Authors: Kylie Scott
It’s 2088, and having testified in a gangland murder trial, nowhere on Earth is safe for Louise. Witness Protection has organized a new identity and a marriage contract for her on the mining colony of Esther, one of the moons circling Jupiter. The man who meets her there is not the groom she expected.
Adam Elliot is neither sweet nor sincere, and he looks like he was hosed off a barroom floor. But soon a memorial service reveals Adam’s soft underbelly. Throw some stellar sex into the mix and the two decide that maybe marriage to each other might not be so bad after all.
But an assassin is already at work. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues on the planet’s frozen surface. Louise is determined to live long enough to draw the maniac away from the husband she just might have fallen for.
science fiction erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
A Mining Colony on the Moon Esther, Circling Jupiter
Wives went last.
The ship shuddered and groaned again beneath her feet like some big metal beast shaking itself off. Louise stood to the side of the cargo bay doors and let all the important company people disembark first down the gangway. No one even gave her a second look. People strode alongside the small transports that rolled out, raising plumes of gray dust when they hit the surface. The whole thing unfolded with military precision until finally only she remained.
It was time to meet her husband.
She could do this. She could. But gods, it was cold. A bitter wind blew in, whipping up her jacket and scalding her cheeks. Grit stung her eyes. Outside was not inviting. After three months of being shut up onboard it should have been, but no—not even remotely. Her feet sat flat and firm against the metal decking, immobile. Maybe her marrow had frozen. She wiggled her toes inside her boots, scrunched and curled them. They still worked. It had to be her head at fault. Months of burgeoning excitement had given way to nerves.
Louise straightened her spine and stared out into the grayness. No more delaying—time to go. She had to physically make her bones unlock and will her muscles to move, one small step at a time. Her husband would be waiting.
Louise, not Jo, marched herself down the shuttle’s gangway. Jo no longer existed. She was Louise Foster, wife of Gideon, and she could do this.
Carefully, she stepped down onto the moon’s surface, knees liquid and nerves shot. Gravel slid beneath her feet and she pitched forward, all balance gone. The ground flew up to meet her in a dizzying rush. Just as suddenly, it jolted to a bone-jarring stop.
A strong hand grasped her elbow and a steady grip hauled her upright.
“Careful,” a man said, and released her.
“Thank you.” Louise took a deep breath and reined in the palpitations, waited for her head to stop spinning. What a perfect first impression. Embarrassment rolled right through her, heating her despite the chill.
“You all right?”
“Yes.” Louise forced a smile and took her first good look at her savior. “I’m…”
Oh no. No. They’d said Gideon would meet her but this was not the man she’d married. It couldn’t be. The man in the pictures the marriage coordinator had sent her had dimples and a lopsided grin. He’d seemed sweet and non-threatening. But this guy…he was tall and lean with bloodshot eyes a demon would envy. He had a three-day growth of stubble and a head of short, dark hair beyond disarray. On one side of his head it stuck out in clumps as if he had fallen asleep in something liquid and evil. Someone might have recently hosed him off a barroom floor, because gods, the smell of him. She had no words.
Something was very wrong here. Something was very wrong and also, she thought she might puke. Bile burned the back of her throat and she sucked in long, slow breaths, trying not to gag. The landing had riled her stomach. Not an easy win.
“You all right?” he asked again in a voice as rough as the ground.
She nodded fervently, studied the topmost tip of his right ear. “Mmm-hmm.”
“I’m Adam Elliot,” he said, as if it should mean something. It didn’t.
“Okay. Hi. Where’s Gideon?”
“Gideon?” His scowl singed the top of her head and baked her already addled brain. They’d said returning to natural gravity took some getting used to, but this was crazy—and where was her husband? This must be what unclaimed luggage felt like. “You haven’t been told?”
“Been told what?”
“Shit.” The man, Adam Elliot, pinched his lips and mumbled a few more expletives. “Gideon’s dead. He died in an accident four weeks back. I’m his replacement.”
“Replacement?” Her brain stuttered and flat-out refused to comprehend. “Like as in the mines?”
“Like as in your husband.”
“I’m your husband, Louise,” he repeated, slowly this time.
She just stared at him, bewildered, while the wind howled around them. “Is this a joke?”
“No. My name was brought up on the waiting list after Gideon’s death.” He avoided her eyes and stared off into the distance as if embarrassed. “That’s how the marriage contracts work. Things are a little different on Esther.”
Was he even sober? Doubtful. She should ask someone what had really happened. Someone in authority who didn’t reek of liquor.
“Come on, we need to get moving.” He started off across the rocky ground, keeping a watch on her out of the corner of his eye. Maybe he thought she might bolt. Her eyes strayed back to the shuttle. How tempting. But they probably wouldn’t let her back on board.
Louise clamped her mouth shut and followed. Adam Elliot, her husband. She did her best to stay downwind.
What the hell was going on?
Poor Gideon. She’d only known him from the communiqués they’d exchanged but he’d given her hope when she’d had none. Hope of a new life, with him. His messages had been full of charm and good humor, and now he was dead. She’d been widowed and re-married and no one had even bothered to tell her. It couldn’t possibly be legal. Her head swam and an all-too-familiar sort of anger filled her, futile and bitter. Stupid of her to get her hopes up.
“What happened?” she yelled over the wind. “How did he die?”
Her husband shot her a dark look over his shoulder. “Accident.”
Lightning cracked in the distance and dust clouds masked the setting sun. Everything was gray, alien and forbidding. Barren stone peaks sat above the gleaming surface of a frozen lake in the distance. Nothing moved. She couldn’t see a single sign of life, just more rocks and ice. It was awful, her new home. Similar to how she’d imagine hell, only frozen over and glacially cold.
