In the harsh Northern Waste where human life is worth little, ice trucker Raina Bowen has learned to keep her eyes open and her knife close at hand. She's spent her life on the run, one step ahead of the megalomaniac who hunts her. All she wants is to stay out of trouble and haul her load of grain to Gladow Station—but trouble finds her in the form of a sexy stranger called Wizard. He has the trucking pass she needs, and she has to drag him out of a brawl with the very people she's trying to hide from in order to get it.
She may have rescued him, but Raina's not foolish enough to see Wizard as anything close to helpless. He's hard and honed and full of secrets—secrets that may destroy them both. As they race across the Waste, trying to outrun rival truckers, ice pirates, and the powerful man bent on their destruction, Raina's forced to admit that trouble's found her. And this time, there's nowhere left to run.
(Driven was originally released under the pseudonym Eve Kenin.)
Each of these stories is a little different flavor of the apocalypse. I love Eve's description of Driven: a post apocalyptic trans-Siberian ice trucker romance. That works for me. I hope it works for you. – Thomas K. Carpenter
"…anyone looking for something different, will find [Silver's] steamy, sinewy universe great fun…"– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Edgy, steamy, action packed, and plotted with nail-biting tension…"– Library Journal, starred review, Best Genre Fiction (2007)
"[Silver] expertly fuses non-stop action and adventure, a cutting-edge, exceptionally inventive setting and a terrific, take-charge, no-nonsense heroine in "Driven," a fresh, fabulously fun futuristic romance."– Chicago Tribune
"…packs a wallop…The action never stops…the characters are compelling and unforgettable…one of the most entertaining books I've read all year."– All About Romance, Desert Isle Keeper Review, Best Cabin/Road Romance
"One of the best books I've read in ages."– New York Times Bestselling Author Marjorie M. Liu
"…kind of Mad Max meets Red Dawn…"– dearauthor.com
"Take one tough heroine and a hero who is more than he seems; throw in gritty action and sizzling passion and you have the perfect recipe for success. Awesome!"– RT Book Reviews, Reviewers Choice Award (2007)
The air was stale, rank with the stink of smoke, sweat, and old beer. Bob's Truck Stop. Nice place for a meal.
Raina Bowen sat at a small table, back to the wall, posture deceptively relaxed. Inside, she was coiled tighter than the Merckle shocks that were installed in her rig, but it was better to appear unruffled. Never let 'em see you sweat. That had been one of Sam's many mottos.
She glanced around the crowded room, mentally cataloguing the Siberian gun truckers at the counter, the cadaverous pimp in the corner and his ferret-faced companion, the harried waitress who deftly dodged the questing hand that reached out to snag her as she passed. In the center of the room was a small raised platform with a metal pole extending to the grime-darkened ceiling. A scantily clad girl—barely out of puberty—wiggled and twirled around the pole. Raina looked away. But for a single desperate act, one that had earned her freedom, she might have been that girl.
Idly spinning the same half-empty glass of warm beer that she'd been nursing for the past hour, she looked through the grimy windows at the front of the truck stop. Frozen, colorless, the bleak expanse stretched with endless monotony until the high-powered floodlights tapered off and the landscape was swallowed by the black night sky.
A balmy minus-thirty outside. And it would only get colder the farther north they went. Raina had a keen dislike of the cold, but if she were the first to reach Gladow Station with her load of genetically engineered grain, there'd be a fat bonus of fifty-million interdollars. That'd be more than enough to warm her to the cockles of her frozen heart.
More than enough to buy Beth's safety.
Keeping her gaze on the door, Raina willed it to open. She couldn't wait much longer. Where the hell was Wizard? Sitting here—a woman alone in a place like this—drew too much attention. She wanted no one to remember her face. Anonymity was a precious commodity, one she realized had slipped through her fingers as from the corner of her eye she watched one of the Siberians begin to weave drunkenly across the room.
"Well, hello, sweet thing." He stopped directly in front of her, kicked the extra chair out from the table, and shifted it closer before dropping his bulk onto the torn Naugahyde. He was shrouded in layers of tattered cloth that were stained and frayed, the stink of him hitting her nostrils before he finished his greeting.
"Leave. Now." Keeping her voice low and even, Raina snaked one hand along her waist toward the small of her back, resting her fingers on the smooth handle of her knife.
The Siberian smiled at her, revealing the brown stubs of three rotting teeth. "You can't chase me off so easy. I've been watching you." He gestured at the front of his pants. "You need a man, sweet thing."
Uh-huh. "And you think you're a man?"
The trucker frowned at her question. His thick brows shot up as he realized he'd been insulted. Undeterred, he leaned forward, catching her ponytail with one scarred and dirty hand. "I'll show you how much man I am. Give us a kiss, sweet thing."
His tongue was already out and reaching as he pulled her face closer to his.
"Last warning," Raina said softly, wishing he would listen.
He gave a hard tug on her ponytail. Raina slid her knife from its sheath, bringing it up with a sharp twist, neatly slicing through the tip of the trucker's tongue. Blood splattered in all directions, thick and hot. With an enraged howl he jerked back, letting loose his hold on her as he clapped both hands over his mouth. Dark blood dripped down his unshaven chin to pool on the tabletop.
