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Authors: Katherine Kingston

Checkmate

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Checkmate

Katherine
Kingston

 

Devonne and Raje are space-going pirates who were lovers
until a secret drove them apart. Some time later, their past comes back to
haunt them and they’re forced to compete in an intense and drastic series of
contests. The space pirates will have to find a way to work together or they’ll
end up with a one-way ticket to an alien slave labor camp. As they grow closer
and the danger rises, Devonne and Raje know that their desire and newfound love
could tear them apart forever.

 

Publisher’s Note: Originally published in the
Pleasure Raiders
anthology.

 

An Ellora’s Cave Romantica
Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Checkmate

 

ISBN 9781419926051

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Checkmate Copyright 2005 Katherine Kingston

 

Cover art by Syneca

 

Electronic book publication 2005

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of
Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home
Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this
copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or
distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without
the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including
infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is
punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. 
(http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print
editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of
copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Checkmate

Katherine Kingston

 

Chapter One

 

“Captain, we have a problem!”

Devonne sighed. Without taking her eyes or attention from
the viewscreen port, she asked the Personal Care Droid, “What now?”

“A seam has come loose in your only remaining dress
uniform.” The PCD made an annoying huffy sound before adding, “And the
refresher just tore a button off it.”

Devonne made a mental note to get the programming adjusted
to remove that huffing noise from the droid’s speech system. “Fix it.”

“Captain, I beg your attention. Those seams have been—”

“Captain?” Another voice cut through the droid’s complaint.
The combination of surprise, alarm and doubt in the single word warned Devonne
that fate was about to throw a monkey wrench into their carefully worked out
plans.

Ignoring the PCD, which continued to babble on about
clothes, she turned to face her first mate. Reed stared at a screen in front of
him. “What have you got?” she asked.

He frowned and tugged on his earlobe. “If I didn’t… I swear
it looks like someone had the same idea as us and got to the Denogrenian ship
first.”

“What?” She spoke so loudly it startled the two other crew
members in the room into looking up from their panels.

Reed pointed to the screen that showed two blinking blips.
Devonne studied the data readouts. “Magnify.”

Reed pulled the direct link from his face and disconnected
it from the panel. Devonne repeated her order to magnify the display.

Sure enough, another smaller blip clearly approached the
large blip that represented their target. A wavery yellow line shot out between
them.

“Damnation!” Devonne clenched her fists and clamped her lips
shut. She wanted to scream her frustration as she watched the evidence of a
tractor beam hauling her prize toward a rival. When she reclaimed some measure
of control, she said, “Identify secondary target.” She already knew but needed
to hear it confirmed anyway.

“Identifying,” the computer’s soothing male voice responded.
“Target identified as KCS
Fool’s Quest
, registered out of Kalima, Prox
G-04, number 668940435453545435. No official standing listed.”

“What the hell is
he
doing here? Damn. Shit! No
official standing, indeed.”

“Captain?” SueBelle, the newest member of the crew, looked
up at her, eyebrows raised.

“Reginald Jameson Jernigan. Commonly known as Raje. Or
Prince Reginald. The son of a bitch.”

“You know him?”

“For my sins.”

“How?” Navigation Officer SueBelle asked.

Reed spoke at the same time. “What’s he doing?”

“Beating us to the prize.” Devonne’s fists clenched again.
“But why? I thought he was out of the game. Unless he had another fight with
his uncle. But even then…”

She needed this cargo. Her exiled clan, now more than five
hundred strong, was hidden in an obscure corner of an even more obscure planet
and rapidly outgrowing their hiding place. They needed a bargaining chip to
finally gain a place where they could settle permanently. Interstellar piracy
had a limited life span and she had neared the end of it. This was her grand
finale, her swan song, the move that would end her life of crime and let her
retire in peace. She wasn’t about to give it up to an arrogant jerk who viewed
life as a game and stolen cargoes as his ticket to personal wealth and power.

“I’m
not
going to let this go. CC, can you calculate
the combined mass of both those ships?”

“Can do, Captain,” the ship said.

Reed threw her an incredulous look. “You can’t be thinking
of trying to snag both of them?”

“Why can’t I?”

“You’re going to play chicken with
him
?”

“Why not?”

The computer came back and gave an answer. The number wasn’t
as low as she’d hoped, but it might still be possible.

