No Quarter (Bounty, #1)

No Quarter (Bounty #1) by Christine d'Abo
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-399-5
eBook release: 
Apr 25, 2016
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-400-8
Print release: 
Apr 25, 2016
Word count: 
62,200
Page count: 
235
Cover by: 

This title is #1 of the Bounty series.

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When bounty hunter Gar Stitt is given a simple locate-and-retrieve mission, he’s convinced it’s a waste of his skills. His success rate is legendary, after all, and Captain Faolan Wolf isn’t hard to find. He’s the most notorious pirate in the galaxy, and when he shows up planetside to take his pleasures, he’s far from subtle.

Faolan never expected a hot but tightly wound hunter to walk into his private party and try to apprehend him single-handedly. And when an unexpected betrayal forces them to work together, Faolan’s even more surprised to find himself drawn to Gar personally—especially since neither of them do personal.

Gar had intended to put Faolan in prison. Instead he finds his solitary existence shaken by his desire for the pirate. And when the bounty hunter becomes the hunted, he must put his faith in Faolan and his pirate crew, or run the risk of ending up dead.


Publisher's note: This title is an edited second edition, previously published in 2010.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Gar Stitt walked into the Space Jock—the seediest bar on Tybal Station—with a clear head and clear purpose. The stench of vomit, sex, and stale rymak beer was enough to turn the stomach of even the most seasoned bounty hunter, but did little to distract Gar from his task. He sidestepped a drunk who was on his way to the floor, blood dripping from his nose where he’d been punched. A Helexian female nearly walked into him, her white hair and tendrils flushing blue with embarrassment before she scurried away.

Careful to avoid getting any of the filth from the bar or its patrons on him, Gar quickly scanned the darkened room for his mark. The mix of colors was muted by the haze in the air. Humans and aliens alike clung haphazardly to the stools and were draped across tables; none were the man he was looking for.

In and out, he’d been promised—in for a quick job and then out to the middle of nowhere for a much-needed break. Gar had already lingered on the station longer than he’d intended, tracking his target. If anyone but Jason Krieg had asked him to take care of the matter, he would have walked away. Six months on various hunts was enough to suck the life out of anyone—Gar was no exception.

He’d been in the Bounty Hunters’ Guild long enough that he didn’t get stuck with cleanup duties often, so he knew there was something special about this case. Not that Gar could say no to the man who’d given him a renewed sense of purpose after the murder of his family, even if it meant coming to the Space Jock. Jason asked, and Gar jumped. The positive point to the whole thing was a chance to see the infamous Captain Wolf again.

Suppressing a sigh, he focused his attention back on the crowd. For the briefest of seconds, he considered that his reconnaissance report might have misled him. This didn’t seem like the captain’s normal type of entertainment haven if his file was to be believed. It was too crowded, too exposed, too deep in enemy territory. It went against the pattern, and nothing good happened when normal routines changed.

Fantastic.

Loud, throbbing beats pounded through his body until the fine hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and his brain rattled in his head. He was sure this qualified as music somewhere in the universe, but nowhere he’d ever want to visit. What would bring the captain to a hellhole like this? Not that Gar’s mark had a particularly discerning reputation, but from the picture in the data file, he thought Wolf would have better taste. Though this was the same man who’d had the balls to waltz into Jason’s backyard and try to pull a scam.

Gar would have to cut those balls off.

In the quick lull between songs, a peal of rich, booming laughter from the back room grabbed Gar’s attention—the same laugh he’d heard on a vid clip in the data file. Ah, there he was—Captain Faolan Wolf, present and accounted for.

Perhaps this would go more smoothly than he’d first thought. Shifting his weight to loosen his vest and shrug open his long, heavy overcoat, he slid his hand inside to brush the top of the holsters carrying his blasters. His long black blades were secured in special sheaths that would send both knives into his waiting hands with a hard flick of his wrists. They and the leather wrist straps he wore for protection were perfectly hidden from sight within the bulk of his coat.

With any luck, he would dispose of the infamous captain and be back on the Geilt in time for his meal.

A wall of silence fell over the bar as Gar walked past. While he rarely frequented Tybal Station as he had in his youth, his reputation remained firmly in place. He ignored hooded stares, taking silent pleasure in how at least half the people averted their gazes in an attempt to escape his notice. Those who didn’t were probably looking for some excitement. They might get their wish if things didn’t go the way he intended tonight.

