Jaimee left Fantasy Bar and stepped out into the hot, humid night. He hated Klindor. It was too hot, too muggy and too damn swampy. The only reason he remained was Nicole. He smiled. He’d pursued her for two long years, waiting for the day she’d finally let her guard down and trust him. Looked like that day had finally arrived.
She’d looked so beautiful with her chestnut hair spread out on the pillow, her blue eyes shining with passion. He could never seem to get enough of her and he was determined to get this done quickly so he could get back to her and the warm cocoon of her body.
With a slight skip in his step, he jumped into his small runabout and flew the twenty kilometers to the other side of Klindor City. One of Jack’s nighttime security men had been injured and was unconscious in Jack’s office on the top floor of the building. Jack had no idea how it had happened. He said he’d found him lying in the entryway when he’d returned from the gaming hall two blocks over. Jack assumed it was one of the rival protectors in the area.
Jack provided protection services for the lower side of Klindor. For a price, of course. Jaimee didn’t approve of Jack’s practices, but he was still responsible for them medically.
Powering down his runner outside the building, he shut down the engines and made his way to the rundown four-story apartment complex. His gaze darted around him, watching for anything or anyone dangerous as he secured his pistol in the waistband of his pants. This was one end of town he hated coming to at night regardless of how well he could take care of himself.
The smell of damp swamp permeated the air and he wrinkled his nose, staring with a groan at the dirty swamp water that ran perpendicular to the sidewalk. When the hell were they going to clean that damn swamp out? It had been like that since he’d arrived two years ago.
A commotion just ahead caught his attention and he stopped. A woman ran from the complex, her blonde hair flying behind her. Even from here he could see the fear in her eyes. Her lips were swollen and bleeding, her eyes beginning to show signs of becoming black where someone had hit her.
What the hell?
Two men gave chase, practically tackling her to the ground before pulling her back into the building, the blonde woman kicking and screaming the whole way. There was something about her that seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place it. Then it hit him like a brick. Shoranda Kimpack. High Regent Kimpack’s daughter.
Son of a bitch!
What the hell were they doing with her? Jaimee took off at a run, determined to help the woman he’d known since he was a child. Kimpack and his father were good friends. Had been for years. Bursting through the front entrance, he stood still and listened. Whimpers came from the room to his right, so he eased closer, trying to determine how many there were.
“Shut up,” one of them shouted just before the distinct sound of a slap rang through the air.
“You enjoy doing that entirely too much,” another voice replied from what sounded like the farthest corner.
“Like you don’t,” the first man sneered.
The door was slightly ajar, so Jaimee stepped closer, trying to see into the room. Shoranda was in a chair, her hands being tied behind her back by her kidnappers. His gut clenched at her beaten and swollen face. How could anyone do that to a woman?
Glancing around, he tried to get a better look. How many were there? He couldn’t just barge in without first finding out, he would get himself killed and that wouldn’t help either him or the woman. Reaching behind his back, he felt for the pistol he’d secured to his pants.
One of the men moved to stand before Shoranda and took her chin between his fingers. “Such a pretty little thing, isn’t she?”
“We don’t have time for this, you fool,” the second man growled.
“You’ve already fucked her, Caric. Put her out of her misery.”
A third voice, Jaimee thought with a sigh. He might be able to handle two, but not three. What the hell was he supposed to do?
“Yeah, but I liked the feel of her pussy wrapped around my cock. So tight and hot. Did you like me fucking you? Huh? Did you like the feel of my cock filling you?” His hand reached out to roughly squeeze her breast, and she spit in his face.
Jaimee quirked an eyebrow in admiration. She had spunk, despite what she’d obviously been through.
The man raised his hand to strike her but stopped mid-swing as blood and remnants of her brains splattered on his shirt. “Son of a bitch,” the man shouted. “What the hell did you do that for?”
