“Any more of that and I’ll have to cut you off.”
The barkeep’s ragged voice shook Rowan from his thoughts. He’d downed his fifth—or was it is sixth?—mug of fiery grog in less than two hours. It hadn’t been enough; he still felt sorry for himself. He reached into his vest pocket and dragged out his last mark; worrying about paying back his remaining debts would have to wait. The bill was damp and pathetic, and it stuck to the bar’s surface. “Keep the rest.”
Before the barkeep could answer, Rowan slid off the barstool and stepped out onto the street.
Station NR-73 was bustling, typical for a Friday afternoon. It was the last waystation before venturing beyond the asteroid belt and into the realm of the gas giants. He surmised that almost everyone on these streets, either wealthy patrician or lowly servant to said patrician, would depart by 1630 Terra Standard Time and head to that playground for the rich, Callisto.
I have to get out of here.
Those damned female card sharks had long since left the station, along with the rest of Rowan’s marks and his junker, the Ancient Mariner. Cursing himself, he made his way to the docks. He still couldn’t believe that he’d lost nearly everything on a bad hand, particularly to a group of upstart women. Usually he played cautiously, riding a gentle wave of wins and losses, making sure to end up with a slight edge.
Today, things had gone sideways.
There was no use focusing on his errors. He needed a way off this station.
At the docks, the atmospheric shield cast a faint shimmer over the dazzling galaxy. Looking down the jetty rows, he saw all manner of ships: hulking junkers in the style of his recent loss, grey troop ships, small sporting vehicles in every color imaginable, and a few luxury cruisers. People milled around each vessel, which didn’t help his chances of commandeering any of them.
A group of Peacekeeping Guards, in their crisp blue bodysuits, eyed him suspiciously. Rowan slowed his pace and kept his head down, evaluating the vessels using his peripheral vision. The last thing he needed was interference from the law. He kept his breathing even, fighting the adrenaline coursing through his veins. To his good fortune, the group did not follow him.
He trudged further along, assessing each ship. The right one needed minimal guards around it, preferably just one or two who’d easily succumb to a chokehold. It needed to be fast, to slip easily past nosy checkpoints. It needed to be fully fueled, for he had no intention of stopping until reaching his stronghold at Rhea.
As though the gods had heard him, Rowan turned to gaze upon a ship that met all his expectations.
Before him was Craven’s Pride, a sleek, silver and lilac duochrome Orion-class yacht. There wasn’t a single Peacekeeping Guard near it, and the landing door was wide open, as though the ship begged for him to pilot it.
Without a second thought, he strode into the ship and closed the thick, armored door behind him.
The interior of ship was illuminated with a soft, pinkish glow, reminding him of the sunsets on Terra’s beaches. It was eerily silent. The hairs on the back of his neck had risen and he swallowed. It may have been a few years, but this wasn’t the first time he’d stolen a spacecraft.
He crept up to the flight deck, a small chamber filled with an array of levers, buttons, and screens. The settings were all wrong, as though a novice had brought the ship to port in one piece, flying under the protection of a miracle. Rowan sat at the white captain’s chair and began to calibrate the settings, preparing to launch, setting the course to Rhea.
“Who the hell are you?”
The low, feminine voice and cool, metallic cylinder on his neck were all he needed to know that he’d been caught. He raised his hands in surrender and slowly rose from the captain’s chair. When he turned to face his opponent, his breath swiftly left his body.
She was clad in a whisper-thin shimmer robe and nothing else. Her lush, female body was practically bared to him, her neck and chest covered with intricate tattoos. Her violet eyes caught his focus.
It would be just my luck to steal a ship with an infuriatingly beautiful woman on board. He had to tread carefully to save his hide.
Turning on the charm, he said, “Folks call me lots of things, but I answer to Rowan. And who might you be?”
Her expression did not change, nor did she lower the laser pistol. He didn’t know what setting it was on, but he hoped it was only on Stagger. The woman tucked a silver strand of silver hair behind her pointed ear. “Myra Zaren. Get the hell off my ship.”
