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Authors: Autumn Dawn

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When Sparks Fly (9 page)

BOOK: When Sparks Fly
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God help her, she needed something.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

“What are you doing?” Blue asked.

Gem looked up in annoyance. Brandy was right
about one thing: Blue hadn’t surrendered his real estate in her
office. In fact, he’d taken it over as he originally planned,
ignoring her protests and the offered guest room. And every time
she brought up this fact, he changed the subject.

He was nosy and inconsiderate, too. He had a
nasty habit of walking into her office unannounced. She was going
to have to move her desk just to get some privacy. Where,
though?

Irritated at the thought of giving up her
sunny office, she frowned at him as she put away her communicator.
“Taking care of personal business.”

“You were talking to Cirrus.” Not exactly
accusing, his blue stare still made her uncomfortable. Blue was
carrying a box of equipment, which he set down on the now-cluttered
couch.

“When are you going to shift your stuff out
of here and into the guest room? It’s distracting, sharing my
business space with your surveillance equipment.” She didn’t want
to talk about her personal life.

He was undistracted. “Later. We were talking
about Cirrus.”

Gem shifted in her chair and looked for some
paperwork to do. Rats, she’d cleared her desk not ten minutes ago,
finished for the day. “And?”

“You were planning to go to his party
tomorrow.”

“With a guest,” she said pleasantly. “We’ll
have to buy you something suitable for the occasion.”

He gave her a forbidding stare. “I’m going
as your bodyguard. I won’t pose as your lover just to get your old
boyfriend riled.”

She blinked at him innocently, enjoying his
jealousy. “Okay.”

He drew a breath and looked aside, muttering
something too soft for her to hear.

Gem grinned and got up from her desk,
feeling better after putting him in a foul mood. “I’m going to get
some fresh air.”

“Wait a minute,” he ordered. He slung a gun
holster around his hips.

It was the first time he’d been openly armed
in front of her, and she frowned in question.

He gave her a mild look. “It’s time I
stopped playing the waiting game and threw out a card. By now, the
assassin has been watching. If he doesn’t know who I am yet, he
will.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And who exactly are
you?”

He didn’t warn her; he just took her in his
arms and kissed her for about five seconds. It was enough: whatever
she’d been thinking went right out the window.

Disconcertingly, the kiss didn’t seem to
affect Blue at all. “Ready?” he asked. Taking her hand, he towed
her to the door, opened it and let her go first.

It was a wonder she could walk. She’d felt
just the barest hint of tongue in that kiss, and it wasn’t cold and
slimy like she’d been telling herself it would be. Nor was it
merely pleasant. Warm, male,
heady
, the kiss had taken her
softly like a butterscotch shot, sliding deliciously down her body
and causing a shiver.

She still wasn’t breathing right when they
stepped out into the garden. Blue had been moving her along with a
hand at her elbow, but he stopped when they were out of sight of
the kitchens. Figuring the air was fresh enough where they were,
Gem found a bench under an arbor and sat. She was facing a small
clutch of flowers, but didn’t really see them.

Slowly, the sound of wind in the leaves
cleared her head. She looked up.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Blue said
grimly. His eyes scanned the area, restless, his hands loose and
ready. Very un-loverlike.

She looked back at the flowers. “Don’t kiss
me.”

“I only kissed you once,” he said.

“You know what I mean,” she snapped. “You
know what you’re doing. Stop it. If you want to protect me, start
with protecting me from yourself.”

Silence greeted her words. “What is it
exactly you want?”

Gem thought about it. Finally she said,
“Stop flirting with me. Stop saying the things you say, doing the
things you do…Keep your hands to yourself.”

“You don’t want much,” he said with a hint
of sarcasm. “If I’m to help protect you…”

She stood up and interrupted him. “You’ve
got your freedom, Blue. There are lots of women in the world. Find
one that would suit you better. I’m under a lot of stress right
now, and I’m going to make a bad decision if you keep this up. I’m
not strong enough.” The honest words tasted bitter, and she turned
back toward the inn.

His touch on her shoulder stopped her. “What
do you mean, you’re not strong enough? What else is going on
besides that person trying to kill you?”