Jaimee’s heart hammered in his chest. Oh my God, they’d just shot her with a vorgin, a silent but deadly blaster that shot tiny grenades that exploded on contact.
“You were taking too fucking long. Now cut off her hands and send them to Kimpack. I’m going to get that double-crossing son of a bitch if it’s the last thing I do.”
“You were working both sides of the fence. What did you expect him to do, throw you a party?” Someone snickered.
“The man tried to kill me for doing his dirty work,” the first man snapped angrily and Jaimee frowned, trying to block out the image of Shoranda’s lifeless body on the floor. “He sent me to Dellon 5, then fucking left me there to rot after I finished the assignment.”
Jaimee blinked in shock. That man had been an agent? He stepped back, knocking over a box that was behind him. It landed on the floor with a dull thud and his heart lodged in his throat. Damn it, that was real fucking smart. He looked back to the door just in time to see two men staring at him in shock, neither one the man he’d seen with the girl. “He can identify us,” one of them growled.
The third man appeared behind them. There was no possibility he could shoot his way out of this. He’d have to take his chances and make a run for it.
Turning, he dodged one of their blaster shots, the wall beside him splintering next to his head. Ignoring the shrapnel that pierced his neck, he shoved through the front door, trying to make it to his runabout before they killed him too. They were fast on his heels, but Jaimee was a quick runner and stayed well ahead of them. He had to get to Meenus Prime and warn Kimpak.
Using his remote, he opened the door of the sporty runabout and jumped inside. Jack would have to call the other doctor. There was nothing he could do about his man now. Regret slammed through him that he hadn’t been able to save the girl, but at least he could identify her killers. Their faces would forever be etched in his mind. Starting the engine, he breathed a sigh of relief as he took off down the street.
One shot caught his engine and the fuel tank embedded next to it. The engine whined then exploded in a blinding ball of light. Heat singed his skin and he cried out in pain as the smell of burnt flesh filled his nostrils.
His last thought was of his beautiful Nikki before he slipped into blissful unconsciousness.
* * * * *
Nicole paced her suite of rooms before finally dressing and heading downstairs. What was taking him so long? He’d left hours ago.
Dax was the only one left in the bar, everyone else had departed, leaving the room eerily quiet. “You haven’t heard anything from him, have you, Dax?”
“Yeah,” she said with a nod.
“No, sintah. Not since he left earlier.”
She bit her lower lip and crossed her arms over her chest, warding off a chill of doom. Something was wrong, she just knew it.
“Relax, Mirage. I’m sure he’s fine.”
A knock sounded at the front entrance. The large oak double doors carved with erotic images were one of the Fantasy Bar’s trademarks. But who would be knocking this early?
Unease worked its way up her throat as she followed Dax to the doors. Dax opened them, letting the morning sunlight inside to warm the cold hardwood floors. “Good morning, Jackson. What can I do for you?” Dax asked.
Jack? That’s who Jaimee had been on his way to see. She stepped forward, pushing Dax out of her way. Not an easy feat considering his massive size.
“Jackson? Did Jaimee come and see you last night?” she asked anxiously.
He took his hat off and swallowed, his bald head reddening under her nervous stare. “I’m real sorry, Miss Mirage.”
“Sorry?” she croaked. Nicole had known Jack for eight years. She’d met him the first week they’d opened the bar and despite his mob lifestyle, he’d grown on her. But she’d never seen him like this. He couldn’t even look her in the eye.
“There was an accident last night with Jaimee’s runabout. The ship…well…”
“What, Jack?” she whispered. Her stomach tightened in knots as she waited for Jack to say something.
“The runabout exploded with him in it. He didn’t survive.”
Bile rose up the back of her throat as she stood frozen. No. It wasn’t true. Jaimee couldn’t be dead. Her shaking hand fluttered to her throat as she struggled to catch her breath. The room began to spin and she closed her eyes to ward off the dizziness and burning tears.
