While she waited for them to dock, she pulled the tie from her ponytail and let the long, thick, heavy hair hang down her back. She would have cut it long ago, but her father refused to spend money on something he deemed a ridiculous waste of credits. So she’d been relegated to what her mother could do with it, which was nothing more than trim it in a straight line.
But one day…
One day she was going to have the money to walk into a salon, her and Tempest and her mother, and splurge on haircuts and styles for all three of them.
At least that was the plan, but if her luck didn’t turn around soon, that seemed as likely as Devyn falling down on his knees and vowing his everlasting love to her.
With a deep sigh, she ran her hand over the rough material of her taupe pantsuit, wishing she had more suitable clothes. Just once, she’d like to look at least halfway attractive. But it was no use. Her father hadn’t believed in paying a slave for her work, and clothes had been bought on a strict need-only basis.
No one’s going to be looking at you, anyway, as ugly as you are, and I don’t want no bastard children on this ship. Men’s clothes’lI do for the likes of you. It’s all you’re worth, anyway. I got other things to spend my money on than your useless ass.
How she loved thinking of her father.
Honestly, she was lucky to have what few things she did. Had her father been any less puritanical, he’d have probably kept her nak*d.
A knock sounded on her door.
The door slid up to show Devyn, who was dressed all in black. Dang, he looked good enough to lick on for a while. There was an aura of power and danger that clung to him and yet it was neutralized by that devilish grin he wore. “We’re heading out. You ready to go?”
She nodded. “How long will we be here?”
“Not too long. As soon as we eat and exchange partial cargoes, we’ll leave. You don’t have stay around for the latter part. As soon as you’re done with the food, you can head on back.”
Good. That should give her enough time to start the log scan—she’d accidentally located what she hoped was a back door into Devyn’s encrypted files a couple of hours ago. So long as Vik was occupied off the ship, she might stand a chance of breaching it.
But she found it odd that Devyn was so open about his cargo exchanges. Most runners preferred to do that in secret.
He was definitely not a typical runner.
“So where are we eating?”
Devyn didn’t hear the question at first. He was too busy noticing the way her pantsuit plunged down between her br**sts. Not indecently, but just enough to be enticing. For days now, images of her had haunted him. Not because she was doing anything to attract him. Far from it. Even though they’d made love until he was…
Well, he still wasn’t sated, but she was completely skittish around him. Yet he couldn’t keep his eyes from going to her every time she looked away.
There was something about her that compelled him. She was a beguiling combination of tough innocence. And all he wanted to do was bury his face in the curve of her neck and breathe her in.
To have her lean against him while he ran his hands over her body and made her purr.
She glanced about nervously. “Urn… where are we eating?”
He blinked and forced his thoughts to stay on their conversation and not on hav**g s*x with her. “The Runner’s Den.”
Alix shook her head. Now she understood his lack of secrecy. No doubt everyone in that establishment was a criminal. It was one place his crew wouldn’t stand out.
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Devyn didn’t comment. Instead, he extended his arm to her. “Shall we? I’m hungry enough to eat Sway’s foul-smelling boots.”
Against her will, her heart pounded in response to his gesture. Before she could stop herself, she tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow where she could feel his muscles flex. She swallowed at the contact, her body warming.
Oblivious to the effect he had on her, Devyn led her out of the ship and into the landing bay, where Sway and Vik stood at one end talking to a group of men.
The men she didn’t know tensed visibly when they saw Devyn approach. It was obvious they were on their best behavior—as if they were terrified of him. Unlike Vik and Sway, who never seemed to take him too seriously.
Devyn headed toward them. The fact that he didn’t release her arm surprised her. No one had ever publicly claimed her before.
He paused and introduced her to the group of runners who were just leaving. Then he turned to Sway. “Is Taryn here?”
“Beat us here by about half an hour.”
“That figures. Competitive little bastard.” Devyn inclined his head toward the exit. “Let’s go find him and take care of business.”
They’d barely taken three steps when a deep voice rang out. “Dad!”
Alix started to ignore it until she saw the look on Devyn’s face. A wide grin broke before he opened his arms and someone almost equal to his height ran into them.
Devyn laughed as they embraced, and a huge dog came running up to bark and circle them.
Sway gestured at the two of them and mouthed the word Omari to her.
She shook her head and laughed. “I figured as much.”
The dog ran at her and looked up, then barked. He had one black ear and the black covered his eyes like a mask, leaving the rest of his coat snow white. He also had a pair of golden eyes that seemed to glow.
She patted his head as she studied Omari. In his late teens, he was absolutely gorgeous with dark brown skin and a riot of curls that hung in perfect chaos to his strong jawline.
Dressed in a long dark green coat that was embellished with heavy embroidery, he had the sleeves shoved back to his elbows. Even so, his right hand was covered with a thick black glove that went all the way up to meet the pushed-back sleeve. His weapons seemed to be knives and daggers that were strapped to various parts of his body. Definitely not what she’d expected as Devyn’s son. Aside from the obvious, there wasn’t that big a gap in their ages.
Devyn clapped him on the back and released him. “It’s so good to see you, kid. I’ve missed you.”
Omari wiped at his nose. “Yeah, I know. I missed you, too, but I learned a lot of cool things.”
Sway snorted. “Such as new ways to annoy me, I’m sure.”
Omari let out an evil laugh. “You know it.” He sobered as he saw Alix petting his dog. “You must be the new engineer.” He held his hand out to her.
“I’m Alix.” She hesitated as she touched his gloved hand. It was a lot harder than she’d expected. Stronger.