Gem blinked in surprise, and fought
annoyance that he was playing coy.
“You’re
going on.
Brandy’s going on. Xera and Cirrus and…and a thousand other people.
Life goes on, Blue. I’m a part of all that, and I can’t afford the
energy I’ve been burning on you. Do your job protecting me if
that’s what you’ve decided to do, but let’s leave it at that.”

This time she made it all the way back to
the inn without being stopped.

Sometimes Blue hated himself.

He cleaned his gun, ignoring Zsak, who’d
come into Gem’s quiet office. Blue had been crashing on this couch
at night, despite the fact that he’d been offered a guest suite, so
he supposed it doubled as his bedroom. They might be flowered, as
he had once bemoaned, but there was nothing wrong with the couch’s
cushions. Unfortunately, he was too keyed up at the moment to
appreciate their comfort.

Zsak slanted a look at him and threw himself
into a chair. “Rough day?”

Blue grunted.

His partner sighed. “If it helps, I don’t
think she’s guilty. We’ve been all over this place, through all her
files, and found nothing. The drugs might be connected to The
Spark, but
she’s
not involved.”

“They’ve been going out on the same
shipments as the beer she exports. The inn has become extremely
profitable lately. We can’t prove the how or the who yet, but it’s
close to her.”

“‘Close’ is not necessarily on target. They
work hard around here, and business in general is good. It’s not
surprising things are looking up.”

“With something this explosive, it might as
well be,” Blue answered, ignoring the last part of Zsak’s
statement. His eyes were on the weapon and rag in his hands, but in
his mind he saw the slums of Polaris, his stomping grounds for the
last couple of months.

Contrary to what Gem thought about his
existence, he and Zsak had spent the last half year tracking the
new designer drug, Nirvana, from dealers to suppliers on-world and
off. They now knew it originated on Polaris, and there was only one
spaceport from which it could come. However, on every suspected
shipment they’d found products from The Spark and Cirrus Exports,
Ltd., beer and exotic foodstuffs, but no drugs, even when they went
through the crates with tweezers and microscopes. His people the
other officers in the IC’s narcotics division, currently had an
operative cozying up to Cirrus; he and Zsak had been sent after
Gem.

Blue had been unsurprised at first by the
relationship of the two suspects, but then they had gained some
distance, which made him wonder who was truly guilty.
Unfortunately, Cirrus’s new girlfriend was losing her charm and
he’d turned his sights back on Gem; whose equal desire to speak
with Cirrus again was disturbing. Her effect on Blue himself was
better left unspoken.

Zsak seemed determined to drag Gem’s
attraction for him into the light. “Maybe you should look up one of
the ladies on base,” he suggested. “You’ve got friends there, and
you could use the distraction.”

Blue just looked at him.

Zsak threw up his hands. “Okay! I didn’t say
anything. How about a game of cards instead? You’re wound pretty
tight. Can’t be good for the ulcer.”

“Fine.” Blue snapped the pieces of his gun
back together and set it on the table. The options were to either
play or go crazy. “You deal.”

 

Gem stepped out of the transport, keenly
aware of the sultry night air. The half-sleeves of her gown were
designed to start at her elbows, baring her upper arms, and a
silver chain held the silk top of the outfit at her throat. Of pale
orange brocade, with blue and gold dragons embroidered over her
breasts and trailing down her navel, the dress had captured Blue’s
attention just as she’d intended. He’d frozen when he first saw her
in it, visually tracing the embroidery with his eyes in horrified
fascination. He hadn’t said a word, but he’d shaken his head like a
dog shakes off water and quickly looked away.

Gem smiled to herself. She wouldn’t have to
do the work of pretending he was her boyfriend now. She wouldn’t
need to say a word, not with over six feet of tense male hovering
at her right shoulder, radiating lethal menace at any man who
looked at her too long.

Seeing Cirrus’s hostess, who stood on the
threshold to greet guests, Gem was grateful she’d arranged for Blue
to accompany her. The popular rumor was that Cirrus had dumped Gem
for a rich heiress, but Gem’s sources said differently. The leggy
redhead in the doorway had been hired as Cirrus’s personal
assistant, and she was currently providing the most personal
assistance possible. Gem had learned the news from his former
assistant, who’d been kicked out of Cirrus’s bed without any
severance, and who’d run straight to Gem and done some clever
negotiating in exchange for a ticket off-planet. Gem managed a
cynical smile, realizing the woman had done her a true favor by
imparting the truth.

