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Authors: D.L. Jackson

Rebel Souls (8 page)

BOOK: Rebel Souls
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Since he’d joined the resistance, he had a steady income, and it seemed doubtful he’d remained homeless. Yet, he traveled in the direction that only one without a dwelling would go, into the bowels of Lamor’s pit, Nexian hell on New Xiera. Regardless, she knew the surprise wouldn’t include capture by the Mish, or an attack by street orphans. “Should we…?”

“Wherever you go with me, you’re safe. Wherever you go without me, you’re safe as long as you wear the necklace I gave you.”

Ava reached up and wrapped her fingers around the medallion. “Where did you get it?”

“I broke into a house where your mother used to live.”

Ava’s mouth dropped open. He’d stolen from her grandfather? “Brodie….” They’d execute him if they caught him. Robbing someone on the street was one thing, breaking into the residence of the aristocracy, one of the leaders of the Nexian people, suicidal, and yet Brodie had, for her. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Why? It’s yours by birthright anyway.”

“Because it could get you killed.” They stopped at a narrow alley. Brodie looked both ways before guiding her into the alley. He picked up the pace and drew her around a corner to the rear entrance of an abandoned warehouse. He pressed his palm against an electronic pad. It flashed and the lock popped. The door yawned open like a giant ready to devour them. Ava grabbed Brodie’s arm and peered around his shoulder, staring into the dark. “We could get arrested….”

“It’s mine. I bought it.” He turned and grinned, nodding toward the door. “Welcome to my home. I’m going to turn it into a club someday.”

“That’s the craziest thing I think I’ve ever heard you say, Brodie. Did you steal the money from my grandfather to purchase this, too?”

He tugged her inside the dark warehouse instead of answering her question, locking the door behind them, leaving her without a doubt he’d financed his new enterprise as she suspected.

“Dance with me.”

Laughter bubbled from her lips. “Dance? Here? In the dark?”

“Then not in the dark.” Brodie’s jacket rustled and objects that sounded like small metal marbles pinged against the floor as he tossed them. “Activate fire globes.” Hundreds of clear balls lit and hummed as the nanites inside mixed chemicals. The thin membranes that surrounded them swelled from the heated air.

“They’re beautiful.” Ava gasped as the orbs took flight like a field of fireflies, spinning and swirling around her head. She whirled around three hundred and sixty degrees, stopping as she came face-to-face with him again. He stood not five feet away, watching her, intensity in his eyes. Ava batted a globe, now the size of her fist, toward Brodie. She smiled. “You didn’t have to go to this trouble.”

“No.” He flicked it with the tips of his fingers, sending the glowing orb back in her direction. “But I wanted to.” Brilliant light whirled inside the lamps, casting a warm glow across Brodie’s face, making his eyes sparkle. He extended his hand. Ava stared at his open palm.

“There’s no music.”

He took three steps and stared down into her eyes. Only a whisper of space stood between them, sending a wave of energy washing over her in a tsunami of heat. Brodie swept his arm around her lower back and tugged her hips to his. His hand grasped hers gently, guiding it to rest over his beating heart. “Here’s all the music we need. Someday I’ll have more, but tonight it comes from my soul.”

“Smooth.” She laughed out and tried to pull her hand away. Brodie held it tight and gave a slight shake of his head. No wonder he had a reputation. If she were anyone but his friend, who knew him better than most, she’d fall for his seduction.

“Is it?” He swung her around the floor.

“I know what you’re about, Brodie Mark.”

“What am I about?”

She stumbled but he caught her, guiding her in the alien waltz as if he were born to dance. Ava tipped her face to the ceiling. “Where did you learn…?”

“Strippers downtown.”

She giggled. “I’m serious, don’t tease.”

“So am I.”

She laughed. Only Brodie. Stars twinkled through the massive crystalline dome that sat overhead. The special glass opened up to allow ships to dock, and was clear enough to let light through, but opaque enough to keep the contents inside hidden from view. On the outskirts of the city, on the edge of the docks, was the only place the domed structures could be found. Combined with the floating globes and otherwise pitch-dark room, it seemed as though they danced in space.

