I know many of you have been yearning for a little peek into Loch’s head, so because this is the month of love, I decided to deliver. Happy early Valentine’s Day!
And if it also helps me procrastinate on the projects that I’m supposed to be working on, well, win, win. 😘
If you haven’t read Polaris Rising yet, then this snippet probably won’t make much sense. But you’re in luck! PR is on sale for just $1.99 this month (international pricing will vary), so if you want a copy of your very own (or if you know someone who would enjoy it), now is an excellent time to pick it up.
This snippet is from early on, when they are first escaping from the mercs and Rockhurst, in chapter three and four. Happy reading!
The princess was having a nightmare—again. I intentionally banged my hand against the console, which had been enough to rouse her out of her dreams before, but she just whimpered and continued to shift in the cot.
“Ada, wake up.”
She ignored me. I tried to return the favor, but she made another small, hurt sound, and it was all I could take. I might be a monster, but I wasn’t the kind who let others suffer when I could prevent it.
I unclipped from the captain’s chair and cautiously approached the cot. I didn’t think she was faking, but I’d been burned too many times to lower my guard now.
The blankets were twisted around her body and she clutched a sheathed knife in one hand, her knuckles white around the handle. It seemed like I wasn’t the only one who slept with a blade close, but I wondered what had happened to make the daughter of a High House so cautious.
I shook my head and reminded myself that she was the means to an end. With that in mind, I reached out and shook her arm.
She jerked away and brought the knife up before her eyes opened. I blocked the swing, but she was fast—not as fast as me, but fast enough that she’d been trained. I would have to watch my back.
“This is the second time you’ve pulled a blade on me,” I said, my voice low. “I’m starting to take it personally.”
I suppressed a smile as she blinked owlishly at me. She was objectively beautiful, but right now, she looked like a kitten with its back up. I knew it was an illusion—she was one of the most powerful people in the universe—but it was hard to shake the desire to tuck her close and keep her safe.
“I hardly think a sheathed knife is dangerous,” she said. “Besides, you should know better than to grab a sleeping person.”
I shrugged and told her the truth. “You were having a nightmare.”
She didn’t indicate whether she believed me or not, but she put away the knife and rubbed her eyes. “How long was I out?”
“A little over five hours. It’s almost time to clip in for entry.”
I stepped back as she climbed down from the cot. She moved like she was hurting. I watched her, trying to determine if she was injured or just sore. She stretched, and while I didn’t think she was trying to entice me, her body was a work of art. Long and lithe, she had more muscle than I expected.
And she was definitely trained.
She met my gaze with a steady look, then her head tilted and her expression turned shrewd. It appeared that I wasn’t the only one who was pondering betrayal. We both had incredible fortunes on our heads, but Albrecht von Hasenberg would do just about anything to have his daughter back. If I returned her to him, he might even forget that I existed.
I tried to imagine what my life would be like without constantly looking over my shoulder, but it’d been so long that I wasn’t sure I could remember how not to be on edge all the time.
But now I might just have a chance. Who knew that getting captured by second-rate mercs would actually turn out to be a lucky break. I wasn’t going to turn down a gift from the universe, but I needed her to trust me, which meant I needed time.
Luckily, TSD Nine was something of a shithole, so it would take us a while to secure transport, assuming Rockhurst didn’t follow us down. Of course, I doubted that Richard Rockhurst was just going to let me sail away with a von Hasenberg, so I’d have to deal with him when the time came.
The ship chimed the final atmospheric entry warning. Ada was already in her seat, so I slid back into the captain’s chair. Time to start throwing Rockhurst off our trail.
I locked Ada out of the secondary console, then altered our course from the spaceport to a location outside of town. I overrode the descent speed and the little escape ship rocketed toward the ground.
“What are you doing?” Ada demanded. “We can’t come into the spaceport like this; they’ll shoot us down.”
I split my attention, keeping an eye on the console readout. “We’re not headed to the spaceport and we’re sitting ducks in the air. The faster we’re on the ground, the safer we are.”
“We won’t be safer if we hit the ground at this speed—we’ll be splattered.”
That pulled a grin from me. “Trust me, sweetheart,” I said just to get a rise out of her. “I know what I’m doing.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t snap back. Instead, she curled her hands around the edge of her control panel and set her jaw. She might not trust me, but she also wasn’t going to try to wrest control away from me. It was good enough, for now.
