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Authors: Anne Kane

Tags: #BIN 06012-01929

Mercenaries 1 Private Skirmish

Mercenaries 1: Private Skirmish

Anne Kane

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2012 Anne Kane

BIN: 06012-01929
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Publisher:
Changeling Press LLC
315 N. Centre St.
Martinsburg, WV 25404
www.ChangelingPress.com
 
Editor: Chrissie Henderson
Cover Artist: Karen Fox

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Mercenaries 1: Private Skirmish

Anne Kane

 

 

What do you do when the woman you love is up for auction? Make sure you’re the highest bidder!

 

When her little sister disappears, Dee vows to find her. She follows a lead to Loden Province but is picked up by government troops and convicted of crossing provincial borders without a permit. The punishment? She is sent to be sold at auction.

 

As the auctioneer calls for bids, she hears a voice from her past. Kaeden! The lover she ran out on in order to raise her little sister. He’s found her again, and he has no intention of letting her escape a second time. He and his band of mercenaries will do whatever it takes to reunite the sisters and keep them safe.

Chapter One

 

Dee glared at the guard as he nudged her back into place with the barrel of his plasma rifle. One lousy moment of inattention and here she was, waiting her turn on the auction block.

“Sold!” The auctioneer’s voice rang loud as his gavel hit the podium and the dusky beauty from Uranus Prime was led to the holding cells on the far side of the room, a sultry smile curving her full lips.

“You’re up, blondie. Smile pretty and you might fetch a decent owner.” The young wrangler smirked as he grabbed the lead attached to the heavy collar around her neck. Dee followed quietly as he led her to the auction block, not because she wanted to be sold off like an animal but because she knew this wasn’t the time to make a run for her freedom.

She glanced around. Too many guards. Too much security. The holding area was crawling with people of every description and not one would lift a hand to help her. She had been looking for her sister in one of the outer provinces when they arrested her. The penalty for leaving her home province without permission was indentured service for the remainder of her natural life.

When the Military Alliance ousted the democratic government of Earth, things had changed drastically for the inhabitants. The new rulers had lots of rules and little tolerance for those who didn’t follow them. They found a creative way to get rid of citizens who didn’t obey their every whim, without having to pay for expensive prisons. Sell them, and pocket the profit. Military efficiency at its finest.

Dee had every intention of escaping, but now was not the time. Maybe the wrangler had a point. A lax owner would make her eventual escape so much easier. If she played her cards right, she could be on her way by nightfall. She mustered up her sexiest smile and looked out over the room full of prospective buyers.

“What am I bid for this healthy young specimen?” The auctioneer beamed at her like a fond uncle. “Strayed into the wrong province and arrested without any damage to the merchandise. Turn around, sweetie, and let the crowd see what they’re bidding on.”

Dee gritted her teeth, keeping her eyes downcast to hide her initial reaction. Merchandise, indeed! She turned in a slow circle, ignoring the catcalls of a rowdy bunch of miners in the front row. They were just here for the show, they wouldn’t have the credits to actually bid.

“Let’s start at one thousand.” The auctioneer launched into his well-practiced spiel, and Dee watched as the bidding became a contest between a jovial fellow with two dark beauties sitting quietly at his feet, and a rather nasty-looking man who smacked a riding crop against his boots every time someone bid against him. Lordy, if he won she’d have to make a break for it before he carted her off to whatever rock he’d crawled out from under.

“Come on, people. Look at her. New to the block. I’d bet my finest leather duster that she’s never been used by more than one male at a time. Just think what fun you could have training her to your own tastes. Do I hear six thousand?”

“Six thousand, five hundred.” The Nasty Guy’s smile was as cold as an arctic outflow.

The Jovial Fellow hesitated a moment, and Dee’s heart sank. She eyed up the exits, wondering which one was the quickest route to outside and freedom. There was no way she was going to let Nasty Guy take her anywhere.

“Ten thousand.”

Dee’s head jerked up at the sound of that familiar voice, her heart rate soaring. Kaeden! Where was he? And what the hell was he doing at a slave auction? He hated the government-run auctions with a passion that bordered on obsession. The only time he’d ever attended one was to start a riot and watch the slaves bolt for freedom.

Nasty Guy stood, his crop whistling through the air in agitation, and for a moment Dee thought he was going to bid higher. Her breath caught in her throat. He glared at the back of the room before spinning on his heel and stalking out of the hall.

Dee let out a relieved breath, her eyes scanning the crowd until she found him. Kaeden. The only man who’d ever managed to break through the wall of ice she kept around her heart. He stared straight at her, the hard glint in his eye telling her he hadn’t forgiven her for walking out on him.

“Ten thousand! Now that’s more like it. Anyone want to go ten one hundred?” The auctioneer paused, his gavel held in midair and a happy grin on his face. His cut of the sale price would keep him in black market ale for the next few moon cycles. “No? Going once? Going twice. Sold, to the gentleman in row nine!” The gavel hit the podium with a decisive thump, and Dee gave a sigh of relief. Kaeden might be pissed at her, but at least she didn’t have to worry about being a slave.

