Tuck’s a Gutter, one of a gang of violent orphans running level thirty-six of Hell’s End, the solar system’s outermost space station. There’s only one way out of this brotherhood of blood—grow up and be killed and eaten by other Gutters.
Tuck barely escapes his death sentence, only to fall prey to the powerful L’arisian family. Rescue from a L’arisian whorehouse never happens, but rescued he is, and by Gov soldiers no less. Alone among the enemy, Tuck trusts only one person—the man who risked everything to pluck him to safety.
Ivan’s a soldier. No more, no less. But the disquieting things he learns about the Government’s plans for the Gutter kid have him doing the one thing a soldier shouldn’t do. Think about doing what’s right instead of what he’s told. All for a guy he can’t get out of his head.
Getting involved in a rebellion that might get them killed is a problem. Falling in love? That’s a disaster in the making.
Warning: This book contains rebels, spies, soldiers, bad guys, love, sex, betrayal, fights to the death, and robot spiders. Really.
Jossi leaned back so Ivan could take point. He went up the remaining steps with his sizzler ready, put his back to the wall and swept the visible area while Kuro and Jossi climbed up and took their positions. The floor seemed empty other than the one woman. Judging by the wall of monitors in front of her desk and the locked cart next to it—full of drugs, most likely—Ivan figured she was more of a nurse than a guard.
Which made the whole thing easier for him and his guns. Giving Jossi the signal to watch the stairwell and central area, Ivan jogged toward the target cell with Niahm behind him.
Niahm let out a quiet laugh when they saw the so-called security on the cell. “Just a latch? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“They don’t take anybody who’s got people to rescue ’em.”
He shot her a glare. “Shut up and give me the lock pick.”
She did, still grinning like it was funny. Personally, he didn’t much think it was. Not that it mattered. They had a job to do.
The lock took longer to open than he liked, but he got it in the end. Handing the lock pick back to Niahm, he raised his sizzler again—just in case; Rapture junkies could get violent sometimes—and eased inside.
Behind him, Niahm snorted. “Think you can put the gun away, Ivan.”
“No kidding.” He holstered his sizzler and crossed the dim little room to the pale, limp, barefoot kid curled on the cot against the wall. The boy didn’t move. Hell, was he even breathing? Ivan pressed his fingertips to the kid’s wrist and found a faint, too-fast pulse beneath the strange eye-shaped tattoo. “Damn. Well, he’s alive, at least.” He lifted his hand and peered at the tattoo—a rough black outline of a human eye. “Wonder what that tattoo’s all about?”
“Who cares?” Niahm, parked in the doorway, glanced at Ivan. “Get him and let’s go.”
“Stay cool. We’re going.” Ivan stared at the kid with a frown. Sweat dotted his pasty face and stained the armpits of his ancient shirt. He smelled like he hadn’t been washed since the L’arisians took him, and he looked half dead, which bothered Ivan on multiple levels. “Shit. Niahm, I’m gonna have to carry him. Cover my back.”
“You got it.” She stepped into the hall, sizzler pointed at the ceiling and sharp gaze darting back and forth.
Jupiter’s balls, Ivan didn’t want to carry this kid. But what choice was there? He was too doped to notice when strangers broke into his cell. Walking was obviously out of the question. Resigned, Ivan knelt beside the cot and hoisted the kid onto his shoulders.
That got a reaction. The boy groaned. “Ow. The fuck?”
“You’re being sprung, kid. Keep quiet.” Ivan shifted his grip on the boy’s thigh, remembering the way he’d limped in the video. The wound had been cleaned and bandaged but clearly still hurt. “And be still too. Unless you want me to drop you.”
The kid shut up after that, but his body felt tense and his breathing sounded rapid and pained, especially on the way down the stairs. His eyes were wide open now, watching Ivan with the sort of glazed intensity only a person on Rapture could manage.
Ivan didn’t like it. As far as he was concerned, the kid was a wild card. If he panicked and drew attention to them, they were all fucked. The kid included.
Luckily, he seemed to realize it. He kept still and quiet as Ivan and his team hurried across the empty space to the fence. Ivan had to put him down to get through the fence, but by then the kid seemed to get the urgency of the situation. He crawled through the cut on his own and collapsed to the ground on the other side, waiting.
