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A dangerous gift. A destiny she never wanted.
All Ember wants is a simple life telling fortunes to gullible Earthen tourists--until she sees herself kissing one of them in the future. Her attempt to run from that destiny is torn from her grasp when the empire discovers that her fortunes are coming true and steals her from everything she's ever known.
They're going to mold her into a military weapon that will end the war for good, not caring that she's just left her dying father behind.
Ember may be a deadly weapon, but if she's going down, she's taking the entire empire with her.
For fans of Firefly, the Mandalorian, and Star Wars (who also want more kissing).
- Kick-butt, diverse heroine
- All-powerful enemy
- Romance that feels like fate
She sees the future...and the empire knows it.
Future-teller Ember is one of the last remaining people on Earth, and she likes it that way. She's been telling futures for gullible tourists for years, all to afford her father's expensive life-saving medicines far from the empire's brutal laws and watchful eye. She'll get her father well again and they can live in peace--hopefully as far from spoiled tourists as possible.
Except one day, she reads a tourist's future and sees herself kissing him.
Horrified and humiliated, she escapes the market and hurries home. But unbeknownst to her, the empire has been watching the girl whose fortunes come true, and they know she has a gift. One that shouldn't exist. One that could mean the emperor's victory and his eternal power over the galaxy.
Soon Ember finds herself on a ship headed far from her sick father and the only home she's ever known. Worse, she keeps crossing paths with that tourist she escaped before, and he's kinder and more attractive by the day. Desperate to escape and return to her father before it's too late, Ember makes a difficult decision.
She may be the emperor's new weapon, but even the deadliest weapons can backfire--and that's exactly what she plans to do.
Because if Ember is going down, she's taking the Empire with her.
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
Sneak Peek: Chapter 1
Ember ran her fingers absently along the faded purple tablecloth and brushed away a stray crumb. She hadn’t had time for laundry this morning, and it desperately needed scrubbing. Today’s customers would just have to deal with it.
She didn’t have time for laundry in general these days. Tourist season meant sitting at her market stall during daylight hours, smiling at visitors as they glared back, and offering to read their futures as they made their way down to the beach. And worrying about her sleeping father at home, of course. She’d planted a kiss on her Dai’s feverish forehead and had come early today, hoping to catch the first wave of tourists before the other sellers arrived and scared them off.
The smuggler would be here with Dai’s medicine any day now, and she was well short of his price. She couldn’t afford to miss a single customer.
Today’s shuttle, docked in the distance, was small and unfamiliar—a CVL-2078, passenger limit eighty-two. Its passengers barely shot her a glance as they pranced excitedly from the dock toward the warm sand, their trim bodies carefully sculpted as if they had nothing useful to do wherever it was they’d come from.
These tourists would be great-grandchildren of the original exodus. Most of them had never been back to Earth their entire life. Earth was a dead thing now, a historical monument to the beginning of the human race. Only the Roma remained, making a living from the scraps everyone else had left behind. For nearly a century, their only visitors had been scientists and historians—until a celebrity declared their beach the best in three galaxies. Now they had plenty of business.
As long as the tourists kept returning with their chips full of credits, Ember wasn’t going to complain.
She eyed the sky, which was only a slightly lighter shade of brown than the last time she checked. Twenty minutes, maybe thirty, and she’d go home and make sure Dai ate. She swallowed back the guilt, knowing he’d be lying awake in bed by now, hungry and missing his daughter. She should have forced him to eat before she left. But his nights of sound and painless sleep were few and far between these days.
She smoothed her scowl into a more pleasant expression as another group of tourists approached. This group ignored the sellers’ calls completely, seeming intensely interested in the packed dirt road at their feet.
“Shoes,” the shoemaker called out two stalls down. “Half price for you.” His accent was atrocious. The man spoke just enough Common to sell the occasional pair of plastic shoes he’d marked up three times their worth. Ember had once offered to teach him more of the language, but he’d scoffed at the offer. Not that she cared. If he wanted to sound ridiculous at the market, it was his business.
“Love, prosperity,” Ember said to a blonde woman whose rolls bulged beneath her thin swimsuit. “Give me five minutes, and I will reveal what awaits you.”
The lady’s eyes grew wide as she took in Ember’s traditional blouse and long skirt. Then she shook her head so violently Ember worried the woman would fall right over.
“He said there would be gypsies,” her companion muttered to her, and they shared a knowing look. Then they strode down the walk arm in arm, ignoring the other sellers’ offers.
Ember sighed. Their pilot must have issued a warning to his passengers. There wouldn’t be any business today.
She carefully gathered her mother’s cards. They were soft from use, the back sides hand-painted by another Roma future-teller long ago, although she’d never asked her mother who. She’d waited too long to ask, and now she’d never know.
She slipped them into her hidden skirt pocket and began to fold her tablecloth. She’d come back later, as the tourists returned to their shuttle. Maybe they’d be less uptight then. And if not, she’d have to be more aggressive with her price. The smuggler wouldn’t give her Dai’s medicine without full payment. That she knew from experience.
