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The newest installment of Rogue Hunter shatters the mold of conventional space opera. The series reaches new heights and explores the life of Zyra Zanr, the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter, as she fights to survive in a world of bloodthirsty gangsters while trying to navigate the even more dangerous realm of her desires. Life Force is a tale of dark passions and an epic struggle over one woman's soul.For mature readers only.
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THE ULTIMATE SIN.
While on the run from her enemies, Zyra goes into hiding on Space Station Phoenix. She comes down with a mysterious illness and seeks the aid of Ryan Grant, the station doctor. Fearing a terminal disease, Zyra turns to Ryan for support but their budding friendship takes an unexpected turn.
As things heat up between Zyra and Ryan, vile gangsters hunt her. Zyra knows she must get off of Phoenix before it is too late. But can she risk leaving without a cure for her illness?
Death haunts her every step and time is running out. As her health worsens, Zyra's uncontrollable desire for Ryan takes her down a dark path of unbridled sensuality that threatens to destroy her very soul.
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions of any third-party publishers.
Rogue Hunter: Life Force
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2015 Kevis Hendrickson
Second Edition, V11.0
Cover art by Midnight Whimsy Designs - www.midnightwhimsydesigns.com. All rights reserved – used with permission. © 2015 Kevis Hendrickson.
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The list of people who helped me in the publication of this book is quite lengthy. Rather than risk accidentally leaving someone off the list, I’ll simply say thanks to everyone who aided me on this project. You all helped to give me the final push I needed to get this book to readers and deserve a big thumbs up.
A quick heads up to readers of this book. With this entry, Rogue Hunter delves into mature subject matter. The story of Zyra Zanr is not limited to her exploits as an intergalactic bounty hunter. She’s a complex woman with a mysterious past. Going forward, things will get real hectic for our lovely protagonist. This book plays a very important role in her unfolding tale as it marks the first time we’ll have a chance to get a close look at what makes Zyra tick before the big stuff kicks off.
As a warning, although this is a Rogue Hunter novel and contains lots of kick-butt action, it does get quite dark and sexual. If gut-wrenching drama with a heavy dose of spice isn’t your cup of tea, this is your chance to hit the abort button. With that said, the events of this story are essential for setting up Zyra’s character development and the introduction of major events in the plot.
The tale of the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy continues…
Zyra’s voice trembled, revealing her trepidation. Hours—and what seemed like days to Zyra—had passed since the boy had been taken for emergency medical treatment. She had sat by idly in the next room, helpless, unable to do anything but agonize over his safety. Now she waited with bated breath for some good news of his recovery.
“Kid’s fine.” The man’s deep, Southern accent calmed Zyra every bit as much as his words. “Vera patched him up real good. He’ll be needin’ a look over by a real doc. But he’s a tough one, that kid. He’ll make it.”
Zyra clutched her breast, breathed a sigh. “He lost so much blood, I thought…”
“It’s okay, darlin’. He’s over the worst of it.”
“Thank you, Jack,” Zyra said. It hadn’t been very long since she first came into his presence. A good Samaritan was hard to find. In deep space, running into Jack was the equivalent of hitting the lottery.
“I do what I can.”
Jack squeezed Zyra’s arm gently in a show of concern. Her shudder made him withdraw his touch. She turned and walked away from Jack, then with a sigh, brushed back the hair from her face.
“It shouldn’t have happened,” she said softly. “He tried to protect me.”
“Don’t blame yourself, sweetie. You’re both lucky to be alive after what you told me happened on that ship.”
Zyra didn’t need any reminders of the horrors she had suffered while held captive on board the Lilith. Its captain had done everything in his power to destroy her, and in the process, hurt the only person who had tried to protect her during the entire ordeal. Now she had to live with what had been done to them both. “Doesn’t make me feel any better.”
Jack’s weathered face grew rigid, leaving a pair of pale blue eyes peeking out from wrinkled flesh. “Universe is full of scum. All you can do is keep your head down and keep truckin’.”
Zyra regarded Jack closely, touched by the tenderness in his voice that stood in stark contrast to his rough, leather-draped appearance. She couldn’t help but wonder what losses he had suffered in his own life. Did he have a family? Or had he lived out his years plying his trade throughout the galaxy without a place to call home?
Though he was past the prime of his life, Zyra could make out enough of Jack’s finer features to imagine that he must have made a dashing figure in his youth. But even the roguish-looking earring he sported couldn’t stop her from thinking that with his all-white beard and round, ruddy face that he looked like a long-lost descendant of Santa Claus. Under normal circumstances, the image of Jack “ho-hoing” behind a sled pulled by reindeer through space would have brought a smile to her face. But she sighed again, her sleep-filled eyes betraying her exhaustion.
“Been a long haul for you and the kid,” Jack observed. “Figured you’d be wantin’ some rest.”
“I’ll rest when we reach Draeris,” Zyra replied, rubbing a white knuckle into her eye. She leaned against the back wall in the ship’s lounge area and shut her eyes, trying to forget the dark spaces around her as well as the darkness within. She didn’t want Jack to worry about her anymore, so she decided to change the subject. “Who is she?”
Jack arched a brow. “Who’re you talkin’ ‘bout?”
“There’s a picture of a girl on the bridge.”
“Oh, that rascal’s my granddaughter, Jaxa.”
“She’s cute,” Zyra said admiringly. White blond hair framing ice-blue eyes and pale skin filled her vision, sending a tingle through her lower body.
“Yeah, pretty young thing.” Jack sounded bitter. “Takes after ‘er momma, more than looks too. Gives me ulcers thinking about ‘er.”
Zyra opened her eyes, looked at Jack. “Why?”
“Fell in with bad company. Started taking stuff that don’t belong to ‘er. Tried to get ‘er to go straight. Too much bad blood ‘tween us. Won’t listen to a dang thing I say.”
“Wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t chasin’ after that Rador fella.”
“One-eyed bastard, he is. Should take his other good eye, is what I oughta do. Jaxa’s too young to be mixed up with someone like him. Goddamn kids, never listen to their elders.”
“She’s a pirate?”
