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Authors: Elysa Hendricks

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Adventure, #Life on Other Planets, #General

Star Raiders (7 page)

BOOK: Star Raiders
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She’d changed. The woman she was today was much more reserved and cautious—until he kissed her, at least. For those few minutes while they were physical y connected, he’d col apsed the wal s she’d built around her heart and mind. But what excuse did he have for courting her trust?

She
was
why he was here, of course, putting his career and his life on the line.

It wasn’t just fear of the Consortium’s plan that moved him. With both ASP and ELF

out gunning for Shyanne, it was only a matter of time before something terrible happened. Even if she was truly guilty of the crimes she was accused of committing—which he found impossible to believe—he wouldn’t al ow her to be kil ed or captured. He owed her a life. Too bad that life could never be with him. No matter what happened, ELF was going to be extremely angry he’d disobeyed his director. He’d end up in prison, but it would be worth it.

Though her life was a crucial consideration, his motive went deeper than Shyanne. As he’d told her, if C.O.I.L. got involved in the cleanup, human life on the outer worlds would be total y eliminated. His adopted father had told him of it, and of the enforcers C.O.I.L. would use. No one knew for sure what these creatures were. They operated out of their ships, never making physical contact. Very few planets survived their arrival. And if Earth objected they could be destroyed as wel or expel ed from the Consortium, left fair game to any greedy C.O.I.L. member.

Maybe it was foolhardy of him to attempt to capture Dempster on his own, but Greyson saw no other choice.

Shyanne murmured something in her sleep and curled closer to him. Thoughts of Dempster, the director and C.O.I.L. faded from Greyson’s mind as her body brushed against his. Soon enough he’d have to deal with his lies and deception, but selfish or not, for now he’d grab what he could.

His intent was interrupted as the door slid suddenly open. Greyson tensed, sensing another presence enter the room. Turning to look, he nearly bolted upright in surprise.

Beautiful and deadly, its sleek body covered in silvery fur, a hundred-pound cat crouched on the floor just inside the door. Its tufted ears lay flat against its head.

The tip of its tail twitching, its body was bunched and tense, ready to attack. Almost unnoticed at the creature’s feet crouched six normal-sized cats. They also watched Greyson, their shoulders hunched, eyes piercing and tails swishing.

Greyson blinked, meeting the creature’s gaze. This was no ordinary cat; intel igence gleamed out of those sea green eyes. He searched for a weapon.

Pound for pound, cats were the most dangerous predator. He and Shyanne wouldn’t stand a chance against this one’s teeth and claws, especial y naked.

He shifted until his body blocked Shyanne’s. The movement woke her. “Don’t budge,” he whispered.

Shyanne rose on her arms and peered over his shoulder. Her soft chuckling made her breasts rub against his back, and the cat snarled, showing its long, gleaming canines. Greyson tensed.

“Go away, Silky,” Shyanne told the cat. “Take your friends and find another bunk for the night.”

The cat hissed and rose on its hind legs. Greyson watched the outline of its body blur and begin to change shape. His stomach roiled at the impossible sight.

Dizzy and unable to watch, he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the cat was gone. In its place, instead of a four-legged animal, there was a bipedal humanoid. Only the silvery fur that covered its body and the emerald eyes were the same.

Be vigilant, human.

Like icy daggers, words stabbed into his mind. He groaned and pressed his palm against his temple and translator chip.

The cat glanced at Shyanne, then whirled and left the room. Tails high, the other cats fol owed.

Reeling from pain, Greyson looked at Shyanne. “Who or what was that? I’m familiar with every C.O.I.L. planet and their native inhabitants.” Or at least he’d thought he was. Maybe he’d missed a few; there
were
thousands. “I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that creature.”

Seemingly unconcerned about the cat-thing, her nakedness or the fact that they’d made love, Shyanne sat up. The sight of her body drove the pounding blood from his head lower into his body. He tugged the sheet over his hips to hide the reaction.

“We’re not sure what Silky is,” Shyanne admitted. “I found her in a bar on Tartala a couple of years ago. The owner had bought her off a passing trader to help keep down the local rat population.”

“She’s a bit big to be chasing rats.”

