The Black Wing Chronicles: Book Two

Hero’s End

Given the choice between Love and Duty, which does one sacrifice for the other?

Bo Barron has it all: a ship of her own, a formidable reputation as one of the Sub-Socia’s most dangerous criminals, and the sexiest man in holofeatures – Blade Devon. She’d trade it all to find her father, clear her name and reclaim her rightful place as the Chief of Barron Clan… well, maybe she’d hang on to Blade. He’s also a very resourceful Inner Circle Agent with a penchant for coming to her rescue.

When sabotage of his hovercycle results in serious injury, Blade fears that state secrets entrusted to him are in danger of exposure. He’ll go to great lengths to keep that from happening.

Looking for answers to the questions that plague them, each plays a dangerous game of blackmail and extortion — with Bo’s father and their future together on the line.

***

PROLOGUE

Larianne Varo strode briskly down the wide promenade on the spacer’s level. Ignoring the admiring looks and lewd propositions thrown her way, she slipped through the crowd, careful not to touch anyone as she passed. Taller than most females, her height gave her an advantage in a crowd. A quick twist of her head and her chin length black hair brushed her jaw. Still no sign of anyone following her. Her pace slowed as the battered flashing sign advertising Scarlett’s Pleasure Suites came into view just over the heads of the crowd. She glanced down at the chrono on her wrist.

Early is on time. On time is late. She was very late. Damn that Artelian freighter that had to bump the docking ring just as her transport was coming in! No one had been able to disembark from either vessel until the airlock seals and hull integrity could be certified safe. Damn bureaucracy! Nothing to be done about that now. She’d just have to deal with the censure when she got to the pleasure suite.

You could rent a pleasure suite on a space station by the hour and rest assured that no one would eavesdrop either electronically or otherwise. Sure, there were pleasure suites that specialized in such, but Scarlett’s on Chiron Station wasn’t one of them. If it were, it would lose its license. The owners of Scarlett’s prided themselves on their discretion. That was one reason it was so popular with the swells.

Dressed in the cheap, revealing jumpsuit of a Skyhopper, no one gave her more than a passing look as she entered the main door. Larianne scanned the room for any potential threat that may be lying in wait for her.

Finding nothing more threatening than the occasional lewd smile or lascivious leer, she headed for the reception terminal at one end of the lobby before anyone worked up the nerve to proposition her. Unlike a brothel, patrons arrived at the pleasure suites with their partner(s) in tow. That didn’t mean some degenerate wouldn’t invite an unescorted Joy Babe or Skyhopper to join them for a little sport.

Playing off the name, the dominant color in the establishment was red. It looked as though the whole place had been the victim of a bloody crime. The red upholstery showed signs of wear with dark stains and worn spots. She didn’t even want to think about what had caused them. At least two patrons, inclined to exhibitionism, were already working on leaving more stains on the overstuffed tufted banquette, much to the enjoyment of the patrons inclined to voyeurism.

Neither option held any interest for Larianne. Focusing on the business at hand, her long, manicured fingers flew over the terminal input keys as she checked in. Without conscious thought, she angled her body away from the room at large. After so many years as an Inner Circle field agent, caution was second nature. While she waited for her suite confirmation, her dark eyes flicked around the room, taking in the debauchery with a jaded eye.

Males in Second Avenue suits and females in designer clothing rubbed shoulders (and other body parts) with common spacers as all waited for an available suite and a willing partner, usually a Skyhopper or Joy Babe, or two.

On the main shipping lanes in the Third Sector, Chiron thrived as a respectable way station at the galactic crossroads. Along with the regular spacer traffic that gave stations their seedy reputation, Chiron also catered to an upscale, even aristocratic clientele. That’s what made it such a popular Sub-socia meeting place. There weren’t many other places in the Commonwealth where nobles and other swells could descend into the spacer’s levels and hire out their dirty work and still be back in time for a dinner party with the latest celebrity to capture the public eye.

The terminal beeped and whirred, drawing her attention once more. It spat a clear plastic key card at her and the display showed her the way to her suite. Taking the card, Larianne cast one final look around before slipping through the doorway leading to the suites. A display on the card counted down the time left in her reservation.

Larianne easily found the suite. Her hand closed around the palm blaster she carried in her hip pocket. With her free hand she waved the key card at the locking panel and the door slid open. A quick glance around the suite assured her that the man standing near the bed was alone. She stepped into the dimly lit room but stopped a few steps from the door.

The man stepped from the shadows. He was of medium height, middle-aged with a bit of a paunch. But his shoulders were still broad.

At the sight of him, she released some of the tension she’d been carrying. Turning, she secured the door and leaned against the doorframe. Larianne’s lips twisted again. If he thought the non-descript spacer’s clothes were a disguise, he was sadly mistaken. She recognized him from the holo that greeted visitors to IC headquarters on Trisdos, but she knew better than to call him by name or acknowledge his rank. She refused to so much as think of his name.

“Agent Varo, what I’m about to tell you is to go no further than this room,” he said, without preamble.

Larianne nodded. “Of course.”

That was always the story. No one ever called Predators to clandestine meetings to give them intel that could be broadcast on the Commonwealth News Service. Fewer still ever bothered with the standard greetings and pleasantries.

“An agent has gone rogue,” he said. He tossed a portfolio on a table to the side of the door. “We have to handle this carefully. He’s become a threat to the security of the Commonwealth and to Lord Marin. We have evidence that he’s become involved with the New Front. Intel suggests that he’s using his position to prepare for an attempt on Lord Marin. He needs to be taken out quickly and it has to look like an accident. It’s also off the books. If word of this gets out, the agency will deny all knowledge. You’re on your own once you leave here.”

Larianne pushed away from the doorframe and picked up the portfolio. Keeping one eye on him, she pulled the flimsy from the folder and held it up to the meager light. The face of the man hovering in front of her was the last one she expected to see.

“You want me to kill Blade Devon?” Her eyes narrowed.

“Discreetly,” he said, “outside of standard operating protocols.”

“He’s hard to kill. Sending someone after him is a suicide mission.”

“That’s why I’m giving this assignment to you. You know him. You can get close to him.”

Larianne’s sharp eyes studied his face for a long moment. “He enjoys Lord Marin’s favor. He’s untouchable.”

“Leave Lord Marin to me,” he said with a smug smile. “No one is untouchable for a Predator. You’re supposed to be one of the best.”

“So is he.”

“He’s a high profile agent with very dangerous hobbies. I’m sure you won’t have any difficulty making it look like an accident. This sanction cannot be traced back to the agency, or to me.”

Larianne slipped the flimsy back into the portfolio and tucked the whole away into a pocket. She fought the urge to touch the scar on her arm. Two years later and the injury no longer pained her, but she’d kept the scar to remind her of the night she’d gotten sloppy…the night her erstwhile lover, the selfsame Blade Devon, had turned on her. Her lips twisted in self-mockery. She wouldn’t make that mistake again. He had warned her, after all.

“Anything in the orders against making him suffer a bit first? I owe him.”

“I see we understand one another,” he said. A chilling smile curved his lips and he started for the door. “Just make sure you kill him. Publicly if possible.”

Larianne stepped away from the door to let him pass.

“With pleasure,” she said.

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