“A damn good one, too. Last I heard, she ripped off one of those Venusian trawlers right before the invasion. Even got the Alliance on ‘er ass for taking a load from a military frigate.” Jack sighed. “Tried to teach ‘er the ropes of the trade, how to make an honest livin’. Too much rebel yell in ‘er. Likes a good fight and likes bad men even more. Young and foolish, I tell you.”
Zyra nodded and grinned softly. The more she heard about Jaxa, the more she was reminded of herself.
“Damned girl has a problem with authority. Always did. Makes me wonder where I went wrong. Used to want to beat ‘er bottom red, but she always knew how to make me go soft with that wily smile of ‘ers. No man’s got nuthin’ for it, not even ‘er grandpa.”
“Maybe she’ll come around in time.”
“What’s she waitin’ for? It’s gettin’ nasty out there. Legion’s been pushing into our space, looking for some payback for what happened at New Venus. Don’t know how long the Alliance can hold ‘em off.”
Zyra frowned. She didn’t want to think about the war. The Alliance had picked a fight with the wrong government. She knew they’d regret it in time. Unfortunately, its citizens would pay for its mistake. Jack was right to worry about Jaxa.
“I’m hopin’ this fight will end before it gets ugly. Don’t want Jaxa gettin’ caught in the middle when it goes south.”
Zyra nodded again.
“‘Nuff of that. Should be ready to hit that jump gate soon. Gonna go make sure we ain’t pick up no tails. Don’t want no surprises.” Jack grew quiet and watched Zyra lower her stare. “Maybe you oughta go look on the kid, then get yourself some rest.”
Zyra’s frown deepened as she gave a silent nod.
Zyra walked into the medical room, saw Logos lying still under the soft glow of the lights coming from the ceiling. She noticed the stilted figure standing at his bedside and observed her feminine features. Curly black hair draped her dark, round face. Her thick lips pursed. If one didn’t look closely, a person would never have known that the woman watching her was not a woman at all, but rather an android. Zyra could make out the glint of metal beneath the small tears in her brown arms. Jack hadn’t done a good job maintaining his android. Vera gave Zyra a reassuring smile. She returned a nod.
Zyra walked up to Logos’ bedside and gazed down at him. She frowned at the stump of his left arm. Sweat dotted his ashen brow, but he looked comfortable otherwise. She saw him stir and reached for his fingers. They were surprisingly warm despite the cold air. She gave his hand a soft squeeze, causing his eyes to open.
“Hi.” Her voice was a whisper.
“Zyyyra…” Logos’ voice cracked. “Did we…make it?”
She nodded and said, “Yes.”
She saw a smile tug at the corner of his lips, but his discomfort prevented it from fully forming.
“We’re going to Draeris.”
“Is that our new home?”
Zyra chewed her bottom lip, considered her words carefully. “You’ll be safe there.”
Logos frowned. “Are you…going away?”
Logos glanced left, looked at his missing limb. His already too-pale face grew paler.
“Will they give me a new arm?”
A lump formed in Zyra’s throat. She nodded sadly. “I’m sure doctors will do everything they can to make you feel better.”
It wasn’t the answer she wanted to give, but it was the truth. Even with the many advances in medicine, it was expensive to clone new limbs. It was more likely that Logos would be given a prosthetic arm. But there was no telling how long that process would take. Her chest hurt at the sullen look on Logos’ face. He turned his gaze back to his good arm and saw Zyra holding his hand. She looked at it when he squeezed her fingers.
“Thank you, Zyra. For saving my life.”
“No.” Zyra rubbed her thumb over his knuckles, then smiled softly. “Thank you.”
Zyra threw her hands up just in time to keep from being flattened against the wall. The loud bang she heard right after made her knees buckle. She managed to stay upright and sprinted down the corridor and into the dark cockpit. She was greeted by the strong scent of burnt metal.
“What happened?” she asked.
Jack was jabbing away like a madman at the ship’s controls. “Lost compression in the rear cargo bay. Trying to lock the leak down now.” He smashed his fist on the instrument console. “Goddammit!”
“Engines One and Two are both offline.” He stood up from his chair to drag the lever down on the co-pilot’s side of the console and scowled. “Jump drive’s toast too.”
Zyra puckered her brow. “That didn’t sound like a malfunction.”
“It wasn’t. Something ripped us clean out of hyperspace.”
“I’m trying to figure it out. Need to get visuals back up so I can see what the hell’s goin’—” Jack’s eyes grew wide. “Oh sweet mother of Jesus. You’ve got to be kiddin’ me!”
Zyra followed Jack’s line of vision to the main viewscreen and felt her stomach sink to her feet. Brilliant bursts of indigo and crimson stretched across her vision, nearly blinding her. Amidst the blazing field of myriad colors, thousands of star fighters sped past each other, unleashing a maelstrom of laser fire at the surrounding battle cruisers. To the casual observer, they were nothing more than brightly colored remoras seeking to latch themselves onto the belly of larger fish.
“Looks like we managed to stumble into the middle of a brawl,” Jack observed glumly.
“Those are Alliance cruisers,” Zyra said, noticing the familiar white and silver ships that were trademark of their naval fleet.
“And those wicked-looking dreadnoughts over there are Legion make. I’d know ‘em anywhere.” Jack blinked to protect his eyes when the screen flashed. “Wiley bastards must have an interdiction device around here somewhere. It’s probably what knocked us out of hyperspace.”
“Can you get us back?”
“Not with that deep fried jump drive. I’ll have to—”
Zyra squeezed the headrest on Jack’s chair when the ship shook again, nearly knocking her off of her feet.
“Damn bastards. Picked up a tail. Must think we’re part of the convoy! I gotta get us out of here now or we ain’t gonna see another tequila sunrise. Strap yourself in!”
Zyra dropped into the co-pilot’s chair and buckled up as Jack leaned forward in his seat to push the thruster lever, forcing the Ole Willy into a steep dive toward a battle cruiser. Its wide hull rumbled from the g-forces stressing its frame. Her mouth gaped as she stared at the massive Legion cruiser roaring overhead, hoping it wouldn’t turn its cannons on the old freighter. When the ship bucked and rocked her in her seat, she knew she was hoping in vain.
