Kiara tucked her legs under her so that she could quickly rise to her feet if she needed to. A trickle of sweat ran down her temple. She tensed, ready to strike out with whatever resistance her battered, tired body could muster.
The overhead lights returned, burning her eyes. She blinked several times and the blob turned into a soldier dressed in a black battle suit that was covered with a padded flight jacket. A dense, black helmet covered his face, preventing her from seeing what race he belonged to. No insignia or flag marked his uniform in any way.
Who was he?
What was he?
Human? Humanoid? Or some other creature she could only guess at?
She stared at him, still uncertain whether he would help her, or harm her more. Until she knew the answer, she would play docile, lulling him into thinking her harmless. And if he did intend to hurt her, she would knee him hard in that part of his anatomy that men prided themselves on most and hope that whatever his species, it had the desired effect.
But he didn’t move closer.
To her surprise, he shut off the torch and slid it into a pocket on his right leg. He moved slowly, as if trying to reassure her of his intent. He unstrapped his helmet from the lines securing it to his battle suit and removed it.
Kiara was amazed by the handsomeness of his face. His shoulder-length black hair was pulled into a ponytail and two small, silver hoops dangled from his left earlobe—the same ear that held an earpiece and mic so that he was still communicating with whomever he’d been talking to earlier. His dark eyes were encircled by thick black eyeliner—something that made him look savage and dangerous. A common habit among thieves and criminals.
His gaze moved slowly over her body, taking in every detail with an accuracy a mecha would envy.
When he looked back at her face, she saw pity and concern. “I’m Syn,” he said gently in the Universal language as if coaxing a skittish kitten. “I’m not going to hurt you. I promise.”
For some reason she couldn’t fathom, she believed him, even though there was an air about him that said he could be lethal if need be.
Relief poured through her.
Syn moved toward her cautiously and the kindness of his actions choked her. “Can you understand me?”
She realized his accent was Ritadarion, an allied planet to her own. “Yes.”
He nodded as he removed his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. “Everything’s all right, we’ll take you home.” He knelt down to examine the cuffs and grimaced as he saw how bloodied and bruised her wrists were.
She hissed as one of the cuts rubbed against the steel. Now that she was safe and no longer consumed with terror, the throbbing pain of them was excruciating. “We have a bit of a problem with those.”
“So I see. You were definitely determined to get free, weren’t you?”
Nodding, she could smell the alcohol on his breath, yet he appeared completely sober to her. There was no hesitancy or unbalance to him at all.
“I have a feeling you would have been equally determined to escape had they locked you in here.”
A light of amusement played in his dark eyes as he pulled a pair of cutters out of another pocket. Smiling at her, he twirled them around before positioning them over the chain.
His light air died an instant later.
He tapped at his earpiece to open the channel. “You did what?” he snarled at whomever was on the other end. “Damn it, Cruel, you stupid, son of a . . . I’ve got a prisoner here who I’m trying to cut loose from a set of cuffs. Couldn’t you have given me a little warning first? I swear to the gods . . . If I live through this you’re a bad memory . . . And you ass**les wonder why I do this shit flagged. How long?”
Kiara swallowed hard as dread washed through her. “How long for what?”
“Three minutes?” Syn growled. “I hate you. I really, really hate you.” He let out another curse as he tried frantically to cut through the cuffs.
“They’re military grade,” she told him. It would take something a lot more powerful than his tool to cut through them. “The ship’s about to blow, isn’t it?”
He gave her a look that confirmed it as he pulled at the chain that linked the cuffs together. Yeah, right, like he could break it with his bare hands.
She was dead after all.
Her heart sank painfully into her stomach. She couldn’t believe she’d come so close to freedom to lose it all again. She covered his hand with hers. “Go on while you can. And thank you for at least trying to save me.”
His angry and determined look touched her. “I’m not leaving you here to die.”
“You’ve done your good deed for the day. You shouldn’t have to die for it.”
He laughed bitterly as he worked at the cuffs. “No good deed goes unpunished. Believe me, I know.”
“Please, go.” Her voice broke, but she meant it. She was resigned to her fate. “There’s no need in both of us dying tonight.”
His feral look cut through her. “I took an oath to save every life I could. I’m not about to back out on it now. I might be a lot of things, but a coward has never been one of them.”
Kiara started to argue with him, but before she could a dark shadow fell over them.
Cringing, she looked up, expecting it to be Chenz.
But it was something far more sinister and a thousand times deadlier.
It was also the last thing she ever expected to see . . .
For a moment, she thought she might faint after all. Nemesis was the most feared assassin to ever live. Every known government, including her own, wanted him dead, and the price on his head was staggering. No one had ever borne a higher one.
Maybe it’s not him . . .
She knew better. Everyone above the age of three knew the stories of the creature who wore a black battle suit with a jacket that held a metal skull with a steel halo and crossed League swords on the back of it. It was a trademark he left on all the bodies of his victims. He took pride in his brutal trade, especially when he killed others of his kind.
To her knowledge, no one had ever survived an encounter with him.
Expecting him to kill them both, she was stunned when Syn stepped back and Nemesis broke the cuffs apart without using anything except his gloved hands. He scooped her up in his arms as if she weighed nothing at all and wrapped the jacket around her.
“What are you waiting on, Syn?” he growled in an electronically distorted voice. “Get your ass moving.”
Syn snorted as he retrieved his helmet from the floor. “I’m waiting on you now.”
“Fifty-five seconds and counting. You bastards better start running. You’re about to fry.”
Syn ran ahead of them.
