Saturday, October 25, 2008

In Her Ladyship's Service by Brenna Lyons

Jelise Jackson grumbled a curse, kicking the bars covering the windows and wincing as the spike of pain raced up her leg in response. She limped a step before she felt confident enough to place her full weight on it again.

It was just a lark, her mind argued. She hadn’t stolen a car and taken it across state lines, or snatched a kid or anything stupid like that. It was just a broken window, and that jerk deserved it! So why were the feds after her, instead of the city cops?

She laid her head against the bars, gritting back a scream of frustration. It just wasn’t fair.

Life isn’t fair.

“Oh, shut up,” she grumbled.

What did I do, pick some Senator’s son to tangle with?

“Damn it! Story of my life.”

Shouting and fighting echoed through the abandoned building, and Jelise stiffened, looking at the door in confusion. “What the hell?” she whispered.

Joey and the other guys had run for it. Why wouldn’t they? The feds wanted her. No one else was of interest to them.

So, who would be fighting? She rolled her eyes at the idea of Joey taking on feds. “I’m not that good in bed,” she quipped. The idea of Pete or Steve coming back for her was even more ridiculous. They’d had their asses kicked and their push for sex shut down far too many times to make that believable.

The sounds came closer. Then silence fell—an ominous absence of noise that had her heart pounding in near terror. Jelise shivered from a combination of unease and the winter wind streaming through the broken window at her back.

The doorknob rattled, and a man grumbled words she couldn’t make out. Jelise grabbed the staff she’d set aside.

The door splintered around the lock then swung in. A huge man ducked to enter the room, and she gasped in response. He towered over her five-feet-ten and was built like a dark-haired Greek statue, curls and all. He was a man who would have dwarfed even Joey, and he was certainly better looking than any man she’d ever met.

For a long moment, Jelise gaped at him, for once forgetting the survival skills that had kept her alive this long. She tightened her hold on the staff...then forced her grip to gentle. It was likely she’d need to use it in moments. Whoever this guy was, he didn’t look particularly friendly.

His brown eyes narrowed as he panned his gaze over her body and settled his gaze on her staff. “Jelise Jackson?” he asked, his hand touching then leaving a wicked-looking dagger hung on his belt.

Great! For the second time in a night, some strange man was asking for her by name, but who was this one? She took in his black and silver uniform in confusion. She’d never seen anything like it. The markings at the shoulder and throat didn’t look familiar, though she assumed he was some sort of soldier. “Who wants to know?”

He darkened, and his jaw tightened. “One who would save you from the government men surrounding us—if we move quickly, and you wish to be free.”

“What’s in it for you?” No one gave anyone help like this for free. She’d learned that long before she ended up on the streets. Maybe he wanted sex. Well, that wouldn’t be a hardship, if he had any idea how to use that body.

“Knowing they won’t torture you,” he answered angrily. “Do you want to be free or not?”

“Well, that’s a stupid question, isn’t it?” she snapped. Okay, so he didn’t intend to tell her his price up front. She’d cross that road when she wasn’t in danger of a jail cell.

“Then come with me—now. There’s little time.”

She hesitated. “Right behind you,” she decided. All right. Her survival instincts were still in her skull somewhere. Never turn your back on an enemy.

“As you wish.” Conan turned and led the way down the dim hallway, either confident that he would win a fight with her or insanely stupid.

Jelise let out a whistle of surprise as they passed the feds—looking a little worse for wear and out for the count.

Her would-be rescuer snapped a look at her, one that fairly demanded an answer of her. “Yes?” he asked.

“Gotta learn how you managed that,” she replied smoothly.

“It was not overly difficult,” he dismissed her, turning back to the stairs without missing a beat.

Jelise raised an eyebrow at the boredom in his tone. What a crock of shit! As if four armed feds aren’t a challenge for Captain America here?

Her disbelief melted into awe at the sight of the shimmering doorway in the workroom turned hangout. “Wow,” she whispered, reaching out to touch it.

It looked like water shot through with opals and set up on its side. She couldn’t help wondering what it felt like—and what kind of virtual projectors were needed to make that light effect. Whatever it was, it had to cost a fortune.

The man grasped her wrist and wrenched Jelise away from it. “No,” he ordered.

She swung her staff, but he captured it in his open hand. Her protest stuck in her throat as she met his eyes. There was no anger in those eyes, no superiority. He was terrified. Jelise relaxed into his hold, certain that she’d nearly made a very big mistake.

He nodded. “My apologies, Lady Jelise. You cannot touch the gateway without a band.”

“Band?” she managed. Her voice was strangely devoid of conviction, as if this Adonis had drained her of her will to fight him.

He released her staff and produced a black box on an arm band, much like the one she now noted he wore. She slid her eyes from his arm to her own, watching him thread it carefully over her hand.