They flew directly into the path of Alliance frigates, drawing fire from them also. Jack tilted the Ole Willy sideways, causing the shots to skate by them. A dozen fighters zipped by just before one of the frigates exploded, twisting its frame and expelling a plume of burning bodies toward them. Zyra turned away from the screen to spare herself the gruesome sight of the figures slamming into the Ole Willy. They were ripped apart and had their bloody remains scattered into space.
Jack forced the engines to their limits, trying to compensate for the ones that weren’t functioning. He banked right and brought the ship to ascent. More ships flew past them, increasing the chance of collision. Jack was sweating profusely, desperate to avoid death for him and his passengers.
Although her stomach was in her chest, Zyra was impressed with the way Jack navigated the battlefield. Rugged looks aside, the man was an expert pilot. She couldn’t recall seeing anyone before with such deft control of a starship, especially one as cumbersome as the Ole Willy. The old freighter soared past the field of warring ships and reached the safety of space beyond their perimeter. Zyra didn’t realize she wasn’t breathing until she let the air out of her chest. She leaned back into the headrest and shut her eyes, grateful for a bit of good luck for a change.
“Good thing I installed those afterburners,” Jack said, looking pleased with himself. “Not sure we’d have got out of that hell without ‘em.” He dialed up another screen and quickly skimmed through a checklist. “If you’re wondering, tractor claws held and you’re ship’s tagging along just fine. Just need to figure out where we can stop for repairs ‘fore we head on to Draeris. Ain’t no other jump gates in the sector and I ain’t goin’ back that way while those two fleets are dukin’ it out.”
Jack’s face flashed several colors as the star log computer displayed a field of stars and planets. He frowned. “Nuthin’s coming up on the charts.”
Zyra unbuckled from her seat, stood up, and looked over Jack’s shoulder to study the star chart. She leaned over the headrest and scrunched her golden eyebrows. “Hmm.” She pointed a finger to a blue dot on the screen. “How about there?”
Jack tapped the dot with his finger. A cone-shaped metallic structure morphed onto the screen. Near the base, there was a centrifuge spinning on the structure’s axis. Lights flickered across the triplet of steel halos that formed loops around its central habitat. At the apex it ballooned into a dome surrounded by a ring of saucer-shaped platforms. When seen by the sum of its parts, the whole composition looked like some mutant deep-sea luminescent jellyfish.
“It’s not far.”
“Less than a parsec away.” Jack’s mouth twisted as he lifted his bushy white eyebrows. “Been there once or twice. Rough place.” His mouth slanted in disappointment. “Got no luck nowhere else. It’ll have to do.”
Zyra’s chest shrank as she exhaled, her warm breath mixing with the steam filling the docking bay. The strong odor of grease and exhaust gases made her stomach churn. She chewed her bottom lip and watched silently while medics rolled Logos on a stretcher down the plank that led from the Ole Willy.
“Your friend’ll be okay.” Jack’s soothing voice calmed her, but didn’t take away her nausea.
“I know,” she replied, swallowing down whatever it was Jack had served for dinner. The docking bay seemed to swirl around her, discernible shapes of ships and workers losing their forms to create a sickening smudge that blotted her vision. She brushed the back of her hand against her brow to remove a line of sweat.
Jack’s frown revealed his concern. “What about you, darlin’?”
Zyra’s stomach rumbled, threatening to make her double over. She really needed to get away from all of this commotion. “Once the work crews disengage the tow cables, I’ll have someone fix my ship.”
“I didn’t ask about your ship. I asked about you.”
Zyra turned, looked into Jack’s eyes, studying their paleness. They seemed to look right through her.
“I…” She paused, inhaled deeply. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe you should see a doctor. You don’t look well.”
Zyra didn’t like the look Jack gave her. She had enough to worry about without him fussing over her. “I will.”
“If you’re needin’ a place to stay—”
Zyra shook her head while she repositioned her arms around herself. The cold air made her dig her fingers into her arms. “I’ll find a room somewhere.”
“If you’re low on credits—”
Jack turned to face her, looked at her closely. “You don’t like folk to help you much, do you?”
Zyra didn’t answer and hugged herself tighter.
“It’s okay, darlin’. I can see you want your space. I’ll be hanging around the docks for a few days looking for work. You want a drink later and talk about what happened, look me up. But make sure you get checked out.”
Zyra kept silent, nodded.
Jack squeezed her shoulder softly, imparting a dose of strength to her, then marched down the plank. Zyra listened to the clink of metal beneath his feet, then watched him disappear into the ranks of workers and newly arrived travelers. Only after drawing a deep breath to steady her nerves did she descend the plank as well.
Zyra stood before the mirror of the medicine cabinet in her apartment bathroom, looking at the smudge below her eyes. She turned her head slightly and angled her face to observe the small bruise on her cheek. A few days ago, it had been a vicious wound caused by a woman who wanted her to suffer. Now, she could barely tell there was even an injury.
Ever since her escape from the Lilith, she’d been feeling strange. Jack’s android Vera had tended her wounds, stitching cuts and oozing tears in her skin. Antibacterial gauzes were applied to those wounds and were complimented by a cocktail of antibiotics and analgesics to prevent infection and relieve her pain. Vera had done a superb job. But Zyra wasn’t going to credit the android with her swift recovery. Her body had done most of the work on its own.
The damage she received by her captors on board the Lilith was no small matter. By all accounts, she should have died. They had beaten and tortured her, then pumped her full of drugs—too much, judging by her body’s reaction—poisoning her. Her chest clenched at the thought of what they had done to her. She had done nothing to deserve such horrible abuse. They tore and burned her flesh, crushed bones, and asphyxiated her. How she survived it all was a miracle.
Now Zyra looked at her reflection, seeing very little to remind her of the event. Barely more than a week had passed in the care of Captain Jack. His ship, the Ole Willy, had brought her safely to the Space Station Phoenix. It would be some time before all of her hurts would be healed. But the fact that she was already looking her usual self, when any other person would have been bed-ridden and undergoing surgery for massive injuries, was unsettling.
