It could be beautiful if it could get its shit together. Lola Ryder wrinkled her nose in disgust. The smell of liquor and puke permeated the heavy, humid desert air. Drunks stumbled all around them slurring everything from insults to sexual invitations. And if that wasn’t unpleasant enough, Vetra was quickly making Lola regret agreeing to bring her along every step of the damn way.
“You’re more frustrating than Syd, and that’s saying a lot. Believe me,” Vetra said.
“We are not getting into this agai-” Lola began before stopping short. In front of her were a small group of exiles armed to the teeth. They were brutally beating an unarmed man unconscious.
The fucking Outcasts.
Sloane’s little band of fucked up misfits.
“Now may not be the best time, Ryder,” Liam called.
“Don’t,” Vetra warned.
But it was too late. Lola was already approaching them.
“What’s going on here?” She asked, her voice full of authority. She placed a hand on the dagger she had strapped to her thigh.
A dark woman with short, bright blonde hair turned to Lola scowling, her eyes immediately registering the Nexus Pathfinder symbol on Lola’s combat suit. “So it’s true, a Pathfinder finally decided to grace us with their presence,” the blonde said, a toothy grin forming on her mangled face. “You’re a little late, darling, you missed all the fun on The Nexus.”
The rebellion. Blondie was talking about the violent uprising that had occurred on The Nexus long before The Tempest had even docked.
“Yea, being lost in space has a way of making you late for important engagements,” Lola responded with a shrug, meeting Blondie’s gaze with an even one of her own.
“Oh, you have jokes, Pathfinder? How about this one. You have no jurisdiction here. This is an Outcast owned port.”
“One. I fail to see how that in any way resembles a joke. Two. I honestly couldn’t give a flying fuck if the Goddess herself owned this port." Lola stared her down. "You’re beating unarmed people unconscious. And see, that concerns me. I am now extremely concerned," Lola said, stepping closer to the woman. The space between them now closed. Blondie scowled down at her, and Lola scowled right back, her biotics flaring. Vetra and Liam take up posts beside her, ready to follow her lead. They'd chew her out and call her reckless later.
As though sensing the incoming ass beating, the other two Outcasts stopped their incessant abuse on the unconscious man and stepped beside their fellow idiot in arms.
“Ryder, I would like to point out that it would be difficult to meet with Shena if we were to be barred from Kadara port,” SAM chimed in, just as she was preparing to unleash a biotic blast. Lola paused, each of the six of them were all patiently waiting for the other to make a move, all itching for a reason to slaughter the other. Lola let out a loud frustrated sigh, before muttering “fine” under her breath. She turned to leave, shooting the Outcasts the most intimidating scowl she could muster.
“I don’t like this, SAM. I don’t like this at all.” She felt physically ill.
Blondie was right; Lola had no power here, no authority. No clear way of aiding those that might need her. None of this sat well with her, it all felt wrong. She cursed under her breath. If the Initiative didn’t need the aid of the Angara as badly as they did, she would have gladly taken her chances and slit those degenerate’s throats, but unfortunately there was so many lives at risk, that she had to leave one behind.
Shit job. Shit decision.
Needless to say, she was in an extremely sour mood by the time she reached the bar. Filled with disappointment over her inability to help, irritation over Vetra mother henning her and over Liam’s new role as her self-appointed bodyguard, Lola had about had it. She was feeling a severe loss of control, and seedlings of self doubt.
Who the fuck thought I could pull this off?
“Your father,” SAM replied.
“Stop answering my thoughts, SAM. It’s creepy as hell.”
Lola looked around the dingy bar; it was full of a surprising amount of patrons, especially for the middle of the damn day. The place was simply bursting at the rim with unsavory types, but she couldn’t identify anyone that might’ve been her contact.
She felt Liam’s eyes boring into her from across the room. She shot him an annoyed look, which he returned, clearly unbothered by her irritation. She turned her back to him. If he wouldn’t stop drilling her with his stares, then he could do it to her back. She didn’t need to witness him attempting to intimidate any and every person that just happened to look in her direction. He behaved as thought the whole damn galaxy was interested in her. Shit, she wished she was that alluring.
She drummed her painted fingernails on the countertop.
Now where the hell was Shena?
Reyes walked into Kralla’s Song, looking at his Omni-tool. He was more than a few minutes late. No matter. He was certain The Pathfinder would still be here.
