Spy to Die For (Assassins Guild Series #2)by Kris DeLake
Mr. and Mr. Smith meets Firefly in this sexy, clever, futuristic/sci-fi romance
Jack Hunter and Skye Jones are not the most competent assassins. Thrown together on the Krell space station during an important Assassins Guild meeting, each is determined to get to the truth and prevent catastrophe. But when Jack and Skye are matched against two/strong>… See more details below
Mr. and Mr. Smith meets Firefly in this sexy, clever, futuristic/sci-fi romance
Jack Hunter and Skye Jones are not the most competent assassins. Thrown together on the Krell space station during an important Assassins Guild meeting, each is determined to get to the truth and prevent catastrophe. But when Jack and Skye are matched against two master killers, they find themselves caught in the crosshairs between their willingness to trust each other and the undeniable attraction coursing through them. Both know that a long-term relationship is tough in their profession, but the chemistry they've got is too good to deny. Now all they have to do is stay alive.
"The story of a courageous hero and heroine facing imminent danger in a not-so-glamorous future is sure to appeal to readers who like a sensual romance novel with a fast-moving plot and lots of adventure." - Booklist Online
"This was a story where the character creation was good. The world building had been done in the previous book. " - Book Lovers Inc
"If you like sci-fi then good, you will get some romance too thrown in." - Book Girl of Murry Castle
" This is a book a lot of different kinds of readers will enjoy." - Debs Book Bag
"DeLake's Assassins Guild series is a great sci fi romance series and I think you should be putting it on your TBR list if you haven't already!" - I Read Good
"I enjoyed this book." - Books-N-Kisses
"This was a story where the character creation was good." - Book Lovers Inc
"In all I enjoyed the book and journey!" - Booked & Loaded
"The book is good reading and totally worth your time. Grab a copy today!" - Long and Short Reviews
Read an Excerpt
For reasons she never understood, Skylight Jones loved the Starcatcher Restaurant. The restaurant had the best bacon double cheeseburgers that Skye had ever tasted. The fact that the restaurant was on Krell, possibly the grimiest space station she'd ever been to, and the fact that the cleanliness in the Starcatcher matched the station's really didn't bother her. If anyone had asked her (and no one ever had), she would have said that the dirt encrusted on the hamburger made it all taste better.
She had arrived on Krell about three hours ago. She'd taken a transport because she didn't want anyone to notice her, and one of the best ways to get noticed in a place like Krell was to bring your own spaceship. Particularly the kind of spaceship that she could afford on her Assassins Guild expense account.
The Guild thought her a valuable asset, so she had one of the largest expense accounts they'd ever devised. A normal person could live off Skye's monthly expense allotment for two years.
And the other nice thing about the Guild was that they paid the expense account money in advance. Because Skye's missions were always secret, even from other Guild members, she couldn't very well charge everything to some Guild account.
She kept one month's expenses at the touch of her finger and banked the rest. The Guild usually wanted an accounting of what she spent, and damn, if that accounting didn't show that she spent every last bit of that money. Yes, she lied.
It was the least she could do, since she was still working off what she called her indentured servitude. If the Guild wouldn't let her go until she had finished seven-plus years of practically free work for them to pay off all her childhood debts, then she would keep the extra from the expense accounts and never tell a soul.
Besides, she didn't need a lot, even when she was on a job. She liked grungy, cheap places like this. They felt luxurious to her. The Guild was so clean and bright and regimented.
The Starcatcher had probably been here since Krell was built. It had started as a little hole in the wall, literally, and had become a medium-size hole in the wall, with an "open-air" section to the restaurant.
Skye hated the "open-air" part.
First, there was no real air, because they were on a space station. So the air wasn't fresh or windblown or anything. It was recycled, like everything else on the place. And second, it wasn't open, because no part of Krell (outside of the docking ring) had a view of space.
So what "open-air" actually meant was that the patrons got to eat in the wide concourse that everyone walked through on the way to somewhere else.
Not Skye's idea of relaxation.
