Thursday, June 9, 2016

Love in Retrograde & Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue by Charlie Cochet

Love in Retrograde
Enthusiastic, play-it-safe Kelly Sutton is an American intern at the Photonic Royal Society in New London. He’s been working on Project Mars for over a year, a mission kept so secret by the society even Kelly doesn’t know exactly what it is. What Kelly does know is his contribution to the task will benefit mankind, and that’s enough for him.

Kelly’s world turns upside down when concerns over his mentor's behavior lead Kelly to investigate and stumble upon a wicked truth. What is supposed to be a project to advance human life turns out to be an endeavor capable of mass destruction. The terrifying reality forces Kelly to choose between looking the other way to keep his job, as he’s always done, or risking his career and even his life to do the right thing by saving the man who’s captured his heart.

Another novella that surprised me how deeply involved my heart got.  I had a little hard time getting into the first chapter but that had more to do with me not ready to let go of the previous book's couple than with Love in Retrograde.  By the time I was halfway into chapter two, I was hooked with Kelly Sutton and when he learns the whole truth behind Project Mars, I couldn't put it down.  I have only read a few of Charlie Cochet's books but I have her entire Thirds series on my Kindle but haven't got around to it yet but if they are half as good as Love in Retrograde & Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue, they'll be bumped up on my TBR list more than a few notches.  It isn't always easy to blend science fiction and romance so warmly and not lose the sci-fi factor, but Miss Cochet has done just that.  Kelly and Mars play off each other perfectly all the while being wrapped in sci-fi mojo from beginning to end.


Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue
For the last six months, Detective James Ralston has worked the nightshift as security for the Pacific Blue Hotel, and every night at 2 a.m. his rounds lead him to the radio room where the handsome and mysterious Franklin Fairchild sits listening to waltzes as old as the hotel itself. James is drawn to Franklin, but Franklin is a man at the end of his rope, and James has no intention of getting caught up in whatever trouble Franklin is in. A heated encounter late one night sends James down a disturbing path and has him questioning everything around him, including his very sanity.

Strange happenings, mystery, romance, a bit of history.  Roll them all together and what do you have? A great read and an amazing story.  Normally, I knock off half a bookmark for novellas just on principle because I prefer long novels but when they are written as well as Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue, I just couldn't.  If you enjoy paranormal, then you definitely need to check this one out, even if you don't normally go the novella/short story route, this is worth the read.


Love in Retrograde
Chapter One
KELLY SUTTON still couldn’t believe it.

No matter how many times he walked across St. James’s Park, he still couldn’t believe he was interning at the Photonic Royal Society in New London.

Early in the twenty-first century when the great nations of the world collapsed under the weight of their governments’ greed and economic failings, desperation turned them to the greatest scientific minds of their time. A mass release of both tested and untested technologies was ejected into a world already struggling to keep up with its accelerated pace, and the result was the Photonic Revolution—an oversaturation of biotechnology, nanoelectronics, and ever-growing personal interfaces.

And this was where it all started.

The sleek two-hundred-floor skyscraper of glass and nanoalloy was a testament to a world better united through science and human advancement. On the top floor, Project Mars was undergoing its final tests.

Entering the building through the holographic security doors, Kelly cheerfully waved a greeting to a host of security agents and reception personnel. He made his way to the restricted-access elevator at the end of the expansive marble hall and pressed his hand against the glass panel, his lips spreading into a silly grin when the glass doors slid open. Once inside the elevator, he pressed his hand against yet another reader and stood exceptionally still as the holographic security panel scanned his retina and asked for voice identification, which he promptly gave.

Every morning for the past year he’d stepped into this elevator, and he got a kick out of it each time without fail. The thought alone of where it was taking him had him so excited he didn’t even need coffee to keep him wired. Not that he’d given it up. He wasn’t completely crazy.