“Mirage,” Dax said softly and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t,” she snapped and stepped away from him. “He’s not dead. It’s a mistake.” Her heart was breaking into a million pieces and she couldn’t stop the pain from almost doubling her over. Her life was falling apart.
“No, Miss Mirage. I helped them pull his body from the swamp. Or what there was left of it. He didn’t survive.”
“No,” she whined, shaking her head in denial. Her lower lip began to quiver as she stared into Jack’s sorrowful face. “Jaimee!” Nicole screamed in pain and would have slid to the floor if Dax hadn’t caught her. “No, no, Dax. He can’t be dead. He just can’t be.”
Dax held her tightly, letting her cry out her grief.
* * * * *
Jaimee groaned, the pain racking his body taking the very breath from his lungs. God, it hurt to breathe. Inhaling slowly, he caught the scent of singed flesh and choked. Was that his own? The pain faded as his mind awakened from the haze that had surrounded it. He tried to lift his head, open his eyes, but he couldn’t do either. He struggled with consciousness and growing anxiety as he tried to remember what had happened and where he was.
“What…” His voice was harsh and gravelly. “Where…”
“Don’t try to move. You’ve been given a nerve shot. You’re immobile from the neck down. You’re on Meenus Prime at the government hospital.”
“Why? What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“They’re just swollen shut. There’s no optical damage. As for the rest of you, do have any memory at all of what happened?”
Jaimee struggled to pull memories and images together, but they were such a jumbled mess. “I think so. My ship exploded. How did I survive?”
“You were thrown from it and into the swamp. A man named Jack pulled you out.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Brett Morallis, Secret Service for High Regent Kimpak. Can you describe the men that did this?”
“They killed Shoranda.”
“I know. We found her body, missing her hands of all things. But we need to know who did it. Who’s after Kimpak? Can you describe them?”
Jaimee nodded. “Yes. I think so. One of them was an agent.” His head was spinning, his memories becoming hazy. Even with the nerve shot, his body was shutting down. “How bad is it?” he asked, dreading the answer.
“It’s bad,” Brett replied softly. “But we can fix you.”
“How bad?” Jaimee repeated, struggling to keep his mind intact.
“Third-degree burns on eighty-five percent of your body. Mostly your legs and chest. Your legs will have to be completely regrown. There’s no skin there at all and a lot of the muscle is gone. Your hair is gone as well. It was so damaged it will probably grow back a different color. Your face was damaged with deep lacerations as you were thrown from the runabout. But it’s all cosmetic and can be repaired. You’ll look different, which is actually a good thing. We don’t want the men that tried to kill you to know you’re still alive.”
Jaimee swallowed as he listened to Brett.
“You’ll be put into a drug-induced coma while you recover. Probably about three months. It has to be that way or you would never survive the pain of the skin regrowth. You’ll need rehab when you come out, due to the damage as well as the lengthy coma.”
Jaimee nodded as he listened. He knew what three months of bed rest could do to a person’s muscles.
“Once you come to, we’ll need to give you a new identity,” Brett said.
“Why?” Jaimee asked, in surprise. What would he need a new identity for?
He was still having trouble comprehending, wrapping his mind around what Brett was saying. He knew why they were doing this. They needed his consent for the procedure. He was familiar with it, but had never seen it performed. Skin and muscle re-growth of this magnitude was still highly experimental, but the new identity stuff… Did it not make sense or was he just too fogged up to understand?
“We need to make sure those men believe you’re dead. You’re the only one who can describe them. Kimpak is in hiding, but as soon as you come to we need to work on sketches so we can find these men. Do you understand and consent?”
Jaimee swallowed, trying to moisten his parched throat. His brain was becoming too foggy, too confused. It was all too much. Nicole. Where’s Nicole?
“Jaimee,” Brett snapped. “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “I understand. I consent. Please. Tell Nik…” His voice dropped off as his mind shut down, slipping him into unconsciousness.