He and his band of mercenaries went out of their way to disrupt the slave trade. He’d read her the riot act first, but he’d sign her freedom papers and she could be on her way. Next time, she’d check for government forces before she waltzed into a bar on the wrong side of a provincial border. If she hadn’t been so intent on finding Wren, she might have noticed the captain’s bars on the man’s shoulder and avoided this whole unfortunate incident.

The wrangler led her off the block and over to the holding pens. Before he managed to shove her into one of the iron holding cells, Kaeden materialized at her side, his hand held out for the lead. “No need for that. I’ll take her from here.”

Dee watched the wrangler open his mouth to protest. There were forms to fill out, money to change hands and receipts to be issued. It didn’t surprise her that after one look at the mercenary’s hard face, the wrangler closed his mouth and handed over the lead without protest.

“You can collect the paperwork over there.” He pointed to the harried-looking secretary and made a quick escape. Dee didn’t blame him.

She looked into the chilly eyes of her former lover. He had aged in the time she’d been gone. The harsh angles of his face were more pronounced. She still found him absolutely irresistible. “You here specifically for me, or just slumming?” No point in letting him know how quickly her heart rate soared when she’d heard his voice in the crowd.

He turned those beautiful blue eyes on her and actually growled. “Shut up. You have no idea how angry I am right now. I’ll deal with you once the paperwork is in order.”

“Yes, sir!” The snappy phrase was out before she had time to think, and she winced inwardly. Now was probably not a good time to annoy Kaeden any more than he already was. She snuck a glance from under her lashes. Was that a sparkle of amusement she saw in his eyes? He’d always said her smart mouth was one of the things he enjoyed the most about her. Maybe he wasn’t as pissed as she thought. Or maybe he was just happy that she’d managed to pick a fight with someone other than him this time.

Kaeden filled out the paperwork in his usual indecipherable script and handed over his cred-card. In short order they were free to go. Amazing how accommodating people got when the burly mercenary glared at them. She’d been on the receiving end of that glare often enough to understand.

He kept his hand wrapped around the end of her leash as they navigated their way back to the parking lot. Why wasn’t she surprised to find he’d brought the entire team with him? If there was one thing she loved about Kaeden it was his tenacity. Once he decided to do something, he made sure he had enough alternate plans to make it work. If he hadn’t managed to buy her, he probably would have started a small war to get her out of there.

“If you’d leashed her up to start with, we could still be snuggled up in the bunker with our beer.” Jackson, Kaeden’s second-in-command, unwound himself from the tailgate of the Hummer, humor twinkling in his dark eyes.

“I love you too, Jackson. You drink too much as it is, which is why you sleep alone most of the time.” Dee smiled fondly at the dark-skinned man. Jackson would move mountains if he thought anyone were going to hurt her. He treated her like an annoying little sister. All the guys did, but when things got tough they knew they could count on her to hold up her end of the fight.

Kaeden pulled a large knife out of his boot. “Hold still.” Using the tip of the knife to pry, he broke the collar open and pulled it off her neck. Tossing it on the ground, he ground it into the pavement with the heel of his boot. “Get in the vehicle, and get it moving. This place leaves a sour taste in my mouth.” Kaeden climbed into the Hummer, grasping Dee’s wrist to pull her in beside him.

“Aye, Sarge.” Jason Tremble, a.k.a. “Snake,” dropped the vehicle into gear and pulled smoothly out of the lot. “Back to the bunker, or do we need to make a pit stop for food? The princess looks like she could use a good meal or two.”

Dee felt heat stain her cheeks. She’d been so busy chasing down leads on her sister’s disappearance these last few weeks, she’d been skipping meals. She hadn’t realized that it was so obvious.

“We can feed her better at home base. Just get us there before I’m tempted to go back in there and start a riot. I hate these damn auctions.” Kaeden’s voice was gruff, and his fingers were still wrapped loosely around Dee’s wrist.

She sighed, forcing herself to relax. This wasn’t so bad. The team still thought of her as one of them. They were pretending nothing had changed. That she hadn’t quietly snuck out one night and left them all behind.

* * *

“You haven’t done a thing with this place since I left!” Dee turned in a complete circle, taking in the beige walls devoid of anything that might personalize the room. “Good grief. How hard would it be to hang a picture or two?”

“Why would I want to hang a picture?” Kaeden stripped off his shoulder holster and tossed it on the bed. Next came the knife strapped to the inside of his leg, and the gun snuggled into the back of his pants. That was Kaeden, a walking ammo dump.

She plopped herself down on his bed and crossed her legs while she watched him. Although she’d never admit it aloud, just the sight of him sent little curls of heat skittering through her veins. Six and a half feet of tightly muscled male with golden curls tied back with a strip of leather, he reminded her of a picture of the Norse Vikings she’d once seen in a museum. He was the natural leader of the group of mercenaries, and he took his position seriously. He’d been the sergeant of Zebra Company during the provincial wars, and when his side lost the war he’d organized a mercenary group out of the soldiers that had nowhere left to go.

The group had its own agenda, though, and only took on contracts that they felt were worth fighting for. They made enough to survive on, and not much else. Not the most lucrative way to run a company, but then, money didn’t mean a lot to people who’d seen everything they believed in blown to bits. For a government who claimed its only agenda was to look after the people, it sure had a high body count.

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