Raina sent a quick look at the rest of the Siberians. Their attention was firmly fixed on the girl who was shimmying up and down the pole. Returning her gaze to the moaning trucker, she picked up the stained scrap of cloth that passed for a serviette and slowly wiped her blade clean. Serviettes used to be made of paper, but that was a long time ago, when there had still been enough trees to provide pulp.
She sighed. Anonymity was gone now. She'd have to settle for second best: adding to her reputation.
"Name's Raina Bowen," she said, "not sweet thing. And the last thing I need is a man."
Well, that wasn't exactly true. She needed one man in particular. Wizard. And she needed his precious trucking license. But he was nowhere to be seen.
The Siberian's eyes widened as he registered her name, and a flicker of recognition flared in their dull depths. Nice to have a reputation, even if she didn't quite deserve it. This lovely little encounter would just add to the mystique. Unfortunately, it would also add to the risk of being found. Damn.
He reached for her again, his hands rough, his expression stormy. He was mad, challenged, belittled, and he wanted revenge. What was it with Siberian gun truckers?
Twirling her hair around one finger, Raina shifted her expression, lowering her lashes over her blue eyes in a come-hither invitation, curving her lips in a winsome smile. The trucker blinked, clearly confused by her abrupt change in manner. He leaned in—Lord, some people never learned—and Raina deftly clipped him hard under the chin with the hilt of her knife.
He slumped across the Formica table, unconscious, mouth hanging open, leaving her with a blood splattered tabletop, a ruined beer, and an end to her patience.
His companions were looking this way now. Raina lowered her head as though enthralled by her table-mate, using her body to shield his inert form from view. Her ruse worked and the men nudged one another and laughed before turning back to the stripper.
Well, that had bought her about three minutes.
A sudden blast of light sliced through the frost-dusted window, spreading a glowing circle across the floor. Raina wondered if Wizard had finally arrived. Hope flared, and then faded. There was too much light for just one vehicle.
Trucks. Lots of 'em. They parked in a circle, the beams of their headlights illuminating a circumscribed area.
Like an arena.
She'd seen this set up before. The new arrivals were expecting entertainment—the kind that involved fists—and they were using their rigs to create the venue. She stared through the glass, the muscles of her shoulders and neck knotting with tension. Illegal gladiator games. There was going to be a bloodbath.
Hell. Wizard or not, she'd outstayed her time here. Tossing a handful of interdollars on the table, Raina shrugged into her parka and headed outside, staying well back in the shadows as she watched the scene unfold. The trucks were huge, as tall as two-story houses, painted slate gray, and on the front in bold silver letters, the name JANSON.
Men were emerging from the cabs. Big, burly guys, dressed in hides and skins, bristling with weapons. Janson company men. How nice. The Janson owned the ICW—Intercontinental Worldwide—the longest highway ever built. Or at least, they acted like they did.
She could feel the tension in the air. Taste it. Someone had pissed these guys off, big-time.
At the far end of the lot was a lone truck. Nice transport. Black. Clean. Nameless. A non-company driver, just like her. Poor bastard. He was obviously tonight's planned entertainment.
"Hey, Big Luc," one of the Jansons yelled, moving into place in the circle that had formed. "That piece of crap jumped line. We gotta teach him some manners."
Jumped line? What moron would jump line on Janson trucks? They went first. It was an unwritten law. Anyone who flouted it was either insane or bent on a quick death. Raina watched as money exchanged hands. Odds were obviously in favor of Big Luc.
"Wizard's got some balls coming here tonight," a second man called. "He shoulda kept driving. Maybe we'd have let him live another day."
Wizard. Oh, no. Of all the morons in the frozen north, she had to hook up with the one who had picked a fight with a good portion of the Janson army. She narrowed her eyes at the huge black rig, the one at the far end of the lot. Wizard's rig. Damn, damn, damn.
He was of no use to her now. Still, she couldn't help but try to figure a way that she could salvage the trucking pass he was supposed to give her.
"Luc. Luc. Luc." The crowd was calling their champion.
In response to the cry, a huge man swaggered into the circle of light, raising his arms as he slowly spun around and around, egging on his admirers. Beneath the flat wool cap that clung to his skull, bushy brows drew down over a nose flattened and skewed to one side, and just below it bristled a thick thatch of mud-colored whiskers. An animal pelt hung over his massive shoulders, the head still intact, the jagged teeth catching the light.
Raina glanced again at the black rig at the far end of the lot. She'd never met Wizard, had contacted him on Sam's instructions—which in and of itself was a questionable recommendation—but she couldn't imagine he'd be any match for Luc. She had a hard time imagining anyone as a match for Luc.
The door of the cab opened, and a man swung down. He was tall, wearing a black parka, the hood pulled up, obscuring his features. She felt a moment's pity, and then squelched the unwelcome emotion. Not her fight. Not her business. Sam's words of loving fatherly advice rang in her head as clear as if he were standing beside her. If there's no profit in it for you, stupid girl, then walk away. Just walk away. What do you care for some sucker's lousy luck?
