Don’t kill her.
The temptation boiled inside him. An insidious urge that wouldn’t take much effort. The quick draw of his laser pistol. The application of his blade against her throat.
A quick and easy way to divorce the woman who’d betrayed him.
Help us. As if he’d help her sorry ass. Signed an old friend. Dara was definitely not his friend. More like his enemy and the liar who broke his heart.
A heart now hardened.
I want to kill her myself. Look in her eyes one last time as he choked the life from her.
Leaving the safety of his ship—yes, his, the Gypsy Moth belonged to Captain Kobrah Jameson and not any galactic lending institutions—he eschewed any kind of armed guard. Not that he would have lacked volunteers. His crew had a strong loyalty to not only ship but captain. However, for this mission, he traveled alone. It would draw less attention, especially since he knew how to blend with shadows.
Plus, if he were honest, he wanted no one else coming face-to-face with his greatest shame. The woman who’d fooled him.
The alley chosen for the meeting proved empty this time of night. Very little light shone. This part of the city on Lidruk—a barely habitable planet in the remote Xza galaxy—didn’t get the same allotment of energy the richer sections did. What power the poor parts received went to more important things than light such as heat, food replicators, and the gambling parlors, because the financially challenged believed only luck would change their fate. All this to say there was no illumination, and the dark alley that was his destination found itself draped in shadows.
It smelled rank as well. The stench of things rotting seeped from the very stone itself. The garbage collectors had obviously not been by in some days. If ever. Recycling in the outer colonies was a way of life. Nothing was ever wasted or tossed. What appeared as biological decay today would provide compost for the gardens of tomorrow.
This most auspicious of locations was where the note indicated Kobrah should come. A note written on a scrap piece of paper that a sane man would have ignored. After all, he recognized the looping scrawl.
It was that familiarity that drew him from the safety of his ship, choosing privacy over protection. Not even telling anyone but the computer on the Moth where he went. At least the computer wouldn’t judge him for being stupid, unlike his First Mate. He could just imagine what Damon would say, “Don’t be a fucking idiot.”
Perhaps she wouldn’t show.
A scuff had him whirling to face the far end of the narrow corridor between buildings where the darkness hung deepest. Dara had hidden her secrets from him just as well during their short marriage. A marriage he’d never had annulled. He let the tattoo of their joining act as a daily reminder of the perfidy in the hearts of women.
“Might as well come out. I know you’re there.” He could feel it. Anticipation pulsed in his breast.
At first, he didn’t even notice, so cleverly did the cloak conceal their presence. But as the person neared, he began to make out details. The holes in the fabric. The limp in the gait.
“Stop and show yourself.” Because he had to be sure. His hand rested on the grip of his sidearm.
The figure halted, lifted pale hands, and pulled back a hood. Blonde hair pulled back taut. Bright blue eyes. Gaunt features, with dark circles showing her fatigue.
“It’s been a while. Wife.” He couldn’t help that hard inflection, that reminder of what she’d done. She’d abandoned him. Without a word. Without apology. Betraying him and the crew. Now, four EC years later—EC standing for Earth calendar, the human standard even in space—she thought she could just contact him out of the blue and…what? What did her note mean when she said, Help us?
Who was “us”?
“Kobrah.” She folded her hands over her stomach, keeping her gaze straight. “Thank you for coming.”
“As if I wouldn’t. I’ve been waiting for this moment.” He lifted the gun from his holster and aimed at a spot between her two eyes.
Faced with her… She didn’t plead for mercy. Didn’t ask for forgiveness.
Someone else did. “Don’t kill my mommy.” A small figure darted from the shadows, wrapped herself around Dara’s legs, and stared at him defiantly.
A roaring white wave of shock hit Jameson as he gaped. He managed to stutter, “Who?”
Dara’s chin angled higher. “Say hello to your daughter.”
Laughter. No way was this child his. For one, she appeared much too old. He’d last seen his wife four years ago, which was also the last time he’d slept with her. This child, with her bright eyes and height, appeared older. Wiser, as well. He tightened his lips rather than squirm under the censure in her gaze.
What did she have to be pissed at him about? He owed the child nothing.
As for Dara? She owed him. The question was, how would he take payment?
In flesh. Only problem was the flesh his body craved wasn’t what his revenge needed.
Not my daughter.
It couldn’t be. He refused to meet the child’s gaze and chose to sneer at Dara. “Nice try lying. As if I’d believe she’s mine. The child is too old.”
“She wasn’t born when you’d imagine.”
“She is yours. A paternity test will prove it.”
“You already bribed someone to give you the result you want?” His lip curled. “I guess that’s to be expected from someone like you. What is this, a ploy for monetary support?”
“Isn’t that a coincidence? You need something and so do I. I need a divorce.”
She blinked. “Do you really think now is the time?”
“Given how long it’s been since we saw each other? I’d rather get it done than wait anymore.” Time he stopped putting his life on hold.
She growled, the sound shockingly familiar.
She’s a liar. He had to remind himself of that. A liar who’d obviously abandoned her child while married to him. That or the child wasn’t even Dara’s at all. Maybe she was just a peon in the game Dara played.
But those eyes…
A glance at the girl showed her still staring at him. Head slightly tilted to the side—just like her mother—her gaze curious, and judging.
I am imagining it. A child was supposed to observe the world around them. But watching did not mean they were experienced enough to have an opinion. Growing up in a strict household with a father who worked for galactic law enforcement, Kobrah lived by the adage barely seen, never heard. Good fathers—and even better soldiers—worked. Worked hard and long hours.
When father Pietro did come home, he expected to sit down with his feet up and slap his partner on the ass, which Jonas, Kobrah’s other father, bore with a tender smile. A simple, predictable life that made his fathers happy.
As for Kobrah, he wanted something more. Thought he’d found it. But shit got in the way.
“Did you hear me? I said I’ll give you the damned divorce if you get me and Karolyne to safety.”
She’d traced the letters of it on his chest, part of her talking about the family they’d one day have. Two sons and one daughter. “A spoiled princess spelled with a K, like her daddy.” She’d winked at Kobrah.
“Nice detail, but not buying it. Why are you running? Who did you betray this time?”
Lie. “Good luck then.” He turned on his heel, and it wasn’t Dara’s cursed, “Asshole,” that stopped him but the small hand suddenly clutching at his.
“They’re coming,” the child whispered.
“Who is?” He didn’t add it wouldn’t surprise him if the wrong sorts were coming after Dara. He wanted to kill her himself.
“Dammit. I thought we’d have more time. Come, Karo.” Dara grabbed at her daughter, tugging her from Kobrah. He might have let them go.
Should have let them run, but for one thing.
The terror in Dara’s eyes was real.