He looked around the full club and was immediately struck by a woman standing alone at the bar.
Now, who is this? He thought, his interest immediately piqued. He was certain he’d never seen her here before. Granted, he didn’t know every single resident of Kadara. But her? Her, he would’ve surely noticed.
She had thick, dark curls that cascaded playfully down to her pert, tight rear, and a black combat suit that hugged her like a glove. Every curve was on display for his viewing pleasure.
Reyes cocked his head to the side for a better view. How anyone could manage to fit into such a snug combat suit was beyond him, but he was thankful for the act all the same. She was drawing in more than her fair share of looks and whispers. Not that he could blame them.
He couldn’t see her face from his position on the upper level of the bar, but if how she looked from the front was even a fraction of how she appeared from behind, pursuing her would be more than worth his time.
The Pathfinder would just have to wait a few minutes more, he decided, heading her way. It wasn't until she turned that he saw The Nexus symbol on her suit. He froze.
The symbol was that of a Pathfinder.
He fell back into the crowd, not wanting to be noticed just yet. Was she his contact? He fought the urge to laugh out loud. Mierda, the reports hadn’t mention how attractive she was. But, then again, why would they? He could see it now: Pathfinder. Female. Fuckable.
When Evfra told Reyes he would be meeting with a Nexus representative, he imagined some stodgy older veteran unfortunate enough to be tasked with appeasing the Angara. He had been busy with other matters and had only briefly skimmed through the information that had been sent to him. Sloppy, his lack of preparation was sloppy. He wasn't expecting this. He wasn't expecting her.
She shifted from one foot to the next, her full hips swaying from the small transfer of weight. He smiled to himself. This was going to be much easier than anything he could've hoped for. After all, if there was one thing Reyes had in spades, it was charm. He smoothed his hair back, and moistened his lips. For better or worse, manipulation and deceit came as easily as breathing to him, and although Reyes didn’t necessarily enjoy it, he had long ago accepted that is was a necessary evil if one wanted to survive.
And he intended to survive.
“Liam.” He watched her call to a tall, slim, dark male a few feet behind her. Her voice was naturally breathy, honeyed. “Five more minutes than we’re gone.” The man named Liam nodded.
Yes, she was definitely his contact.
He headed her way.
She could change everything.
Ten minutes had turned to fifteen which eventually had turned to thirty, and Lola was still standing at that unpleasant, sticky, and slightly wet bar waiting for her Angaran contact. She was on the verge of telling Liam to grab Vetra so they could head out, when a husky, lightly accented voice called out to her.
“You look like you’re waiting for someone.”
Lola smiled to herself. It took balls for an exile to approach a Pathfinder on duty, especially one like herself. Her ‘resting-bitch-face’ was known to scare off pretty much anyone that looked her way.
Lola turned to him. She sucked in her breath, caught completely off guard by the man standing in front of her.
This man was the ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ cliche personified, and he was offering her a drink. Her eyes drifted over him as she looked him once over. He had golden eyes, broad shoulders, toned arms, and hint of rock hard abs that showed right through the fabric of his shirt…. she received the strong impression that he rarely got turned down, if ever.
She looked at the drink in his leather gloved hands. Her contact was late, and her spirits were down. One drink with a handsome stranger couldn’t hurt.
“I have time for one drink,” she responded, casually. She took the drink from his hand. His hooded bronze eyes met her grey ones, a smug smirk playing at the corner of his full lips.
This man is completely aware of his own good looks, she thought to herself, taking a sip. And something told her that he is not shy of exploiting said good looks for his own personal gain. So, what exactly did he want from her?
Reyes quickly downed his drink.
“Shena?” He asked searching her face. She looked amazing from afar, but she was even more striking up close. And all that hair, it simply tumbled off her shoulders in dark, silky bunches.
He wondered what it would be like to tug on it while in the middle of a down stroke. And judging by the way she just looked him over, the feeling of attraction was mutual. He took note of how her pupils had dilated, and her lush lips had parted ever so slightly upon seeing him. The slight intake of breath... Pathfinder or not, she was still a hot blooded woman.
Reyes held her intense, inquisitive gaze, taking in the delicate upturn of her grey eyes and the slight rouge of her full lips. He marveled at the way her dark honeyed skin seemed to positively glow in Kadara’s setting sun... she must be a distraction nearly everywhere she goes, he mused.
