Heart of a Smuggler

scroll down for excerpt                 Book 15 in the Heart & Soul series

***

Take one smart-mouthed smuggler and her crew, stick her in the path
of one Daamen trader, add a ruthless slave lord, a group of determined
Intergalactic Peace Ship security officers, and watch Hell fly. It’s going
to take everything in Shamon’s power to keep the heart of his smuggler
safe. No one said it was going to be easy.

 

ebook    Amazon    Smashwords    iBooks   Barnes & Noble    Kobo

Paperback    Lulu.com    Fishpond.com.au    Book Depository    Amazon

 

 

**

Gabie squinted up at the dark sky. Clouds covered the moon, but still she didn’t like it.
“Damned stupid idea,” Olin muttered beside her. “Not a good night to be picking up goods.”
“Not much choice, either,” she returned. “It’s pick-up now or forget the deal for another month.”
“And you’re not prepared to wait another month.”
“And I’m not prepared to wait another month.”
Paz, standing on Gabie’s other side, stared morosely up at the dark ship approaching in the sky, a flicker of moonlight escaped the heavy clouds to shine off the hull. “We’re doomed.”
“We’re not doomed,” Gabie replied.
“We’ll end up on Cardrak, the prison planet.”
“And you’ll be someone’s favourite pet, sweetie,” Misha’s voice came through the miniscule communicators they all had hidden in their ears. “You’ll have warm arms to snuggle into on cold nights. Big, brawny arms.”
“That’s not funny,” Paz said.
“Don’t fret. Just close your eyes and think of… well, there won’t be any dinnos to think of, will there?” She laughed loudly, making Gabie wince. “Just rely on memory while some big lug is heaving and grunting over you and holding you real close.”
Paz shuddered. “We’re doomed.”
“Don’t worry,” Gabie said. “I’ll shoot you myself before I let the law take you.”
“We’re doomed.”
Grinning, Gabie watched the big ship swoop low, hover, and finally land not far away. The ramp came down and shadowy shapes of the other crew appeared.
“Misha?” Gabie queried.
“It’s them and it’s safe… or as safe as it can be with Mazo.”
Jerking her thumb at her two crew members, Gabie ordered, “Let’s move.”
They walked forward, the dimness of their surroundings almost swallowing them up. Overhead thunder rumbled, a streak of lightning snapping through the sky to briefly light up the scene below them.
Gabie didn’t need the brief blaze of light to know her surroundings. It was one of twenty spots that she knew of to collect contraband. Harsh vegetation, rocky hills, and bad weather almost permanently. Good cover for illegal transactions.
It didn’t mean it was always safe and she didn’t want to hang around. Not only the vegetation could be harsh, but those she dealt with weren’t always the safest or sanest, of people in the universe.
Precisely why Misha was in the control cabin with all space ship lasers primed and ready to fire at a second’s notice.
“I don’t like dealing with Mazo,” Paz muttered. “He’s unpredictable.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Gabie stroked the handle of the laser where it protruded from the holster at her thigh.
“Trying to stay alive.”
“And dull.”
“Dull but alive.”
Gabie laughed.
The men in the cargo hold of the other ship didn’t pause in their movements. Now that she and her crew were closer to the ship Gabie could see the hover trays being loaded. The dim light in the cargo hold was just enough to see by, dim enough to be safe from prying eyes.
A tall, thin man with a wisp of hair on his freckled scalp strode forward, a tiny disc in his hand which he handed to Gabie. “It’s all here.”
“Really? How sweet.” Gabie slipped the disc into the handtronic she drew from her jacket pocket and scanned the contents. “Aw, Mazo, you come up trumps again.”
“There’s no need to double-check it.” Mazo’s eyes narrowed. “It’s all here.”
“Of course it is. Never doubted it for a second.” Gabie pocketed both the handtronic and the disc. Rubbing her hands, she peered around his thin frame to the cargo being loaded. “Quite a nice load.”
“Top quality.” Mazo paused. “Sort of.”
Gabie laughed outright.
