Free first chapter: Knox – A Dragon Brides Sci-fi Romance from the Intergalactic Dating Agency

“I’m sorry, but the position has been filled,” the diminutive, bright pink alien chirped at Aria when she showed up for her interview. She glanced at the blinking HELP WANTED sign and then back at the alien, but the alien just kept smiling.

No luck.

“Do you know of anyone else that’s hiring?” Aria asked. They were on a space station, the kind of place that was always busy and always looking for people willing to stick around to work demanding jobs for little pay. Aria was willing. She had to be.

She could still feel the phantom weight of the prison collar she’d worn for the last year and a half. There was no lasting mark, but her skin felt permanently chafed with the imprint of it. She wasn’t going back to a prison colony. Her old life was over, now she had to make something new.

The pink alien made a face. “Not with your… work… history. Now please leave, I have customers to see to.” There were no customers waiting in the small makeup store, but Aria didn’t argue.

Damn it!

Finding fake papers was hard when she didn’t have the money to do it. What accounts hadn’t been seized by the stinking authorities who’d caught her had been looted by forces unknown. It turned out there wasn’t any honor among thieves. And that meant that Aria was forced to live under her own name, the one she’d been given by the heartless little orphanage on Hephastia Prime that was full of cast-off children with no past and no future.

She’d heard that some of the shops on this station wouldn’t care that she had a criminal record and had done time for theft. She was beginning to suspect the places willing to hire her were the bars on brothels on the lower decks, provided that she let them amp up her less than ample bosom and agreed to the kind of work she’d have to do on her back.

Aria would avoid the mods for now. She still had a few credits to her name and she was more than a little cunning. Not every kid back at the orphanage could have made it more than a decade before getting locked up in a prison colony. And Aria had only been caught because some rat turned snitch.

She found a seat at the edge of the food court and slumped down, allowing exactly three minutes for moping. She could afford another night in the dingy room she’d rented, but after that she’d need to vacate and find a free corner to sleep in until she had steady money coming in.

How did people do it? She’d been trying to make an honest living for two months and it felt like her skin was being stripped off of her in tiny strips. So far she’d been eking by with small jobs fetching and carrying for the ships that were passing through, but the work was highly competitive and unsteady. Not to mention the captains were happy to stiff anyone not smart enough to get payment up front. And captains knew that paying up front ran the risk of getting scammed out of the work.

No one could trust anyone in this damned place.

An alien with strange antennae coming out of his green head stood up, a flashing device clutched in his pincers indicating that his food was ready at one of the vendors. He left a bulging black bag on the table and Aria sat up straighter.

All she had to do was stand up, hook her arm through the strap, and keep walking like she hadn’t done anything wrong. The alien wasn’t paying attention, no one else was looking at her, and the lift would be so easy that a child could do it.

Hell, if she were training a child, it would be the perfect test.

But Aria forced herself to stay still. She wasn’t doing that anymore. She didn’t need to be a thief to survive. She could develop skills, earn an honest living. Everything in her rebelled at the idea of going back to prison, and she couldn’t risk it for a mystery bag.

She felt the barest brush of something at her own hip and her hand lashed out, latching onto a tiny wrist and the small person who yelped when she tightened her grip.

Aria glared at the young human girl who couldn’t have been older than thirteen. She had the desperate look of an urchin, but a cunning glint in her eyes. This wasn’t her first attempted lift.

“Go hunt someone else, little one.” Aria had enough compassion not to call for the guards, even if a small part of her wondered if that might end up better for the girl. Aria could remember what it was like to be fourteen years old and unceremoniously ejected from an overcrowded and underfunded orphanage.

“Ragnar wants to see you,” the girl said. “Follow me.”

Ah. So the girl had already landed in a powerful orbit. And Aria could feel herself being pulled along.

She forgot about the defenseless bag on the table beside her and followed the girl. Truthfully, Aria should have expected something like this to happen, for her old life to come calling. Forced as she was to live under her own name, it wasn’t like she could hide.

But she’d thought Ragnar, at least, might let her go. All debts between them were long paid, and she hadn’t said a word about his crew while she faced down the tribunal that decided her fate.

The girl dropped her off at the door to a small booth hidden away along a hallway of the space station. They could be rented to make calls or do work, or just to snatch a bit of privacy in the busy place.

The door slid open, and Aria took a seat while the girl ran off.

Ragnar was a decade or so older than Aria. He had his finger on the pulse of the biggest scores in this quadrant of the galaxy and always got away clean. Prison was for other people.

He smiled when he saw her, his bushy beard crinkling. His eyes were small and dark, unreadable, and his smile certainly didn’t reach them. He kept his hands on the table, framing a folder.

He was trying to appear nonthreatening. That couldn’t be good.

