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Authors: Anna Hackett

Among galactic ruins

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Among Galactic RuinsAnna Hackett

Among Galactic Ruins

Published by Anna Hackett

Copyright 2015 by Anna Hackett

Covers byCroco Designs

Edits byTanya Saari

ISBN: 978-0-9943584-1-7

This book is a work of fiction. All names,characters, places and incidents are either the product of theauthor’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance toactual persons, events or places is coincidental. No part of thisbook may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed orelectronic form.


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Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Read the first chapter of At Star’s End

Also by Anna Hackett

About the Author

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At Star’s End – One of Library Journal'sBest E-Original Romances for 2014

The Phoenix Adventures – SFR Galaxy Awardwinner for Most Fun New Series

Beneath a Trojan Moon – SFR Galaxy Awardwinner

The Anomaly Series – #1 Amazon ActionAdventure Romance Bestseller

Hell Squad – Amazon Bestselling ScienceFiction Romance Series

“At Star’s Endisa fun, thrill ride of a science fiction romance.” – Mstcat,Goodreads review

“Awonderfully written space adventure.” – Corrinthia, Amazon reviewofIn theDevil’s Nebula

“Anaction-packed sci-fi adventure with some smoking hot sexy times, Ihighly recommendOn a Rogue Planet.” – KatieF, Amazon Review

“Highaction and adventure surrounding an impossible treasure hunt keptme reading until late in the night.” – Jen, That’s What I’m TalkingAbout, review ofBeyond Galaxy’s Edge

“Action,danger, aliens, romance – yup, it’s another great book from AnnaHackett!” – Book Gannet Reviews, review ofHell Squad: Marcus

“Anotherspectacular Hell Squad Story. Holy cow! Action, adventure,heartache and hot steamy love scenes.” – Amazon reviewer, reviewofHellSquad: Cruz

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~ Official Document ~

Galactic Institute of HistoricalPreservation

Internal Records #ZZ-5945-973

Subject: History of Zerzura

The history of the planet of Zerzura spansmillennia and has seen the rise and fall of many civilizations. Ithas been a source of fascination for the masses, study forastro-archeologists and historians, and a hot spot for treasurehunters and collectors.

The first inhabitants of the planet arestill unknown to us today but left vast ruins of once-great cities.Many more cultures have made the planet home, but the mostfascinating, of course, are the colonists from Earth. Fleeing theGreat Terran War, they brought their history and traditions to theouter reaches of the galaxy.

They also brought many invaluable historicalartifacts.

The changing climate has left much of theplanet covered by desert, and it is suspected the sands have hiddenmany a temple, palace or ancient city. The planet has also becomehome to a mix of alien races, and is now well-known as a dangerousdestination.

But myths and legends of Terran treasurepersist on Zerzura, and most astro-archeologists agree that afabulous discovery awaits.

Chapter One

As the descending starship hit turbulence,Dr. Alexa Carter gasped, her stomach jumping.

But she didn’t feel sick, she feltexhilarated.

She stared out the window at the sand dunesof the planet below. Zerzura. The legendary planet packed withdanger, mystery and history.

She wasfinallyhere. All she couldsee was sand dune, after yellow sand dune, all the way off into thedistance. The dual suns hung in the sky, big and full—one gold andone red—baking the ground below.

But there was more to Zerzura than that. Sheknew, from all her extensive history training as anastro-archeologist, that the planet was covered in ruins—some oldand others beyond ancient. She knew every single one of the mythsand legends.

She glanced down at her lap and clutched theSync communicator she was holding. Right here she had her ticket tofinding an ancient Terran treasure.

Lexa thumbed the screen. She’d found theslim, ancient vase in the museum archives and initially thoughtnothing of the lovely etchings of priestesses on the side ofit.

Until she’d finished translating the obscuretext.

She’d been gobsmacked when she realized thetext gave her clues that not only formed a map, but also describedwhat the treasure was at the end. A famed Fabergé egg.

Excitement zapped like electricity throughher veins. After a career spent mostly in the Galactic Institute ofHistorical Preservation and on a few boring digs in the centralsystems, she was now the curator of the Darend Museum on ZetaVolantis—a private and well-funded museum that was mostly just aplace for her wealthy patron, Marius Darend, to house hisextensive, private collection of invaluable artifacts from aroundthe galaxy.

