"I don't think he's listening to a word you're saying," Brynn said, sitting beside him.
"I think you're right."
Ace turned to face them after Colt smacked him on the shoulder hard enough to get his attention. "What do you want? Can't you see I'm enjoying the entertainment?" He didn't want to miss a single word. This singer's voice was amazing, so silky it swept through him, relaxing the beast in a way no one had ever managed before.
Colt turned his eyes to the woman singing onstage but shrugged when he said, "I can see why you're checking her out, but are you really enjoying this boring song?"
"It's not boring, it's..." He let his voice trail off. What was the point?
Ace turned back to the alluring woman. Her eyes were closed as her fingertips caressed the microphone stand in a way that had to be arousing every single man inside this crowded bar. Lush black hair framed her heart-shaped face, complementing her caramel-colored skin. A blue dress hugged her curvaceous body so well it made Ace want to reach out for her. She was stunning, gorgeous--a total turn-on. After fantasizing about his co-accomplice for so many days, he welcomed another female to focus on.
He couldn't tune out this beauty, mesmerized by her every subtle move. He didn't want to continue the conversation he'd started with Colt and Brynn before entering this place. All he could do now was watch. When she finally opened her eyes and looked right at him, Ace couldn't help but grin.
Who was this stunning woman? He had a compulsion to find out. It itched at his skin until her murmuring voice cut out, and everyone around him exploded in applause and whistles.
He sat back in the uncomfortable wooden chair and inclined his chin, winking at her when she met his gaze. He clapped his hands together, lifting his nose in the air and picking up the sweet aroma of her body. Even with all the other odors around him, he singled out her vanilla scent.
"Thank you," she mumbled, looking away. As if she was suddenly shy and didn't know how to deal with the onslaught of attention.
"Ace, do you know her?" Brynn asked.
He shook his head, lingering on the beauty before finally turning to his companions. The emcee had announced this woman's name earlier but he hadn't been interested enough to take note until she'd actually appeared. Now he was kicking himself for not paying proper attention. "Why do you ask?"
Brynn shrugged and pushed her long blonde braids behind her shoulders, her face shadowed beneath the brim of her hat. They were all wearing cowboy hats Colt had provided to keep their faces concealed. It wasn't likely that anyone would recognize them, but they couldn't afford to take the chance. Not even while they were this far from the actual arena.
The small town of Grit lay on the outskirts of the main city of Clash. Clash was dominated by an outrageous amount of ancient stone ruins and temples, all kept in pristine condition. The aerial shots Colt had shown them back on the ship also illustrated a huge market situated between this town and the Clash Arena, though there weren't any shots of the barbaric pit. It was hidden underground with the main entrance located in one of the many temples.
Maine had ensured that all the temples were highly guarded, and unless you were invited, there was no way to stumble into the arena. It was conveniently located in the southern part of the planet, where many a god and goddess were cherished. The northern part of the planet of Fray, a segregated stretch of icy land, could be a wasteland for all he knew.
"Ace." Brynn waved a hand in front of his face.
"You just seem to be looking at her as if you--"
"He's looking at her because he probably wants to get to know her...naked," Colt said with a laugh.
Ace looked over his shoulder. Everyone seemed to be hanging on the singer's every word. "I don't think there's a man in here who isn't thinking the same thing."
"But is she looking back at any of them? I can see her staring at you right now," Brynn teased.
Ace looked up and found those dark brown eyes on him, but the woman glanced away as she waited for the piano to start up again. When it did, she swayed her hips to the rhythm of a new song, lending it another dose of sensuality.
Ace couldn't help but think about her moving beneath him. How good it would feel to have her writhing because of his touch. Oh hell, Colt was right.
"I think I know what he means now," Colt said.
Brynn smacked him on the back of the head.
"What? I'm just saying..."
Brynn rolled her eyes and moved a little closer to both of them, hovering over the round table and looking around suspiciously in case anyone was listening. "I think it was a great idea to stop in here. The more people who see us, the easier it will make it to blend in while we're trying to locate the arena."
They'd gotten the Clash Arena co-ordinates from Maine's ship and intended to use them to make their way inside. Only one of them would fly right in. The other two had to get inside by foot. It was the only safe way to ambush the place. They'd have to dismantle it one piece at a time because as soon as Jenks Maine's people realized someone else had hijacked and landed his ship within their secure walls, all hell would break loose. If they planned this just right, which could take a few days of hanging around the outskirts of town before venturing farther in, everything would come together.
At least, that's what they were hoping. Ace personally thought their plan needed a good dose of enhancement. Three people sneaking in wouldn't be enough if they didn't time everything perfectly. Yet, he seemed to be the only one with doubts.
"I also think we should do whatever we can to blend in," Brynn added. "We could all meet around the back in say...an hour. See what we can find out by chatting to some people, eavesdropping on others. Someone's bound to know something."
"I'm not splitting up. You and I can deal with this together."
"Colt, don't be a chauvinistic pig. You know I can take care of myself. I've handled much more dangerous men than anyone in here." Her blue eyes were dark and threatening as she peered over both shoulders with a frown. "If you're really committed to tearing down that barbaric place, we have to do this. I can't scout the area with you on my back. I need to seem available."
