Zarina gave her a pitiful stare. “Honey, beauty is pain and that’s part of who and what we are.”
Yeah, but she really didn’t have time for this.
She needed to get back to the ship.
How did someone escape Zarina? She felt trapped and overwhelmed.
Someone help me…
“Zarina, I really need to get back. I-I have duties to attend to.”
“Sit there and be quiet. There’s nothing Devyn needs done that can’t wait. Besides, you’ll be so beautiful when we’re through that he won’t care. There won’t even be any blood left in his brain for him to think with.”
“No buts. I always win. Give up now before you annoy me.”
Alix sighed as she realized that Zarina was a power unto herself. It was better to give in and get it over with than to fight against an omnipotent opponent.
It was not only frustrating. It was impossible.
Please get me out of here soon.
* * *
“Hey, Dad. Where’s Alix?”
Devyn looked up from the paperwork he was forging to see Omari and Vik entering the bridge. Manashe ran from where he’d been sleeping at Devyn’s feet to attack Omari. “She was off with Rina last I saw.”
Omari shivered as he stroked Manashe’s ears. “Poor thing. I wonder what Rina’s doing to her. Should we send out a search party?”
Devyn laughed. “Might not be a bad idea. I vote we send Taryn in to extract her. He’s got nothing to live for.”
Vik arched a brow. “Well, at least you didn’t pick on me this time.”
“Feeling left out?”
“Not where Princess Stubborn’s concerned. Happy to be left out, boss. Thanks for the uncharacteristic consideration. You feeling all right, or is there a brain malfunction going on that I need to be aware of before your father removes parts of me I might miss?”
Omari laughed. “You know, I wish I could have seen Vik back in his aviary days. He must have been a riot.”
Devyn smiled nostalgically as he remembered Vik’s old mecha form. “Not really. He just took up less room and was able to sneak up on me a lot easier. Happiest day of my life when my dad made him human.”
“Happy for you, bonebag… It cost me my girlfriend.”
Omari arched a brow as he pulled a treat out of his pocket and fed it to Manashe. “You had a girlfriend?”
Devyn chuckled. “It was a lamp, Vik, not a girlfriend.”
Vik sighed wistfully. “I really loved that lamp. She lit up my entire world.”
Omari frowned as he met Devyn’s gaze. “Is he for real?”
“‘Fraid so. He used to carry it around with him until it stopped working. I think your grandfather screwed up his processors when he pulled him apart.”
Vik cuffed Devyn on the back of his head. “Respect your elders, embryo.”
Devyn hissed as he rubbed the back of his skull. “I might not know how to repair you, Vik, but I do know how to break you into small pieces.”
Deciding he was losing this argument, Devyn indicated the bag in Omari’s hand with a tilt of his chin. “So what did you get?”
Just as Omari started to speak, the intercom buzzed.
Devyn leaned back and would have ignored it had it not been the station’s security. He opened the channel. “Kell speaking.”
“Captain Kell, we have a warrant here to search your cargo and review your manifest and logs. We need you front and center. Now.”
“On my way.” But not at their pace. They could wait until he got there. He didn’t answer orders well.
Sighing, he looked at Omari. “Sorry, kid. I’ll look at it later.”
“No problem. Let me go lock up Manashe so he doesn’t get out while they’re looking for contraband, and then head over to warn Sway in case they’re in his room… you know.”
“Yeah, I do.” Devyn walked off the bridge and to the ramp where the authorities were waiting. As soon as the loading ramp was extended, they barged up so they could bluster in front of him. As if they could ever scare him.
Their captain handed him a printout for the warrant. “We want to see your cargo bay and sweep your ship.”
It was all he could do not to laugh at them. “Whatever.” He stood back as two dozen guards swarmed through his ship. This was going to be highly entertaining.
He pulled the fake manifest and log up on the screen by the door, then stepped aside for the captain to review it. “Just out of curiosity, why are you guys here?”
“We were given a tip that you have illegal contraband on board.”
“A tip from whom?”
“A Lieutenant Whelms.”
Devyn scowled at a name he’d never heard before. It didn’t make sense that someone here would turn him in. Then again, it didn’t make sense anyone would turn him in… period.
He started to argue until his gaze went from the fat officer to the beautiful woman coming up his ramp.
It took a full ten seconds before he recognized her.
Yeah, it was her, and she was delicious. Someone had lightened her hair a couple of shades, making the blond even more vibrant. Her lips were painted a bright red and whatever they’d done to her eyes made them glow. They were dark and seductive now.
An image of her nak*d in his bed went through him so fast, he could almost feel her skin against his.
For a moment he couldn’t breathe and he actually had a momentary fear that he might be drooling.
She frowned at the officer as she stopped in front of him. “What’s going on?”
I want you to get nak*d…
Yeah, that was a bad idea when they were in the middle of a crisis.
Clearing his throat, he diverted his attention back to the enforcers. “We’re being searched.”
Panic flickered in her eyes, but she caught herself. “Why?”
“Someone reported us for illegal activity.”
The officer turned on her. “Who are you and what do you do here?”
Devyn glared at the man and his sharp tone. “She’s my engineer.”
“She got papers?”
Alix pulled her ID out and handed it to him.
The captain barely glanced at it before he returned it to her and went back to scanning the manifest.
Devyn winked at her. It’s okay, he mouthed to her behind the officer’s back.