Thanks to his hard work, he’d been one of the few foreign interns to become part of Project Mars, a top-secret project. He was like a kid who’d been invited to play with all the shiny new toys in the toy store and get paid ridiculous amounts of credit for it. It was a shame he couldn’t tell anyone about it. Not that he had all that many people to tell. A year living in New London, and his closest acquaintances were the nanobots he spliced and diced on a daily basis and his lab partner. At some point he should really consider taking the time to make some friends.

After reaching the Biotech and Biomechanics Research Wing at the front of the two hundredth floor, he headed straight for the interns’ and assistants’ locker room. One day soon he’d be putting away his bag in his very own lab. He was hanging up his suit jacket when he heard it.


The cheerful squeal made him smile, and he turned in time to get poked in the belly by Pepper.

“Someone’s happy this morning,” he said with a laugh, giving the petite blonde’s hand a playful smack away from him. Pepper started working on Project Mars two years before Kelly joined the team, and then Kelly had been partnered with her for initial training. They’d quickly become close after she covered for him on his first day when he’d been so nervous he’d caused one of his experiments to spontaneously combust. Quite a feat even for him, considering there had been no combustible substances in it. He was still trying to figure that one out.

“So what’s got you so excited?” Kelly asked, slipping into his lab coat. He tapped at his breast pocket, turning on his holographic ID.

Her big blue eyes shone with excitement. “After all our hard work, we’re finally going to see the end results.” She clapped her hands gleefully and followed him out into the hall toward the lab headed by Dr. Lucius Bryant, the lead scientist for the Biotech and Biomechanics Research Wing .

Kelly wanted to believe Pepper, but the fact remained that as an intern—even one already guaranteed a position—he wasn’t privy to the kind of information Lucius or even Pepper was privy to. Kelly had worked his way up from performing countless inventory checks to researching anomalies, administering microinjections, and taking charge of several other important duties. Each had been assigned without so much as a hint to its purpose, only that it was directly related to Project Mars. Granted, the project was top secret, but Kelly hadn’t expected it to be so secret even he wouldn’t be told about it.

At the end of the hall was a steel door, and somewhere beyond that door was the Biotech Wing, where Project Mars was located. Every day a good deal of commotion and chaos seemed to emanate from behind that door, with it sliding open only for the briefest of moments. Today, as Kelly took a seat at his workstation and tapped on the glass surface to wake up his interface, it appeared things were no different.

A thunderous boom nearly caused him to jump out of his skin. His head shot up in time to watch a chair soar past the lab and down the hall, where it inevitably ended its journey by smashing into something expensive. This was the third time in four days. One would think they’d stop replacing whatever had been fated to relive a constant state of destruction.

Just as the chair left the wing in a hurry, so did two security agents. They landed in front of the lab and managed to gain control over their limbs long enough to scramble to their feet and limp quickly away. No matter how many times Kelly witnessed it, his jaw still became unhinged. He swiveled in his chair, further unsettled by the fact that, yet again, no one in the lab seemed to have noticed. Lucius tapped away at the glowing holographic information before him, preoccupied with an inventory check of that morning’s delivery. The man paused long enough to nudge his silver-rimmed spectacles up his nose.

Kelly gaped at him. “Did you see that?”

“How many times have I warned those lads?” Lucius glanced over the rim of his glasses at Pepper. “How many?”

“This week?” She placed a dainty finger to her rose-colored lips, her T-bar shoes tapping thoughtfully against her chair. “This would make one hundred and thirty-nine.”

“So we’re just ignoring it. Again.” No reply tended to mean Kelly had either asked a stupid question that didn’t warrant Lucius’s waste of breath, or it was yet another piece of information Kelly didn’t need to know. Dr. Lucius Bryant was in his late forties, possessing unruly brown hair interspersed with gray, a permanent five-o’clock shadow, and an impressive deadpan expression. Everything he said was in the same tone. Most of the time it wasn’t until Lucius was near the end of his reply that Kelly realized the man was being sarcastic.

Kelly donned his best English accent in an attempt to mimic Lucius’s posh tone. “It’s perfectly all right, Kelly.” He patted his own shoulder in assurance. “Nothing to worry yourself over. Just another day at the lab.” Kelly turned back to his station, ignoring Pepper’s amused chuckle and Lucius rolling his eyes at him.