But like most in the galaxy, he had aspecial obsession with old Earth artifacts. When she’d gone to himwith the map and proposal to go on a treasure hunt to Zerzura torecover it, he’d been more than happy to fund it.

So here she was, Dr. Alexa Carter, on atreasure hunt.

Her father, of course, had almost had acoronary when she’d told her parents she’d be gone for severalweeks. That familiar hard feeling invaded her belly. Baron Carterdid not like his only daughter working, let alone being anastro-archeologist, and hereallydidn’t like her going to aplanet like Zerzura. He’d ranted about wild chases and wastes oftime, and predicted her failure.

She straightened in her seat. She’d beenignoring her father’s disapproval for years. When she had the eggin her hands, then he’d have to swallow his words.

Someone leaned over her, a broad shoulderbrushing hers. “Strap in, Princess, we’re about to land.”

Lexa’s excitement deflated a little. Therewas just one fly in her med gel.

Unfortunately, Marius had insisted she bringalong the museum’s new head of security. She didn’t know much aboutDamon Malik, but she knew she didn’t like him. The rumor among themuseum staff was that he had a super-secret militarybackground.

She looked at him now, all long, and leanand dark. He had hair as black as her own, but skin far darker. Shecouldn’t see him in the military. His manner was too…well, shewasn’t sure what, exactly, but he certainly didn’t seem the type tohappily take orders.

No, he preferred to be the one givingthem.

He shot her a small smile, but it didn’treach his dark eyes. Those midnight-blue eyes were always…intense.Piercing. Like he was assessing everything, calculating. She foundit unsettling.

“I’m already strapped in, Mr. Malik.” Shetugged on her harness and raised a brow.

“Just checking. I’m here to make sure youdon’t get hurt on this little escapade.”

“Escapade?” She bit her tongue and countedto ten. “We have a map leading to the location of a very valuableartifact. That’s hardly an escapade.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night,Princess.” He shot a glance at the window and the unforgivingdesert below. “This is a foolish risk for some silly egg.”

She huffed out a breath. Infuriating man.“Why get a job at a museum if you think artifacts are silly?”

He leaned back in his seat. “Because Ineeded a change. One where no one tried to kill me.”

Kill him? She narrowed her eyes and wonderedagain just what the hell he’d done before he’d arrived at theDarend.

A chime sounded and the pilot’s voicefiltered into the plush cabin of Marius’ starship. “Landing atKharga spaceport in three minutes. Hang on, ladies andgentlemen.”

Excitement filled Lexa’s belly. Ignoring theman beside her, she looked out the window again.

The town of Kharga was visible now. Theyflew directly over it, and she marveled at the primitive look andthe rough architecture. The buildings were made of stone—somesimple squares, others with domed roofs, and some a haphazardsprawl of both. In the dirt-lined streets, ragged beasts were ledby robed locals, and battered desert speeders flew in everydirection, hovering off the ground.

It wasn’t advanced and yes, it was rough anddangerous. So very different to the marble-lined floors andgrandeur of the Darend Museum or the Institute’s huge, imposingmuseums and research centers. And it was the complete opposite ofthe luxury she’d grown up with in the central systems.

She barely resisted bouncing in her seatlike a child. She couldn’twaitto get down there. Shewasn’t stupid, she knew there were risks, but could hold her ownand she knew when to ask for help.

The ship touched down, a cloud of dustpuffing past the window. Lexa ripped her harness off, trying—andfailing—to contain her excitement.

“Wait.” Damon grabbed her arm and pulled herback from the opening door. “I’ll go first.”

As he moved forward, she pulled a face athis broad back.Arrogant know-it-all.

The door opened with a quiet hiss. Shewatched him stop at the top of the three steps that had extendedfrom the starship. He scanned the spaceport…well, spaceport was agenerous word for it. Lexa wasn’t sure the sandy ground, beaten-upstarships lined up beside them, and the battered buildings coveredwith black streaks—were those laser scorch marks?—warranted theterm spaceport, but it was what it was.

Damon checked the laser pistols holstered athis lean hips then nodded. “All right.” He headed down thesteps.

Lexa tugged on the white shirt tucked intoher fitted khaki pants. Mr. Dark and Brooding might be dressed inall black, but she’d finally pulled her rarely used expeditionclothes out of her closet for the trip. She couldn’t wait to getthem dirty. She tucked her Sync into her small backpack, swung thebag over her shoulder and headed down the stairs.

