One of my favorite Sci-Fi Rom Authors, Veronica Scott is on my site, sharing yet another fabulous novel with us.
Over the years, countless dialects and alien languages had been hypno implanted in his brain for clandestine missions, but he’d never forgotten Outlier, his mother tongue. Listening to the ebb and flow of the argument, he had no trouble following the nuances, nor identifying the speakers, despite not having heard their voices for two decades.
Staring at his distorted reflection in the gleaming parquet flooring, he assessed and discarded contingency plans.
“I told you, Alessandra’s impossible to deal with.” Portuc’s voice hadn’t lost the grating whine capable of setting Mark’s teeth on edge. “She’s a piece of work, astonishingly like her grandmother. The girl always seemed docile, but she’s worse than a gorbeed shrew.”
Barent’s voice was smooth. “I appreciated your skill in luring Alessandra away from the safety of Throne Planet. Bringing her to Freemarket was inspired planning on your part. My compliments. But I don’t need you any longer.”
“What are you talking about?” Confusion and the first faint stirrings of fear quavered in Portuc’s voice.
Mark grinned behind the visor. Everyone knew you couldn’t trust the Kliin. It was practically an axiom in the Outlier Empire, had been for centuries. What outcome had Portuc expected when he got tangled in a Kliin plot?
“I’m not here to pay you off for bringing me the princess,” Barent said, his voice a lazy drawl. “I’m here to rescue her and take revenge on her kidnappers.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m going to kill the bastards, dear boy, execute them summarily for the crime of kidnapping an imperial granddaughter. I slaughter you and a few of your household guards to give the story a tinge of veracity, take Alessandra home to Throne Planet, the empress rewards me with her granddaughter’s hand and substantial dowry, then I ascend the throne with my reluctant bride—” Barent’s voice broke off. Mark had a mental picture of the man shrugging.
He’d heard enough. Barent might toy with poor Portuc a few moments longer, but the duke’s fate was sealed. Alessandra’s was to be equally grim if Mark didn’t take immediate action. Hand to his earpiece, as if listening to new orders, he crossed to the sweeping staircase, ignoring the men he passed. The empress would accept whatever outcome transpired. If Mark brought the errant princess back to her, Ekatereen would pay him and continue to use her granddaughter as a pawn to control the various factions. If Barent succeeded, the empress would acknowledge his guile and accept him as a worthy heir to her throne.
No one cared what happened to Alessandra.
Especially not Mark.
Of course not.
Even as he had the thought, he knew he was lying to himself.
Her quarters were on the third floor. Two Kliin soldiers had disposed of Portuc’s hapless men, as evidenced by the bodies piled farther down the hall, and now guarded her door. The men watched him climb the last steps without any visible sense of misgiving. In his stolen uniform and helmet, Mark blended into their company. Not pausing for a second in his easygoing approach, he reached casually under the folds of his coat, thumbed the setting on his concealed weapon to stun, and shot the pair between one step and another. The men crumpled to the carpet without a sound.
Mark stepped over the bodies. He burned through the lock with a low setting on the blaster, then tried the door. It wouldn’t budge.
She’d barricaded herself in. Clever, but ultimately futile.
Holstering the weapon first, Mark put his shoulder to the stubborn panel and shoved.
A moment later he entered the room, moving around the heavy piece of furniture positioned as a pitiful last defense.
Alessandra stood, straight and imperious, across the chamber from him, her face set in grim lines but showing no fear. Her luminous blue eyes were wide, and she was breathing rapidly, but she faced him with open defiance. A maid cowered behind her.
“You.” Pointing at the servant with his free hand, Mark gestured toward the door. “Out. This house is about to become a death trap, and the men downstairs won’t leave any witnesses. I advise you to run.”
Hunching over to make herself less of a target, the woman edged along the wall until she passed Mark and bolted into the corridor.
Mark stared at the princess, Seeing her again after all these years was like a hallucination. The changes in her face—older, a few lines, but still beautiful by any standard—fascinated him. Annoyed, he realized just being in the same room with her dangerously distracted him from the job.
“You can tell your master I won’t agree to anything,” Alessandra said in Outlier, voice cold but tremulous.
“I’m not one of Kliin’s boys.” Mark removed the helmet, setting it on the bureau amidst a clutter of jewelry and trinkets. Catching a whiff of her delicious perfume, the same she’d always worn for him, Mark felt a moment of vertigo. “I’m here to get you out.”
Eyebrows raised, apparently puzzled by his words, she studied his face.
Mark moved forward. As if engaged in some macabre dance, she stepped back, one step and then another as he advanced, until her shoulders hit the wall with a thump.
"Sandy, damn it, it’s me, Mark Denaltieri.” Unaccustomed emotions battering at him, he regretted ever agreeing to this venture. Some things were best left permanently in the past.
Eyes narrowed, lips thin, she glared at him. “What kind of a fool does Barent Kliin think I am? Or is this some new plot of my grandmother’s?” She grabbed a vase from the table beside her and threw it at him. “Mark is dead.”
Best Selling Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.
Three time winner of the SFR Galaxy Award, as well as a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, Veronica is also the proud recipient of a NASA Exceptional Service Medal relating to her former day job, not her romances! She recently was honored to read the part of Star Trek Crew Member in the audiobook production of Harlan Ellison’s “City On the Edge of Forever.”
Amazon Author Page: