Authors: Megan Hart
“My Gemma needs to sleep.” Kaelyn finished rubbing my feet. “My Gemma did not sleep last night.”
“No, I didn’t.” I chuckled at her reproachful glare. “I’ll go to bed right after I eat.”
The frown turned to a smile of such blazing beauty it vibrated in my heart. Elovenians give off nothing but love, all the time. Treat them with respect and they will shower you with affection in return. That was the reason I bought her. To love me when Steve no longer would.
“Kaelyn will bring the dinner, my Gemma.”
She fluttered off to the kitchen and brought back a tray. The smells wafting from it were not as nice as the drink she’d given me. I poked at the plate with my spork. The gelatinous ruby red mass jiggled, then disintegrated.
“What is this?”
Kaelyn beamed at me proudly. “Blood pudding.”
It couldn’t be. Consumption of animal products hadn’t been possible for at least one hundred years. Not for anyone but the disgustingly wealthy, anyway. “What’s it made from?”
“I had to make some substitutions, my Gemma.”
I sighed, then tasted it. “Artiberry jelly?”
“My Gemma doesn’t like it?”
My stomach rumbled. “I’m sure it will be delicious with some bread and artipeanut butter.”
I ate the sandwich in the tiny kitchen while Kaelyn fluttered about me and chattered about her day. As I finished the last bite, Kaelyn spun around so fast her wings became a blur.
“Oh, my Gemma! I forgot! This came for you while you were away.”
She went to the cabinet and pulled out a florb. My blood turned to ice as she handed the silver object to me. I let it drop to the table.
“What is it, my Gemma?” Kaelyn pressed her little hands to the florb. “I’ve never seen…ooh!”
She’d triggered the release, and a bouquet of roses, purple this time, sprouted in holo from the florb. A second later came the scent. He’d added another expensive option to the gift this time—a message.
The words formed themselves of shining gold letters that hovered an inch or so above the flower heads.
To match your hair.
I reached across and snapped it off. With a whirr, the florb closed. The scent, however, remained.
“My Gemma! What was that?”
I couldn’t bear to send her tumbling into tears, so I didn’t respond as harshly as I wanted. “It’s called a florb. A flower orb.”
She’d never seen one, because I’d never received one in the time she’d lived with me.
“Who sent it to my Gemma?”
“A man.” I paused. “It’s not important.”
“I have never seen such flowers, my Gemma. This man must care for my Gemma very much.” She touched the florb again, and her musical laughter rang throughout the kitchen when the flowers bloomed again.
“I wouldn’t say that.” The bitterness must’ve crept into my tone, because she looked at me with wide eyes.
“My Gemma is angry?”
“Not at you, Kaelyn.”
“At the flower man?” She cocked her head, then swooped around to look at the flowers from the other side. “But they are so lovely.”
She was right. But I couldn’t enjoy them. “You take them, Kaelyn.”
She looked so stunned I wanted to cry. No matter how many nice things I did for her, she always acted so surprised. As though she weren’t worthy of being loved as she loved me.
“I can’t take my Gemma’s flowers.”
I handed her the silver ball. She sagged under its weight. Tears sparkled in her eyes, but she stopped to give me a kiss on the cheek before taking it away to her closet.
It was so easy to make her happy. I envied Kaelyn that ability. She’d been stolen from her home, abused, and sold like an object, not a person. Yet she always managed to find joy.
I cleaned my meager dinnerware and headed for my bedroom. I was suddenly, bone-achingly weary. My sleepless night and the workout with Britney were taking their toll.
The intercom buzzed just as I passed the door. I stopped like a thief caught with his hand in the safe. Nobody rang my buzzer. Nobody came to visit me. Ever.
“Who is it?” I had to clear my throat twice before I could speak, it had gone so dry.
A muffled answer came back, and my heart slowed. A wrong buzz. Someone trying to access the building, maybe, or…
“Who is it?”
The voice was clearer this time, and I couldn’t mistake the reply. It came over the intercom as clear as Kaelyn’s laughter. The sound of it made me press my hands to my breastbone to keep my heart from jumping through my skin. He spoke only one word, but if he’d recited volumes it would’ve made no difference.
As a newbie fresh from the R.I.O. Academy, I’d served a stint in Oldcity. Riots, looting, and constant violence. The works. I’d done my share of hard duty. I wasn’t afraid of stuff like that, yet hearing Declan’s voice through the speaker made my knees weak and my heart thud like a hammer.
I didn’t want to answer. Didn’t want to watch my hand reach toward the screen control, or see my fingers flip the switch that brought his face into view. Yet I did those things anyway, as if I had no control. No power against my body’s longings.
His face swam into view, briefly distorted as he stepped too close to the camera. “Are you in there?”
I’d blocked the two-way viewing, of course. Everyone did. How many times would we be caught, literally, with our pants down by unexpected visitors if we didn’t? I could see him, but he couldn’t see me.
“What do you want?”
If he was taken aback by my brusque reply, he didn’t show it. “Did you get the flowers?”
I bit my lip until the taste of blood, extra bitter since I became mecho, flooded my tongue. “What do you want, Declan?”
My voice skipped on the syllables of his name. Like I was some crazy school kid or something, giggling over a first crush. I watched him look more closely at the camera, as though sheer desire could allow him to see me through its lens.
“I want you. To see you.”
My finger reached for the button that would disconnect us, but his voice stopped me. “Gemma, wait!”
I didn’t want to wait any more than I’d wanted to answer his call in the first place. Yet I did. I cursed silently, but I did as he asked.
“Will you come down?”
I shook my head before remembering I had blocked the two-way screening. “No.”
He looked into the camera lens and gave no trace of a smile. I could have stood against him if he’d made a joke, or tried to act seductive. His seriousness wooed me more than silly pretenses would’ve.
“Please,” Declan said, and my resolve broke as easily as my bones had when my hoverscooter crashed into the side of the mountain.
“Give me a minute.”
I clicked off the viewscreen and turned to the bedroom. Kaelyn, probably curious about the caller, had crept from her closet to watch me with wide eyes.
“Is that my Gemma’s flower man?”
“Yes, Kaelyn.” I brushed past her and into my bedroom.
The fairy followed me, her wings aflutter and her hands rubbing nervously together. “Is my Gemma going out?”
I nodded and went to my closet. “I have nothing to wear.”
Kaelyn tilted her head, her expression confused. “My Gemma has lovely things to wear.”
I rattled some of the hangers. “Nothing…pretty.”
Kaelyn’s wind chime laughter made me smile, at least. I couldn’t stay sour in her presence. She went to the closet and riffled through the few garments I owned which were not uniforms or workout clothes.
“This.” She pulled out an outdated gown I’d worn to go to a party for Steve’s parents. “This will look pretty on my Gemma.”
I caught sight of my reflection in the full length mirror on back of the door. The sight made me sink to the bed. I stared, hard, at the fine silver scars that were the only physical sign of my accident. Perhaps only I could really see them. But I could never forget them.
“Forget it.” My harsh words made Kaelyn’s big blue eyes well up with tears. “I don’t need to look pretty.”
Shrugging away her offers to fix my hair, I slipped into a dark gray jumpsuit. It wasn’t a uniform. My uniforms are sexier.
I twisted my hair on top of my head. My cosmetics had been refreshed the week before, so my face was fine. All I had to do now was go downstairs and meet him.
He wasn’t waiting for me when I got off the lift. As disappointment I tried to deny pierced me, the scent of roses drifted to my nose. I turned. He’d been waiting for me.
“I brought you these.” He held out another florb. “In case you didn’t get the other two.”
Now came the cocky smile I remembered. My anger returned, and I moved without thinking. My fist connected with his jaw hard enough to make him stagger back, even though at the last minute I pulled the force of my blow so I only hurt him, not killed him.
He managed to keep his feet, and incredibly, came up smiling. “I guess I deserved that.”
I turned on my heel to make it back to the lift, but he reached out and managed to snag my elbow.
I stopped, stiff as if I had iron beneath my skin instead of flexible copper/aluminum alloy. “Get your hands off me, Declan.”
“I came here to apologize.”