Zyra rubbed her hand down her flat stomach and over her navel, inspecting the white skin there. This is where she had sustained the most damage. She winced at the memory of her internal organs bursting and tearing. Now, there wasn’t even a bruise to remind her.
Zyra raised her stare back to the mirror and looked into her own eyes. She noticed the fear behind them, reflected back at her, exposed for her to see. Even the hot shower she took couldn’t rid her of that fear. Sweat was already forming on her brow as her stomach twisted. She hoped she wasn’t going to vomit again. She’d purged everything she had from inside her and wasn’t sure how much more punishment her empty stomach could take.
Jack was right. She needed to see a doctor. Something strange was happening to her body and she needed to know what it was before it was too late.
Zyra sat at the edge of the medical table gazing sideways, wondering if she had made the right decision to come here. It seemed like ages since she had seen a doctor. Need had forced her to become her own physician, which involved little more than frequent use of a first-aid kit and a healthy dose of painkillers. But recent events demanded that she finally get some real help. She looked across the room when a man in a white lab coat walked through the parting doors. She tracked his smooth, steady movements as he approached her.
“Hello. It’s…Zanr, isn’t it?” he asked while stealing an awkward glance at his chart. His husky voice made her pause. She replied with a nod before receiving the man’s outstretched hand as he said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Doctor—”
“Ryan Grant,” he finished for her. “Your first time here?”
Zyra was surprised by how gentle the doctor’s strong hands were. “No,” she said, releasing his grip. She almost lost herself in the soft grayness of his eyes. “I used to see Dr. Jung.”
“Oh yes, my venerable predecessor. He’s off spending his retirement chipping the green on Aquian Korla. I hear he’s got a mean swing. But between you and me, that isn’t saying much when he’s using drones on a range with low gravity.”
Zyra watched the way Ryan’s lips stretched into a smile again and returned his grin.
“So how are you feeling today?”
“What seems to be ailing you?”
Zyra sat still as Ryan leaned forward to place his otoscope into her left ear.
“Tired, mostly. Cold sweats at night. Headaches. Cramps.”
He switched sides to check her other ear. “Any nausea?”
“Are you taking any medication?”
“Are you on your period?”
“No,” she repeated.
Ryan hefted a thick eyebrow.
“It isn’t that.” There was an edge in Zyra’s voice that went beyond being defensive to sounding insulted. Ryan must have noticed it, because he changed his tone to a nasally authoritative one.
“Your symptoms are consistent with a woman who is experiencing morning sickness,” he explained. “Have you considered that you might be pregnant?”
“I’m sure that isn’t the problem,” Zyra said dismissively.
“You’re a young woman, so I need to ask this. Are you sexually active?”
“Your partner, is he—”
“She. But it’s been a while.”
Zyra’s defensive tone grew somber when she thought of Mikaela Darr. She forced back the image of her soft, heart-shaped face and almond eyes and suppressed a frown.
“I see,” Ryan said, the lines in his face easing. “That does rule out morning sickness. Based off of what I see on your chart, your estrogen levels are higher than normal. I’m not sure that means anything yet. But I don’t want to take any chances. I want to run some tests to make sure we get proper documentation of whatever is going on inside you.” Ryan started walking toward the intercom. “I’ll have my nurse bring you a patient’s gown as well as an admissions form so we can check you out. In the meantime, why don’t you lie back and make yourself comfortable?”
Zyra felt her heart beating faster as criss-crossing green lights flashed around her. The loud humming in the air added to her anxiety. She’d never been examined like this before and hadn’t felt so exposed. Granted, she hadn’t any clothes on other than the thin, open-back patient’s gown she wore, and the sanitized air was uncomfortably cold. She just wanted to get away as quickly as she could. But that was not an option now. She’d have to endure whatever pricking and prodding the doctor intended until he completed his tests.
She lay back with her eyes closed, listening to the hum, trying to remain as calm as possible. She dug her fingers into the soft foam of the medical table mattress, feeling the resistance send pressure back into the quick of her nails. The examination didn’t hurt. But she couldn’t escape the fear she felt, as though she had just woken up from a nightmare to emerge into an even worse one.
Abruptly, there was a soft clang before the humming stopped and everything around her went dark. She opened her eyes, peered into stifling darkness. The only thing she could hear was her shuddered breath. A moment later, a bright light filled the cramped cylinder she was lying in just before the medical table started to withdraw.
“What’s wrong with me?” Zyra asked, palms laid flat on the thighs below her patient’s gown.
“Nothing as far as I can tell.” Ryan’s eyes were fixed on his electronic reader. “As I said before, your estrogen levels are up. Your blood pressure too. But otherwise, you’ve checked out fine.”
“I don’t feel fine.”
“That’s why we’re going to run more tests,” Ryan said, folding his hands in front of him. “How long are you going to be on station?”
“Until I land my next job.”
“I recommend that you stay here long enough for me to work up a complete biopsy on you. There may be nothing wrong that a little R and R won’t fix. But if you have been exposed to any pathogens, it’s best we find out soon. If whatever you think is affecting you turns out to be contagious—”
“Good. I’ll have my assistant Tracy return your clothes and get you ready for discharge.”
Ryan walked toward the door.
He stopped to look back at Zyra. “Yes?”
“Will I be okay?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out.” Zyra watched Ryan closely, noticing the gentleness in his eyes. She didn’t know why, but she felt she could trust him. It wasn’t something she gave easily. But if there was ever a time she needed to trust someone, it was now. Her very life might depend on it.
As if reading her thoughts, Ryan offered her a reassuring grin before exiting the room.
Zyra felt light-headed and nauseous as she stood behind a man dressed in Middle-Eastern garb, waiting patiently for her turn to place her request. Her trip to the clinic hadn’t given her any confidence that her illness was a temporary inconvenience. So far, there wasn’t a medical explanation for what she was suffering. She wondered if she had been exposed to anything lethal while on board the Lilith. It was an old ship after all. Who knows what dangerous substances might have been stored on board, or what kind of germs it had been exposed to while traveling deep space?