Paz and Olin stood by the ramp as the first of the hover trays descended. Paz led the first hover tray back towards Gabie’s ship, Larceny, and Olin followed with the second hover tray.
When one of Mazo’s men made to move with the third hover tray, Gabie shook her head and smiled sweetly. “Sorry, honey, you know the rules.”
“You’re paranoid, Gabie,” Mazo stated.
“Of course I’m paranoid.” Gabie tapped her fingers on the big crate and looked at the crew member. “Now back off, honey.”
He gave her a sour look before stomping back up the ramp.
Standing to one side, Gabie watched as Olin and Paz took the hover trays to their ship, scanned the contents for anything dangerous or anyone hiding within the crates – it wouldn’t be the first time a more powerful smuggler raided another smuggler’s ship from the inside by hiding in crates – and unloaded the cargo onto their own hover trays.
Gabie didn’t trust other smugglers, thieving lot of bastards, and she should know, and she didn’t trust their equipment, either. A smart move she’d learned a long time ago.
Rain started to patter down by the time all the cargo was unloaded and repacked into Larceny.
Gabie handed over the dinno chip that Mazo would later cash for the amount paid for the cargo. “As always, Mazo, a pleasure doing business with you.”
He stared at her long and hard and she smiled widely back. With a grunt he turned and moved back to his ship.
No fool, Gabie backed towards her own ship, never once turning her back on her fellow-smugglers. Gaining the safety of Larceny’s ramp, she finally turned and strode up into the cargo hold, the ramp rising up and locking shut behind her.
Pleased, she looked around the cargo hold at the neatly secured stacks of illegal goods. She’d paid a lot for it but she’d get a darned sight more in the Lawful Sector. Feeling immensely pleased with herself, she went up to the control cabin.
Misha looked up from where she was scanning for other ships in the area. Her long braid flicked at her waist when she turned her head, the white mohawk riding high on her scalp. Her skin shone white in the cabin lights, her pale, pink-rimmed eyes studying her captain.
“Let’s go, Misha.” Dropping down into the captain’s seat, Gabie kicked back, swung her heels up to rest on the console and crossed her ankles. Stretching her arms above her head, she bent them at the elbows and rested linked palms behind her head. “We’ve goods to sell!”
“Good deal, huh?”
“Mazo might be a psycho, but he deals in nothing but top-quality looking but bad-quality stuff.” Gabie gave a sigh of contentment.
Misha rolled her eyes and flipped the controls that made the engines roar into life. The ship shuddered and creaked.
“This heap will fall apart one day,” she shouted above the roar of the engines.
“Nonsense!” Gabie yelled back. “Top ship!”
“You think?” Misha’s hands trembled along with the ship as it shuddered.
The cupboard door behind them fell off its hinges.
“Oops,” said Gabie. “Must get Olin to fix that one day.”
“He’s already done it.”
“Not well enough, obviously.”
“The only thing left he can do is nail it shut!”
“My goodness, you do exaggerate.” Gabie held up one finger. “See? The engine is dying down.”
“It’s dying, all right.”
“Indicating we’re ready to go.” Gabie smiled widely as silence descended on the ship, the engines recovering enough to resume normal operations. “Let’s move it.”
Shaking her head, Misha steered the spaceship up and off into the night sky. Within minutes nothing but stars surrounded them, and the Lawful Sector was theirs for the taking.
~ * ~
Standing in the centre of the Trade Building, Shamon rocked back and forth on his heels, waiting while Aamun and Simon, his captain, finished sealing the trade with the merchant. Stifling a yawn, he glanced around.
The Trade Building wasn’t busy. The only ones there were the two merchants and his fellow Daamen traders from Simon’s ship.
“Won’t be long now.” Heddam raked one hand through his shaggy fall of hair and stretched leisurely. “The last of the cargo is coming in with Mikal, Kel and Etol. Then we can head for the tavern for a hot meal and a cold drink.”
