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Common Thread

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The sound of enemy pursuit was still audible. Mara raced around another corner in the crowded marketplace, furious at herself. She was known for her stealth. How could she have already blown it? Deldex, the Falleen lackey that was her contact, had tried a very unprofessional move. Those guys all thought they were irresistible, and she should have known that Xizor, a long time cohort of Durga, would enjoy blackmailing or humiliating the Emperor’s Hand if she’d fallen for it.

Mara sighed. Another black mark on her record. She should have killed him, not just broken his arm—at least that way her lapse wouldn’t be reported.

Well, there was still time to rectify that mistake.

Mara ducked into a performer’s supply tent, brimming with glittering capes and all manner of horribly garish costumes—things popular with beings as unsubtle as the Hutts on this planet. And the last type of clothing her pursuer would expect her to don to escape notice. Quickly swiping a Sarlacc-pink shimmersilk robe sparkling with sequins, she belted it over her tight flightsuit and ducked back out before she was noticed.

Stealth. See? She could do it when she wasn’t being groped by a stinking piece of slimesucking Falleen filth in princely clothes.

Back in the sandy streets. Mara had miscalculated. Deldex had turned the corner but not noticed her yet, his eyes darting to and fro, checking the side kiosks. Quickly Mara pulled up the hood on the robe and called out in a sing-song, heavily accented Outer Rim voice to the back of a young man perusing power converters at the stall across the way.

“Leslie! My darling tooka! I didn’t expect to see you here!”

He spun around at the touch on his shoulder. Mara’s breath caught and heart seized at the carelessly good-looking stranger she’d targeted. He wore white, like most people at Tosche Station, the color an armor in the desert heat. His eyes were an innocent, perfect blue, and he radiated something sweet. Something virtuous.

Mara gave herself a mental slap, then slammed her lips into those of her convenient, handsome distraction.

Deldex was still coming down the alley.

Clutching surprisingly strong shoulders, Mara hooked her right leg around the young man’s left, her hands sliding up and inside his loose-fitting shirt. He tasted like sunlight, she thought, a welcoming heat that came from within and had nothing to do with the scorching temperatures on this planet.

Dry lips pressed hers, but his hands pushed gently against her shoulders, separating their mouths at the worst possible moment. He’d knock her hood off just as Deldex was behind them if he kept that up.

“I’m sorry, are you sure you—”

Mara crashed her lips into his again, throwing all her skills into the kiss. This guy needed to shut up long enough for her thwarted attacker to pass them by, and…

She ran her fingers through soft blond hair, her nails trailing down the back of his neck. Her breasts pushed hard into his chest as she opened to him, teasing his tongue, inviting him to forget everything but the kiss.

It worked, at least long enough for her purposes. Strong calloused hands framed her face, his hips pressing into hers as he shifted, moving so she was pinned against the table he’d been browsing. Mara closed her eyes tighter, suddenly not wanting to stop. There was something exciting and somehow comfortable about this, the way he touched her, the feel of his hands sliding down her ribs to tug her waist flush against him. His kiss had started hesitant but had evolved into something confident and serious, and she thought she could happily be kissed like this forever—deep and strong and demanding more. She licked the roof of his mouth, simply wanting to taste each part of him, and then his hands did push down the hood, running through her hair. Mara moaned into the kiss, feeling a foreign and wonderful tightness between her legs. What was she—

Shavit. She was on a mission. She had to kill Deldex or be punished for the lapse with her contact—for allowing her sex to make her a target, or worse, for not eliminating a threat once it was known. She would not be punished.

It was harder than she thought to disengage, her leg leaving his hip, her hands lifting from his sun-bronzed skin. Lastly, Mara turned her head away, breaking the kiss with an almost physical regret. A sudden pain in her stomach gripped her, a frightening tightness squeezed her chest as she glided from where she’d been caught between him and the table.

“My name isn’t Leslie…who’s Leslie?”

He sounded dazed, rough hand catching hers in question as she moved away.

“My mistake,” Mara muttered, avoiding his eyes and pulling free of his fingers. She didn’t trust herself to not return to this stranger’s embrace if she stayed here any longer. That distracting kiss had felt illogically, unreasonably, preposterously good. Everything about him felt good.

She jerked the hood back over her hair, dyed black today, and without another word, darted after Deldex. As she ran she reached for a vibroblade. Quick and quiet, that was the type of assassination this situation called for.

“My name’s Luke…” the man called halfheartedly after her, knowing she wouldn’t hear. He’d convince himself it had been a sunstroke-induced dream by tomorrow. No real kiss could ever be that perfect.