The hallway finally ended. We stood in front of what looked like an average wall. Ren laid his hand against a corner section, and two panels opened. A disposable, computer-operated needle pricked his index finger, and a small sample of blood was taken.

When the computer recognized his DNA, the wall—consisting of two steel plates—split down the middle, admitting us. I didn’t know if Ren had spoken the truth about Lucius. The two men weren’t friends, so there was a very real possibility Ren had embellished his story. However, I didn’t like to think of Lucius as a killer of innocents—the very innocents I strove so hard to protect.

“Come on,” Ren grumbled, unhappy with the lack of reaction he’d gotten from me. He led me into a small room. One entire wall boasted a holoscreen that played out the happenings in the other room. I saw the small, plain blue room, the two wooden chairs. I sank into Observation’s only chair, a padded stool, forcing Ren to stand beside me.

I watched as Lucius crossed his arms over his chest and glared down at a pale, trembling Sahara Rose—who wasn’t speaking. She did whimper, though, but that didn’t count. Her blue eyes were wide and watery, and she kept tugging on her light-colored hair.

Grinning, I glanced at the clock beside me.

Ten minutes, then I was going in.

Chapter 5

Five minutes down. Five minutes to go.

I almost hated for the ten minutes to end. Lucius was simply too entertaining. Screaming at Sahara Rose failed, so he tried cajoling. Intimidation through silence failed, so he switched to I’m-a-nice-man-and-you-can-tell-me-anything mode. Whenever he approached her, her trembling and sobbing increased, but she never spoke a word.

When at long last she began screaming hysterically, he turned his back to me. He reached up with one hand, looking as if he wanted to scratch his head. He flipped me off.

I laughed. Desperation clung to him, growing darker in his features, becoming heavier on his shoulders. The best thing, I had to admit, was that his antics kept my mind off EenLi and my own failure.

Another three minutes passed with no results.

Lucius tried to hide it, but I caught several panicked glances at his wristwatch. I had to choke back another round of laughter. I’d never been one to enjoy another’s pain, butplease . Watching this hard-assed man flounder ranked right up there with consuming an entire bowl of sugar-covered peaches—my biggest weakness.

I glanced at the digital clock next to the screen. Only one minute to go. Lucius began to pace frantically, begging—actually begging—Sahara Rose to utter a single word. His eyebrow ring glinted in the light.

“Please,” he said, the word hard against his lips. “Please, just say your name. Curse at me. Anything. I’ll pay you. However much you want.”

She continued to tremble in her corner, lips pressed together, tears in her eyes. At least she’d stopped screaming.

“I’m begging you. Tell me your name. That’s all you have to do. I’ll leave, then. You’ll never have to see me again.”



I resisted the urge to jump up and shout. Lucius burst forth with a stream of curses so foul and black Sahara Rose nearly seized. She did sink into a faint, her hair fanning out around her.

“He’s going to kill her,” Ren gasped. He whipped out his cell unit, and held the small black box to his lips. “We need backup—”

I grabbed the unit and tossed it to the ground. The sound of cracking plastic greeted my ears.

Ren’s mouth gaped open, and he blinked at me in shock. “What the hell did you do that for? I need to protect the suspect. She’s—”

“Fine,” I said confidently. “She’s fine. He won’t hurt her.”

“The hell he won’t.” Back and forth Ren paced, his agitation manifesting itself in the brisk way he moved. He jerked a hand through his hair. “He’s in a rage. He won’t be able to control himself.”

“For God’s sake, calm down, Ren. You’re working yourself up over nothing. His anger is directed at me. Not Sahara Rose.”

“You?” He ground to a halt. A gleam of confusion entered his eyes, as if I’d spoken a foreign language and he needed to translate the words. “I don’t understand.”

“Nor do you need to.”

Gaze narrowing, Ren snatched at the gun holstered at his side. I quickly laid a hand on his wrist. “Lucius won’t hurt me either,” I said.

“How the hell do you know?”

I smiled sweetly. “Woman’s intuition.”