Not only was there no profit in it for her, but the jackass had cost her. Wizard was supposed to show up an hour ago with a temporary Janson trucking license that would allow her to jump the queue all nice and legal, behind the Janson but ahead of the other indies. Instead, he was an hour late, and he'd dragged a frigging army with him. Too bad the army wasn't on his side.
Wizard strode forward. He made it halfway across the parking lot, halfway to the door of the truck stop before Luc's fist connected with his face. Raina winced. She had a brief impression of long, dark hair as the hood fell back and Wizard's head snapped sideways. He went down, rolling head over heels across the inflexible sheet of solid ice.
In three strides Luc was on him, the steel reinforced toe of his company-issue boots finding a nice home right between Wizard's ribs. Wizard didn't move, didn't moan, and for a second Raina wondered if that first punch had knocked him out cold. With a laugh, Luc kicked him again, and then nudged him with his boot, once, twice. He backed off, waving at the group that surrounded him, shaking hands as he slowly made his way toward the door of the diner, acting as though he'd just rid the world of public enemy number one.
The remaining Jansons closed in, a pack of avid rats, eyes glittering with malevolent intent. There was no doubt in Raina's mind that they were going to beat Wizard within an inch of his life, a warning to anyone who tried to cross them.
Raina glanced at her snowscooter. She'd been smart enough to park her rig in a safe place and use the scooter to get her to the truck stop. No sense inviting trouble. Now she wondered if she could maneuver into the circle of men surrounding Wizard's prone form, nab him, and get them both out of here before someone got killed. She hesitated, the thought going against her instinct for self-preservation. Why she was even considering this she couldn't say. Hadn't Sam Bowen beaten all compassion out of her? Stupid girl. Empathy will only get you killed.
Squelching the voice in her head, she focused on the guy sprawled across the frozen ground. He had the damned trucking license, and she needed it. All she had to do was figure a way to get it.
She cringed as Wizard pushed himself to his feet. Shaking his head as if to clear it, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. God, he didn't even have the sense to stay down.
"Hey, Luc," he called softly, the sound of his voice drawing Raina up short. "While you're in there, you want to fetch me a beer?" He imitated Luc's drawl to perfection.
Raina closed her eyes and sighed. Dim. Thick. Brainless. He was a dead man. And all for the sake of what? His machismo? She shifted, trying to get a look at his face, but he'd pulled his hood up again.
Big Luc turned slowly to face him. "You got a death wish, boy?"
"Name's Wizard, and the only thing I'm wishing for is a long cold beer." Oh, that slow, lazy drawl. It should be illegal for a guy that dumb to have a voice that smooth.
"Well, Wiiiiz-aaard..." Luc guffawed, slapping one fleshy palm on his thigh. "You ready to die?"
Run. Run. Run. You might have a chance. Raina willed him to move. Big Luc would kill him and leave his frozen carcass in the snow. The wild dogs would pick him clean, and no one would care. She'd make herself not care.
Luc lunged at him. Raina expected Wizard to step back, to dodge, to move. Instead, he shot out one fist with lightning speed, and dropped Luc in his tracks.
She blinked, certain her brain was processing something other than what her eyes had seen.
For a moment she waited, convinced that Luc would get up, would charge like an enraged bull and cut Wizard down. Without a backward look, Wizard turned and strode in the direction of the diner, as if he hadn't just accomplished the impossible. As if he hadn't just invited his own assassination.
And, oh, the way he moved... confident, fluid, a man comfortable in his own skin. Raina watched him for a long moment, and then looked away, wondering what the hell was wrong with her. Why should she care about the easy way some useless gun trucker moved his hips?
Whoooo. Get it together, Bowen.
No one spoke. No one moved. It felt like no one dared breathe, and then two guys stepped forward, hauled Big Luc up by his armpits, and dragged him away.
Stupid man. Stupid, stupid man. Wizard had just made a mighty powerful enemy in the Janson Trucking Company. Actually, they'd been his enemies from the second he'd jumped line, but they might have let him live... suffer, but live. Maybe. Now she didn't think so. They were likely to gut him and feed his intestines down his own throat.
Her breath hissed from between her teeth. She needed the Gladow winnings. For herself. For Beth.
She needed that temporary license, which meant she was just as stupid as Wizard was, because she was about to step into his fight.
Hugging the shadows, she sprinted to the edge of the wall, climbed onto her snowscooter, and gunned the engine. She spun the scooter in an arc. Heart racing, she stopped sharply near the door of the truck stop, just behind the dumb jackass who had so thoroughly messed up her plans.
"Get on," Raina shouted. Several of the Janson men were closing in, and she was glad that the hood of her anorak hid her features from view. She could only pray that they wouldn't recognize her. Yeah, right. And if by some miracle they didn't, all they had to do was ask around at Bob's and the Siberian she'd cut would be only too happy to provide her name. This was her night for dumb choices. "If you have one iota of sense, get on."