It was Gar’s appearance that helped him blend into a crowd—until he unleashed his special brand of judgment. Then, of course, those who survived had his image burned into their memory: jacket, black vest, crisp white shirt. He looked to be on his way to a sophisticated social function on one of the Earth colonies, not frequenting the bowels of a hellhole like Tybal.

Gar had long since become accustomed to hell. It suited him.

The crowd parted, making it easier for him to avoid the layer of scum that clung to everything and everyone in the place. When he reached the back room, the captain’s voice slipped from the half-shut door. Two rather bulky men flanked the entrance, large, meaty arms crossed over their chests. Gar laced his hands behind his back and let his gaze slide from the man on the left to the one on the right. Their clubbed fists would easily crack his jaw, but he doubted it would come to a single blow. Cocking a lean eyebrow, he waited.

It didn’t take long for the man on the left to squirm.

“Private party,” the behemoth slurred.

Gar snorted.

“The captain doesn’t want to be disturbed,” the one on the right bit out, a little more coherent than his mate.

Bowing his head toward the man, Gar took a half step closer. He didn’t raise his voice, despite the resurgence of the blaring music. No, he kept it even, his words clipped and clear.

“Open the door.”

“Why the fuck should we listen to you?” the guard on the right spat, pushing his face into Gar’s as he did.

Gar jabbed his thumb into the side of the man’s throat, collapsing him to the floor, gasping and coughing. The movement was so fast the other bouncer barely had time to blink before Gar returned his hands to their original position behind his back. Raising his eyebrow again, he waited for the remaining man to push the door all the way open.

Gar spoke softly as he stepped over the moaning man. “He’ll need medical attention. You might want to see to it immediately.”

In the back room, a red haze hung high in the air, the sweet scent telling him that it was most likely an erotigen. Great, now he was going to have a hard-on for a week. He stepped fully into the room and waited for someone to notice his presence.

It took longer than expected.

Captain Wolf lay on a large, thick pallet that covered most of the floor. He was barefoot, wearing only a pair of black leather pants and a rich-green military jacket that gaped open. His bare chest and stomach were partially covered by the long hair of a woman currently fighting with a young, attractive man for the privilege of sucking the captain’s cock. His wide grin exposed a mouth full of perfect white teeth, and amusement made his eyes sparkle.

“Now, Jona, you must learn to share. There’s more than enough of me to go around and Ziva has been more than patient.”

The cooing and moaning of the pair would have been funny under different circumstances. For that matter, the impressive size of the captain’s cock would have been a matter of interest. Gar knew the only thing it rivaled was the size of the man’s ego.

His slow gaze moved up Wolf’s body and over his chest, taking in the long brown hair that reached the top of his shoulders, and finally coming to rest on his startling blue gaze. It took all Gar’s years of training to keep his surprise from showing. He’d only laid eyes on the captain once before, during a time when he’d been in no position to draw attention to himself or his actions. Now, subjected to Wolf’s piercing inspection, long-buried feelings of uncertainty and inexperience rose.

The captain’s amusement never wavered, even as he pulled Jona’s mouth from his straining cock and leaned forward to stage-whisper in his ear. “It seems we have company.”

“Captain Wolf.”

“Ooh, now that is an accent I haven’t heard in a very long time. Damasmus? No, too refined for there. Zeten?” He shifted his weight to one hip, attempting to look around Gar. “Can’t see the stick up your ass, but it must be there.”

“Stand up.”

“I’d much rather you lie down. Take that jacket off. Maybe your pants. I’ll look for the stick.”

The pair on either side of Wolf snickered, the woman turning her head to lick his nipple. The captain gazed down at her and placed a kiss on her forehead. Gar didn’t look away, but knew he was being tested—the captain was trying to catch him off guard.

“Look, I don’t mind sharing. She’s quite good.”

Gar let out a soft sigh, but the captain’s hearing was too good.

“Not interested. Sorry, Ziva, I don’t think you’re his type. Jona’s exceptional, but you might be a bit rough for him. Don’t know if I can allow that.”

