Download to your Kindle (eBook)CHAPTER 1
Can an escaped convict live in the light or is he doomed to darkness?
Escaped convict Chase Stryker is on the run from the Collectors, an agency that tracks down criminals and brings them to justice. Hiding on a drowsy farming planet seems ideal, but murder and mayhem follow him wherever he goes—in an ironic twist of fate, he’s blamed for a murder he didn’t commit and sentenced to death by flame without a trial. Rescue comes in the form of Sukeza bet Marish, an unlikely champion whose unassuming, fearful exterior inspires his contempt. But there’s more to his little rescuer than meets the eye, starting with the fact that she’s not part of the farming community and the secret they’d kill to protect. His reluctant fascination begins when he discovers that she smells like sunshine, tastes like nectar, and can offer him everything he never knew he needed.
Chase Stryker paused in the middle of the hard-packed dirt lane and studied the little town. Mind-boggling. No spaceport, no ships, no ground transports or modern mechanics of any kind. Not even lights—the flickering glow in the odd window was lantern flame.
He shook his head. He shouldn’t be here. The little agricultural planet was a great hiding place, but he shouldn’t have set his ship so close to the little town. Even though they were oblivious to his nightly prowls through their community, his luck couldn’t last and someone was bound to notice him soon. But he didn’t leave, kept coming back. After so much time alone in the black of space, running, always running from the Collectors, something about this cozy little colony pulled at him.
He settled for calling it curiosity.
Each night he found something new to marvel over. No power sources except a rickety windmill to grind grain. The low buildings were made of wood or hand-made brick. They used strange, six-legged animals for transportation and heavy hauling. They had no security. None. Not a sensor or deterrent, not even a flimsy seal on their hinged doors. Kessu’s balls, he could have stripped this town bare five times over, if there’d been anything valuable to steal. Kicking at the dust under his boots, he slowly shook his head again. Not even a decent road or landing pad.
A sound caught his attention and he lifted his head, instinct tightening the skin at the back of his neck. It was one of those strange six-legged beasts calling from a stockade, the sound echoing inside the big, wooden structure. Stryker cocked his head. He’d never heard them call in the night before. Thuds and snorts signaled an unusual level of restlessness.
The hunter in him woke and he prowled toward the structure, hand on the grip of his weapon. He hadn’t seen many predators on this planet, but it could be a night-hunter like himself, stalking the trapped prey inside the building. An animal…or maybe human, the worst kind of predator.
He should know.
As he approached, the beast called again, trumpeting in fear or warning. Stryker felt his muscles loosen with readiness, skin prickling. The huge doors stood ajar. He could smell it now, the earthiness of big, warm bodies, dung and hay—and blood. He bared his teeth at the metallic scent, eyes flicking over the darkness. Deep in the building, he saw a faint glow of flame.
The night was still, too still, the anxious banging of caged animals the only sound. A faint breeze cooled his skin and he backed away. He recognized the work of his own kind. He couldn’t get involved—he’d stayed too long as it was on this little farm ball. Fugitives shouldn’t take such chances.
Time to go.
Before he could blend in with the night, the door burst open. Three men appeared, jerking to a halt when they caught sight of him. The surprise didn’t last nearly long enough. He had time to pull his weapon, responding to their haggard faces and burning eyes, before they lunged for him.
They weren’t quiet about it. With hoarse shouts of, “Murderer!” they plunged through the darkness at his retreating form. They were clumsy and unarmed—Stryker lifted his weapon but didn’t fire, moved by instinct to run instead of fight. Murderer. They couldn’t know him, so they weren’t naming him for past crimes but blaming him for the blood inside the stockade.
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