Kissing Steel Page 1

Chapter One

“Sir? We are close to the Star.”

Standing up, Rena walked toward the man at the helm. The Bridden was a small, fast jumper shuttle. The five-man crew and Rena had spent two weeks chasing down the intermittent distress signal from a life pod from the spaceship Star. They were farther out in space than Rena ever wanted to go.

Rena’s heart pounded. The Star had been heavily insured so, when pirates had stolen it years before, her company had taken a tremendous loss when they paid the claim.

Recovering it meant recouping most of the money they’d lost. If they pulled it off it meant a huge bonus that would pay for early retirement, no more shit from her boss, and she’d have enough money to finally buy her freedom from the hell she lived with every day. She was so close to obtaining her dreams, she could almost taste it.

“The last signal we got was six hours ago but it should be repeating at any time. She couldn’t have gotten far since we’re faster.” Dell Harver was the captain of the Bridden.

He was good-looking, a businessman, and he was as determined as she to recover the stolen ship. He tapped the screen. “Here it is.”

She studied the screen, seeing a blinking light as he pulled up charts of the solar system they were in. “This is so exciting,” she said.

Dell turned his head, his soft brown eyes lighting up with excitement. “You bet your ass, sir.” He flushed a little. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it and I told you that you can cut the ‘sir’ shit. Just because I work in the corporate office shouldn’t mean I outrank you, and this is your ship where you should never apologize to me for cursing. I could meet you word for word since I was a military brat.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “So do you think we’ll really be able to recover her?”

“We’re heavily armed and we’re fast. The emergency signal from the pod computer said pirates had control of the Star and the pod relayed that it had been picked up again by the ship. Pirates usually travel in groups of ten or less. They are meaner than shit but not the brightest people you’ll ever meet.”

“But they have the Star and I read her listing. She’s a damn fine ship and she’s heavily armored and heavily armed.” That’s what made Rena nervous. “That ship can easily accommodate a hundred people, if not more.”

Dell chuckled. “I know what I’m doing, sir…uh, Ms. Gates. This isn’t the first recovery I’ve ever done and that’s why your company hired me. We’re a five-man crew but don’t let that fool you because we are the best. We’ll be docked to that ship before they realize what hit them, board her and take those ass**les out. All you need to do is stay aboard the Bridden until the fighting is over.”

She felt nervous. “All I’m saying is the Star can hold a hell of a lot of people. What if you’re wrong and going against more than just ten or less?”

The man watched her for a long moment. “May I be blunt?”


“Ninety percent of space pirates are insane. They are that way because their families chose to leave Earth and live in space on older ships that leak radiation, have poor recirculation of their air, and a long list of other hazardous living conditions that mutate them, mess up their brains or just make them nuts. They are vicious killers, totally brutal, but basically animals. We deal with them often and we know what we’re doing so please trust me. I was hired because this is a job I’m more than qualified to do. My men and I can handle a bunch of mutated freaks easily. All right? We enjoy killing them.”

Rena looked at him and realized how chilling he could be as she saw the cold gleam in his eyes when he said that about killing living beings. She was suddenly wary of him and his team, seeing them as a bit bloodthirsty for the first time. “I know Demco just hires the best.”

He grinned at her. “So what are you the best at since you’re high up in Demco Insurance?”

“I was an investigator for ten years.” She hesitated. “One of the investigations turned deadly and I almost died so they promoted me. Nothing says devotion to Demco more than almost giving your life to recover a claim for them.”

He studied her. “And you’re risking your life again.”

“Not if you’re as good as you say you are.” She forced a smile. “Recovering the Star is very important to my company.”

“I figured that out with the money they offered me to take this job and the huge bonus they are paying me when we bring her in.” He looked away from her. “Stay onboard.” He reached for his com. “We’re close. Why don’t you strap in? We’re going at them fast and hard.” He turned on the communication system to his crew. “We’re boarding soon so strap down and gear up. We’re about to earn our paycheck, men.”

Feeling nervous, Rena walked to her seat to buckle in tightly. She was nuts to take this assignment when she hated leaving Earth and hated spending nearly two weeks aboard a small jumper shuttle with five men. She’d been hit on but the men had backed off immediately when she’d showed them no interest in return. She nervously rubbed the bare skin where her wedding band had recently been. If all went well she’d never have to wear it again.

The shuttle engines roared to life as the pilot gave them full throttle. She swallowed and closed her eyes, hating the feel of the pull of the shuttle as it shot forward through space.

Dell was talking loudly as he communicated with his team. “In ten minutes we’re going to hit hard and fast. Mark, you’re the lead. Don’t damage the docking door this time.” He chuckled. “These bastards are in for a surprise.”

“Sure, Dell.” It was Paul’s voice that came through the speaker. “And you get to come in last to take all the glory.”

Dell snorted. “That’s why I’m the captain. Try not to leave any of them alive this time. I don’t want any more scars.”

Rena opened her mouth but then closed it, deciding that she didn’t want to know.

The thought that people were about to die made her feel queasy. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d been somewhere that people had lost their lives but she still didn’t feel comfortable with it. Of course it is better the criminals die than the recovery team, she thought. Or me.