“You’ve been playing in the wrong backyard, pirate. You should have known you’d never make it out of Krieg’s territory untouched.”

Wolf grinned and let his gaze travel lazily down Gar’s body, lingering on his groin before meeting his eyes again with a wink. “Definitely from Zeten. Damn, I forgot how sexy that accent was.”

Impatience poked at Gar, but he refused to react. Narrowing his eyes, he took a half step forward and dropped his hands to his sides. The motion caused his overcoat to pull, none too subtly revealing the butts of his blasters. The captain had a reputation for liking things rough—Gar was more than happy to accommodate.

He knew the second Ziva and Jona spied his weapons. They rolled away from Wolf, snatching their clothing as they went. Without another word, they ran naked from the room. The captain actually pouted at the loss of his companions, watching after them as they scurried away.

“That wasn’t nice. Now I’m left all alone with a stiff cock and no one to relieve it.”

“You should have thought of that before vacationing on Tybal.”

“I like you, bounty hunter.” He pushed his cock back into his pants and hauled himself to his feet. “So, how much am I worth these days?”

Of course the size of the bounty made a difference to a man like Captain Wolf. This time Gar couldn’t hold back the eye roll, eliciting a chuckle from Wolf.

“Come on, my reputation is at stake. How much?”

“Two million.”

“Excellent. That last job must have bumped me up a level.”

He slid the green coat from his body, putting Gar face-to-face with the most perfectly sculpted bare chest and arms he’d seen in ages. A beautifully intricate tattoo of a cyrax dragon on his left arm rippled as he reached down, grabbed a tight-fitting shirt, and pulled it on. Somehow, the man looked even better clad in the clingy fabric than he had half-naked.

Giving his head a slight shake, Gar refocused on the matter at hand. The captain caught the small motion, and his grin widened.

“It’s the erotigen, bounty hunter. Making you all hot and bothered, isn’t it?”

How Gar had forgotten about the red haze, he wasn’t sure, but the bastard was probably right. His cock was noticeably harder than a moment ago, the blood pounding through it echoed by the pounding in his head. It also explained why the sight of the captain pulling on a pair of knee-high boots was the most arousing thing he’d witnessed in years. Not that Gar was particularly attracted to men—sex was more of a way to take the edge off than anything else. It didn’t really matter if his partner was male or female, as long as they didn’t talk and left him alone afterward.

He had to admit, the idea of sex with Captain Wolf was strangely appealing at the moment.

Giving his head another shake, he let his annoyance slip through as he pulled out a blaster and pointed it at his mark. Time to put an end to this little game.

“Let’s go, Captain Wolf.”

“Faolan. With you looking all dark and sexy like that, you can call me Faolan.”

The name suited him. So did the military jacket and sword belt that he fastened around his hips. Wolf slid the sheathed weapon itself across the floor, and Gar picked it up with one hand, shoving it into the back of his own belt, where it hung awkwardly under his coat. Even without the sword, a fully dressed Captain Wolf—Faolan—was a force to be reckoned with. He suddenly looked a lot more dangerous than he had moments earlier.

Flexing his fingers on the butt and trigger of his weapon, Gar let out a slow, even breath and leveled the laser sight on Faolan’s chest.

“Time to go . . . Captain.”

Faolan took a step closer, and Gar realized the man was slightly taller and leaner than he was. He adjusted his stance in anticipation of an attack. The action caught the captain’s attention, and he lifted his chin slightly.

“Itching for a fight, bounty hunter? ’Cause I’m fucking hard as hell and unless you’re going to bend over so I can bury myself in your sweet ass, I’m just as happy to beat the shit out of you.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

Not normally so easily goaded, Gar mentally hit himself for taking the bait. Even the captain seemed surprised—momentary shock melting into amused interest. Another step had Faolan’s chest pressed firmly against the barrel of the blaster, but he seemed oblivious to it.

Deep blue eyes locked onto Gar’s, Faolan reached up and ran his thumb along Gar’s goatee.

“Now this is sexy. I haven’t had a man with facial hair suck my cock in a long time. Though it would be a shame to fill your mouth too long. I wouldn’t be able to hear you moan with that wonderful accent.” His finger slid from Gar’s chin to brush his jawline. “Are you sure you don’t want to fuck?”