“Hello and welcome,” the redhead said with a
professional smile. “The other guests are gathering in the solarium
to enjoy the buffet. My name is Jaqui, and I’ll be happy to help
with anything you need.” A faint frown marred her expression when
she looked at Blue.

Unsurprised by the reaction, considering
Blue hadn’t been extended an invitation, Gem said blithely, “He’s
with me.”

“Ah. Welcome, then, Mr.…?”

“Blue,” Hyna said shortly, then ignored her
as his eyes drifted to the hall beyond.

They walked inside. The foyer had been done
in brown-veined, creamy marble. Arched niches were carved into the
walls, displaying Cirrus’s extensive collection of artwork, or at
least part of it. Twin, curving staircases rose to the upper story,
and an elegant balustrade of dark, polished wood matched the stair
rail and complemented the cream and tan décor. Original oil
paintings graced the walls, muted light gleaming off their gold
frames.

Blue caught Gem’s gaze with mocking eyes.
“Looks like Mr. Money himself lives here. Nice pad, eh?”

She gave him a look of weary distaste. “He
doesn’t
live
here, Blue. He lives in his office. He’s
working all the time; when he’s not fraternizing with his
assistants. One or two rooms in this house he occasionally visits.
Mostly it’s a showcase.”

“It could have been yours,” Blue remarked.
Gem didn’t deign to reply.

They continued walking. Gem lowered her
voice as they approached the solarium. “It might not be as
expensively decorated, but The Spark could swallow this place
whole, at least in terms of square footage. Plus, The Spark’s not
mortgaged to the hilt. We’re expanding, while Cirrus has had to
quietly sell off pieces of his beloved artwork to fund his
flamboyant lifestyle. Business has not been good for him
lately.”

“Really?” Blue clearly was interested, but
they were approaching the crowd and it was too late to ask
more.

Cirrus noticed them almost immediately and
oozed on over. Ignoring Blue’s presence, he greeted Gem with warm
appreciation. “As always, you look beautiful, my dear. What a
wonderful gown!” He bowed over her hand and then gracefully
released it. Looking at Blue, he said, “I don’t think I’m familiar
with your guest.”

“My bodyguard,” Gem said dismissively,
quietly smiling to herself. “There have been some disturbing events
lately and I felt the need for more protection.”

Cirrus frowned, seemingly concerned.
“Really? What sort of trouble? Perhaps I can help.”

Gem smiled. “Don’t concern yourself, Cir.
I’ve taken care of it. Now, I assume you have some wine around
here? I’m very thirsty.”

“Of course.” He summoned a waiter, who
fetched a glass. “May I escort you to the buffet?” He looked
distantly at Blue and suggested, “I’m sure you can amuse yourself.
Feel free to sample the buffet, as well. I recommend the
canapés.”

Gem couldn’t help giving a wicked little
smile at Blue’s expression. He wore a dark look, but it vanished
when he saw her amusement. “I will,” he replied.

Cirrus waited until he and Gem were alone at
the quietest corner of the buffet table to murmur, “Your man is
quite protective for an employee.”

“That’s what bodyguards do,” she replied,
willing herself not to laugh.

She selected three small items for her plate
and then moved away from the buffet table to take a glass of wine
from a waiter. “Thank you, I’m not very hungry tonight,” she
remarked as Cirrus raised an eyebrow. Then she strolled to the
other side of the room and a private little alcove where Cirrus
held out a chair at a table for two.

“I was delighted to see you here tonight,”
he said as they sat down. “I was afraid you’d be unwilling to
forgive me.”

She smiled ironically and admitted, “I was
curious at your sudden change of heart. You’re not the sort to
revisit past mistakes.”

“You were never a mistake,” he replied,
looking at her from under his lashes. He leaned a fraction closer.
“Allow me to convince you.”

She smiled and raised her wineglass to her
lips, effectively blocking his move. “Use words, Cirrus. I’m not in
the mood to pretend anything foolish.”

He sighed and sat back. “How dull.”

BOOK: When Sparks Fly
3.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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