Mercy Greer is on a mission to find a priceless "treasure," and she needs Rafe Trane's ship, the Hazard. Convincing the dissolute space trader, who's been on a permanent binge since the death of his wife and daughter, is her first challenge. But not her last. A reluctant Rafe joins Mercy on her mission to save orphaned children, from their home world of Athera, who've been spirited away to Tamar. Tamaran warlords are engaged in a vicious struggle for power on the doomed planet, and the children are pawns. Mercy is their only hope--and Rafe is hers.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
PAM ROCK is a pseudonym for the mother-daughter writing team of Barbara Andrews and Pam Hanson. Barbara had twenty-one books to her credit and Pam was a journalist when they teamed up several years ago.
Four of their previous futuristic romances were published by Love Spell. STAR SEARCHER was a finalist in the 1996 Affaire de Coeur Reader's Awards and the 1997 Write Touch: Readers Award contest.
MERCY'S MISSION is the pair's first e-published book, and both Pam and Barbara are thrilled to be a part of this exciting new endeavor!
"A believable tale set in the future on planets we only see in stories, Rock spun a powerful story filled with action, suspense, mystery, mayhem and a tad of romance. As the title implies, Mercy's Mission involves much more than rescuing children from an evil warlord. The mission is to rescue Rafe from self-destruction."Just Views
"Mercy's Mission is an excellent, quick read, with lots of action and great characters. Too often in a futuristic story the alien touches can detract from the story; but Ms. Rock has created an alien race, landscapes, and language references that are very imaginative and add a refreshing and wonderful touch to the story. This is definitely a recommended read, especially for you futuristic lovers."Romance Communications
"Ms. Rock's world building in Mercy's Mission is excellent. She succinctly describes three very disparate cultures (the heroine's home world, the hero's life in space, and Tamar), and provides each with a wealth of well-reasoned cultural behaviors, political struggles, and fascinating secondary characters. I hope Ms. Rock writes many other books in this fascinating setting."SF Romance
"I didn't send for a woman," the man sitting on the cot snarled.
"If you had, you wouldn't have gotten me."
Mercy Greer stepped into the curtained cubicle and stared with distaste at the surly occupant. Friends had warned her Rafe Trane had gone downhill in the year since his wife's death, but she hadn't expected this: the legendary space pilot was a drunken derelict.
"Then get the hell out of here," he ordered. "I'm busy."
"Busy pickling your brain with chooh, from the looks of it."
She wrinkled her nose at the rancid smell in the narrow, windowless room. A single naked light cylinder hung from the ceiling on a frayed cord, casting shadows over the man on the rumpled bed, his back against the stained plaster of the wall.
"What I do isn't your concern." He took a swig from the brown glass bottle he was clutching and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Are you sober enough for a business talk?" she asked, trying not to show contempt for his dissolute state. No point antagonizing him when she needed something from him.
"I'm sober enough for anything you have in mind," he said, obviously trying to get rid of her by being sexually aggressive. He leered suggestively with one eyebrow raised, but the effect was more pathetic than seductive.
"I want to lease the Hazard," she said, deciding a direct approach would get her away from him quicker.
"I promise you, I'll hire a competent pilot. And I'll insure the vessel for its full value while I'm using it."
"Very conscientious of you," he drawled, punctuating his sarcasm with another swallow of chooh, the cheap alcohol favored by local drunks.
"I'll supply any references you request. I'm sure you'll find my qualifications satisfactory."
Mercy hated dealing with a has-been like Trane, but she'd tried every other way she knew to get her hands on a ship large enough for her purposes. She'd been turned down by some pretty scummy characters, but this one was the lowest of all: a former hotshot greasing the skids with self-pity, or so her sources had told her.
"I'm crazy about your qualifications already." He hunched forward and put the bottle on the bare wooden floor beside his booted feet. "Take off your clothes, and I'll give them a thorough check."
"I have a silver sash in combative arts," she warned, not mentioning she'd earned it in school competitions and hadn't practiced in years. "Touch me, and you'll have a broken collarbone."
He lunged so fast he was past her guard before she could make a defensive move. He knocked her against the wall and put her in a body-restraining hold, arms pinioned to her sides and legs awkwardly splayed apart with his knee thrust between them.
Stunned and angry, she tried to squirm free, but he grabbed the single thick braid that hung down her back and used it to immobilize her head.
"I have a top rating in saloon brawling," he mocked, "and I wouldn't mind taking this tail of yours as a trophy."
"Let go of me!"
"You have no idea what a bad idea it is for your type to come to a place like this. Not only that, you need to be taught some manners."
"Get your hand out of my hair!"
She tried to knock him off balance with her leg and hip, but he countered her move and dug his fingers deeper into the thick braid at the base of her skull.
"When I'm ready." He eased the pressure but didn't release her. "You barged into my quarters...."
"This is a pig pen in a brothel! It doesn't even have a door!"
"You come uninvited into my home and make nasty remarks about my lifestyle. Give me one reason why I shouldn't teach you some rules of etiquette."
"I'll have you arrested for assault!"
"Not a good answer." He tightened his hold on her braid.
She struggled to break free, so angry and humiliated she wanted to throttle him.
"You can begin by telling me your name." His voice had a downlander's lazy drawl, slurred by drunkenness and tainted by an attitude of male superiority.
"Mercy Greer, Advocate for the Golgat City Courts." She tried again to squirm free, but he was more alert than his voice suggested.
"So, you're one of those misguided idealists who defend the criminal downtrodden. You're too pretty for the job, but, believe me, lady, your classy looks don't give you a license to butt into my business."
"You're going to lose the Hazard. I can help you."
"Help me lose it?"
"Help you keep it!"
"I'm going to let you loose," he said, releasing the tension on her braid, "and then you're going to get the hell out of my room and out of my affairs."
As soon as he released her, she warily inched her way toward the entryway without taking her eyes off him. His rough rejection took her back to a time she didn't want to remember, and she suppressed her anger only because she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing her reduced to impotent fury. She wouldn't try to reason with the insensitive lout, but she wasn't done with him yet.
"Out!" He loomed over her, nearly a head taller, lean and muscular in spite of his dissipated life style. Not many men towered over her, and she hated that he did.
"You're making a big mistake!" she warned.
"Leave. Before I change my mind about letting you go." The lazy drawl was gone; his voice rasped with anger.
"I can pay enough to cover your debts."
She cautiously backed into the corridor where low-ceilinged cubicles on either side were available for whores to entertain crewmen from docked space freighters. In the middle of the day only an occasional squeal or shriek broke the silence, but smoke from incense burning to mask the stink of the brothel hung in the hallway like mist.
"You need me, Trane. You owe so much in docking fees, the authorities won't let you step foot on your own vessel. You can't remove a change of clothing from the Hazard until you pay up."
"Since you've stuck your nose in my business, you must know no one but me pilots my ship. Ever! Not if she sits there till the next millennium."
"The docking administration can confiscate your ship for the back fees."
"The court dockets are jammed. It would take them five years or more."
Mercy knew he was right, but she desperately needed the Hazard right away. Every other possibility had fizzled.
"Listen, I need it to locate a priceless treasure," she said, trying one more time. "Only a unique ship will do, and I'll consider hiring you as co-pilot in addition to paying you handsomely for the use of it.
For years she'd urged her adoptive parents, Varga and Rella Greer, to stop paying the generous allowance they put into her account at regular intervals. Now all those untouched golbriks, swelled by interest payments, should be more than enough to secure the ship and services of a down-and-out space tramp like Trane. Her parents might not approve -- they certainly would object to the risk she was taking -- but for the first time in her life she had a real purpose, a compelling mission.
What she didn't have were enough golbriks to buy a vessel outright and still finance the expedition. His ship was the only available one large enough to be suitable.
"You haven't taken the Hazard out in a year. It's no secret that your wife's death...."
"I'm not going to discuss that with you!"
"I'm sorry for mentioning a painful subject."
His anger was justified, but it was hard to sound contrite with her scalp still tingling from his rough handling. Since he didn't seem insane or mentally deficient, why was he so irrational about leasing his ship when he was in danger of losing it?
"Leave and don't come back, Advocate Greer. I'd rather see the Hazard a blackened shell than let you take it into space."
"That's crazy! I'll pay enough for a one-year lease to clear up all your debts and give you a fresh start."
Rafe yanked the curtain back over the cubicle opening so she couldn't see he was trembling with rage -- and so he wouldn't lose his last vestige of self-control and really hurt her. Fists clenching the scratchy burlap, he listened, willing the intruder to leave, afraid of what he'd do if she didn't.
At first he'd only wanted to punish her for violating his privacy, but her persistence infuriated him. Only one woman had ever gone into space on the Hazard, and if he'd taken her with him on that last voyage, she'd be alive today.
Lea Lumina and their young daughter, Decci, had begged to go with him as they usually did, but he'd refused, insisting they go to her family in the city of Golgat so Decci could enroll in a real school for the first time. He'd expected danger on his last and most daring trading mission and had refused to consider taking his wife and child with him. Instead he'd booked passage for them on a commercial vessel to ensure a safe trip for them. They'd never made it back to their planet. An engineering malfunction triggered an explosion on the ship he'd chosen for them. If he'd kept them with him, they'd still be alive.
Nothing mattered since then -- not even the debt that had forced him to take out a mortgage on the Hazard.. Now, after a series of bad investments, mostly in risky cargoes carried by other space freighters, had failed to recoup his lost fortune, he couldn't even prevent his ship from being impounded for non-payment of docking fees.
Blinded by the guilt and grief that never left him for long, Rafe felt his foot hit the half-full bottle of chooh. He grabbed for it but not in time. It tipped over, and the cloudy yellow contents dampened the boards of the floor, spreading in a dark globular pattern.
Still shaking with anger, he picked up the bottle and tipped his head back to wet his throat with the last bitter drops.
Now he couldn't even get fully drunk unless he went down to the salon, as Bedoza called the room where she displayed her girls and served rotgut to the customers, and begged her for more credit. She'd grant it, but she was getting more and more insistent about sharing his bed.
"No real man mourns for more than a year," she'd told him the last time she'd come naked to the room she'd let him use since his eviction from the Hazard.
He couldn't respond to Bedoza's fleshy enticements. She was the only real friend he had left, but her sexual overtures didn't stir him.
He threw the empty bottle at the wall, splintering it into a thousand sharp wet shards of brown glass. A splinter lodged in his left cheek, a tiny inconsequential pain compared to the constant ache in his heart. He pulled it out and felt a sticky trickle of blood run down his face.
A large segment from the bottom of the bottle was near the toe of his boot. He picked it up, heedless of cutting himself, and was momentarily tempted to use it to end his miserable existence.
He threw the glass back on the bare floor boards and stomped on it with his boot heel until the fragment was pulverized, trying to eradicate the self-loathing that made him prey for opportunists like the woman who wanted his ship. Would he ever find peace and solace? If so, it wouldn't be in Bedoza's willing arms, but in the vast reaches of the galaxy where he felt most at home.
No matter how despicable he was, he wouldn't let an arrogant would-be treasure hunter like Mercy Greer lease his ship. The Hazard was a shrine to his love for Lea and the daughter who came from their passion; all his happy memories were inside its shell.
He crushed another piece of glass under his heel, then another and another. Finally his anger ebbed away, and he was left with nothing but deep-seated misery. For a moment, when his fingers had been entwined in Mercy's silky-soft dark hair and his arm brushed against the firm swell of her breast under an expensively tailored woven shirt, he'd visualized her boarding the Hazard as though she belonged there.
The cubicle was suddenly unendurable. Its drab filth was a tangible reminder of the way he'd failed his wife and daughter. Using the private back stairs to the alley, he left Bedoza's House of Pleasure, driven by the need to be near his ship, the place where he'd once known happiness.