Gar’s cock twitched at the suggestion. He knew Faolan would be a good lover—could tell by the intensity of his gaze, the gentleness of his touch. Despite the temptation and the pull of the erotigen, Gar’s sense of duty to Jason was stronger. Thumbing the blaster up to the next setting, he cocked an eyebrow.

“Quite.”

With a deep sigh and a slight pout, Faolan shrugged. “Best we’re off, then. Through the bar or out the back door?”

The heavy stress on “back door” elicited another eye roll before Gar dipped his head toward the bar entrance. “Move.”

“We need to work on your conversational skills, bounty hunter. These one-word responses are already getting boring.”

“I wouldn’t want the sound of my voice to get you overexcited. That way.”

Chuckling, Faolan walked past him into the crowd, one hand automatically resting where the hilt of his sword would have been. Gar’s prisoner flirted with everything on two or more legs as he led his captor out of the Space Jock. He even went so far as to run his hand down the feathered back of one of the waitresses.

“Stitt’s bringing in the captain,” someone hissed as they shuffled past.

“He’s dead,” another agreed.

“But I’ll leave a fucking gorgeous corpse.” Faolan winked at them before leaning in, kissing one of the barmaids on the mouth and stepping out the door.

Out on the streets, Gar kept his guard up. He doubted the captain was there alone, and it was likely Wolf’s crew had been alerted to his plight. Gar needed to get him out of sight and off planet as quickly as possible. He’d deal with the crew only once their leader was taken care of.

Pushing Faolan against the damp stone wall of the dark alley outside the bar, he roughly jerked the captain’s hands behind his back and into a set of electro-cuffs. This section of the station was close to ruin from years of meteorite showers and high acid rain. The depressing conditions did little to dampen Faolan’s vivacious attitude. He even laughed as Gar flipped him around so they were face-to-face.

“God, I bet you have all sorts of cool shit we could use in bed. A little heavy bondage. I bet you’d get off on being the mark for once.”

“If you want to see my gag, keep it up with the smart mouth.” Gar pressed his com unit and waited for the connection. “It’s Stitt. I need a cell and a route cleared.”

Faolan’s gaze narrowed, giving Gar the impression that he was making a quick decision. Whatever it was, it didn’t take him long to come to some sort of conclusion. He licked his lips, his smile slipping back into place.

“Before you and Krieg throw away the key on me, aren’t you the least bit curious to know why a man with a bounty as large as the one I have on my head showed up on your doorstep? Because, really, stupidity wasn’t in my character profile.”

“One moment please, Jason.” Gar tapped his com unit again and waited.

Faolan licked his lips again. “While I might be cocky, I’m not an idiot. We raided an Earth Loyalist cruiser a month ago and came across something . . . interesting. Considering your boss’s reputation, I thought he might be curious to see what the new radicals were trying to smuggle home. He refused to take my calls, so this was the fastest way to get his attention.”

Impatience wasn’t something Gar normally battled with, but Faolan seemed to have the unique ability to test his control. Pressing the barrel of the blaster into the side of the captain’s neck, Gar waited for him to continue.

Instead of showing fear, Faolan simply seemed amused. “I’m not going to tell you unless you ask nicely.”

Leaning his weight into the blaster, Gar shifted his face so it was only a few inches away from Faolan’s.

“Please.”

Faolan sighed, his eyes dipping shut for a moment before he returned his gaze to Gar’s.

“Someday I’m going to make you beg just so I can hear you say that again.”

“If you don’t start talking, you’re not going to live past the next thirty seconds.”

Faolan slid forward so the tip of his nose brushed Gar’s, and lowered his voice so it barely reached him even in the confines of the alley.

“We found what I thought was nothing more than some trinkets, a bit of jewelry some Loyalist whore might miss when the ship disappeared. Turns out, there was something a bit more valuable hidden in plain sight. A precious stone the size of an energy capacitor.”

“And why should I care?”

Faolan’s breath tickled Gar’s neck. The aroma of musk, erotigen, and hydro vodka clung to the pirate like a second skin. Gar’s cock twitched again at the scent.

“You should care, Gar Stitt, because the stone gives its holder the ability to read another’s thoughts.”

