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Excerpt From Beloved Enemy that won the 'Best Banter' Paranormal section Award
Cat Kincaid has sworn to avenge her sister’s death by killing the man she believes to be responsible. After her ship is attacked, her escape vessel crash-lands on an unchartered planet and when she sets foot on the planet, with her companion animal—an alien creature called ‘Shifter’—she finds herself caught up in a power-weapon fight. When the firing ceases, she feels compelled to go to the aid of a man wounded in the fight, who seems to have become separated from his companions. When she reaches him she is stunned to recognise him as the man for whom she has searched for five years—Kerry Marchant, second-in-command of the starship Destiny. Although they have never met before she knows him from her extensive search of various hologram-libraries. Reluctantly she attends to his wounds, using his own bio- regenerator, after telling herself she will make him tell her the truth about what happened to her sister, before carrying out her revenge. She also realises that if she keeps him alive, she can use him as a bargaining chip when the other members of his crew return to rescue him.
He made as if to stand, and in an instant, she drew her pistol.
“Like I said before, no sudden moves. Get up—slowly.”
“So you are making me prisoner?”
“Not exactly, but I’m not stupid enough to take any risks.”
He rose to his feet, his gaze not leaving her gun-hand. Several inches taller than her, broad shouldered and slim, he presented a commanding figure. His expression froze as his
in on the insignia on her breast pocket, his eyes like chips of blue ice. “You
work for the Union.”
“I work for myself.”
“Then why are you wearing the insignia of the Global Union of Earth and Allied Planets?”
“I have a license to requisition any enemy ship trespassing in the sectors of space over which they hold dominion.”
“A licensed pirate in the pay of the Global Union,” Kerry’s eyes showed outright contempt. She almost preferred the icy coolness.
“I prefer to think of myself as a freelancer—doing a service.”
His expression did not change, although he did change tack. “You could have left me to die—or just shot me. Why didn’t you?”
“Call it a personality flaw. I don’t like abandoning someone who’s wounded even to save my own skin. And I don’t kill in cold blood. If I have to shoot someone, I’d rather they were facing me, with their eyes open.” Even if I did swear to leave their dead body for the Union to use in their hideous experiments. Keep it casual. Don’t let him guess what’s really in your mind.
To her amazement, he smiled, the most devastating smile she’d ever seen, and made even more remarkable because he didn’t look as if he did it very often.
“My own philosophy as it happens. It seems almost a pity we are on opposite sides.”
“I have no love for the Union. That puts us on opposite sides, even if you are just a pirate, doing their dirty work for them.”
She gave him her best withering look. “Fine. And just because I decided to save your hide, don’t get any ideas. We don’t have to like each other.”
“I was merely alluding to the fact we seem to have a similar moral code.”
“I doubt it.” She waved her weapon in the direction of the rocks where the firing had come from earlier, while bending to retrieve her supply pack, still keeping her gaze fixed on him. “We need to make sure whoever was shooting at you and your friends is really dead. Move, and remember I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
They reached the rock their adversaries had used as a shield. With her finger on the trigger button Cat swung round it, prepared to fire if anyone moved. Then she froze. The area was clear. Not the bodies she expected to find, no sign anyone had ever been there at all.
She looked at Kerry. “They were here. They can’t have just vanished.”
He shook his head. “Unless they can teleport—which has been proven to be impossible by mechanical means. It is just possible they may have psionic capabilities.”
“No point in worrying about them now. Seems they’ve gone, however they did it.” Cat gave a long low whistle and one of the nearby boulders morphed into the tawny form of Shifter.
“What the hell is that?” As if acting on instinct, Kerry reached for his gun and then swore softly when his fingers failed to close upon it. His gaze flicked toward her. He cursed again and stared pointedly at his blaster thrust through her belt.
She ignored his stare and nodded toward the animal. “His name’s Shifter. He’s…well, I call him a chameleopard, and I’d kill anyone who tried to shoot him.”
Kerry favored her with a cold look. “Delightful pets you have.”
“It’s only one, and yes, he is quite cute actually. Are you going to be able to walk?”
“It was my chest that was injured, not my legs.”
She ignored his sarcastic tone. Gratitude obviously did not feature among his finer points.
“My vehicle’s not far away, about half a klick.” She paused. “What were you doing down here anyway? This planet isn’t even listed on the charts. I wouldn’t be here myself out of choice.”
“We were looking for you,” Kerry said in his slow, laconic manner. “Our ship picked up the distress signal your escape vessel transmitted as it hit the atmosphere. Had we chosen to ignore it, we would have been in violation of the Universal Code.” A small crease furrowed his brow. “We set our ferry down close to where our computer predicted you would crash-land. As soon as we stepped foot on the planet we were fired upon with no warning, although our on-board sensors indicated there were no life forms in the immediate vicinity.”
Cat nodded. “Some welcoming committee.” She struck up a brisk pace, making sure she kept him ahead of her and within her range of vision. The irony of the situation was not lost on her. He’d come to rescue her, and she ended up coming to his aid instead—the last person she wanted to give assistance to or accept help from.
She gave him a sideways glance. He appeared to have recovered from his injury in a remarkably short space of time, due no doubt to the miraculous properties of the instrument he called a bio-regenerator. Now that would be worth a small fortune in the right hands. The Union would undoubtedly be very interested in this man and his ship. What other inventions did the Destiny’s crew have that might be of interest to them?
Her musings were cut short as they surmounted the final hillock, and edged sideways down the incline to the shallow basin where her vessel lay, almost hidden, beneath the low hanging branches of the bushes into which it had crashed. She glanced up. The first stars twinkled above the three moons in the darkening sky. At least they’d made it before nightfall.
“You landed that well,” he said, scrutinizing the vehicle.
“Not particularly. I crash-landed.”
“I was being facetious.”
“She took a battering in an electric storm as we came in. It only lasted few minutes, but it was bad enough to wreck the flight controls.” Why do I need to explain anything to him anyway? “At least the bushes give some cover. I’ll put a force-shield up overnight. I just didn’t want to drain her power packs after I crashed.” She touched a panel on the ship’s hull, and after a moment, a hatch slid open with a slight hiss. Shifter leapt in immediately but Kerry stood back as she climbed into the airlock.
She turned with her gun still trained on him. “Are you coming? Or would you prefer to take your chances out there all night?”
He shrugged and followed her inside. They waited in the eerie blue light until the inner door opened.
She walked across to the control panel at the front of the cabin and made a few adjustments. A gentle glow illuminated the interior. “It’s not much, but it’s likely to be home for a while until I can find a way off this planet. There wouldn’t be enough left in the fuel cells now to get far in this, even if I could repair the damage.”
He looked around, his face expressionless.
She frowned at his perusal. The furnishings of the small interior were necessarily sparse. A pilot seat and passenger seat to the front, and at the rear of the vessel, a small living and storage area, complete with a folding table and murphy bunk unit. If he didn’t like it, too bad. He could always go back outside and sleep rough if he preferred.
“I dare say it will suffice,” he said at length.
“Well, thank you. I’m so glad it meets with your approval.”
His expression remained impassive. It seemed her cynicism was lost on him. “It would be useful to have a name to call you.”
“Catrina. Catrina…Kincaid. I prefer to be called Cat.”
Again, that stunning smile spread over his face, and she noticed how his eyes seemed even bluer above the even, white teeth. Damn, there was something about him. She almost regretted she’d have to kill him eventually.
“The name suits you.” It did not sound like a compliment. “I am Kerry Marchant.”
“Yes, I know who you are.” She ignored his quizzical look. “As I said earlier, don’t get any ideas. This ‘cat’ has claws.”