Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations some readers may find objectionable: BDSM theme and content, dubious consent.
eBook Publisher: Loose Id, LLC, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: July 2010
35 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [309 KB]
Reading time: 203-284 min.
Mara paced across the cell and cursed beneath her breath. Whatever the plan had been, this hadn't been a part of it. All right, she should have seen it coming. Diving into the middle of a bar fight had been stupid. Fun but stupid. If she'd avoided the fight entirely, she'd have stood out a mile, which wasn't something she could risk. The fact she'd enjoyed getting in a few punches had had nothing to do with it...
Now she paid for her part in the fight by pacing the length of the cell. The charges were small ones, just as long as someone was willing to pay her bond, but therein lay the problem. Her cred stick had been lost in the middle of the fight, and if she told the peacekeepers who she really was, then she'd be facing more than a temporary stint in the cell when the word reached the wrong people.
She patted her locks of multicolored hair. At least like this it was unlikely anyone would recognize her. But how long would it be before someone ran a gen scan on her? Her cover would be useless at that point.
Mara glared at the security cam in the corner. She couldn't take the chance that she wasn't being watched, which left her pacing and waiting, instead of using other means to get out of the cell. Someone had to pay the bond before she could leave the cell, and she had no one she could call on here. The station was a new one for her, and her ship wouldn't be returning for at least another week. That was six days and twenty hours too long.
"My own stupid fault," she muttered and turned on her heel, pacing back across the cell. Her muscles ached as she walked; the fresh bruises and split lip reminded her all too clearly of the fight she'd been in.
The main door to the block hissed open.
"Let me fucking go!" a woman's voice echoed off the walls. "He set me up--that bastard set me up!" The blonde struggled as she was led through the cells to an empty one.
"Sure he did, and he got two members of the crew to lie for him and doctored the security tapes of you pulling a gun on him all to set you up. You're lucky he didn't press charges, just asked us to give you a secure place to cool off." One of the two guards escorting the newcomer through the room with nineteen, soon to be eighteen, empty cells, replied.
"He got tired of fucking me! That's why he's doing this!" The woman protested.
"Right, Captain MacTire set you up because he didn't want you in his bed anymore. As if he hasn't got any other way of removing you from his ship, like, oh, I don't know, kicking you off at the next port?" Two guards marched her to the nearest open cell, but it was the taller, dark-haired one who spoke. "MacTire isn't stupid. He might sport with women when he has the need to--that's part of the life of being a spacer--but he's not the type to throw someone off his ship just because he's tired of them."
"You're wrong. You don't know him like I do." The woman struggled even as they pushed her into the cell and locked the door behind her. "He had no other way to get rid of me, not without killing me!"
"If he wanted you dead, then you'd be dead, so don't flatter yourself." The taller guard locked the cell and walked away, but stopped outside of Mara's cell. "You're a navigator, right?"
Mara nodded, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. "Yeah, I'm qualified for navigation."
"Is there anyone coming to pay your way out?"
Mara shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not."
"Uh-huh." The guard grinned and walked away. The second man remained in place.
Why didn't she like where this was going? Mara's gaze narrowed on the retreating guard.
"Don't take the offer!"
"What?" Mara turned to look at the woman. "What offer are you talking about?"
"I was one of the navigators on the Lair. They'll need a replacement. Don't take the offer when it's made." The woman pressed her hands against the clear wall that separated the cells. "He's dangerous. He uses women. Takes them into his bed and then sets them up when he's done with them. He pulled me away from my world, and now look at me. I'm here."
Yeah, but I only have your word for how that happened. Mara took a deep breath and looked at the disheveled woman. "So, you think they'll offer me your place on the Lair? If so, why? He doesn't know me." At least she hoped he didn't.
"Yes, I do. It's his style. Don't take the offer. He'll get you into his bed and then toss you aside when it suits him. He's done this to dozens of women. I only found out when it was too late." The blonde's wide blue eyes were red rimmed, her face pale and drawn as she spoke. "You can't believe what he's like. He'll make you feel as if you're a goddess, and then he'll bring you to your knees when he's done with you. Just like he did with me. The man's a ruthless bastard, and he doesn't care who he hurts."
"Sounds like most of the men and women I know in this line of work."
"Not me. I'm not like that."
She'll claim she was an innocent next. Mara scanned the woman's face, searching for something--a hint, a sign that the blonde was telling the truth. Fear, hatred, and pain looked back at Mara from a pair of pale blue eyes. Something had happened, and it had included this MacTire she'd mentioned, but exactly what was another matter. Until Mara saw this MacTire in person, she'd be unable to get a true reading of the situation.
"Shit!" The woman darted to the other side of her cell, the single word little more than a growled, angry snarl.
"Mara Dacre?" A deep, vibrant, and very male voice drew Mara's attention from the front of the cell.
Fuck, how the hell had he crept up on her? No one did that to her. She'd spent her life honing her instincts, and now they'd let her down. Mara turned, wiping all traces of emotion from her face. "Yes?"
"Asshole!" the blonde screamed.
"Bastard." The deadpan word stopped the woman in her tracks.
"I'm a bastard, Serene, not an asshole." The man folded his arms--crossed one leg in front of the other--his booted toes touching the deck as he leaned against the bars. "If you're going to call me something, at least get it right."
"There's a difference?" Serene's hands clenched at her sides, her eyes wide and wild.