Everything around Gar seemed to narrow. Aside from his blaster pressed against Faolan’s chin and the captain’s hands locked behind his back in the electro-cuffs, the rest of their bodies was pressed firmly together.

They were nearly the same height, and their swollen cocks rocked against each other through the fabric of their clothing. The pressure was pleasant, more enticing because of the erotigen. Strangely, Gar knew if he were to release Faolan’s hands, he could easily relax into his embrace.

Instead of giving in to the temptation, he reached up and tapped his com unit. “Did you get that, sir?” He listened to his instructions, keeping his gaze locked on the amused expression of the pirate. Jason changed his orders, and Gar nodded, despite the fact no one but Faolan could see him. “Of course I’m sure. I’ll report back once I have it.”

Faolan looked surprised as Gar leaned in and disengaged the lock on the cuffs, then pulled the sword from his belt and handed it over. Wolf slid it back into place by feel, never taking his eyes off Gar. “I assume this means your boss is interested in what I’m selling.”

“My boss wants me to check out the stone. See if it does what you claim. If so . . . I’m authorized to make arrangements to obtain it.”

“And if your boss doesn’t give me the price I want? Half the galaxy would kill for this thing.”

“Half the galaxy can’t remove the bounty from your head and set you up with enough credits to last a lifetime.”

Faolan nodded once. “Fair enough. I need to take you to my ship.”

“Lead the way.”

Gar stepped back to let him by, but the pirate had other ideas. With unexpected speed and grace, Faolan grabbed him by the wrist and spun him around. Now his back was against the alley wall. Pinning him in place, Faolan thrust his knee between Gar’s and pressed the top of his thigh against Gar’s balls and shaft. Instead of attacking, Faolan crushed his mouth against Gar’s. Faolan’s tongue pressed inward, invading his mouth with the taste of vodka and the promise of pleasure. The blaster Gar still held fell lifeless to the ground. Large hands roamed Gar’s chest, fingers forced their way under his overcoat and vest, only to be thwarted by his shirt. Faolan let out a low growl and broke the kiss with a gasp.

“You wear too many clothes, Stitt.”

“And I’m still armed.”

With a flick of his wrist, the long black knife sprang from its sheath, the handle landing smoothly in the palm of his waiting hand. Gar pressed the blade to Faolan’s throat and cocked an eyebrow in question. Good kisser or not, Gar wouldn’t hesitate to kill the captain where he stood. Faolan recognized this, but didn’t seem intimidated by Gar’s ruthlessness.

“Definitely too many clothes. We need to work on that.”

“Your ship?”

Faolan brushed his lips softly over Gar’s once more before stepping away. “Well, you see, I’m going to need your help there.”

For the love of all that’s good, why did he make things so difficult?

“Mutiny, Captain?”

Definitely the wrong thing to say. Faolan straightened to his full height, lowering his chin to look down his nose at Gar. His shoulder-length brown hair swept forward, framing his face and partially covering his eyes. In the blink of an eye, Faolan changed from devil-may-care pirate to deadly adversary.

“I trust my crew with my life, and they trust me with theirs. Mutiny is the last thing I’m worried about.”

It was the first serious thing Wolf had said since Gar walked through the door of the bar’s back room. “Then why would you need my assistance?”

“I didn’t want to risk the ship or my crew by landing on the station. I couldn’t trust your boss not to kill me on sight for invading his pleasure port. They dropped me off. I’m to meet them in three days at a specified rendezvous four light jumps from here.” Leaning forward, he winked at Gar. “Fancy a trip?”

If anyone but Jason had asked him to take on this assignment, he would have walked away, wanting no part of the man in front of him or the trouble he was sure to bring. Instead, Gar tucked his knife back into its sheath and pushed his blaster back into the holster. Straightening his vest and pulling his overcoat closed so the hem brushed the top of his boots, he spun on his heel and stalked out of the alley in the direction of the landing docks.

Faolan silently fell into step beside him. Gar was irritated to see the man was grinning. No, this wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience. He forced his body to relax so he could at least stop grinding his teeth long enough to lay down the law. He rarely brought anyone on board the Geilt unless they were bound, gagged, and in a cage. Or as a corpse. Guests were an anomaly.

“There are rules I expect you to follow. If you get out of line, I’ll kill you.”

