Pirate Nemesis is available for pre-order on amazon! It will be available for $2.99 as a special pre-order price, and after it releases that will change to its regular price of $3.99. I just love this cover! My amazing cover artist, Natasha Snow, has outdone herself!
Killers. Thieves. Pirates. Family.
Mercy Kincaid is a fugitive from her own family. Her dangerous telepathic gifts make her a target. So is anyone she gets close to. When her best friend is captured and tortured, Mercy’s only hope is to reunite with the family that tried to murder her as a child. She trusts few among her blood relatives, but finds herself intrigued by an enigmatic and dangerous killer.
Reaper has spent a lifetime watching his people die. He’s vowed to kill anyone who jeopardizes their survival. Mercy’s gifts are the biggest threat they’ve faced in eleven years, since a biological weapon nearly annihilated the pirate colonies. But Reaper realizes her talents can either destroy them, or save them. He must decide if he’s fallen victim to her power, or if he can truly trust the beautiful woman and her compelling abilities. If he makes the wrong choice, everyone dies.
Keep reading for a sneak peek at the prologue to this first full-length book in the telepathic space pirates series!
Mercy didn’t like the way spaceport security was watching her. It was a busy place, with half a dozen freighters offloading goods, and just as many uploading new cargo. Merchants shouted at dock workers to handle their crates more carefully, transport hawkers flashed bright screens showing their rates, and three Commonwealth Navy ships had docked this morning, men and women in uniform disembarking in a raucous flood of noise.
She ducked between two enlisted men arguing over where they wanted to throw their credits away – booze, gambling, or the local pleasure house. Maybe she could lose security in the crowd, but she wasn’t counting on it. Verath 6 featured an enormous spaceport. The planet’s colonies were split between farming and mining, and both provided exports throughout the Commonwealth. It was chaos, but for all the crush of people, Mercy knew she stood out.
She’d already been here too long, and the pressure to run, to flee was a growing anxiety streaking heat up her spine and coating her skin in a thin sheen of sweat. She was running for her life, and the crowd was the only advantage she had. If security slowed her down…she couldn’t dwell on that possibility.
For the past hour, she’d carefully looked over each ship, trying to stay unobtrusive. It wasn’t easy. There just weren’t many kids here, much less a thirteen-year-old girl, alone and unchaperoned. She needed to find the right ship, and fast, before the guard shadowing decided he needed to do more.
Choosing which ship to catch a ride on was complicated. It couldn’t have too much security. It couldn’t be too official, too wealthy, too criminal, or too desperate. It needed a captain reluctant to turn her over to the authorities, if she was caught, and it couldn’t be someone likely to sell her off to slavers. Half the “merchants” here operated as smugglers, and that sort of element was risky.
Stowing away meant extra weight, and most ships, whether cargo or passenger, were charged docking fees based on weight. Captains didn’t take well to being charged extra, even if it was only by a few kilos. If a stowaway was found and couldn’t pay, some captains would float them out the nearest airlock.
Her mother had drilled all of these things into her by the time she was ten, just like how to operate an aircar, navigate a star chart, or work the autopilot on a ship. Knowing how to run was half of Mercy’s childhood education. The other half was how not to get caught in the first place.
Don’t get noticed. Act like you belong, even if you don’t, and that means paying attention to everything, from the people around you, to your own body. Her mother’s words floated through her mind, and Mercy made a conscious effort to keep her shoulders and arms relaxed, to stroll along like she was bored and didn’t care about any of the ships or people around her. Like her heart wasn’t trying to beat its way out of her chest. She looked around like she was just another jaded kid dragged along on adult business at the port, desperately searching for anything in this place to entertain her. What she really hoped to find was a way to shake the guards’ attention for good.
She found it in front of one of the transport hawkers. A couple stood there with a baby cradled in the woman’s arms. Mercy noted their skin and hair color, the fit and cut of their clothes. Not an exact match for her own in either case, but close enough to suit her needs. Deliberately, she stopped and heaved a huge sigh, throwing in an eye roll for good measure. Then she marched her way toward them with every visible sign of bored teen apathy she had ever seen other kids use, and came to a stop just within the boundaries of personal space. Mercy made sure it was on the edge of the woman’s line of sight, and when she glanced over, gave a quick, artless smile.
The woman frowned, and cast a quick look toward the man, but he was busy haggling with the transport hawker. When she looked back, her face was filled with uncertainty, just a hint of suspicion in her eyes.