“Have you finished that report? Dr. Skye’s expecting it to be done by this afternoon.”

Kelly swiveled in his chair to face Lucius. “Yeah, about that. I recorded all my findings, but I’m concerned by the anomalies I discovered in the nanocells under section MNB-Scan2308. If I could have a day to work through them, I—”

“No.” Lucius raised his head, his disapproving frown once again dashing Kelly’s enthusiasm at the chance of getting to dig deeper into the research and the strange surge of recent anomalies. “Your job is to report your findings, not analyze them.”

“I know, but—”

“Unless you want to go back to inventory checks, you’ll submit your report and move on to your next assignment.”

Kelly bit his tongue. Why was it every time he had the chance to do something important, Lucius pulled the rug out from under him? Lucius was Kelly’s mentor. Shouldn’t he be mentoring?

Reluctantly, Kelly gave Lucius a nod and resumed his work. Another long afternoon of mindless data transfer. This sucked. He was part of the Photonic Royal Society. The most prestigious and exhilarating place for a scientist to be. Why was Lucius treating him like he didn’t know his ass from his elbow?

“I know you think I’m being an unreasonable arse, but….” Lucius came to stand beside Kelly, his troubled expression unexpected. “Trust me. It’s for your protection.”

Before Kelly could ask what he meant, Lucius walked out of the lab.

“Don’t take it personally,” Pepper said with a sympathetic smile. “Lucius has his reasons for everything he does.”

“For my protection? Protection from what? Advancing my career? Securing my new position as an esteemed scientist and upcoming talent rather than a nameless drone destined to remain at the bottom of the food chain for the rest of my career?” Kelly pressed his lips together before he said anything he’d regret. “Six months ago, he was teaching me how to look beyond what was in front of me, to dissect and deconstruct information, and now that I am, he’s shutting me out. I just don’t get it.” He leaned into Pepper, his voice quiet. “You’re his assistant. Have I done something to piss him off? Did I do something wrong?”

“He hasn’t mentioned anything.” She worried her bottom lip with her teeth. “To be honest, he hasn’t brought you up at all.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Kelly couldn’t tell anymore. Then again, Lucius was a tough guy to read at the best of times. It was still beyond Kelly’s capabilities to know whether the man was being serious or not.

Pepper’s smile was apologetic. “I wish I could help.”

“Thanks anyway.” A thought occurred to him. “Today’s Thursday. Lucius works late in his office on Thursdays, right?”

“Yes.” Pepper’s eyes widened. “Whatever you’re thinking, don’t. Lucius will have your security clearance if you disturb him. Thursday evenings are incredibly critical for him, and whatever he’s working on is exceptionally confidential.”

“Got it.”

Kelly didn’t want to worry Pepper, though she didn’t look all that convinced by his reply. Regardless, she went back to her station.

Kelly had no intention of disturbing Lucius’s important work tonight. He’d try and catch Lucius before he locked himself in his office and ask him a couple of questions. Just a few minutes of the man’s time. Nothing more. It’d be fine.

Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue
THE PACIFIC Blue Hotel did something to people. Hell if I knew what it was.

With every passing day, it became harder and harder to remember how I ended up here, and I wasn’t the only one with that problem. It was like everyone else in this place sat in the same boat, drifting through a thick fog in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle waiting to be sunk, unaware of when or how they got there.

I’d been working security on the nightshift at the Pacific Blue for the past six months. It felt more like six decades. Plenty around here didn’t make sense to me. The hotel had been built in the late 1800s. That didn’t befuddle me. This was New York City. There were scores of old buildings around still in use. What I often found myself wondering about was why a bunch of old rich guys spent a fortune building a hotel made to resemble the lost city of Atlantis and then named it the Pacific Blue? And why stick it on a street known at the time as Death Avenue? Sure, the West Side Freight Line stopped running back in the early 1940s, but it had killed and mutilated enough people by then to have earned the name. Even the West Side Cowboys assigned to ride in front of the train to warn pedestrians hadn’t stopped people from ending up dead.

