Authors: Autumn Dawn
Tags: #scifi action adventure romance shape shifter
She raised an eyebrow. “Sorry. But I can
only assume some business concern has sent you in my
He was silent for a moment, then seemed to
throw in his cards. “Actually, you’re right. I hoped you would
introduce me to your brewmaster. He’s proved, um, immune to my
Gem sat back and savored the feeling of
triumph. She’d been right! Not that this was very flattering, but
she was glad she’d read him correctly. It gave her a bit more
confidence regarding the world and her comprehension of it.
“Our brewmaster’s rather reclusive,” she
admitted. “Very possessive of his knowledge. I don’t think even
Brandy knows his master recipe. I certainly don’t, and I’m the most
discreet person in my family.”
“I believe that,” Cirrus said, with an
admiration that surprised her. “I only regret I was so late in
discovering your business acumen. But…truly, I would appreciate an
Gem thought hard, but she couldn’t fathom
any motives other than the obvious. Unfortunately for Cirrus, she
had no desire to further his interests, no matter how mundane they
were. She smiled at the tabletop and then leaned forward.
“Cirrus?” she said.
He moved closer, his eyes shining with
“Absolutely not.” Then she stood up, forcing
him to rise also.
He was slow to do so. “How cruel, my dear,
to deny me such a simple request. But I suppose I deserve it.”
“I suppose you do,” she replied, maintaining
a façade of calm, though her insides were sparking with nerves.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me? I’m afraid I have another engagement.”
Walking tall, she sauntered off without another word.
Blue joined her as she left the solarium,
and he said, “Cirrus looks like a man who just caught his left nut
in a jock strap. What’d you do to him?”
“Nothing,” she said blithely.
“Okay, then what did you
She smirked. “This and that.” Busy savoring
her revenge, tiny though it was, she didn’t want to pause to answer
Reading easily her desire to leave, Blue
hustled her into a waiting transport and held his peace until they
made it safely back into The Spark. But when she started to climb
the stairs to her suite, he took her arm and steered her toward her
“Hey!” She frowned at him and rubbed her arm
in protest, though his grip hadn’t hurt.
“This might be important,” he insisted.
“Tell me what you talked about.”
She rolled her eyes and flopped down on the
couch. He’d installed new shutters that worked like blast shields,
so she wasn’t worried about being shot from behind anymore, but she
missed the cool night air. “It wasn’t anything profound, Blue!”
He sat down next to her. “So, tell me. No
need to hide.”
Feeling both relaxed and drunk with success,
she eyed him playfully. “Or what? You’ll kiss me again?”
“No. I’ll arrest you,” he said sternly. Then
his expression relaxed and he put a hand on her knee. “Or maybe I
will kiss you. And I might be diseased, you know. Better talk quick
before I convince you not to care.”
Gem remembered Brandy’s words and laughed.
“Fine. He simply wanted to be introduced to my brewmaster, so you
can stop acting jealous. Apparently he’s heard that our export
business is doing well and wants in on it. Too bad for him Jean Luc
doesn’t like charm.”
Blue’s hand tightened on her knee. When she
glanced at it, startled, he let go, stood up and paced a restless
circuit of the room. “Maybe
has something to do with
this whole mess. I’ve seen the brewery, but I’d like to take
another look with you.”
Gem frowned, confused. “Why? Cirrus is a
worm, I’ve learned, but he wouldn’t try to kill me over
, for pity’s sake.”
“I still want to see it,” Blue pressed.
Gem shrugged. “Fine. Go see.”
“I just do.”
“Whatever.” Suddenly peeved and not sure
why, Gem brushed past him on her way to the door. There, she paused
dramatically. “We’ll look at it tomorrow. Will there be anything
else tonight, or is that it?”
Blue stared at her. “That’s it.”
Shaking her head, she left him to his
As Gem exited the room, tension churned in
Blue’s stomach. He was getting closer to the truth; he sensed it.