“I hear you got out a few months ago,” he said, voice low and raspy, as if something had damaged his throat. He’d sounded like that for as long as she’d known him.

Aria shrugged. Ragnar wasn’t the most violent man she knew, but she was locked in a tiny room with him without backup. The booths were soundproofed enough so that no one would hear her scream. Not that she expected it from Ragnar, but she’d felt the sting of his palm a time or two, and she didn’t want to chance it.

“Thought you might have come looking for work,” he said. He tapped a finger on the cover of the folder.

“I’m done with that now.” She kept her gaze on him, refusing to glance at the folder. Whatever was in it was a gateway to her old life. Sure, the payout would be good, but at what price? It was never just one job with Ragnar.

Once he got his hooks into a person, he didn’t let go.

And here she was, hooked again.

“Ari, baby, you’re one of the best I’ve ever seen. You’re in your prime, you can’t quit.” His smile turned beseeching, as if this was just a conversation between old friends.

“I’m not going back to prison, and this is the way to stay out. I didn’t say a word while I was inside. I didn’t contact anyone. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all forgotten, okay? Whatever you’re planning, you should find someone else.” It would have been the perfect moment to slide out of the booth and leave, but there was no doubt in her mind that Ragnar was controlling the lock on the door. She was stuck in here until he let her go.

“You worked for a long time. I’m surprised you’re in a place like this. Didn’t you always say you’d buy an estate on Sigma Epsilon?” He wasn’t smiling now. No, it had turned into a knowing grin.

The bastard. Now Aria knew exactly what had happened to her money. “You raided my accounts? Really?”

He shrugged. “Not like you were using it. And I was keeping it safe for you. I haven’t touched a single credit.”

She clenched her jaw and had to take a deep breath before she started showing any more emotion. Any reaction she gave him would only work against her. “Thanks for looking out for my money, Ragnar, but I’d like it back now.”

“Of course.” He slid the folder her way. “But I need you to do a job for me first. Then it’s all yours and we’re square.”

Aria didn’t flip it open. “I’m out. I haven’t lifted a single thing in nearly two years. My contact list has gone cold and I don’t have any supplies. I’m not the person you need for this job.”

“Normally I’d agree. But I’ve been laying the groundwork on this one for a while and it’s finally paying off. What do you know about the Intergalactic Dating Agency?”

“What do mail order brides have to do with anything? I don’t do sweetheart scams.” She could run a grift as well as anyone, but love cons got dirty fast.

“Open the folder, Aria. You’re not saying no to this one.”

She laid her hand over the top of the folder, but didn’t open it. “What if I do?”

He splayed his hands wide and shrugged. “The Imperium is still looking for who pulled off the Nali heist.”

“I was a hundred light years away from the Imperium when that happened. I don’t touch those jobs.” The Imperium didn’t imprison low level thieves. They executed them. Slowly and painfully. The only hope of mercy came from offering information that an influential Imperium family could use against their enemies.

“And I have travel documents that show you were within a few hours of Imperium space both before and after the job, along with an account holding enough credits to suggest a Nali-sized payoff. Do you really think their bounty hunters will stop to ask questions?” He nodded to the folder. “But there’s no need for that. Just take a look. This job won’t even take a week. And then you’ll have your money back and we’ll be done.”

There was no escaping Ragnar. Even if this job went well and he let her walk away, he’d be back with a similar threat. If Aria was a little stronger she might have been able to say no and walk away. There had to be a hole somewhere deep enough to keep her hidden from the Imperium.

But that life would be even drearier than the existence she was trying to eke out here.

And if she had her credits back, she wouldn’t need to prostrate herself by selling low quality makeup to commuters who didn’t give a damn.

She flipped open the folder and gave a low whistle when she read the stats on the diamond she was about to poach.

Lord Knox of Vemion wouldn’t know what hit him.

Knox is a heartpounding sci fi romance that can be purchased in ebook and paperback at your favorite retailer and you can purchase the ebook directly through my website!

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A wannabe reformed thief and a dragon lord looking for love…

After witnessing the skills of the Intergalactic Dating Agency at finding mates, Knox enlists their services to find a woman of his own. He’s collected a hoard of precious stones from across the galaxy, a mate will be his crown jewel. But is he looking for love, or another treasure for his collection?

Fresh off a prison colony, Aria wants to go straight. But when her past catches up to her, her only choice to escape a gnarly fate is to infiltrate Knox’s home and steal a gigantic diamond right from under his nose. She’s got the perfect cover: the Intergalactic Dating Agency.

But as she gets closer to the fiery dragon lord, the last thing she wants to do is betray him as he rouses feelings in her she never knew she could feel. When Knox finds out the truth, will he help her or will the betrayal be too much to overcome?

How can she keep her dragon mate and escape her past?

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