Tenth Avenue had come a long way since then. It no longer consisted of crumbling pavement surrounded by factories, warehouses, and meatpacking plants. Now we had towering office buildings and a couple of attractive government buildings that could moonlight as prison blocks. Either way, neither century’s landscape inspired thoughts of the seaside. Then again, most of the hotel guests were permanent residents, some who looked as old and worn as the hotel itself. I suppose those poor souls could easily fool themselves into believing they were surrounded by sandy beaches and rolling blue-green waves. There were few new arrivals at the Pacific Blue, and they didn’t stay long. This wasn’t exactly the Marriott.

Daryl, the night porter, had finished dimming the last of the lights in the main lobby over an hour ago. Inside the Pacific Blue I couldn’t get a phone signal, much less Wi-Fi, so I hadn’t been surprised when I saw Daryl manually turning down the lights. I’d counted maybe half a dozen employees on the nightshift, all of them probably old enough to remember paying ten cents for a quart of milk. By now residents and guests were tangling with the sandman, which meant it was getting to the time of night I enjoyed most. Just me, my thoughts, and the ghosts that came with them.

I checked my watch and glanced past the front desk, down the dimly lit hallway just to the right of the main lobby. The faint glow of lamps and the soft hum of some faraway melody came floating out of the radio room. I stopped in front of the pink-and-gold-veined marble desk and tapped the oxidized bell. It was a miracle the thing still worked. A few seconds later another miracle happened; the manager heard it. An old man who looked as rusty as the bell I just rang came shuffling over.

“I’m gonna start my rounds, Leslie.”

Leslie gave me a nod and shuffled back to finish his nap. I liked the old guy, even if he did forget most of the conversations we had. Not that I minded. The old boy’s weary gray eyes had a way of lighting up whenever he spoke about “the good old days,” back when he’d been a lad of seven, walking into the arms of the Pacific Blue for the first time. What a grand gal she must’ve been then. Her decorative moldings of swirling foliage free of cobwebs and her patterned walls of pink and turquoise hues fresh, vibrant, and untouched by growth and decay. Now she was like a shimmering Hollywood starlet who hadn’t managed to make the transition to talking pictures. With each passing day, she faded away a little more.

Walking down the deserted hall, I stopped just short of the stone archway and listened. It was a waltz, one of those sweeping, haunting ones that carried memories of a distant past. The kind whose imprint lingered well after its final note had faded, much like the man in the gray three-piece suit settled on the salmon-colored armchair listening to it. His eyes were closed, long lashes resting on fair cheeks, a smooth angular face with a strong jaw and a good mouth. He was tall, slender, handsome. The kind of guy who only stopped in dumps like this on his way to something better. Except Franklin Fairchild had gotten lost along the way. His hair was black and neatly styled, his eyes dark and bright as a midnight sky. How did I know about his eyes? I’d seen them every night for the last six months.

“Mr. Ralston,” Fairchild greeted quietly, his nice lips lifting slightly on one side. His eyes were still closed, but once they opened, they’d be intense and haunting, kind of like that waltz. “Your lurking is distracting.” He opened those impressive eyes and turned his head slightly, his gaze capturing mine and holding on. “Much about you distracts me.”

The way his voice subtly dipped in pitch had me taking an interest in the faded blue-green carpet at my feet. “I didn’t mean to disturb you, Mr. Fairchild. I was just doing my rounds.”

Fairchild gave a soft laugh that crawled under my skin and made itself at home. He had a nice voice. Lulling, quiet, and in no hurry to get to where it was going, much like Fairchild himself.

“Funny how your rounds lead you here every night at 2:00 a.m. Worried I’ll skip out on the bill?”

He was teasing me, but it somehow fell flat. My guess was insomnia wasn’t the only thing keeping Fairchild up at this hour. “Not really,” I replied with a shrug, and that was the God’s honest truth. Though if he did try, I didn’t think I’d be too upset about it. That alone should’ve been my warning to stay away from him.

