The Fringe, Book 1
» Samhain Publishing
» Amazon Kindle
» Barnes & Noble Nook
On the edge of freedom lies a dangerous love.
Nothing has ever come easy for Jace Lawless, captain of the salvage vessel Mutiny. Forced into thievery after a virus unleashed by the InnerWorld Government killed his family, only one ambition burns at the back of his mind. Kill the next IWOG officer he has at his mercy.
Bargaining over goods with a middleman isn't exactly his strong suit. But who in his right mind spends an entire salvage job's profits on a woman, even if she has a body built for sin and eyes so fathomless a man could lose himself in them? He must be getting soft.
Once Kraft realizes Jace expects only the "cook" part of their cook-whore contract, she sets out to change his antiquated ideas about women. A challenge she relishes, especially if it earns her the freedom and money to get her own ship. Her big mistake is letting down her guard.
Shameless flirting only intensifies the itch to ride Jace hard and put him away wet—several times. It's an itch it would be dangerous to scratch. Exposing her heart could reveal her secret, one that the still-grieving Jace must never know...showing her mercy will be the last thing on his mind.
Warning: Contains a celibate ship captain who can't abide swearing, a kick-ass woman with a marshmallow heart, a motley crew of misfits, interstellar battles, thwarted groping, sensual seduction, and a total bastard who owns his own planet.
Read an Excerpt
Copyright © 2010 Anitra Lynn McLeod
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
"Life is a dance with daggers drawn."
Deep space, Majestic Quadrant, 2476
Everything felt wrong the instant Captain Jace Lawless boarded the derelict ship. His gut told him to skedaddle, but his empty wallet forced him to stick around.
"Ain't right." Garrett gripped his gun with one hand as his flashlight pierced the dark, abandoned shuttle bay. "An intact Basic, just sitting here, waiting for us? Smells worse than that crap we had for dinner, Captain."
Leave it to Garrett, his second-in-command, to translate his churning gut into words. "On account of our meager bank account, we'd best continue. Right?"
"Right," Garrett agreed with a reluctant sigh.
Heller fingered every weapon strapped to his massive frame and darted his suspicious gaze around. "Berserkers?"
"Don't look like," Jace reassured. "The wall coms are still in place." He pointed out the audio and visual communication panels. "Those vicious pirates would have stripped the ship."
Jace kept his gun drawn nonetheless. His flashlight bobbed as he led his crew from the inky shuttle bay to the upper hall.
"Berserkers would have left the bodies too," Garrett said.
Having thought of that himself, Jace said, "Since we're all on the same page, Garrett, shut up." Jace crept down the hallway. "We get in, get the goods, and get out."
"Simple," Garrett said, following behind.
"Yeah, right," Heller grunted, bringing up the rear. "We ain't ever done a damn thing that's simple."
"Like your mouth? Give it a rest." With silent steps, Jace led his crew through oppressive gloom. The ship thrummed with life-support, but not life itself. Room by room, Jace found a disconcertingly normal ship.
"It's like our ship, Mutiny," Heller said.
"If we vanished off it all of the sudden."
"Garrett," Jace said sharply. "Shut up. This is-"
"Creepy." Heller toed an open-faced, battered paperback abandoned beside a rumpled bunk. His flashlight swept the darkened crew quarters. "No bodies."
"So far," Garrett pointed out, scooping up the paperback. "Oo, a western." He slipped it to his waistband.
Agitated enough without Garrett's alternately sinister and sardonic comments, Jace glared at him with all the loathing he could muster.
"Ponder the weirdness wonder of it all," Garrett said defensively. "Not one sign of a struggle. No bodies. On a ship that has power, air and, supposedly, an intact, treasure-rich hull. I don't know about you, but I'm getting a strong whiff of way-too-good-to-be-true."
Jace gripped his gun, cast his flashlight forward and continued. He swallowed hard. Woefully gaunt, his light hardly pierced the looming black. He smelled sweat, not old and stale, but fresh. A familiar lingering scent of recently prepared freeze-dried food made the short hairs on his neck stiffen. What the hell had happened on this ship?
As they cleared each room, Jace locked it down. The crashing of metal on metal reverberated through the ship like Thor's mythical hammer.
"I could do without that." Garrett gulped. "One more jolt, Captain, and my old heart will shoot from my chest." He ducked behind Heller. "This is getting nothing but more peculiar."
"Freak-show," Heller agreed. "Where's the fucking crew?"
"Don't swear," Jace reminded.
Heller rolled his eyes, but shut his mouth.
"Shuttles are gone. They had to be in them, right?" Garrett asked hopefully.
"Right," Jace said, as if by agreeing he could make it true.
"Or at least two of them to pilot the shuttles." Garrett considered. "That'd leave about thirty on board, Captain."
"There's nobody here." Jace turned, exasperated. "Bailey's been tapped into the com for twenty minutes. He didn't hear a peep. Thirty people can't be that quiet for that long."
"Yeah." Heller snorted. "If they had what we had for dinner, one of 'em would've farted by now."
Garrett chuckled. "Keep your bodily comments about supper to yourself. Especially since I'm behind you."
"Would you two give it a rest?" Short hairs bristled on his neck while his crew made fart jokes. Nerves stretched tight as barbed wire, Jace feared he might spin and shoot if one of them actually blasted gas. Forcing down a tense laugh, he took a calming breath and then focused on leading his crew safely through this job. Bizarre or not, they needed the haul to survive.
"Okay," Garrett whispered. "It's empty. Want to take a grasp at why these folks left a perfectly intact ship?"
"Who the hell knows?" Heller asked. "If the cache is intact, who the hell cares?"