“That’s why,” Reed said. “I know all the reasons you don’t
want to lose this one, but still… Why not wait until he releases…never mind. He
can still run faster, can’t he?”

“CC, how much acceleration can we generate if we divert
every bit of power to the engines?”

“Including life support systems, Captain?”

“Everything but critical systems.”

The rest of her crew, SueBelle, Reed and Nathan, looked at
her as though they feared she’d lost a critical neural system or two herself.

The computer’s answer came a few seconds later and gave her
pause. It might be enough. If… “How long can we maintain that level and still
have enough fuel to get back to Esketan Station?”

“With present fuel levels, a maximum of thirty-six hours.”

“Captain, you can’t mean to try to hold them both!” Reed
challenged.

She gave him her sharpest, sternest look. “I don’t mean to
try. I’m going to do it. Reed, take us in just the way we’d planned. Nathan,
prepare to activate tractor beam as soon as we decloak. SueBelle, fine-tune
position coordinates to give us maximum grapple on both ships.”

They trusted her enough to follow her commands. She’d taken
a few strange gambles before and they’d paid off. She hoped she could do it
again one last time.

* * * * *

They’d just decloaked and were preparing to activate the
tractor beam when the computer announced, “Incoming message. Marked ‘Urgent’.”

“Source?” SueBelle asked, without looking at the display or
lifting her hands from the controls.

“KCS
Fool’s Quest
.”

They all looked up at that.

“Open channel,” Devonne said.

“Video link requested,” the computer announced.

“Open video link.”

A man’s face appeared on the screen at the side of the
cockpit. Without greeting or any other polite pleasantries, he said, “Devonne,
what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

She stared at the figure on-screen, looking for changes
wrought by the six months since she’d last seen him. She didn’t find any. His
hair was still as black, his face just as strongly chiseled, his mouth hard and
sensual, cheekbones high and sharp. His eyes were still that strange light
yellow-green color. She expected anger, but instead his expression looked more
amused.

“Greetings to you, too, Raje,” she said. “Or should I say,
‘Your Highness’? It’s been a while since we last met.”

“Nearly six months,” he snapped back. “And you don’t appear
to have developed any more sense in the interim.”

“You always did say the nicest things to me.”

“Can it, Dev. What’s going on here?”

“You can’t guess? You used to be smarter than that, Raje.
And, by the way, why are
you
here? I thought you’d gone respectable,
Your
Highness
.”

He ignored the last part of her question. “Okay, it’s not the
‘what’ it’s the ‘why’?”

“Which part of ‘Royal Denogrenian Treasure’ don’t you
understand?”

He closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head. “The
part where you think you can take it away by holding both the Denogrenian ship
and mine in trac.”

“Thirty hours. I can hold it for thirty hours. About how
long it will take a fleet of Denogrenian warships to get here.”

He looked startled. “Then we both go down.”

“Right. Want to talk about it? The thing is, I have nothing
left to lose, and you do.”

“Ridiculous. If you don’t care about your own life and
freedom, what about your crew?”

He had her there and they both knew it.

Amazingly it was SueBelle who spoke up first. “We’re with
Captain Devonne all the way.” Reed and Nathan nodded agreement.

“Devonne, this is ridiculous,” he said. “Will you meet me to
talk about it?”

“Just talk?”

His black eyebrows rose. “I’m open to all sorts
of…communication. But whatever you want.”

She ignored the suggestion in the words. At least she tried
to ignore it. But his deep, sexy voice slipped past all her defenses and worked
its way into her blood, warming it, making her too aware of him. Worse yet, he
was doing it deliberately, putting in that low gravelly rumble, because he knew
what it did to her. Her body remembered what the rest of her wanted to forget.
The familiar low pressure began to gather. Damn it.

“I want the Denogrenian ship.” It came out a bit sharper
than she intended, betraying the emotions roiling through her.

“Hmmm… That is a bit of a problem. I want it, too. And I got
to it first.”

“But I’m getting to it last. And while you may have it,
you’re stuck here until I decide to let go.”

“But you are as well,” he pointed out. “Stalemate, Devonne.
Let’s talk about it.”

“Permission to board extended,
Your Highness
,” she
said. “But come alone.”

“Of course. I figured you’d want me all to yourself.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” she growled, annoyed because her
heart was thumping too hard and her hands were shaking.

