Born of Ice
By Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Sherrilyn Kenyon
All rights reserved.
Nine years later
Devyn Kell is the devil himself. He will not take mercy on you, and he will kill you if he finds out who you are and why you're there. Trust me. I've buried every agent we've sent in after him — male, female and everything in between. Since he can spot an operative three seconds after he meets one, maybe a civ can bust his ass wide open.
Do not fail.
Alix Gerran held those words close to her heart as she entered the hangar bay where Kell's ship was docked.
I don't want to do this ...
But she had no choice. It was either find the evidence to bring Kell to justice or watch her mother and sister die. She had three weeks before the Ritadarion Chief Minister of Justice executed them. And every day that passed, her family sat in a prison cell, rotting.
She was their only hope.
You can do this.
She still didn't understand why Merjack didn't just kill the man if he hated him so much. But the CMOD had been adamant that Kell have a public trial and execution. For whatever psycho reason, an assassination contract wasn't good enough for Kell.
Maybe Kell had run over Merjack's dog ...
We've already taken care of his engineer, so he has an opening on his crew tailor-made by us for you. You are to bring him to justice, alive for trial, or so help me, I'll rape your family myself and then throw you to the class-three felons and watch them take turns with you.
Whatever Kell had done to the CMOD had to have been fierce. There was no other reason for a hatred so strong.
"How did I get in the middle of this?"
But then, she already knew. Her father had been a freighter until six months ago, when his first mate had absconded with all of their savings. With no reserve, her family been forced into smuggling.
Unfortunately, her father had seriously stunk at that career, and had been apprehended two weeks ago and executed within twenty-four hours of his conviction. Because she, her mother and her sister were slaves, they'd been bound for the auction block to pay for his trial and execution.
Until Merjack had seen Alix.
Apparently, she bore a striking resemblance to someone in Kell's past he'd cared about, and that alone had kept her from being sold to a brothel.
So here she was ...
I'm so going to die.
Stop it, Alix. You can do this.
She was getting tired of that worn-out litany. The least the voice in her head could do was not sound so despondent when it said it.
You can do it!
Yeah, now she sounded like she was on drugs.
Swallowing her fear, she headed for bay Delta Alpha 17-4, where Kell's ship, the Talia, was docked.
Just don't let him kill me three seconds after meeting me. It would seriously screw up her already messed-up day.
She passed numerous freighters and fighters, the majority of which were outdated and barely legal for flight. Typical, really. Most of the people who visited the Solaras station were outlaws, grifters, prostitutes, fringe dwellers or pilots who needed the extra hazard pay that was offered to anyone dumb enough to fly through the Solaras system. Money for them was every bit as tight as it was for her.
But as she rounded a corner, she froze at the sight of what had to be the prettiest ship she'd ever seen. Her jaw dropped.
What I wouldn't give for something like that ...
It was absolutely stunning, with gentle lines and no sharp angles anywhere on her. Painted a dark vermillion with gold highlights, she dominated the hangar. That ship was definitely a lady who shamed every single spacecraft that was docked here. For that matter, she shamed every ship Alix had ever seen outside of ads and online catalogues.
Letting out a slow, appreciative breath, she forced herself to not even dream about that one and started looking for the Talia.
It's probably a rusted-out tanker or freighter no better maintained than your father's ship was. You're definitely going to have your hands full keeping her in space.
Just let Kell not be as disgusting as my father's crew.
That was the worst part about runners and smugglers. They were a low-hygiene bunch. It was like a badge of honor for them to out-stink each other.
Look on the bright side — at least this way you don't have to sleep with his smelly hide.
True. With this mission, she only had to find or fabricate evidence to convict Kell before he killed her.
Pushing that frightening thought away, she counted off the bays as she passed them. "One ... two ... three ..." She stopped as she came even with the ship that had caught her eye.
No. It couldn't be.
She double-checked the numbers and sure enough, it was.
Whoa ... A rush of excitement went through her until she remembered that she wasn't really here to work. She was here to either frame or apprehend a vicious felon.
"Dammit, Vik. How can you not know what's wrong with this thing? Can't you commune with it or something?"
She hesitated at that deep, rumbling voice that sounded like thunder. Lightly accented, it sent a shiver down her spine. Her heart pounding, she peeked around to the back and froze dead in her tracks.
If she'd thought the ship was something, it was nothing compared to the group of men who appeared to be its crew ...
Oh. My. God.
The one who'd spoken had to be a good six foot four in height. Built in perfect proportions, he was lean and ripped. Broad shoulders tapered down to narrow hips and what had to be the finest butt she'd ever seen in her life — she could bounce a credit off that.
