Brody was in the loading bay, checking the guns. He and Colin would go out to meet the representatives from Sector 5, give them a crate of fruit, and take half the money. The first half would be in credited dollars, the second in uncut diamonds after the truck changed hands.
It was risky. These deals always were. But they’d dealt with this group before on a similar mission, and there was no reason for this transaction to go awry. For once, Brody was itching for an easy trade. He just wanted to offload the merchandise, get paid, and get Capri off the damn ship and back to Mars where she belonged.
He’d meant what he said. Part of it, at least.
He wished he could go back and never put in for the auction, never see the broken girl he’d left behind as a woman, a woman who kept that broken girl hidden with disturbingly small effort. He wished he’d never held her, kissed her, seen through her. He wished he’d never spotted her cowering alone under the table and never felt the urge to protect her—again.
He’d said the bit about Sullivan out of anger. To hurt her.
Shame escaped what should have been the hard shell of his heart and seeped into his veins, weighing him down. He couldn’t get the look on her face out of his head, and he needed to focus on the damn job.
Back when he’d stopped Sullivan he’d been a different man, a better man. He’d still been human, hopeful, and he was only too happy to beat the bastard for what he did to her and then play executioner. He’d had a wife and daughter at home. That made protecting women a particular interest of his.
He wasn’t supposed to be doing that anymore. He wasn’t supposed to be killing because he cared. He wasn’t supposed to care about anyone. But how many people had he killed, now, in Capri’s name? More than he had for his family? Sullivan and the men who had groped her in the alley.
He loaded a magazine into a gun with unnecessary force. So far, at least, he’d been ahead of the curve. He’d killed for his family after the fact. Capri was alive, for now.
It couldn’t last forever. His life would catch up with her, too. He should have never taken her, should have never done a lot of things with her.
He could only be grateful his wife’s gun had reminded him of his past failures before they took it too far. He wasn’t proud of what he’d said to her about Leroy, but it had pushed her away.
Now they’d both be safe.
Leroy was checking the fruit to make sure it was still in the promised condition. Brody took a crate and joined the captain by the elevator.
“Are you wearing gear?” Colin asked.
Brody looked at him. He didn’t want to answer. He didn’t want Colin reading into it. But he was his captain, and he wouldn’t ignore a direct question. He nodded. Colin said nothing. The only indication that he was surprised was the extra second it took for him to nod in return.
Brody knew he had to live long enough to see Capri back to Mars, but that was it. For kidnapping a lady, it was likely he’d be tried and executed, anyway.
The ship touched down, and they took the elevator to the ground.
Two men had been waiting at a safe distance, and now they approached. Tycho was hotter than Mexico Territory, but it was dry. The air was still, and a fine dust rose around their boots when they stepped off the metal platform to shake hands. Colin and the leader of the Tycho group both had guns strapped to their hips. The second man gripped a rifle but kept it pointed down. Brody placed the goods in front of the buyer, then stepped back and held his rifle the same way.
The buyer looked through the crate. He was tall and lean with sharp features and thick eyebrows that made his brow look heavy and shaded. His skin was tan and leathery from the sun. He glanced back at his colleague, and then his dark eyes darted back to Colin.
“This one looks worm-eaten,” he said. “The selection win’t were ‘spected.”
Brody glowered at the man. He wasn’t exactly learned, but this part of Tycho had colloquial lingo that frustrated him every time he had to sift through it.
“You know the price is good. If you want to play games, we’ll go to the next sector and offload it there. We might be looking at a bigger profit, too. What do you think, Shots?”
Brody grunted his agreement without taking his eyes off the men in front of him. Bushy Eyebrows dragged his gaze over to the gunman, eyed the rifle, and looked back to Colin.
“It comes with there truck?”
The man nodded and glanced back at his own guard. He reached back to him for a reader and showed Colin proof of funds. With a handshake, they touched rings, and the first installment was transferred.
“The diamonds?” Colin asked.
The man retrieved a small sack from his guard and showed the contents. The guard adjusted his rifle slightly to make it easier to shoot them, should they try to snatch the bag before giving them the truck.
It was Colin’s turn to nod. He pressed a button on his linker. “Leroy, it’s on.”
A moment later, the ramp to the loading bay opened, and the mechanic hopped in the truck to start the engine. It took him a moment to hotwire the massive vehicle, and in those few moments, the ground around Brody and Colin began to move.
At first, Brody thought it must be the heat and the big, blazing sun making the earth look wavy. Maybe sandworms existed, after all. He didn’t really know what to think until fifteen armed men and women wearing masks and goggles leapt from the ground, guns trained on the two outsiders.
Brody was taken off-guard, and there were few things he liked less than that. His shock was brief, his rage was instant, and he aimed his gun at the leader. Colin had his gun out, too, but held up a hand to stop him from shooting.
“I thought we were building a rapport here,” Colin said, only acknowledging the leader.
Bushy Eyebrows smiled apologetically and cocked his gun. “There win a reward for capturing some fruit thieves. We ‘tend to collect there fruit and the reward. Nothing personal.”
“You aiming that gun at my face makes it feel pretty personal.”
Brody glanced behind them. Their backs were to the ship, and all the guns were in front of them. If they could make it to the loading bay they’d have cover and half a chance at winning the shootout.
The roar of the truck’s engine was the only distraction they’d get, and they both knew it. As soon as it sounded, Colin shot the man in the stomach, and the two of them ran for it, shooting blindly behind them and dodging bullets. Leroy slammed his foot down on the gas, taking out three men as he drove and putting the truck between the ship and the Tychos, providing Brody and the captain with cover.
He scrambled out of the cab as bullets shattered the windows and windshield, landing with them, gun already drawn.
“Jax!” Colin yelled into his linker. “We could use a little help!”
“We should get to the ship and go!” Brody called over the gunfire as they fended off the small crowd of Tychos.
“If you want this ship to stay in the air we need the truck or the money!” Colin yelled back.
Jax must have seen what was happening on the screens. In record time, he appeared, bringing the biggest gun on the ship—and Capri. She was wide-eyed, out of her element, but her mouth was set in a determined line.
Panic sliced through Brody. What the hell had Jax told her to convince her to come? Whatever he’d had to, probably. It’s the only way you’re getting back to Mars. That’s what Brody would have said. But she wouldn’t be any help, and he didn’t need the damn distraction.
“What the hell are you bringin’ her into this mess for?” he roared. “Put her back on the ship!”
“We need all the manpower we can get!” the captain snapped.
There was no time for argument. They weren’t sitting around the table in the comfort of the ship, considering the fate of the girl. They were in the heat of battle. Brody ground his teeth together, coming very close to disobeying orders, abandoning the crew, and dragging her back onto the ship himself. Her eyes locked on his. She tilted her chin defiantly, as if daring him to do just that.
She was in some feminine little getup, something she’d bought in Mexico Territory. It was practical enough—pants and three-quarter sleeves with boots—but it was obvious that it wasn’t the clothing of a crewman. Like she didn’t stand out enough already.
But, damn it, the captain was right. The best chance of them getting out of this alive was to have one more body. That meant the best chance of getting her out alive was for her to join the fray.