Authors: S E Gilchrist
Bargain with the Enemy
Bargain with the Enemy
S. E. Gilchrist
From the bestselling Darkon series comes an enemy-to-lover story about a brother, a best friend and the precious gift they leave behind.
Masquerading as her best friend is probably not the wisest decision Stephanie ever made, but she'll do whatever it takes to protect her friends' orphaned baby, especially from the father's emotionless, soulless vacuum of a family. They'll make it back to Earth, and be a loving, supportive family of two.
With his brother dead, Ivo will do anything to ensure the daughter he had with his human lover remains under his control and protection. The child, Mia, belongs here, in the Seven Galaxies, where she can be raised in the appropriate way.
But the only way to the child is through a bargain with a female deserter, a woman with no honour. Lust, however, has no reason, and when Stephanie and Ivo act on their attraction, they inadvertently set new terms. With Mia's life in the balance, can they find a contract with a future, or will everything fall apart in negotiations?
S.E. Gilchrist can't remember a time when she didn't have a book in her hand. Now she dreams up stories where her favourite words areâ¦âwhat if' and âwhere'? She lives in the Hunter Valley, Australia and writes books that embrace sizzling love stories with action, adventure and often, danger. Her stories are set in the exciting worlds of science fiction, ancient worlds, fantasy, post-apocalyptic and Australian contemporary / rural.
S.E. is published by Escape Publishing and Momentum Books and is an indie author.
I'd like to give a special thank you to my critique partners and friends, Kerrie Paterson and Sandie James â you ladies rock.
To my family â the constant in my life.
The sudden pounding on the thin metal hatch door sent an icy shiver down Stephanie's spine. Her heart sped up in a deafening crescendo almost drowning out the thumps.
Almost, but not quite.
Get a grip!
Surely there was no way they could have tracked her to this isolated space station orbiting the former Elite garrison planet, Verrilous. Still, that didn't stop her glancing at the doorway leading into the rack room which was no bigger than a large broom cupboard.
In the heavy silence that stifled the air of the cramped compartment, the pounding changed to the heavy thuds of fisted hands that demanded a response. It didn't sound as if whoever was out there intended to leave anytime soon.
Dithering, Stephanie gripped her hands together and stared at the door. It could be the Moonie trader from level four. It had been a good Earth week since she'd bribed him with four of her precious creds to source a container of dry milk powder. A commodity she needed desperately. On this reassuring thought her breathing steadied.
She swiped her damp palms down the legs of her faded army-green cargo pants and released the lock. The hatch door slid sideways and her breathing seized.
Oh god! They've found me
Three Darkon warriors clad in full battle armour stood on the threshold. Their bulky shoulders blocking her exit, their armoured gloved hands curled into half-fists at their sides. Behind them she was aware another warrior stood with his back to the entrance. Unhelmeted, his short-clipped, raven-black hair proclaimed his allegiance to the old Traditionalist ways of his race. Hands on hips, he appeared to be inspecting the mean, refuse littered passageway.
Only the desperate lived here, down in the bowels of the station. This level swarmed with renegades, smugglers, the homeless and the ill. Too poor to trade for meds from the upper levels or for a passage off the port, they were doomed to stay here until they died.
But Steph counted herself lucky to have rented these quarters although it cost an exorbitant amount of her carefully hoarded creds. It afforded protection from the contagious and the depraved.
Her knees turned to mush and she staggered, catching hold of the hatch-frame, partly to keep upright and partly to block their entrance.
âAre you one Earth female Janeen mated to Neo El Boeka?' the closest warrior said.
âSorry, you've got the wrong person.' Stephanie pushed on the hatch in an attempt to close the door.
He shot out an arm and placed his palm against the metal.
These guys were built like tanks.
âI've told you I don't know of any Janeen,' she blustered, inwardly cursing the betraying heat blooming in her face. She'd never been able to lie with aplomb.
âThe station master speaks otherwise,' stated the warrior.
âToo many fantasy meds if you ask me.' She clutched the door tighter, the sharp edged metal driving deep into her hand but she blanked it out, unheeding of everything but the panic shrieking inside her mind.
Weak tears pricked behind her eyelids as she thought of the almost impossible task she'd set for herself. But the promise she'd made burned like bootleg whiskey in her gut.
I won't let you down, Jan.
As she remembered what was at stake, determination flickered deep in her soul. It burned, gained momentum and scorched through her body like a bush fire. Strength returned and she flexed her damp fingers then released her grip.
âI've already told you, you've made a mistake.' Her calm even tones imbued her with confidence. Stephanie aimed a polite smile, like the shaft of an arrow at the intruders. Her mind raced probing and discarding various schemes.
I've fooled them before, I'll fool them again.
The two Darkons facing her exchanged glances and the one pressing against the door allowed his hand to fall to his side.
