There’s only one thing she wants to steal—his heart.
When computer genius Sampson Morales’ latest security measures fail to prevent the kidnapping of an Allied Planetary Union Ambassador’s child, he has no choice but to track and save the kid himself…especially if he wants to be paid.
Zasha Gustaf believed fighting with the Humans First movement could redeem her mercenary past, but when they use her intel to kidnap an innocent, she starts to have her doubts. Running into the only man she’s ever loved and who’s on the same trail is a sign. She commits to helping Sampson stop this group from sacrificing another blameless person, but she has another motive.
Sampson and Zasha have been down this road before, except last time it led to betrayal and heartache. He can’t trust her, and her attempts at redemption are met with constant rebuke, but when everyone, even the universe, is in danger, relying on each other is the only way forward.
Is a second chance possible for either of them…or will the past repeat itself?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of child endangerment, child abandonment, violence and murder.
General Release Date: 20th July 2021
Whenever the planet Saturn had crossed Sampson’s mind, he’d always believed stepping foot on its surface would involve jail time, or at the very least a spot in front of a tribunal. That he was being welcomed with open arms there, the land of the uppers, via official invitation no less, had made sleep near impossible for the last three solar days. Now, here he traveled among sprawling homes with green grass lawns, ponds of clear water…enough splendor to rattle the nerve endings of any man who’d grown up poor, near starving and covered in filth the majority of the time.
“Pull your mouth off the ground, kid. Bugs exist here.” Lee, ex-assassin and weapon expert, whipped her long black ponytail over her shoulder as their holo-vehicle came to a stop in front of Ambassador Al Smith’s house.
“You never told me how beautiful the ambassador planet was.”
She scoffed and re-checked her belt that was normally stacked with knives lining the leather. Now only two remained. “The thing about beauty is that it comes with a price. No sense salivating over something you won’t want to pay for.”
Except, maybe I do.
Sampson had gone his whole life without much. Joining up with Smith’s crew, back when the ambassador was a lowly body collector, Sampson had earned his place. When he’d ditched the Body Collection Service and joined the crew of Gina, he’d found a family. Regardless of the gains, there still existed this gnawing need inside him for more.
“You could have something like this, bet on it. Show these pansy fools your big brain in action.” Lee nudged him on the shoulder before she hopped out of the vehicle. “Enough sitting around talking. Let’s do this.”
Sure, he probably could reach living on Saturn status. Al had. The captain of a death barge was now a parliament ambassador, a fairy-tale story like the ones his mother used to spout over their dinner of broth and stale food cubes. The possibility of living on a wealthy planet in a fancy house tempted, but he wanted another kind of freedom. Living here would only be another prison of servitude. The desire to roam space, go where he wanted when he wanted, to eat what he wanted… All those wants drove him on.
“Welcome to my home,” Al called out from the front door, all fancy robes, ginger beard tamed and his infamous nose ring a thing of the past.
Sampson gave a single nod out of respect and instinctually reached to tug on the edge of the beanie he typically wore on the ship. “Thanks for the invite.”
“Would you like a tour?” The older man’s booming voice carried across the lawn with ease.
Sampson patted down his ginger hair and glanced at Lee, whose raised eyebrow told him everything he needed to know. “Perhaps another time. This is supposed to be a business trip, and I’d like to get to work right away.”
The words rolled off Sampson’s tongue like contaminated waste in a slip drive, foreign and unwelcome. He wanted to throw caution to the wind, take a tour or enjoy a fancy lunch—which was exactly why Lee had come along, to keep him focused.
The invitation from Al had come in a solar week before and Gina, the ship’s artificial intelligence, had been eager to share with Sampson how his expertise was requested along with the possible payday involved.
Enough crinkle to bathe in, according to Gina. Their co-captains, Toni and Emilio, were busy with another gig and had graciously offered up Gina along with the remainder of the crew to escort him. More like babysit. The implication stung a bit but made sense. Gina wasn’t a cheap ship, and she’d been hijacked before. Though if he completed this job, the flash was his for the taking, and maybe…
I’ll have enough to buy Gina.
“Straighten up, kid. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by him. You’re smarter.” Lee casually whispered these words on their walk up.
The encouragement soothed his shaken soul a bit. The last time he’d encountered Al Smith, Sampson had been indentured to Al’s body collection barge with a twenty-year service tag. Al hadn’t been horrible to work for, but he’d still been in charge and not afraid to stow a young boy in a small crappy room in the underbelly of the ship.
Sampson and Lee reached the front entrance, and he took note of the pair of guards posted right inside. Business trip indeed.
“Yes, and once you get inside, we can chat. You don’t mind if the guards search you?” Al asked with a sheepish smile.
Trust doesn’t come easy anywhere in this damn galaxy. They’d been searched three times since they’d gotten off Gina’s shuttle at the landing port. No such thing as a small measure for the planet housing parliament’s ambassadors.
