No time for reminiscing, girl. Get to work.I plopped into the plush chair behind the desk. After bypassing his ID scans and voice-activated computer—just like he’d taught me—I searched for a file on Lucius Adaire.

All information had been permanently deleted. I wasn’t surprised. Michael didn’t want me to know about Lucius, so of course he’d removed every piece of information. Smart man, my father.

Frustrated and overtaxed, I slipped back inside my room. I needed a few hours sleep before morning arrived. Just before I reached the four-poster bed, however, I stilled. I was not alone. I sensed heat, smelled pine.

My eyes narrowed on my uninvited guest. Looking casual and unconcerned, Lucius lounged in the padded chair beside the bed. I scowled over at him.

“Find anything?” he asked smugly, as if he knew what I’d been doing.

I didn’t bother answering him. I climbed onto the bed, the mattress adjusting to my weight, and closed my eyes, though I remained alert. The covers were warm and soft, a soothing caress against my skin.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Sleeping. You’re welcome to stay and watch like the pervert I’m sure you are.”

“I don’t think so. Get up.” Leaning toward me, he reached out and shook my shoulders none too gently. “Get dressed. We train.”

A man of few words. How quaint. “You want to pretend to be my physical therapist and give me a massage, I’ll let you touch my shoulders. Other than that, keep your hands to yourself. Got it?”

“Not a morning person?”

“I’ll let you know in the morning. For now, I’m resting. Get out.”

“Are you always this bitchy?”

I didn’t take time to find my calm center. I simply came up swinging, jerking myself into a sitting position and letting my fist fly. I nailed him in the jaw. His chin didn’t even turn, but I winced on impact. His bones were more solid than steel, and I wasn’t at optimum strength.

Had he had enough time to stop me completely? Probably. Had he had enough time to move away? Most assuredly. My movements were slower than usual, my reflexes dulled.

A glimmer of humor lit his eyes, making the blue appear almost purple. “Get your ass out of bed. In the shape you’re in, other-worlders will eliminateyou, not the other way around. I’ll meet you in the basement gym in half an hour.”

“Get out of my room.”

“Half an hour,” he said. “Don’t be late.”

When I heard the doors close, I forced myself out of bed. I felt sorer now than I had been five minutes ago. I blamed Lucius, of course. But damn if I didn’t look forward to training with him. I loved a challenge. In my current state, I probably couldn’t beat him. I could do a lot of damage, though, I thought, grinning.

I saturated my wounds with a cyanoacrylate adhesive—a superglue for injuries—and took a lingering shower, luxuriating in the steaming, rose-scented liquid. Most people had to bathe with dry enzyme and glyceride spray. Michael could afford water, thank God. Showering was almost a hobby of mine.

I’d been told Raka was a planet with more water than land. Perhaps bathing was something all Rakas enjoyed. If my parents had survived their night of terror, I could have asked them. Would have given anything to ask them. A pang of remorse hit me, just as it always did when I thought of my parents. I missed them terribly.

When I climbed out of the tub, I felt more limber, less awkward. I glanced at the wall clock. Three forty-five. I couldn’t help but smile. Thirty-threeminutes had passed since Lucius had ordered me to be in the gym. I imagined him pacing, waiting impatiently for me.

Reaching up, and experiencing only a slight twinge in my side, I secured the length of my gold hair from my face and rummaged through a dresser filled with clothes. In all of his homes, Michael kept a room and wardrobe just for me. I donned a red sports bra and matching spandex shorts.

My stomach growled. I’d had nothing more substantial than sugar water in days. As I entered the kitchen, the smooth, marble tile was cold against my bare feet. Real coffee, not the synthetic blend, simmered in the silver pot sitting on the platinum countertop, saturating the air with a thick, caffeinated aroma. I wrinkled my nose in distaste. How anyone could drink that crap, I didn’t know.

With the press of a few buttons, a turkey sandwich slid onto the counter hatch. I sprinkled it with sugar and managed to eat half before my stomach protested.