Shyanne grinned. “You haven’t seen the rats on Tartala. Besides, back then Silky wasn’t quite as large as she is now. Apparently, the idea didn’t work out the way the bar owner hoped. When he made the deal, Silky was drugged. After the drugs wore off, Silky became less wil ing to do his bidding. He chained her and stuck her in a cage, charged his patrons to watch her fight. By the time we came along, she was near dead from starvation and fighting. The bar owner was happy to let me take her off his hands.”

“How did you tame her?”

“Tame
her?” Shyanne chuckled again. “I don’t think so. Silky isn’t an animal.

She’s a member of my crew. Also, just so you know, we refer to Silky as a she for convenience. We’re not sure of her sex.”

“Did you ask her?”

“Sure, but either she doesn’t know or doesn’t care to answer. Eldin took care of her injuries, but he hasn’t been able to figure out her gender—or if she even has one.”

Greyson rubbed his aching head. “What did she do to me?” Shyanne touched his temple with her fingertips. Warmth coursed through him.

“She’s telepathic. Translator chips amplify her thoughts. If she likes you, she whispers so it doesn’t hurt so bad. If she’s angry or doesn’t like you, she shouts.”

“Makes sense.” He didn’t understand the microtechnology involved, but he knew TCs translated the electrical impulses of thoughts, so telepathic messages would definitely be picked up.

Residual pain flared behind his eyes, and he groaned and asked, “How do I get her to like me?” Shyanne’s tril of laughter caused his head to pound. He closed his eyes and waited to die.

If Shyanne felt anything about what had transpired between them, he couldn’t tel . Calm and col ected, she rose from the bed, dressed and requested him to accompany her. Stil reeling from Silky’s mental assault, and from the bizarre queasiness brought on by watching the cat-thing’s body morph, he complied without protest. At some point he’d have to ask about the creature’s shifting ability and his reaction to it. He dressed and fol owed Shyanne out of the room.

Greyson’s ability to separate his personal and business lives had made him an excel ent field agent and an even better administrator. Now, with Shyanne, he found he didn’t have that balance. She didn’t seem to be having the same problem. Her manner had been one of distant courtesy, as if they hadn’t just made love. It gave him an odd twinge: If she and her crew decided to reject his deal, would they real y space him?

He couldn’t say he didn’t deserve it.

Verus’s fifth moon came into view on the main screen, and Shy nodded. Though little more than an oversized rock caught in Verus’s gravity wel , the satel ite had a dense metal composition that would block
Independence
from detection.

Terle and Able manned the controls. Greyson stood to one side, observing without comment. Bear was down in the shuttle bay getting the ship
Liberty
prepped, while Eldin prepared the med bay—even though the ship that had fired on them was smal , capable of holding only a few slaves, they were headed for a slave auction on Verus. No tel ing how many slaves they’d end up bringing back.

After a quick look at her account, she hoped there were only a few up for sale.

The rest of the crew had offered to contribute, but she’d rather not take their money if she could help it. Despite their constant comments, this was her cause, not theirs. They shouldn’t have to pay.

There were other ways to gain custody of slaves besides paying, but Shy and Bear usual y posed as an acquiring madam and her enforcer and took the easiest and least dangerous method of outright purchase. Sometimes a grateful family paid a reward for the return of a loved one, but those situations were few and far between; if a family had money, slavers usual y took a ransom. Most of the slaves Shy rescued came from devastated colonies, and slaves auctioned on Verus were usual y the poorest of the poor.

“Damon just checked in, babe,” Able said.

“He’s early.” She bit her tongue to stop herself from grousing about his endearment. Nothing she did stopped him from using the nickname he’d given her as a child.

At her expression, Terle snickered. What she tolerated from Able didn’t extend to him. “You have something to say, Terle?” she asked.

“No, Captain.” He gave her a mock salute and fel silent.

Managing this crew was like herding cats. Shy sighed and turned back to Able.

“I hope his delivery came off without a hitch. I think I’m going to need the credits.” Light glinted off Able’s smooth bald head as he swiveled in his chair to face her. His broad smile revealed a gold-capped tooth. “Damon never comes home empty-handed.”

“Yes, but it’s what’s in his hands when he gets here that worries me,” she said.

Terle grunted and hunched farther over his console.