He offered her his most charming smile, his mind running rampant, devising up ways to get her in his bed, on a table in his room at Tartarus, on his couch… Down boy. Business first, he scolded himself, then pleasure. Women were his achilles heel, and his downfall would be caused by one, he was sure of it.
Don’t make the same mistakes you did with Zia, he thought, frowning at the memory.
Zia Cordier was the last business partner he had bedded, and she had been a pain in his side ever since. With all the trouble she caused him….was still causing him, you’d think he would have completely sworn off mixing business with pleasure.
But … Fuck, he could never deny himself a beautiful woman. Reyes watched as Lola brought her glass to her plump lips, she took a long drag of the alcohol, tilting her head back ever so slightly. The motion revealing a long, slender neck, and more of that beautiful copper skin.
Any trouble she’d cause would surely be worth it, wouldn’t it?
Only one way to find out.
“But you could call me Reyes,” he said, reaching his hand out to shake hers, if only for a reason to touch her. “I hate code names.”
Lola raised her eyebrows in disbelief.
He was truly her contact?
He gripped her hand firmly, but gently, his large hand engulfing her small one. She bet they were rough and calloused under the glove. This man is no stranger to manual labor, she thought with growing interest. His body was probably molded by it. She wished his hands were bare instead of concealed.
Their embrace lingered, hands intwined, and his attention remained focused only on her. His touch sent electricity pulsing through her. Goddess, he was sexy. Confidence radiated off him, like heat from the sun. Lola had to force herself to focus. Force herself to remove her hands from his.
“I was expecting someone more….Angaran,” she said. He chuckled, a deep, confident rumble that filled her up and warmed her core. Her attraction to him palpable, she was sure he sensed it. Even so, she attempted to conceal it.
His golden eyes gleamed with mischief. It’s as though he held the most devious of secrets, Lola was entranced. His eyes were incredibly alert, yet full of so much humor.
He’s the one in control, she realized. It was all calculated: his words, his actions, and yet...
He leaned on the counter, moving slightly closer to her. Close enough that she could take in his scent. It was of whiskey, and the earth, smoke ...and gun powder. But Lola was too mesmerized to accurately analyze why someone would smell of something so archaic.
“The resistance pays me to supply information, among ...other things,” he said. His voice low, conspiratorial, as though he was letting her in on one of those many devious secrets she was sure he harbored.
“So, you’re a smuggler?” She asked, trying to make sense of his vague explanation.
Vetra was technically a smuggler herself. Drack too, if she was really counting.
She momentarily wondered if The Nexus knew that their salvation rested on the shoulders of such shady characters. Except Cora, Cora was as straight laced as they came. A damn Saint.
Reyes’s smirk tugged at the corners of his lips. He tilted his head side to side, neither confirming nor denying her suspicions. Instead, he left his place beside her and walked over to an open viewport, one that was overlooking Kadara Port. She followed. Vetra threw her a look that clearly said: “who the hell is that?” Lola gave her a small shrug, and shook her head as she went to join Reyes.
She listened carefully as he told her about Sloane and her unsavory ways. He expressed doubts about Sloane’s ability to play nice (no surprise there), her need to appease Kadara’s resident Angara (Sloane seemed to understand how precarious her position as 'top dog' was), and her plans for Vehn Tehven: death.
Well, Evfra and The Moshae wouldn’t want that.“I’ll have to take him with or without her permission,” she decided. There was no other choice.
She crouched down slightly to place her elbows on the sill, hands clasped, frowning at the drunks stumbling around below. This couldn’t be how their people ended up.
The Initiative had failed them.
Exiled or not, they were their people, and they deserved better.
She saw herself in them. How often did she find herself on the precipice of destruction? Weekly? Daily? In another life, she could have easily found herself here, among the lost and renounced.
Reyes studied her profile. She was looking at that mess of a port below them. He wondered if that frown meant that she was as unhappy with the state of affairs here as he was. Perhaps, they weren't so different, even if they did represent opposite sides of the same coin. Maybe she did understand.
The Initiative had failed them. Failed them as whole, he thought, remembering the shit show on The Nexus he had left behind.
He knew she was younger than him, he could tell, younger by a few years. But there was no naïveté in her eyes. No, they seemed hardened. As the only Pathfinder she held a tremendous amount of power, her decisions were going to literally shape mankind’s future.