The lobby of my building is never empty. Today was no exception. I watched from the corner of my eye as an elderly couple who lived a few floors below me got on the lift. They didn’t need to witness this. I heard their appalled whispers and the word “mecho” and didn’t need to hear more.
Without talking to him, I stalked across the sterile marble floor and through the doors. The street outside hummed with activity. I heard the doors whisk open behind me and sensed his presence at my back.
“What do you want?” I met his gaze as though looking into his eyes didn’t send shivers of anticipation down the wires making up the bulk of my spinal cord.
“I told you. I came to apologize.” Again, he held out the florb. When he pushed the button on this one, green roses bloomed in front of me.
I spoke before the gadget had time to project its golden-lettered messaged. “Put that away.”
To my surprise, he did. Then he looked at me. Hard, for a few moments that felt like an eternity. I lifted my chin and held my stance. I’m usually good about keeping my emotions hidden. Usually it doesn’t really matter. In front of him, it did. I’d be damned before I let him see how he affected me.
“Did you get in trouble at work?” His question hung in the humid air between us.
“Is that how you found me?”
He grinned and shrugged. “You weren’t hard to find.”
I didn’t want to talk on the street in front of my building. I started walking. Declan followed. He didn’t speak again until we both reached the gate of a public garden two buildings away from mine. As a resident of this District, my fully paid fee and my retscan would automatically open the doors, but I paused with my eyes averted before the scan could catch my gaze.
“I didn’t get in trouble.” Then I turned my head, the gates opened, and we went inside.
The grass and trees inside were real. So were the flowers, stunted and cheerless though they might be. The dome that kept us all from disintegrating into cancerous lumps also made it hard for the plants to grow.
A fountain, also real instead of holo, forced a fine spray of water into the air at precisely timed intervals. The water wasn’t real. It wouldn’t even wet your fingers if you touched it, though its chemical components contained hydrogen and oxygen, and it was potable if you were desperate.
Declan followed me down the gravel path, wisely not saying anything. When we got to a plazglass bench carved to look like stone, I sat. After a moment, he sat too.
“I didn’t get in trouble because I didn’t give an honest report,” I said without preamble. I looked him in the eye. “I would’ve been reprimanded if I’d filled out the IIP paperwork. Possibly suspended, since R.I.O. is really cracking down on offenses like this. But you—”
Declan nodded. “I’d have been arrested.”
“You knew the penalties. But you went with me anyway. Why?” The muted sun cast his dark hair with threads of auburn and gold. Real highlights, not cosmetics. Glory, this man was beautiful.
“I told you why.” He set the florb on the bench between us.
I gave a short laugh. “Yeah. You have a ‘thing’ for women in charge.”
I expected the slanting, mocking grin, but again he surprised me by remaining straight faced. “Yes, I do.”
I got up from the bench and the gravel crunched beneath my feet. “There are plenty of freebots out there, Declan, if you can’t find someone human to fuck. You don’t have to break the law to get off.”
He quirked a brow at me. “It’s not a question of not finding someone. It’s finding someone I like.”
I clenched my fists. “Don’t you get it? They’re arresting people for this! And they’re not getting slaps on the wrist, either. I could get suspended, but you could go to work camp!”
Unconsciously, I’d widened my stance and rested my left hand on my belt, close to my stunner. When I realized I was going into battle mode, though, I didn’t change it.
Declan’s gaze took in my body language. The slight smile and the way he briefly opened and closed his hands told me he knew I was itching for a fight—and that he didn’t care.
“I’m not worried about it.”
“Most people try to avoid the work camps.” My voice didn’t tremble, through sheer force of will.
“Why should you care if I get sent to a work camp?” He took a step closer to me. “That’s your reason for not filing the report? You were trying to save me?”
Pride prevented me from stepping back. “I don’t want to get suspended.”
Another step. I could feel the warmth of his breath stir the tendrils of my hair. “But I’m sure not filing the right report would get you more than just suspension. It could get you fired or demoted. Right?”