But her moment of relief was gone all too soon. For with a sudden impatient imprecation, the warrior at the rear swung round and shouldered the soldiers aside. He planted his large armour encased hands on both sides of the narrow opening and leaned towards her.
This was no rank and file soldier.
Her heart did a free fall.
From a hard-planed face that could have been chiselled from a rough un-cut diamond, black eyes as cold and merciless as intergalactic space met her wary gaze. His blunt features, a commanding nose and jutting square jaw all proclaimed a warrior who breathed control and domination.
Stephanie had known fear before but thisâ¦this feeling that strangled her throat was different.
Please God, please don't let it be who I think it is.
Tension tightened between them.
Stretched to an impossible length.
Somewhere down the passageway, shouting and the crashing of breaking furniture indicated a fight had flared up in one of the squats.
And then from inside the room behind her, a baby's wail splintered the strange sensation crackling between her and the warrior. Stephanie jerked backwards like a bungee jumper. A curious expression crossed with swift wings over the warrior's face.
One hard push and the hatch slammed open. The enemy and his henchmen crowded into the tiny haven she'd created.
He stalked forward.
Despite her best intentions, Stephanie retreated.
Until her back found the wall.
The cries coming from the rack room increased in crescendo then stopped. Steph cast a frantic glance across the room. Her gaze snapped back to the warrior towering over her. Chewing her lower lip she measured the wide breadth of his shoulders, the aura of ruthless force he wore like a weapon.
When the Darkon's gaze dropped to her mouth and lingered her heart dropped to the floor.
For one long moment surprise overcame her panic. She stared as if hypnotised at his intent face and felt that weird pull again. He stepped closer, invaded her space until she smelt the faint earthy scent emanating from his body. Her stomach did a rolling somersault and nausea rose in its wake.
Stephanie pressed back against the wall as if by doing so, she could melt into the metal and watched him bare strong white teeth in a slow smile of cold triumph.
She could read no amusement in those flinty eyes.
âWho are you?'
âIvo El Boeka.'
It is him!
âNeo's brother?' she squeaked.
Way to go, Steph, now I've confirmed his suspicions I know both Neo and Janeen.
âAffirmative.' He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. âYou are registered with the station master as Janeen El Boeka, a flagrant attempt to grasp a status which can never be yours.' His voice grated like quarry gravel scraping over her skin. A frisson of sensation prickled her flesh.
Outrage at his blatant prejudice had her lifting her chin. âWhat? Why? Because I'm from Earth?'
âAffirmative. The Boeka line is one unbroken from the very beginning of our time. We can trace our history back to when the goddess,
, walked our planet. Such an inadequate species as yourself will never be considered of sufficient status to attain such rank. My brother was a fool to be beguiled by your charms.' His gaze dipped lower to examine the rapid rise and fall of her breasts.
Steph stiffened, hating the tiny smirk on his face as her nipples peaked and pushed against the thin fabric of her shirt.
What a conceited prig!
A deep scowl formed suddenly on his forehead and he reared back to scrutinise her face again. âYou are this Janeen.'
Her throat dried as she heard the echo of a question in his statement. What would he do if he knew the truth? Horrific visions filled her head.
She gave a jerky nod.
His mouth compressed and he folded his arms over the cyno armour that showcased a physique she found extremely intimidating. Concentrating on her breathing, she counted her heavy heartbeats, waited for the axe to fall.
âYou are charged with desertion of your post whilst under fire and theft.'
âDesertion?' Steph gaped at him. Whatever she'd expected him to say, it definitely hadn't been this!
âAffirmative. I have evidence you fled Verrilous prior to the attack and with an object which belongs to my family.'
This merely confirms my suspicions about this bloke. He's nothing more than an emotionless vacuum.
âI have no idea what you're talking about,' she snapped.
âYou are a member of a guerrilla force under the command of a Relic officer, Joran Melda. This unit was ordered to attack the garrison as part of an extensive ground force strategy. Instead you boarded a shuttle with civilians. Your name is recorded as one of the passengers.'
It had seemed easier at the time to use Janeen's name. Verrilous had been a planet swamped with panic. In the skies above, the massive Elite war ships could be seen forming an Armada to ward off what would be the last confrontation with the Darkon fleet.
Her friend had been desperate for Stephanie to leave before the offensive began.
Since they had found sanctuary on some rock of a moon in the Stix system, Stephanie and her friend Janeen had been a member of a Relic guerrilla force fighting the domination of Liama and his Elite army.
It had been here, Janeen had met and fallen for her Darkon husband, Neo. He'd never shared a lot about his past with Steph, all she knew was he'd refused to side with his Traditionalist upbringing and the movement to oust Lord Tarak from power.
Instead he'd resigned from his post on board a Darkon ship commandeered by a powerful warrior called Marn and sought out guerrilla operatives in order to fight the battle on the side of those he believed had the “right”.