Here was his opportunity. “Well, ordinarily I would oblige. However—” he gestured towards the control panel “—I couldn’t help but notice that the calibrations are a disaster. You really should consider firing your pilot.”
He caught a flicker on her brow; he’d struck a nerve. But she did not lower the gun.
“I flew this ship myself, and clearly I did a fine job. Like I said, get off.”
“I’ll grant that you did a fine job flying this ship from your summer home on the south side of the station to this port—”
“What makes you think I only flew from—?”
“But I doubt you’ll be able to fly it any further without destroying it.”
“I could kill you where you stand!”
“No, you couldn’t. You don’t have it in you.”
“What makes you say that?”
“If you wanted to kill me, you’d have done it already. The guards have abandoned their posts, and I assume you’re alone. It would be all too easy for you to shoot me, then dump my body in the asteroid belt.”
His easy, casual tone must have unnerved her. The woman bit her full lower lip. Her hand shook slightly, the gun rattling. “What do you want? Money? Food? Contraband? Whatever it is, I’ll get it for you if you just leave!”
Rowan lowered his hands, shoving them in his trouser pockets. He leaned against the back of the captain’s chair, affecting the devil-may-care pose that usually turned women into putty in his hands. “I think you and I want the same things, Myra.”
She raised the gun to point at the spot between his eyes. “What makes you think you and I are anything alike? You don’t know me.”
“I know of you. I know you’re wealthy beyond reason but also recently widowed—“
“I know that despite your husband being dead and buried on Pluto, you have plenty of strict rules to stick to, or you don’t get access to the entirety of your marital fortune.”
She blinked. “Have you been following me around?”
“No.” He grinned, cocking his head to one side. “But a smuggler makes it his business to know everything about everyone. Regardless, I know you’re young, beautiful, and not at all interested in living by anyone else’s rules.”
Rowan held his breath, hoping her panic and irritation wouldn’t get the better of her, resulting in his brains being splattered all over the flight deck. To his relief, she lowered the gun, placing it on the floor. She sighed, and he couldn’t help but watch her breasts rise and fall.
“Fine. Perhaps you’re right. You still haven’t answered my question: what do you want?”
“To get off this station and get to Rhea. If I can pilot this ship there, I’ll be able to arrange my affairs, get another junker, and be out of your sensationally silvery hair. Plus, I can find you a pilot for hire once we’re there. The people on Rhea might not know how to be hoity-toity, but the pilots are the best in the galaxy.”
“What makes you so sure they’re that good?”
“I’m one of them.”
Myra rolled her eyes at him, but Rowan caught the faintest of smiles. Now we’re getting somewhere.
“Fine. If you’re as good as you say you are, get us out of here. On one condition.”
Rowan’s eyebrow twitched. Giving into conditions from women wasn’t something he did. However, since the owner of the ship he’d tried to steal was still aboard, he’d have to hear what she had to say. “And that is?”
“You’re to ensure that, should we run into inspectors, you handle them swiftly and alone. I am not to be found whatsoever.”
So she’s a woman on the run. Interesting. “So long as you’re able to hide, that can easily be managed.”
“Good. The ship should be fully refueled, so let’s get a move on, if you don’t mind.”
Before he could reply, she turned and walked further into the yacht. He watched her hips sway with each step, briefly wanting to hold those firm curves of her ass.
Shaking his head, he sat at the captain’s chair and fired up the engines. On the navigation monitor, he entered his stronghold’s coordinates then sent a signal to his quartermaster, who’d dutifully remained on Rhea. Rowan let the QM know of his impending arrival and need of a new smuggling ship. When everything was prepared, he slowly pulled the ship from the docking port.
Before they could pull completely away from the station, they needed to proceed through the gate. A stern female voice came over the intercom: “Craven’s Pride, what’s your destination?”
He hadn’t filed a flight path, assuming that Myra had done so when she landed. He cleared his throat. “Callisto, ma’am,” he lied.