Behind her the ship powered up, preparing to leave. The instinct to turn and run almost overpowered her. Bang her fists against the hull, demanding entrance. Her fingers curled tight and her eyes heated. She blinked back tears, both for Gideon and herself. But a pity party wouldn’t help anything. She could do this. They’d given her no other choice.
Beneath her feet, the ground began to vibrate. The escalating drone of the engines drowned out the shrieking wind. Warning lights flashed, casting eerie shadows. She shielded her face with her hands as dust flew. Probably wise of them, leaving her ’til last. One look at her new husband, let alone the landscape, and she might have refused to disembark. The shuttle would return to the long-range hauler waiting in orbit, ready to begin the nearly three-month-long return journey to Earth without her. Panic squeezed her tight.
Gradually the shuttle lifted higher and higher and the heat at her back faded until she stood once more frozen inside her long, puffy thermal coat. There’d be no escaping now.
“We need to hurry,” he said, trudging toward a waiting transport with his face hunched into the collar of his coat. The transport’s hatch stood open, the cool white glow of the interior lighting the hazardous ground. It sat up high on tank treads suitable for the rocky terrain. Her husband’s long legs made the step up into the vehicle look easy. “It’s about to rain.”
He was right. Dark clouds opened overhead and spat fat wads of sludge and ice. Not quite rain but not exactly snow. Drops stung her scalp and ice slid down the side of her face, the final insult. She hated the place. Fucking hated it. And things were only going to get more unpleasant.
“Come on.” Her husband shoved a hand at her with filthy fingers half curled, beckoning impatiently. The rank odor rising from his body set her belly to twisting anew. Con used to smell the same after one of his benders, near the end. Then he’d start yelling. Her stomach lurched at the memory.
Louise grabbed the railing fixed to the side of the door and hauled herself onto the platform. The man grunted and stepped aside.
It was only a small transport, purely utilitarian. There were a couple of seats and some space for equipment. It had none of the comforts of home and no corners to hide in. She slid into a seat and sat ramrod straight, eyes glued to the growing darkness outside. Her husband said something to the driver and the hatch slid closed. The vehicle rumbled forward, bumping her about in the seat. His gaze bored into the side of her skull.
“If you’re going to puke, there’s bags in the back of the seat,” he said nonchalantly.
The man sniffed and propped himself in the opposite corner, arms crossed over his chest. She watched his shadowy reflection in the window. Her husband? It didn’t even sound right inside her head. Weren’t there supposed to be vows and an exchange of rings? A contract alone didn’t quite seem to cover it anymore. It had all made some sort of mad sense back on Earth, but not now.
Adam shoved his fingers through his hair, gave it a vicious tug and turned away. She could relate. But this wasn’t so bad. Being dead was bad. Being tortured was worse.
No, this would work. She could do this.
This wasn’t going to work.
Adam Elliot strode down the corridor, ignoring the well-wishers along with the curious—anything new excited the colony natives. His new wife pursued him, taking two steps to his one, trying to keep up with the impossible pace.
Being shut up in a two-room domicile with this woman did not appeal. Not for the night and sure as shit not for life. Not even for the chance to play with her silky-looking, short brown hair. Certainly not to find out what waited below her big coat. Whatever waited could keep on waiting because when she looked down her nose at him as if he had dragged her to the ass-end of the universe for the sole pleasure of fucking her over? Nuh. Not happening.
This was not going to work.
How could she not have known about the accident?
Gods damn corporation and their “need to know” bullshit. Between Gideon’s death and the ship arriving unannounced two days early, their marriage had to be over before it had begun. He shouldn’t have gotten his hopes up. He lengthened his stride.
Paying one of the prostitutes who made the long haul out there now and then might be a costly endeavor, but it had to be infinitely preferable to this. He and his hand were well acquainted, and by the looks of things would continue to be so for some time to come.
Bon stepped into his path, the big ape side-swiping him at the last second with a clap to the shoulder that sent him reeling into a wall. “Good party, Elliot.”
Adam only grunted in reply because one, he was busy finding his balance, and two, yes, it had been a good party. In fact, he was still feeling its effects. A swathe of people were willing to buy him drinks right now. The party seemed to have been going on for the last month, ever since he had been released from the med unit. But the buck’s party in particular had been most enjoyable.
Pity about the marriage.
“Is it far?” the princess asked in a breathy voice. She stood about average height, with a nose that tilted up slightly at the end and a stubborn, pointy chin. A nice mouth and dark eyes, pretty in a way. Pity—Gideon would have liked her. He’d been a smooth bastard. Gideon would have handled her just fine and known exactly what to say.
“We’re here.” Adam slapped his palm against a com reader set into the wall and the door to their shiny new domicile slid open. Up until two days ago, he had only rated a bunk and a shower two levels down. He felt like a trespasser every time he crossed the threshold into this gleaming kitchen-lounger combo with bed and bath attached. It might not be executive but it was a world nicer than what he’d been used to.
His wife stuck her head in and her body reluctantly followed, booted feet taking tentative steps inside. Most of the pristine glass and synth-wood surfaces remained untouched. On the whole it looked good. But he had left his mark in subtle ways. Bed unmade, dirty cups and plates stacked on the counter. A lone sock lay abandoned halfway across the floor. Not a bad effort for forty-eight hours, eight of which had been spent in a bar celebrating his nuptials, following the double shift he’d pulled sitting in the cockpit of a digger. He’d been trying to earn some fast cash for something he now did not need, since he sincerely doubted they would be wed for long enough for anyone to require a ring.