Unfortunately, the evidence around Gem had just taken another
He paced the office, feeling the pressure in
his head mount. He’d gotten emotionally involved, and he knew
better than to do that. He was dangerously close to screwing up his
own investigation because he hadn’t kept the distance he should
have. It was unprofessional and unlike him. Of course, the bright
spot was that he hadn’t had sex with her. Contrary to Zsak’s
teasing, he was discriminating in his lovers. Gem had tested his
resolve, but as of this evening he was back on track.
If Gem was guilty, she was going to pay.
Too keyed up to rest, Gem changed into more
comfortable clothes and went to seek Brandy. Since her sister
wasn’t in the family suite, Gem figured she’d try the bar. No
To her surprise, however, she saw Chief
Blackwing settling into a corner table, the very table Blue used to
haunt. Intrigued, she went over and smiled at him. “What can I get
He smiled slightly. “I didn’t expect you to
be taking orders.”
“Just yours,” she admitted. “Though I’m not
above fetching a drink or two. Spent many years doing just that
before my father promoted me to accounts. So, what’ll you
“Just a beer. The Nebula is my favorite.
Gem got them each a beer and settled down
opposite him. “Found a night off, did you?”
“I have other responsibilities,” the man
“I know how that goes,” Gem admitted
ruefully. “I wish I could hire an office assistant, but finding
trustworthy help is hard. My sisters aren’t interested.” She
“Heard your younger sister joined the
Galactic Explorers,” the chief remarked with faint interest. “Risky
Gem frowned. “She wouldn’t be talked out of
it. I guess I should be grateful that Brandy didn’t want to
“That one’s spoiling for a fight, all
right,” the chief allowed. “Maybe the military would be a good fit
Gem snorted. “They’d never survive her. I’m
sorry she was so difficult the other day, though. She’s like a
bee-stung bear when she thinks her family is threatened.”
The chief nodded. “Has anything else
“Nope. Maybe whoever it was got tired of
taking potshots at me and moved on to better things.”
“Or maybe your bodyguard is doing his
Gem grimaced in doubt, but offered, “Want to
Blackwing looked to the side. Gem followed
his gaze and saw Blue coming their way. She nodded and then looked
back. “Chief Blackwing, meet Hyna Blue, my bodyguard and general
pain in the butt. Have a seat, Blue.”
Blue pulled out a chair, spun it backwards
and crossed his wrists over the back as he sat. “Chief.”
Blackwing looked him over without
expression. “Ms. Harrsidaughter tells me you’re ex-special
“You’d know,” Blue replied.
“Just Gem,” Gem interjected. “Nobody calls
me Ms. unless they owe me money.” She looked at Blue. “You never
did tell me which unit you belonged to.”
“I can’t,” he said. He didn’t elaborate.
She scoffed. “Do I look like a
Blackwing smiled a little and said, “You’re
not going to get more out of him than that.”
“What about you?” she asked lazily, flirting
just a little. She was beginning to enjoy Blue’s reactions when she
did that, and she felt rather than saw him tense.
The chief’s eyes slid toward her
self-appointed bodyguard. “I don’t have to tell him to be discreet.
He already knows.” Gem slanted a puzzled look at Blue, surprised,
wondering what the man was saying.
“I know what I’m doing,” Blue remarked.
“You two know each other,” she realized
slowly, reading the signals.
“By reputation,” Blackwing admitted, giving
her a warm smile. “Word gets around in our field.”
He was handsome when he smiled, and she
instinctively responded with teasing warmth. “And what’s
“Call me Joe,” he replied. “I hear Chief all
She nodded and made a decision. “Well, Joe,
you seem to admire our beer. How would you like a tour of our
brewery? Jean Luc has slunk off for the night, so I can promise he
won’t be growling over our shoulders the whole time.” She glanced
at Blue as she said this. He said nothing.
Blackwing grinned. “Dangerously possessive,
“Territorial,” she allowed. “We built the
brewery for him, never imagining he’d be like a junkyard dog with a
bone. We barely get in there without passing some inspection first.
