Authors: Christine Pope
Lassiter was too much of a professional to allow any satisfaction to show on his face. Instead, he inquired, “Does Jerem know?”
“Yes,” she replied immediately. At least she would not have to lie about that.
“And I don’t suppose there’s any point in asking what’s really going on here?”
For a long moment Miala was silent, staring back at the doctor. Quin Lassiter had always been far more understanding of Jerem’s pranks than Alic’s mother, Kya—possibly because he might have remembered being a boy and getting into a few scrapes himself. Miala had known the doctor for more than seven standard years, and they had always been on friendly terms. But she knew she couldn’t tell him the truth—at least, not all of it.
“I don’t know what happened exactly,” she said, hoping her pause hadn’t been too telling. “Galen—Captain Marr—wasn’t in much shape to give me the particulars when he came here.”
“Any reason why someone would have targeted him for such at attack?”
Only a few million
. Thorn had enemies all over the galaxy, but what any of them would have been doing here on Nova Angeles, she couldn’t guess. The mercenary was always so careful to cover his tracks, and besides, there were better places for an ambush than a spaceport on a well-policed planet. She didn’t dare voice her growing worry that this had been personal, that somehow a tendril of Murgan’s organization had reached all the way out to Nova Angeles for its revenge. And if that were the case, was her home soon to be under siege?
“People have gotten attacked at the spaceport before,” she offered.
“True,” Lassiter said. “But they call the local security force and go to the hospital to get patched up. And if you don’t mind my saying so, your ‘friend’ in there looks as if he usually can take care of himself.”
You have no idea
, Miala thought, but she did not bother to argue with the doctor. After all, he was correct—if they truly had nothing to hide, then they would have gone to the hospital and submitted a report from there. “He doesn’t like to deal with local security if he can avoid it. He’s had a few…bad experiences in the past.”
Up went the eyebrow again, but Lassiter said only, “Well, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t make a full recovery. He’s in remarkable physical condition, and the wound looked worse than it really was. But he still needs to rest for a few days, to recover from the blood loss.”
Miala knew that was easier said than done, but she nodded. She would fight that battle with Thorn when necessary. Knowing the simple words were not enough, she said, “Thank you, Quin.”
“I’m glad I could help.” A thoughtful look crossed his clear gray eyes. “And I’m glad Jerem got to know his father—even under these circumstances.”
On that much they were certainly in agreement. “So am I,” Miala replied. Then, feeling she needed to offer some explanation, she went on, “I didn’t know whether I would ever see Captain Marr again. I thought perhaps it would be better if Jerem thought his father was dead, rather than spending his childhood hoping to see a man who might never have a part in his life.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Mia,” Lassiter said. “I’d say this is all between you and Jerem and Captain Marr.” His expression grew more sober. “But I would seriously consider contacting the local security force if you have even the slightest worry that this isn’t an isolated attack. For your safety, and your son’s, if nothing else.”
She knew he was probably right, but she also knew that she could never expose Thorn to the probing questions of RilSec’s detectives. That way was fraught with danger. Besides, having Thorn around—even in his current condition—was probably safer than surrounding the house with a detachment of local officers. His adversaries might have gotten the drop on him once, but she was sure that wouldn’t happen again.
“I’ll take that into consideration,” Miala said, which was the standard line she always used in consultation when she didn’t want to offend a client but knew she would go probably go ahead and do it her own way in the end.
Sharp as he was, Lassiter caught her meaning. He shook his head slightly, then lifted his shoulders in a gesture recognized across the galaxy as one that would absolve him of all future responsibility. “I’ll just get my things and check on him one last time.”
Miala unlocked the door, and the doctor went in to reclaim his medical case, but not before listening to Thorn’s pulse and checking him for any fever. Apparently Lassiter was satisfied with what he found, for he returned the last of his implements to his case and locked it up.
Thorn opened his eyes and fastened the doctor with his level dark stare. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Quin replied. “Now show how thankful you are by staying in bed and getting some rest.”
