Icy Heat - June 6, 2008
A masked man with a burning secret is her only hope.
A Heat series story.
Aidan has only days to acquire a magic Globe to exchange for her brother’s freedom. With the clock counting down, she turns to Warwick the Enforcer for help. As her lies pile up and the passion between them builds, Aidan tries to keep her mind on her mission and ignore the man who lights her fire.
Warwick has spent his life preparing for revenge against the man who killed his parents and sentenced him to an existence behind a mask. But when Aidan calls in a debt he owes her, he cannot say no. The attraction he thought was one-sided explodes between them and he is shocked to find himself burning to possess her. One thing after another goes wrong—and Warwick discovers Aidan is working for his hated enemy.
As things spiral into danger they could never have imagined, passion burns into a love that could destroy them both.
This book has been previously published and has been revised and expanded from its original release.
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Aidan turned to find Marsley watching her. Silently, she celebrated the fact that if all went as planned, this was the last time she’d ever have to see him.
“Aidan.” Marsley leaned back in his booth, the seat appearing to be a massive red throne cradling his black and white striped suit. Local rumor had it he hadn’t left the club in years and Aidan believed it from looking at him. His body had grown puffy and soft, his skin an unhealthy white which almost appeared translucent. “Always nice to see your shining face.” He pointed to the tiny red chair before the table, indicating she should sit.
“It’s never nice to see you, Marsley.” She didn’t take the offered chair, preferring to look down on him, rather than stare up. “Here’s the last of your money.”
She set the bag containing the final payoff on the table, but didn’t raise her hand from it.
Marsley shook his finger at her. “Now, now, Aidan, let’s not play games.”
“Oh, I’m not playing.” She kept her eyes narrowed and angry. “Understand this warning, Marsley, and know I’m not joking with you. If you extend credit to my brother in any of your gambling halls again, you will suddenly have a large problem finding pilots to carry freight on or off this planet for you.”
Marsley snorted. “As if you can control all the independent contractors who fly in this region.”
Aidan supported her weight with one hand on the money and the other on the cold, black table to lean over him. “I’ll call in every favor that has ever been owed to me to make sure enough pilots won’t fly for you, then I’ll put out the word to let people know what I’ve done. Those pilots who don’t support me will be more than willing to charge you four times the going rate.”
When she stopped speaking, she realized the circle of partiers at her back had gone silent, leaving an odd quiet in the harsh loudness of the room. Even the music seemed distant and muted. Her awareness sharpened, but she couldn’t afford to look away from Marsley, not until he believed her threat was for real.
Marsley’s gaze flickered behind her and flared wide. Odd tingles of warning rushed along her spine, but she couldn’t let herself be distracted.
Banging the bag holding the money onto the table, she reacquired his attention. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Marsley?”
“Yes.” He wanted to fight, she could tell, but whatever was behind her had him sidetracked. Whoever had his attention had come closer and, if the bead of sweat that began to track down his cheek was any indication, he was worried about the newcomer, a lot more than he’d ever be concerned about her. Marsley waved, as if coming to a decision. “I wouldn’t have extended Zach credit again anyway.” He brushed a piece of lint on his jacket and pulled the fabric down. “He’s proven himself to be too large of a risk. What if you suddenly wised up and stopped picking up his markers, Aidan? Then where would I be?”
Aidan straightened, ready to let loose a sharp reply, but felt heat behind her. The hairs on her arms rose. She could sense him—and it had to be a him or an incredibly huge female—along the whole surface of the back of her body. Whoever it was, he was taller than she, which was unusual, since she was a tall woman. She ignored the newcomer, wanting to make sure she rammed her point home. “As long as we understand each other.”
Marsley waved her away. “Fine. See your way out. It’s been nice doing business with you, Aidan.” He looked beyond her. “What can I do for you, Warwick?”
Aidan went cold, then hot. Warwick the Enforcer worked for Reed Landrig, one of the men who ruled this corner of the universes. His presence in the Liberty Lounge explained why Marsley was uneasy. Enforcers tended to take care of people who got out of line, usually in some painful way. Aidan couldn’t control the small smile she sent Marsley as she stepped to the side and turned.
Her breath caught in her throat, even though she was prepared for the view. She’d heard so many rumors about this man, she’d been ready for the mask.
