Read When Sparks Fly Online

Authors: Autumn Dawn

Tags: #scifi action adventure romance shape shifter

When Sparks Fly (2 page)

BOOK: When Sparks Fly
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Colonist farmers had used that original
shipment of ice to turn the barren surface of their asteroids into
islands of lush growth, gradually adding small livestock as grasses
took root and flourished. Each asteroid had an electric bio-dome
over it to keep the precious water vapor inside. Individual
climates ranged from hot and humid to warm and arid, depending on
the crop grown. Land that was not farmed was residential,
commercial or used for mining trainum, platinum or gold. People
like Gem and her sisters were getting rich from the influx of new
business, but increasing lawlessness meant they also paid for it.
Polaris was an exciting, if dangerous, place to be.

Gem was joint owner of The Spark with her
two sisters, but as the eldest, she was in charge. She had the
temperament to deal with trouble, manage the kitchens, the taproom
and their accounts; and it was a good thing, too, because in
addition to the inn, they had two rental cabins and the huge garden
to oversee. Polaris had only been settled for forty years and its
farming industry occasionally struggled. Anyone who wanted variety
and independence grew their own produce and spices. Only the very
wealthy purchased off-world food, because shipping prices were
insane.

Gem and her family worked hard and their
business thrived, catering to whoever arrived at the nearby
spaceport and appreciated good food and excellent brews, whether
they were locals or passing through. The brewmaster The Spark used
was so good that Gem had recently made arrangements to export some
of his goods; for a share of the profit, of course. She was always
keeping an eye on the family business.

“Gem!” Her sister Xera stomped down the
stairs, a fistful of wadded linens in her hands, her short black
waves of hair bouncing around her face. “That stupid Guok you
rented to last night threw up in the bedding! I told you he was
drunk.” Xera had a temper to match her Amazonian build. She
probably would have chewed out the hapless alien if he hadn’t
already skedaddled.

Gem leaned back as she got a whiff of the
offending sheets. Guoks were flabby white bipeds that looked like
walking sacks of jelly. Gem knew little of the aliens, though she’d
heard they were usually harmless. Now she knew they had vomit to
rival sewer sludge. Lesson learned.

Eyes watering, she waved her sister off.
“So, go toss them in the wash. What do you want me to do, hunt him
down and shoot him?” The Spark had forty rooms, and Xera and her
maids were in charge of cleaning them. The trouble was, Xera wanted
out of the job.

“The puke ate through the sheets. We’ll be
lucky to salvage the mattress.” Xera handed the sheets to a passing
maid and followed Gem’s retreat into the kitchens. The cooks were
busy preparing the noon meal. Hungry, Gem helped herself to some
seafood salad and tried to avoid her sister by heading for the
office.

“Don’t think you’re going to dodge me,” Xera
called out, following her inside and shutting the door. “I’m twenty
years old, Gem, old enough to know I don’t want to be head
housekeeper anymore.”

Gem sat behind her battered desk and crossed
her feet on top of it. She was twenty-five, herself, and still had
no idea what she’d rather be doing. Why should Xera want to change
all of a sudden? All she’d done for the past two months was whine.
“You know we need you,” Gem tried to explain.

“I want to be a pilot for the Galactic
Explorers,” Xera replied.

“No, you don’t.”

“Gem!”

Gem groaned. They had a rule about
disparaging each other’s dreams. “Okay, I’m sorry. Go on.” She
waved weakly, disgruntled by the idea of replacing her sister,
concerned that Xera was going away where she couldn’t have tabs
kept on her. Since their father died, keeping tabs had been Gem’s
job, but her sisters were growing up.

“I already have my private pilot license.
I’ve been shuttling between the islands every chance I get. I’m
ready for deep space now. I talked to the recruiter…He can get me
off-world next week.”

Gem’s face darkened. She didn’t like to be
reminded of how often Xera fled their asteroid island to go
exploring. It was dangerous. There were too many claim wars to go
rambling around alone. And now she was planning to go even farther
away?

Xera forged ahead. “I’ve trained Rosa. She’s
capable and very eager to get the raise.”