The ground rushed at us and I forgot about everything except keeping us in one piece. I maxed out the thrusters at the very last second, but the landing was still going to sting. “Brace!”
I slammed my head back against the seat just before we hit the ground. Metal crunched and the seat gave as the impact protection kicked in. My spine compressed and pain jolted up my back.
Maybe I’d cut it a little too close.
I killed the engines and silenced the alarms. In the blessed silence that followed, I spared a glance for the woman next to me. “You okay?”
“You crashed our only escape vehicle,” she said. Her tone spelled trouble, but if she was well enough to argue, then she was well enough to move.
I unclipped from my seat and stood. The landing had banged me up, but I’d be good as new in an hour or two. One benefit of being a monster was excellent healing.
Ada stood and glanced around “You crashed our escape vehicle,” she said again, as if I hadn’t heard her the first time.
“The landing was within tolerance,” I said with a grin that she couldn’t see. “Now get moving. Anyone who saw us come down is going to come investigate and we don’t want to be here when they arrive.”
I expected her to argue, but she just shot me a dirty look and started digging through the onboard supplies. I did the same, loading up on food and anything that I could sell. We’d need money for transport, and if the princess couldn’t access her accounts, then it would be up to me. While I could steal it, I didn’t want to have to fight about it.
The temperature outside was colder than I would’ve preferred. I wasn’t worried about myself, but I’d need to get Ada into shelter sooner than later because I didn’t think her father would be very forgiving if I showed up with a popsicle instead of a person.
A glance confirmed that she had started layering up with the extra clothing on board. I did the same, more to deflect suspicion than because I needed it. Temperature extremes didn’t bother me as much as they once had.
When she stopped moving and looked at me, I asked, “Ready?”
“Ready,” she agreed.
I opened the door and heard her hiss at the biting wind. I revised my timeline down, then stepped out of the ship.
I’d expected whining and petulance. Instead, I got brutal determination and quiet acceptance. My estimation of her rose, as did my caution. She was following my lead, but only because she chose to, not because she had to.
Ada was smart and sly, and gaining her trust wouldn’t be as easy as I’d imagined. Every time she rolled her eyes and sniped at me, she made me want to keep pushing, to see what would happen when she lost her rigid control. If I wasn’t careful, I’d care for her far more than was wise.
I led her up the steep slope of the canyon wall. We were nearly to the city, such as it was. I climbed over a boulder, then reached back to lift her up. She clung to my hand, then tried to keep climbing once she was next to me.
I frowned and hooked an arm around her waist to draw her close enough for a whisper. “Stop. We’re nearly at the top.”
Rather than pulling away with a disgusted look, she huddled into me, and I realized that while I’d heard her teeth chattering earlier, the sound had vanished a while ago.
“Shit,” I said. “When did you stop shivering?”
She shrugged, the movement listless. I had to find shelter soon because she was edging into hypothermia. She blinked up at me, her eyes huge in her icy-pale face. “I told you I had two hours. It’s been two hours. I wasn’t lying. How are you so warm?”
Answering that question would reveal far more than I was willing to share, so I ignored it and rubbed her arms, trying to get the blood flowing. “The city is surrounded by a fence, but not a good one. Stay here, I’ll find a way through.”
She shook her head. “If I stop moving, I’ll die. If you want me to find my own way through, I will, but I can’t stay here.”
Her voice was matter of fact, as if the thought of death didn’t bother her, and it gutted me. I gritted my teeth against the urge to argue with her. She was a von Hasenberg and a payday, nothing more. I needed to remember that.
I looked her over with a critical eye. “Can you run?”
“If I have to and not for very long.”
I appreciated her honesty. I pulled away from her, determined to find shelter. “Stay here for two minutes while I do an initial recon.”
“You literally have two minutes, then I’m heading for the city with or without you,” she said. “Your time starts now.”
At least she was still aware enough to argue with me. Her current predicament was my fault, but I would fix it. I eased up the canyon with a timer running in my head, because I had no doubt that Ada would leave me behind in two minutes.
I was so busy planning that I very nearly missed the movement ahead of me. Training and reflex froze me to the spot as a kid slipped through the wall and headed out into the wild.
I waited until he was out of sight before I returned to Ada. “There’s a hidden door. Just saw a kid sneak out and head for the canyon farther down. I don’t think he saw me, but we need to move. I didn’t see any guards. We’ll run for the fence.”