So instead, she sat at a table in the very center of the restaurant, her back to the grimy faux-wood wall. She had a clear view of the door and of the kitchen. The other thing she liked about the Starcatcher was that it had actual human chefs. They fried the burgers (or whatever the hell this stuff was) themselves. No machine flipped the patties, no grill shut off when the meat was cooked. Just juicy frying fat, that actually sizzled so loud that she could hear it in the front part of the restaurant, over the conversation.
If there was conversation.
Because at the moment, there was only the waitstaff and her. The waiter kept glancing at her like she was a bit of garbage that needed cleaning. (Not that anyone here ever really thought of cleaning anything.)
They wanted to force her out, and she wasn't going.
She had arrived half an hour before closing, and apparently it was a slow day, because the open-air part of this silly place had already shut down, chairs up and locked to their tables, the gate sealed shut.
The fact that there was an actual waitstaff meant that the place needed to lock its doors as well. Usually the Starcatcher got by with talking serving trays or little mobile robots. Those things couldn't work the last half hour due to Krell regulations. Apparently thieves came through a while back and stole all the robotic servers just before shutdown, and no one noticed for the eight hours the restaurants were closed. Whoever that was had made a hell of a haul.
Skye didn't mind. She liked annoying people, especially in service of a great burger. Hers was nearly done. When it finished sizzling, she would eat it slowly, savoring it, since she hadn't had a good meal for the last five days. She didn't care how hard the waitstaff tried to get her out of this place.
She glared at the water glass in front of her, so smudged that she actually had to peer over the lip of the glass to see if the liquid was the water she had ordered or not. If the burger didn't get here soon, she might break down and drink that stuff.
Then the door opened, and a man leaned in. Skye couldn't quite see him; he was so hunched over that his face was obscured.
"Can I get some service out here?" His voice was marvelously deep and musical. It sent little shivers through her.
"We're closed," the dried-up tired-looking woman on the waitstaff said without looking at the door.
"She's lying," Skye said. "They got another ten minutes before they're allowed to turn away customers."
The woman glared at Skye, and Skye smiled sweetly. Usually she tipped well whenever she encountered human waitstaff. But this woman was pushing her luck.
"Great!" the man said without moving. "So, can I get some service out here?"
"Nope," the dried-up waitress said. "That part of the restaurant is closed."
The man said, "You gotta be kidding me."
"Not kidding," the waitress said.
"I'll pay extra for service out here."
"Nope," the woman said.
Skye frowned. What was the big deal about coming into the restaurant? Yeah, it smelled a bit gamy, but so did most places on Krell. In fact, with a frying burger on the griddle, the Starcatcher was probably the best-smelling place on Krell at the moment.
"How about something to go?" the man said in that delicious voice. "I could wait out here-"
"No." The waitress crossed her arms. "In here or nothing."
The man remained in that hunched position for a moment. He actually seemed to be having trouble making a decision.
Skye was curious now.
"You can sit with me," she said. "I wiped this table off my own self."
Another glare from the waitress. Skye couldn't tell if it was because the waitress didn't want the man in the restaurant or if it was because of the dig about the filthy table. Or both.
"Well, I can't refuse that offer." The man's voice had amusement in it. He came in the door and still didn't stand up straight. Skye finally understood what was going on.
He was huge.
She had never seen a man that large before-at least, not out in space. Space stations, spaceships, space resorts, anything space-related was built for the compact body. Like hers. She barely topped five feet on a good day, and she was average height for a woman who spent most of her time in cramped ships or cramped bunks in tiny space resort hotels.
She was thin too, which took some work, considering what she liked to eat and the fact she didn't like using enhancements to keep the weight off. She actually exercised. She wasn't good with weapons-at least not conventional ones (which was one of the many reasons she wasn't an actual assassin)-but she was strong enough to fight anyone off in hand-to-hand combat.
Provided that she caught him by surprise, of course.
Like this guy had caught her.
He couldn't stand upright. He had to bend at the waist just to get inside the door, and even then, the top of his head scraped the door frame. He had black hair that seemed a touch long, but she couldn't really tell because she couldn't see his face yet.
At least he was thin. She couldn't imagine how a tall fat guy would survive on a space station like Krell. The doorways were as narrow as they were short.
The man somehow managed to wend his way around the tables and found a path to her little bit of wall. As he did so, he said to the waitress, "Bacon double cheeseburger, extra cheese, extra bacon, extra crispy. And a Krell special soda. Keep that funky water away from me."
