Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Date of Publication: July 12, 2014
Number of pages: 187
Word Count: 47,670
Cover Artist: Indie Designz
Future Las Vegas is as crazy as ever — even after toxic gas bombs have poisoned the air and moved the party inside.
Hired as an entertainer, Chloe moves from the heartland with big dreams of fame and fortune...until an accident exposes her to the gas, and it's discovered she's genetically immune to the poison.
Now Vegas wants her enrolled in a dating program created to encourage immune breeding.
Will she opt out and return to the rich ex she left behind? Stay and play for the chance at fame on the stage? Or can a gorgeous scientist who's also immune tempt her heart?
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Chloe Parikh had never been to Las Vegas. She’d never been skydiving. Hell, she’d never been outdoors, surrounded by the Tox75 poison with only a thin layer of plastic between her and near-instant death. Today was a lot of firsts.
Her heart rate picked up as the clock counted down to the moment the door would open and she’d launch into the sky. Adrenaline made her blood pump and her head rush with a thrill like she’d never experienced in staid Oklahoma City. She was going to like living in Vegas.
No. She was going to love it.
Her tandem master slapped her on the butt as he headed for the closed door of the airplane. “You’ll be fine, sweet-cheeks.”
She stiffened, ready to snap at him. He’d never lay a hand on one of the eight rich kids paying top dollar for this jump. Yeah, she was an entertainer and this trip was paid for by her new employer, but she wasn’t that kind of entertainer.
One look at his amused grin and she bit back the words. Jeremiah, her favorite “brother” and fellow military orphan at the city home she’d grown up in had always said, “Better than fear, anger is.” He might’ve missed Yoda’s point, but pissing her off had been his remedy whenever she got scared, and damn if it hadn’t worked every time. The memory softened her ire.
Maybe Butt Slap the Tandem Man was trying to calm her nerves. Since she was about to have a near-death experience with his genitals strapped to her ass, she decided to go with that theory. No snappy retort then, just an exaggerated eye roll and the pointy finger of warning.
He laughed, friendly-like, before securing his face shield. “Suit up. Time to fly.”
Fear made her palms sweat as she secured her helmet to her vac suit. Once again, she checked the seals running down her front and at her collar. Less than a second of exposure and the only one who could save her was Jesus. With her history she wasn't too sure he'd bother.
She checked the seals a third time.
The crew chief unlocked the cabin door, and her tension ratcheted up, fear competing with exhilaration. Here was another almost-first, one that felt more fundamental than the others, more primal and significant, even if few Americans ever did experience it. She hadn’t been outside in twenty years, since she was three and the air was clean—or at least clean-ish. She barely remembered the feeling.
“Everyone secure?” the crew chief called. Tandem Man rechecked her helmet and suit, gave a thumbs up, and hooked the first line of his harness to hers.
The crew chief released the pressure gauge, counted to three, and opened the door to the blazing sunrise over Las Vegas. The engine’s hum became a storm of noise. Although the wind didn't whip into the cabin like Chloe had expected, the toxic air was still present, mingling with theirs, testing each vac suit for entry. But nobody keeled over, and her shoulders relaxed.
A whistling whine put her back on alert. It was probably normal, nothing to worry about. But Tandem Man motioned forward—hastily? Was he nervous, too? He shouldn't be nervous—and Chloe ambled towards the hatch, each step a clumsy misfire with the man at her back.
The whistling got louder. The closest jumper to the door yanked the straps of his partner's harness, tightening them in careless hurry then flung himself out backward in a fashion not approved by the morning's flying class. A lone jumper launched next, head first.
There was something to worry about.
“Move!” TandemMan yelled as he practically scooped Chloe up.
The whistling stopped.
Light burst outside the door. The cabin shook, and a deafening boom reverberated. She and TandemMan pitched forward, slamming headfirst into the hull and bouncing to the deck. The impact knocked the wind out of her, and she gasped for air, thanking the heavens the helmet had saved her brains.
She tried to stand, but TandemMan wasn't making it easy. “Are you all right?” She shouted over the chaos. “What should I do?”
He scrambled drunkenly—he must've rammed his head a good one—and together they lurched to standing.
“Count to twenty and pull.” He grabbed her hand and clasped it at his back. “Here.”