Lucius stormed from Sahara Rose’s cell wearing an expression of utter violence. His eyes blazed bright blue, his cheeks glowed vivid red. His muscles were bunched and ready to spring into action. I laughed. Ren paled and blinked at me as if I were insane. Maybe I was. Who else would laugh in the face of such a man’s fury?

He deserved it, though. He’d been so confident of his success. And he’d failed. I had the chance to show him up, to beat him. I laughed again. How fun this was going to be.

I’m not sure how many seconds passed before Lucius stormed inside the observation room. Beside me, Ren froze in place. Lucius’s gaze locked on mine. He braced his legs apart and fisted his hands at his sides.

I didn’t even try to hide my amusement. “You lost,” I said.

His eyes narrowed. “That doesn’t mean you’ll win.”

“But it means you lost.”

He popped his jaw, but didn’t respond.

“I’m going to enjoy this,” I said. “A lot.” I unbuttoned the first three buttons of my shirt, causing the material to gape and reveal the lacy edges of my bra. Both men watched me, Ren with fascination—it didn’t take much to douse his fear, did it?—and Lucius with fire. Lusty fire or black, angry fire? I wondered, as I pulled out my ponytail and combed my fingers through my hair. I licked my lips.

“I’ll be back in five minutes,” I said.

His eyes narrowed further, mere slits that completely blocked the color of his irises. “That confident?”

“Oh, yes. If you’ll excuse me, Ren. AgentLuscious, ” I said, nodding to Lucius before I sauntered past him and out of the room. Had I forgotten to mention that Sahara Rose didn’t like men? Oopsie. She might be EenLi’s lover, but she found men sexually repulsive. Little Miss Sahara Rose liked her phallus strapped on and plastic. The more delicate and sexy the woman, the more susceptible Sahara Rose became.

Did I feel guilty or ashamed or even less of an agent for using my femininity as a weapon? Hell, no. Look at everything Lucius had tried. Look how sublimely he failed. A good agent uses whatever means necessary to win. Men could scoff at my methods if they so desired, but let’s be honest. They’d do the same thing if they could. Men never hesitate to use their strengths, so why should women?

Two armed guards stood posted at Sahara Rose’s door, which was adjacent to the room I’d been in. Their gazes seemed to devour me. I knew it wasn’t my appeal as a woman that so entranced them. I’d learned long ago that humans were simply susceptible to anything gold.

I arched a brow insolently, and one of the men quickly punched the code that opened the door. I swept inside without a word. There were two chairs. No bed. No table. A large, black screen comprised the far wall; that was it. This wasn’t a room meant for comfort, but for intimidation. Michael hoped that the more uncomfortable the room, the less time the suspect would want to spend inside it.

I crouched beside the unconscious Sahara Rose, growing angry with Lucius. He hadn’t even attempted to catch her. I sighed. Her body was splayed across the floor in the exact position she’d landed in her faint. She’d fallen backward, but at least she hadn’t cracked open her skull.

She was a young girl with too-pale skin and pretty, light-colored hair. Beautiful, yes, but her looks were already fading and showing signs of wear. Stress could do that to humans—age them before their time.

Cradling her head in my hand, I gently brushed aside wisps of hair sticking to her temples. “Sahara Rose,” I said softly. “Wake up for me, baby.”

She moaned and murmured something unintelligible.

“Come on, sweetheart. Wake up.”

Her eyelids fluttered open. When she realized where she was, absolute panic flooded her blue eyes. She struggled against my hold, but I held firm, keeping her in place. I might appear dainty because of my gold coloring and small bones, but my intense workouts kept me strong.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” I whispered against her ear, letting my breath caress her cheek.

The moment I spoke, she stilled completely. Her desperate gaze sought me, and whatever she saw in my face made her relax. “That man. Is he—” She gulped, trembled.

“He’s gone,” I said, stroking her jawline. “After the way he scared you, I sent him to clean the toilets. That’s all men are good for, anyway.”

“Thank you,” she said, sinking deeper into my hold, clinging to me because I was the only lifeline she’d encountered.

