Jul Kisling's heart aches for the homeless children living beyond her office window. Her father, Chancellor of the Third Quadrant of Akila, refuses to use his power to help them. Frightened but determined, Jul secretly searches for transportation to bring some of the children to a newly-colonized planet.
Marc Prejean is an out-of-work, out-of-money Earth starpilot living on the land of his Cajun ancestors. Wrongfully convicted of smuggling and recently released from forcedsleep, he reluctantly agrees to Jul's proposition. His desperate situation, the betrayal of his wife and brother, the loss of his starpilot license, and his stolen six years have left Marc angry and withdrawn.
Marc and Jul begin a journey of agonizing mistrust, smoldering sexual desire, and the shared goal of safeguarding the twelve children. Pursued by ruthless adversaries on both sides of the law, they soon realize they are delivering the children into even greater danger.
A blush rose up her fine-boned cheeks, and her pink mouth twitched, but she didn't respond. Instead, she turned her head and made soothing noises to the waif quietly sobbing in her arms. She lifted her bag from the floor, aimed her cool, emerald eyes toward Marc, and said, "If you'll direct me to their--"
"Through there," he interrupted again, pointing to the closed portal in the left part of the rear wall. He resumed his seat, turning his back on her and reaching for the console. "Cabins're all the same -- take your pick. Wait. One. Minute," he demanded, pivoting in his seat to frown at her. "You said you'd be bringing nine companions. This looks like more than nine to me."
"Yes," she admitted easily. "There are twelve children in all, but they're used to living in close quarters. We'll manage."
He stood and took an angry step off the bridge. "This starship is designed to accommodate ten passengers only. Space regs forbid me to--"
"I understood you would get us to Orum without concern for regulations, without passports, and without questions. However, if you insist -- which three would you like to tell to go back?" She stared him squarely in the eye, holding that genderless child on her hip, with two more clutching her legs.
He scowled down at the sea of dirty faces and unnerving stares, and he disliked this woman with her expensive clothes and cold eyes more than he'd ever disliked a total stranger before in his life. He forced himself to meet her haughty stare. "It will take me about ten minutes to get a clear window," he ground out. "So get them in the beds vite."
He stepped back up to his command console, then added, "I'll rewash the bedsilks later."
He studied the control screen, scanning frequencies, airspace, and ground perimeter for anyone too interested in why the Southern Belle had stopped there in the middle of the night.
She was still standing by the portal at the rear wall. What the hell was she waiting for? "Eight minutes!" he called out.
"Well, you will just have to wait!" she snapped, spinning to face him.
He stood and glowered down at her.
Her back was rigid and her jaw clenched as she continued in a trembling voice, "No matter how much you try to bully me, there is no way I can get twelve children ready for lift in eight minutes. And if you lift too soon and one of these children is injured, I'll make you wish you'd never taken this job."
He studied her in barely-restrained anger, and not a small measure of admiration. Her ability to stand firm while he bullied her -- as she called it -- surprised him, though he could see her fingers shaking on the child's back. He stroked his wiry moustache with one finger and drawled, "I been wishin' dat ever since you boarded, chère."