Warwick was a full head taller than she and big. Too muscled, really, but she supposed it was part of his job. He wore black from head to toe, except for his right hand, which was bare. His left hand was covered with a tight leather glove that matched the mask hiding his face. Holes for his eyes, nose and mouth were cut into the leather, giving him a frightening appearance. His head was encased by a leather helm, completing the view.
He watched her take it all in, then glanced at Marsley. “We’ll need your table to talk.” His voice held so much menace, she shivered.
Aidan’s mouth fell open when she realized Warwick had come to speak with her instead of the Lounge owner.
Marsley laughed, a mixture of relief and gloating that had her grinding her teeth. “Sure thing, War old buddy.” He inched around the table, his flabby gut making the process cumbersome. “It’s all yours.”
Aidan wanted to scream. No sooner had she paid off Zach’s last debt, then her brother had done it again, only this time in one of Landrig’s gambling establishments. A few transport pilots banding together to drive up prices would only serve to amuse Landrig, before he squashed them all like the bugs they were.
Her brother Zach had gambled since they were children. He had come from the womb with a compulsion so great, time after time Aidan had been forced to bail him out.
She was getting damn tired of it. Maybe this time she’d let him take the heat. Maybe she wouldn’t step in and save him.
Even as she thought it, she knew it would be almost impossible to follow through. Zach was her last living relative. That allowed him more than his fair share of fuckups.
Warwick slid the massive table to one side like it weighed nothing, then sat on the edge of the booth. He pointed to the small chair located about ten leagues too close to him.
She sat as if he held her in a mind-meld, trying to wrestle with her emotions. Running wasn’t an option. There was no place to hide from Landrig, not in this corner of the cosmos.
“I need a pilot.” Warwick’s voice wasn’t harsh as it had been when he spoke to Marsley. Now is was soft, deep and calm.
She blinked, coming back from her thoughts of her brother to notice Warwick’s ungloved hand lying palm-up on the edge of the table. His left hand rested on his huge thigh, also open. It was an unusual position, unnatural in the extreme and certainly odd for an Enforcer.
Her stomach twisted, and she scrubbed a hand down her face when it hit her why he was doing it. He felt sorry for her and was going out of his way to calm her down. The fact that he had to do so made her furious at herself. He needed a pilot. Her brother hadn’t gotten in trouble again. Business. It’s only business, Aidan. Get yourself together, you twit.
Dropping her hand, she met his gaze. “Where are you flying?”
“Down Neck. There and back in one day.”
She raised an eyebrow at that and realized as crazy as it sounded, this might take her bank account up from zero to a nice sum with only a day or two of work. Maybe her luck had finally turned for the good. “The increased risk will cost you more.”
“So I’ve heard,” he said, and she was surprised to hear a bit of irony in his voice. His eyes were blank, the black mask leaving his face expressionless and creepy. “How much?”
“Twenty thousand balseems.” She doubled her usual price, but figured flying an Enforcer increased the risk above and beyond the usual peril of traveling Down Neck. The journey encompassed flying through a deathtrap to reach a mining town located in the middle of a field of poisonous gas.
He didn’t so much as twitch at the price. “Steep.”
“Not many will fly the Neck.” She needed this money if she had any hope of starting over.
“Not many can, you mean.” The hand on his thigh turned over and the fingers drummed for a moment.
He’s left handed. Then her gaze met blue-blue eyes through the mask and she realized she’d been caught staring.
“I have to leave tomorrow at sunrise.” A thread of amusement went through his words.
She tried to focus on business instead of his body. “I can be ready.” There was nothing she could do, except try not to be rude again. Apologizing would only make it worse.
“It will be a routine trip. Fly me there, wait, fly me back, for twenty thousand balseems.”
Relief washed over her. Warwick the Enforcer was about to make her life much easier. “You have a deal.” Without thinking about it, she held out her hand.
He leaned forward slowly, as if he thought she might jerk away once she knew what she’d done. It took her more willpower than it should have, but she closed the gap, grasping his bare right hand, jumping a little at the warm feel of skin on skin contact.
This close she could smell him. Spicy male, old leather and danger curled around her.
“I’ll be at your transport in the morning.” He released her.
Stumbling to her feet, shaken by the odd tumble of fear and curiosity she felt in his presence, Aidan backed a few steps away before answering. “We’ll leave when you arrive.”