Ransomed by Kashatok
Ransomed by Kashatok
Disguised as a boy
on a ship full of sex-crazed aliens...
What could possibly go wrong?
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- Heroine Disguised as Boy
- Dangerous Attraction
- Reluctant Alliance
- Female Mechanic
- Redemption by Love
- Evil Parent
Joy, a daring journalist on a mission, disguises herself to infiltrate the infamous pirate vessel and expose the galaxy's most ruthless pirate, Captain Kashatok. However, the tales of cruelty and lawlessness she's been fed about the pirates, especially their brooding captain, soon begin to unravel.
Captain Kashatok, with the weight of his species' past and a ship full of unruly pirates to manage, has always held fast to one rule: no women on board. When he learns of Joy's true identity—and her connection to his race's sworn enemy—his true nature emerges and he must battle his deadly, inner monster.
As secrets are unveiled and loyalties tested, the two find themselves drawn together in ways they never imagined. But with the galaxy watching and danger at every turn, can Joy help tame the beast inside him? Or will Kashatok's monstrous past and Joy's quest for truth tear them apart?
Intro Into Chapter One
Intro Into Chapter One
Facing the cantina’s dirty restroom mirror, Joy gripped a hunk of her curly brown hair in one hand and scissors in the other. Behind her, a wall-length screen flickered with an ad for inter-alien contraceptive products, haloing her with eerie green light.
Just do it, she thought. Hair grows back, no big deal. Except that her mother, a Syndicorp Communications CEO, already liked to goad her about her fashion sense, saying it was a good thing Joy was smart, because she’d never get by on her looks. Yet even being smart wasn’t good enough, not unless Joy used it to climb the corporate ladder.
When Joy signed on as a reporter with RealTime news, her mother’d almost disowned her. How was she going to react when she found out Joy was doing an undercover exposé? At least I’m not disguising myself as a prostitute. Not that her producer at RealTime hadn’t hinted at how sensational that would be. But Joy had tools other than her tits to secure this story. Being tall for a woman, she’d decided to go the complete opposite direction with her disguise. Her canvas cargo pants and mechanic shirt were boxy and genderless, and she'd even gone so far as to wrap her breasts to mask her curves.
She just needed the finishing touch.
Taking a deep breath, she squeezed the scissors. Her long tresses fell away with an oddly satisfying sensation. A lopsided reflection stared back at her with startled brown eyes. “No going back now,” she muttered.
Her square jaw wasn’t quite manly, but she was plain enough that with the right attitude, she could pass for a boy. And she’d already proven she had attitude doing a year of volunteer work for Syndicorp’s planetary emergency services division in their fleet mechanic shop. Joy’d loved the hands-on problem-solving and the smell of hydraulic fluid and hot metal until Mother learned she wasn’t handing out cookies and pulled her.
Satisfied with her hair, Joy pulled mascara out of her purse and dabbed it beneath her nails, rubbing it into her skin for good measure. No one trusted a mechanic with clean hands. When she was satisfied, she once again looked into the mirror, winking her left eye to engage her cybernetic camera. A recording of her reflection would make a decent, gritty opening scene for the exposé. One benefit of having a Communications CEO for a mother was that Joy had access to technology other newbie reporters would die for.
“I’m at the edge of unclassified space, looking for information about pirate activity. These ruthless men and women have been plaguing the shipping lanes since Syndicorp sent its first colonization envoys outside the Alleigh system.” Joy spoke in a husky, conspiratorial tone, glancing over her shoulder at the restroom door. The chances of someone entering were slim to none with the hotel door grav-loc she’d placed against the door stop, but her pulse beat loudly in her ears even so. “Stay tuned as I go undercover into the swashbuckling world of black market trading and deep-space piracy—bleh.”
Sighing, she stopped the camera. She sounded like a game show host. Everything about this broadcast had to be perfect. Serious. Anchor-worthy.
She tried again. “My informant just sent word there’s a notorious pirate in this very bar. I’m going to try to join his crew. For the next few weeks, I’ll be broadcasting the RealTime stories of these men.”
The door rattled. Joy quickly cached the recordings on her polycom to edit later and removed the grav-loc, brushing past the annoyed Saluqan woman outside. “Watch it. Door sticks,” Joy mumbled and dove into the crowded cantina. She had a pirate captain to find.
* * *
Captain Kashatok pried Jhikik’s tail from around the bottle of Kantarellian rum and poured himself another tall serving. On board ship, he often drank straight from the bottle. For the purpose of interviewing new crew members, he was attempting to look civilized. He had enough rough edges on his crew, and attracting yet another discipline problem was not in his plan today.
The little netorpok chittered at him in reprimand and climbed up his arm to sit on his shoulder, his lavender fur tickling Kashatok’s ear. Jhikik had come into his possession as a pup, and, much like a real child, liked to nag him about his vice. “Keep it down.”
Too late. A woman who’d been perched on a stool at the bar was heading in his direction, her sizable cleavage jiggling above the low neckline of her tight blouse with every step. Happened every time. First, she’d fawn over the netorpok, then turn her attention to the broad-shouldered owner. Women loved a man with a pet. And Jhikik loved the attention.
