Alien Mercenary's Bride by Mina Carter


Prologue





It was the shittiest little market in the back end of beyond but Marika didn’t care. It might have been dirty and rough, mud from the ground staining the hem of her expensive dnarhiat silk gown, but it had potential. Every breath she took in was scented with the fumes from poorly maintained generators and the ships in the yard just outside town.

It smelled like desperation and freedom.

“Your father wouldn’t like you being here,” Dav, her bodyguard, rumbled. His disapproval was written in every line of his body and his craggy, cliff-like face.

“My father doesn’t like anything I do.” Marika shrugged one shoulder in an elegant display of nonchalance. She knew without checking in a mirror that her expression was set to “resting bitch face.” She was an Ingrassia. It was expected and a cover she used often. Right now, she’d never needed it more. If Dav had any idea what she was thinking of doing…

His silence was more telling than if he’d argued with her. Anton Ingrassia was a difficult man to please with a hair trigger temper and zero patience. She, more than most, knew that of old. As his daughter and the celebrated apple of his eye, the most damage he could inflict on her was with his fists although he was careful never to mark her face. His business partners or those who crossed him were often less fortunate. People would disappear, and she’d learned not to ask. She turned a blind eye and tried to be the Ingrassia princess everyone believed her to be.

The poison princess had killed all three of her grooms. However, her luck had run out, and the next one would kill her instead.

She closed her eyes for a moment, getting herself under control. Maxim Martell was an animal. A “business” partner of her father’s, he was a brute. Every time she’d met him, his dark-eyed gaze made her feel queasy, like she needed a month-long bath when he looked over her slender form. Gossip said he liked to inflict pain on his sexual partners and not in a way that was fun for them. Only for him. He’d killed his previous two wives. The second hadn’t lasted the month.

A shiver hit her. From the sick lust in his eyes whenever he looked at her during the years he’d been trying to persuade her father to sell her to him in marriage, she knew she wouldn’t last the week…

Locking the thoughts away quickly, she focused on her surroundings. As far as Dav was concerned, she just liked to come to the flea market on Praxis-Four. It was the ass end of the Aridas system, a place polite society didn’t even like to think about, much less acknowledge.

The more adventurous youngsters might venture out to the bars and whorehouses with a small army of bodyguards so they could then later boast to their friends that they’d rubbed shoulders with the mercenaries and ruffians who congregated here. They bought the high-priced designer drugs their bodyguards deemed safe enough to spoon-feed them rather than the real shit served to the desperate and hopeless in the bars. It was such a regular thing that the brothels brought in more expensive girls every Friday.

She shook her head as she wandered through the narrow aisles, pretending to browse. Had she been “normal,” she would still have found the market fascinating. Like life, all manner of shit fell until it was caught here, but between the random flotsam and jetsam, occasionally a treasure could be found. Like a moon-bright sapphire hiding in all the costume jewelry or a rare vintage of Tvetchian whiskey in the racks of the wine merchant.

Or a “princess” desperate for a way out of yet another wedding.

Keeping her expression neutral, she browsed the aisles, aware of Dav’s disapproving presence behind her. She wasn’t really looking at anything in the stalls. Instead, her attention was all on the people in the market. She needed a way to ditch Dav and his hidden partner, Lenar, and a way off this planet—in that order. The pair were like bloodhounds. Totally loyal to her father, they couldn’t be bribed or threatened, and they’d follow her to the ends of the galaxy unless she got rid of them first.

Her stomach clenched at the idea of how. Despite her reputation, she couldn’t kill them or pay someone to have them killed, even though there were plenty of candidates on Praxis-Four. No, she needed another way to get rid of the pair... like a riot in the market or something. She looked around in assessment, but other than losing her shit and starting to flip tables, how the hell did she start a riot?

A deep laugh came from behind her, the sound pleasing as it shivered along her skin. Someone bumped into her, almost taking her off her feet.