New from Ellora's Cave is Kevin Weinberg's young adult sci-fi romance adventure, The Lost Data, in which two very unlikely people from two different social classes find adventure, danger and, surprisingly, love.
Officer Lucas Avery is furious. After three years of defending Earth from hostile alien invaders, he's just found himself taken off active duty — to babysit a spoiled rich girl.
And she isn't happy! She's forced to leave her luxurious life behind and go into hiding with a lower-class lout. What does she care if he's some kind of war hero who looks disturbingly yummy without his shirt? She just wanted to be left alone. But her father insists some big, bad, red aliens are planning to kidnap her, and this time, she doesn't get her way for a change.
She is Lara Descartes, daughter of the richest man in the world. She has standards to uphold. And she is not about to let some military boy or big, scary, horned beasts make her lower them for anything.
Lara clenched her hands into fists and huffed at her barbarian father. Once a Class C citizen, he'd risen to become one of the richest men in the world through wise investments and a great deal of luck. Yet his military past made him somewhat … brutish in his manner of speaking.
"Eww! You make me tremble with anger, Father. When will you take my feelings into consideration for once? When do my wants and needs give rise over your ever so insurmountable demands!"
"Look, sweetheart, you matter more to me than anything, and I know you know I'm not doing this to hurt you. But here's the thing — I'll be damned if I'll put you in harm's way, even if that means making you hate me."
"Really, Father? Harm's way? What nonsense is this? I haven't —"
"Easy now, Lara." Her father's eyes became serious. "I don't like that temper of yours." Before Lara could respond, he held out a hand.
"I'm not finished. Now look, I don't know the nature of this threat, but I have been asked by the HSAF general to run a few important errands that will take me away from you for a while, and while I'm gone, you'll need to be protected. If a Red ever got his hands on you, he'd use me and my fortune to bankrupt this world. They've been trying for years to beat us militarily, those demon bastards, and now I'm afraid they might be smarting up and trying a different approach."
Lara formed a rebuttal in her mind: perfect, sound and inarguable. Unfortunately, she had no chance to voice her lethal logic. The unmistakable roar of an HC II engine drowned out all other sounds. Through a thick cloud, she could see the front of the military vehicle as it approached her father's airboat. It looked beaten-up and worn; the thing had definitely seen battle.
This is going to be awful. A military babysitter? For me? He or she had better be well mannered, or so help me God above, I will never let my father hear the end of this.
Ideally, if Lara had to lug around some goon in a uniform, she required he at least be well dressed, quiet and subservient to all her commands. That way, she could put a positive spin on it if any of those Class B women over at Breezy Place attempted to make passing quips about her.
The propellers below the HC II's wings began to spin, and Lara yelped as her dress and ribbon threatened to blow off her. The ribbon gave, and her neatly tied hair chaotically hung down the back of her head. Now she'd need to redo everything from scratch. Just great.
The ship landed and a ramp extended from the cargo hold. It was one of those military-style HC II aircraft that she'd seen her father use from time to time. The body was wider and could transport up to two-dozen people at once.
Eight uniformed men exited the vehicle, with their hands folded behind their backs. They surrounded the landing ramp, four on each side, and they stood at attention. The soldiers wore ceremonial uniforms: white, button-up jackets with golden strings decorating the sides, blue tie tucked discreetly inside their collars.
Next, a woman in a brown — and outrageously tight — uniform exited with an older man, who had stripes and pins attached to his chest. He was clearly a man of importance. Lara whispered to her father, "Is that old man my new watchdog? Nicely done, Father, nicely done. For once I give you credit. He will definitely make me look good when I —"
"That's not him," her father interrupted. He pointed to another figure, this one emerging from within the ship. "That is him."
A young man — perhaps the same age as Lara — exited the aircraft and nonchalantly strode past the eight soldiers standing at attention. He removed a white cap from his head and shook his brown curly hair, taking in the sights around him. There was a sword at his side, which Lara knew signified his rank as an officer.
"That's him?" she asked, astonished.
Her father gave the young man an approving yet evaluating look. "That is."