“Just worried, then?”

Franklin Fairchild had been here six months, arriving the same night I started my first shift. He only left his room late in the evening after everyone had gone to bed, and then all he did was come downstairs to listen to the radio. As far as I knew, he took all his meals in his room, didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t have visitors, and didn’t interact with another soul other than to say the cursory “thank you” when necessary. I seemed to be the exception to the rule. It made me feel kind of responsible. I didn’t much care for that.

“You seem like a smart guy, Mr. Fairchild. I’d hate to see those smarts splattered all over the pavement.” He was right. I was worried. The Pacific Blue had a habit of drawing in folks looking to uphold the old Death Avenue moniker.

Franklin’s big dark eyes widened, and his cheeks went rosy in hue. It was a good look for him. Obviously he didn’t think so, because those nice full lips frowned at me.

“I see” was all he said. He turned his gaze back to the radio, which was now playing a lovely little melody about “The Day You Came Along.”

How apropos.

“Sorry if I offended you.” I realized then how much that sounded like an apology. Aside the fact that it was about as common an occurrence with me as a government tax break, I had no clue what the hell I was apologizing for. I wasn’t the one possibly thinking about taking a swan dive off an eighth-floor balcony, passing my misery on to some poor bastard who didn’t know when to leave well enough alone. Well, that was just great.

Fairchild stood, his slender frame rising from the chair with all the ease and grace of a dancer. He was about my height and size, without the added bulk. There was the slightest bit of crookedness to his nose, one noticeable only to someone who’d suffered from his fair share of broken noses. What I didn’t understand was how a refined guy like Fairchild ended up with a broken nose. I was pretty good at sizing people up, finding their angle. It was my job. Six months, and all I knew about the man before me was what my gut told me. And that was that Franklin Fairchild was a man at the end of his rope.

“Good night, Mr. Ralston.”

Fairchild swept past me, the faint smell of aftershave, soap, and something else caressing me on its way out. The room wasn’t the only thing left cold and empty from his departure. I looked down at the armchair he’d vacated to find a gray jacket draped neatly over the side. I picked it up and sprinted from the room, catching him before he reached the elevator.

“Hey! Wait!” I held the jacket out to him. “You forgot this.”

“Thank you.”

He smiled and reached out to take it. His fingers grazed mine, and the spark it caused gave me a start. I couldn’t say whether it was my running across the carpet or if it was something else, but it was enough to make me drop the suit jacket like an idiot. I swiped it off the floor, doing my best to remain aloof. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Clumsy me,” he purred.

“No problem.” I felt a little tremor go through me when his fingers brushed over my hand again. His gaze held mine long enough to tell me all I needed to know but briefly enough not to share it with anyone else. Then he turned and disappeared inside the elevator the porter held open for him and Daryl, who gingerly stepped in after him. He stood so close to Franklin I thought he was going to step on the man’s toes. Maybe it was time for Daryl to get himself a new pair of bifocals.

Walking off toward the main lobby, I gave myself a nice little speech. I couldn’t take Franklin up on his offer, no matter how long it had been since I had a guy in my bed. Good-looking men weren’t exactly throwing themselves at my feet these days. Then again, when had they ever? There’d been a time when I was getting my kicks and didn’t much care who I was getting them from. Those late-night rendezvous inside deserted toilet stalls no longer held the appeal they once had.

What did Franklin Fairchild want with me anyway? Maybe what he wanted wasn’t so different from what I wanted. Pants around the ankles, grunting, groping, giving it, and getting it good until our knees felt wobbly, and then “Thanks a bunch, pal.” We would each go on our merry way, and that was that. Except it wasn’t, because he was a guest, and I was the help.

There was also the possibility that Fairchild had gotten a little bit too deep under my skin over the last few months, and letting him go on his merry way might not be as easy as it sounded. I was past believing in happily ever after. Jesus, I was working a second job as security for a run-down hotel because the few hours a week I worked cold cases wasn’t enough to pay the rent and all the therapy bills. I’d tried to be all I could be, until an IED nearly killed me and partially blinded me in one eye. Again I wondered how the hell I’d gotten here. And this time I wasn’t thinking of just the hotel. There were times when I felt like a stranger in my own home.