He’s a first-rate brewer, though, so we put up with his
She stood. “Bring the rest of your drink,
Chief; you can work on it as we walk.” She took her own
half-finished bottle, giving Blue an absent look as she rose. “Oh,
you wanted to see the place, too, didn’t you? Might as well tag
They left the bar and headed for the back of
Uncharacteristically silent, Blue was a step
behind them on the short walk. Aware of his subdued state and
feeling unusually powerful, Gem smiled at Chief Blackwing as she
unlocked the door to the basement and the brewery.
“I know the basic ingredients listed in his
beers, of course,” she said, “but even Brandy doesn’t know his
secret ingredient. The only thing he’s ever told us was that it’s a
native herb.” She snorted. “We could have figured out as much by
the reading the label! He keeps it in a locked, unmarked box
She froze as the door swung open, allowing
out the sickly smell of blood and gore. All she could see were
gleaming brass vats and pipes, but from somewhere arose something
“Get her out of here!” Blue whispered
harshly, shoving her at Blackwing. “I’ll call you when I know
more.” He ran into the brewery.
Gem had a sudden thought. “Brandy! She never
came in. What if…?”
“Let Blue handle it,” Blackwing interrupted.
He almost had to drag her away, shocked into immobility as she was.
“You and I have to call for backup. Medics. We might need
Having something to do broke her mental
paralysis. “My office,” she said. They bolted for the door.
Blue saw the man as soon as he opened the
door, his cybernetic eyes instantly adjusting to the dimness
within. The bastard stood poised with one hand on Jean Luc; the
other hand held a knife.
A mask hid his expression, but the man froze
when he saw Blue. He glanced at Jean Luc as if undecided, then took
off running for the back exit.
“Call 1,” Blue said, activating the code
that sent his personal computer into action. It would automatically
call for backup and paramedics. It would also alert Zsak, though
that would be of little help. Zsak was running an errand far away
from The Spark. He would be too late to help chase this guy.
Blue saw Brandy’s condition as he ran past,
and since he saw she was breathing, he was glad she looked
unconscious. She was slumped against a copper pipe, her hands tied
above her head. Her head was hanging down, her red hair matted and
sticky with blood. She looked like she’d be in a lot of pain when
she woke. Badly as he wanted to stop, paramedics were just minutes
away. And if he didn’t catch her assailant now, he might not get
The man was stocky and not very fast. Blue
gained on him by doing a one-handed vault over a long workbench
instead of running around it like the suspect.
The villain reached the back door and
fumbled with the lock, but looked back over his shoulder and turned
when he saw how close Blue was. He threw his knife. Blue barely
deflected it from his face, and it left a long furrow over his
cybernetic arm, exposing the metal within. It didn’t slow him,
though. He drew his gun and aimed for the suspect’s back.
A sudden burst of light blinded him, and
Blue cursed, suspecting a flash grenade. He reeled, listening to
try and pinpoint his foe’s movements. There! It sounded as if he
was opening the door. He must have disengaged the lock. Blue
blinked as his cybernetic eyes compensated for the sudden burst of
light, but it was too late. By the time he got out through the door
and swept the grounds, the suspect had gotten away.
Chief Blackwing had to take the key from
her, Gem was trembling so badly, but they got inside her office and
he took over the communicator after sweeping the room with his
eyes. He called the medics, pushing her semi-gently into a chair,
but she couldn’t sit still. Other than an exasperated look, he gave
no reaction to her occasional getting up and pacing. Long minutes
ticked by as she sat and wondered what was going on.
Blue appeared in the doorway so suddenly
that Gem jumped. He looked grave and said, “Jean Luc is in a bad
way, but he’s still alive.”
“Brandy?” Fear clenched Gem’s throat, making
her words stick.
“She’s…unconscious,” he said slowly,
cautiously. He caught Gem as she tried to dart by. “Whoa! The
medics are working on her now. I let them in the back. Better wait,
The endearment terrified her.
Something was horribly wrong if he was being sweet. “I need to
Blue drew a slow breath and backed her up
toward the couch. “She’s swarming with medics who are trying to
save her life right now. If you get in their way…”