He needed her in his side, by any means necessary. It didn’t hurt that she was easy on the eyes.
Helping her free Vehn could be the first step in gaining her trust.
“There may be another way to get Vehn,” he began. “You work Sloane, and I’ll look into my connections with the resistance.”
He turned to walk away, not wanting to give her a chance to respond, a chance to turn his offer down.
Surprised by the abruptness of his departure, Lola turned to watch him go. His walk was confident, and relaxed, with a slight swagger. He was at complete ease with himself and his environment. Lola almost envied him for that.
“How do I contact you if things go south?” She asked, calling after him. All he had left her with was his name, and a noncommittal, extremely vague promise about possibly aiding her.
But instead of answering, he only looked back, smiled that cocky smile that she was beginning to think was permanently stuck on his face, and winked at her. She stood there frozen in place as he disappeared from the club.
He actually responded with a wink. A damn wink. Despite herself she couldn’t help but smile. Trouble, that man is complete and utter trouble. Just her type, she had the worst taste in men. She was about to follow after him when Umi, the bartender, reminded her of the bill he had left her with. The sly bastard. She quickly paid and left the bar, Vetra and Liam trailing behind her. Lola hoped that that wouldn’t be the last time she’d ever see him.
After some finagling, Lola was able to convince her crew to allow her to handle Sloane alone. After all, she didn’t want Sloane to feel intimidated, she was sincerely hoping they could come to an agreement, if only because the alternative would require further finagling, and, honestly, Lola didn't enjoy being purposely dishonest, though she had long ago accepted the fact that sometimes in order to do some good, you had to be bad.
Needless to say, her meeting with Sloane didn’t go well. Sloane had refused to compromise. Lola laughed to herself as she left the Outcast headquarters. It was absolutely insane, Sloane actually sat on throne, a shitty homemade throne, sure, but a throne nonetheless. She was a complete pompous, self-indignant bitch.
Who the fuck did that? Who the fuck sat on a throne? What was this, medieval Europe?
That's when she heard someone call out her name, and not her last name, but her first, which no one did.
Reyes was able to quickly retrieve the information needed to help Lola. He knew Sloane wouldn’t play ball, so he situated himself right outside her headquarters, ready to catch Lola as she left.
He didn't have to wait long.
The doors opened and sure enough Lola sauntered out. She stood out. She was like a shiny new penny surrounded by grime filled, tarnished ones. He watched as she raked her hand through her thick head of hair, and a part of him toyed with idea of being the one to sully her.
“Lola, have a nice chat?” He called out, getting her attention.
She turned to him, surprised, a look of amusement on her beautiful face. “I think she likes me,” she joked, placing a hand on her hip and cocking it to the side, a look of pride on her face.
Reyes laughed. He enjoyed a woman that could roll with the punches. “It’s ok, I think I found a work around.” He quickly filled her in on how she could break Vehn Terev out without alerting Sloane, and provided her with the passcodes necessary to complete the job. Reyes stepped closer to her, his shoulder brushing hers. She tensed at the touch.
“Here,” he said, his voice low. He took her hand in his and pressed a small capsule into her palm.“This will eat through the bars.” Once again, he lingered. He rubbed the capsule into her palm with his thumb and was pleased when she didn’t pull away, but allowed him to hold her.
She’s so small, he thought, her hand practically disappearing in his. Reyes stood at a little over six feet tall. She had to be at least 8 inches shorter than him 5’ 5”? 5’ 4”? He could easily throw her over his shoulder and run off with her. He could easily overpower her. How was such a small woman expected save them all?
He let go of her hand, and prepared to leave when she said: “There’s still the matter of the tab you left me with.”
“I am usually the model gentleman,” he lied.
“I don’t believe you.
“That’s because I’m lying,” he replied, his voice deep with implication. She arched a perfectly groomed brow, and hummed in approval at his comment .
So, Tann’s little Pathfinder likes brutes. The thought turning him on.
“When you’re done, come to Tartarus,” he said, trying not to think of how foolish pursuing her was. So much was at stake, and yet all he could think about was finding a way to touch her.
“I’ll think about it,” she said, a small smile on her face, a playful glint in her lovely eyes.
He wanted to fill those grey pools with lust for him. “First drink’s on me, promise.”