Chapter Nine

 Skylar had the main meeting room to herself. It had been two days, and if she spent any more of her spare time in her shuttle, she was in serious danger of going shuttle-crazy. She’d just have to hope her team of guards would keep her safe—they’d done a great job so far.

She’d come here after the evening meal, wanting to go over some of the intel. They still hadn’t found a source of information on the high security section of the prison, and she was starting to get twitchy. Unless they came up with something soon, they’d be going in blind. And she wasn’t sure that they should risk that; it would sorely reduce their chances of success. And of getting out alive. While that wasn’t something that concerned her for herself, she found herself becoming increasingly reluctant to risk the crew of El Cazador.

She was unsurprised when Rico appeared in the doorway. When he saw her, a satisfied smile curved his lips. He strolled into the room, came to a halt in front of her, and held up the pack of cards in his hand.

“How about I teach you everything I know about strip poker,” he said, placing the pack on the table between them.

Skylar looked beyond him, but there was no immediate help coming. He’d obviously snuck past Al, or whichever member of the crew was on ‘Rico watch’ tonight. She thought about getting up, leaving, but in the end she stayed put. She’d been feeling so flat, her old restlessness nagging at her mind. Or maybe a new restlessness. Whatever—it had vanished as soon as Rico entered the room. This might not be the most sensible course of action, but at least she wouldn’t be bored. And the door was still open—if all else failed she could make a run for it.

Rico obviously took her silence as agreement and sank into the chair opposite her. “We’ll keep the rules simple. The loser of each round loses an item of clothing. Okay?”

Skylar glanced down at herself—she didn’t have many items to lose. Just boots, her weapons belt, and her jumpsuit. But then she had no intention of losing.

“Why not? I’m all for keeping things simple.”

Rico dealt them five cards each.

Skylar turned up the corner of her cards and tried to keep her expression blank as excitement filled her. She discarded two cards and couldn’t keep the grin from her face as she peeked at the new ones. Rico had his poker face on, and she could tell nothing from his expression. He placed his cards face up in front of him. “Three nines.”

Skylar slammed her cards on the table. “Four tens. I win.”

“So you do.”

Rico didn’t appear inordinately disturbed by losing. He stood up, and some of Skylar’s elation left her as his hand went to his waist and flicked open the fastener on his weapons belt. His hand moved to his thigh and he snapped the second, then he laid the belt on the table in front of him.

“I’m unarmed now and at your mercy.”

Somehow, Skylar doubted that. She’d felt his almost inhuman strength when he’d held her. While she was stronger than a normal human, she had an inkling that the vampire was far stronger.

“So, tell me about vampires,” she said. “What are you? Where do you come from? Or is it some deep dark secret? Do you take a vow of silence—or maybe a blood oath—when you become a vampire?”

He sat back down, gathered the cards, and dealt another hand while he considered his answer.

“Actually, back on Earth, when I was changed, we did exactly that. They were very into rituals and ceremonies back in the Middle Ages. We took a vow of secrecy—they were very into secrecy as well—and consecrated it in blood. But it wasn’t my blood.”

“Whose was it?”

“The blood of a priest. Luckily, there were a few around that I didn’t mind donating to a good cause.”

Skylar picked up her cards, discarded three this time. “What happened to the one who changed you? Is he still around?”

“No,” he said and tossed her three cards.

“No?”

“I killed him.”

She flashed a glance from her hand to his face. “Seems a little…ungrateful.”

“Well, you see, there’s a compulsion between a vampire and his maker, which means Stephano had the power to make me do things I sometimes didn’t want to do. He used it one too many times, so I got rid of the problem.” He gave her a slow smile. “I’m good at getting rid of problems.”

She kept her gaze on her cards. “Any problems you’re working on right now?”

“Maybe.”

She opened her mouth to ask what, but he tossed his cards on the table. “What have you got?” He smiled as she placed her cards face up in front of her. “Looks like you win again.”

She waited while he tugged off one long boot. “Now, I can’t even run.”

“Are you still bound by this vow of secrecy?”

“Not really. I’m guessing just about everyone who was around back then is long gone. Most vampires don’t take well to change and were unwilling to let go of the old ways. A few of us left Earth, but most stayed and chanced their luck. And everyone knows how well that ended.”

Skylar had heard the stories, though no one really knew what had happened to Earth. The ships that had left in search of a new home had lost contact with the planet after just twenty years. Everyone presumed the planet had been destroyed.

“So if you’re no longer bound by secrecy—where do vampires come from?”

He grinned with a flash of fang. “Straight from hell, sweetheart.”

She studied him, head cocked to one side. “Do you really believe that? Do you even believe in heaven and hell?”

“I believe in something, but not the crap spouted by the Church of fucking Everlasting Life. Now play cards—I have a lot of catching up to do.”

Half an hour later, and she won her fourth round. Rico was down to his shirt and pants now. And the shirt was just about to go. Maybe she should stop this, but instead she sat glued to her seat, cards clutched in her hand.

“Holy Meridian.” Skylar couldn’t look away as Rico slowly unbuttoned his shirt. She peeked at his face—a lazy smiled curled his lips as he shrugged out of the shirt and tossed it behind him. She totally failed to drag her eyes from the vast expanse of bare flesh on show. He was lean, each rib clearly visible beneath the glossy skin, his belly ridged with hard muscles. He had dark nipples, with tufts of silky hair, and more dark hair formed an arrow disappearing into the waistband of his pants. She swallowed again.

“One more round,” Rico murmured. “If you win again—this will be the last.”

“It will?”

Her gaze shot to his face. He was watching her, his expression tinged with faint amusement and something else. Hunger lurked in his dark eyes. “These,”—he gestured to his pants—“are all I have left.”

She swallowed, cleared her throat. “Really?”

“Unless you want to bet for something else after that.”

“Something else?”

“I’m sure between us we could come up with suitable stakes.”

Was he lulling her into a false sense of security? Trying to lose, or at least not trying to win, before he turned the tables on her? She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to win or not. An entirely naked Rico might be more temptation than she could take. But she’d just play this last round, and then she’d head off to bed. Alone.

“Deal,” she said.

She was unsurprised when she won the next round. This time, her “I win” sounded subdued to her ears.

“Are you cheating?” Rico asked.

“No.” She glared at him. “Are you letting me win?”

He grinned. “Why would I do that? Anyone will tell you that I hate to lose.”

It did seem a little unlikely. But maybe he believed if he were naked, she’d be quite unable to resist him. And maybe he was right. But she wasn’t telling him that. Instead, she sat back in her seat, folded her arms across her chest, and raised an eyebrow.

Rico pushed himself to his feet. Skylar tried to keep her gaze fixed on his face, but it was drawn relentlessly downward. His fingers were toying with the fastener of his pants as though he was teasing her. She could see the bulge of his cock beneath the material, pressing against his fly, and her mouth went dry. Unlike other parts of her body, and she squirmed in her seat as moist heat flooded between her thighs.

He flicked the button open, and she licked her lips.

A movement behind him broke the spell. Al stood in the open doorway—he was out of breath. “Sorry, I didn’t…” he stopped and clamped his lips together, his gaze flashing between the two of them, taking in Rico’s almost naked form.

Skylar shrugged, feeling almost guilty. “We were playing strip poker.”

Al’s eyes widened. “You won?”

“I did.”

Rico’s hand still hovered at his waist. “You want me to finish—you did win after all.”

“No.” Skylar and Al spoke together.

Al shook himself. “The captain wants everyone on the bridge. She says Janey has found something.”

Rico was already pulling his boots on. “Maybe we can finish this later,” he said.

“Or not,” Skylar muttered under her breath.


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