Aside from herself, Damon, at thirty, was the youngest in her crew. His devastating good looks, charm and easy smile hid an inner darkness Shy had never been able to penetrate. She’d been eight when her father first brought him home, a handsome but quiet boy of ten. At the time she knew nothing of the evil that pervaded the universe; she’d just been thril ed to have a playmate. For the next few years they’d been almost constant companions, until at last he joined her father’s business. She loved him like a brother. She knew little more about his background now than she had as a child. Whatever his scars, he hid them deep inside.

“Hope he hasn’t picked up any more strays.” Terle rubbed his thumb over the scar on his lower lip. “Last one he brought home bit me.” Able threw back his head and laughed. The hearty sound boomed around the bridge. “If you hadn’t tried to kiss her, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Poor little gal was terrified.”

“She didn’t have no problem cozying up to Damon,” Terle grumbled.

“Yeah, he does have a way with the ladies. Must be his face.”

“I’m good looking,” Terle protested.

“Who can tel under al those pretty pictures you’ve got al over you?” Able teased.

“Look who’s talking,” Terle shot back.

The older man’s tanklike body sported as many tattoos as Terle’s, if not more.

Only Able’s face and hairless head seemed to be off-limits. The bickering between the two men was good-natured and harmless, a way to blow off steam and bond.

But at times Shy found the testosterone-charged air annoying.

She glanced over to where Greyson sat quietly, a smal smile on his lips. He hadn’t said a word since she’d informed the crew—aside from Damon, who’d yet to arrive—her recommendation was to help Greyson track down Dempster. No one had argued. As much as they disliked ASP and ELF, none of them wanted to see the outer worlds obliterated. Even Silky had agreed to help.

Though he didn’t let it show, the detour to Verus disturbed Greyson. They didn’t have the time to spare. Though Earth and its colonies had banned it, slavery was a sad fact of life in the outer worlds and on many C.O.I.L. planets. As long as the practice didn’t violate any other laws, the Consortium preached toleration. Too bad their policy of noninterference didn’t extend to al owing planets to practice freedom of choice in their affiliations.

In his mind, the fate of a few slaves couldn’t take precedence over the destiny of al mankind, but he was wise enough to hold his tongue and hide his impatience.

Shyanne’s crew didn’t trust him. Her words had swayed them to help. If he lost her support, which objecting to this rescue mission would cause, they would turn on him in a heartbeat. He couldn’t risk it. His best option was to help them get in and out as quickly as possible.

The bridge doors slid open and a man strode in. A thick mane of tawny blond hair tumbled in disarray around his face and rested on a pair of broad shoulders.

Blue-gray eyes set in a handsome face sparkled with humor. A half smile played around ful lips. Half wildcat, half angel, the man sizzled with energy and at the same time radiated a sense of peace. The dueling effects were unsettling.

“Where’s my favorite kitty cat?” he asked. “I brought her some kitty treats.” Able laughed. “Probably hiding from you.”

“When are you going to give up?” Terle taunted. “Al the treats in the universe aren’t going to get Silky to like you.”

“Never.” Damon grinned. “Defeat is not in my vocabulary. Someday that cat wil eat out of my hand.”

“More likely she’l take off a few fingers,” Terle said.

“Can’t figure why you bother.” Able shook his head. “Isn’t it enough every woman you meet fal s at your feet? Why worry about whether or not one little alien likes you?”

“I like a chal enge. Women are too easy. They see only what they want.” Damon lifted a shoulder. “Silky is…different. She sees the truth.”

“Yeah, and that’s why she don’t like you,” Terle laughed.

Damon didn’t respond to Terle’s goading, but his smile faded. For a moment the mask slipped and Greyson caught a peek of a lost man beneath.

When the newcomer turned and caught sight of Greyson, he discarded his carefree demeanor. The man’s narrowed gaze revealed nothing, but his body language spoke volumes. His hand went to the pistol strapped to his hip. “Who are you?”

Prepared to defend himself, Greyson tensed and straightened. Before a confrontation could occur, Shyanne stepped between them.

“Damn it, Damon. When wil you learn not to shoot first and ask questions later?”

“It keeps me alive.” Humor and affection flashed in his slate blue eyes.

“Until it gets you kil ed,” she muttered. “Greyson Dane, this is Damon Wilde.” She quickly laid out the situation.

BOOK: Star Raiders
3.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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