Chronicles of the Malcolm, Book 2
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61922-998-3
Print ISBN: 978-1619231566
[ SciFi Romance ]
On a lawless planet, a cat-girl assassin with a swiss cheese memory meets a badass warlord who’s getting tired of his own con, and a freelance lawman getting tired of being so lawful. Secrets, lies, and hot sex with no rules.
Note: Prologue omitted.
En Route to Cibari, Present Day (i.e., 26th century)
Xia woke alone in the dark and smelled the human she’d been sent to kill.
Her tail and whiskers twitched. The pupils of her golden eyes changed from narrow slits to black holes that almost overtook the color. She squinted to focus, seeing the gray shape of her prey.
He was a bad man. They’d told her that, so it was fine to hunt him.
She just hoped she wouldn’t have to pretend to like him this time, let him touch her. Hurt her. That had been awful. It had helped, though, in a weird way. When she’d had a chance to kill that man, it felt like she was taking back something he’d stolen from her.
Thank the stars this man was letting down his guard without letting down his pants or even trying to touch her.
He was still a bad man. They’d told her that, and it had been true all the other times. But this one was polite at least, so she wouldn’t play with him. She’d let him die quickly and cleanly. They kept telling her that was the best way—more efficient, they said—but it was hard to remember when someone had hurt her or other little kids.
Xia pounced, claws out, and went right for the throat. Blood poured over her, more blood than there should have been. Enough blood to drown her.
But she liked it.
She licked her lips, drinking it in, wondering if the man’s meat would taste good. She was half-starved, hungry enough to take a bite and find out. She opened her mouth, sank in her sharp teeth and ripped…
And realized she was biting into Mik, the man she called Dad.
This time, Xia really woke up, safe and alone and gagging on something that wasn’t there, in the brightly lit cabin on the Malcolm. Until recently, she’d shared this cabin with her human friend Rita.
Good thing Rita moved in with Drax, Xia thought dimly as she started to claw the pillow and scream. Rita would want to comfort her because Rita was a good person. Rita would think she understood these nightmares, but she wouldn’t.
Xia had almost died in a fight with the assassin Nitari Belesku not too long ago. Belesku was still under contract to kill Xia and the rest of the crew, which would give any sane person, or even a slightly crazy one like Xia, bad dreams. They had another assassin after them as well, a San’balese woman whose name they’d never learned. That one was also trying to wipe out the Malcolm’s crew, who were the witnesses to her betrayal of her own planet and to her attempt to kill Rita’s lover, Drax.
All logical reasons to sleep restlessly, but not the reason for Xia’s bad dreams.
Rita and the other humans on the crew didn’t…mustn’t…understand the real reason.
The real nightmare was that trying to kill another sentient had felt so natural. The moves she’d been taught as a child were all in her muscle memory, just waiting to come out and play. She’d bitten Belesku, licked Belesku’s blood from her claws, and it had tasted good. Tasted like prey, only infinitely better than the little rodents and lizards she’d catch when they were dirtside.
She’d thought that, thanks to the good efforts of Mik and his husband, Gan, she’d escaped her childhood. Learned to be civilized, despite not having parents of her own species to teach her about food versus not food, prey versus sentients.
But her marled-up past had caught up with her and she didn’t know how much longer she could fight it.
Xia had insisted on taking the newly refurbished smaller cabin once Drax moved onto the Malcolm, letting Rita and Drax take the cabin she and Rita had once shared. Nothing noble or self-sacrificing. In a new-to-her, smaller space, Xia didn’t feel so alone.
Most of the time.
It wasn’t working right now.
Rita had always been good about letting Xia hug her or crawl into her bunk to chat before sleeping. Xia had always made a game of it, flirting outrageously and pretending to suffer unrequited lust in such over-the-top terms it was obvious she was joking.
She’d never wanted to admit the truth to Rita, who had a sort of innocence from growing up in a happy family on a decent planet like New Canada—physical contact and companionship helped her handle the darkness, as long as she was with someone she could absolutely trust. For her first two years on the Malcolm, Xia had slept on a mattress on the floor of Mik and Gan’s cabin, and they’d let her into their bed when the dark overwhelmed her. They were good guys. They never complained she was getting in the way of their passion. She figured that out on her own when she got a little older, gritted her fangs and insisted on moving into her own space. Then she left the light on for years, until Rita joined the crew and Xia realized right off that she could trust the human woman with everything, including her nightmares.
Too bad she couldn’t trust random lovers the same way, or it would be a lot easier to take care of the darkness. But she didn’t like sharing a bed with someone she didn’t know. Sex was one thing. Sleep was far too vulnerable.
Even with the light on, like it had been since she moved into her own little cabin, Xia could feel the darkness creeping in. Not the friendly, warm darkness of an evening spent having sexytimes in good company, or the exciting blackness between planets when you were traveling someplace new, or the playful darkness you crept through to pull off a prank, but the slimy, creepy darkness of her nightmares.
She knew that darkness. It lived in her bones. She might not be able to remember how it got there, exactly—she figured she was better off not knowing the details—but it had to be a holdover from her time on Lysander.
Along with knowing how to do serious damage to someone who’d gotten rich by murdering people for pay.
No way she was getting back to sleep, even with the lights on. The cold black was so thick the cabin lights couldn’t cut it.
Maybe company would, and she knew who’d be awake and alone. Buck was pretty dark in his own right, but they could always find a little light for each other.
Besides, he always had booze. Booze might not help in the long run, but it made her feel warm and bubbly while it was dancing in her veins, and she’d take that cheap comfort for now.