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.
Devyn braced himself as his own hormones fired. What was wrong with him that she could affect him so easily? Especially given how much she favored a woman who made his blood run cold and his fury run high.
Maybe Sway was right and he needed to get laid. “We’re getting ready to launch, so if you have any gear or good-byes jus—”
“Just this gear.” She shrugged her backpack off her shoulder. “And no good-byes.”
Devyn frowned at the catch in her voice. “None?”
She clenched her teeth, and he had the strange sensation she fought against tears, but her eyes betrayed nothing except the fiercest of spirits. “My father died very recently. I… I don’t have anyone else.”
He nodded in sympathy. He’d never lost anyone close to him, but he could imagine how hard it would be to lose one of his parents. “I’m sorry.”
She looked around the bay as if his words embarrassed her. “Don’t worry. It won’t interfere with my work.”
“Well, then, uh…” Devyn paused in an effort to remember her name.
“Alix,” she supplied with an odd half-smile. “My dad wanted a son.” She looked down at her body and pulled at the loose material over her br**sts. “I guess he didn’t miss by much.”
Devyn noted the bitterness in her voice, and a strange surge of protectiveness ran through him. “You don’t look like a boy to me.” Her smile returned and sent a wave of heat straight to his cock.
Yeah, he definitely needed to get laid.
Before he could comment, his link buzzed.
Sway snorted in utter disdain. “Let me guess. Mom?” His tone rang of ridicule.
“Shut up, Sway.” Devyn checked the ID and flipped off his friend. Yeah, it was his mother… probably because his heart rate was elevated.
Sighing in frustration, he put the silver link on his ear, but didn’t answer it. “Alix, meet our first mate, Sway Trinaloew.”
Sway shook her hand. “Nice meeting you, Alix.”
“Vik is our—”
“Man-bitch,” Sway inserted with an evil grin.
Vik gave him a lethal, cold glare.
Devyn ignored his interruption. “Security and techspert.”
Instead of shaking her hand, Vik kissed it. “I’m enchanted by your beauty, my lady. Welcome aboard. You make a most welcome addition to our acerbic company… a lovely-smelling one, too.”
“Thank you, Vik.” Stepping back, she took her cap from her head. She brushed her hand through her damp bangs and tucked the cap into her back pocket. “Don’t let me stop your normal routine. Consider me a ghost.”
Devyn inclined his head as his link buzzed again.
“I better take this.” He gave a menacing glower to his first mate. “Sway, show Alix where to bunk. And you”—he indicated Vik—”get the ship ready to launch.” He tapped his ear to open the channel. “Hi, Mom… No, you’re not bothering me at all. It’s always good to hear from you.”
Alix scowled as he walked into the ship while politely talking to his mother, of all people. How strange. It seemed so incongruous that a man so feral would be that respectful of his mother.
Sway grinned at her. “You’ll get used to it. Dev’s his mother’s only child and she’s extremely protective where he’s concerned. For that matter, his dad’s even worse. He lost his oldest son and panics every three seconds Dev’s out of his sight.”
“Don’t they know what he does for a living?”
“Yes, which is why they call all the time to check on him. Hell, I’m surprised he’s not backjacked.” Backjacked was a slang term used for the chip inserted into pets, League soldiers and slaves so that their owners could locate them.
A chip she had embedded in her own arm, which was one of the reasons she had to do what Merjack said. There was no running from a back chip. So long as Merjack knew her frequency, he could find her.
If only she knew some way to dig it out, but they’d made a mistake when they put hers in, and it was now embedded in her bone.
Sway glanced askance at her as he led the way into the ship. “You completely horrified by us?”
“Not… completely.” But she was scared of this gruff crew. While there was a playfulness to their caustic barbs, there was also an aura of “I’ll kick your ass back to the Steel Age if you so much as breathe my air the wrong way.”
So she wanted to be careful until she either knew them better or had them in custody.