She flinched when someone began swearing further up the line. An even louder voice joined in to add more expletives to the raucous commotion. Zyra stood on her toes to look over the shoulder of the man in front of her. She couldn’t see past the crowd of people that formed to watch the disturbance. She guessed it was the foreman arguing with one of his customers. Whatever was said had him up in arms. She rolled her eyes, knowing the hubbub was only going to slow things down.
Her gaze wandered to a nearby couple who were rubbing their hands up and down each other’s body, whispering what she assumed by their flushed faces were suggestive words. The couple radiated so much heat, she could almost feel it from where she stood. She traced the man’s mouth as his lips touched the woman’s ears. She was able to hear enough of his words to make her lower her gaze. Zyra pressed a hand to her face, knew she was blushing.
Her stomach knotted, unceremoniously reminding her of the lonely road she traveled as a bounty hunter. There wasn’t enough time between jobs to have a full-blown romance. She would have settled for a quick romp between the bed sheets, but knew that was out of the picture as well. She had more important things to worry about right now than sex, not the least of which was finding someone to repair her ship.
Zyra snapped out of her daze when the man in front of her angrily left the line. She approached the registration desk where a large man sat. She gave him a quick once over, saw the bulge peeking out at her from his too-small shirt. His arms were covered in hair, reminding her of a bear.
“So what you want?” the man said without glancing up at her.
“I need repairs.”
“Sabre. 1000 series.”
He finally lifted his gaze from his reader and gave her a once over. His face reddened when his stare lingered on her breasts. Zyra folded her arms around them to stop him from gawking at her. He twisted his mouth in obvious disappointment and dropped his gaze back to his reader.
“I’ll need to check the manifest, see if we got parts for a Sabre.” He hummed. “Looks like you’re in luck, towed one in a couple months back. Trash heap of course, but it’s good for parts. Now what’s wrong with your ship?”
“Everything,” she said bluntly.
“Okay,” he grumbled. “Like what?”
“Someone put a torpedo through the hull. I think you can imagine the rest.”
“Sounds like a lot of work. You sure you got the money to pay for it?”
“Whatever it costs, I’ll pay it.”
He looked up at her again, tried to sneak a peek at her breasts. Zyra shifted the weight from one foot to the other and rolled her eyes.
“I’ll put you down for the 7th. That’s the day after tomorrow. That good for you?”
He offered his reader to her. “Enter the bay number where your ship is docked and sign here.”
Zyra paced manically around her room, her gaze wandering every few minutes to the chronometer. She was bored out of her mind and being cooped up in her apartment was driving her crazy. She broke the circle and took wide hasty steps to the communicator on the wall and activated it.
The old freighter pilot’s face appeared on her communicator screen. “What’s up, darlin’?”
“I was wondering.” Zyra’s voice drifted off momentarily. “Would you like to get that drink?”
Jack’s expression morphed from lighthearted to grim. “Wish you’d asked me sooner, sweetheart. Foreman’s making some last minute repairs to the cargo hold. Ship’s just about ready to go and I’m loading up a haul.”
“You’re leaving? Already?”
“Looks like it. Logos is on the up and up and I need to get this load to Draeris.”
Zyra frowned. “Oh.”
“Sorry I can’t join you for that drink. I’ll have to take a rain check.”
“That’s okay,” she lied.
“I’m scheduled for liftoff at 0900 hours. Maybe you can stop by and say goodbye to the kid.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be there.”
“Good. See you then.”
The communicator went blank. What was she thinking? With a price on her head, she shouldn’t even be considering going out. The last thing she needed was to come across some money-hungry bounty hunter, especially while her ship was out of commission. If things got helter skelter, she wouldn’t be able to leave the station without chartering a flight, and that could prove to be lethal.
Zyra dropped onto the bed and made a moue, sulking like a child. Maybe she ought to turn on some music (for all the good that would do). She’d just spent the last few days trapped on a cramped starship. She needed space—and preferably some pleasant company. She stuck a fingernail in her mouth and started to chew, tried to talk herself out of doing something crazy. But the longer she sat, the more the silence got to her. Screw it! Jack or no Jack, she wasn’t going to waste the night in her apartment. She hopped up off of the mattress and rushed to the closet. She chewed on her thumbnail while she used her free hand to survey her outfits, sliding them down the clothes rack one after another:
Kinky. Not kinky enough. Too kinky. Zyra ran out of options when she exhausted her wardrobe. She reached into the recesses of the closet to inspect the last few remaining dresses and twisted her mouth. Baby maker. Baby maker. Another one. Another… What happened to all of her respectable clothing? There was no way she could wear this stuff.
Oh. Her eyebrows formed a knit as her cheeks warmed at the sight of the familiar red and gray outfit hanging from the clothes rack. The see-through bits around the mid-riff and thighs made her flush even darker. She had no idea she’d managed to scavenge the outfit from the Helship-II while trying to find clothes to wear on station. The last time she wore the peculiar outfit was during her attempt to capture Molly Black. She’d taken it off of a pirate who had crossed her path (and ended up dead in the process). Incidentally, it was the only time she had worn it. Remembering how much skin it showed, she was certain she’d never have use for it again unless she decided to go into a much more sordid line of work. She promised herself she’d get rid of the outfit the next time she went through her things.
Zyra shook her head and shoved the outfit aside with a frown. Looked like she’d have to find something at one of the shops on the plaza level. There was no way she was going out for a night on the station with anything she had in her wardrobe. She was sure she’d find something just flirty enough to turn some heads while maintaining some self-respect.
Anything else wouldn’t be kosher.
Zyra sat quietly, listening to the hypnotic electronic melody blasting from nearby speakers while watching the bartender across from her pour vodka and club soda into a highball glass. It had been a long day arranging repairs on her ship and she couldn’t wait to quench her thirst with a strong cocktail. Zyra glanced left to notice the woman sitting two seats across from her. She was strikingly pale with thick flowing locks of deepest crimson draping her broad, white shoulders. Her high cheekbones gave her the air of an aristocrat, while soft dimples accented the radiant pink of her freckles. There was a hint of a sulk on her face while she took a long drag from her slim cigarette. Zyra traced the woman’s mouth, studying its raspberry color. They were succulent lips, plump and luscious—perfect for kissing.
“You come around here much?” The words flew out of Zyra’s mouth before she realized she had even spoken.