He was stunning. He had a square-cut jaw shadowed with a hint of stubble, and a cruel, sensual mouth made lighter only by the softness of his lips. His gunmetal blue eyes were cold, calculating and betrayed just a slight hint of boyish youth. His impossibly broad shoulders seemed too large to fit into his tight uniform. The sun gleamed off the sword on his hip, making him appear bathed in a golden halo of light.
Lara watched as the older man, who she assumed to be in command, crossed the distance and embraced her father. "Vincent Descartes, well I'll be," he said.
Her father gave him a rough hug. "Commander Richard Donwell, in the flesh — I see you still have your job. Not sure how you manage to keep holding on to it."
The man her father had called Commander Donwell shrugged. "I always was a lucky one. But seriously, the HSAF couldn't fire me even they wanted to." He pointed to himself and gave a confident wink. "I'm the best they've got and they know it."
The two shared a laugh. "So," her father said, "is that strapping lad over there my daughter's new protector?"
The commander's eyes welled with pride. "Yes he is, Vincent, and rightly so."
"Hmm," her father buzzed. "He certainly looks the part. So, tell me, my old friend. Who is this boy you've brought me?"
Lara pretended not to be interested, but she listened intently while the commander explained.
"His name is Lucas Avery, and he's one of my biggest accomplishments. He's nineteen, been with us only three years, and he's already made the rank of officer. He's strong-willed, determined and did I mention he can attune?"
"Seriously?" Vincent asked, surprise lighting up his face. "He can use Red weaponry?"
Commander Donwell nodded. Then he sighed. "He's not without his faults, though. For all his bravery, the boy is hotheaded, temperamental and too f***ing smart for his own good. Ah — pardon my language, Ms. Lara."
"It's fine," Lara said. "I've learned to put up with a certain amount of … vulgarity from men. So, where did you find this man?"
"Who, Lucas?" Commander Donwell asked. "Funny story, actually, but one for another day. We've got a lot to do, so I'll give you the short version instead. He's a survivor from Raid Zero three years ago. He managed to take down one of the enemy, and he —"
"Raid Zero!" Lara shouted. Shock and anger battled within her for dominance. Her outrage won out. "If he was in Raid Zero, then … then he's Class D!"
Donwell gave her father a questioning look. Vincent shook his head shamefully. "My daughter isn't like us, Richard. She was born into this wealthy lifestyle. She's a good girl, though, has a good heart like her mother. She just needs to be a little more considerate of other people's struggles."
"Father! Do not speak of me as if I'm not beside you listening. What kind of cruel joke is this?" She pointed to the young man, not caring in the least that he was within earshot and could hear her words. "You intend for me to lug around a Class D? I already have a servant from that class. God above! Before long, I'll be known as a wench who only associates with Class Ds."
"And the problem is …?" her father asked.
"The problem is that, while I do appreciate such hardworking people and feel very fondly towards them, it is hardly appropriate for me to surround myself with the lower classes. I'm not okay with this."
"Too bad, sweetheart. Case closed. Richard, why don't you call him over?"
Commander Donwell bowed his head. "Lucas, come here," he called. "I want you to meet your new assignment."
Did he just refer to me as an assignment? Ooh! I hate this man and I don't even know him.
The soldier called Lucas crossed the distance in five quick strides, standing before his commander at attention. He gave Lara a brief, uncaring glance, and then averted his gaze. Lara stepped forward and placed a finger on his chest, evaluating him. His posture was fine, but Lara noted that his demeanor needed work. His lips seemed permanently affixed in a frown. If her touch bothered him, he gave no sign.
"If you're going to serve me, then you'll need to be useful," Lara began. "I have much to teach you."
"Serve you?" Lucas asked. His voice was rough, deep.
Lara ignored the question and returned with one of her own. "Can you read, boy?"
In the single most barbaric gesture that Lara had ever been on the receiving end of, the young man, Lucas, swatted her finger away from his chest like a fly and then narrowed his dark eyes on her.
"Yes," he growled. "I can read. I can also think, speak and play the piano. I can tap-dance too, if you'd like."
Lara gasped. "Father! This boy just — Are you laughing? Father, are you laughing at me?"
To see what happens between Lara and Lucas, pick up a copy of The Lost Data.
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