Nothing to worry about here, thought Mercy, concentrating hard. Just a harmless kid. It helped that she looked young for her age, her green eyes wide and guileless. Her clothes were basic and serviceable, blue and tan synth-cloth treated to repel dirt and grime, the sort of thing every working class family bought for their children. It also wicked away her nervous sweat, which helped cool and calm her. Her skin, naturally tinted bronze from a mixed ancestry, could pass as darkened by working long hours in the sun. In short, Mercy could easily be some farming kid, dragged to the city by her family for the day.
“Waiting for my Mom,” she said out loud, low enough that the woman would hear, but the words wouldn’t carry. The woman’s expression eased. She sent a quick, searching look around the spaceport, but smiled when she looked back at Mercy. A warm smile. The kind of smile a mother used.
“She left you alone?” she asked, juggling the baby a bit as it fussed in her arms. Concern shone in her eyes, and Mercy thought quickly. She gave a careless shrug.
“Just for a minute. My brother’s on leave from the Navy, and she didn’t want me over there with all of the soldiers. They’ll be along, and then we’ll all go home together.” For just a second, Mercy’s throat closed, and she had to fight off the wave of fresh grief and panic at the thought that she might never see her real mother again. To cover, she nodded at the baby. “Doesn’t all of this noise bother him?” In her experience, people were always happy to talk about themselves.
Sure enough, the woman’s face lit up. “Oh, not even a little.” She laughed. “In fact, I think he likes it. So much to see, everywhere he looks.”
Mercy craned her head to get a better look. The baby was looking at her, blue eyes wide. His fist was stuffed into his mouth, drool coating his tiny hand. Inspired, Mercy screwed up her features, crossing her eyes and distorting her face in a ridiculous fashion. The baby squealed with delight and laughed, open mouthed, waving his tiny fists in the air.
Behind her, the security guard moved on, his gaze looking for something more interesting than this small family securing transport. Some of the tension in Mercy’s stomach relaxed. She allowed herself a small, genuine smile.
“He’s cute,” she said, and the woman beamed with love and motherly pride. A moment later, though, and she was frowning at Mercy. Uh-oh.
“You should stay close to us,” she said. “Until your family comes to get you. The spaceport can be a dangerous place.”
“Sure,” Mercy shrugged like it didn’t matter, but her mind was scrambling. She couldn’t just stay with these people. This woman had decided Mercy needed looking after, and that meant she’d eventually get worried when her “family” never showed, and that would get her dumped into the same security office she’d just spent so much trouble avoiding. She cast her gaze around for a way out, and luck was with her.
Having secured transport, the man turned away from the hawker and said something to his wife. While she was momentarily distracted, Mercy bounced up on the balls of her feet and waved madly in the general direction of some tightly grouped uniforms, moving their way toward the exits.
“There they are!” she said, injecting her voice with breathless excitement. “Thanks, bye!” She dashed into the crowd, darting between people and weaving quickly, until she was sure she’d disappeared from view. The noise of the port swallowed whatever words the woman called at her back, but Mercy was already gone, already focused on the next task. Finding a ship.
She had to move quickly if she wanted to avoid drawing the attention of security again. Fortunately, she’d already narrowed down her choices to two frigates loading cargo. Both of them looked to be carrying perishable goods, even some livestock. That meant the cargo hold would have to be sealed and temperature controlled. It also meant Mercy might be able to put together a meal or two, either from what was being loaded as cargo, or whatever rations were being loaded to feed the livestock. She’d eaten worse.
Both ships looked like good options. Unfortunately, she had no way of getting a look at their destinations ahead of time, so she wouldn’t be able to choose where she was going. That left the crew as the deciding factor. Both of them were small operations, as the smuggling type often were. Just a captain and one or two supporting crew members. One captain was a woman, and Mercy was leaning heavily in that direction. Women tended to be more sympathetic to kids, and if she was caught, that could mean the difference between life and death.
She started in that direction, dodging around crates still being offloaded from other freighters, ducking the gruff hands and curses of dockworkers who didn’t like a kid getting in their way. Then she saw something that made her stumble and hesitate. Just beyond the woman captain and her ship, a newly docked vessel was offloading. It looked like any other small cargo outfit, the frigate old and scarred with decades of space travel and a few close brushes with pirates or smugglers. The hull bore marks from plasma burns, faded and old, but unmistakable.