No sooner had he done that than six of the enforcers came running back to their captain.
“Sir, we have a problem.”
The captain looked absolutely hopeful—like he could already imagine the promotion that would come from busting them. “You found something?”
“Yes, sir. Hyshian Senator Claria Tninaloew is on board and she’s … she’s really angry, sir.”
“Angry is a mild term for what I feel right now.”
Alix turned to see what had to be one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived. Tall, slender and regal, dana had dark, smooth skin that was flawless. Her dark eyes scanned the men and women in front of her as if she were already savoring their punishment.
The senator cast a chilling, malevolent glare at the enforcers. “I have finite time with my husband and here you and your people dare to interrupt it with this kind of asinine bullshit? How dare you. I want you off this ship immediately. And for those of you incapable of understanding that word, it means now.”
They literally ran off the ship.
Except for the enforcer captain. He stood there, trembling. “Forgive us, ma’am. We had no idea you were on board. We were told—”
“I don’t want to hear it. Go before I recall my guards and have you up on charges.”
He practically left a vapor trail behind him.
Devyn shut down the logs before he turned and smiled at her. “Thanks, Claire.”
She gave him a peeved grimace. “Why can’t you guys do something safe and sane for once like run bunnies or slippers or something?”
“It wouldn’t be any fun.”
She rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe I let Sway travel with you. I must be insane.”
“Yeah, but you love me.”
“Not today I don’t. You better watch your back, Kell. I might not be here the next time they want to search you.” She looked at Alix and her gaze narrowed. “You must be the new engineer.”
Alix hesitated as an absolute chill went down her spine. She sensed that Sway’s wife didn’t think much of her…
Did Claria know she was a slave?
The senator cocked her head as she swept her gaze slowly over Alix’s body in a less than complimentary way. With that one look, she made Alix feel less than nothing. “What ship were you on before this one?”
You worthless worm who is unfit to breathe the same air I do … Claria didn’t say the words per Se, but her tone conveyed them loud and clear.
Devyn growled. “Claria—”
She held her hand up to silence Devyn in an imperious gesture. “Don’t take that tone with me, Kell.”
Devyn went ramrod stiff and an air came over him that was truly frightening. “I’m not your bitch, Claire. You don’t ever talk to me like that.” He cut a sideways look at Alix. “She’s a member of my crew. You have an issue with her, you take it up with me.”
Out of nowhere, Sway appeared. Before Alix could blink, he was between Devyn and Claria. He grabbed Devyn by his shirt and shoved him back. “You don’t take that tone with my wife.”
Devyn broke out of the hold and returned Sway’s shove with one of his own. “You want to start some shit, boy? Let’s go outside.”
“Oh, good. I’m just in time for another round of Grand Testosterone Overdose. Ooooh, Alix, Claire… anyone got popcorn? Or maybe I should get Taryn? Then we could insult his manhood and watch him pop a gasket, too.” Zarina’s humor succeeded in breaking the tension as the men stepped away from each other.
Devyn turned that hostile stare toward Zarina. “What are you doing here?”
“I love you, too, Pookie Bear.” She held a bag up. “Alix forgot this.”
CIaria watched them closely before she turned her attention back to Devyn. “I still want to know something about her, Devyn. And considering the fact that your son is on board this vessel, you should, too.”
So that was what was going on …
Claria was suspicious of her. Great. Just great. That was all she needed. Not that the woman shouldn’t be suspicious, since she was here to ruin them.
But still …
Alix lifted her chin with a pride she really didn’t feel right now. “The Starfire. It was a freighter owned by my father, who died two weeks ago. He was a pathetic alcoholic who seldom did his paperwork. We lived off-grid because he was a League conspiracist who woke up one day from a four-day bender with a tattoo on his arm that looked like a bar code of some sort. He swore it’d been put there by a League soldier and that they were getting ready to round all of us up and enslave us. I personally think our gunner did it to screw with him, but my father didn’t listen. What else would you like to know?”
She wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Claria managed to look even more haughty. “Where did you go to school?”
“I didn’t. Again, my father didn’t believe in leaving a trail to locate us by and he didn’t believe in educating women.” Actually, that wasn’t true. He didn’t believe in educating property, but to him women were property, so…
“Then how do you know how to read?”
Devyn took a step forward. “Claire—”
“It’s all right.” Alix refused to blink as she met the senator’s penetrating glare that she was sure the woman used to intimidate people a lot more important than her. “I taught myself because I got tired of being called stupid. I used the voice search online to find the texts I needed and I went through them until I could speak and read in six languages, including Universal. I don’t have any degrees and I don’t have any formal training. I don’t have any savings or money. Nothing but a sack full of worn-out clothes to call my own.” She swallowed. “And it’s obvious you don’t think I’m good enough to be on this ship with your husband. I get it and it’s okay. My father never thought I was good enough to be on his ship, either.”
With those words spoken, she stepped past Claria and headed to her room so that the woman couldn’t see just how hurt she really was.
Devyn glared at CIa na. “That was cruel.”
Claria refused to back down or apologize. “You don’t know anything about her.”
“And I told you I’d find out. You didn’t have to humiliate her like that.”
She looked at Zarina. “Would you help me out here?”
Zarina held her hands up in surrender. “No offense, but I’m on his side in this. I’ve just spent the afternoon with the woman and I really like her. She’s very sweet and unassuming.”