“Pardon me?” the woman asked as she turned to look at Zyra.
Zyra fell into a vast ocean of deepest green. “I said, do you come around here much?”
“Sometimes. When I need to clear my head.”
Zyra couldn’t tell if the woman’s dry tone was a hint to mind her own business or if she was testing her to see if she would keep up the conversation. She nodded her understanding and turned to watch the bartender place her drink on a napkin on the table in front of her. She lifted her glass and took a sip, relishing the frosty coolness of the drink against her parched tongue.
“You?” the woman asked, resuming their conversation.
Zyra shook her head. “Passing through.”
“I didn’t think I’d seen you here before.”
“No,” Zyra confirmed. Both women raised their glasses to their lips again. Zyra kept her gaze straight, looking past the bartender into the recesses of the bar. She could feel the woman’s eyes searching her face, scrutinizing her. She hoped she liked what she saw.
“So, what’s your story? You need some happy time away from your boyfriend?” the woman asked.
“There isn’t one,” Zyra replied.
The woman lifted a scarlet eyebrow. “Girlfriend?”
Zyra frowned. She sipped her drink and shook her head. “Not anymore.”
“What happened? She break your heart?”
A lump formed in Zyra’s throat before she answered. “No. She died.” She forced her glass to her lips.
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
The woman sat straight and avoided looking at Zyra.
This wasn’t going the way Zyra intended. She needed to rebound and get things back on track. She inhaled, held her breath just long enough to figure her thoughts, and released it. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Zyra turned back to look at the woman and offered her hand.
The woman returned her gaze and looked into the depths of her blue eyes, seeing the friendliness in them before she smiled and stretched across the empty seat to take her hand. “Allison. But you can call me Allie.”
Zyra beamed, dropped her stare to the other woman’s lips, thinking how much she would love to taste them. “Nice to meet you, Allie.”
Allie stood up and slipped over to the empty seat to close the distance between them. Zyra snapped her head around when she heard glass break. There was a scuffle on the far side of the room. She watched bouncers break the fight up.
“Are the locals around here always this friendly?” Zyra asked as the bouncers started to trade blows with the rowdy patrons.
“It can get rough around here sometimes,” Allie replied. “But I think that’s part of the attraction—well, for me anyway. I like a little adventure in my life.”
Zyra grinned, drawing an inquisitive smile from the other woman.
“What brings you to Phoenix, Zyra?”
“Problems with my ship.”
“Your ship? What do you do?”
“I’m in the collection business.” It wasn’t exactly the truth, but close enough.
“Yeah. I go where the money takes me.”
“I can respect that, a woman who makes her own money. Better than waiting around for an inheritance.”
“I guess.” Zyra wished she had an inheritance waiting for her. It would solve a lot of her problems. “What do you do for a living?”
Allie took a long drag from her cigarette, then blew smoke through pursed lips. “When I’m not souped up on self-pity, I spend my days being a professional ornament.”
Zyra had touched a sore spot. Allie didn’t seem the kind of woman to go around telling her life story to strangers. She looked a little too reserved for that. But the combination of alcohol and casual atmosphere had lowered her guard. “I don’t think I understand.”
“Nothing to understand. I was born into the wrong family and haven’t forgiven myself for it.”
Zyra winced, looked confused.
“Old story,” Allie explained. “Let’s just say money isn’t a problem for me. Men on the other hand. Well—a man, I mean…”
“Husband. Six foot two, one hundred seventy-five pounds of pure delicious. Turns any room he enters into a sauna. Problem is, he’s a damned workaholic. Barely finds time to eat a meal, let alone warm our bed. When we first met, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. Ran up quite a bill replacing the china off of kitchen countertops. Now there’s barely enough of a spark to light a candle.”
“Don’t be. Wouldn’t be so bad if I had the nerve to leave. But every night after a few tears and a large Chianti, I find myself crawling back to him on all fours like a lovesick teenager.”
“It’s never easy, letting go.”
“God knows I’ve tried. But it’s like an addiction—the sex. When I can get it, that is. Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.”
“I know the feeling.”
“You do, don’t you? The sex, I mean.”
Zyra nodded, but kept silent.
“Oh well,” Allie said. “No point complaining. You didn’t come here to listen to me go on about my failed marriage, plus I’m spoiling the mood bitching like this. Hell, I blame it on the stars. If the universe had any good sense it wouldn’t have made me a Scorpio.”
Zyra cracked a smile. “Well, I’m an Aquarian. I can be a real bitch when I want to.”
“Really?” Allie found herself a large grin as she propped her elbow on the bar counter so she could support her head. “How bitchy?”
“Enough to make the toes on a Ratarran Mudskipper curl.”
Allie laughed. “Well, that must be a sight. You look easy-going to me.”
“Looks can be deceiving.”
“A regular troublemaker, then?”
“Only when I’m in the mood.”
“Does this…rowdy behavior extend beyond crowded bars?”
“Especially.” Zyra gave Allie a seductive look, blushed.
Allie, taking the bait, ran her index finger down Zyra’s forearm. “Anything else about you I should be on the look out for?”
Zyra licked her lips, increasing the wet look of her bright pink lipstick. “I’m naughty when the lights dim.”
“Mmm. I bet.” Allie flushed as her grin softened. “Now that’s something I’d love to see.” Allie’s painted lips stretched into a grin. “Want to get out of here?”
Zyra matched Allie’s expression, looked at her hungrily. “Thought you’d never ask.”
Zyra flushed dark, felt a jolt run through her body as Allie’s fingers ran down her ass and searched soft round flesh. She flicked her tongue on Allie’s, relishing the sweet smell and taste of the other woman. She felt Allie’s groin push against her pelvis, the heat from her body filling Zyra with lust.
Allie sat atop the vanity, legs wrapped around Zyra as she pressed herself more firmly against her, the tickling sensation in her loins becoming a more urgent throb. She wanted everything Allie had to offer, needed to know what pleasures lay in store. Allie was Zyra’s elder by at least a decade, but the woman was firm and soft in all the right places. No doubt Allie was the more sexually experienced of the two. But Zyra was more than capable of holding her own. She would make the other woman scream with passion, knowing she would be given the same royal treatment.
