t. It made her plans to collect information for the URS more difficult.
Maybe that’s his game, Aerie thought. Befriend, and then betray.
“So then let’s talk about what to do with you,” Exton offered, interrupting her thoughts.
“I’m surprised you haven’t decided already.” Aerie frowned. “Besides, I thought you didn’t take counsel.”
The smallest smile appeared on his face. “I’m not prone to take it, but I will occasionally. Making decisions about refugees and rebels is easy, but you’re not really one or the other, are you?” He said it softly, purposely.
What kind of game is he playing? “No,” Aerie said. “I’m not either of those.”
“There are many other options I could select for you,” he said, goading her. “But I find them lacking in one way or another. You’re not a child, though hardly a woman. You’re not an assassin, as much as you’d like to think you are.”
“I’d love the chance to change your mind on that one,” Aerie said, angry she was more upset by his comment on her maturity than her combat skills.
“I’m afraid we can’t do that. But as for the other concern, I think we’ll just have to wait and see who you are.”
“I’m your enemy,” Aerie told him. “There. It’s that simple. Now, I’d appreciate it if you would stop with the pleasantries and start torturing me. I’ll be much happier when I am dead.”
“I can understand your thoughts on the matter,” he said, obviously smothering a laugh, “but I’d love for you to give me the chance to change your mind.”
Frustration hit her again. Was he teasing her? Or worse—was he telling the truth? “You won’t make me change my mind,” Aerie insisted. “I’m your enemy.”
“I’m going to call your bluff.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Here’s what I think,” Exton said. “I think you’ve had doubts about the URS before.”
“Of all the presumptuous … that’s not true at all! You’re—” Aerie nearly choked. Her fists clenched, wanting nothing more than to fight back.
“I know you don’t like hearing your loyalty questioned, but we have enough serum for your venom. I know my medics are trained better than most in the URS. They’re not even trained to let you die if they think it’s useless to try to save you.”
He continued, “I don’t care for ‘captive’ or ‘prisoner,’ because as I’ve told you, the Perdition does not have either.”
“I would disagree,” Aerie interrupted. “This whole ship is a prison.”
“Even hell does not have captives, Aerie,” he told her, shocking her as he said her name. “Everyone in hell chooses to go there.”
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About the Author
C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me
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