I forgot about posting a snippet last week! Time went by so fast that Friday didn’t even register. There’s always so much to do and so little time! But I’ve got a sneak peek for you today. It’s of my most recent release, Selling Out. If you like crooked space types, mercenaries, and a general Ferengi sort of savoir faire, check this one out. It’s on sale for .99 until someday August 5, when it will go up to regular price. Or you can read the entire series on Kindle Unlimited.
So here it is, a peek at Selling Out
Cabot woke to the sound of the door chime. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep leaning back on the couch. Groaning, he sat up and rubbed the back of his neck, which felt like an oxbeast had sat on it. He checked his comport and estimated he’d only dozed for a half hour.
As he got to his feet, the door chimed again. He didn’t hurry. He owed the chime, and the person behind it, nothing. In fact, they owed him for waking him up.
“Who is it?” he asked, his voice rough. Only an idiot opened the door to a stranger on a mercenary station.
“Your past, come back to haunt you.”
The voice went through Cabot like a knife. He thought about not opening the door. He had a sudden, unbidden fantasy about decompressing all the station’s corridors.
“You have to open the door. Omar sent me.”
He continued to think about not opening the door. If there was one person in the galaxy he did not want to see, it was Nagali Freeborn.
Her voice came through again. “Come on. This involves your business, not mine, and you have to talk to me if you want the job done.”
He hated her voice. Hated how deep and smoky it was, and how it managed to be smooth like velvet and rough like broken glass at the same time. Hated her peculiar manner of speech, accenting every third syllable in a way that made her words undulate. Hated that he had no choice but to open the doors and look at her face.
As much as he disliked her voice, he detested her face.
He drew in a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and plastered on his trademark benignly pleasant expression. The surest way to annoy her was to treat her as he would any other person.
Ambivalence would also be the easiest way for him to get through this encounter. He’d been playing the role of ingratiating shopkeep for so long that it was as comfortable as his own skin.
Still, he hesitated before pushing the button to unlock the doors. He felt like a man walking to his doom.
The challenging glint in Nagali’s eyes hadn’t dimmed over the past eight years. He was further irked to note she looked no older than she had when last they’d met. He’d been hoping that time had been unkind to her.
“Still holding a grudge, I see.” She strode in, not caring that he hadn’t invited her in, or even stepped back to make room for her. She shouldered her way right in. Just like she always did.
She would enjoy knowing she could still inspire such strong feelings, so Cabot lifted his shoulders in a careless shrug. “You woke me. I was merely trying to shake off the haze.”
She eyed him with a small frown. “Well, you do have your hair down, so maybe you were sleeping.” The frown smoothed and her full, red lips curled into a little smile. “I always liked how you look with your hair loose. You should wear it like that more often. Makes you look roguish.”
“Customers don’t like roguish. They like polished and polite.”
She made herself at home on the couch. “That’s right, you’re running a shop now. On a PAC station, right? Blackthorn or something like that?”
She knew exactly where he’d been for the past seven years, but he answered as pleasantly as he would have spoken to a potential customer. “Close. Dragonfire.”
“Right. How are things out in that sector of space?” She crossed her ankle over the opposite knee and stretched her arms full-length across the back of the couch. Taking up space to convey comfort. An obvious bid for dominance.
Rather than sit, he went to the kitchenette and mixed himself a drink. Normally, he drank water. In the rare event he needed something stronger, straight brandy did the trick. But he wanted something that took time and precision, so he used the standard items stocked in the room to create a fruity cocktail. Just the sort of thing Nagali hated.
“Things are good. Jamestown is better than new. The repairs brought a good deal of business my way. Not that I needed it. Dragonfire’s already a hotbed of commerce. But who minds an increase?” He smiled benignly and used an old-fashioned glass stirrer to mix the cocktail.
“Not I,” agreed Nagali. “But then, I could never be tied down to a shop. So pedestrian. How do you bear it?”