Faolan chuckled. “Oh, this is going to be fun.”

 

Chapter Two

“Why am I not surprised?” Faolan fixed a smirk on his face and followed Stitt onto the ship.

He’d often said you could tell someone’s personality from their living quarters. The Geilt was exactly what Faolan expected—sterile and cold. Sliding a hand along the side wall, he took in as much of the room as he could. Triple security circuits on the hatch, reinforced hull, laser rifle by the door to the cabin, compact food replicator along the back wall. All practical and boring. What the hell did a man like Stitt spend his credits on if not comforts for his ship? It certainly wasn’t alcohol or whores, if his reputation was anything to go by.

He should have listened to Mace and brought his personal pleasure mod for entertainment. God, this was going to be duller than he’d anticipated.

Still, he was flattered Krieg sent Gar after him. Faolan had worked hard to earn the reputation of being a dangerous bastard, and would have been insulted if someone with a lesser reputation had been ordered to collect him. The last thing he wanted was to be discounted as a hack or has-been, not worthy of a better hunter. Gar was the best out there.

Too bad he seemed frigid.

“So, what do you do for fun around these parts?” Faolan grinned, making a show of it as he ran a fingertip over the top of a shelf, only to inspect it for nonexistent dust.

Gar glared at him from over his shoulder, still heading to the couch. “Deal with criminals like you.”

The bounty hunter’s movements were fluid as he rolled his shoulders and slipped the heavy overcoat down his arms to reveal a formfitting jacket and ass-hugging trousers. Faolan was more than happy to ogle that sight until Gar turned back around and cleared his throat, forcing Faolan’s gaze to his face. Gar’s irritation was clear by the single lift of his eyebrow. How could one man say so much with such a minimal effort?

Faolan shrugged. “I was thinking about asses and wanted to check yours out.”

“I’d prefer if you didn’t.”

Touchy bastard. “I’ll take it under advisement.”

“You want to take off your jacket?” Mock civility oozed from Gar.

“Is that an invitation for me to get naked, pretty boy? I’m more than happy to oblige.” Faolan ignored the twitching of his still-hard cock at the thought of getting Gar into bed. Or against the wall . . . or on the floor. The damn erotigen was still working overtime, short-circuiting his brain when he should be strategizing. Shit. Rookie mistake to have let Ziva use that crap.

Gar didn’t even crack a smile. Faolan slipped the heavy coat down his arms. He tossed it in the direction of the black sofa, trying not to laugh at the horrified expression on Gar’s face as it sailed through the air and landed in a heap at the edge of the couch. With a shake of his head, Gar turned and laced his hands behind his back, his gaze locked on the offending clothing now littering his ship.

“I mentioned there were some rules.” With a sigh, he walked toward the jacket Faolan had just thrown. Bending slightly at the waist as though the action might wrinkle his perfectly pressed dark suit, he picked it up. Holding it out from his body, he clicked his tongue. “The first is: don’t mess up my ship.”

“Can I mess you up instead?” The words flew from Faolan’s mouth before he could think to stop them. Not that he would take them back. He really did need to fuck something.

Gar stared at him hard. He noticed the change in the other man—the darkening of his eyes and the bob of his throat as he swallowed. With Gar’s overcoat gone and his jacket open, it was also easier to see the bulge in the front of his pants. It would be simple enough to blame the erotigen, but the drug would only do so much. There was something in the way Gar moved, shifting to gently drape Faolan’s jacket over the back of the couch, that told him the hunter was trying to fight the effects of both the drugs and Faolan’s words. It didn’t look like Gar was winning. Unresolved lust burned through Faolan’s body, making his balls tighten and his cock leak. If he didn’t fuck something soon, he really would kill someone.

Gar’s voice shook him out of his musings. “Rule number two. While you’re on my ship, I’m in charge. No games, no deceit. I expect the total truth the entire time or else I turn around and deliver your ass to Krieg.”

Faolan snorted. “I won’t promise you that.”

“Then this trip is over now.”

Gar marched in the direction of his overcoat, and Faolan knew he was going for the electro-cuffs. Reaching out, Faolan gripped Gar’s arm, stopping him where he stood before pulling him close. “Hey, settle down.”

“Don’t push your luck, Captain.”