Jelise sucked in her breath, abruptly aware of the brush of his fingers through the heavy shirt she wore. “Matches my look,” she noted shakily.

A beeping sound originated from a second box at his hip, something akin to an old-fashioned beeper, and a yellow light flashed on its face. He glanced at it then met her eyes.

“It is time. Are you ready?”

“Through there?” she asked in dismay. “I mean— What if these band things don’t work or something?” This technology had to be new, whatever it was. She pushed away the thought that her odds of this succeeding might not be the greatest.

“They will.”

“But—” Jelise forced her breathing to even, well aware that she was flirting with hyperventilating.

“The moment is almost past, Lady—”

“Here!” another man’s voice shouted.

His head came up, his entire body tensing as if to pounce. Jelise turned, her staff up to fight, and found herself facing down a 9mm.

“Don’t move,” the agent ordered.

The soldier’s arms closed around her waist, turning Jelise into the gateway and launching them through. She squeaked in pained surprise as colors danced around her, vivid colors that hurt her eyes after the dim light in the abandoned factory building. A shot reverberated, seeming to shake the air around them.

Then there was an even brighter light...white light. Stone was under her while her giant’s body covered hers. Something shattered overhead, and someone screamed.

“Loc en pret,” the soldier shouted.

Footsteps thundered over the stone, vibrating the floor beneath her cheek. Voices uttered words she couldn’t understand. The man over her stroked her hair, whispering assurances that Jelise would be all right.

“Jace,” a new voice demanded. “Is she injured, Jace?”

Her rescuer eased off of her, helping Jelise to sit. His fingers brushed her cheek, probably dusting off dirt from the floor. “No, Hi. She is well.”

The second man sighed in relief, offering his hand to help her to her feet. “Welcome to Kegin, Lady Jelise,” he intoned in a heavy accent she couldn’t place.

She eased further into Jace’s chest, wary. All of the men were in uniforms like Jace’s. Some were black like his. Some were blue. The one who spoke to her wore red and gold. “Where is Kegin?” she demanded, suddenly sure that the gateway took her further than she’d counted on.

The man in red—Hi, she reminded herself—shot a look of pure fury at them. “You didn’t tell her?”

“There was no time,” Jace defended himself sheepishly. “Between besting the human pursuers and—”

“Till will be furious,” he shouted.

Jelise’s head spun. Nothing made sense. The word ‘human’ circled in her mind. She had to have misheard him. The alternative was unthinkable. “Jace,” she called weakly. “I think I need to lie down.”

* * * *

Jace scooped Lady Jelise into his arms and vaulted for the door, barely noting that he brushed past Prince Michael in his haste. “Renel,” he barked, calling the head of the local clinic to accompany them to the room prepared for the young lady.

Her cheek nestled to his pounding heart, and her green-flecked choc eyes slid shut. Jace cursed his delay in reaching her aloud. If Lady Jelise was seriously injured, he would never forgive himself for it.

The bed prepared for her was wide and lush—covered in the finest silin and heavy quilts as befit a noble of her status. Jace laid her in the center and waved Renel to them.

Jelise’s eyes fluttered open as the doctor touched her face. She shied in seeming panic, reaching frantically for Jace’s hand.

“All is well,” he soothed her. “This man is a healer.” Wrong term. “Doctor.”

“No,” she breathed, pushing herself toward Jace. Her trembling body pressed to his, making him acutely aware of a primal need to protect her, to hold her closer to himself.

Renel readied a hypocil and injected her upper arm in one smooth movement, making Jace wonder if the doctor had foreseen a need to medicate her. Jelise startled, meeting his eyes, pleading silently with Jace for an explanation.

“What was it?” he asked calmly, knowing the doctor wouldn’t understand English if he spoke it again.

“Garigol and Brekel, to relax her ladyship and bring sleep.”

“Jace?” Her voice was slow and measured, thick in the haze of Renel’s drugs.

“Sleep, my lady. I will stand watch over you. You have my vow.” Jace smoothed her deep choc hair, easing her to the bed.

“Stay,” she requested, her eyes closing and her grip easing as sleep claimed her.

Jace smiled, running a finger along her Felgren-stalk skin. She was enchanting—and so different from any Earth born he’d yet met. Queen Susan had explained the races of Earth, how they went beyond even the hair and eye color differences of the ancient Keen races into a wide array of skin tones and facial features. The first time Jace saw a video likeness of Lady Jelise Jackson, he had known he had to win the right to bring her home.

He sobered, pulling his hand back and straightening. And now he’d done his duty. For a few precious moments, he’d held the woman who’d haunted his dreams for more than two years. He’d trained to win the right to bring her from Earth. He’d learned English for her, and now she’d leave him to begin her introductions to the Keen lords worthy of her attentions. Jace turned away—and stilled.

Prince Michael stared him down, his expression promising a ritual death.