All the planets just across the Orion border are the same. I have long forgotten which misbegotten hunk of space rock the cafe was on, but I remember the name — Malathaar. The sign was probably older than anyone on that moon, the flower it took its name from laser etched into it, but so faded that it was anyone’s guess what color it had been. It just so happened I had a lead on a man named Raebz — this was his favorite watering hole.

I felt a dozen pairs of eyes on me as I passed the threshold, live music caressing my ears as I casually inspected the owners of each — none matched the description I had for Raebz, so I sidled up to the bar to order. I almost didn’t look at the bartender, as my eyes were locked on the woman across the room.

Her hair was like silk—black as space and filled with jewels like stars—and her skin was the color of emeralds. When I gave her a smile, she immediately returned one twice as dazzling and my heart skipped a beat.

“That’s Felmia. You’ll want nothing of her.” The bartender set my drink down. “Raebz is fiercely protective.”

Even if I hadn’t already fallen in lust, that she was connected to my mark made her utterly irresistible.

“Send her a drink from me.”


“I’ll pay in cash, up front, if you’re concerned about extending credit to a dead woman walking.” I fished some gold pressed latinum from a pocket that looked like it shouldn’t have been able to hold anything, let alone that much currency. His eyes slid down over my hip and across the painted on leather of my pants, then moved back up to my hand as I set his payment down.

“Now, what makes you think you’re a dead woman walking?” He swept the gold pressed latinum off the bartop in one quick movement, and was already collecting a glass and the mixings for a colorful cocktail. Clearly I’d judged the right amount. I smirked, and leaned across the bar as I lowered my voice.

“The fact that you mentioned she had someone fiercely protective of her. I can’t say I’m familiar with the name you dropped as I’m only just passing through, but you don’t wander the places I have without coming to recognize certain warning tones, if you follow me.”

He directed a look at me, even as the glass was filled with bright colored liquor without the appearance of his having to watch. Either he was good, she was a regular with a standing drink order, or some combination of both. When the silence stretched on, I looked across the room again and got a wink from Felmia for my troubles.

“No one steps foot on this moon without knowing who Raebz is.” He passed the drink off to a waiter who had been watching the exchange quietly, and he delivered it without needing to be told who it was for.

“Would you believe me if I told you I just stepped off the transport?” I flashed him my teeth with a wide grin.

“Doesn’t matter if I believe you. Though, before you go play with fire, you should let me know if there’s someone I should call when things go bad.”

I laughed, and a number of heads turned in my direction. “You think a misbegotten mutt like me has anyone who cares what happens to me? You have more faith in the universe than I’ve ever had.” I picked up my drink and sauntered across the room. The bartender didn’t seem like he wanted to talk, so I might as well enjoy my wait for Raebz to show. And if Felmia was his—in other circumstances I would be teaching a possessive pig like that a thing or two, but I had a job to do—flirting with her should bring him around faster when his gossip network tells him of the invasion of his territory.

“If I didn’t know better, I would think you were looking at me,” I said as I reached her table. I stood waiting for an invitation, circling my glass just enough to get a small vortex in the middle. She looked up at me, her dark eyes burrowing into my soul as she sipped her drink and considered.

“I don’t recognize your accent.” Her eyes flicked towards the chair across the table and I pretended I didn’t notice the subtle invitation — playing with fire like this, you wait for the blatant invite. It may not get you off the hook, but it’ll at least slow the brute down out of propriety.

“It’s what happens when one doesn’t stay anywhere long enough to put down roots.”

“Is that why you haven’t joined me yet?” She gestured, her hand moving over the table as if it were a dance. I treated her to a laugh as I perched on the chair across the small table, and she shook her head.

“Just being polite. Ain’t proper to presume I’m welcome, especially not with someone so lovely, and who the rumor mill makes me think I’ll pay for this company by occupying a casket — if I’m lucky.”

She pouted. “He doesn’t own me, I choose my own company. And right now, I want yours.”

I leaned across the table, staring deep into her dark eyes, as I dared lay my hand on hers. Her eyes dropped to look but a fleeting moment, and a chair a couple tables over roughly scraped across the floor. I saw someone standing out of the corner of my eye, and dared spare a look. The man turned and headed for the door as his gaze met mine. Felmia looked over her shoulder and clucked her tongue as she turned back to me.

“He has men everywhere, I feel like I can’t get a moment to myself unless I lock myself in my room.” She turned her hand over and clasped mine as she stood. “Let’s dance.” As she said it, the song the was playing cut out.

As she led me to the small clearing between the tables at the center of the room, a song soft and sweet replaced the joyous ruckus that had been filling the air as I’d arrived. My hand found the small of her back as she stepped in close, her head leaning on my shoulder as I started to guide us in time with the music. I closed my eyes as I breathed in her scent.

I couldn’t tell you how long we danced. One song blended into another, and all I could think of was how soft her skin was, how soothing her breathing, and the hint of the malathaar flower that lingered in her hair. As we moved past the low platform that served as a stage for the band, the guitarist hissed at me.

“That guy who ran off was going to get Raebz, you’ll want to make your way out the back door.”

Felmia started to lift her head, and I guided us away again, daring to kiss her forehead to encourage her to stay just where she was. Instead she raised her head and looked me in the eyes. Before she could say anything, I leaned in to steal that kiss I’d been able to almost taste from the moment I first laid eyes on her.

“Get your hands– your lips off my woman.” His voice was a growl, and I started to draw back. He probably wouldn’t attack me while she was still so close, but I didn’t want to find out I’d misjudged and have her pay the price. She laid her hand on the back of my neck, drawing me back in for a moment more and nipping on my lower lip when she finally pulled away. I drew a breath, trying to clear my head.

“How many times do I have to tell you, I’m not yours, I just choose to share your company from time to time.” She turned to face him, but stayed close. As I moved to slide my hand off the small of her back and step away, she clasped my hand and pulled it further around her waist. So much for making sure she was out of the line of fire if his temper got the best of him.

“You live in the lap of luxury because of me, I have a say if you associate with galactic trash that rolls in stuck to the bottom of the transport.” He directed a look at me, his hand settling on the handle of a disruptor that was strapped to his thigh, but he made no move to draw it.

“You consider anyone who isn’t you, galactic trash.” She sneered at him and he drew the disruptor. Now, no matter how tightly she held my hand, no matter how drunk on her perfume I was, I couldn’t risk playing games anymore — I had no way to know how true his aim was, nor how willing he was to make her collateral damage for her defiance.

I closed the space between us in a flash, one hand catching his wrist and pointing the disruptor towards the ceiling. In a move I’d practiced over and over to ensure I got it right, I spun the ring on my thumb so that the hypo was facing inward and reached for his neck. A momentary bit of pressure against his skin—I had to trust it since I couldn’t hear it—and I moved on as if I’d missed some attack I’d intended to make. I dropped to the floor, sweeping my leg under his and he tumbled down. The disruptor went skittering across the floor, and I was off at a run for the door.

She called after me, and I glanced back long enough to see her foot on top of his disruptor, but his men all taking aim to fire after me. I shouldn’t have slowed down, but I turned back long enough to blow her a kiss, then took off running like my life depended on it.