“I’m not. I can promise you the truth, but no one is in charge of me. Understand?”

He kept his eyes locked on Gar’s, but suddenly found it hard to concentrate. Heat radiated from Gar in waves, enticing him, inviting him to lean in. Damn it, he needed to keep a clear head if he was going to pull this off and get his crew out of their current mess. Krieg’s money was the answer to so many problems—all he had to do was keep his cock under control and win the confidence of the man in front of him.

Gar’s blue gaze roamed over his face. Faolan barely managed to suppress a shiver. He wet his bottom lip with his tongue, and did it again when Gar’s attention slipped down to watch.

“Any other rules I need to be aware of?” He flexed his fingers on Gar’s biceps, testing the firmness of the muscle beneath the layers of fabric.

Faolan had never found strong men to be overly attractive. He liked to be the one on top—especially if his partner was younger. Gar was an interesting mix of old-galaxy manners and youthful vibrancy, even if he hid it beneath a mask of ice. What fun Faolan could have chipping away at the layers. Who would he find hiding under the surface?

Gar jerked his arm free and took a step back. The distance, while not great, gave them both room to breathe. Faolan watched as the hunter pulled the hem of his jacket down, as if to straighten invisible wrinkles. Nervous tic? Didn’t seem likely, but he stored it away for further observation.

“Rule number three,” Gar continued, clearing his throat. “Do what you like in this room, but the rest of the ship is off-limits.”

“Have some cargo you’re scared I might want to sneak a peek at?”

“This is my home. Respect it.” Gar turned his face away, gaze drifting in the direction of a door off to the side.

Faolan found himself nodding. “Respect is earned, not granted on a demand.”

The words hit home with Gar. Faolan could see by the tightening of his mouth and the briefly squinting eyes. Whatever he was feeling, the fleeting emotion was crushed, and his impassive mask fell back into place. Quite possibly, Faolan had finally met someone more fucked up than himself.

Gar crossed his arms and huffed. “Enough of this. What are the coordinates to your ship? I’d like to get there as quickly as possible. If your crew can be trusted to do what you told them, I want to be ready early.”

Anger flashed through him, along with the urge to punch Gar. “My crew is loyal to me. You’d do well to remember that.”

Faolan had fought long and hard to earn the respect of every man and woman on his ship. They worked, fought, and loved like a family. He’d happily die for each and every one of them if called upon to do so—and he knew the feeling was mutual. What right did this loner have to even pretend to criticize them?

Before he could stop himself, he closed the distance between them and pressed into Gar’s personal space. “We go nowhere until I’m confident they won’t be harmed. I don’t trust you not to betray me.”

“And I don’t trust you not to shoot me in the back. So we’re on mutual ground.”

Seconds ticked off in Faolan’s head as he memorized the expression on Gar’s face. He’d dealt with men like this hunter before, and knew if there was some deeper emotion, it would be ugly. Like the men who’d chased him down, taken his wife from him, and left him in his current state. A snort escaped him before he could stop it.

Gar lifted his eyebrow. “What?”

“You think you’re something special. Don’t you?”

Gar didn’t respond, which only served to piss Faolan off more. No, he couldn’t lose control of the situation now, not with so much at stake. Twisting his anger into cocky bravado, he grinned wide enough to show all his teeth, in an attempt to turn the tables from confrontation into something else.

“Hunter, you think because you live in Krieg’s back pocket that you have control of everything and everyone in this sector. If you were to snap your fingers, you could have whatever you want laid out before you. But do you know what? You’re wrong. My crew will be at the coordinates. We have three days to kill in the meantime. It’s your call on how we do it.”

Gar didn’t look away—his pale-blue irises were unrelenting in their appraisal. It would have been unnerving if it weren’t for the thinly veiled lust showing through the man’s mask.

Faolan shouldn’t have been surprised when Gar took a step back, visibly swallowed, and shifted his gaze to the cockpit door.

“I need to maneuver the ship into the queue for planetary takeoff. Stay here.”

Faolan bowed deep at the waist, holding his arms out wide. “Of course.”

“Fucker.” Gar turned sharply before he marched into the cockpit, the door automatically sliding closed behind him.

