87,500 words | 354 pages (trade)
10 hours (Unabridged audio)
A dangerous world of sex, lust and violence…
All Noelle Cunningham has ever wanted is a life beyond–beyond the walls of Eden, where only the righteous are allowed to remain, and beyond her stiflingly restrictive existence as a councilman’s daughter. But only ruins lie outside the City, remnants of a society destroyed by solar storms decades earlier.
The sectors surrounding Eden house the corrupt, the criminal–men like Jasper McCray, bootlegger and cage fighter. Jas clawed his way up from nothing to stand at the right hand of Sector Four’s ruthless leader, and he’ll defend the O’Kane gang with his life. But no fight ever prepared him for the exiled City girl who falls at his feet.
Her innocence is undeniable, but so is their intense sexual attraction, and soon they’re crossing every boundary Noelle barely knew she had. But if she wants to belong to Jas, first she’ll have to open herself to the gang, and to a world where passion is power, and freedom is found in submission.
AN EXCERPT FROM BEYOND SHAME
She’d been cast out of Eden and straight into Hell.
Noelle had never seen anything as menacing as the Sector Four slums at twilight. Back in the city, the buildings were elegant, each carefully planned to fit the aesthetic of those around it, each maintained by silent crews of landscapers and cleaners tasked with making every inch of the city sparkle. Shining towers with crystal windows reflected the endless blue sky, and straight roads intersected at perfect angles.
Here, in the slums outside Eden, squat, ugly buildings seemed dropped with careless imprecision. The roads followed no logic she could discern. Brick and wood alike were dark with soot from generators spitting smoke into the air. Graffiti covered the walls, lewd curses and symbols she couldn’t begin to decipher. Garbage littered the cracked asphalt and dirt paths, broken glass and suspicious liquids. Noelle swallowed the pain of her ridiculous high heels and picked a careful path toward the end of the street.
Walking grew more difficult with every step. The military police had thrown her out the gate at the west checkpoint with nothing but the clothes on her back. No money or credits, just a pair of earrings and a colorful party dress she’d bought on the black market, a flashy bit of fabric meant to catch a boy’s eyes.
It was still catching boys’ eyes. She felt the weight of their gazes as she stumbled, barely catching her balance against the frame of a vendor’s stall. Bright lights strung on wires twinkled above her head. Danced. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. The lights only swam worse, each flaring like a tiny sun trapped in glass.
Her mouth tasted odd. She touched her earlobe, felt the empty hole. She’d wasted the entire morning and most of the afternoon looking for someone who would trade cash for the glitzy baubles. Finally, one man had taken pity on her and traded a sandwich and a cup of juice for the earrings, laughing as he confided that his wife wouldn’t know real diamonds from fakes.
Too aware of all the eyes on her, Noelle turned. The little table where she’d devoured her meager meal was around the corner, but the man who’d owned it wasn’t. He was following her. Watching her.
Panic surged. Noelle spun and stopped, but the world kept on whirling by. Her ankle buckled and she pitched into a solid wall, a wall that reached out and grasped her arms in a steely grip.
A man frowned down at her, his gaze sweeping her body. She registered a stern face, dark, flat eyes and a full beard. Tattoos—on his wrists and arms, the kind they taught about in school and whispered about at church socials. The sector gangs, the rough criminals who controlled the slums and waged war on virtue and life.
She’d been cast into Hell, and he was a demon.
The strange girl in the even stranger dress collapsed in his arms, barely conscious. Jasper shifted her weight to one arm and bared his teeth at the man who’d been following her. “What’s she on?”
The bastard looked ready to bolt until Ace stepped forward, one hand on his gun. Faced with two men wearing O’Kane ink, the man froze and did the only smart thing—he spilled his guts. “Just drops. Nothing serious.”
“It’s a piss-poor way to get a date,” Jasper growled. “Dallas won’t like it.”
The shopkeeper blanched, but he choked out a wheedling defense. “Come on, man. It’s a city bitch on a walk of shame. No one gives a shit.”
Jasper pushed down his anger, hiding it behind a stony facade. “I give a shit. It might fly in other sectors, but not this one. If you can’t pay for sex, use a little charm. If you don’t have any of that either, keep it in your pants. Otherwise, you might have an accident. A nasty one.”
Ace slid his thumb along the butt of his pistol. “Or you could have a nasty one now and get it over with.”
“Fuck.” The man raised both hands in a gesture of retreat and submission as he backed away. “Never again. You got it.”
Jasper rolled his eyes and turned away, back toward the compound. “He’ll be up to no good before nightfall.”
“We can have Flash check in on him tonight.” Ace unsnapped a pocket on his vest and slipped out a thin black scanner. “Want me to tell you what you’ve got there?”
Jasper didn’t want to know. The girl hung limply over his arm, her skin silky and unmarked. Her hair had the sort of sheen that came from regular trips to some city salon, and her fingernails were painted some gentle shade of pink none of Dallas’s women would be caught dead wearing.
Soft. Everything about her, head to toe, was just soft.
He sighed and held out her arm. “May as well. We can’t leave her here, can we?”
Ace slid the scanner over the inside of her wrist, where thin lines of ink formed her identification bar code. The box beeped, the sound somehow both melodious and strident, and Ace whistled through his teeth. “Shit. Maybe we should.”
“Why, who is she?”
“That’s a Cunningham. As in Edwin Cunningham, the whackjob councilman who wants to firebomb the sectors like God raining down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Terrific. “Well, when she wakes up, we can ask her what the fuck she’s doing on the wrong side of the wall.”
“Judging by the state of her ID, the twitchy bastard following her was right. She’s flagged as a second offender, all accounts frozen.” Ace frowned. “Locked records, though. Can’t tell what she did to get in trouble.”
“Jaywalking?” Jasper suggested sourly.
Ace snorted as he pocketed his scanner. “More likely criminally poor taste. That dress looks like the sort of shit you pawn off on rich fuckheads by telling them it’s pre-Flare vintage.”
As if her dress mattered a damn. Jasper hefted her over his shoulder with another sigh. “Maybe Lex will know what to do with her.”
“There are easier ways to get Lex nose-deep in pussy.”
“Charming, but not what I meant.”
The market cleared ahead of them. The denizens of Sector Four knew when to duck for cover, and if the military police came through here in an hour, no one would admit to seeing a member of O’Kane’s gang carting a city girl off over his shoulder.
No one would dare.
Ace shook his head as they turned off the main street leading out of the market. “That princess over your shoulder? Probably a prissy little virgin. If dragging a stray like her home isn’t about the corruption, it’s not fucking worth it.”
The insinuation that he couldn’t simply feel sorry for her—that maybe he had to bring home a helpless, unconscious woman to fuck—made Jasper recoil with a frown. “Lex could show her the ropes—we need a new waitress at the club, don’t we?”
“Yeah, but Dallas was going to bump one of the dancers over, maybe hire one of the groupies.” Ace swung in front of Jasper, his dark eyes hard as he blocked the way. “I know you’ve got a soft spot for damsels, brother, but this piece of ass could get you killed. Are you sure you want to go out on this limb just because the girl fell on you?”
“No, but we can’t dump her in the gutter and hope she makes out all right.” Jasper knew what that was like, being helpless but still left to fend for yourself against shitty odds. “At the very least, she needs time to sober up.”
“All right.” Ace stepped aside and grinned at him. “Lex is going to kick your ass. You’re not getting head for a month.”
“S’okay. She bites.”
“Only if you ask nicely.”