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Nexus Point - Captain Dace just wants her own ship and a trade route. She has that, until her crew blows up the ship and strands her on Dadilan, a primitive tech world restricted from all unauthorized contact. The natives think she's a demon. The researcher, Leran, rescues her from the native ruler only to threaten her with arrest by the Patrol for interfering. On the way to the Patrol base, they are attacked. During the fight, Dace gets separated and lost in the woods. And that's only the first two chapters.
He came out of the mist like a primeval god in a really bad romance vid–dark hair, darker eyes, and a face stolen from my most secret fantasies. He wore a leather vest with no shirt, tight pants, and tall boots. He stopped on the other side of the stream, muscles flexing as he folded his bare arms across his chest.
I swallowed hard, wondering if he was just a dream. I shifted my feet on the stream bank. "What do you want?"
He looked me over, not answering.
I lifted the rock, trying to appear as threatening as possible. I lost my hold on it. It fell into the stream with a loud splash.
His lip twitched as he smothered a chuckle.
Having a complete stranger laugh at me was the final straw. I thumped down on the stream bank, dropping my head into my hands.
The man splashed across the stream, his touch gentle on my shoulder. "Are you hurt?"
I shook my head. I'd felt worse and lived.
He watched me a moment longer, then put his arm around my shoulders.
I stiffened at the unexpected touch. No one had ever tried to comfort me. I surprised myself by bursting into tears. I'd lost control. I hated the feeling. I struggled until I finally fought the tears back. Only the occasional hiccuping sniffle escaped.
"Feel better?" he asked, just a trace of sarcasm coloring his voice. He shifted away, leaving me cold.
I couldn't look at him, embarrassed by my outburst. I stared down at his vest, at his muscles, at his hands, anywhere but at his face.
"You want to explain why you're out here?" He waited, still as a statue.
I finally looked up, at his face. It was a mask, giving nothing away. "I got lost?"
He raised one eyebrow. "Lost from where?"
I dug through the information Ameli had dumped into my head. I found little of any help. "My father's house."
He shifted position slightly, enough to change from sympathy to threat. "You're no native of this planet. You want to try again?"
I edged away. "No. How do you know I'm not native?" My curiosity got the better of me.
"You're speaking Basic."
I hadn't realized it. I repeated one of the more colorful expressions I'd learned from Toiba.
The man raised his eyebrow higher.
"You aren't native, either." I sniffled, wiping my nose on the back of my hand.
He stood. I glimpsed a tattoo on the inside of his wrist, an intricate black diamond that only one group in the Empire had.
I froze, not knowing if it was good or bad. "You're a Patrol Enforcer."
"Give me one good reason I shouldn't shoot you."
"You aren't carrying a blaster."
He moved fast. He knotted his fist into the neck of my dress, his face barely an inch from mine. "I don't need one. Who are you and why are you here? Don't even try lying."
"Leran . . ."
He shoved me to the ground, on my stomach. His hand pinned me to the bank. I struggled to keep my face above the rippling surface of the stream. I planted my hands in the icy water and shoved. His hold didn't budge.
"You work for him?"
"Leran? No. He was taking me to the Patrol." I shut my eyes and waited for the man to drown me.
"Why would he do that?"
I was a lousy liar. This man would see through anything I tried. I gave him the truth. "Because I ruined his research. I crashed in Baron Molier's cow pasture. He said I was a demon. He was going to kill me. Leran decided to take me to the Patrol base and turn me in instead."
The man's hold relaxed. I shifted back an inch from the water.
"Keep talking," he said.
"We stopped somewhere in the hills. The camp was attacked."
"There were too many to fight so I left. I got lost."
"You still haven't told me who you are."
"Dace. My name is Dace."
He rocked onto his heels, letting me go. I scrambled away from the water.
"I don't think you heard me." He flexed his hands. "What's your name, your full name?"
"Dace." I wasn't about to use a name I'd discarded six years previously.
"I'll let that pass for now. How did you come here?"
"My ship exploded. The core redlined. The escape pod landed me here."
"In Baron Molier's cow pasture, you already said that. What ship?"
"Star's Grace, Independent trader registered out of Eruus."
"What was your position, ship's idiot?"
I'd already embarrassed myself, I wasn't about to let him insult me. I sat, sticking out my chin. "I'm the pilot. And I'm telling you the truth."
He gave me a look that said he didn't believe it.
"I'm also the captain and owner."
He laughed, a short bark of sound.
"Believe it or not, it's the truth." The anger drained away, replaced by fatigue. I wrapped my arms around myself, wishing I was at the Academy where I could ignore the humiliation the other cadets dished out.
"You aren't going to cry again, are you?" He looked afraid of the possibility.
I shook my head and sniffled. I'd wait until later, when he wasn't looking. He watched me fight with myself. He finally sighed.
"My camp is just across the stream. You look like you could use something to drink." He stood and offered me his hand.
I stared stupidly at it. He confused me. He wasn't threatening me, not now. I took his hand. He lifted me without effort. I couldn't hide my wince when my feet hit the rocks.
"This way," he said, pulling me after him.
I limped across the stream, soaking the bottom of my skirt. He pushed me down onto a rock before stirring up a small fire. My stomach growled. I rubbed my arms, shivering in the night air.
I studied the man surreptitiously. His hair was longer than mine, very dark with reddish highlights. It curled just slightly where it brushed the back of his neck. He stirred the pot steaming on the fire. The tattoo on his wrist caught the light and my imagination. What was a Patrol Enforcer doing here? Why try to drown me when I mentioned Leran's name? Something was rotten on Dadilan.
Not my problem; I was leaving. I would face whatever criminal charges were levied against me. I would give them the truth. The Patrol would have to believe me. But this man was Patrol and he didn't believe me.
The man handed me a steaming cup dipped out of the pot. I wrapped my hands around it and sipped the hot drink. It wasn't enough to counterbalance the cold night air and my wet skirt. My teeth chattered. The man fetched a blanket out of a neat pack on the ground. He dropped it over my shoulders. I clutched it tight. He loomed over me. I felt even shorter than I usually did.
"Try again." He sat on a rock nearby. "Start at the beginning."
"I was born . . ."
"Not that far back." He shot me an impatient look.
"I told you. My ship was en route to Thurwood with a load of machine parts. Something went wrong. I had to do an emergency downshift out of hyperspace. The core redlined and the ship exploded."
"Not very professional of you." He poked at the fire with a stick. "You say your name is Dace and you own your own ship."
"It's the truth." My ship was a cloud of radioactive debris. I sighed again.
"No crying." He pointed the stick at me. "That isn't fair."
I wiped my nose on his blanket.
"What were you doing with Leran?" he asked casually, studying the end of his pointy stick. I sensed the answer I gave would determine how he used it.
"He pulled me out of Baron Molier's dungeon and offered to have me arrested. It was better than being skewered by hot iron pokers."
"Why are you speaking like a native now?" The man touched the pointy end of his stick.
"They used a hypnoteacher. It doesn't work right on me." I sipped at the drink, watching him carefully. The stick was still very evident. "It usually takes me a week or two to get all the information straight again. It's easier just to learn it the old way. What's your name and why are you out here?"
He studied me, the stick waving in the air between us. After a moment, it went into the fire, pointy end first.
"Malcolm Tayvis," he said. "I'm looking for my partner. He was supposed to meet me here two days ago. I don't think he's going to make it."
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