Kiara couldn’t breathe as she held on for dear life while Nemesis ran toward the air lock that they’d drilled into the side of the ship.
The instant they were aboard their ship, Syn threw the lever and sealed them in while removing the temporary bridge to the other craft. “Clear!”
But they weren’t clear and she knew it. The explosion of Chenz’s ship would hit them hard. The debris could still kill them.
Someone threw their ship into hyperdrive. The sensation of it was enough to knock Nemesis into the wall and make him grunt from it. Yet he didn’t loosen his grip on her. Even more surprising, he kept her from getting hurt as he slammed against the steel.
His face a mirror of disgust, Syn threw his helmet down so hard on the floor that it bounced almost three feet before rolling down the hall. He glared at them. “I really hate this shit.” He started down the corridor.
Nemesis’s grip on her tightened. “Where are you going?”
“To get a drink and kill Cruel . . . not necessarily in that order.”
She felt the muscles in Nemesis’s arm twitch in response. But he didn’t say anything more as he started down another corridor away from Syn. She shivered at the reality of him holding her.
I’m in the arms of the most lethal being ever born . . .
A creature who was currently being hunted by every known government. He was everything she hated in the universe. Violent. Ruthless. Relentless. Yet she couldn’t make herself hate him and that made no sense whatsoever.
Maybe it was because she’d never thought of someone like him being capable of kindness . . . or of having someone as kind and altruistic as Syn in his company.
To her knowledge, Nemesis had never saved anyone.
“Why did you save me?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he took her into a room that served as some sort of infirmary. Medical tools and bottles of medicine were carefully placed in a glass cabinet not far from a large bed. The odor of antiseptic stung her nose. Everything was pristine white and orderly, a welcome contrast to her kidnappers’ filth.
Kiara glanced up at Nemesis, afraid he might still kill her. But he seemed to be ignoring her, at least as much as he could given the fact that she was in his arms.
He placed her gently on the bed, then moved to retrieve a warmed blanket from a drawer at the bottom of the cabinet. With a gentleness she’d never have attributed to a ruthless killer, he wrapped it around her.
Kiara was minutely attuned to him, even right down to the way the light gleaned off his strangely shaped helmet with an eerie sheen. He seemed larger than a human, taller, stronger. Massive. She had no idea what species he belonged to, yet he had to be at least humanoid.
She watched the play of well-defined muscles under his battle suit as he pressed a panel next to the door and opened the closet.
Who was he?
That was the trillion credit question and if she knew the answer, she’d either be the richest person alive . . .
Or dead before she could draw another breath.
No one guarded their identity more closely than this creature.
And she had to admit there was nothing hotter than a man with that kind of honed physique whose face was totally hidden. Whose past was a complete mystery to the entire universe. A total renegade who answered to no one’s law but his own.
This was the deadliest creature ever born and he silently removed her cuffs from her bruised wrists with a tenderness that was unfathomable.
Her fantasies ran wild with the possibilities. Surely his face would have to match the rest of him.
Don’t bet on it. For all you know, he’s a Pigarian with three eyes and buck teeth. Or one of the upright reptilian species.
Ew. What a waste of a gorgeous body that would be . . .
Stop it, Kiara. You hate assassins. You hate everything he is and everything he stands for.
He’s the same kind of cowardly filth who killed your mother while she tried to protect you . . . The same filth who cold-bloodedly shot a helpless eight-year-old girl and left her for dead.
It was true. There was no telling what atrocities this man had committed for nothing more than a paycheck. Every life has a price tag . . .
He turned around, holding a black battlesuit like the ones he and Syn wore.
Kiara could feel his gaze on her, it was almost as tangible as a touch. He hesitated by her side as if unsure of himself.
Oh please, girl. He’s not hesitating. The idea of so lethal a killer being bashful . . .
Her best bet was that he was sizing her up for a burial pod.
She thought he was about to speak, but the door opened to reveal Syn, who held a half empty bottle of Tondarian alcohol. Something so potent, it was banned on most planets.
Unaware of what he’d interrupted, Syn took the battlesuit from Nemesis’s hands. “Hauk wanted me to tell you that the next time he says run, we should leave the vics on board and get the hell out. I tend to agree.”
Kiara still sensed Nemesis watching her.
“You were the one who didn’t run,” Nemesis reminded him.
“Oh yeah, that was me, wasn’t it?” He took a swig right out of the bottle. “Since when do you listen to me anyway? I’m an idiot.”
Nemesis didn’t respond to that particular comment. “Is Cruel still alive?”
“For the moment. But only because the little bastard moves faster than I do when I’m flagged.”
A sharp lunge told her their ship was coming out of hyperspace. “Are you taking me home?” she asked them.
A dreadful pause greeted her.
Finally, Nemesis spoke. “Soon.”
Before she could even blink, he grabbed the alcohol from Syn’s grasp and was gone.
“Hey! You crippin’ bastard ass**le . . .” Syn glared at the closed door before he rebelliously pulled a small flask out of his pocket and took another nip. Something she admired since she was sure Nemesis would have killed him for it had he seen it.
This man was either braver then any soul alive.
Nykyrian locked the door behind him before he leaned against the wall and let out a long breath of relief at being away from Kiara. He knew Sheridan’s doctoring abilities well enough to guess the dancer would be sedated so there would be no chance of her nosing around where they didn’t want her.
Still, an image of her lithe body outlined by her sheer, torn nightgown scorched him. Though her br**sts were small, they were as beautiful and inviting as her lips. Even now he could feel her pressed against his chest. Feel her thin, supple arms wrapped around him as he’d carried her.