He waited a second for the reply, but one second melted into two and then three. The silence was agonizing. Would the simplest act of piracy really be thwarted by a female gatekeeper in a foul mood? A bead of sweat trickled down the back of Rowan’s neck. He never got this nervous.
“Craven’s Pride, you’re free to go.”
“Copy that.” Rowan released the breath he’d been holding and launched for the stars.
The yacht was the most graceful ship he’d ever piloted: smooth, quiet, and fast. He knew he’d be reluctant to give it back to Myra’s control. Rowan double-checked the course he’d set, turned on the autopilot and went to search for his companion. He told himself he was seeking information, not company.
He found Myra sitting on a white sofa that had been built into the bulkhead of the cold, sterile ship. She was staring out the window, one foot tucked under her leg. With the stars behind her, her beauty was striking: a heady combination of ethereal regality and rustic sensuality. He cleared his throat.
She jumped and turned her head to him, her violet eyes widened. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Who else would it be?” He went to her, lowering himself to the other side of the sofa.
“I’m sorry. I’ve gotten used to being surrounded by attendants and gossips masquerading as friends. Silence is unnerving.”
One of Rowan’s most underrated and effective skills was providing a calm veneer and a large shoulder on which a woman could lean and unload her secrets. Some of his best intercepts had come about because people wanted to talk to him. His quartermaster had said it was his face: “People see that thick, golden head and those sky-blue eyes and think, ‘I could trust him.’ Gods only know why, of course. You’re always looking for plunder of some kind.”
Strangely, he found himself not wanting to steal from her, despite the possibilities for obtaining valuable goods. The trip would take hours, and he needed to pass the time. It had also been far too long since he’d had a woman, especially one as delectable as Myra, much as he hated to admit it.
“I can’t imagine what that must be like. Mind if I ask why all the secrecy and hiding?”
Turning from the window, she stared him down. “I suppose after this I’ll never see you again. And, if we’re going to your stronghold, you probably don’t want its location revealed to authorities.”
“Very well. I’m sure telling someone will ease my mind.” Myra swallowed audibly.
Rowan reminded himself to remain neutral and not to let on that he was further assessing her body, the dark tribal tattoos on her neck and chest indicating that she was from the Triton royal family.
“I married Craven Zaren as a way for my family to gain access to his fortune, while staving off his family’s wishes to mine our methane reserves. It was a political alliance, but there was some passion, I’ll admit. Craven set me up in his glittering palace on Callisto, which is beyond anything I could have imagined.
“For the first few months, I believed that the guards, cameras, and inordinate number of servants were expression of his love and concern for me. Of course, they were all spies, making sure I didn’t reach out to my family for any reason. Soon, my meals were restricted, my Triton clothes were removed, and discussions began over the removal of my tattoos.”
A cloud of frustration and anger came over Rowan. He shouldn’t be concerned for this woman, but her story tugged at something deep within him. He’d heard that the wealthy stayed that way through rigid rules, but he’d never believed that they’d try and alter a fellow citizen’s entire sense of being. “He abused you.”
“Correct,” she replied flatly, as though she’d disassociated from it. “On a diplomatic mission to Triton, about which I was not told, he and his crew began operations on an illegal methane mining operation. One of the rigs exploded and Craven was caught in the blaze.”
“At least he died instantly, right?”
Myra stretched out her leg, her perfectly pedicured purple toe touching his knee. “I’d rather he’d have been rescued, made to live through three hours of third degree burn treatment, and then mercifully killed.”
She hadn’t said it with feeling. She spoke as though she’d merely surrendered to her situation. Rowan recalled that’s how he’d felt after his fleet commission had been ripped away from him. He’d spent a long six months adrift, unsure of the future, falling either into the arms of willing barmaids or on street corners. It wasn’t until he’d met his mentor, LaFitte, that he’d found a direction.
An illegal and morally ambiguous direction, but a direction nonetheless.
“I don’t doubt that.” He leaned back and folded his arms behind his head. He caught her glancing at his chest. “Well, now that you’re a widow, what are you going to do?”