Lee smiled, a wicked fucking grin equal parts ‘screw you’ and ‘sure thing.’ “Do what you have to, but my knives stay. I already put away half of them. The rest is for your protection and Sampson’s. Anything happens to him, and you’ll be answering to your sister personally if I don’t get you first.”
Pride swelled in Sampson’s chest. Family. These people cared about him, though sometimes he wished they would let him run his own missions. Let me take charge. Sure, he’d been told he was in charge on this one by Emilio, but Lee still played the role of big bad sister no matter what.
Al held up his hands. “Sure thing. Just making sure no explosives and whatnot. Loyda would be pissed if I didn’t follow protocol.”
Sampson nodded in agreement, standing up straight and spreading his arms. “Then let’s wrap this and get to it. Time is flash.”
* * * *
One Week Later
“Will it be all right for us to play outside once this goes live?” the nanny of the household asked as she swayed gently back and forth. She’d been shy and quiet at first, but within the first three days, she had come around whenever Sampson was working, asking questions, talking about his smarts. Normally, he’d be flattered by the attention, but duty called.
“Yes, once the system is live, you’ll be able to go anywhere on the Smiths’ property with Jace and still be safe.” He grabbed another gauge reader from his belt to measure the voltage coming from the box. Everything needed to be perfect.
The nanny, a petite brunette named Bridget, let out a little giggle as she pressed a hand against her upper chest. “Oh, such a relief. You have no idea how much this will make getting fresh air less of an ordeal. It’s been months since Jace enjoyed a good outside picnic, what with all the threats.”
A thread of anger weaved through Sampson like a current coursing through wire. No child should have his life threatened, especially when the kid had no choice over who his parents were or where he came from. Sampson empathized with the need to keep the kid safe, one of the reasons he’d accepted the damn job.
“Well, hopefully, this will keep everyone in the house safe. Now, Nanny—”
“Yes?” She reached out and rested her pale hand against his forearm. Nothing came with the connection, no sparks, no desire.
Damn. She had a cute smile, a pleasant demeanor…everything he should have wanted in a woman.
“Nanny Bridget, I have to finalize a few things while we wait for the APU approval on the designs to come through. I want to make sure everything is ready to go live as soon as we get the say-so.” Sampson glanced meaningfully at the door.
The nanny gasped as understanding finally hit. “Yes, and I am in the way. I’ll just get back to Master Jace. He’ll probably be up from his nap any minute.”
She left, and Sampson was grateful to be alone again. Sure, he liked a pretty face, but she offered little else. Besides, the project called to him. There was something about computers, electricity, ships, engines, software, hardware…it didn’t matter the technology involved when it sang to Sampson, like a melody he could memorize. He had to take things apart, put them back together or build something new entirely.
He’d been damn good at disassembly and found new purpose in fixing broken things only to make them better and more interesting than they’d been in the first place. This new security system he’d built for Al and his wife, Loyda, was no exception. State of the art with thermal imaging, body scanning, pressure sensors that gauged each member of the family, staff, and security—anything the slightest bit off, and it would trigger a full-scale alert.
Of course, Al hadn’t been lying about the Allied Planetary Union investigation division wanting details. They had requested the full schematics before the system could go live and demanded the right to change anything they saw fit.
More like steal my shit.
Exactly why he didn’t give them everything, but only enough to satisfy them with the false belief they’d seen all he offered. Lee had given him the same advice years ago. “Never tell people what you are fully capable of or they’ll try to control you or kill you.”
Jealousy and the desire to possess power—those were the things Sampson had encountered time and again. He focused on the control panel set up in the Smiths’ office. He checked each circuit and wire with the gauge in his hand, reading the electricity currents coursing through them. The system had to be perfect or—
“Almost done in here?”
A spark arced as Sampson jerked at Lee’s words. Fatch. “Lee, could you save the sneaking-up crap for Al’s hired guns?”
She grinned and walked forward. “Those aren’t hired guns. More like hired targets. Saw that nanny come flying out of here. Almost swore there were tears in her eyes from you sending her away.”
“Yeah, better tears than hearts. Can’t say we would work out.”
Lee clucked. “Now, Sampson. Just because one woman did a number on you doesn’t mean we’re all bad.”
One woman…the woman. Zasha had been all that mattered, had made him burn brighter than a ship slip drive at full power. Then— “I get plenty of action without getting deep and meaningful.”
He’d wanted the full romance bit once.
“It may be worth giving it a shot again. Besides, the nanny isn’t bad-looking.”
Sampson shook his head and swiped the mess of hair out of his face. “You were right when we arrived. No sense going after something I don’t want to pay the price for.”
Not after the last time.
Sampson thrust a gauge meter towards Lee. “Instead of standing around trying to scare people, I could use your help with the last security checks.”
“Fine, but after this we go for a drink?”
“Sure.” Sampson released the tool to her and went back to his work, not looking forward to a drink at all.