Authors: Jodi Redford
To Lynne. You'll always be a heroine to me, sis.
Also to my editor, Sasha, for inspiring me to write this book.
Warddok, Earth outpost sector ten
Eight minutes after Lucus Granger disappeared inside his arro hut, Rini Campell lowered her nightscope imager and skulked from the shadowed alley. Standard protocol typically entailed another fifteen-minute wait until acquiring her target. But judging from the leaning tower of Flyboy beer cans and the way Granger fell into the bushes before stumbling inside the hut, he was well past getting his drunk on.
Good. Made her job
She tucked the nightscope inside her jacket pocket and pulled out her descrambler card. Fisting it, she darted across the street. Luckily, Granger's hut was one of only six residences scattered in Warddok Ten's abandoned warehouse district. She wouldn't have to worry about some nosy neighbor.
Yeah, nosy neighbors were the bane of any repo agent's existence.
Running her thumb over the edge of the descrambler card, she approached the large hangar she'd seen Granger stagger from. She shook her head. Drinking and flyingâpretty damn stupid. This moron needed his license repo'd along with his ship.
The mangy hound camped outside the hangar's secured doors stopped licking its privates and looked at her. Oooh yeah, she was well acquainted with that particular look. Usually it preceded a foot chase and a sharp pair of incisors snapping at her ankles.
Yep, mangy watch dogs were the next bane of any repo agent's existence. “Nice poochie.”
The hound responded with a low growl.
“Okay, so much for the sweet talk.” She dug in her other pocket for the piece of steak she'd wisely brought along and quickly freed it from its sealed baggie before hurling it across the street. The mutt leapt from its haunches and bounded after the hunk of meat.
Rini jammed the descrambler into the lock-slot and jerked her gaze between the numbers flashing across the display screen and the hound ripping the steak apart. “Come on, come on.”
The sequence of numbers flashed solid green and an audible click verified the lock's release. She extracted the card and shoved the heavy metal door open. Bright fluorescent floodlights illuminated Liberty, the HTC-series star cruiser, parked in the center of the hangar. Bug splats and various crud grimed the spacecraft's exterior.
“Looks like I'll be taking her on a side trip to the fly-and-wash.” Rini strode towards the ship, the heavy clack of her boot heels echoing in the cavernous hangar. She ducked beneath the Liberty's massive underbelly and slid the descrambler into the lockpad. The debarking door slid open and the ramp descended with a faint hydraulic whine. Fetching the card, she trotted up the stairs and sealed off the station.
She flipped on the overhead lights and wove towards the ship's bridge, sidestepping several empty cans of Flyboy beer. Wrinkling her nose at the stale, unpleasant odor permeating the cabin, she dipped into one of the various pockets of her black cargo pants for the tiny can of neutralizing ozonator. “Stinky pilotsâbane number three.”
Ambling to the controls, she popped the ozonator's cap and settled the can in the cup holder. She took one look at the pilot's seat and reached for the anti-microbial cloth tucked in another pocket.
“And my colleagues call me crazy for carrying a medi-store in my pants.
.” She ripped open the Mylar package. At the first contact with air, the cloth expanded to full size. Humming, she snugged the germ barrier securely over the seat and plopped down, taking inventory.
The ship was old schoolâpowered by a stick throttle and brake. Thank God she'd cut her pilot's teeth learning to fly on one of these dinosaurs. A flicker of motion caught her eye. Turning her head, she spied the holographic image of a woman with enormous breasts centered on the system's panel.
“This guy's the living definition of
.” She gave the hologram a disgusted glare and powered up the star cruiser. Locating the remote for the steel garage doors running the entire back width of the hangar, she clicked the release. The doors rumbled open. Snapping the pilot's harness in place, she reached for the throttle and coasted out of the hangar.
Warddok Ten's desert terrain spread beyond the viewing shield, the occasional inky outline of a forroc cactus looming in the distance like gnarled skeletal remains.
She disengaged the pod wheels and the ship began ascending.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Rini jumped at the unexpected deep baritone. Instinctively, she whipped her head around and shrieked when she got an eyeful of naked male bod. Make that
, naked male bod. The ship lurched sideways and she fumbled with the brake stick, downshifting fast. With a fierce buck, the craft descended, arrowing towards a particularly large forroc cactus.
“Son of a
The sound of feet slapping across the steel flooring snagged Rini's attention, and she glanced over just as the naked male bod slammed to a halt next to the pilot's seat.
“Crank it to the left.”
Rini tore her gaze from the dick bobbing near her face.
I hope to God he's talking about the throttle
. Taking her chances, she shifted to the left. The Liberty tipped sideways, clipped the corner of the cactus and righted. Broken glass from one of the running lights pelted the windshield.
“Son of a
She was beginning to get the idea that was his favorite phrase.
“Put her down.
Since she had every intention of tossing him into the desert on his naked rump, she reactivated the pod wheels and taxied down a sandy stretch. The second they coasted to a halt, Rini slid her hand down the leg of her cargo pants, beelining for her can of stun spray. She palmed it and looked up. Into the nozzle of a larger canister of stun spray.
“Sorry, darlin', but it appears mine is bigger.”
Her gaze crawled past the rock-hard abs and sculpted bronze pecs. Past the acre-wide shoulders and clenched jaw covered in dark stubble. Past chiseled lips pulled in a smile menacing enough to send goose bumps jockeying for a spot on her spine.
Finally she locked on glittering moss green eyes.
“Mind telling me why the hell you're taking my ship for a joyride?”