Cabot could almost admire how blithely offensive she could be.
He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of showing his annoyance. Instead, he smiled and crossed the room to offer her a glass of the bright pink beverage.
She hated brightly-colored food. A pathological idiosyncrasy. He’d once seen her throw a plate of food on the floor because it had come garnished with bright red pepper, which had not been described on the menu.
She accepted the glass and tasted the cocktail. “Ah. Refreshing. You always did make great drinks.”
He most certainly had not. He had never possessed any bartending skill at all. He wondered how long they could go on, each pretending to have forgotten or misremembered things about the other.
He took a sip of his own drink and suppressed a grimace. The sickening sweetness clung to his tastebuds. “So, what brings you by? Have some of your little trinkets you’d like me to put in my shop?”
Nagali could put her hand into any commercial enterprise, and if there was a profit to be made, she’d charm her way to the answers she needed. But her specialty, her personal passion, was cultural artifacts. Religious items, historical items, things with an impressive pedigree of previous owners. She saw these items as treasure, and pursued them with lustful zeal.
“No, not today. As I said, Omar sent me to talk to you about this job of yours.” She smiled pleasantly.
Cabot had never seen two siblings who looked less like each other. They were both half Rescan and half Zerellian, but Omar appeared to have gotten all the Rescan genes, and Nagali all the human ones. She had a slight frame compared to his burly one, and while they had a similar tanned coloring, her features were fine while his were rugged. She had long, black hair and brown eyes, while he had sandy hair and blue eyes. Omar was the elder by three years, but she looked a full decade younger than her age.
“Let’s talk, then.” He maintained his pleasant tone and feigned a sip of his drink.
She set her glass down, indicating that she was ready to talk business. “You need a female attendant. I want the job.”
He arched an eyebrow in response. Less was always more with Nagali.
“That’s it. You have a job. I want it and I’ll do it for free.”
His eyebrow remained arched. “Nothing is free.”
“Fine, free of charge, then. I want payment in kind. Instruction, along with introductions to people I can work with on Briv.”
“So, what you’re saying is that you never managed to begin a business relationship with the Briveen, and you want to use me as your in.”
“Before you say no, let me—”
He cut her off. “You’re hired.”
Oh, it was delightful to see the genuine surprise and confusion on her face. Knocking her off-kilter almost made hiring her worth it.
“What?” Her forehead crinkled and all of her slick words had dried up.
Letting his cloak of blandness fall, his tone sharpened. “Don’t get me wrong. If this were any other trade deal, you’d still be standing in that corridor waiting for me to open the door. But this thing is bigger than me, and it’s bigger than you. What’s important is that as long as you’re working for me, I’ll have you by the throat. You won’t cross me, because it would mean you won’t get what you need. I can trust your self-interest, and that means you’re my safest bet for this job.”
“I…” She was still at a loss for words. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. You’ll be cursing me when I make you repeat the contrition ritual for the thousandth time and more, until I’m satisfied.” He stood and walked to the doors. “Omar will send you the list of items we haven’t yet acquired. The cloaks are of particular importance, and he has the measurements for us both. Of course, you and Omar will need cloaks as well.”
The doors swished open and he stood there, wearing a pointed expression.
She got to her feet, looking uncertain. She recognized a dismissal when she received it. At the door, she moved to put her hand on his arm. “Maybe we should—”
He pulled his arm back before she could make contact. “This doesn’t change anything. My trusting you to act in your own self-interest doesn’t mean I trust you. This is business.”
He fixed her with a cold look, for the first time revealing his true feelings about her.
“Right.” Her features hardened and she stepped into the corridor. “I’ll look at the acquisitions list and get back to you tomorrow.”
“Good.” He touched the door mechanism to close it.
Briefly, he leaned against the door. The silence Nagali left in her wake screamed at him. As always, the woman disrupted his life long after she’d left.
This mission had already been a difficult one. Now it would be pure hell.