“My pleasure, sweetheart. Can you sit?”

She bit her lip and nodded, then slowly eased to a sitting position. She wore a plain white top and matching drawstring pants. Both had been given to her courtesy of Michael. Because agents were nocturnal creatures who usually wore black, we always kept our prisoners in white.

“I want to go home,” Sahara Rose said, her voice trembling.

“Soon, sweetheart,” I promised, knowing it was a lie. This woman, no matter her reasons, no matter her sweetness, had aided a predatory alien. She would be punished in some way. That was the law. I experienced a twinge of guilt and regret, but brushed both aside. “First, I have some questions for you.”

I pushed to my feet and looped my arm around her waist, helping her stand. I made sure my breasts meshed into her side. Just in case that didn’t make her notice me as a female, I let my fingers slip under her shirt and latch onto her bare midriff. When she felt the heat of my palm, she sucked in a breath. Since my desire for Lucius had yet to dissipate, my honey scent wafted to her.

“To the chair,” I told her. She gave me more of her weight than necessary, and I helped her ease into the slatted seat. “Comfortable?”

Gazing up at me through her lashes, she nodded. “Yes. Thank you.”

I grazed her cheeks with my knuckles and knelt in front of her, gently prying her knees apart to nestle my body between her thighs. Her eyes grew big, and she wet her lips. “I really need your help, sweetheart,” I said. “Your life depends on it.”

“I can’t tell you what you want to know,” she said, beseeching me with her gaze to understand.

“You can,” I insisted. My fingers traced the waist of her pants, making her stomach clench. “You want to help me; you know you do.”

“No, I can’t,” she said, but I could see the war raging inside her mind. EenLi had probably threatened her life or her family’s life if she ever dared speak a word about his activities. But she didn’t want to get in any more trouble.

“Please,” I said, all feminine eagerness.

She gulped. “What do you need to know?” she asked hesitantly.

I played a look of reluctance across my face, as if I didn’t want to involve her but had no choice. “I need to know about EenLi and his…cattle business.”

Her lips compressed in fear, and she shook her head. “I can’t. I don’t know anything.”

I spread my fingers over her thighs and ran them upward until I grasped her hips. Her mouth dropped open in surprise, but she didn’t pull away. My eyelids dipped to half-mast, casting shadows over my cheekbones. I knew she caught a glimpse of my bra because when I glanced up at her, she flicked her eyes away guiltily. Her cheeks warmed to a rosy shade of pink.

Good. I had her attention, and she was responding to my femininity. “Sahara Rose,” I said, pronouncing her name like it was my favorite food.

She gulped again. “Yes?”

“Please help me.” I returned my hands to her waist, toying with the ties on her pants. “In return, I’ll help you however I can. You’ll never have to see EenLi again.” That much was true, since I planned to kill the bastard. “Let’s start with something little. Why don’t you tell me why you helped EenLi in the first place? That’s easy enough, isn’t it?”

She bit her lip and nodded hesitantly. “I was living on the streets. He found me and took me in, made me his lover. He gave me money and food and a place to stay and he told me he would…”

Kill her if she betrayed or left him,I finished for her. “He trusted you enough to help with his cattle.”

That war inside her continued to wage for several more minutes. Should she, shouldn’t she? Should she risk angering EenLi, or risk believing in my aid? Finally, she sighed, and her shoulders sagged.

I knew then that victory was mine, and I fought to contain my grin.

“If I didn’t help,I would have become cattle.” Tears pricked her eyes, brimming over her lids. “He would have sold me, and I would have been taken to another planet.”

Now we were getting somewhere. “Tell me about the ones whoare taken off-planet.”

“People give him orders,” she said, taking my hands and linking our fingers. She was shaking, seeking comfort. “Like off of a restaurant menu. Red hair, brown eyes, and so on.”

“Who buys the slaves?”

“Humans.Other-worlders. Origins don’t matter. Some of the buyers don’t even live on Earth.”

“Then how do they give EenLi their orders?”