Or break a tooth biting it ...
His black hair was cut short, but the front of it fell down into a pair of eyes so dark they blended perfectly into his pupils. Dark brows slashed parallel to sharp cheekbones, and his jaw had a becoming tic in it.
Oooh, that was totally lickable, too.
Power and strength bled from every pore of his body. An image that was perpetuated by the black Armstich suit hugging every dip and curve of his muscles and the holstered blasters that were strapped to his hips.
Yeah, this guy meant business and was ready for trouble.
And the men with him were no different. There was one, a Hyshian by the looks of him, to his right. A few inches shorter, the Hyshian was no less ripped. His black hair fell in long braids to the middle of his back. He seemed to be around the same age as the first man she'd noticed.
Instead of black, he wore dark brown with even more weapons strapped to his body. His long coat was sleeveless, showing his bulging arms. Thick gold bracelets encircled both of his wrists and one thin band wrapped around his left bicep — a mark of marriage in his world.
Yeah, he was every bit as deadly.
The third she suspected was a mecha. A good two inches taller than the one who'd spoken, he had dark blue hair and lighter blue skin. With his skin tone, he looked like a Rugarion, but their lips and eyes were black instead of the darker blue his were. As with the others, he was absolutely gorgeous. Well-muscled and perfectly sculpted.
He also seemed remarkably peeved — something impressive, since it was hard to get emotional programming perfected in an AI.
The mecha glared at the one who'd spoken. "My name is not 'Dammit, Vik' and I find it ironic that you think I can commune with all metal beings when you can barely communicate your point of view to your own parents. And they birthed you. I did not give birth to this ship. Last time I checked, I was male and that would be impossible on a multitude of levels."
The other man laughed. "What do you think, Dev? Can we make a mod on Vik so that he could give birth?"
The mecha scowled at him. "Careful, Sway, I could easily lock you in your room again ... accidentally, of course."
The Hyshian pulled out a blaster and angled it at his head. "I knew it, you metal bastard."
The man he'd called Dev let out an irritated breath before he disarmed the Hyshian. "Are we just going to stand here taking pot shots at each other? Or can we focus our collective ADD on getting us off this shit hole?" Sway glowered at him. "Look, no one wants off this hole worse than I do. I'm open for suggestions, Captain I-Can-Do-it-Myself. Do you have any idea what's sending off a warning?"
Dev gave him a droll stare that sent a chill down her spine. "Yeah, the malfunction system that won't let us launch."
Vik snorted. "I suggested we hire a new engineer, but someone ignored me." He slid his gaze to Dev.
Dev grimaced. "And what was I supposed to do? Shit one out? In case you haven't noticed, there's not a plethora of engineers here."
"Plethora?" Sway mocked. "What kind of girl word is that?"
Dev went for his throat, only to have Vik come between them.
Vik shoved the Hyshian back. "Sway, do not bruise the sacred entity. I don't want to get dismantled because you desecrated the magic seed. Now both of you behave like you're actually grown men."
Alix scowled. It was like watching a group of kids on a playground.
Deadly, scary kids, but ...
You have to get in there and get on his ship.
I don't want to go.
Just do it.
Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to walk forward. Please don't let them shoot me.
"Excuse me, scary people. Your rear stabilizer's down."
Three pairs of eyes turned to her with an intensity that was absolutely terrifying. She had to fight the urge to run.
Instead, she held her ground as she faced them.
* * *
Devyn froze at the sound of the husky female voice that reminded him of a soft, cool caress sliding down his naked spine. Without conscious effort, his mind flashed on an image of what the woman who possessed such a voice must look like. His body roared to life at the prospect of spending some time with her.
Suddenly, the idea of staying on this stifling station for a little longer seemed appealing. A sly smile curved his lips as he turned toward the woman of his dreams.
His smile faded as an electrical shock jolted him and he saw the face of a woman he hadn't seen in years ... The last face he'd ever expected to see again.
It's not her.
You killed her ...
No, this wasn't Clotilde. While they shared very similar features and coloring, Clotilde had been tiny and short. The woman in front of him was almost as tall as Sway and built for battle. Her body was well-honed and strong. Not to mention she looked like a lost puppy — something Clotilde had never been. Even first thing in the morning, she'd always been dressed to perfection. Always in complete and utter control of every situation.
Except for the night you killed her ...
He shoved that thought away before it ignited his temper.
A faded red cap covered the woman's head, shielding her eyes from him. Her pale blonde hair fell over one shoulder in a thick braid hanging to her waist. She wore a baggy brown battlesuit that had seen far better days. Even her boots were scuffed and worn out.