Omari blushed before he retreated. “Sorry if I accidentally hurt you. I’ve got a cybernetic arm and leg. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how much pressure I’m applying on something.”
“You didn’t hurt me at all.”
The dog ran back to Omari. “This is Manashe. Manny, say hi to the nice lady.”
The dog barked, then held up one paw.
Impressed, she shook the dog’s “hand.”
“Nice meeting you, Manashe.” He jumped up and licked her cheek.
As she stroked his ears, she looked back and forth between Devyn and Omari, trying to see any resemblance. While they were both extremely handsome, they really had nothing in common.
Omari rubbed his neck as if uncomfortable by her attention. “I’m adopted.”
“Which changes nothing.” Devyn’s tone was sharp.
Omari held his hands up in surrender. “I agree, Dad. I was just explaining to the woman why we don’t look anything alike and why you would have been younger than me when I was born. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you ‘cause you know I do.” Then he groused under his breath. “Make one snotty comment in anger when you’re twelve years old going through puberty and getting grounded, and you pay for it for the rest of your life. Parents ain’t got no sense of humor.”
Devyn’s jaw ticced. “Not about that, I don’t. Ever.” He pulled Omari back into a hug that made the teenager bristle even though he hugged Devyn back while he blushed profusely.
Alix met Vik’s gaze and froze. The way he stared at her… it was like he knew something.
Omari pulled back and called the dog to him. “Let me put Manny away and I’ll see you guys at the restaurant.”
Devyn gave him a stern look. “Vik—”
“Watch the embryo. Got it.”
Omari rolled his eyes. “Not ten, Dad.”
“Yeah, I know. I’d feel better if you were. Watch him, Vik.”
Vik moved stiffly, like an old-fashioned robot. “Watch… child. Watch… child. Does… not… com… pute.”
“Don’t make me shoot you, ass**le. I’d hate to have to call my dad in for repairs.”
“Yeah, and it would hurt.”
Laughing, Omari headed for the Talia with Vik following after him.
They made their way out of the bay and into the long main corridor that ran in a circle around the space station.
Like most stations, shops lined both sides of the corridor. They passed a number of people and aliens, their arms filled with a variety of goods. Others milled about or chatted on their links as they walked past.
Devyn stopped outside a door painted with an encircled freighter— the universal sign of a runner’s or smuggler’s haven. Alix released his arm, no longer quite so comfortable close to him. Not to mention the clientele would probably be rough and if he needed to fight, she didn’t want to be in his way.
Sway opened the door and led them into the dark room as Vik and Omari rejoined them. Loud voices and music mingled in the air, making her ears throb. She’d never cared for these types of places. Too many years of pulling her drunken father out of them while he cursed her for it had left her with bitter memories she wished she could erase.
Banishing the thought, she followed behind Devyn as they made their way through the pub to one of the tables in the back.
She slowed as she saw where they were headed. There were three of the deadliest-looking men she’d ever seen gathered around a large round table.
At first glance, one of them had an almost baby face. Portly and tall, he was dressed in black and had a pair of opaque shades covering his eyes. It would be easy for most people to dismiss him as the least harmful of the group.
But that would be stupid and most likely fatal. There was an unmistakable aura of bloodthirst that surrounded him, and it was one she knew well.
The man next to him was absolutely stunning. He had dark blond hair and several days’ growth of whiskers on his cheeks. His pewter eyes missed nothing. Dressed in dark brown, he kept one hand on his blaster even though he was leaned back in his chair, looking deceptively at ease.
And as her gaze went to the third one, her breath caught. Lethal and feral were the only words to describe him. He wore his jet-black hair short and had one arm slung over the back of his chair while he drank Tondarion Fire straight out of the bottle.
She could feel the burn of the potent whisky that was so strong, it was banned on most planets.
He sat with a grimace while he listened to some story the babyfaced man was telling him. But when he saw Devyn, his features relaxed and a slow smile spread across his face, making him even more dazzling.
Wow… he gave Devyn a good run for his money.
“Aridos,” he greeted, using the Ritadarion word for brother. “Good to see you again.” He rose to his feet and held his hand out to Devyn.
Devyn took it and hugged him close. “You’re looking surly as ever.”
The blond man scoffed as he crossed his arms across his chest. “He is surly as ever.” He glanced over at Sway. “You sure I can’t bribe you to trade jobs with me?”
Sway laughed. “You say that only ‘cause you don’t fly with Captain Hothead. If you did, you’d know better. Trust me. He’s a bigger PITA than Taryn.”
“Yeah, right. You keep saying that ‘cause you don’t want me to replace you.”
Sway stepped back and, in an arrogant gesture, spread his arms out. “You could never replace me, Sphinx.”
“Yeah,” Devyn said, laughing. “Thank the gods there’s only one Sway. Can you imagine if there was another one?”
They all laughed.
Devyn held a seat out for her. Amazed at the gesture, Alix sat down across from the darkly handsome stranger, who eyed her curiously.
“Who’s your friend?”
Devyn took a seat at her right and Sway on her left. Omari sat between Sway and Vik.
“She’s my new engineer.” Devyn inclined his head to the darkhaired man. “Alix, meet another of my childhood friends, Taryn Quiakides.”
She scowled at the surname of a man so fierce that he’d once terrified The League into granting immunity to a rogue assassin— something they’d never done before or since.
Even more impressive than that, the man who’d borne that name had gone on to become the Trioson and Andarion emperor. And no one crossed the assassin emperor, who was known to have no mercy or compassion for any enemy.