“Here we go, boys,” Dell sounded tense. “Our shielding didn’t effectively cover us.

Their sensors picked us up and they are turning but I got us close enough.” He paused.

“Damn. They are firing. Evasive maneuvers! I’m going for their backside. The intel on the Star says she’s blind on the bottom tail section. We’re going to do a hard dock on their cargo two. Hang on. We’re going to kiss their ass literally. Board as soon as you get a seal with the dock.”

In seconds, Rena experienced fear as they hit the craft. If she hadn’t been strapped in she would have been thrown from her seat. Alarms screamed in the cabin as she heard a loud clank. She saw Dell jump from his seat and dart a look at her before he moved to exit the shuttle. The alarms abruptly went silent.

“Stay put. We’re locked to them and docked so they can’t shake us loose.”

She stared at the retreating man, watching mutely when he grabbed the gun strapped to his thigh as he rushed away. She heard the doors swish open and then closed, leaving her alone. Rena bit her lip as she unbuckled her belt to move to the pilot’s chair to watch out the window.

Above her all she could see was a huge hull of a ship the size of a large building. She sat in the captain’s chair, eyeing the console but couldn’t really understand any of it. She noticed a red light flashing that read docking clamps. Was that bad that it was flashing? She was alone on the shuttle with her thoughts and fears. What if the team fails? What if the pirates get the drop on them? She didn’t know how to pilot a shuttle but she bet it wasn’t anything similar to driving a hover vehicle through streets on Earth.

She wished Dell had given her a headset so she could hear his team. She’d asked, but he said he hadn’t packed an extra set, which made her nervous. Wouldn’t a top-rated outfit keep spare equipment? She eyed the shuttle, determining it was a nice one, a newer model but not top of the line. She sat back in the chair, knowing she couldn’t do anything but wait and wonder what was happening aboard the Star.

Another blip on the radar screen started to blink near where Dell had shown her the signal of the Star. It was on the outer edge of the screen and the red light was getting closer to the one she knew belonged to the Star. Fear slammed into her. She wasn’t a pilot but she wasn’t an idiot either. Another ship was coming at them.

“Computer?” No response. “Shuttle?” Nothing. “Autopilot?”

Silence met her questions and dread swamped her. Obviously the voice commands for the shuttle were either turned off or not in operation. She tried again, thinking there was no way that a modern shuttle had a malfunctioning computer.

“Emergency response.”

That was the universal code to activate a computer but the shuttle’s computer didn’t respond, stunning her. If something happened to Dell and his men she had no idea how to get away with the computer off-line. She watched the blinking light on the monitor coming closer and it was moving fast. She knew it wasn’t another recovery team unless Demco had lied to her but that wasn’t unheard of. Her company did shady things from time to time but she’d had to pay Dell’s team so she knew how much they earned for this job. She couldn’t see Demco paying out more than the small fortune they’d already paid the crew of the Bridden for a risky venture.

She lifted her gaze when the blink on the monitor looked as if it were on top of the blink she knew was the Star. Staring up at the back of the Star, she didn’t see a damn thing until she stared in astonishment as another jumper shuttle came into view suddenly, slowly moving toward her, a large gray ship with outer lights on.

Her shock evaporated. “That bastard!”

Fury filled Rena as she saw the other jumper shuttle dock on the other side of the Star. It was too far away to really see much but the lights and general size of the jumper shuttle but she knew by its shape that it was damn near a twin of the Bridden. Demco had sent out another team with another investigator. It was obvious to her that her ass**le boss hadn’t trusted her on this recovery and she wanted to scream in frustration.

This was Joe Emmit’s doing. Her new supervisor thought all women were incompetent and he’d tried to block her from getting this assignment. The creep had tried to go over his boss’s head to Chuck to get her assigned to another recovery but he hadn’t been able to do it. He didn’t know that Chuck wanted Rena in deep space. They kept their loveless marriage a secret from the lower employees because it was bad policy to let the association known.

No way would Chuck knowingly send a second team so this was definitely something Joe Emmit had done on his own. Chuck didn’t want his wife dead but she represented more brownie points to his father who owned Demco if his wife landed the biggest recovery in company history. She shoved away thoughts of Chuck. She was angry enough without thinking about her husband and the ways he used her.

She stood up to pace, knowing she was going to chew Emmit’s ass when this was over. No matter what investigator they sent out, she had seniority, this was her recovery and it was her bonus. Chuck had given her the written assurances she’d demanded. She knew better than to trust him as far as she could throw him. She’d learned early in their marriage what a lying bastard he was.

She kept pacing, half tempted to leave the Bridden and board the Star. A thought stopped her. What if there are still pirates alive onboard? The Star was a really large ship, a first-class travel model made for deep space exploration and it could take hours for the Bridden’s crew to go deck by deck, room by room to make sure they didn’t miss anyone. Sure, she was a military brat and had been raised rough. She could handle a little trouble but did she really want to have to defend or risk her life? No. She wanted to live too damn much, just out of spite, if for nothing else.