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” He signed off.

“Wowza.” SueBelle’s stare mixed admiration with envy. “If
you don’t want to keep him, can I have him? All that sexy good-looking man and
he’s a prince to boot?”

“You don’t want him. He’s an arrogant jerk.”

SueBelle shrugged. “I’ll take my chances.”

The PCD droid came over and said, “Captain, you must dress
appropriately to welcome the Gambrian First Heir and commander of
Fool’s
Quest
. Please come and change. I’ll have the seam repaired quickly.”

Devonne sighed. The droid was right. “Go fix the seam. I’ll
be there in a moment.”

She waited a moment to be sure no hitches would arise, but
it appeared the trac hold was stable. She slowly made her way back to her
cabin, unable to contain the memories Raje brought.

* * * * *

Two Years Previous

 

The marooned, sentient flotsam of a dozen or more worlds
crowded into the cozy bar. Its location next to the most discreet and therefore
expensive unofficial repair dump for space-going vessels ensured it had steady
business. As usual, the smell in the bar nearly knocked her down when she entered.
After several years of sporadic patronage she shouldn’t be startled by it. But
the aromas of bodies from various planets, beverages from even more different
corners of the universe, and several kinds of smoke drifting on the air
combined into a reek so strong it had nearly physical force. By the time she’d
settled down with her first drink she wouldn’t notice it anymore, and she’d
forget all about it before the night ended, until the next time she came and it
caught her again.

Devonne made her way through a cloud of smoke so dense it
obscured the far end of the room. It stung her eyes and nose and left a bad
taste in the back of her throat. When she reached the bar, she had to squint to
see at all. She found a pair of open stools and climbed aboard the one next to
a Vingistian of indeterminate gender. They had no interest in contact with
humans except to trade for tobacco and alcohol.

Unfortunately a man, human from the appearance of his hands,
walked up within moments and took the other open stool.

Not too surprisingly, the panel directly in front of her
didn’t work. She looked for the barkeep.

“Gin,” she told the critter, when he extended a tentacle to
ask. She would actually have preferred beer but even if you asked for a name
brand, the result was often problematic.

“Taking the safe route?” the man on the next stool asked.

Devonne shrugged, hoping that would discourage him. For good
measure she added, “I generally do.”

“Somehow I doubt that.” The wry humor and sexy undertone in
the words made her turn for a better look at him.

Through the dim light, further obscured by the smoke and
tearing it caused, she saw a shadowy human form. The masculine face appeared to
be comprised of lean, beautifully molded lines and sharp features. The eyes
were light, but she couldn’t tell their color.

“Why?” she asked, curiosity trumping caution.

“You’re in here, aren’t you?”

“I said generally.”

“This is one of your occasional exceptions?”

It was anything but chilly in the bar so that couldn’t
account for the shaking of her hand as she picked up the mug the barkeep slid
toward her. The man’s voice was deep and a bit rough. Nothing about the words
had any sexual edge, nor did his tone, exactly. But the combination washed over
her like a touch running from her throat to her groin.

She hadn’t had a man in way too long.

Was this one a possibility? She glanced at him again and
took in the lines of his face. Lean, sharp, very attractive. Did she want him
to be a candidate, though? She preferred a series of old acquaintances where she
knew what she’d be getting, but she hadn’t run into any of them in months.

“My adventurous side is on the loose tonight.”

Oh, dear skies, had she really said that? The words had
slipped out while she was still considering a response. She couldn’t have made
the invitation much more blatant.

He didn’t react in any way she could read. His expression
didn’t change and all he said was, “Except when it comes to the drinks.”

“Adventurous isn’t the same as stupid. I put the line right
between ‘tastes bad’ and ‘makes me ill’.”

He laughed lightly and the sound rolled over her bare skin
like a warm, tingly shower. It felt as though every nerve ending in her body
stopped for a moment to pay attention, then buzzed in reaction.

“What do you do with ‘tastes
good
and makes me ill’?”
he asked.

“The most dangerous trap of all. I avoid it whenever I can
recognize it.”

“What about ‘tastes bad and
doesn’t
make me ill’?”

“What’s the point?” she said.

“True. But that limits you to ‘tastes good and doesn’t make
me ill’?”

“There’s something wrong with that?”

“How do you know in advance? Or do you just keep to what you
do know?”

BOOK: Checkmate
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