“Sure,” was all the mercenary said, but Miala knew that his agreement would last only as long as the current peace did. If his adversaries showed themselves within a mile of the property, she was sure Thorn would be off to take them down in a flash.
Shaking his head slightly, Quin moved past Miala, out into the upstairs corridor. She followed him down the stairs and on to the front entry, thanked him again, then closed and locked the door behind him, triple-checking the security system as she did so. Every way into or out of the house was wired with motion detectors and hidden micro-cameras; the place was as secure as a bank vault. But still she felt uneasy, as if unseen eyes watched her every movement.
Troubled, Miala ascended the stairs once more, only to find Jerem’s pajama-clad form standing in the upstairs hallway.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said sharply. “Go back to bed.”
“I thought I heard voices. It sounded sort of like Dr. Lassiter.”
Damn it, she was just too tired for this. Of course at some point Jerem would have to be told what happened, but Eryk Thorn wasn’t in any immediate danger, and explanations could wait until morning. Right now she just wanted to crawl back into bed—slowly and carefully, so as not to jar the mercenary—and let black sleep blot out the evening’s worries.
“Everything’s fine,” she lied. “We can talk in the morning.”
Jerem threw her a dubious look, but Miala fastened her sternest “don’t you dare question me” parental stare on her son, and after a few seconds he heaved an exaggerated sigh and went back into his room. She thought she heard him mutter, “Why do I have to miss out on all the fun?” before the door shut behind him, and she shook her head.
Oh, this is just a barrel of fun, kid
, she thought.
Don’t worry, Jerem—I’m sure the party is just getting started.
But since Jerem had not directed his words at her specifically, she felt safe enough in ignoring him and going on back into her own room.
Even in the soft semidarkness Miala could see Thorn startle as she entered, the barrel of the gun pointing in her direction, but he relaxed as he saw it was only she and not some hostile intruder. Going to the wardrobe, she pulled off the clothes she had donned to meet Lassiter and, with a sigh, drew out a sleeveless nightshirt and matching pair of loose pants. No need for lacy nightgowns tonight, that was for sure.
“Sorry,” came Thorn’s voice from the bed, and she turned, feeling slightly guilty. Surely he couldn’t have known what she was thinking.
“For what?” she asked, approaching the bed and then sliding gingerly under the covers. Her pillow now had no case, but she was too tired to get back up and go to the linen closet to retrieve a new one. With care she turned onto her right side so she could face the mercenary, and then gave him a quizzical look. An apology was the last thing she had expected from Eryk Thorn.
His face was impassive as always, but she thought she could detect a gleam of anger far back in those dark eyes. “For being sloppy. I should have been more on my guard.”
“Well, downtown Rilsport isn’t exactly known for its criminal activity,” Miala pointed out.
“Just because a place looks safe doesn’t mean it is safe.”
She couldn’t argue with him on that. Instead, she asked, “Did you have any idea that we might have been followed?”
“We weren’t. I know that much.”
“So the bastards must’ve still had agents here on Rilsport. Someone at Murgan’s compound survived, probably. We didn’t exactly hang around to check for sure—just blasted away as soon as we could.” Thorn’s jaw line tightened slightly. “That was sloppy, too. I was just thinking about getting you out of there.”
“And I appreciate that, believe me.”
His head moved just the tiniest fraction on the pillow, but he made no comment. After a few seconds, he said, “So whoever was left on Iradia sent a subspace transmission on ahead to their buddies here, just to let them know that things had gone sour at Murgan’s place. And they were waiting for me.”
“Who were they?”
A small lift of the shoulders. “Typical goons for hire. Locals, looked like. Doesn’t matter—they’re not breathing anymore.”
No doubt. Thorn’s casual attitude toward death—even deaths he had caused—still could give her pause, but in this case it had been simple self-defense. All she could do was be thankful that three to one was still easy odds for the mercenary. “What—what did you do with them?” she asked, after a small pause.
“Rolled ’em into an alley, and dumped some old packing crates on top of them. Someone’ll find them by the stink eventually.”