"Yes, sir," the waitress said sarcastically. "Should I salute too?"
"C'mon, Delores," he said, surprising Skye by knowing the waitress's name. "It's already been a tough week."
He pulled a chair to the side of Skye's table and sat down so hard that the chair actually groaned. He straightened his back. It cracked as he did so. Then he brought his head up.
Skye's breath caught. She hadn't expected him to be so handsome or so young. He had moved like an old man-probably because he had to hunch to get into the place-so she had just assumed that he was old.
She had assumed wrong.
He was probably in his early thirties. He had high cheekbones that accented the hollows in his cheeks. His nose was angular and pointed at that marvelous mouth of his, not too big and not too small. It was curved up in a smile now, a smile that made his unbelievably blue eyes twinkle.
"Thanks for sharing your table," he said. "This place is so crowded, I can see why Delores didn't want to serve me in the open air."
Skye laughed. "Well, you know. It's me and the piles of dust."
"I don't think there's dust here," the man said. "Dirt, maybe, but not dust."
Skye tilted her head just a little to concede the point.
"Yet," she said, "it must not bother you. You come here often enough to know the name of the waitstaff."
"Just Delores," the man said. "She's been here longer than the dirt."
"I heard that," the woman-Delores-said from the back.
"I was hoping so, darling," he said. "You know how I hate stepping inside this place."
"It's not my fault you're too big to fly in space."
"Honey," he said, that smile growing, "I don't fly. That's what ships are for."
Skye was smiling too. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt this amused.
"You are the tallest man I've ever seen off-planet," she said, agreeing with the grumpy Delores. It had to be hard for him, traveling in places built for people like Skye.
"Yeah, I get that a lot," the man said. "Most people let height regulations discourage them. Me, I just pretend to be shorter."
"Does it work?" she asked.
"You just saw how well," he said. Then he extended his hand. "Jack Hunter."
She hadn't expected introductions. She stared at his hand stupidly for a moment, thinking that a) his hand was big (nice) and b) his hand was big. Then she took it in her own, noting calluses which meant he did some kind of physical labor.
"Skye," she said, conscious that she wasn't giving him her last name. She never gave out her last name, since she wasn't really sure what it was. Her parents had used Jones the last time she had seen them, but before that, they'd been using Anderson, and before that, Ngyen. The Guild had stuck her with Jones, but she had identification in anything except Jones.
"Skye," he repeated. "As in ‘skies of blue'?"
As in the color of your eyes, she thought, but didn't say. She was not about to tell him her name was Skylight. People always wanted to know where that name came from.
"As in skies of gray, maybe," she said. "I tend to reject anything that's black and white."
"Or colorful," he said.
"Or colorful," she agreed. But he seemed colorful, and she wasn't rejecting him. In fact, he still held her hand. Or, if she really wanted to be accurate, his hand enveloped hers.
She rarely felt small, but next to this guy, she felt truly tiny. And her hand was lost in his.
In a good way.
She rubbed her thumb against his palm, and his cheeks actually flushed with surprise. His hand twitched just a little, and she wondered if he had nearly pulled away from her.
But his gaze never left hers. If anything, his eyes seemed to become a deeper blue.
"You seem colorful to me," he said.
"Only every other Thursday," she said.
He smiled. It softened his features and made him seem even more approachable. How long had it been since she'd seen such a handsome man?
All right, that probably wasn't the question to ask, since she'd seen a lot of handsome men. But none of them had attracted her. This guy, he made her relax, maybe a bit too much. Spies should never relax.
"It's my lucky day then," he said so softly that she almost didn't hear him.
Banter rose in her mind: Mine too. Or maybe we could both get lucky. But she didn't say either of those things because she suddenly felt awkward. That "lucky day" comment seemed sincere, and she distrusted sincere.
Delores showed up with a steaming burger, something that resembled fried potatoes, and a tray of condiments. She slammed it all on the table, narrowly missing Skye and Jack's still-entwined hands.
He let go of Skye's hand and she glanced at him, startled. She hadn't even thought of letting go.
Oh, yeah. Sincere was very dangerous.