She stomped her feet and determination lit her gaze. “Okay, let’s do this.”
I grabbed her wrist. I didn’t doubt her will, but her body was burning its last dregs of energy. If she went down, she’d endanger us both.
As expected, she stumbled twice on our short run to the fence. I could’ve carried her—and would’ve, if I had to—but it was better for her to do it on her own. There’d be fewer questions that way.
Ada followed me deeper into the city, so complacent that I knew she must be nearly frozen. The plastech houses weren’t much to look at, but if I could find one intact, it would at least keep the wind away.
I delved deeper into the neighborhood until we wouldn’t be easy to track, then broke the lock on a building that looked like it had all of its walls.
Ada trailed in after me. The lack of questions bothered me, but I’d have to deal with it after I made sure the building was secure. “Stay here,” I ordered.
Unease crept down my spine when she obeyed without question. I drew a knife and quickly cleared the rest of the rooms. It looked like it had been long abandoned, but one of the bedrooms still had a mattress and working heater. Good enough. I cranked the heater to maximum and went back for Ada.
She remained where I’d left her, walking in a small, unsteady circle.
“Come on,” I urged. “I found a room with a heater.”
Once she was safely inside the slowly warming room, I dragged a dresser across the doorway, locking us in. We both needed sleep, and this would prevent anyone from sneaking up on us.
“Strip,” I said, peeling off my own clothes. Skin-on-skin contact would be the fastest way to warm her up, and if she didn’t get warm soon, she’d start losing extremities.
I heard her back up, then nothing. A glance revealed her face was a mask of fear as her eyes darted for an exit. Seducing her had been so far from my mind that it took me a second to realize why she was afraid.
She would never believe me if I just told her that hadn’t been my intention, so I let desire bleed into my smile. It was far too easy. “Ada,” I drawled, “if I wanted to fuck you, I wouldn’t have to lock you in to do it.”
I stalked toward her, slowly, giving her a chance to run, but she stood her ground. She had a backbone of steel, and it was sexy as hell. I hadn’t been thinking about seducing her, but now I was, and the thought was intoxicating. All of her curves and soft skin, pressed against me… I wrenched my thoughts back into line.
“I prefer my women warm and willing,” I told her, my voice soft. “And since you are neither, you’re just going to have to imagine how good it could be.” She shivered, and this time I didn’t think it was from the cold.
I cupped her jaw and her skin was like ice under my palm. My thumb against her lips found them just as cold. My desire died as I realized how cold she really was. “Now strip before you die of hypothermia. And leave your underclothes on.”
I turned away to give her the illusion of privacy and stripped off the rest of my clothes, leaving my underwear. I made a nest of emergency blankets on the thin mattress. I wished we had some real blankets, but these would have to do for now. At least I was still warm, which would hopefully transfer to her.
Ada hadn’t removed as many of her clothes as I’d asked, but if it kept her comfortable, I would take it. Her shirt was thin enough that it probably wouldn’t matter much either way.
I held up the edge of the blanket. “In you go.” I stared at the ceiling as she slid into the bed. Once she stopped moving, I asked, “Lights on or off?”
“On,” she said, her voice higher than usual.
“Okay.” She was still afraid, so I slid into the bed as carefully as I could. She tried to scoot away, but the whole point was to warm her up, so I wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her back against me.
Fuck, it was like snuggling an icicle. “You should’ve told me you were this cold.”
Rather than answering, Ada shifted, burrowing against me. Her ass rubbed across my groin, and I firmly reminded myself that now was not the time. It helped that she nearly left frostbite on everything she touched.
I wrapped a leg over hers, and tried to will my warmth into her. For the first time, I wondered if I should’ve risked landing in the spaceport. We would’ve had to fight our way out, but maybe that would’ve been the safer option. If Ada died, I would regret her passing, and not just because of the missed bounty.
After an hour, she started shivering. I rolled her over and pressed her front up against my own, trying to warm her other half.
She fit perfectly against me, as if she was made just for me.
I stroked a hand down her back and tried to ease her tired body into sleep, but it took hours for her temperature to return to normal. When it did, she murmured a sleepy, “Thank you, Marcus,” and snuggled deeper into my arms, far too trusting.
I held her close even as I reminded myself that she wasn’t for me. But just for tonight, I could pretend.