Zyra laid her palms flat on Allie’s soft thighs, stooped, and lowered her face between her legs. She gave Allie a playful grin. Allie regarded her lustily, gave her her undivided attention. Still toying with Allie, she dropped to her knees and began kissing Allie’s feet, gently pressing her lips to her ankles. She held Allie’s foot, slipped a toe inside her mouth, sucked it tenderly. One by one, she placed each painted toe inside her mouth, sucking and licking them.
Allie was fondling her breasts as Zyra worked on her, slowly making her way up her leg with a slew of carefully placed kisses. Each kiss brought her closer to the other woman’s crotch, where Zyra’s ultimate prize awaited her. She kissed the inside of one thigh and then the other, teasing Allie and drawing a moan from her. Zyra puckered her lips and blew warm air on the quivering flesh beneath Allie’s wet panties. She brought her mouth toward her waiting mound, stuck out her tongue. But again, she teasingly pulled back, smiling.
She knew she was tormenting Allie. But she wouldn’t keep her waiting forever. Zyra stood back up straight, held out her hand. She helped Allie off of the vanity and kissed her long and deep. This was just the way she envisioned it would be: Allie taking what she had to offer and increasing her lust in the process.
She could only imagine how much Allie ached for her. Allie sat on the edge of the bed, then pushed back, her long legs spread wide, inviting Zyra to finish what she started. Zyra knelt down on the bed and crawled on all fours toward Allie, her long, straight golden hair brushing up against the smooth white legs she wanted to taste some more of. Zyra leaned forward, eager to take what she wanted. She lowered her face to Allie’s and kissed her on the mouth.
Allie had games of her own that she wanted to play. She sat up, kissed Zyra, and without warning, flipped her onto her back. Allie placed her palms flat on either side of Zyra’s face, trapping her. She gazed long and hard at Zyra, grinning deep.
A tremble ran through Zyra’s body. She wanted to be on top, but Allie had other ideas. Zyra drew a shuddered breath when Allie lowered herself and tried to steal a kiss from her neck. She tensed and let out a whimper, making the kiss impossible. When she tried to get up, Allie roughly pushed her back onto the bed. Zyra lay still, panting, nervous excitement making her blush. She didn’t like it this way, needed to get back some control. Allie gently pressed a finger to her lips and tried to calm her. Zyra’s pelvic muscles twitched, making her panties wet.
Allie lowered herself again. This time, Zyra did not resist. She lay her head back, bared her white throat, offering herself to Allie to be hers any way she wanted. She hadn’t ever given up control in a bedroom. However unfamiliar, she couldn’t deny that it felt good when Allie pecked her on the neck.
Allie kissed her again, making Zyra shake. Her skin tingled at the warmth of Allie’s thick, soft lips. She had forgotten how ticklish she was there and was excited by Allie’s gentle kisses. She didn’t want it to stop.
Allie moved to the other side and kissed her on the neck. Afterwards, she raised herself up on her hands and brought her face alongside Zyra’s. Allie stuck her tongue into her ear. Zyra felt hot, on the verge of burning up. Allie traced her tongue around her earlobe, licked it softly, cooling it. She dragged her tongue along the contour of Zyra’s face before kissing her chin, moving upwards with more tantalizing pecks. Zyra opened her mouth, invited Allie’s tongue to explore its dampness. Allie pressed her lips to hers, kissed her hard and deep. Zyra leaned into the kiss, enjoyed Allie’s devouring mouth, the scent of honeysuckle mixed with vanilla making her crave more of the woman’s sensual gifts.
She shut her eyes, felt Allie’s tongue explore her throat, then the swell of her breast. She squirmed when Allie flicked her tongue against her nipple before sucking on it. Zyra’s nipple grew rock hard when Allie nipped it with her teeth.
Allie’s tongue continued to search the rest of her body, moving downwards past her breasts to her naval—and then lower. Zyra’s abdominal muscles shook when Allie hooked a finger on her panties and dragged them down her hips, leaving behind a trail of liquid warmth against her inner thigh. She continued to pant, her breaths coming furiously as Allie’s hot breath warmed the moist slit between her legs.
She moaned louder this time when Allie kissed her there. She shifted her hips as Allie’s tongue probed hot, swollen flesh. She grabbed handfuls of the bed sheets, and continued to moan, at first softly, and then uncontrollably louder. Warm, slender fingers invaded her quivering body, drawing more liquid excitement from her. She squirmed, matching the rhythmic pump of Allie’s fingers. The fire inside her raged hotter and hotter, threatening to engulf her.
She rocked her hips when Allie licked the curly golden hairs between her thighs, felt lightning run through her core. She arched her back from the intense throbbing between her legs. Her groan turned into a whine when Allie stuck another finger inside her.
Zyra didn’t know how much more she could take. Her body was on autopilot and she was just a passenger barely hanging on. The wet sounds of Allie kissing and licking her joined her moaning, creating a symphony of sensuality. She was burning up now. An earthquake rumbled inside her. Her hips rocked harder. The fire was too hot and needed release. She let go of the sheets, added a pair of her own fingers to the conflagration, increasing the heat, bringing more thunder.
Allie’s damp face failed to cool the heat from Zyra’s thighs. She writhed, shivered at Allie’s fingers going deeper, taking her to her limits. Her legs shook. Her body trembled. Her head rocked from side to side, a mess of golden hair cradling her movements. Her breath stuck in her throat. She was about to explode.
Zyra grabbed a handful of Allie’s hair and pulled it before she launched up from the bed and cried out. She went limp, dropped flat on the bed, panting. Allie pushed herself up from the bed and arched over her. They kissed long and hard, enjoying the taste of each other’s lips and the release of their desires.
Zyra lay beside Allie, observing the deep emerald color of her eyes, becoming more hypnotized by them with every passing minute. Like looking into the depths of an ocean. Allie was so beautiful, Zyra could look at her forever. Her skin was as white as the whitest cloud on a bright summer’s day, filling Zyra with sunshine. She ran her fingertips over Allie’s hip and down her smooth thigh, feeling a tingling sensation between her legs.