“You’re a laugh a minute, James,” I muttered to myself as I made my rounds. It was the late hour messing with my head. Not that I would have been asleep at this hour anyway, hence using the time to make some extra cash. There wasn’t a whole lot to secure around here either, which made my job that much easier, and my license to carry a concealed weapon unnecessary. I doubted the chipped, gaudy ceramic seashell ashtray would fetch much at the pawnshop.

I got on with the rest of my rounds and came to the conclusion that if I didn’t shake off the lingering feel of Fairchild’s slender fingers, I would be a goner. Not to mention it was going to be one hell of a long night. Lucky for me, a drunk stumbled into the lobby, taking up a good deal of my time. I listened to the poor bastard’s war stories, not bothering to mention I had plenty of my own. I escorted him out, handed him a few bucks, and told him to get himself a couple of hot meals and some coffee. When I punched out at the end of my shift, I decided the best thing to do would be to stay away from Franklin Fairchild.

The next night I managed to hold on to my conviction for a whole hour. I was real proud of myself too. My body was no better at heeding the warning. As I neared the radio room, the sweeping melody of one of Franklin’s waltzes made my pulse flutter. I stepped into the archway and pretended his subtle smile didn’t send my heart racing or give me butterflies in my stomach. Damn. He was something else.

“Mr. Ralston,” Franklin said softly. He wore the same gray three-piece suit I’d seen him in every night since we met. His eyes were closed, and he sat in the same chair he always did. I didn’t delude myself into thinking his nightly routine had anything to do with me, so I put it down to him being a creature of habit.

“Good evening, Mr. Fairchild.” Maybe tonight I’d string enough words together to form some kind of conversation. Preferably one where I didn’t end up insulting him.

Fairchild stood and walked toward me, or rather the doorway I was blocking. Guess he wasn’t in the mood to chat. Not that he ever was. I stood still as he swept by, then caught his arm before he could leave.

“Hold on.”

Fairchild arched an eyebrow at me, and instead of letting go, I pulled him closer. He allowed it. His midnight eyes searched for something in my gaze before he turned his face away.

“Every night you sit in this room until I arrive, and every night you say just enough to get me riled up before you leave. I’m getting whiplash from your signals here, Fairchild.”

“Please.” Fairchild’s eyes grew glassy, but he put a finger to my lips before I could open my mouth to speak. “I have to go.” He moved his hand to my cheek, and I leaned into the touch. His thumb caressed my skin, a familiar scent I couldn’t place filling my nostrils. “Let me go.”

I did as Fairchild asked, even though I felt sick doing it. My reaction surprised me. I didn’t want him to walk away, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. He leaned in, and my breath hitched as he planted a tender kiss on my cheek. His lips lingered against my skin, and I took advantage, turning my face ever so slightly so I could brush my lips over the corner of his mouth. He smiled and pulled away.

“Until tomorrow night, Mr. Ralston.”

I swallowed hard and watched him walk away, aware of the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was the guy messing with me? If he was, why was I letting him? Maybe it was time to get some answers.

At 2:00 a.m. the next evening, I made my way to the radio room. The moment I heard some perky pop tune playing instead of a waltz, I knew something was wrong. I stopped in front of the archway and felt an odd sensation in my chest. I didn’t like it. The salmon-pink armchair was empty. So was the rest of the room. I turned off the radio and sat down in what I had dumbly come to consider his spot. It had been a long time since I’d bothered feeling any kind of way about anything, and now it was coming at me from all directions. Damn it all.

Charlie Cochet
M/M romance author by day, artist by night, Charlie Cochet is quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse. From Historical to Fantasy, Contemporary to Science Fiction, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From hardboiled detectives and society gentleman, to angels and elves, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!


Love in Retrograde

Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue