Lukas Houston met her by the door to the banquet hall, hands in his pockets, looking smug. He placed his thumb on the electronic claim panel and the bodyguards at the door handed him his weapons. As he collected a variety of throwing knives, a short sword and a very lethal looking, gas propelled pellet gun, Storm smiled.
“I do like a man who can defend himself, Mr. Houston.”
“My friends call me Luke,” he flashed a winning smile.
“Well, Luke, what sets you apart from all those other, more established companies? Why should I put Shine Clan interests in your hands?”
“Because,” he touched the small of her back as the bodyguards opened the doors for them. “I have cojones the size of Texas. And because I have something those other fellas don’t.”
“Oh, really? You have more than ten thousand intergalactic ships at your disposal?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Only the one ship so far.”
“One ship? You’re talking to me about a multibillion dollar enterprise and offering one ship?”
“That’s right. Wait until you see her. If what I have to show you doesn’t convince you that I can deliver, I’ll leave Crystal Palace and never come back.”
“How do you propose to do that?”
“Come see my ship. Once you see her, you’ll understand.”
Storm agreed to accompany him to his ship. Had she not had quite so much to drink, she might not have agreed as quickly. However, something about him appealed to her. If Lukas Houston was anything other than what he claimed, she’d soon find out.
The areas they walked through grew gradually more seedy, run down and disreputable. They reached the docking area commonly known as the harbor. A tall, gray haired woman greeted them.
“Luke, the harbor master’s looking for you. She said you owe her rent for two months. If it’s not paid within the next forty-eight hours, I’ve got no choice but to put a station lock on your ship.”
“Thanks, Penny. That’s not the least bit embarrassing for you to tell me right now.”
“Oh, sorry, Luke. Is this your newest girlfriend?” She gave Storm a sneering appraisal.
“No, she’s a business associate.”
“Right,” she said, smirking as they walked past. “Why’s your business associate in an evening gown?”
“That’s my business,” Storm answered, annoyed by the woman’s attitude. “I came to see Mr. Houston’s ship.”
“Oh, that’s what they’re calling it these days?” She replied nastily.
Storm smiled sweetly. “Yes, though later it will be called, ‘I rocked his world and then some.’ Can we go now, sweetie?” She hooked arms with Luke, kissing his cheek.
“Sure, baby.” He patted her ass, snuggling next to her as they passed the angry woman.
Once they were out of sight, she let go of his arm. “Thanks for warning me there was a bitch patrol.”
“I didn’t know she’d be on duty. She’s usually off at night. Feel free to rock my world, though. I liked the sound of that.”
Storm tried to stay angry but couldn’t. Rolling her eyes, she nudged him with her elbow.
“Ex-girlfriend?” She nodded toward the harbor entrance.
“No, she’s a wanna be. I try to make it a habit not to get involved with women who have power over my ship. If I pissed her off, she’d lock my vessel. Ship ain’t worth much if it’s not moving.”
Luke led Storm down the corridor nearly to the end. Eventually, they came to his ship’s berth. He ushered her through an open airlock onto the oddest looking ship Storm had ever seen. The nose and tail fin were parts of an old American space shuttle. The wings were from two different space vehicles and each of the rooms looked like it had been salvaged, welded in place and cobbled together like a chaotic jigsaw puzzle.
Luke led her to the bridge which was as mixed and motley as the rest of the ship. Here, he flopped in a padded seat that had been taken from an old fishing boat. Placing a thumb on the scanner, he waited.
“I know she don’t look like much,” he swiveled the chair, taking in all points of the bridge. “But there’s no ship that’s faster.”
“There’s more to life than speed.” Storm smirked, leaning against a console since there were no other seats. “Sometimes slow and steady’s better.”
“True, but if you’ve got freight to move, then you need to be on time.”