Two Quint mercenaries picked me up by my upper arms. My body dangled uselessly between them, caught in the thrall of the stun bolts. I recovered faster than most, but it would still be too little, too late.
I attempted a neural link out, but without Jax’s intervention, all of my attempts at long-distance links failed. Even my ship’s signal flickered in and out, and it was hidden nearby. The only steady link options were a few people in the room, but no way was I initiating a link with an enemy soldier. I might as well broadcast all of my secrets on an open comm channel.
The soldiers dumped me in a chair. They cuffed my hands behind my back, then secured them to the chair. They also secured my legs to the chair legs.
I looked far more delicate than I was, which tended to make people underestimate me, but the Quint mercs weren’t taking any chances. Jax must have warned them about my augments.
That traitorous little shit was going to die slowly.
My head lolled on my neck and I left it hanging even as feeling crept back into my body. I needed every advantage I could get because I doubted the Quint mercs just wanted to share a nice cup of tea.
A man wearing fatigues and heavy boots stepped in front of me. He buried his fingers in the top of my braided hair and jerked my head up. He was older, grizzled, with reddish-brown hair graying at the temples. I didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t mean much. The Confederacy employed more people than I could meet in a lifetime.
“We meet at last, Samara Rani. The Rogue Queen—or is it the Scoundrel Queen?” he asked.
He seemed disappointed when I failed to rise to his baiting, but I didn’t mind being called the Scoundrel Queen. If others thought we were just a bunch of rogues and scoundrels then the Rogue Coalition became a less interesting target. And anything that made others think twice before attacking us was okay with me.
“Doesn’t matter, I suppose,” he continued. “You walked in here like a lamb to the slaughter. You should’ve seen your face.” He laughed then leaned down to peer at me with a skeptical look. “Jax told us you were clever, but I’m not so sure. You don’t look that smart to me. Maybe he wasn’t talking about your brain, huh?”
I’d heard worse—much worse, delivered much more cleverly—so I didn’t bother with a reply. Eventually he’d get around to why they’d grabbed me and then we’d be getting somewhere.
“Commander Adams,” a younger male voice said from somewhere behind me.
The man in front of me straightened with an impatient look. Now I had a name to go with his face. He didn’t know it yet, but his ass was mine. I smothered my malicious smile.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir,” the young man continued, “but I thought you’d want to know the last of the Kos soldiers have fallen.”
Commander Adams flicked his eyes over my shoulder. A vicious grin tugged on the corners of his mouth. “Your men are dead, Emperor,” he said. “More lives you could’ve spared if only you’d cooperate.”
“And let you kill or enslave the rest of my people? I think not,” a surprisingly sonorous voice responded.
Holy shit, Jax hadn’t been lying—the Emperor really was in the room with me. I resisted the urge to crane my neck around and look for him.
The commander sneered then turned his attention back to me. “Now, where were we, my dear?” he asked.
It took all of my considerable willpower not to say something provoking. I had no doubt that this evening would end in violence, but there was no need to hasten it along quite yet.
“Tell me about the Rogue Coalition,” Adams said, his hand still locked in my hair. When I didn’t respond, he tightened his grip until pain blossomed across my scalp. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Me, I prefer the hard way,” he said with a nasty grin.
I wondered how fast his story would change if I freed myself. I very much doubted he would prefer the hard way if I was the one dishing it out. Bullies didn’t like it when the tables turned.
“Does threatening an innocent woman make you feel like a man?” Emperor Kos asked.
I briefly closed my eyes. While I appreciated the sentiment, I would’ve appreciated it more if he’d kept his mouth shut. An angry man was an unpredictable man, and I needed Commander Adams to stick to the Quint script: press me for details, try a little physical persuasion, and, when that failed, lock me up somewhere to recover until the next session.
Commander Adams’ grip tightened as he wrenched my head around. I could see Emperor Kos out of the corner of my eye. His dark hair was matted to his head and bruises shadowed his handsome face. He was secured to a chair of his own. Hopefully the Quint mercs had only inflicted superficial wounds or escaping would be more difficult.
Adams said, “This innocent woman is Queen Samara Rani of the Rogue Coalition and a criminal in her own right. She’s the very woman you yourself have a bounty on. Her pirates have stolen our cargo for nearly a year. I’d think you would be happy someone finally caught her for you.”
Emperor Kos opened his mouth to respond, so I took drastic measures. “If you two need some privacy while you measure your dicks, I’d be happy to step outside,” I said.
Commander Adams jerked my head back and glared down at me. “Where is your ship?”
I gave him my most patronizing smile and stayed silent.
I saw the slap coming a mile away but couldn’t do anything about it. Pain blazed through my cheek and scalp as the sudden movement pulled against the hand in my hair. Even left-handed, the Commander packed a wallop.
“Where are the rest of your soldiers?” Adams asked.
When I didn’t respond, he hit me with a closed fist. I let the pain flow through me. I had his name; I had his face. I just had to endure until I could escape and reap my vengeance.
I mentally pulled back. When he hammered a fist into my stomach, it still hurt like a sonofabitch, but it was a distant pain.
I sighed in blissful relief, when, a long while later, I slipped into the welcoming arms of unconsciousness.
Part 2 will be posted later this week. :)