His cheeks still had spots of color as he reached for the hamburger. Delores slapped his wrist.
"The sandwich, you overgrown monstrosity of a man, is for the young lady."
No one ever called Skye a lady, and very few people called her young. Both terms applied to weaker, more polite people than she had ever been.
"Yeah," Skye said, sliding the plate toward herself. "You wouldn't like it. I prefer my bacon wiggly."
And the banter again: Unlike my men. I prefer them hard.
But she censored that as well.
He glanced at her, a small movement, almost unnoticeable. Jack Hunter, huh? She had never heard of him, and she wondered why not. A man like him would be hard to miss no matter where he went. Since he was comfortable in the Starcatcher, he came to Krell a lot.
She should have heard of him-not necessarily by this name, but just because he was so big. People talked about anything unusual, and his size made him very unusual.
"Well, then," he said, his hand retreating to his side of the table. "I guess I'll have to wait for mine."
Skye could hear the burger sizzling, so it wouldn't take very long.
"What about my special soda?" he asked Delores. "I'm thirsty as hell."
"I shut down the fountain," she said. "Drink her water."
"No one should drink that water," Jack said. "I swear it's another life-form."
"Naw," Delores said. "But I wouldn't bet against other life-forms living in it."
She wiped her hands on an apron as filthy as the table, then stalked to the back.
"I want the soda!" Jack yelled after her.
"I want some handsome prince to rescue me from all this," Delores shouted back. "I doubt either one of us will get our wish."
"You can have my water," Skye said to him. "I don't mind."
He was still looking toward Delores. Then he turned his attention to Skye and she felt the power of that face again. He wasn't the most handsome man she had ever seen, but something about him took her breath away.
"I'm sure you don't mind if I have your water," he said. "I'd pour it out if I didn't think it might melt the floor away and Delores would charge us for it."
"I heard that," Delores yelled.
"And I heard that comment about a handsome prince," he yelled back, then added just loud enough for Skye to hear, "and that gave me some imagery I'll never get out of my head."
Skye chuckled. When had she last chuckled? This man was fun in addition to being attractive. She wasn't even sure when she'd last had some fun in her life.
"Eat your burger," he said, "before I do."
She reached for it, but he touched her arm, stopping her. His mood seemed to have changed in an instant.
"You have eaten here before, right?" He sounded worried.
She wasn't used to answering direct questions, even questions as seemingly innocuous as that one. "Why?"
"Because, as good as the burgers are, and I think they're the best in the sector, they do have added bits of-um-shall we say... unidentifiable material? Usually added after cooking, in the transfer to the plate."
"Or from the plate itself," Skye said. "If I thought there was a more antiseptic way of serving these things, I would have asked for it."
He grinned and leaned back, again removing his hand so quickly from her skin that he seemed to be afraid she'd burn him. His tone was calmer than his movements.
"Ah," he said, "so you have eaten here before."
"Of course," she said. "And I make it a point of eating here whenever I can. Because I agree: these are the best burgers in the sector."
The sentence had barely come out of her mouth when her breath caught. Whoa. She had been paying attention, and she had still said too much in that simple response. You want to find Skye on Krell? Go to the Starcatcher. She's traveled all over the sector, eaten burgers all over the sector, and she comes here as often as she can.
You want to find Skye anywhere? Burger joints.
She grabbed the burger off the plate and squished the bun against the meat. The bacon curved upward. She was going to pretend that she hadn't just revealed a ton of stuff about herself, pretend that her lack of caution didn't bother her, pretend that she was just an average woman flirting with an average (if tall) man.
He didn't seem to notice any of the revelations. Or if he did, he didn't seem to care.
Which was exactly what she would have done if she had just learned something important.
She mentally kicked herself. She was acting like an untrained rookie, and she knew it.
She just didn't know how to stop.
Check that: she knew how to stop. She had never acted like this, not even as an untrained rookie. But then, she had never met a man whose sheer attractiveness had fritzed out her brain before.
He was looking at her in pleased puzzlement. "You know," he said, "I have never met a woman who likes to eat here before."
Skye didn't believe that for an instant. Her heart sank just a bit. Was he exaggerating? Making conversation? And why should it matter if he was?