Movement in the sky caught her attention, and she paused. A streak of light descended from the sky toward the landing field. Another shuttle. Ember could barely remember the last time their small coastal town had hosted so many tourists at once. Usually several days passed between groups.
She threw a quick glance in the direction of her village. Surely Dai could wait a few more minutes. If she left now, she’d miss the next group completely. Besides, their supper would consist of yesterday’s leftover bread and an old tomato. One customer, maybe two, and she could afford to pay the smuggler and buy some meat for dinner.
Ember spread the tablecloth once again and retrieved her cards, seating herself on the edge of her chair. The other sellers had noticed the incoming shuttle as well and hurriedly straightened their wares, even though it wasn’t needed. The one exception was the seed woman directly across the aisle from Ember. She sat in her usual hunched position, patiently holding her open bag of sunflower seeds. Her face was barely visible beneath the handkerchief covering the braid that indicated she was a married woman. The woman had been dozing practically since Ember’s childhood.
The new ship docked a respectable distance past the other shuttle. Ember had to stand to see it over the market’s assortment of makeshift walls. The shuttle appeared large and shiny enough to be encouraging, although she couldn’t quite make out the model. It was slightly more rounded, which meant it was newer than most. But one thing gave her pause.
The Empire’s silver-and-blue banner glimmered across the craft’s hull.
Ember swallowed, her stomach fluttering nervously. Empire ships didn’t often come here, and when they did—well, it was an uncomfortable matter for the Roma. The soldiers seemed to have no purpose but to look for infractions and hunt down those who hadn’t paid homage.
It had been months since Ember had paid hers. She only had nine credits left. If the soldiers decided they wanted it, it would set Ember back several weeks. Not to mention Dai wouldn’t get his medicine. Again. She didn’t want to consider what would happen to him if he went another month without his pills.
Please be tourists and not soldiers.
It was nearly another half hour before the new visitors trickled in. Ember scanned the crowd and breathed a relieved sigh. Not a single silver uniform in sight. If they were soldiers, they were vacationing today.
These tourists were more relaxed and less hurried than the others. Sauntering between the stalls and tables and examining the wares, they looked fascinated by the market and its dark-skinned sellers. A small group of younger visitors—in their twenties, she guessed—stayed together in the center of the aisle and whispered, but it appeared to be an exchange of friendly information, not judgment on her people in general.
One of them, a man who looked to be only slightly older than Ember, caught her watching and smiled. He stood taller than the rest, his gray shirt pulled tight against his broad shoulders. His skin was light, as with most gadje, though his hair was nearly as dark as hers. Thick, black eyebrows framed his nearly transparent-gray eyes.
She felt her cheeks warm. She wasn’t supposed to find gadje attractive. Then again, her own company, or kumpania, thought there was something wrong with her. Few women reached sixteen, much less Ember’s nineteen years, unmarried. Most had a child by now. Her friend Bianca had a son, with another babe expected any day.
Ember mingled with the outsiders and took their money, but she had drawn a solid, uncrossable line no matter how attractive the outsider. Tradition was important above all because tradition kept them safe. It was the Roma creed.
She tapped her cards on the table. “Know your future,” she called to the man. “Five minutes, and I will reveal what awaits you.”
Surprise registered in his face, and then his grin broadened.
“Did you hear that, Stefan?” the petite girl at his side said with a musical laugh as she elbowed him in the ribs. “The gypsy girl wants to tell your fortune.” She wore a strappy blue dress that hung low over the bust and barely covered her rear end. Her light hair was streaked with blue to match, although Ember suspected the streaks were temporary.
“My future, eh?” he asked, thoughtfully tapping his chin. He finally nodded and made his way over to Ember’s stall.
“You can’t be serious,” the girl said.
“I’m serious if she is.” He settled himself in the chair. “What do you charge, gypsy?”
He entered the amount into his wristband with its approval code and extended his arm for her to scan. Ember quickly raised her own and intercepted the money, the wristband beeping as the transaction went through.
“Stefan, you’re not actually paying this—this thief to tell your future,” the girl snapped, glowering at Ember. “I could do it in thirty seconds.”
“I’m just curious, Eris. Get off my back,” Stefan said, then turned back to Ember expectantly. “You know what? If you impress me, I’ll triple your price.”
Ember knew she was gaping and hurriedly smoothed her face. One hundred and fifty credits. “Very well, but I’ll need silence from your friends.” She shot a pointed look at the blonde girl, Eris. The girl snapped her mouth shut, her cheeks going pink.
The street leading to the beach was filling with spectators now, most of whom seemed to know Stefan. Some looked impatient, but most watched with amused chuckles. Good. Entertained crowds meant good business and the occasional tip. Three times her price. She hadn’t gotten an offer like that before, ever.
Ember separated her cards, closed her eyes, and began to sway. She ignored the snickers that peppered the crowd and hummed a song under her breath as she spread the cards in front of her. Customers usually focused on the pictures, but the cards were just for show. The real magic took place within her.
Ember reached out, inwardly searching for the man’s inner light. She found it immediately—a flickering light, much like a flame. His soul was slightly dim since he was calm and relaxed, but it warmed her as she drew nearer to it and mentally grasped it.