Forty-nine minutes had passed.

I finally sauntered my way into the basement gym. I was grinning.

Lucius was there, pounding away at the punching bag, looking sexy as hell. How annoying. With his irritating personality, he should be ugly. Hideous. His bronzed skin stretched taut over muscles and sinew. Several scars laced his ribcage. Sweat glistened and traced small rivulets down his bare chest and back, catching in the waist of his black shorts. He didn’t spare me a glance.

I spent the next two hours stretching on the mat and centering my energy, forcing my body past the barriers my injuries had set. At times, I found myself unsteady and shaky. A good shaky, though. The kind that let me know I was alive. I’m sure Lucius would have preferred I make use of the weights, maybe the virtual boxing ring.

Usually, I did train in the ring. I didn’t want to go that route today. Instead, I pranced off the mat and to the bar across the far wall. I stretched one leg up, glancing over at Lucius. I nearly gasped when I realized he was watching me, his eyes heated and intense.

My gaze slitted on him. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Let’s practice,” he barked. “If you think you can handle me.”

“I’ve been handling men like you for years, Sparkie.”

A muscle ticked in his temple. “Let’s get a few things straight,cookie . You don’t like me and I don’t like you. You don’t want a partner, and I sure as hell don’t need one—especially an arrogant female other-worlder with no talent that I can see.”

“Then why did you agree to work with me?” I ground out.

“A paycheck is a paycheck, baby, and your daddy is paying out the ass to have me here.”

“We’re paid by the government,baby. Get your facts straight.”

His lips pursed, and he cut off his next words.

“At least you got the better end of the deal,” I muttered.

“How’s that?” He arched a brow. “You failed your last mission, and I’ve succeeded every damn time.”

I worked my jaw in irritation. Like I really needed a reminder of my failure. Like it wasn’t front and center in my mind, even in my dreams. “In all my years as an agent, that’s my only failure. One I plan to rectify.”

“You’ve succeeded at easy cases, sugar. That’s nothing to be proud of.”

Bastard. “Have you even made a single kill?”

“If you have to ask, you’re not a good judge of character.”

Cold, hard death gleamed in his eyes, speaking of innumerable kills. My hands clenched at my sides. “I’ve made kills, too. Many, in fact.”

“I’m curious,” he said. “How did you eliminate those targets of yours? Annoy them to death?”

Scowling, I closed the distance between us until we were nose to nose. Our breath mingled, and I could feel the vibration of his strength. I could not seem to hold my usual cool facade with this man. I responded to him whether I wanted to or not. “Why annoy them when I can use my knife—when I can take a human like you, cut you up, and sauté you for breakfast?”

He studied me for a long, silent moment, his eyes raking over my curves with heated intent. “That’s one glorious ego you’ve got there.”

“I’ve earned it. You, however, have probably never—”

“That’s enough, children,” Michael said, suddenly filling the doorway.

We both spun around and faced him. With a feigned nonchalance, he leaned against the thick wooden frame. He held a cup of steaming coffee in one hand and an unlit cigar with the other. “I leave you two alone for a few hours and you turn on each other. Work together on this or find yourselves new jobs.” He shook his head and gave me his complete attention. “I meant to give you more time, but something’s come up.” Now he turned to Lucius. “Finish your training, then explain to Eden what I want done today.”

With that, he left us alone.

“Explain now,” I said, glaring at Lucius. I would have run after Michael, but that would amused mypartner, I’m sure.

“Anyone ever tell you if you’re nice to a man, he’s more likely to be nice to you?”

“Please explain what Michael wants done,” I said, the words ripped from my throat.

“Not until after we train,” he said, drawing out each syllable with relish. He eyed my injured side. “You, cookie, are in desperate need of it.”

I had to swallow back a rush of curses. How did he keep getting the upper hand? “I’m ready when you are,” I said through gritted teeth. As a Raka, I didn’t have special, instinctive fighting skills. As a trained assassin, Idid. I would not be the easy mark he obviously considered me. Injured or not.

