Breakaway by Michelle Diener

Book 1 in The Verdant String Series

Sofie lives in the shadow of Felicitos–the tethered way station built to funnel Garmen's mineral wealth to the top of the atmosphere, where it's loaded onto space ships. Because Garmen is a breakaway planet, not part of the Verdant String Coalition, the companies that control it are free to run things as they see fit, and Sofie is part of the resistance that wants to end their rule.

Her main goal, though, is to get away from Garmen altogether, and leave the drudgery and violence behind her. That goal is complicated by her involvement with Leo Gaudier, a shadowy crime lord whose ability to cheat the companies that own Garmen is something she admires. And when she stumbles on a terrible new direction the companies are taking, a secret alliance that will endanger everyone she cares about, she sees her chances of escape slipping away.

Leo is all too aware he doesn't know enough about Sofie, something his own security detail is not slow to point out, but he can't keep away. When Sofie reveals her links to the resistance, and shows him those in control of Garmen have begun swimming in dangerous waters, he realizes his plan to overthrown them in a careful operation of a thousand cuts is no longer workable.

The time has come for a single, lethal strike–and that will not be without consequences . . .

“Breakaway is fast paced and full of action and romance. I was totally involved in this book from the first page.”  ~ Amazon Reviewer

 

Read an Excerpt:

Leo Gaudier walked a dangerous path.

Sofie didn't pretend that wasn't part of what attracted her to him in the first place. She was all for sticking it to the Core Corporations. All for it with bells on.

And it didn't hurt that she really liked the look of him.

There'd been a little catch in her heart, a little hitch in her breath. A trembling, like fear or excitement. She'd never been affected like that before.

And it didn't hurt that he'd been interested right back.

Well, generally they all seemed interested, all did a little chasing, but she wasn't into hooking up with some guy in an Upper Reaches bar.

That wasn't in her plan. She was just there to eavesdrop on loose-lipped Cores employees.

Until Leo.

Leo Gaudier was the first one she hadn't actively run from too fast for him to catch her.

She'd run a little, but it was more out of habit.

He'd been just tenacious enough, but not obnoxious with it.

If she'd said no, it would have been no.

No matter how fast he made her heart beat, she'd never have taken the next step with him if it had been any other way.

Now she sat watching him on their third dinner out together with almost embarrassing stars in her eyes, even though the dangerous stuff he was into had just reared its head and interrupted their evening.

Because it was part of the package, and she'd already acknowledged she liked everything she saw when it came to Leo, she didn't show so much as a flicker of displeasure when his comm sounded and he'd stood and excused himself from the table.

It wasn't as if she was all that unencumbered herself. He just didn't know it yet.

They were halfway through an excellent dinner at the best restaurant in Felicitos, the ground-tethered way station on the planet Garmen, otherwise known as Breakaway 1.

The views were spectacular.

From where she sat, up against the window, Sofie could see the curve of Garmen below, the blue of the ocean glimmering far in the distance as the last of the evening light touched it.

Higher up, in the levels of Felicitos that edged out beyond Garmen's atmosphere, it was harder to see the details of the green, blue and rose planet.

Prices and rents went up the lower you got, and you couldn't get any lower than The High Flyer.

She seldom saw this view. She couldn't afford it. But sometimes, like now, when she did see the aching beauty of the curve of the planet, the breath-stealing vistas, she grudgingly conceded her father's work did mean something.

Not everything–she'd never give him that. But it wasn't for nothing, either.

Sofie turned away from the sights and looked over at Leo again.

He stood at ease, hands in pockets, his back to her, talking into his comm a little distance from the other diners, in a small alcove designed specifically for privacy.

He had removed his jacket–it was hanging over the back of the chair opposite her–and he stood in a perfectly fitted shirt and trousers, quite delectable from his dark, slightly wavy hair, broad shoulders and down over long, lean legs.

Sofie lifted her glass of truly excellent wine, turning the glass this way and that to admire the almost luminous lavender hue of it, put it to her lips and took a sip. She shifted in her chair and caught the very last of the setting sun on the planet below her.

A movement caught her eye, a reflection in the glass of the window, and she tilted her head to better see what it was.