Lucus Granger kept the stun spray aimed squarely in the little thief's face. She might be a woman, and sorta cuteâif you enjoyed red hair and small titsâbut it didn't change the fact she was sitting in his seat like her butt had every right to be planted there.
ship?” A wrinkle creased between her tawny eyebrows. “My paperwork clearly states Liberty's title is held under Lucus Kennedy Granger.”
A thief who did paperwork?
There's a new one
. “Yeah, babe. That'd be me.”
“Butâ¦I saw youâI mean Grangerâstumble inside the arro hut.”
Ah, so she'd been casing his property. He inched the canister closer. A twinge of satisfaction rippled through him when she swallowed hard. “No, you saw Chase, my kid brother, stumble inside the arro hut.” His teeth gritted at the reminder of the past three runs he'd been forced to cover shorthanded, all thanks to his punk brother's two-day drunken marathon.
She stared at him unblinkingly for several seconds. Finally, her chin jutted up. “Okay. Then prove you're Lucus Granger.”
“Do I look like I'm carrying damn ID?”
Her gaze made another quick sweep below his waist. Despite her being annoying and a thief, his cock stirred with interest.
“Then I guess we have a problem.”
Like a junkyard dog protecting his turf, he bared his teeth. “The only problem here is you trying to steal my ship.”
“I didn't steal it.” Her hand slid towards her pants again. He cocked the stun can and she froze. “Look, I'm just reaching for my business card. Okay?”
“Since when do thieves hand out business cards?”
Her lips pinched into a thin, obstinate line. “Do you want to see it or not?”
“Fine, but don't try anything funny. Unless you want to end up permanently paralyzed.”
Moving with exaggerated caution, she dug in her pocket and extracted a thin, black leather wallet. She plucked out a glossy white card and handed it over.
“This'll be interesting.” Keeping the canister centered on her, he scanned the card. “Rini Campell. Mm, pretty name. If it's real. Says here you're a repoâ¦” His voice trailed off when the title in bold-as-you-please print bounced back at him. Jaw locked tight, he jerked his gaze to her face. “You're a damned
“Yep. You can check the seal on the back. Just in case you think the card's a fake.”
Not put off by her patronizing tone, he flipped the card over. An embossed image of a globe surrounded by laurel leavesâthe official mark of the United Galaxies Governmentâtook up the entire back side. His gut clenched like she'd sucker punched him. “Why the hell are you repo'ing my ship?” Oh shit, surely they didn't find out aboutâ
“Gee, maybe it has something to do with you being four months behind on your payments.”
The air barricaded in his lungs escaped in a rush. A relieved chuckle scooted past his lips. “Darlin', I think someone's file got confused with mine. See, I never miss a payment. And on the rare occasion I'm on a shipment run and can't drop it off, I always have Chaseâ¦” He dropped the canister and it clattered against the floor before rolling beneath the seat. “I'm going to kill that sonofabitch.”
“The door's right behind you. If your brother's unfortunate death is broadcast on the galaxy network, I'll play dumb.”
He stared at her. “Lady, you're not repo'ing the Liberty.”
“Uh, yes I am.”
Gnashing his teeth, he leaned over the pilot's seat, crowding her. “No, you're not. This ship is my livelihood. I'm scheduled to drop off an important cargo load a few hours from now.”
“Really.” Her dusky lashes lowering, she checked out his package one more time. “And do you usually make a habit of making shipment drops during the middle of the nightâ¦naked?”
“It's what my client prefers.”
Her eyebrows arched and it took him a second to realize he'd muddled his explanation. “I mean he works odd hours. Showing up naked isn't part of the deal. I was taking a shower to get rid of the stink from my last haul.” That'd teach him to transport three dozen pallets of overripe kurttu melons. He'd intended to air the ship out but the unexpected side run to Roddarta that had cropped up curtailed the opportunity.
“Ah, now it makes sense.” Nodding, Rini swung her leg.
He gave her a fixed stare, hoping she'd get the point and hustle her ass out of his seat. When she started leisurely drumming her nails on her crooked knee he waved his hand. “Sweetheart, you plannin' to move sometime tonight?”
“Sorry, but no.” Her smile was stiff as cardboard and held no trace of apology.
She was way beyond getting on his last damn nerve. “I'll pay you the money, justâ¦getâ¦up.” He bit off the end of each word, imagining the syllables were a piece of her hide.
Her hand whipped out, palm up, and he frowned at it. He stood there mute and she waggled her fingers. “Okay, pay up.”
“I didn't mean this second.”
A huge sigh lifted her chest. “Just once, it'd be nice if someone actually meant it when they said that.”
Neither her expression nor her body budged.
The only two people who'd ever made him consider bailing from an in-flight spacecraft without a floatation suit were his ex-wife and Chase. Compared to Rini Campell, repo agent from hell, those two were a breeze to handle. “Damn it, I don't have time for these games.” Gusting a frustrated breath, he pushed from the seat and ran a hand through the damp ends of his hair. “Look, you're just going to have to take my word for it. I'll collect the money from this next run and drop it off at the UGG payment office.”
“That isn't standard procedure.”
. Fisting his hands, he glared at her, longing with every ounce of his being to tell her where she could stick her goddamn standard procedures. “Maybe you could bend the rules this once.” Though it just about killed him, he bit out the necessary word. “Please. If I don't make this runâ¦”
I'm a dead man
Blue eyes regarded him intently. The startling color of her irises reminded him of the planetary surface of Yordelon glimpsed from space. She rolled her lips before licking them. His dick responded by bobbing against his thigh.
Why didn't I grab a damn towel?
He stared at her, half afraid the word he swore fell from her lips was only a figment of his imagination. “Really?”