“I have no idea. His mother told me that, according to our marital contract, I was to stay on Callisto until a suitable husband—meaning a puppet for the Zaren family—could be found for me.”
Rowan gestured around the ship. “Clearly you’ve done exactly as she wished.”
She grinned, a small curve of her lips, to be sure, but at least a grin. She’s warming to me. Good. “I can’t go home, though. That’s the first place the Zarens would look, and I don’t want to put my family in danger.”
“How’d you come by this ship, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Same as you,” she said, pointing her toe at him.
He had a sudden urge to kiss that toe, then trace the arch of her foot, ankle, and leg up with his tongue. Am I warming to her, or am I just in need of release?
She wiggled the toe. “I snuck out in my maid’s garb in the middle of the night and slipped into the yacht. Before the guards could be alerted, I’d made it out of the complex and to the port. I’d been regrouping in the personal quarters when you showed up.”
“I’m glad I did. No offense, Mrs. Zaren—”
“Call me Myra.”
“Very well, Myra, but if you’d left those settings and tried getting out of NR-73, you’d have been met with disaster.”
“Don’t tell me you’re always this heroic.”
He gave a derisive snort. “I’m no hero. I lost my ship, saw this one, and took it. It’s part and parcel with the piracy and smuggling trade.”
She didn’t gasp, didn’t even blink. In his experience, most women were at least apprehensive around him whenever he’d mentioned his illicit activities. Myra’s face remained still, as though she were studying him. Rowan shifted in his seat.
“Is this the part where ladies faint?”
She scooted closer to him, her foot now firmly in his lap. He wrapped one hand around it, tracing his thumb along the long arch. Myra sighed and leaned back, giving him a better view of her body. “Well, I’m sure you’ve figured out that I’ve never been like many ladies. Not better, of course. Just different.”
“Certainly not any lady I’ve ever met.” He continued rubbing her foot, noting the trace of a callus that remained, despite numerous pedicures, or so he imagined.
“Triton is a hard moon for occupation and governance. The difference between rich and poor is slim. All my siblings were trained on the methane mines and in the negotiation room. It was better that way; we’ve had our fair share of inept leaders and my father wanted to ensure that we would not end up as such.”
He increased the pressure a little, and she sighed, smiling. “I take it that feels good?”
“It’s been too long.”
Rowan knew what she was most likely referring to, but wanted to hear her say it. “What’s been too long?”
Myra raised her torso, resting on her elbows. Her shimmer robe had come undone, revealing her creamy skin and the details of her tattoos. He wanted to lick each line, from the place behind her ear to the top of her breasts. Despite his casual attitude towards copulation, he took the act itself seriously, leaving each partner sated and panting.
She reached out to grab his free hand. “It’s been too long since I’ve felt like a flesh-and-blood woman, and not like a prop.” She placed his hand on her warm leg, and he immediately coiled his fingers around the curved muscle. Sighing, she continued, “I don’t want to be seen as unattainable. Gods above, I just want to be desired.”
He released her foot and grabbed her other leg, easily pulling her to his body. Through his trousers, he felt the heat from the cleft between her legs. He groaned as she rocked her hips against his erection. Before he could go any further, he needed to be certain she wanted what he could offer her. “Do you want this?” he whispered.
She scooted her hips back. “Look down. What do you think?”
There was a dampness on his pants where her opening had been. “I need to hear you say it.”
“Yes, Rowan. I want you. I want this. Please don’t hold back.”
“I don’t plan on it, but I don’t have anything for…you know.”
“My reproductive organs were removed.”
Rowan stared at her. The thought—that her husband had done something evil to her—must have showed on his face because Myra shook her head, giving a lopsided smile.
“It was nothing like that. All Zaren women undergo the procedure, so as to ensure that any children are developed in strictly sterile environments.” Before he could stop and ponder this bizarre information, Myra stood up and removed her robe, dropping it on the floor. “Look at me.”
