The Conduit had chosen.
And only the girl remained.
Chapter Nine (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
“THE HELL I AM!” Dex leaped to his feet.
That old, sagging, sneaking bastard.
“Will that be an issue, Dextro?” The general smiled like a Soleran ice wolf, pale blue eyes crinkling at the corners as he looked to Dex. “You will be joining Androma on her mission to make sure she stays in line and doesn’t escape. I’ve already lost one child to her foolishness. I won’t lose another.”
Dex cursed inwardly.
He should have known better than to scheme with the general of Arcardius after all that he’d heard about the man—the decorated soldier with the ability to weasel his way into getting what he wanted by twisting words and blackmailing anyone who stood in his way. An ability few witnessed, but many whispered about. General Cyprian Cortas was a walking, talking hypocrite of the Arcardian way of honor.
“We had a deal,” Dex said through gritted teeth.
“And the deal will still be honored. The terms have simply been...” the general waved a hand, as if dismissing their old agreement “...extended.”
“I could kill her,” Dex snarled. “And then what would you do to get back your precious son?” He glanced sideways at Andi, who was now on her feet, too, hands balling into fists as if preparing for a fight that Dex wasn’t sure he would actually win.
“Ah,” Andi said, “but we both know how that would go.” She smiled at him mockingly.
Dex felt his own hands curling up, the blades in his gloves begging to slip free and find their mark across her throat.
Instead, Dex turned back to the general.
“She’s plenty capable of doing this job on her own. I am not a babysitter.” He’d played his part; the job was supposed to be done.
General Cortas raised a graying brow. “Do you want your money or not, bounty hunter?”
So he was going to play it that way. Dex sighed. “You have thousands of men and women at your command. Why not pick one of them to escort her? She’ll probably eject me from the ship the moment we get out of range. You know that.” It would be an incredibly Androma thing to do.
“Then you’d better stay alert,” the general suggested.
“Do I get any say in who is coming onto my ship?” Andi said, arms held up in exasperation, cuffs glowing bright.
Dex whirled on her. “It’s not your ship.”
“Finders, keepers, Dextro.”
“Enough!” General Cortas barked out. He approached the camera on his side, his face growing large enough on the screen that Dex could see his eyes give a sudden twitch.
“You can go with her, Mr. Arez, and get your money and stay in the government’s good graces when the job is done, or you can leave here with nothing. Keep in mind that I am your greatest hope of being reinstated as a Guardian. The choice is yours.”
Dex was truly and thoroughly screwed if he rejected this job. Not only would he lose a cargoload of Krevs, but everything he had gone through to get to this moment, when he was so close to regaining his Guardian title that he could almost taste it, would all have been for nothing. Not unless he played the general’s awful little game and teamed up with the very person who’d gotten his Guardianship stripped from him in the first place.
His guts roiled just thinking of soaring away from here with Androma Racella at his side, on board his ship. The very same one that she’d stolen from him three years ago, when she left him bleeding on that moon.
He’d survived. But she’d taken everything he loved.
This time, he was looking forward to taking back his ship and blasting off into space, leaving her behind to watch it go, to feel what he had felt.
He turned, slowly, to look at Andi now.
She seemed frozen. Trapped. And yet he knew, deep in that mind of hers, she was coming up with some sort of plan for revenge against him.
This was a battle he’d lost against the general. But there was payment and his reputation on the line, two things he valued more than anything else in this life.
He wouldn’t go down without a fight.
He’d caught her, just as he’d set out to do. Now he just had to keep her in his grasp a little longer, until the job was done.
And ensure that she didn’t try to kill him. Again.
So Dex Arez, the greatest bounty hunter in the Mirabel Galaxy, stared deep into Andi’s moonlit eyes and winked at her as he said, “It’ll be just like old times, love.”
Chapter Ten (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
THERE WEREN’T MANY things in this galaxy that Lira Mette hated.
A slow ship, though annoying at first, could always be altered to run faster, if she had the right parts and the right crew.
A wad of expired Moon Chew, though bitter as a cold Soleran night, could still give her just enough of a buzz to lift her spirits during a dull flight.
Even her captain’s temper, which was as vicious as an electric whip, could be channeled into something that made the crew of the Marauder great. Terrifying enough, even, to make people quake at the mention of their names.
But when it came to Dextro Arez?
Hate wasn’t a strong enough word to describe Lira’s feelings.
He was a merciless bounty hunter with no honor. A man who had shredded her best friend’s heart and left her bound in chains, leading her to escape and take up a life on the run. A bastard who could barely call himself a Tenebran Guardian after everything he’d done. She was glad he’d lost his title and his ship that night.
“That fool will never be a worthy Guardian,” Lira muttered under her breath, hatred swimming through her veins.
The sensation threw her off balance.
Hatred was a newer feeling to Lira, something she’d always been taught to extinguish the moment it tried to flicker to life. But now, in this moment, she latched on to it.
There were a lot of things she’d latched on to since leaving her home planet of Adhira.
“I hate him,” Lira said, testing the words on her tongue. “I find that I hate him very, very much.”