The air in the room felt thin as Faolan took several breaths to calm his racing heart. Gods-damned erotigen. He’d have to play this one fast and loose, try to keep Gar off-balance until he could get back to his ship. Mace would be able to pull something up on the bastard at that point. She had a way of digging out the dirt in a person’s life, no matter how deeply they thought it was buried. And if she couldn’t . . . well, she could always make something up.

Hooking his thumbs into the waistband of his pants, he sauntered around the room. There had to be something on this ship he could use against Gar to ensure things went the way he wanted.

He wasn’t surprised to find the door to the cockpit locked when he tried it. It proved that despite being dosed with drugs, Gar could still think straight. Good to know. Faolan wanted a challenge, not some pushover.

The only other door in the room, aside from the exit, was also locked, this time with a bio scanner and voiceprint identifier. Gar apparently took no chances when it came to his ship’s security. Not that it would stop Faolan from cracking it when he needed to, but it would take longer than usual. Curiosity gnawed at his insides. Gar was proving to be more of a mystery and a challenge than he’d anticipated. A grin slipped onto his face as he continued to inspect the room.

The couch took up a large part of the area, and there were very few personal effects decorating the walls. A computer terminal along the side wall was also locked down with bio access. Casting a quick glance over his shoulder at the cockpit door, he slipped into the terminal chair and began running through several of his tried-and-tested hacking techniques. The screen flashed red with each failed attempt, escalating his annoyance. Bastard bounty hunter was good—which pissed him off more. There had to be something else.

Spinning the seat around, he looked at the room again, this time with an eye for anything out of the ordinary. Gar was a loner, apparently had no addictions, and lived a minimalistic life if the rest of the ship was anything like this room. The boy needed to have some fun! Faolan couldn’t have lived like this—he’d die from the monotony of it all. Fucking, fighting, and flying his ship were what ruled his current life. Mix in raids on Loyalist ships and colonies and he had everything a man with no future could ever want.

As the minutes passed, he grew almost resolved to not finding out Gar’s secret—because everyone had at least one—before the hunter came back. But when his gaze landed on the silver panel alongside the computer terminal, he knew he’d found what he was looking for.

Something unusual.

He dropped to his knees as he pulled out a black-bladed knife from his boot. The panel fell away surprisingly easy given the nature of Gar’s security protocols. What Faolan wasn’t expecting to see was an old-fashioned safe embedded in the wall. No bio scanner, just a mechanical spin dial combination. Honestly, the idea was brilliant. Most criminals wouldn’t have a clue how the combination lock worked, let alone how to get past it.

Thankfully, he wasn’t the average criminal.

Cracking his fingers, he leaned in until his ear rested just above the dial. He knew the basic principle of the thing—turn the dial until you hit the correct number, then go in the opposite direction. Simple. However, the sheer number of numeric combinations would drive away most people.

Setting the dial to start at zero, he closed his eyes and listened for the steady clicking of the locking mechanism. He, like many of his race, had exceptional hearing, so he was able to recognize the louder snap of the barrel when he hit the right number. Grinning, he reversed the dial’s direction. It took only a few minutes more to find the other numbers. Leaning back, he took a deep breath before cracking the rusty metal door open.

His smile quickly morphed into a scowl as he peered inside, not quite sure what he was looking at. Devoid of anything precious like credits, drugs, or weapons, the safe seemed to contain only an old personal picture display unit and a small metal object. Ignoring the display unit, he snatched the other item and rose to his feet.

A watch?

The metal was pitted and discolored along the back and strap. The glass of the face was worn, giving it a fogged appearance. The second hand wasn’t moving; instead it stood at attention pointing straight up. Wait . . . no, it wasn’t a second hand. No other hand existed, which confused the hell out of him. What good was a watch you couldn’t tell time with? For that matter, what good was a watch based on a planetary solar cycle when you lived on a spaceship?

He flipped it over and around in his hand, wondering about the history of the thing. What the hell was a bounty hunter doing with something as antiquated as this anyway?

from Love Bytes Reviews

[D]ark, angsty. . . . If you enjoy reading sci-fi romance I definitely recommend you read No Quarter.

from Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

[A] very enjoyable read.

from Night Owl Reviews

[An] imaginative world.

from Publishers Weekly

[A] sexy, salacious, and passionate exploration of what draws and binds two people together.