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Tru took a deep breath and stepped through the battered doorway. A drinking glass shattered against the wall behind her, splashing its lime-green contents across one leg of her silver bodysuit. A chorus of roars burst from the far corner of the saloon. Tru froze as The Rough Cut attacked all of her senses at once.
The noise, the smell, the visual were overwhelming. In her mind she fought to make order of the chaos before her.
Noise demanded attention first. An ebb and flow of hearty masculine bellows deafened the dreadful music straining above the discord. Jeers, cheers, rantsthey all melded into a raucous symphony.
The smell, well, she didn't even want to analyze that. Her nose would never be the same.
The visual would take a bit longer to sort through. The four dilapidated walls were a patchwork of crudely attached composite board marred by vulgarities in every alien language. A serving bar stretched the length of the far wall, manned by a single burly saloonkeeper. A haphazard collage of tables and chairs in various stages of ruin littered the rest of the place.
Then there was the patronage. Tru caught glimpses of scars, matted hair, missing teeth and something furry in the corner that she was trying hard to ignore. Men huddled over small tables, heads close, grunting and chortling, watching her.
Lovely place. And to think that in all her twenty-nine years she'd never been in a saloon. Nice to know she hadn't missed a thing.
Over the general racket and chaos, Tru scanned the saloon and spotted the man she had come to see.
She made her way through the crowded tables and overt looks to where he sat at the bar, his back to her. She slowed as she got closer and he got bigger. Standing behind him, looking at those broad shoulders, she nearly changed her mind about the whole idea.
What did he eat?
She shook off the thought and spoke up. "Excuse me. Rayce Coburne?"
The man before her turned leisurely on his stool and propped his elbows on the bar. Tru froze as brilliant blue-green eyes drilled into hers. They were hypnotic, a stunning complement to the black hair that hung carelessly over his forehead. Finely chiseled features under smooth, bronzed skin fashioned a rogue's countenance. He lounged on a bar stool amid the barrage of foul language and stench of alcohol, looking completely at home. She couldn't tell how tall he was, but he was solidly built. Big arms and shoulders stretched the seams of the supple gray jacket he wore. His white shirt-collar was open, revealing a golden-brown, powerful chest. Strong leg muscles bulged through the light fabric of the black pants. Even though she'd seen images of him, the live, up-close version proved far more daunting.
He gave her a long once-over before breaking into a slow, lazy smile.
"Have a seat," he said in a soft growl of a voice that burned into her memory long after he showed her the empty stool beside him.
As she sat down, she was keenly aware of his eyes scanning the length of her body. Talk about distracting. Her pulse quickened; her palms began to sweat. She rubbed her hands on her thighs. The worst part was that he hadn't done a thing except offer her a seat.
Annoyed at herself, Tru straightened. After all, he was only a man. A man who would soon work for her.
Boldly, she met his gaze. "What are you drinking?"
Coburne narrowed his eyes. "What are you drinking?"
She hadn't planned for that. She never drank, but she wasn't about to admit that to him.