"What did you say?" he asked her.
An intriguing blush spread across her cheeks while she kept her head down as if looking at his feet. She pointed to the rear of his ship. "Your back stabilizer is down. I think that might be what you're looking for."
Devyn was grateful someone knew what was wrong with the damned thing. He moved to check on it.
"Are you Captain Kell?" She followed a step behind him while the rest of his crew exchanged wide-eyed stares.
Worthless bastards ...
Devyn slammed the stabilizer plate back into its original position and locked it down. Suspicious, he turned to face her. He'd learned a long time ago to be extremely cautious of people who came looking for him, no matter how harmless they might first appear.
Especially someone who looked like Clotilde.
"And you are?"
She extended a small hand out to him, her features stern and determined. "Alix Gerran. I heard you were looking for a new engineer, and I'd like to apply for the job."
He took her hand and noted the calluses there as he shook it. She might not appear much older than an adolescent, but her hands told him she was used to hard work.
Normally, he wouldn't consider someone so young for a member of his crew, but right now he'd take on the devil himself so long as he could operate the flight checks and get the Talia back into space. "You got any experience?"
"Well, I was born on a freighter and worked on one since I was old enough to hold a wrench." She shifted the backpack on her shoulder and lifted her head with an arrogance he found admirable for her age. "I know how to run preliminary flight checks, keep logs, and I can fix any engine malfunction with a piece of string and a drop of sealant."
Devyn arched a brow. For some reason, he didn't doubt that last boast in the least.
He leaned against his ship with one hand and narrowed his eyes on her. "My last engineer was killed in battle. I don't run from fights with anyone. Ever. You sign on with me, you have to share that one basic conviction. You got a problem with that?"
She met his gaze unflinchingly, and he noticed the strange dark blue shade of her eyes — very different from the hazel green pair that haunted his nightmares. The fire inside that intrepid gaze said she was a scrapper, too, and wouldn't be scared to face whatever hell was thrown at them.
That was something he could respect.
"I don't have a problem with it."
Devyn pushed himself away from his ship, pulled a cloth out of his back pocket, and wiped the grease from his hands. "How old are you, anyway?" He didn't want to assist a young runaway.
"Twenty-seven," she answered without hesitation.
He raked her slim frame with a scowl. He wouldn't have placed her at any more than sixteen. "You got any ID?"
She reached into her back pocket, pulled out a small wallet, and handed it to him.
Devyn studied the picture and the birth date. He had a good eye for forgeries, and this ID was either the best he'd ever seen or authentic. Deciding on the latter, he handed it back to her. "You're a long way from Praenomia."
She shrugged her thin shoulders. "My birth was registered there, but I've never spent more than a few days on a planet in my life."
"Then you're used to recycled water and air."
"And bad food, boredom, and stuffy noses," she added with a wistful sigh.
"Then why do you want to sign back on to a ship?"
She put her hands in her pockets and looked up at him with probing eyes that struck a long-forgotten chord inside him, a chord he'd hoped was forever severed.
She's not Clotilde ...
Still, that part of him that hated the bitch wanted to lash out at the woman in front of him. Luckily for her, he had enough control to stop it.
"It's home to me, and I have to make a living. I don't know how to do anything else."
That was one reason Devyn understood. Something about the dark tranquility of space seemed to comfort even the most troubled of souls.
Even his own.
He scanned her competent stance. She seemed honest and capable enough. At worst, she had to be better at maintenance than his current crew of incompetents.
Speaking of, he looked at them to see what they thought of her.
Vik gave him an agitated stare. "I would voice an opinion, but since you never care what I think, I won't waste the energy."
He looked at Sway, who shrugged. "Nera's only four days away. We can give her a try, and if she's not as good as she claims, dump her ass off there. If she annoys us before we get there, we can always toss her out an airlock."
Devyn looked back at her to see her horrified gape. "The job's yours if you want it."
But at this point, he wouldn't be surprised if she told him where to stuff it.
A puzzled look crossed her face. "Don't you want some credentials or references?"
He shrugged. "Most people don't have any for this kind of work. You spotted the stabilizer with hardly any effort. Hell, I've wasted almost half an hour looking for it." He looked back at his crew. "And don't get me started on how long Team Worthless over there spent with it. You obviously know something about ships."
Sway made an obscene gesture at him.
Alix smiled, and he became entranced with a dimple in her left cheek. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Born of Ice by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Copyright © 2009 Sherrilyn Kenyon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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