Gem looked around at the walls, which were
painted a restful white-sage, and sighed. The office doubled as a
sitting room, with a few well-worn and overstuffed chairs and a
long, leather-covered bench that provided space to crash if anyone
needed a place to sleep. The bow window behind them looked out over
the garden. It was open at the moment, and wisps of flower-scented
air stirred the linen curtains. How many times had she stared into
the fireplace, watched the flames burn as she dreamed of the
future? She and her sisters had spent many evenings here, talking,
fighting, laughing. They were her family, but now everything was
changing.

She focused on her sister’s face. “Are you
sure, Xera? You’ll end up a long way from home for a long time to
come.”

Xera snorted. “I’ve only talked about it
since I was sixteen. The flying lessons, the weapons training…You
knew where all that was leading!”

“I’d hoped you’d change your mind,” Gem
admitted.

“I haven’t.”

Gem blew out a breath of air. “Okay. Let’s
look at what you need to do to get your affairs in order. You said
a week?”

Xera looked surprised, then grinned.

So Gem helped the first of her sisters
prepare to leave home, spending the next hour with Xera, going over
her plans and finding no flaws. It was hardly surprising, she
realized; of her two sisters, Xera was the more levelheaded.

It was late that day when Gem finally
wandered down to the taproom. There were a few regulars, but the
place had quieted. Her bartender was there, polishing glasses, so
she wandered over and took a stool. “Hey, Jaq. Where’re our
guests?”

The elderly man raised bushy white eyebrows.
“Races today. Forget?” In his late sixties, Jaq had a head that was
bald as an egg, yet he still managed to grow an impressive
handlebar mustache.

The races. Of course. The Simian-Goat Runs
were held once a week. Lemur monkeys were trained to ride goats.
Clinging to miniature saddles, the monkeys would burst out of
starting gates, whipping their goats to high speeds with riding
crops. It was funnier than a squirrel drinking whiskey, and drew
huge crowds. Bigger crowds than simple alcohol, at least.

Gem pinched the bridge of her nose and shook
her head, leaning her elbow on the chrome antigravity slab that
served as the bar. “Long day.”

“It’s not noon yet.”

“It ought to be.” In no mood to do her usual
work, she looked around and spotted one of The Spark’s regulars. In
the corner beyond the fire, he leaned back in his chair and watched
her with eyes that were probably already bloodshot, given the way
he usually looked.

She turned to Jaq. “How many’s he had
today?”

The bartender glanced at the corner, then
filled two mugs with hot mulled Poizi berry juice. “One. I told you
he’s not a drunk.”

Gem raised a sardonic eyebrow and collected
the mugs. “Weaves when he walks, eyes always bloodshot…He might
only order one or two in here, but he’s drinking more
elsewhere.”

“If you’re so sure he’s a drunk, why serve
him?” Jaq asked. He gave her a knowing look.

“Shut up,” she replied good-naturedly, then
took over the drinks.

Hyna Blue gave her a crooked smile as she
approached, squinting up at her through his wild black hair.
“Hello, Blue-eyes. Come to save me today?”

She ignored his flirting and put the mugs on
the table. “Have something that won’t bite you back, Hyna.”

“I told you to call me Blue. I’ve never gone
by my first name.” He smiled crookedly. “Makes me think you’re
talking to my uncle.” He considered her through indigo eyes as dark
as hers were light. “You know, we’d make beautiful babies together.
Just think; they’d all have blue eyes and your good looks.”

“Sober up and ask me again,” she said,
ignoring what his words did to her pulse. She was average-looking,
with dark hair and a medium build. In spite of his habitual slouch,
she’d seen him stand straight a time or two, and he was a big man.
Maybe he did hard labor somewhere, because anyone who sat around
like he did should have had a paunch. Hyna didn’t.

There was something alluring about his
ruined beauty, though the drunken stagger tended to tarnish the
shine. He’d been coming into The Spark every day for two months
now, ordering one drink and nursing it for hours. Nobody knew where
he lived, or even if he had a home.

He smirked. “Would you say yes?” he
asked.

“No.”

“Then there’s no point in putting myself
through the torture, is there?” He glanced at the glass of juice
she offered and shook his head. “Why do you always bring this hot?
It’s just not normal.” As he looked at the liquid, his eyes turned
winter-gray. One touch, and the drink frosted over.