Colt wound his hand around her wrist and pulled her closer, staring her in the eye. "I don't want you to seem available to any of this scum. I can practically read what they want to do to you already."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Don't tell me you can't feel their eyes following you around. In case you haven't noticed, the majority of the population in here is male." Colt's eyes narrowed. "Between you and the singer, there aren't enough women to satisfy their hungry eyes."
Ace had to agree with him there. He'd noticed how many men littered the place, and not all of them were humanoid. Still, it didn't make a difference. In this galaxy, if a race wasn't sexually compatible with another, they could always take the woman and sell her off. It was a very popular trade, and lined the pockets of many. He wouldn't be surprised if Maine himself traded women in this way, though he seemed to have a tendency to keep them.
"Colt, don't be difficult," Brynn continued.
Ace sighed in frustration. He could understand Colt's concern, but he'd look out for Brynn too. Even if he had enough faith in her to believe she could take care of herself. Still, she'd be safer with the two of them on the lookout. "You're not going to look available to anyone tonight," Ace said. "Everyone's already seen the big cowboy all over you. If you try to gather any info now, it's just going to look suspicious."
After a moment's pause, she nodded. "Shit, you're right. I didn't think of that. What should we do then?"
Ace glanced at the singing beauty, and then turned back to the woman he'd been fantasizing about until they'd finally left the claustrophobic confines of Stallion II. "I think we should take it easy. Grab a few drinks, enjoy the entertainment and come back tomorrow night. A backwater town like this one is bound to attract a variety of locals each night. Some might already be too drunk to remember us next time, anyway."
Besides, he wasn't ready to leave yet. Not until he at least got a name.
Colt nodded and reluctantly released Brynn. "I think he's right. Let's enjoy the night and tomorrow we start the real work. It was a long trip. I need to stretch my legs."
Ace bit his tongue to stop from stating that maybe what he needed a break from was stretching another body part. Instead, he got as comfortable as he could on the chair and continued to enjoy the view.
The beauty caught his eye and smiled.
"I'm going to get us all a round of beers," Colt announced.
"You do that, we'll be right here," Brynn said.
The crowd clapped once again and watched in awe as the singing beauty bowed and made her way off the stage.
"Ladies and gents, please thank the stunning Ely." A small man motioned for them to raise the volume of their applause, and Ace found himself whistling along with the other guys packed inside this hazy bar.
Before Ely exited the stage, she looked his way once and then ducked behind the side curtain.
What he wouldn't give to follow her back there.
"I think she likes you."
He turned back to Brynn, who was sporting a wide smile. The tease in her blue eyes made them twinkle in the dim light. "Are you talking about the singer?"
She nodded and pressed her chin against her propped-up hands. "I think you like her too."
"And I think we're starting to sound like a bunch of kids playing silly games. We're not kids, and the game we're here to play is deadly serious." He wasn't sure where that had come from--maybe it was the truth, or it could simply be his attempt to defensively shift the conversation in a different, more comfortable direction.
"Wow, you really do like her."
"I didn't say that." Although he couldn't keep from looking at the curtain, hoping she would return.
Brynn sat back and shrugged, crossing her arms under her chest. "You don't have to. I saw the way you looked at her. And since when does a person on any stage concentrate on one particular guy in the audience unless they want something too? Besides, she's hot. You know you want her."
His outburst only made her laugh harder.
She stuck her tongue out at him and pointed at the bar. "Hey, I think Colt needs your help."
"Why would he need my help? He's a big man, he can handle himself. I'm sure a few beers won't give him any trouble."
Brynn grabbed his hand and yanked on it, pulling him closer and across the table. He was relieved to realize her touch didn't make him hot and sweaty. "Don't be such an idiot, of course he doesn't need your help but the hot chick just made her way to the bar. Go and buy her a drink. Here, it's on me." She tucked a gold coin into his palm and closed his fingers around it. "Go on."
He shook his head, smiled at the absurdity of her pathetic attempt at matchmaking, and pushed the chair back. Had she figured out his frustration? Maybe Brynn had noticed his stares and just hadn't said anything about it.
Ace stood up, took a deep breath and headed for the bar. Even though deep down inside he knew that as soon as Colt found out he'd left Brynn all alone at the table, he'd be pissed.
Just when he was within reach of the gorgeous woman and knew exactly what he was going to say, Colt's raucous voice distracted him. He seemed to be arguing with a man seated on a stool at the bar.
Don't get into a fight now, not now. Just give me a few more minutes to...
Too late. All he got the chance to do was smile at Ely. She caught his approach and turned to face him a second before Colt smashed his fist into the man's face. Blood spurted and the man tumbled off his stool.
A second man responded with a kick to Colt's stomach. The cowboy fell back against the bar, taking a few seconds to right himself.
For a man who hated killing, it hadn't taken him long to get into this fight.
Ace looked at the woman he now knew by name and opened his mouth to say something, when someone grabbed him by the back of the shirt. His hat flew off his head as he whipped around quickly, kicking his feet low and ducking out of a third man's punch. Ace shoved him aside with a fist to the face, sending him flying across the bar until he hit the other side of the wall and slid down to his ass.
When he turned back, Ely wasn't there anymore.