“Our contact is supposed to meet us here.”She looked around but didn’t see anyone paying them much attention.A rough-looking freighter crew lounged near a starfreighter thatdidn’t even look like it could make it off the ground. A couple ofrobed humanoids argued with three smaller-statured reptilians.“He’s a local treasure hunter called Brocken Phoenix.”

Damon grunted. “Looks like he’s late. Isuggest we head to the central market and ask around.”

“Okay.” She was eager to see more of Khargaand soak it all in.

“Stay close to me.”

Did he have to use that autocratic tone allthe time? She tossed him a salute.

Something moved through his dark eyes beforehe shook his head and started off down the dusty street.

As they neared the market, the crowdsthickened. The noise increased as well. People had set up makeshiftstalls, tables, and tents and were selling…well, just abouteverything.

There was a hawker calling out the featuresof his droids. Lexa raised a brow. The array available wasinteresting—from stocky maintenance droids to life-like syndroidsmade to look like humans. Other sellers were offering clothes,food, weapons, collectibles, even dragon bones.

Then she saw the cages.

She gasped. “Slavers.”

Damon looked over and his face hardened.“Yeah.”

The first cage held men. All tall andwell-built. Laborers. The second held women. Anger shot throughher. “It can’t be legal.”

“We’re a long way from the central systems,Princess. You’ll find lots of stuff here on Zerzura that isn’tlegal.”

“We have to—”

He raised a lazy brow. “Do something? Unlessyou’ve got a whole bunch of e-creds I don’t know about or an armyin your back pocket, there isn’t much we can do.”

Her stomach turned over and she looked away.He might be right, but did he have to be so cold about it?

“Look.” He pointed deeper into the market ata dusty, domed building with a glowing neon sign above the door.“That bar is where I hear the treasure hunters gather.”

She wondered how he’d heard anything aboutthe place when they’d only been dirtside a few minutes. But shefollowed him toward the bar, casting one last glance at theslaves.

As they neared the building, a body flewoutward through the arched doorway. The man hit the dirt, groaning.He tried to stand before flopping face first back into thesand.

Even from where they stood, Lexa smelled theliquor fumes wafting off him. Nothing smooth and sweet like whatwas available back on Zeta Volantis. No, this smelled likehomebrewed rotgut.

Damon stepped over the man with barely aglance. At the bar entrance, he paused. “I think you should stayout here. It’ll be safer. I’ll find out what I can about Phoenixand be right back.”

She wanted to argue, but right then, twohuge giants slammed out of the bar, wrestling each other. One wasan enormous man, almost seven feet tall, with some aquaticheritage. He had pale-blue skin, large, wide-set eyes and tinygills on the side of his neck. His opponent was human with a massof dreadlocked brown hair, who stood almost as tall and broad.

The human slammed a giant fist into theaquatic’s face, shouting in a language Lexa’s lingual implantdidn’t recognize. That’s when Lexa realized the dreadlocked man wasactually a woman.

A security droid floated out of the bar. Itslaser weapons swiveled to aim at the fighting pair. “You are nolonger welcome at the Desert Dragon. Please vacate thepremises.”

Grumbling, the fighters pulled apart, thenshuffled off down the street.

Lexa swallowed. “Fine. I’ll stay outhere.”

“Stay close,” Damon warned.

She tossed him another mock salute and whenhe scowled, she felt a savage sense of satisfaction. Then he turnedand ducked inside.

She turned back to study the street. Onebuilding down, she saw a stall holder standing behind a tablecovered in what looked like small artifacts. Lexa’s heart thumped.She had to take a look.

“All original. Found here on Zerzura.” Theolder man spread his arms out over his wares. “Very, very old.” Hiseyes glowed in his ageless face topped by salt-and-pepper hair.“Very valuable.”

“May I?” Lexa indicated a small, weatheredstatue.

The man nodded. “But you break, youbuy.”

Lexa studied the small figurine. It wassupposed to resemble a Terran fertility statue—a woman withgenerous hips and breasts. She tested the weight of it before shesniffed and set it down. “It’s not a very good fake. I’d say youcreate a wire mesh frame, set it in a mold, then pour a syntheticplas in. You finish it off by spraying it with some sort of rocktexture.”

The man’s mouth slid into a frown.

Lexa studied the other items. Jewelry, smallboxes and inscribed stones. She fingered a necklace. It was by nomeans old but it was pretty.