Allie appeared to be equally impressed with her. Zyra’s face warmed at her gaze hovering on her breasts. She watched Allie playfully coil a golden strand of her hair around her fingers.
“You don’t hold back anything, do you, Zyra? You’re all passion.”
Zyra blinked, her long eyelashes brushing her cheeks. “You only live once. Might as well enjoy the ride.”
Allie’s smile faded. “You remind me of myself. Before I married.”
Zyra watched Allie’s eyes grow watery. “You can always leave him.”
“He’s all I have.”
“Why stay if you aren’t happy?”
Allie leaned closer to Zyra, brought her lips next to hers. “You’re so young. Still full of wild optimism. One day you’ll meet someone like I did, someone you love so much that you’ll give everything up, even your last name.”
“You share a last name, but you don’t share a bed.”
Allie grew silent as Zyra’s words hung in the air. “We did once.”
“One day, he stopped coming home.”
Zyra lowered her gaze from Allie.
“The women on the station,” Allie said, “they throw themselves at him every minute of the day. Not that I blame them. I used to find their underwear. He tried to deny it, but I wasn’t stupid. He was fucking them behind my back.”
Zyra didn’t respond, let her eyes drift. “I’m sorry, Zyra. I don’t want you to think I’m only using you to get back at my husband. I’m just so goddamn angry.”
“You should be. No one deserves to be thrown away.”
“We live in an age where no one says what they mean. But I took vows. I promised to love him in sickness and death.”
“You’ll never be happy if you stay with him,” Zyra challenged.
Allie frowned. “That’s the price I’m willing to pay to try to make things better.”
Zyra brushed the back of her hand against Allie’s face, wiping away a shimmering tear. “We have a few hours before daylight. You can be happy while you’re here with me.”
“I’d like that.” Allie placed a set of fingers on Zyra’s lips. “What about you? Are you happy, Zyra?”
“I take happiness where I can find it.”
“Anywhere?” Allie asked, running her finger across Zyra’s navel. She returned a grin.
“It’s a big universe.”
Allie’s grin faded, dropped into a frown. “I won’t see you again after tonight, will I, Zyra?”
Zyra looked sad, didn’t answer.
Allie suddenly sat up and laughed in her cheery voice. “Well, if this is our last time together, let’s make it something to remember!”
Allie leaned over Zyra and laid her hands flat on the bed. She lowered her head and kissed Zyra on the lips. A moan escaped Zyra’s mouth when Allie’s fingers slid through the hot moistness between her legs, making her slick and hungry with lust.
“I’m not paying you for excuses, foreman.”
The round-bellied man rubbed the back of his balding head as he looked at his reader. “I’m doing the best I can, lady. Gimme a break.”
I’ll give you a break, all right. Zyra’s body hardened as she glared at the foreman, her defensive tone declaring that she was reaching her boiling point. “How much longer is it going to be?”
“Three? Maybe four?”
“Over my dead body.”
The foreman heard the challenge in Zyra’s voice and looked up from his reader to meet her fiery gaze.
“Look,” he said, not backing down, “my people are working as fast as they can. Hell, if it were up to me, I’d send your ship to the scrap heap.”
Zyra took an angry step forward and looked up at him, not caring that he was a full head taller than her. She’d taken down men twice his size without breaking a sweat and was tempted to do the same to him now. “Well, it’s not up to you. I paid you to fix my ship and that’s what I expect.”
“Alright, alright!” The foreman waved his tree trunk of an arm and conceded defeat. He might have been larger than Zyra, but she was the kind of fire starter he knew better than to mess with. “We’ll pull double shifts ‘till we get it done. But it’s still gonna take some time.”
Zyra crossed her arms angrily and chewed her bottom lip as she watched the foreman walk away. She didn’t like the idea of hanging around on Phoenix any longer than necessary. It was only a matter of time before someone recognized her, and that’s when trouble would begin.
Zyra had barely taken a step onto the docking station platform, when Logos waved at her. He was standing between Jack and Vera, beaming, looking more alive than she’d seen him in days. She returned the smile and put more bounce into her steps as she rushed over to him.
She threw her arms around Logos and gave him a tight squeeze. His good arm found the small of her back.
“I’m so happy to see you, Logos. How are you feeling?”
“I’m great. Dr. Grant took really good care of me. Look what I’ve got!” he said, raising what was once a stub where his left arm used to be. Now there was a full prosthetic arm.
“That’s amazing. I didn’t think you’d get a new arm so quickly.”
“Dr. Grant promised he’d find one for me and he did!”
“I’m so happy for you, Logos.”
“He couldn’t find a hand,” he said with a puckered brow. “But he says I should be able to get one when I reach Draeris.”
Zyra smiled, looked at Jack who nodded at her. She returned her gaze to Logos. “I’m sure you’ll find one in no time.”
“What about you, Zyra? Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?”
“I wish I could, really I do. But my ship’s not even close to being finished. I have to stay here for a while longer.”
“Well, when you do get off station, will you come to say hello?”
“You can count on it.”
Zyra looked at Jack and stuck out her hand. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me and Logos.”
“All in a day’s service.” Jack took her hand and raised it to his lips. “‘Sides, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t help out a pretty girl in need.”
Zyra beamed. “You’re the best, Jack.”
“Me and the kid had best be off. News vids say Legion ships are pushing past the frontier. We’ll need to get going if we’re going to head ‘em off.”
“Be safe out there, Jack.”
“You too, darlin’. If you ever need a hand, send me a beam.”
Zyra gave Jack a hug. After a short embrace, she turned to face Logos. She noticed tears wetting his cheeks.
“I’m really going to miss you, Zyra.”
Zyra put her arms around Logos and pulled him close. She rested her head on top of his and felt tears form in her eyes as well. After a moment had passed, she released him and wiped a tear from his face.
“I’ll see you soon, Logos.”
He turned and followed Jack up the plank that took them inside of the Ole Willy.
Zyra wrapped her arms around herself and sighed, the dull ache in her heart reminding her that two of the only friends she had in the galaxy were about to leave her life. She wished them a safe journey and hoped she’d see them again in the near future.
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