The passive trust in his big hazel eyes made Ivan feel strange inside. He wondered if the kid would be so willing to trust him if he knew where Ivan was taking him.
Shaking off the creeping guilt, Ivan went to the boy and crouched beside him. “What’s your name?”
The kid blinked, as if he was surprised Ivan had asked. Hell, Ivan was surprised too. He scratched beneath his ponytail, embarrassed now.
The boy’s lips curved into a smile. “Tuck. I’m Tuck.”
“Ivan.” He smiled back, feeling distinctly weird. “Up you go.”
Something about the look on Tuck’s face warned Ivan in time to avoid being kicked in the jaw when Tuck reared back and swung. Still, he wasn’t prepared for how fast Tuck moved when he jumped up and ran.
To Tuck, running from the Gov soldiers—he’d seen the insignia, of course; he was high, not stupid—felt like moving inside a slo-mo vid. The air pulled at his legs like something alive, slowing him to a frustrating crawl.
Lucky for him the yahoos who’d stolen him from that stinking pit seemed to be stuck on permanent stop. All five of them gaped at him, still as statues, as if he’d done something spectacular by getting away.
His childhood had taught him not to question good fortune when it came. He kept going, pushing his body until he got the weird sensation of flying and being nailed to the ground at the same time.
At least running didn’t hurt his leg that much anymore. Turned out Rapture was good for something besides getting fucked up after all.
The whole floaty, slow-motion thing crashed and burned when Tuck’s strength gave out, and he crumpled like the rag doll Bug had been clutching when he and Mags found her hiding behind a seedy bar down on level 15. Everything started moving again. He tried to do the same, but couldn’t. His arms and legs shook and refused to hold his weight. He felt like all his bones had dissolved.
Fuck if he’d lie here and cower, though. Rolling onto his back because he couldn’t sit, Tuck aimed his deadliest glare at the Gov soldier nearly on top of him already.
Ivan, the man had called himself. Shit, he was big. Tall. Solid. Strong. Black hair in a tail the way the Gov guns usually wore it, jaw tight and dark eyes snapping with pure grade-A fury.
Tuck wondered if it was the Rapture making him find all that barely controlled anger sexy.
Naw. It was the packaging, he decided, watching Ivan kneel beside him. Tuck had always had a thing for powerful men. There were a few Family goons out there he could probably blackmail into a comfortable living for himself, if he thought he could manage it without getting killed. No one connected to the Families wanted people to know they’d fucked a Gutter boy.
Ivan the Terrible shoved a finger in the middle of Tuck’s chest. “That was stupid.”
“Yeah, well. Can’t blame a guy for trying.” Tuck gave the big man his best cheeky grin.
Which wasn’t as drug-fucked as he’d figured, apparently, ’cause Ivan’s wide, gorgeous, made-for-sucking-cock mouth curved into a grudging half-smile. “Point. Still…” He reached behind his back. His hand came back with two bits of string.
Tuck didn’t try to struggle as Ivan held Tuck’s wrists together in front of him, laid a self-adjusting restraint over the place where his arms crossed and tapped it to activate it. What was the point in fighting? The Rapture coursing through Tuck’s blood made everything seem alternately fuzzy-slow and painfully sharp, but it also made sure his body didn’t have the strength to back up the crazy plans his racing brain insisted on making. Besides, Tuck’s gut told him Ivan wouldn’t hurt him, and his gut rarely steered him wrong.
He watched the second restraint tighten around his ankles with a sense of fate closing in on him. “Where’re you taking me?”
“Gov territory.” Ivan’s impressive muscles bulged as he lifted Tuck across his shoulders.
Tuck laughed. “Yeah, I figured. But where exactly? And why? What does the Government want with me?”
“I don’t know.”
“Any of it.” The big hands gripped Tuck harder as the group picked up the pace along the deserted streets. “Now shut up before I gag you.”
Ivan sounded mostly pissed off, but a little bit of regret hid behind the irritation. Tuck filed that knowledge away for future use. He had a feeling he’d need whatever edge he could get.