That wasn’t what had halted Mercy in her tracks. It was the crew walking out of the docking bay. Three adults, and what looked like two teenagers. Boys a few years older than she was. They looked like a thousand other people here, dressed in the ubiquitous flight suits and spacer gear common across merchants, smugglers, and transports. But they didn’t feel like any of those people. They felt familiar, their presence warm and soothing in the same way her mother had been. But instead of being a comfort, that feeling washed adrenaline through her body. She actually felt the blood drain from her head.
I’m too late, and now they’re going to find me and it will all be over. There would be no escaping if that happened. Mercy took a huge, shaky breath of air, trying to force down the terror so she could think.
It rooted her to the spot until a crate shoved into her hard enough to knock her aside, scraping against her hip and arm in the process. She stumbled, the pain from the hit a distant thing next to the sound of her own pulse hammering in her head. The insult thrown at her by the dockworker as he shoved past was meaningless noise.
She caught herself before she fell, and straightened, ignoring the man even as he spit at the ground by her feet. All of her attention was still focused on the distant group, two docking spaces away, and nowhere near far enough. She couldn’t approach the female captain now.
A second later, she realized her mistake. She was too focused on them. Just as she altered her gaze so she was looking at something else, still keeping the five in her peripheral vision, one of the boys turned his head toward her. Not just toward her. He was looking right at her.
Mercy stopped breathing. She’d gone swimming once in ice-cold water. One of the many escapes she and her mother had used during their years running. She still remembered the way the freezing temperature had burned against her skin, literally freezing the breath in her lungs, so she spent the first few seconds wondering if she was going to suffocate, instead of drown. This felt exactly like that. The boy had blue eyes as cold as that icy water. She barely noticed his dark hair and sharp features, too trapped by that gaze.
He saw her, and in a second he was going to point her out to his companions, and then it would all be over. Ten years of running, all for nothing. Her mother gone, Mercy dragged back home to certain death.
Please, she thought. Please just look away. Let me go. She’d never tried her persuasion on someone else with Talent like hers. She didn’t know if it would work. But she thought it as hard as she could. You don’t notice me. I’m no one. I’m nothing.
That’s not true. The new voice in her head shocked her. It was young, male, and definitely not her own thought. He was past her shields, inside her mind. Panic beat frantically inside of her, urging her to run even as her conscious mind knew she could never run far enough. You’re her. The one we’re looking for.
No! I’m not. I’m no one. Please, I’m no one.
But you are. She could feel the confusion in his tone. Pallas is your mother. Isn’t she?
No! Yes. Mercy couldn’t control the punch of emotion that spiraled through her at hearing her mother’s name. She’s gone. Her throat clogged and tears burned behind her eyes, but she fought them. She couldn’t cry now, here. Please, just let me go.
Across the dock, with countless people milling between them, the boy stared at her. His companions ignored him, gathered around the other boy for some reason. Mercy had never wished so hard for anything in her life. Well, except the wish for her mother to come back. But she had no chance of that happening right now.
She thought at first she was imagining the word in her mind. A hawker stepped between them with his brightly flashing screen, and Mercy’s gaze wavered from the ship she’d been doggedly focusing on. When the hawker moved on, her eyes met the boy’s icy blue stare.
She could see the confusion in him, in the angle of his head and the set of his shoulders.
I don’t know. Because you want me to, I think. A long pause. You should leave before I change my mind. If my brother catches you…
He didn’t need to tell her twice. She should have been moving already. She turned, stumbling for the first two steps because her legs were so shaky. But she found her rhythm quickly enough, making straight for her second choice.
As his mind faded from hers, she thought she heard the distant echo of another conversation.
Nik, what are you doing? Who were you talking to?
The other frigate, the one with an older, no nonsense looking man as the captain, was getting ready to load the last lift of freight. Operating the lift was one of the crew. A girl, not much older than Mercy. Maybe not any older. Mercy hunkered down behind a convenient stack of crates and watched for a moment. Her instincts screamed at her to hurry, to get the hell out of here before it was too late. But she needed to be smart about this. Getting caught sneaking on board could be just as deadly as being found by spaceport security.
This girl had short blond hair and wore an actual flight suit, like something a real pilot would wear, but kid-sized. Made for her. She was operating the lift like she did it all of the time, letting the anti-grav thrusters take care of all the heavy lifting as she maneuvered it toward the ramp.
“Atrea,” called the captain, “make sure those crates of chicken feed are loaded where we can get to them.” He waved a datapad in her direction. “Remember how much fun you had last time, climbing over half the cargo for it.”