“I just like to watch you cool it off,” she
said, watching his cybernetic implants work. It was kind of sad;
they gave him super strength and control over temperatures, but it
meant he’d lost his arm somewhere. His eyes, too. She wondered if
they’d been blue before the surgery. Using his cooling ability was
a lot like waving a wooden leg around, advertising his disability.
Maybe that was why she had a soft spot for him.

He took a swallow from his original glass
and savored it. “You do serve the best liquor in town. And the beer
you guys brew…You sure you’re not bootlegging it?”

She sighed. He always asked her that. “We
distill it right here, and yes, we pay our taxes. Why, do you want
a tour of our distillery?” She grimaced at her tone. Intolerance
and snark were no way to reach a lost soul.

“Sure,” he said with relaxed interest. “I
always wanted to be a brewmaster. Missed my calling.”

She regarded him skeptically. If he’d wanted
to be a brewmaster, he’d have asked to see the brewery, not the
distillery. A master distiller produced liquor. If he’d wanted to
be one, he should have at least known the proper term. Of course,
both facilities were housed in the same room here, and their
brewmaster was also a certified master distiller; but Blue might
not realize that. “What do you do now, other than haunt my
place?”

He wagged a finger. “You’re trying to
distract me. You don’t want to give me the tour.”

She didn’t. Talking to him in the bar was
one thing; inviting him physically into any part of her life was
another. And yet she found herself saying, “You don’t have a job,
do you? Do you want one?”

Those dark eyes actually looked surprised.
“You want to hire me?”

Disinterest seemed the best way to achieve
her goal. “You smell. If you’re going to work for me, you need to
shower, shave more than once a week and show up in clean
clothes.”

“Ouch! So much for the angel-of-mercy
disguise. What if I don’t have another pair of clothes?”

“Don’t you?” she asked without blinking.
She’d suspected something of the sort.

He took a meditative drink. “I suppose I
could steal some.”

“Do, and you’ll not step foot on my property
again.”

He looked down, not quite hiding a grin.
“Now that’s serious.”
She blew out a breath. “I could advance you a set of clothes
against your first week’s pay. We need an extra hand to see to some
chores that slip through the cracks. There’s gardening, some
handiwork, help around the kitchens…whatever’s needed.”

He blinked at her. “Are you going to buy me
underwear, too? I need them extra roomy in front, you know.”

A blush caught her by surprise. Embarrassed
that he’d thrown her good intentions in her face, she stood.

He stopped her with a light touch to the
hand. Surprised, she looked at him. “I’ll take the job,” he said.
There might even have been an apology in his eyes.

Mollified, she nodded. “Tomorrow. Show up
sober or the deal’s off.”

She’d only taken two steps before trouble
came her way in the guise of a redheaded storm. Brandy planted
herself in front of Gem and growled, “What’s this I hear about you
letting Xera run off to join the Galactic Explorers?”

The coals of a headache had been lurking in
Gem’s head all day; they now flared to crackling life. “She’s of
age, and she’s worked toward it for years.”

Her sister’s eyes flashed. “I don’t care if
she’s a hundred! You know what the death rate is among their crews.
Two ships disappeared this year alone, and nobody knows what
happened to them. That’s not including attacks by pirates,
mechanical failures, bloody alien plagues…You’re mad to let her
go!”

Gem bent her head and massaged the back of
her neck, letting her short, straight hair cover part of her face.
Why did Brandy always have to rake her over the coals at the times
she was feeling most worried? “You have some way to stop her?”

Her sister started tidying a table, working
off her anxiety. “She won’t listen to me. She said you helped her
with the paperwork! You’ve always overindulged her.”

“That’s not fair,” Gem said quietly. Brandy
could be nasty when nervous, but she usually had a sense of
justice. Already Gem could see her start to feel remorse.

Conscious of the interested ears at her
back, Gem took the opportunity to formally introduce Blue to her
sister as newly hired help. Brandy stared at him, then looked at
Gem as if she’d lost her mind. She threw her towel down on the
table and walked off with a muttered, “She’s lost it. Lost it!”

“She likes me,” Blue said, and polished off
his drink.

 

Gem’s day did not get better. The inn filled
back up in the afternoon with loud guests celebrating or bemoaning
their wins and losses at the Simian Runs. Jaq and his girls were on
alert, ready to deal with anyone who got out of hand.

BOOK: When Sparks Fly
9.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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