“Aye.” Torkra straightened from setting the last sack down on the bench. “And a warm wench.”
“Lust-crazed youth.” Shamon grinned in amusement and rubbed his close-clipped beard.
“’Tis just you old uns growing a little slower and softer,” Torkra retorted. “We young bloods have to keep up our reputation of wench-lovin’, brawl lovin’ traders.”
“Is that right?” Heddam winked at Shamon. “I reckon we can teach the young bloods a thing or two yet, don’t you agree, Shamon?”
“Oh, aye,” Shamon replied, flexing his bulging muscles. “And less of the old, Torkra, I’m only thirty.”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.” Torkra shook his head. “Won’t be long, old friend, and you’ll need a walking stick.” He held out one arm. “I could help you across to the tavern?”
“I could help you see stars.”
“The old do lose their sense of humour.”
Shamon grabbed him in a headlock and they got into a scuffle, ending up with Torkra pinned down on the floor and Shamon holding him down with ease.
“You owe me an ale, lad,” Shamon informed him happily.
“Bully.”
Laughing, Shamon swung himself up, but the laughter died on his lips when he saw the wench striding through the huge, open doorway not far off. Bright-eyed, laughing, her gamine face alight with mischief, she was like a ray of sunshine on a dull day. Laughter bubbled in her voice. Even her stride was bouncy, full of energy.
Trouble. Trouble on two legs had just walked through the door.
“Hello.” Heddam stood beside Shamon and hooked his thumbs in his pants waistband. “Look who just walked in.”
Straightening up, Torkra caught sight of the wench. “Wow.”
“Don’t get too excited.” Shamon watched the wench approach a merchant. “She’s a smuggler.”
Torkra’s eyebrows shot upwards. “True?”
“True.”
“’Tis a mighty fine looking smuggler.”
Shamon had to admit to the truth in those words. The wench wasn’t only pretty in a gamine, mischievous way, but she had a figure to make his mouth water. She had a body a man could hold onto while sinking into feminine heat. Hourglass was the only thing he could think when he saw her. All soft, round limbs, big bosom, pert bottom and a swaying walk that could cause a man’s tongue to fall out of his head.
Smuggler. A flicker of annoyance rippled through him when he saw a merchant approach the wench and start talking. She pulled a disc from her pocket and proffered it to the merchant, who took it and scanned it through his handtronic. He smiled widely and nodded.
The wench practically beamed at him.
Another sucker taken. Shamon shook his head.
“Did she just make a sale to that merchant?” Torkra’s jaw dropped in amazement.
“Aye.” A frown creased Heddam’s brow. “And more fool him.”
“But she’s right in the middle of the Lawful Sector,” Torkra protested. “Surely she cannot sell smuggled goods here?”
“She’ll sell it anywhere she can,” Shamon replied. “And trust me, the wench is a wily one and has never been caught.”
Right then the wily wench swung around on one heel, caught sight of the traders and laughed. Out loud. And strode across to them, her impressive bosom nestling snugly against her shirt.
Shamon’s mouth went dry for a second before he regained his senses enough to remember that this cheating wench was intruding on honest business.
Coming to halt right in front of the big men, she angled her head back to grin up in amusement at them. Not many smugglers would have been game to face-up the giant Daamen traders, Shamon knew. Just the thought of being in close vicinity with the towering, muscle-bound, seven foot and more giants was enough to make them swallow hard. The sight of their dangerous, roguishly handsome faces made many a wench’s heart patter madly, but the danger seemed to stand out more to those who crossed the traders. And those who made the Daamen’s black list included smugglers.
Smugglers steered clear of the Daamens.
Except for this smuggler and her motley crew.
“Well, well,” she said gaily. “Finishing some business, I see?” She waved past Shamon at Simon, who, Shamon saw from a quick glance over his shoulder, didn’t know whether to laugh or frown.