Alix walked down the narrow corridor of the ship, her heart hammering against her ribs. She hated being on a new ship, surrounded by strangers. For the first time in her life, she didn’t know every crevice of machinery, every chink in the cold, titanium walls.
She wanted to go home. But the only home she’d ever known now belonged to whoever had bought it at auction. Her throat tightened. She clenched her teeth, refusing to cry any more tears over her lost ship. She’d done what she had to, and there was no going back.
Now she had her remaining family to worry over, which meant she’d have to find evidence of Devyn’s illegal activities quick so that she could free them. Every minute they were in prison was her fault.
“You can bunk in here.” Sway pushed the controls to open a door.
Alix’s eyes widened at the large sleeping compartment. The bed in the room occupied as much space as her entire private chambers had on her father’s freighter. Rich, blue carpet lined the floor. She’d thought only aristocrats had ships with carpet in them.
Without a word, she stepped inside and ogled the rest of the furnishings.
“I’m sure Devyn will want to run over the ship with you, but he’ll probably wait until after we launch.”
She found it strange that he referred to Kell by his first name. Normally the crew was more formal than that. “So how many other people make up the crew?”
Sway leaned his back against the open doorframe and folded his arms over his chest. He eyed her suspiciously. “Just what you met. You got a problem with that?”
Alix pursed her lips as she scanned Sway’s body. He reminded her a lot of Captain Kell—both of them had attitude problems and a lethal undercurrent that said they could take down even a League assassin without breaking a sweat.
They also had the same tough, muscular build, but Sway wasn’t quite as handsome to her. Of course, she’d never been partial to Hyshians, and Sway’s yellowish eyes unnerved her.
“I’ve never had much of a problem with sober men chasing me around decks, if that’s what you mean. As long as none of you gets desperate or drunk, I think I can manage.”
Sway laughed. “I think you’ll fit in pretty well with us.” He tucked one of his multitude of black braids behind his left ear. “This isn’t sexist or anything, but can you cook?”
Alix wondered at the strange question. ‘Nothing fancy, but I do all right with the basics.”
“Oh, thank God. I’m sick of eating synthetic food.”
“And I’m sick of listening to you bitch about it, you old woman.”
Alix’s heart sped up at the sound of Devyn’s deep voice. She told herself not to feel this way. Her heart and body had done this to her before and she’d been crushed.
To this day, she could see Edwin’s mocking sneer. “Trust me, baby. There ain’t enough woman in that boy’s body of yours to ever entice a real man.”
Yeah, that had taught her to never again let a man know she was interested in him. And Edwin hadn’t been anywhere near as handsome as Devyn.
Besides, she was here to ruin the captain. Something that would get her killed if she wasn’t careful.
Devyn knocked Sway lightly on the arm. “If you two don’t mind, I think it’s time we get out of here.”
Sway inclined his head and left.
Alone with the captain, awkwardness consumed her. Alix studied her feet, wishing she could think of something to say. But as usual, when she was around a hot man, her brain couldn’t focus on anything except the way his shirt clung to his muscles.
Gah, she could lick that man all night long, and she wasn’t the type of woman to have those thoughts. Too many years of being the sole “entertainment” on her father’s ship had left her disgusted with men in general and with sex in particular.
But then, none of her father’s crew had ever looked like this. And that made her wonder if Devyn would actually be good in bed.
Stop it. He’s your captain and the man you have to frame.
He cleared his throat. “Your cooling unit isn’t stocked, but we’ll take care of that at our next stop. There’s plenty of water and other liquids in the galley if you start dehydrating… Take your time unpacking and whenever you’re ready, the bridge is at the bow of the ship.”
Alix nodded, still not willing to even glance at him.
She heard the door slide shut. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she finally looked at the door and sighed. She’d seen the disbelief in Devyn’s eyes when she’d told him her age. His reaction was normal, but for some reason, it bothered her more that he’d done it.
“What’s wrong with you?” She dumped her backpack on her bunk so that she could put her things away. “You ought to be happy you’re with men who know how to actually use a shower.”