A man stepped out of the service entrance, which wasn't strange–waiters had been coming and going since they'd arrived–but there was something in the way he moved.

Years of survival, of assuming danger was all around her, snapped her spine straight.

It took an effort of will to force herself out of the fear, out of the frozen helplessness that descended for the split second it took for the man to walk from the service door to halfway across the restaurant floor.

She was getting complacent. She had things cushier now than she ever had, and it was dulling her edge, she realized. A lapse like that, a victim's paralysis, would have seen her with her throat slit and her body lying in an alleyway faster than she could snap her fingers in the old days.

But she was back to her old self now, the shock of an attack in this cocooned pocket of luxury over with.

She almost smiled at herself. Nowhere was truly safe, and she'd been lying to herself if she thought otherwise.

She moved her head a fraction, looked at the man under the sweep of her eyelashes.

He was making for Leo.

There was no rush about him, nothing to indicate he meant harm, but she never ignored her intuition.

Never.

Leo's bodyguard, who was sitting three tables away, had his eyes on his boss, not on the waiter, and Sofie knew calling out to warn Leo wouldn't work.

The assassin would just shoot that much faster.

Instead, she knocked the nearly empty bottle of lavender wine into Leo's almost full glass, then exclaimed loudly and jumped to her feet, brushing at her clothes, although she'd made sure not a drop of it landed on her pale gold evening dress.

Damned if she would ruin it.

She bent, one hand on the table for balance, as she slipped off her high-heeled gold sandal, and saw Leo had started to turn.

The assassin had, too; eyeing her for a second before dismissing her outright, and focusing back on Leo.

Leo's bodyguard, Zan, flicked his gaze in her direction, and something in the way his eyes jumped over the assassin had her radar screaming high alert.

Inside job.

No doubt about it.

She lifted her shoe and threw, aiming for the assassin's hand as it came out of his pocket with a tiny laz.

The sharp heel tip caught his fingers, and he dropped the slim weapon with a cry more of surprise than pain.

Leo was looking at her by now, eyes wide, and they widened even more when she picked up the fallen bottle of wine and threw it at his bodyguard.

By the time it had smacked Zan in the chest, Sofie saw Leo had pulled a laz of his own.

The assassin dived for his weapon and Leo shot him.

It happened fast, but Zan was still in play–she saw his arm rising up, laz in hand, aimed not at the downed assassin but at Leo.

She'd already tugged off her other shoe and she ran at the bulky guard, screaming to distract him.

He started, flinching as she came at him, shoe raised over her head, and although he got a shot off at Leo, it wasn't the head shot he'd clearly been aiming for.

Leo went down, but his hand went to his chest.

Sofie threw the shoe, then scooped up the fallen bottle of wine while Zan stood, arms raised for another shot at Leo, and swung it at his head.

Hard.

He crumpled.

For the first time, she became aware of the other diners.

Couples were looking at her with eyes wide, mouths open.

She turned away from them, picked up her shoes, which had conveniently landed near each other, and hopped into them one at a time as she headed for Leo.

“Can you stand?” She kept her voice low.

“Just about.” His words were strained and his breath labored.

“You're wearing an anti-laz layer?”

He shook his head.

“Ouch.” She put an arm around him and hauled him up with his cooperation.

When he got to his feet and could stand without her, she looked quickly around, picked up his comm unit which lay on the floor near the window, and then scooped up his jacket from the back of the chair and her own little bag.

A faint whine and the whiff of ozone had her turning in fright, but it was Leo, laz in hand, pointed in Zan's direction.

She didn't know if he'd killed the bodyguard or just made sure he stayed unconscious.

She didn't want to know.

The restaurant staff had disappeared the moment trouble started, something she was sure wasn't lost on a number of the patrons, but now a wild-eyed manager stumbled out of the same door as the assassin.

Sofie didn't know if he were trying to extract payment or let them know the meal had been on the house–she didn't give him a chance to say anything.

With all their belongings under one arm, she slid her other under Leo's shoulder and half-dragged, half-supported him to the door.

The manager made a sound at the back of his throat, and she sent him a hard glare, shutting him down, and then staggered out