"There is to me." He gave a slight shrug. "An asshole doesn't give a shit, or give warnings. A bastard warns you what's in store. I'm a bastard, in both senses of the word. I hid nothing from you, Serene. Not a damn thing."
A pair of mercury-colored eyes stared at Mara, unblinking. The man had to be over six feet tall, and strong. Yes, she could see that much, despite the clothing he wore. He wasn't bulky, though. No, the man in front of her was lean and dangerous. But not bulky. And that hair--pure midnight...
"Captain Fenris MacTire of the Lair, and I have an offer you might be interested in." His silver gaze trailed slowly over her body, taking her in from head to foot and back again. "That's if you pass my checks."
"What checks would those be, Captain MacTire?" Not gen checks. You don't have the authority for those. So what the fuck are you talking about?
"Background." The man took a step back from the cell. "I need a navigator. Interested?"
"The new arrival makes some interesting claims about the dangers of working for you."
"I expected that." He flashed a smile but barely glanced at the woman in the other cell. "Something about me using her? Well, you have to decide if you trust the words of a woman who was marched into the cell, or of a man standing here calmly offering you a chance out of here."
"How long would I have to serve on your ship?" Better to get the facts out on the table, so there were no misunderstandings. There were other problems to serving on the ship, the cramped space, everyone else in her business, no real privacy, but she could handle that. Her heart wasn't on the line, and there wasn't a man alive who had the power to turn her into a lovesick girl.
"To cover your buyout? Until our next stop. I should be able to pick up a regular navigator there, unless you decide you want to stay on board."
"And the next stop would be where?" She wasn't about to walk into this blind, no matter how badly she wanted out of the cell.
"Sector five, Henver Outpost."
That meant agreeing to at least three to four weeks on his damn ship, depending on what they met on the way. Could she risk that?
Did she have a choice?
Henver Outpost wasn't a place for fuzzy bunnies. Even the peacekeepers worked there in pairs, never alone. But she wasn't afraid, and if she made it to the outpost, she would be able to leave the Lair and hail a friend to collect her. She'd also have access to a new cred stick.
Shit, she'd have a cred stick from serving on the Lair. Even if he paid her bond, there'd be funds left over after her stint at nav. It was too good a chance to pass by, no matter what the blonde had told her. Besides, it wasn't as if she was about to jump into bed with the man.
There were other advantages to being on Henver. She'd be only a short hop away from her destination.
"The peacekeepers are willing to share the background check with me if you sign off on it."
Ah, that made things a little more interesting. The peacekeepers' check she could pass. Hell, she already had. "I'll sign."
"Good." A slight frown creased his brow. "You agreed to that quickly."
"Because I've nothing to fear." Now, if the peacekeeper crew had run a gen check, that would have been another matter entirely. "Besides, look at it from my point of view. Six days in a cell or take the job, earn some money, and get the hell off this station."
"I see. Well, I'll have someone come in so you can sign off. So I take it you're agreeable?"
She looked pointedly around the cell. "Well, I had thought about spending a few days in this delightful spa, but your offer has some merit."
Captain MacTire cracked a smile. "I could always leave you for a day or so to think it over."
Except you don't have that time to spare, and neither do I. "Sure, I'm not going anywhere."
His jaw tightened, but his smile never faltered. "I think you and I will get along fine. You don't mind calling someone's bluff, and that could prove interesting. Welcome aboard, Mara Dacre." He turned and walked away without another word.
"You're a fool," the blonde hissed. "I told you what happened to me, and you still accepted his offer. You're a complete and utter idiot."
"Perhaps, but this is my choice to make, not yours."
Mara watched the man as he walked, his moves fluid, sensual, and strong enough to catch the eye of any straight or bisexual woman with a pulse. Her gaze trailed down his back, following the long ponytail that almost touched his tightly curved backside. Cute, very cute. Not the type she'd kick out of bed, but this was business, and he'd never make it into her bed. Never is a very long time.
"Don't let him kiss you."
"That won't happen. I don't mix business with pleasure." Mara turned and looked back at the blonde. "Perhaps that was your mistake."
"Yeah, right. Whatever."
"Sure, he looks good, but not good enough to break the cardinal rule: never fuck the captain. Second rule: never fuck someone you have to work with, unless you can handle seeing them every day with someone else. It's a fool's game, and anyone with a shred of sense learns that real damn fast."
"A-are you calling me a fool?"
"If you followed a piece of tail off your own world, then you're a damn fool." Mara sat down on the edge of the cot. "Shit, I know it's easy enough to fall into bed with someone when you're stuck on a ship with them for months, even years on end. But if you can't handle the breakup of a relationship with someone you're going to see on a daily basis, then you don't jump into bed with them. You made the mistake, live with it."
"Better a bitch than a dumb ground-hogger who jumped onto a ship for a tight piece of ass, then lost it when it fell apart." Mara smirked and lay down on the bed, then crossed her ankles as she folded her arms beneath her head.
"You'll be next. He'll get you into bed and then dump you. Listen to me; you'll wake up one morning in a cell wondering why the hell you didn't listen to me."
Why should she care what the woman thought of her? The idiot had made a mistake; she'd live with it or not. Either way, she wasn't Mara's problem. If MacTire was the fuck-them-and-drop-them-off-ship type, then she'd be safe enough. The last thing she planned on doing was crawling into the sack with Captain MacTire.
Regardless of how delicious he looked...