Miala absorbed that, then said, “And what now? Will there be more?”
Nothing like a little sugar-coating to make the bad news go down better
, she thought, and swallowed. “So shouldn’t we be doing something?”
A gleam of white teeth in the half-dark. “Don’t you trust me?”
It was in her to make a sarcastic retort, but instead Miala only said quietly, “Yes.”
A lesser man would probably have made a teasing remark at that point. But Thorn simply continued, “We’re as secure here as probably anyplace else in Rilsport. You’ve got a good system in this house. I doubt they’d try anything else tonight—and right now I don’t even know how many more of them there are. Besides,” he went on, with another half-grin pulling at his mouth, “I’m under doctor’s orders to get some rest. And so should you.”
Miala wondered how she could sleep with unknown assailants possibly surveiling the house as they spoke, but she also knew Thorn would not say it was safe to rest if in fact it weren’t.
Suddenly he reached out and smoothed the hair back from her face, and she wanted to weep from the rush of desire she felt for him, desire that must be denied yet again.
“There’ll be other nights,” he said quietly.
Somehow his simple words calmed her. They hinted at a future together, proved that he still wanted her. This was a momentary delay, nothing else. She nodded, and shifted her weight as carefully as she could so she lay flat on her back. Closing her eyes, she told herself that it would be better in the morning. She could feel the calm slowly overtaking her, brought on no doubt by the reassuring sound of Thorn’s deep, steady breaths. At least she could lie here beside him. Sleep began to creep over her slowly, slowly...
Only to be startled upright by the sound of the door chime breaking the late-night stillness. Blinking, Miala immediately pushed back the bed covers, even as Thorn sat up as well. She stared over at him, wondering what in the world she should do.
“I doubt Murgan’s thugs’d ring the door chime,” he said.
The monitor mounted on the wall across from the bed had a direct feed into her home’s security system. Miala grasped the remote and turned on the monitor, then tapped in a command to bring up the view of the front courtyard. No, they were most certainly not more of Murgan’s hired killers. The two men who stood on her front step were clean-cut and starched, wearing the dark green uniforms of RilSec, the local police force.
Miala glanced over at Thorn, who merely cocked an eyebrow as he looked at the flat video feed. Damn him—why couldn’t he ever look as worried as she felt? Then she transferred her gaze back to the monitor and thought,
This can’t be good…
For the second time that night Miala hurried down the stairs to open the door, but this time she did not bother to change out of her nightclothes, thinking that showing up fully dressed might look too suspicious. Instead she quickly drew on a warm quilted dressing gown and went to meet the officers with what she hoped was an appropriately puzzled expression.
“Can I help you?” she asked, after tapping in the code that would allow the door to open.
The older of the two police officers replied. “Sorry to disturb you, Ms.—” and he paused for a second to look down at the tablet he held— “Felaris. I’m Officer Korr, and this is Officer Rhyse. We need to ask you a few questions.”
“Questions?” Miala echoed. At least she didn’t have to feign the note of worry in her voice.
“It will only take a few minutes,” the other officer, the younger one, said. He flashed her a quick smile. His blue eyes seemed to radiate reassurance.
“All right,” she said, after a slight pause. After all, what else could she do? If she refused them entry, it would only make them more suspicious. She could only hope that Thorn would continue to make himself scarce. And they hadn’t said anything about wanting to search the place, so if she could just keep the two of them downstairs, everything should be all right.
She led them to the larger of the two salons on the ground floor, a formal room where she and Jerem spent very little time but which she hoped might intimidate them, with its sleek
-hide couches and expensive canvases on the walls. At the very least the room seemed to breathe out respectability through its pores.
“Coffee?” Miala asked. Part of her motivation was simple courtesy, but she also thought if she were allowed to hide in the kitchen for a few moments to prepare the beverage, she could take the time to school her thoughts, to think up plausible lies for whatever questions they might ask. Had they somehow divined Thorn’s presence within her home? But how would they even know who he was? And—