Her naked, rose-tinted body was illuminated by starlight. His mouth went dry as his eyes darted over her features, noticing her silver pubic hair glistening. “Gods above, you’re stunning.”
She smiled and tilted her head back. “Strip.”
It was unlike him to take orders from anyone, particularly a woman, but he couldn’t resist her. He rose from the couch and quickly removed his clothing: jacket, gun-belt, boots, navy blue pants, not-quite-white shirt, and underwear. When he finished, he remained still and watched her eyes, grinning when he noticed her staring longer at his chest and his cock.
When she’d had her fill, Myra looked back into his eyes. She turned her palms towards him, opening her body. In a low voice, she said, “Do as you will.”
In three strides, Rowan wrapped his arms around her, pressing her soft, yielding body against his. He spread one hand across the small of her back. With the other, he brushed her silver hair behind her ear, then bent his head to cover her mouth with his.
She kissed him eagerly, her lips moving against his with varying pressure. When her tongue traced his bottom lip, he opened to her and they tasted each other. Her hands circled his face, her thumbs rubbing his stubble along his jaw. He inched his hand lower down her back until it met the sloping curve of her ass. She moaned into his mouth.
Breaking the kisses he said, “Hold on to my shoulders.”
When she had a firm grip, he bent down and grasped her thighs. Myra released a girlish squeal as he pulled her body up and wrapped her legs around his waist, carrying her with ease. He took her back to the sofa, laying her down gently as though she were a sacrifice. She sighed.
She frowned. “It’s not your fault. I just thought you’d be more…primal.”
Should have known she’d want a more brutal touch. “Oh, I fully intend to be.” Before she could blink, he slipped his middle finger into her tight, soaking cunt and curled it upward, pressing against her inner wall. She gasped and reached for his wrist, holding tightly. “I’ll give you what you want, in my own time.”
With his finger still working inside her, Rowan pressed down on her chest, forcing her to lie back. Slowly, he pulled his hand down her body, spreading his fingers wide to run the tips over both plump breasts. When he arrived at her waist, he wrapped his hand around her body, pressing against her back. She arched upwards, giving him the most enticing view of her feminine curves.
He rose, hovering above her, and breathed on her neck. Feeling her shudder against him, he lightly licked at the ink, slowly inching his head down from her soft neck to the thin skin over her collarbone. She entwined her fingers in his hair and pressed down on his head.
“The more you do that, the longer this will take.” He pressed against her inner wall again. Her groan told him he’d found the elusive area within her that begged for release. “We have hours until we reach Rhea. I can take as much time as I’d like.”
“I know exactly what you want. I also know you’re used to giving orders, not receiving them. Do as I say, and you won’t be disappointed.”
To his surprise, she panted, “Yes, Captain.”
A surge of heat rushed through him, and he rewarded her by licking the taut, tawny peak of her left breast. She cried out and gripped his head again, but he didn’t stop. He teased her with his tongue, drawing tiny circles over it, then flicking it with the tip of his tongue back and forth. As he drew her nipple into his mouth and began to suckle at it, he slipped his finger out of her and lightly brushed it against the small crest between her legs.
He looked up at her. Her face was screwed up, her eyebrows lowered, her jaw slack. All sense of propriety had evaporated, which had been his intention. He would never be able to give her palaces, but he could at least give her a night to remember.
Rowan moved to lick and tease her right nipple while rubbing tiny circles on her clit with his fingertip. She rocked her hips again, seeming to want more pressure. He punished her by removing his hand from her cunt, and spreading his fingers through her silver public hair. Releasing her nipple, he looked down.
“Does it always sparkle like that?”
“Only when I’m seriously turned on.”
The effect was puzzling. He’d traversed much of the galaxy, and enjoyed much of its pleasures, but he’d never encountered this. Her hair didn’t quite sparkle: it shimmered with a subtlety that could easily have been missed by an inattentive bedmate. He placed a kiss on her mound and she tilted her hips to meet his lips.
“You really are quite demanding, you know that?”