He claimed his place on the large blue mat in the center of the gym.

Gathering my energy, centering at last, I placed myself just inches away from him. My strength was not at the level I wanted it, but for now it would have to do. I considered my battle strategy. Focus. Keep my thoughts clear. Don’t allow an emotional reaction.

“I won’t go easy on you,” he said. “I don’t care that you’re a woman, and I don’t care that you’re injured.”

I’d trained with holograms more fierce and lethal than this man, so his warning didn’t frighten me in the least. “You plan to take me down all by your little self?” I laughed. “Good luck, Sparkie.”

Uttering a low growl, he sprang at me.

In one fluid motion, I leaned to the side, effectively avoiding impact. He whizzed past me and tripped on his own feet. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. You let your anger get the better of you.”

Pivoting, he advanced on me. I kicked him in the stomach, but that didn’t slow him. He reached me all too soon and grabbed me by the shoulders. This time I couldn’t evade him; he moved too quickly. He tossed me down, and I hit the mat with a smack. I winced at the sharp ache in my side but quickly leapt to my feet. And just like that, before I could drag in a breath, he was on me again, shoving me down, his hands wrapping around my throat to choke me.

“You’re too slow,” he said.

I knew that. The slower I moved, the more time my opponent had to consider his next action. I broke Lucius’s hold with a quick thrust to his elbow. Not enough strength to break his arm into two pieces, but enough to hurt. Then I kicked him in the chest, sending him stumbling backward. When he regained his momentum, he launched at me. Twisting, I sprang up and sidestepped. Gave another fluid twist. Kick.


My foot slammed into his midsection, knocking the air from his lungs. As he doubled over, trying to suck in air, I lunged, elbow raised. With one downward slice, I connected with his cheekbone.

He howled.

I grinned. “Still too slow?”

“Not a bad move,” he said, rubbing his cheek. After a moment of staggering, he stood to his full height. “Let’s see what else you’ve got.” He went low, spinning on his heels, at the same time performing a booted strike. Anticipating such a move, I jumped.

Not far enough away, however.

The heel of his boot ground into my calf. My knees knocked together, buckled, and I propelled onto my face. Cool foam met hot flesh. I lost my cockiness.

He jumped on me, his chest pinning my face to the floor. His warm breath fanned my ear, my cheek. Everywhere his skin touched mine acted as a live wire, singeing me, making me ache—not in pain, but in lust. I had trouble drawing in a breath, but when I did, I inhaled the savageness of his scent. The wildness.

“What should you do in this position?” he said calmly.

I should place one palm against my cheek, then extend my other arm and roll myself over. But his long, thick fingers were surprisingly gentle as they slid down my arms, and I remained in place, doing nothing. His touch wasn’t like that of an enemy, but like that of a lover.

An unwanted wave of need and desire crested inside me, growing hotter, hotter still. It didn’t help that he had an erection. Thick. Hard. Hot.

He didn’t wantme, I knew. Not really. Men were simply turned on by physical contact. And we’d definitely gotten physical.

Knowing he would have desired any woman under him failed to diminish my own lust as it should have. Dark, dangerous fantasies sprang to life. Naked bodies, moans of surrender…Without thought, I arched my butt toward him, seeking more of his heat, craving deeper contact.

And that’s when a fragrant cloud of cinnamon and honey surrounded us. The moment I smelled it, my cheeks burned a bright red and I fought frantically for release. If Lucius knew anything about Rakas, he’d know we only emitted that scent when desperately aroused.

“Let me go,” I shouted. I couldn’t have erected a calm, cool mask if my life depended on it. “Let me go right now.” I extended my arm as I should have done earlier and tried to roll over.

He pressed me down with more of his weight, keeping me immobile.

“What’s wrong with you?” he barked. “Be still, woman. And when the hell did you put on that perfume?”

He didn’t know.

I immediately relaxed. It was one thing to desire him, but quite another for him to know about it. He seemed like the type of man who would use that against me, mock me.