“Why are you telling me this?” she yelled, praying it was highly unnecessary information but keeping a death grip on the parachute's ripcord anyway.
He stumbled them toward the hatch, and she craned her neck around to see him.
The blood drained from her face and her skin went cold. “Oh my God. Your mask...” is cracked. If poisoned air wasn't seeping in now, it would be any moment. He needed a seal immediately, or he was a dead man. If he wasn’t already.
He pitched them out the door.
Another missile exploded behind the plane, and she screamed in fear and frustration. A shower of sparks sizzled around them as they dove head first away from the dying aircraft.
She started counting.
Wind attacked her with more freezing force than she'd expected as they plummeted toward the bonanza of color and texture that was her new home. “Eighteen, seventeen…”
The flopping weight of her tandem master drifted them horizontally. He wasn’t moving, at least not under his own control. “Thirteen, twelve…”
The plane, away to her left now, barreled toward the mountains as more jumpers flung themselves out in a colorful trail of human confetti. Panic dug at her insides as she fell with a possibly dead man on her back and explosives in the air. “Seven, six…”
War was all she had ever known—her parents had died in it and Jeremiah had enlisted to join it—but there had to be a better way to live than lethal air and sporadic bombings. Maybe she'd ditch performing and marry Eli, her rich ex, if he promised to take her to the Montana Rockies where there were still clean, cold villages high in the mountains.
No, Eli was a non-negotiable. She could steal a boat and smuggle herself to South America, land of clear skies and infinite beauty. Land of plenty and promise. Her grandparents were from India; she could pass for Latino. Or she could in the movies, anyway.
“One.” She pulled the ripcord and the parachute blasted open, yanking their free-fall to a lazy ride. But now she had to do something more complicated than count. They were supposed to end up on The Strip where suited camera crews were waiting to film her arrival. That sort of precision landing might be fine for an expert, but Chloe had a bad feeling her parachute was about to impale itself on the Vegas version of the Eiffel Tower. Sure, she’d paid attention in class but had assumed TandemMan would be doing the tricky parts.
She sucked in a cold breath, steeling herself for the next few minutes. She'd assumed wrong. Alive or dead—God, somehow may he be alive—TandemMan was out for the landing. Whatever happened next was up to her.
A jerk on the toggles turned them away from Paris and toward the Bellagio. A minute later her feet barely crested a railing. TandemMan’s hooked then released. They skimmed the water in front of the erupting fountain to the bombastic notes of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.”
She yanked again on the toggles, trying to do the flaring thing the instructors had talked about. They slowed, and for a moment Chloe walked on water as the fountain cascaded and sang.
The parachute deflated, and they sank. Hoping she correctly remembered which side had the release and which had the spare chute, she pulled on the right of TandemMan's harness. To her relief, the parachute floated away.
Stretching down, the balls of her feet touched the sloped fountain floor. Half sliding, half-dog-paddling, she strained to keep her partner's head above water—not that it would do any good, but she wasn't ready to accept that yet—as she made a grueling path toward the bridge and the horde of cameras and HazMat suits swarming the street.
Welcome to Las Vegas.
Jax Garren, author of hot, urban paranormal romance series Austin Immortals and The Tales of the Underlight, is descended from Valkyries and Vikings (she’s part Swedish) but was raised a small town girl in the Texas Hill Country. She graduated from The University of Texas with a degree in English and a minor in Latin and stayed in Austin to teach high school. During her eight years in public education she was in a riot, broke up fights, had cops storm her class with guns drawn… and met the most amazing young people who taught her more about life and hope than she taught them about any school subject.
Jax believes in heroes and happily-ever-afters. She’s been married thirteen years to a handsome engineer who is saving the world through clean energy technology. They recently became foster parents, leading to more adventures than she can legally discuss. Jax’s fictional heroine is the tough but feminine Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jax blames that movie for her lifelong dream of traveling to Nepal. Though Jax has yet to experience Himalayan monasteries and drink yak butter tea—important components of a Nepalese excursion—she loves to travel. Her favorite adventure so far found her in Arctic Norway where she saw the Northern Lights and ate the world’s most delicious slice of apple cake.
Jax can be found at jaxgarren.com, at facebook.com/JaxGarren or on Twitter as @JCGarren. She loves meeting new people, so online or in person, feel free to give her a Viking “Hail!”