To be fair, there was something about the wench’s tenacity and boldness that tickled the humour of the Daamens… along with annoying them at times.
“I don’t believe I’ve met you,” she continued, sticking out her hand to Torkra, who was staring at her. “I’m Gabie.”
Not knowing what else to do, and never one to embarrass a lass, Torkra gingerly engulfed her hand in his big palm and gave it a gentle shake.
“We’re in the same business.” She looked slyly at Shamon and Heddam.
“I strongly doubt that,” Shamon returned. “In fact, wench, I know ‘tis not true.”
“Why, you big joker, you!” She gave him a hearty smack on one massive bicep.
He’d sure like to return the hearty smack on a very pert bottom.
“He’s such a joker,” she informed Torkra.
“Ha,” Torkra said, totally at a loss.
“So…” Gabie eyed the loaded hover trays near the merchants with whom the Daamens were dealing. “Business is good, huh?”
“Our business is good.” Shamon eyed the bright-eyed wench with one upraised brow, torn between the desire to laugh or scowl, an emotion never far off when Gabie was around. The wench was outrageous. “Your business isn’t.”
“Now don’t be like that.” She patted her jacket pocket. “I have a disc and all. This is legal.”
Heddam gave a snort of laughter.
“A doubter! I could show you the disc, but I am busy. Selling goods, of course, legal goods.”
“Of course,” Shamon said.
“Here comes my crew now, so I must toddle along.” Gabie gave Shamon a saucy grin and strode off, a bounce in her stride, her glossy brown ponytail swinging jauntily across her shoulders with every step.
Shamon had never met any wench who laughed so much. Shame she was a smuggler, for she was someone who always managed to catch his eye. He didn’t see a lot of her, she’d only turned up on the scene about four years ago, but she bobbed up now and again on the outskirts of the Outlaw Sector and in the Lawful Sector. Selling goods that the Daamens knew for a fact were mostly smuggled, for they’d seen her conducting business with some very lowlife scum
In the four years Gabie and her crew had smuggled goods, the law had never been able to pin the smuggling tag on them, thereby outlawing them. Somehow, the wily wench flew under the radars and distributed her illegal goods.
And she laughed about it the whole time, Shamon had no doubt, and she took great delight in greeting the Daamens like old friends when she saw them, the cheeky chit. Many of the Daamen trading crews had crossed paths with her at some time.
“’Tis her crew?” Torkra raised his brows.
“Aye. The albino wench with the mohawk is Misha,” Heddam supplied. “The elderly gent is Olin, a one-time outlaw so I’ve heard. The youth there,” he gestured to the thin, tall youth with the mournful face and heavy boots that only emphasized his skinny legs, “Is Paz. A sadder streak of misery you’ll never meet.”
Shamon watched as the crew brought in several hover trays piled high with crates and barrels. Shaking his head, he watched the eager merchant part with a dinno chip, which Gabie pocketed with a huge grin.
“All done.” Simon moved up beside Shamon. “Ah, the little smuggler surfaces.”
“And that merchant will be sorry he ever met her if the law sniffs her out,” Aamun added, a twinkle in his eyes. “But knowing that wench, the law can sniff around as much as they like and they won’t catch her.”
“’Twill be prison if they do,” Heddam stated.
Prison. Somehow the thought of all that sunny brightness engulfed by the harshness of prison made Shamon shift uncomfortably. The wench might be on the Daamens’ blacklist as a smuggler, but there was something just so damned likeable about her.
“They’ll never catch her,” Simon said, as though reading his mind. “Way too cunning.”
Shamon certainly hoped so. He could only shake his head when Gabie looked up, spotted Simon, and waved cheerfully at him before rounding up her crew and herding them through the huge open doorway, leaving the merchant with a load of illegal goods of which it would never be proven.

**

copyright Angela Verdenius