The maze of walls extended as far as Stefan could see. Metal slabs stood tall and cold, littered with thousands of names. Stefan was only twelve, but he’d already been here three times—for his grandfather, his aunt, and now his older brother.
He tugged at his uniform before returning his gaze to the ground. It felt strange to stand with his parents and not have Adam here making fun of the well-wishers as they streamed past. Their expressions were serious and seemed genuine enough, but most had never even met Adam. They were just friends of his parents, ready to cross “pay respects” off their list.
“What an incredible sacrifice,” a plump man said. He stood a full foot shorter than Stefan’s father. “You must be so proud of your son.”
“We are,” Stefan’s mother said. “His heroic death has honored us.”
Stefan flinched. It was like he wasn’t even there.
“I’m sure the emperor holds your family in the highest esteem,” the man continued. “I hope you won’t mourn long, especially with another flicker in the family.” The visitor nodded to Stefan, but the man’s expression held no warmth. “Maybe you’ll make it to Empyrean someday after all.”
“I suppose there’s always a chance,” Stefan’s father said, looking upon his younger son, but the words were strained.
Ember pulled away and opened her eyes, settling her gaze on the customer. This older version of Stefan had stronger features and far more confidence. He watched her with what appeared to be curiosity, but she could still see a glimmer of emotion in his eyes, that inner pain from years before. He still suffered his brother’s loss, however well he tried to conceal it.
But that was the past. What this man wanted was the future. Ironically, most customers didn’t really want the truth but something to cling to. A hope. Ember sensed that wasn’t the case with this man. It was important to him that she get this right.
She reconnected mentally and moved toward the end of the man’s memories, pushing ever forward. When the memories ended, the light extended slightly, indicating these events hadn’t been fulfilled yet. The future. One particular scene pulsed brighter than the rest, and she plunged into the light.
Stefan stepped forward and saluted. He stood stone-still while an officer placed a pin on his uniform collar, the same pin his brother had once worn. It weighed far more than the .06 ounces it was supposed to. He was an official flicker now. This was exactly what he’d always wanted, but it felt empty somehow. Hollow. Meaningless.
He stepped back in line. Someone patted him on the back, but it felt like consolation, not pride.
Ember pulled out and opened her eyes. Stefan watched her carefully, his smile bemused. He probably assumed she was making something up to scam him out of his money.
“You want to break out of your brother’s shadow,” Ember finally said. “But it won’t bring you the happiness you crave.”
Stefan blinked in surprise.
“What kind of fortune is that?” the Eris girl exclaimed with a snicker. “I don’t think you even know what fortune-telling is, gypsy girl.”
“Wait,” Stefan said, still stunned. He raised a hand to still the muttering crowd. “You’ve got to give me more than that.” He leaned toward Ember, his gaze so intense she couldn’t look away if she’d wanted to. “Be more specific, and I’ll quadruple your price. That’s two hundred credits.”
Two hundred. Her mind ran through the possibilities. She could pay for her father’s medicine with money to spare. They’d eat like kings for a week. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her she hadn’t eaten since yesterday.
He expectantly held out his wristband, and Ember accepted the higher payment, feeling dazed.
Movement caught her eye as a group in silver uniforms made their way down the aisle toward her. Ember’s heart sank. Definitely soldiers. One had an unusually large chin, and his black uniform was littered with colorful patches and ribbons. His build, chiseled and hard, was the type that required hours of work each week. One look at the man’s eyes made Ember shiver.
The crowd parted to let them through. The man in black led his soldiers straight for her, then they stopped behind Stefan as if to watch.
Panic rose inside her. Did this man know she hadn’t paid homage? Would they take any money she earned today?
She forced herself to breathe normally, to think clearly. If she had to, she’d pay homage out of the two hundred credits. She’d still have just enough for Dai’s medicine.
Ember took a deep breath and closed her eyes, feeling the weight of two dozen eyes on her. Once again, she reached out internally and plunged into the light.
Ember stared at him with her lips slightly parted, her beautiful, dark eyes wide in surprise. A strand of her wild black hair hung over face, and he longed to brush it aside. But he didn’t dare, not until he knew how she felt.
“Did you—” he began, but she didn’t give him a chance to continue. She threaded her fingers into his hair and pulled him downward, pressing her lips to his.
He grinned against her lips and placed his hand on the small of her back, pulling her against him. He’d longed for this for weeks, and now here she was, making the first move. He deepened the kiss, and she responded until his head went dizzy. He could hardly bear the heat jumping between them.
Someone walking by hooted, as if they were just another couple. Two soldiers about to embark on a battle, just two people from completely different galaxies whose futures were forever intertwined.
Ember yanked herself out of the vision and shot out of her chair. It fell to the dirt with a sharp thump. She gasped for air, looking at the crowd with an edge of panic. They watched her with interest now, obviously unsure why she’d stopped her humming and card shuffling so dramatically. Her mother’s cards were strewn haphazardly across the table. Some had even fallen to the ground.
“I—” She cleared her throat and tried to smile, but she knew it was shaky. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else.”