He crushed his mouth down on mine. I reacted instantly by bringing up my arms to push him away. With a shocking strength, he pinned my arms to my sides. He might be bigger, might even be as strong, but I was still quick. I hooked a leg in back of his knee and we hit the ground hard enough to send drops of synthwater spraying from the fountain.
Bright blood blossomed on his mouth where my teeth had caught his lips. He still had my arms pinned, but now my weight rested on him. My thigh pressed firmly between his legs, ready to jerk upward if I thought I needed the advantage.
Against my belly, the thickness of his erection nudged me. He blinked and ran his tongue across his mouth. The blood smeared. He smiled.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since last night.”
Any normal opponent would’ve been no match for me. Yet in Declan’s grip I might as well have been unenhanced. He pressed me closer to him, his grip on my wrists hard enough to bruise. He rocked his hips upward, just enough for me to feel the way his cock bulged beneath his pants.
“I’ve been hard all day, thinking about it.”
“Let me go.”
He pulled me another inch closer. “Tell me you haven’t been thinking about me, and I will.”
He let go of my wrists and put his hands on my hips. The warmth of his fingers caressed me through the thin material of my jumpsuit. His thigh between my legs came up to press against my cunt, once, twice, hard enough to turn me on. The electric tingle shot through me.
“Your eyes just got darker,” he said. “Don’t tell me you don’t want me as bad as I want you.”
The press of the gravel against my knees forced some sense into my sex-befuddled mind. I forced myself off him and to my feet.
“What we did was a crime that could get us both into a lot of trouble. I don’t like trouble.”
He had the swiftness and grace of some sort of feline, like the sabercats in the zoo. Declan got to his feet. “Tell me.”
I shook my head. “Damn you.”
“You can’t, can you? You’ve been thinking about me, haven’t you? All day long?”
I turned to face the fountain. My fingers clenched, hard, against my palms. Hard enough to cut. My reply ground its way like shards of glass from my throat. “Damn you. Yes.”
He put his hands on my shoulders, then slid the fingers down my arms. His lips found the exposed flesh of my neck. I felt the hot swipe of his tongue along the downy edges of my upswept hair, and my knees nearly buckled. His touch hit me in my breasts, my clit, the pit of my stomach.
The artificial water splashed and chimed against the fountain’s plazglass basin. I gave myself to Declan without words, a silent assent he nevertheless understood perfectly. I reached one hand up and back to caress his hair and press his mouth harder to the back of my neck.
His hands found the fullness of my breasts and cupped them. He pinched my nipples through my jumpsuit; I moaned. He slid his hands down my sides, over my hips, and finally to where I needed them most. I sagged against him when he pressed the fingers of his right hand to my mound.
“Tell me you thought about me doing this to you,” he whispered in my ear.
“I thought of this. Of you.”
“Tell me you want me, now.”
For a man who claimed he liked a woman in charge, Declan was very good at taking control. I told him, hating myself for giving in so easily but finding a kind of relief in it too. This was my fantasy, my holo program. A lover who didn’t fear my strength. One who knew just how to touch me, to stroke me. One who could make me come.
“I want to taste you.”
His simple words caught me on fire. With another moan, I arched against him. He turned me and with gentle pressure urged me to rest my backside against the fountain’s plazglass base.
Color stood high on his tawny cheeks, and his broad chest rose and fell with his rapid breathing. The sight of his arousal made my own breath come faster. Before I had time to really admire him, Declan knelt in the grass at my feet. I braced my hands on the fountain’s rim, and watched him. He found the snaps at the jumpsuit’s crotch and tugged them open.
The air in the enclosed garden wasn’t cool, but it felt like ice compared to my sex-heated flesh. I shivered. He smiled.
Declan dipped his head between my thighs and kissed my clit. It throbbed. He spread me with his fingers, softly, and his tongue darted against me with a series of flickering movements so light I could barely feel them.
This was insane. I knew it. Anyone in the res-dist could walk in here, any time. It was insane…but it wasn’t illegal.
I gave myself up to the only man who’d taken me over the edge in five years. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to. My body, which gave and received sex on a daily basis, craved something more than the thrustings and gropings of casual intercourse. It wanted something not even Nigel and my customized holo could give me.