Then she spotted it.

A small, red egg, covered in gold-metalworkand resting on a little stand.

She picked it up, cradling its slightweight. The craftwork was terrible but there was no doubt it was areplica of a Fabergé egg.

“What is this?” she asked the man.

He shrugged. “Lots of myths about the OrphicPriestesses around here. They lived over a thousand years ago andthe egg was their symbol.”

Lexa stroked the egg.

The man’s keen eyes narrowed in on her.“It’s a pretty piece. Said to be made in the image of thepriestesses’ most valuable treasure, the Goddess Egg. It wascovered in Terran rubies and gold.”

A basic history. Lexa knew from her researchthat the Goddess Egg had been brought to Zerzura by Terrancolonists escaping the Terran war and had been made by a famedjeweler on Earth named Fabergé. Unfortunately, most of its historyhad been lost.

Someone bumped into Lexa from behind. Sheignored it, shifting closer to the table.

Then a hard hand clamped down on her elbowand jerked her backward. The little red egg fell into the sand.

Lexa expected the cranky stall owner tosquawk about the egg and demand payment. Instead, he scamperedbackward with wide eyes and turned away.

Lexa’s accoster jerked her around.

“Hey,” she exclaimed.

Then she looked up. Way up.

The man was part-reptilian, with iridescentscales covering his enormous frame. He stood somewhere over six anda half feet with a tough face that looked squashed.

“Let me go.” She slapped at his hand.Idiot.

He was startled for a second and did releaseher. Then he scowled, which turned his face from frightening toterrifying. “Give me your e-creds.” He grabbed her arm, largefingers biting into her flesh, and shook her. “I want everythingtransferred to my account.”

Lexa raised a brow. “Or what?”

With his other hand, he withdrew a knife thelength of her forearm. “Or I use this.”

Chapter Two

Lexa narrowed her eyes, anger shootingthrough her. She opened her mouth, about to blast the alien idiot,when a lean, dark shadow burst between her and her attacker.

As she watched, Damon slammed a hand intothe man’s neck and the reptilian dropped like a meteor into thesand, immobilized by whatever Damon did to him.

Damon snatched up the knife. “You’ll want tothink twice before you threaten someone smaller than you.Especially a woman.” He leaned down closer to the alien. “If I geteven the smallest hint that you’ve attacked someone else while I’mon this godforsaken planet, I’ll gut you.” He turned his gaze tothe knife, holding it up, the sunlight glinting off the blade. “AndI’m keeping this.”

The reptilian groaned, holding a hand to hisneck. “What did you do to me?”

“It’ll wear off…eventually. Now, get out ofhere before I remember I really, really want to hurt you.”

The man staggered to his feet, and with onehand on his neck and a nasty scowl thrown in their direction,teetered away.

When Damon turned to face her, Lexa openedher mouth to thank him, but he grabbed her arm and yanked her awayfrom the stall.

“I leave you out here for two minutes,two minutes, and you get yourself into trouble.”

Her mouth snapped closed. “I hardly—”

But he was on a roll and wasn’t listening toher. “I knew this treasure hunt was a mistake.”

“It wasn’tmyfault that cretinattacked me.”

“You’re trouble. I knew it the first time Isaw you swishing through the hallowed halls of the museum in one ofyour tight skirts.”

She gasped. “My skirts are not tight.” Shesniffed. “They’re fitted.”

“Trouble,” he muttered. “That idiot wasgoing to rob you and slit your pretty throat, or worse, sell you tothose slavers in the market.”

She made a scoffing noise. “Like I said, notmy fault. Besides, I had it under control.”

But Damon had built up a head of steam. “Ijust wanted a quiet, easy job for my retirement. Museum security,they told me. Just a bunch of artifacts to keep secure. Easy.” Hisdark eyes flashed at her. “Yet here I am, on this backwater scummyplanet, with a princess who thought she could subdue a robber witha smile.”

“Not a smile.”

“No? So how were you going to show the big,bad alien you meant business, then?”

She didn’t telegraph her intent. She justswiped out with her leg, knocking in his knee and sending him offbalance.

He regained it far faster than he shouldhave. The man had skills; that was for sure. He grabbed her arms,but she was already moving. A sharp chop to his side had the airwhooshing out of his lungs. He expected her to pull back, so shemoved in close and jammed her knee to his crotch.

Not hard enough to hurt him, but firm enoughhe felt it.