She really wanted him to be as attracted to her as she was to him. That's why.
"Delores likes to eat here," Skye said, deciding to go for the banter after all.
He mock-frowned, and shook his head. "Delores doesn't eat here. Are you kidding? She knows what goes into the food."
His eyes were twinkling, and suddenly Skye understood. He was deliberately playing with her, because she was holding her burger but hadn't eaten it. He was trying to put her off her food, maybe to see how far her own bravado went.
She tilted the burger at him, then slowly eased it into her mouth. Juice dripped onto her tongue and lips, and some ran down her chin. So much for being provocative and sexy. Now she was just going for the teenage gross-out.
And since she was committed, she went all the way with it. She took the biggest bite she could and savored that burger. There was a lot to savor: the charred meat (she still wouldn't say categorically that it was real hamburger), the cheese (which, despite its bright orange color, was real), the squishy bacon (could also be fake), and all those unidentifiable (and a tad too crunchy) other things hidden inside that bun.
Jack watched her eat as if he'd never seen anyone eat before. Maybe he expected her to gag and grimace. Instead she chewed slowly, her stomach growling. She really had been hungry, and she really had wanted this burger.
She didn't even set it down all the way, although she did shift it to one hand as she groped for the napkin to clean off her chin.
He handed her a folded napkin. She could see the stains on its surface, and wondered when it had last been washed. If it had been washed. For all she knew, the Starcatcher simply refolded the napkins before putting them on the table, tossing them when they started feeling too crusty.
Not even that thought bothered her enough to stop cleaning the burger juice off her chin.
She'd helped assassins hide dead bodies, hidden in garbage scows to get information for the Guild, spent a month on a cargo ship with barely enough water to drink and certainly not enough to bathe in. It would take more than a filthy napkin and some hamburger juice to gross her out.
"Good?" he asked.
"Goo," she replied, nodding, her mouth filled with the second bite.
He grinned. "You're not like any other woman I've ever met."
She sure hoped he meant that as a compliment. But she was too busy devouring that burger to ask.
Then Delores showed up with his burger. It was taller than hers-the extra bacon, probably-and the cheese looked like an orange patty all by itself. He thanked her and tossed her a credit chip, something Skye hadn't seen in years. She didn't think anyone used credit chips anymore. How old-fashioned of him. Or maybe he was just cautious.
Delores pocketed her chip and said, "You got fifteen minutes, or we'll lock you in."
He hadn't taken a bite yet. "Special soda, and I'll give you another chip."
"No," she said. "I mean it. I've been working thirty-six hours straight, and I'm done with you people for the next forty-eight."
Then she stalked off.
Skye set down the remaining section of her burger and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. The back of her hand had to be cleaner than that damn napkin.
"Sounds like she does mean it," Skye said.
"She does." Jack took the top part of the bun off his burger and added condiments-multicolored condiments. She'd guess that they were ketchup or mustard or mayonnaise, but that was presuming too much.
Besides, watching him do that made her stomach do a slow flip. She didn't mind the filthy restaurant and the mystery substances on her fried/grilled/cooked burger. But those condiments might have been in those containers for a year and left completely untouched.
He clearly noted her skeptical expression. "Don't worry," he said. "They're as fake as the meat. There's nothing in these condiments that can spoil."
"I don't like to think that the meat is fake," she said.
"I don't like to think that the meat is real," he said. "Where do they get it out here?"
That stopped her stomach from spinning. She'd grown up with budding assassins, for heaven's sake. She knew how to gross out someone better than this Jack Hunter ever could.
She finished her burger, even though she now felt like she was in an eating contest with him. He was going through his quickly, the condiments dripping off onto the plate and table.
When she finished, she handed him the dirty napkin. He held it in one hand and finished feeding himself with the other. Then he wiped off his mouth with a flourish.
"Two minutes to spare," he said.
She tapped a chip on the back of her hand, showing her the time. She hated the "useful" augmentations that put that stuff just inside the eye.
He was right. They had two minutes to spare, and they certainly weren't going to spend that bussing tables. The only reason anyone bussed a table in this place was to have a place to sit down.