Both Heller and Garrett offered excellent points, but steadfast and true, Jace calmly said, "There's nothing around but that IWOG mothership. And that's an hour off at best. If we go slow and careful, we got ourselves a cakewalk." He doubted the fascist freaks of the InnerWorld Government would bother with a derelict Basic ship, no matter what its cargo. But he couldn't be sure.
Step by wary step, he led his crew to the room atop the curved belly of the ship. At the far end of the rounded, U-shaped room, he saw the huge circular cover in the floor that secured the cache. "Looks intact."
"Simple," Garrett said.
"Again, we ain't ever done a damn thing-"
"There's a first time for everything." Jace scanned the room. The only way in was from the dark hallway they all hesitated in.
"Give you a thousand to one this isn't it." Garrett peeked around Heller's bulk and stepped forward cautiously.
Irritated as much by Garrett's lack of confidence as he was by his comments, Jace turned a blistering glare on him.
Garrett retreated. "Hell, Jace, I'm a betting man, but I wouldn't bet on this being the first easy job." Garrett shrugged his narrow shoulders. "It's just too damn strange." Goggle-eyed, Garrett assessed the room. "Ponder the weirdness wonder of why this is the only room on this whole ship that's fully lit?"
"Good point," Jace said. "Heller, train your gun and flashlight back down the hall while I unpack this."
After due consideration, Jace said, "If it looks too good to be true," he looked into the empty, fully illuminated room, "it is." At the far end was the only way into the hold. "We locked the ship down on the way in. Right?"
"Right," Garrett said conversationally.
Trying to convince himself and Garrett, Jace said, "If anyone were around, the crashing doors would have called them out. Right?"
Garrett didn't answer. He hung close to Heller's bulk.
"If anyone is waiting around to jump us, they're gonna have to come through this hallway. Right?" Jace didn't wait for an answer. "Heller, you cover the hallway from here. Garrett, you cross cover from there."
Obeying his orders, they trained their weapons and flashlights on the dark hallway.
Jace holstered his gear then struggled to open the cover on the hold. No matter how much shoulder he threw into it, the damn thing wouldn't budge.
The word rolled from a whisper behind him.
He turned his head. A tall woman dressed head to toe in black dropped a gleaming silver blade to his neck smooth as butter-slicked bread.
"Tell your crew to stand down."
Jace shot a quick glance to Garrett and Heller. With startled eyes, they riveted their guns on the mystery woman.
Looking for a trapdoor in the ceiling, Jace found nothing and wondered if she'd teleported herself behind him. Baffled, he considered pulling his gun. Jace looked right into her fathomless black eyes as he inched his fingers toward his hip.
"You might want to rethink that, Captain Lawless." She pulled her sword back. "Look real close. I'm not holding a supper knife to your pretty neck."
Supper knife? No. She held a good three feet of double-edged razor blade. And how the hell did she know his name? For that matter, how in the blazes had she gotten right behind him without Garrett or Heller seeing her? He'd done everything by the book, took every precaution, and still nothing went right.
"No medic in the Void could reattach your head, let alone mine."
Her words startled him. When her gaze left him, he felt advantage until he followed her intense stare.
She looked right at Heller, who held his Gatewin Gusher about a foot from her face. If Heller pulled the trigger, he'd kill her all right-and blow a hole in the side of the ship.
"Your man points a cannon into a fish bowl."
Jace looked up her blade as she looked down the barrel of Heller's gigantic gun. Jace flicked his gaze and saw two slender barrels pointed at Heller and Garrett from the dark hallway.
Jace uttered a longsuffering sigh. One wrong move and he'd be responsible for killing everyone on the derelict Basic.
"Seems to me, Captain Lawless, we've got a mutual problem with an obvious solution." Her gaze never wavered from Heller's gun. "It would be best, at this moment, if we all kept our heads."
He couldn't unpack how she got right behind him, or how she knew his name, and it didn't really matter at the moment. "Don't recollect ever having my neck called pretty."
The mystery woman smiled-slow and lazy and sexy. With a voice dripping raw honey, she said, "First time for everything, I suppose." Her riveted gaze never wavered from the wide barrel of Heller's gun, nor did her blade waver from Jace's neck.
"Guess so." Jace tried to stand. Before he could get more than a few inches up, she tapped his neck with her blade without even looking at him.
Garrett and Heller flinched.
Jace slapped a hand to his neck. He pulled it away to find her lightning tap drew a thin line of blood.
"You're awful pretty, Captain Lawless." She darted him a quick glance. "I'd hate to muss your hair, let alone your neck."
Her focus jumped back to Heller's gun.
"But hack your head off I will, even if I lose mine." Her whisper voice rolled strong and compelling. "I go down, we all go down. You tell your crew to stand down."
Trapped, Jace said, "Do it."
Garrett and Heller slowly lowered their weapons.
She shook her head. "Not good enough." With a low whisper, she demanded, "Make it official."
Blade to his neck, guns pointed at both Garrett and Heller from the dark hallway, he had no choice. "This is Captain Jace Lawless ordering the crew of Mutiny to stand down."
Garrett dropped his gun and thrust up his hands.
Heller clutched his gun, apparently considering the wisdom of following Jace's order. It seemed to take forever, but eventually, Heller realized he'd kill them all if he didn't stand down. Swearing a streak of blue, Heller flung off the many weapons strapped to his gigantic body.
Kneel-bound, Jace looked up into fathomless black eyes. Nothing ever came easy, but why did everything have to be so difficult?
"Just once," he mumbled, shaking his head. "Just one damn time things could have gone easy."
His imposing captor stepped close, tilted his face up with the point of her silver blade and considered him.
Leaning close enough to give him an enticing hint of musky perfume, she whispered, "Nothing worth having comes easy."