His breathing sped up a little. Not as muchas she expected from the short, but intense scuffle, but anoticeable change.

“Maybe I underestimated you,” he saidquietly.

“And don’t you forget it.” She lowered herleg and pulled away from him.

“I still think you’re a trouble magnet.”

“And I still think you’re an arrogant ass.”She shot him a thin smile. “Guess we’re even.”

He studied her with contemplation on hisface. “Who taught you your moves?”

“My brothers.”


“My fiveolderbrothers.”

Shock registered. “Shit.”

She smiled smugly now. “It gets better.Three are in the Galactic Security Services, one is anIntergalactic marshal and the last is with the planetary police onMaxon Prime.”

Damon made a choking noise. “Princess,you’re lucky you’ve ever had a date.”

She ignored the comment and nodded towardthe bar. “So, did you find Brocken Phoenix?”

Damon’s face hardened. “No. And what I foundout isn’t very promising.”

“Oh?” Her chest tightened. She didn’t wantanything to jeopardize this hunt. “He came recommended.”

“Yeah, sounds like hewasahalf-decent treasure hunter…before he started drinking. Apparently,he wastes most days drinking in the local bars, he drinks on hishunts, and he’s mean with it.”

Her shoulders slumped. “Dammit.”

“You looking for Phoenix?”

Damon and Lexa both swiveled, Damon movingin front of her in an instant. She scowled at his back beforesidestepping around him.

A handsome teenager stood slouched againstthe whitewashed wall of a nearby building, watching them. He haddark hair in dire need of a cut, as it was falling into hisbright-blue eyes, and a lanky body that he was still growing into.But he had the clear markings of making a spectacular man one day.Oh yes, the ladies were going to have to watch out for thisone.

He was also sporting a black eye that wasslowly turning a sickly green.

“You know Brocken Phoenix?” she asked.

“Yeah.” The young man pushed away from thewall and swaggered over, hooking his thumbs in the pockets of hiswell-worn, brown cargo pants. “You’re after a treasure hunter?”

“We are,” Damon answered, eyeing the boy.“One who knows Zerzura’s ruins very well.”

“Then I’m your man.” He jerked a thumbagainst his chest. “I was born and raised here. Grew up playingamong most of the ruins on Zerzura.”

Damon and Lexa shared a quick glance.

Lexa raised a brow. “And you are?”

“Dathan Phoenix. The best treasure hunter onZerzura.”


Damon liked the boy’s confidence. Or rather,cockiness. It reminded Damon of himself at the same age. He’dneeded outsized confidence and swagger to survive on thegang-ridden planet where he’d grown up.

Lexa tilted her head. “I thought BrockenPhoenix was the best treasure hunter on the planet?”

Something hard moved in the boy’s eyes. “Ifyou can keep him out of a bottle or ten of kila. Right now, he’spassed out in his bunk at his junkyard and not likely to be upanytime soon. He’ll be barely able to take a piss let alone leadyou on a treasure hunt.” The teenager cleared his throat and smiledat Lexa. “Excuse the crudeness, ma’am.”

Lexa gave him a look. “I’ve heard worse thanthat before.” She cursed under her breath. “And dammit, I paidBrocken a deposit.”

“I’m his son. I know everything he knows,but I’m younger and harder working.” A wicked smile. “And morecharming.” Phoenix’s gaze drifted down Lexa’s body, lingering onthe curves of her hips.

Damon pressed a hand to her shoulder. “Toneit down, kid.”

Damon knew Lexa would have no interest inthis boy teetering on the verge of manhood, no matter how blue hiseyes and how bright his smile, but Damon felt driven by someunfamiliar burning feeling in his chest. He was here to protecther, whether she liked it or not, and he needed to make sure thekid knew she was off-limits.

Phoenix lifted his hands, palms held up.

Damon shook his head. He could hardly blamethe boy. Lexa Carter might be a pain but she was a looker.Space-dark hair she usually left loose in the museum was pulledback in a long tail, accenting a beautiful, interesting face. Shehad wide, brown eyes, tipped up at the edges, and full, redlips.

And her body…it was exactly as a woman’sshould be, with dangerous curves that begged a man to sin. Herwhite shirt and tan trousers did nothing to hide her figure—thetrousers pulled tight over her ass and enough buttons were open onher shirt to showcase the slim chain she wore and the purplependant nestled in her cleavage.

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