"Amazing," she said and then burped. So ladylike. Ah, well. She hadn't acted politely since she met him; wasn't time to start now. She didn't even excuse herself.
His grin grew, and his eyes twinkled. God, he had a pleasant face. She really liked that.
"How about getting a drink?" he asked. "I still want that special soda."
She'd never had the local sweetwater, as a friend once called it. She had no idea how they made the special soda here on Krell, and she was afraid to find out that the stuff wasn't boiled or sterilized or pasteurized or whatever the hell companies did to purify liquids way out here. Not that they'd want anyone to get sick here, but public safety regulations really weren't Krell's strong suit. That was one of the reasons why so many shady characters showed up here on such a regular basis.
She counted herself as one of those shady characters.
"A drink sounds good," she said as she stood. She extended a hand to help him up and to her surprise, he took it. For a half second, she thought he was going to tower over her, but he hunched.
"Good," he said, not letting go of her hand. Instead, he used it to drag her out of this place. Did he actually believe Delores would lock them in?
Perhaps he did. But then, he knew her better than Skye did.
They made it outside-if, indeed, the concourse could be called "outside"-and the door locked behind them with an audible click. Skye turned slightly and saw Delores frowning at her through the window.
Jack still held her hand, but he hadn't moved. Skye glanced at him and was startled when her gaze hit his torso.
He had stood up. Upright. To his full height.
Which, she had to admit, was impressive.
The top of his head nearly bumped the concourse's ceiling. She had thought he was tall before, but he was really tall. She had never seen a human in space who was that tall, bar none.
She craned her neck, saw the elegant line of his throat and the underside of his chin. He had just a bit of growth. It gave him a rough, careless look. She suspected if he cleaned up a bit, he would be so handsome everyone would remember him.
Not that they could forget his height.
"How in the universe do you manage?" she asked him, her neck getting just a little sore from looking up at him.
He was scanning the area-probably for open bars. "Manage what?"
"This," she said. "Space stations. Spaceships for that matter. Being out here, where everything is built for people like me."
He looked down on her. How many people had done that in the last few years? She could probably count them on one hand.
It made her feel like she was on Kordita standing next to a tree.
"It's not so bad," he said.
"Not so bad?" she asked. "You have to watch your head all the time."
"As if that were possible," he said with a smile. "I can't see my head."
He went back to scanning.
She got the message. He didn't like talking about his height. Interesting. Well, everything about him was interesting. Everything. She squeezed his hand.
"Drink?" she said.
"Yeah," he said slowly. "I suppose you want alcohol."
"I don't care," she said. "I generally avoid the stuff."
He looked down on her again, those blue eyes suddenly serious. "You like crusty Starcatcher burgers, you burp like a cargo jockey, and you don't drink. What are you?"
Her heart twisted a bit. She was always a surprise to people. She wondered if he no longer found her attractive. (Had he found her attractive? Or had she just imagined that? Still, he was holding her hand...)
"I'm clearly not a girl, right?" she said. "Or at least one you'd find in polite company."
He chuckled. "Like there's polite company on Krell."
"Good point," she said.
"Come on," he said. "There should be a place across the way which, if I remember right, is open continually."
Then he dragged her forward and she went. She had to walk fast to keep up with him. That surprised her. They maneuvered around the open-air part of the restaurant, with its locked chairs, across the actual concourse to the other side, with its other open-air sections.
Most of them were closed. The shops had locked up and so had the restaurants, but the bars were open.
Three had revolving "open" signs in their windows, but only one had an open-air section. It was close to the exterior walls of the bar, and there were only a few tables, but she knew that Jack would choose to sit there.
And she couldn't blame him. He didn't have to worry about hitting his head.
There was one available table, but she had a hunch it wouldn't be available for long. She squeezed his hand and said, "You get the table, I'll get the drinks."
Then she slipped her hand from his and pushed her way inside the bar.
It was crowded and smelled of beer. The actual bar itself had a self-serve section, and she was grateful. People pushed against her, talking, laughing, trying to find room to stand.
She glanced out the door. He had gotten the table and was watching her.
Her heart pounded. When was the last time she had been this impulsive?
When was the last time she had had fun?
She couldn't remember.
She smiled at him, then turned to the bar and ordered their drinks.
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