“I can’t help it,” she breathed. “I’m so close it’s ridiculous.”
He pulled back her delicate skin of her hood, revealing the rosy bud. He lowered his head and gently blew a cold stream of air right on that spot. Myra gasped and gripped his forearm. He did it again, and her grip tightened while she whimpered. Seeing her about to go over the edge, he flattened his tongue against her cunt, licking at her crest. She rocked her hips against his tongue, and in moments, she let go of everything.
Rowan kept his face down, wanting to feel every subtle pulsing of her climax, to taste every drop of her arousal, to ride out every second with her. Her cries were loud, as though all the tension and rigidity of her former life was being exorcised. When she slowed, he untangled himself from her legs and knelt above her. He held his cock in one hand and caressed her breasts with the other.
“Touch me, Myra.”
Her eyelids were heavy, yet she reached for him, wrapping her slim fingers around his rigid organ. The smoothness of her hand was unsettling and too good, and Rowan moaned and rolled his head back. He’d taken his time with her, but now he urgently wanted to be fully inside her.
“You still want this?”
She answered by stroking him down to the base and slowly tugging upwards, ending by lightly pressing her thumb on the sensitive opening. “I need you inside me. Now.”
He pulled away from her hand and angled his cock at her entrance. He supposed he should be gentle, so he eased himself into her. Hooking her heels into his back, Myra pulled him into her violently, thrusting him forward on top of her soft body.
“Use me, Rowan. Try and hurt me. I want to feel this for weeks.”
The plea in her voice was all the encouragement he needed. He slid in and out of her with ease, tilting his hips upwards at the end of each stroke. She tightened her inner muscles around him. Entwining his fingers with hers, he held their hands over her head and bit her lower lip. She moaned and cried his name.
He quickened his pace, no longer worried if he was hurting her. The cold fluid on his sac signaled to him her overwhelming desire. He leaned back, releasing her hands, and watched her breasts move with each of his thrusts. She reached down and gripped his thighs, her nails digging into him.
He was close, almost embarrassingly close, but he couldn’t help it. Her cunt was so warm and tight, her soft sounds so sweet, her eyes so wild, that finesse no longer mattered. Succumbing to pleasure, he groaned and pounded into her, his last thrusts deep and shuddering. At the end, he pulled himself from her and lowered himself onto her body, resting his head on her pillowy breasts. They panted together, and Myra held his head against her until they got their breath back.
“What would you say,” Myra asked, “if I went with you?”
“Went with me where?”
She curled her fingers in his hair again, lightly scratching his scalp. “Wherever you go. I’m adept with negotiations and am a fast learner. You already have my ship; why not take me as well?”
Rowan had held to the old superstition about the bad luck of having women onboard ships. In his experience, they were too distracting, too chatty, and too vapid for the dangerous work of smuggling. He preferred them at waystations or in planetary homes, eagerly awaiting his arrival.
However, leaving the Zarens had been risky, and her boldness had surprised him. Still, he needed to ensure she wouldn’t bail at first sign of trouble.
He leaned over her. “It’s a challenging life, but a rewarding one. I’ll be issuing orders that you’ll have to obey without question. They would be for your benefit, of course. And—needless to say—if we were to use this ship, we’d have to repaint and rename it. I’ll be damned if I pilot a ship with your former husband’s name on it.”
She gave him a wide smile. “You’re serious?”
He nodded slowly, still unsure but her eagerness was persuasive. “It’ll be your job to rename it.”
“I’ve thought of one already.”
“Let’s hear it.”
Myra placed her hands on his face and gently pulled Rowan up to kiss his lips. Pulling away, she pressed her forehead against his and whispered, “Rowan’s Bounty.”
He growled and buried his face in her neck. It was rare that he proceeded solely on instinct, but he believed that this would be a most fruitful and pleasurable partnership. “We still have a couple more hours before we descend. I intend to further cement this new partnership. What say you to that?”
Myra turned her head and licked his jaw. “Yes, Captain.”