“There’s a reason I never leave the ship,” Kashatok muttered, glowering at the woman. Female company was never on his agenda and never would be.
Thankfully, the oncoming woman took the hint and veered toward the restrooms. As the cantina’s band started up a new set, Kashatok rose from his chair and scanned the dark interior of the cantina for his first mate’s shaggy head. Aleknagik was supposed to be escorting prospective shuttle mechanics to the table for interviews. Across the dimly lit floor, cantina patrons parted like an outgoing tide around the tall, copper-skinned Denaidan. About time he found someone. Settling back into his chair, Kashatok downed the rest of the rum in his glass. Aleknagik pulled up to the table and stopped.
Kashatok scanned the conspicuously empty space around to the big man. “Well?”
Aleknagik shook his head. “Word’s gotten around about what happened to our last mechanic.”
The muscle in Kashatok’s jaw tightened. “And?”
“No one’s exactly excited to be the next one tossed out the airlock.”
“I have one hard rule. No women aboard my ship.” Not only that, but what the mechanic had been doing to that poor female deserved retribution.
Sliding out a chair, Aleknagik sat heavily, the reek of cirripi weed wafting off him. He leaned forward, both elbows on the table. “Listen, I understand why you made that rule. But with those nanites Captain Qaiyaan’s been talking about, we might be able to change that. Plus your non-Denaidan crew members might appreciate some leeway.”
Kashatok gritted his teeth. The Kinship ’s core crew of Denaidans were unable to enjoy the pleasures of women, and Kashatok’s rule had never made much of a difference to them. Until the nanites. Once again, Syndicorp had planted a seed of hope within the Denaidans. No, not a seed. A spore. A virus. A Syndicorp engineered virus. And it was fucking with his ship. “My ship—my rules. If someone’s not okay with that, they can get the fuck off.”
His first mate frowned but kept silent, his eyes full of questions and distrust.
Grabbing the rum, Kashatok took a long pull of the burning liquid. There’d never be a woman for him, anyway, nanites or not. He couldn’t be trusted, not after Aiyana… He took another swallow. His past was none of Aleknagik’s business.
An olive-skinned human appeared just past Aleknagik’s shoulder, wide brown eyes darting between the back of the first mate’s head and Kashatok. The moment their eyes met, Kashatok felt a jolt, a desire to protect that was at odds with the hard-assed captain he tried to be. The kid reminded him of his own first insecure days off-planet, seeking jobs in seedy cantinas just like this one. The visitor moved up beside the first mate, both hands shoved deep in the front pockets of his baggy cargo pants. “You’re looking for a shuttle mechanic?”
Aleknagik twisted in his seat, eyes nearly level with their visitor’s. “You know one?”
The young man stretched a hand forward. “Name’s Joey.”
“You?” Aleknagik laughed.
Jhikik leaped from Kashatok’s shoulder onto the tabletop. Kashatok snatched hold of the tip of the creature’s tail, drawing him up short. Not everyone appreciated the creature’s curiosity.
Turning to Kashatok, Aleknagik jerked a thumb toward Joey, eyes dancing with mirth. “What do you say, Captain? Think this qumli could hold his own among our crew?”
The kid was barely old enough to leave his mother’s teat, let alone stand up to a rowdy crew. Kashatok sent out a tightly-controlled ionic pulse. Alcohol dulled his sensitivity, but he could still assess the kid’s heartbeat, breathing, and skin temperature. Joey was nervous, for sure. But his hands were dirty, and the look in his eye was hungry. Would it hurt to let him have his say? Kashatok pushed the rum bottle forward without accepting the handshake. “Have a seat.”
Dropping his hand, Joey pulled out a chair and sat. He didn’t touch the rum. They locked gazes and Kashatok had to hand it to him, the kid didn’t look away. “You don’t seem old enough to be a mechanic.”
Joey shrugged one shoulder. “Only been at it a year, but I’m a fast learner.”
Kashatok retrieved the bottle and tilted back for a long swallow. May as well let the kid see the real him. “You familiar with the CrossX Spacer Elite?”
“Sure.” Joey tilted his head and squinted his eyes in thought. “I helped with a thruster rebuild. And adjusted the flux coil on one of the newer models.”
“Huh,” said Aleknagik, nodding. “Where’re you from?”
Joey scowled. “Why’s that matter?”
Aleknagik dropped his bearded chin to glower back. Jhikik crept forward, eyes on the stranger.
“What?” Joey crossed his arms. “Pirates don’t have pasts. Or they shouldn’t.”
Kashatok repressed a smile. This kid might just be capable of holding his own after all. He stroked his fingertips along Jhikik’s long tail until the little creature spun and batted at his hand. “You heard about our last mechanic?”
The young man’s left eye twitched. “Tell me.”
“Space-locked.” Kashatok paused a moment. Joey’s heart beat so rapidly, Kashatok barely had to engage his ionic senses to feel it.
Kashatok nodded slowly, keeping eye contact. “There’s only one unbreakable rule on the Kinship. You can’t bring women on board. Think you can handle that?”