By: Melissa Landers

The second man knelt by her side, then roughly yanked back her hair to peer at her with eyes colder than the grave. Finally, he gave a satisfied nod and released her. “Her story matches what her captain told me.”

At the mention of Renny, her head snapped up. “What did you do to him?”

“The boy’s on New Haven,” the Daeva said, ignoring her. “Let’s dispatch a recovery team for him and set our course for Eturia. There’s a bonus for returning the princess before the next gathering moon. I don’t want to wait.”

When Kane arrived at Planet X, he had to do a double take.

A lot had happened in the months since his last visit—enough that the barren, moon-size planet now boasted an impenetrable shield and the foundations of a manufacturing plant unfolding across its frozen landscape, all provided by the Solar League in the interest of quickening Infinium production.

Kane had no burning love for the government, but he couldn’t blame the League for wanting to get its hands on another shipment of super-fuel. One chunk of Infinium had been powering the Banshee for weeks, allowing the captain to make ten times the deliveries at half the cost. Colonization in the fringe was expected to triple as soon as Infinium reached the open market. With his invention, Gage Spaulding had single-handedly transformed the fringe from a desolate hellhole to a promised land for the poor.

Not bad for a homeschooled eighteen-year-old.

Once Kane made his way inside the underground compound, he hardly recognized that, either. The typically silent bunker hallways now bustled with activity as engineers and construction foremen scurried from one makeshift conference room to another, having been forced to seek shelter from the icy winds aboveground.

Kane and the others eventually found Gage standing behind the sofa in the living room, which was being used as a command center. Surrounded on all sides by advisors, Gage pinched his temples and blew a lock of dark hair away from his face, probably wishing he could retreat to his lab and leave the business details to someone else.

As soon as Gage glanced up and locked eyes with Doran, his expression brightened. He lifted a hand to silence the chatter around him and strode toward his brother wearing the broadest smile Kane had ever seen on him. Gage and Doran were twins, identical except for the scar tissue that marred Gage’s face. They’d recently found each other after a decade apart, and they were still navigating the uncharted waters of their relationship.

With a prickle of envy, Kane stood back to give them some space, thinking about the half brothers he’d never met and probably never would. There were three of them, or so he’d heard. For all he knew, his dad had a bastard at every port.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Gage said to his twin while extending a hand. The two clasped palms and moved in for a hug, but must have thought better of it because they pulled back at the last second and gave each other an awkward pat on the shoulder. “You were the business intern, not me. I’m in over my head.”

“Is Mom here?” asked Doran while sweeping a cautious gaze around the room. It was clear he didn’t want to see her. Understandable, as she’d faked Gage’s death and kept the twins apart for years. Their dad was a real prize, too. He was serving ten years on a penal colony for trying to steal Gage’s invention.

Maybe Kane didn’t have it so bad in the family department.

“No,” Gage said. “She’s on Earth negotiating taxes with the Solar League.”

Doran released a long breath. “I’ll see what I can do while I’m here.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Spaulding,” interrupted a tall, middle-aged man in a colorful patchwork tunic Kane recognized as Calypsian. “I need an answer to take back to my council. We’re willing to invest, but only if you give us exclusive distribution rights inside the tourist circle.”

Kane suppressed an eye roll. He’d dealt with merchants from Calypso during his clerk’s apprenticeship. They always acted like a bunch of marriage-hungry debutantes—obsessed with monogamy. But exclusive trade was rarely a good idea, so he’d learned how to keep the figurative ring off his finger. With a lazy smile, Kane sauntered up to the man and slung an arm around his shoulder. It wasn’t a move he’d make with just anyone. Casual touch was common on Calypso.

“You’ll have to forgive our young genius here,” Kane said to the man while flourishing a hand at Gage. “He’s a visionary, not a businessman. Guys like him value change over profit.” Leaning in like they were old friends, Kane quietly added, “Frustrating for men like us, huh?”