“Yes, Dad.” Atrea rolled her eyes exactly like Mercy had done earlier.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me. Chickens were your idea, so you get to take care of them.” He muttered something else under his breath that Mercy didn’t catch.
“Chickens are pure profit, “ Atrea said, but the words were spoken so low Mercy didn’t think the captain heard.
“Damn nuisance, is what they are. And your responsibility. I won’t say it again.”
Both Atrea and Mercy winced at the same time.
Mercy eyed the captain. Only someone with genetically or mechanically enhanced hearing could have heard that over all this noise. She wondered which he was, thought about looking to find out, and immediately decided against it. Your Talent is both an advantage and a trap. Her mother’s voice ran through her head again, as if she stood right next to her. Use it only when you have to. Always assume someone could notice. And someone already had. She couldn’t risk using it again.
So she didn’t use her telepathy to look inside the captain’s head and see if she could find out more about him. It was enough to know that he had a daughter who worked with him, one Mercy’s approximate age. A father would probably hesitate to airlock or enslave a girl if he caught her stowing away on his ship. Especially if his daughter was standing right there.
Decision made, Mercy used her Talent in the most passive way possible, projecting what she thought of as her don’t look at me protocol. It was a risk, but one she had to take. It was a suggestion, really, a kind of pressure on the minds around her to look in any direction that wasn’t right at her. It didn’t always work, so she still had to be sneaky and careful getting aboard the ship. But she was small and fast, and it was enough this time, that no one saw her slip up the ramp and crawl back over the crates already loaded. She hid right in the middle of the stacked cages full of chickens. They made enough movement and noise that it would be easy to remain unseen back here. She shifted a couple of them to make a box of empty space just large enough to crawl into and curl up in, the smooth floor of the hold pressed against her cheek. She re-secured the straps holding the chicken cages in place, and finally felt safe, away from prying eyes.
They smelled a bit, an earthy, animal kind of smell that made her wrinkle her nose. Tiny feathers drifted everywhere, but it gave Mercy something to do, trying to catch them on the backs of her fingers as they floated through the air. She heard the lift moving into place, heard the girl tell her father the hold was secure. Her stomach rumbled, but she’d have to wait until they’d made the first jump before she dared look for something to eat.
When was the last time she’d eaten? Before her mother disappeared. Two days ago. She’d been too busy running ever since. She shied away from thinking about that. Couldn’t dwell on what it meant, yet. Pallas had known this might happen one day, that she might not make it home. She’d done everything she could to prepare Mercy. You have to run, she’d said. Run, get on a ship to anywhere else, and don’t look for me. If I don’t come back to you, assume I’m dead. They’ll come for you, too. You have to run, and disappear.
Her eyes burned, hot with tears she couldn’t afford to cry yet. Not until she was away. She wondered what the boy and his crew were doing right now. Had he seen her slip aboard this ship? Would they go on looking for her mother? Would they find her?
Mercy rolled onto her side and squeezed her eyes shut. She pressed her sleeve against them as hard as she could, her jaw locked. Moisture gathered and spilled over, soaking into the mesh of her sleeve and drying instantly. A sound escaped her, and she curled into an even tighter ball. Can’t cry, can’t make noise. Not yet. She forced her thoughts away from the boy and her mother, and thought about how hungry she was instead, how her insides had this big empty hole in the middle of them, and her stomach seemed like it was trying to turn itself inside out. The burning heat of the tears receded, and she took a long, steadying breath.
Eventually, the vibration of the engines firing up rumbled the deck beneath her. Relief coursed through her, some of the tension leaving her body. Soon now, she would truly be safe. No record of a girl matching her description leaving the planet. No record that she’d ever existed, at all.
When the ship broke atmosphere and made the first jump in whatever journey it was taking, Mercy knew she’d made it. The boy had kept his word, and he and his crew would never find her. But she also felt like the last connection she had to her mother severed. The people hunting her wouldn’t be able to find her, but neither would anyone else. Then, Mercy gave in and cried. She let the tears come until she could hardly breath, until her head ached and her stomach churned in a mess of grief that eclipsed any hunger she felt. Until she could do nothing but lay, exhausted and numb, watching the feathers drift slowly down around her.
The chickens suddenly stirred, squawking loudly in protest as the straps to their cages were freed and the crates shoved aside. Mercy tensed, but there was nowhere to go, no more room to run as light spilled over her and a blond head suddenly appeared above her.
Blue eyes bright with curiosity peered down at her.
“Hi,” said the girl, Atrea. “Who are you, and why are you on our ship?”