“It’s amazing,” she said as he swung her around. Who would have thought an old star port warehouse could be so romantic. All it needed was lovers.

“You’re amazing.”

Ava’s heart danced in step with Brodie. Perhaps she dreamed? He drew her tighter to his body. Hard, warm muscle made it more than clear she wasn’t asleep, and even more clear she was alive and alone with a primal male.

“I need you,” he whispered. “I’ve always needed you. Marry me.”

Her stomach fluttered. She’d never suspected, never thought Brodie felt that way about her. “Brodie…I….”

“You’ve always been more than my friend. Please don’t say it.” He stopped their dance and stared down into her eyes. “I’ll lose my mind if you say no,” he murmured, his blue eyes filled with heat, igniting an inferno in her stomach that bloomed through her. “Have mercy on my heart, Duchess.”

“Yes,” she whispered and nodded. Inside, her stomach clenched. Was this right? Eighteen years she’d kept her innocence, and though Brodie didn’t feel like the one, she did love him. Perhaps something more could grow between them—that same thing she’d seen between her mother and father. There was only one way to find out. His hands slid into her hair, and he lowered his lips to hers, capturing her breath and will. Ava collapsed against him. Her palm still pressed against his chest where his heart thrummed underneath. Heat. Power. Seduction.

That was her Brodie, her friend, someday her husband, and tonight—her lover
.

 

***

 

Ava stepped into the club and glanced around. She lifted her scarf over her nose and surveyed the room. Ever since Brodie was killed, the place had changed. Drugs were pumped intentionally through the vents, meant to lower inhibitions of the patrons and conceal the illegal activities of those who’d developed more of a resistance to them through continuous exposure. When Brodie owned the place, he’d never had allowed it. A ping of sadness bounced around inside her as she thought of her friend. Gods, she missed him. Life on New Xiera wasn’t the same without him.

Actually, it had gotten worse. Places like the seedy club in the Blue District were well known to be hangouts for slave traders who preyed upon unwary tourists stupid enough to wander into them.

Even if the drug didn’t affect her as badly as someone not used to it, she chose to inhale as little as possible. A clear head in this part of New Xiera meant the difference between freedom and finding yourself on a menu, or a slaver’s ship headed to an off-world market, as was her father’s unfortunate circumstance before he met her mother.

 

 

Seth glanced over at Ava and followed suit, lifting the collar of his shirt over his mouth and nose. The common freighter’s shirts they both wore were designed to block dust and atmospheric pollutants. Nowhere near as efficient as his military issue respirator, but also not as obvious. She had to give him points for the foresight. At least he’d blend with some of the patrons in the room as every freighter had one version or another of the shirt, and they liked to hang out in the District. Plus, the charcoal lining would serve its purpose in the smoky bar, catching most of the drug and tempering its affect. Obviously, the Regulator had done his homework and came prepared. Another bit of information to tuck in the back of her head.

Ava scanned the room, sweeping the area the same way she’d surveyed the street outside. Slavers sat in the corner, eyeing her like fresh pickings. She fixed them with a challenging stare and flicked her laser to kill. They quickly turned their attention to a table of female tourists, easier, more gullible prey. She’d warn the women before leaving and call a shuttle for them.

“I thought you said not to set your laser from stun.” Seth’s voice snapped her back to reality.

Ava turned to him. “I did. In here, it’s not good to leave it on the setting.”

“Then why are we here?”

“I have a date.” On the right, a group of miners laughed and joked, already halfway drunk on booze. Armed like a Terran Assault Squad, they could be a problem. Not as dangerous as the slavers, but someone definitely worth keeping an eye on. Good chance sometime during the night, a fight would break out and most likely over the women. The good establishments in the city fostered a calm atmosphere.

Here, they fostered anything but.

In the Nexian club, they didn’t care about love and relationships. They wanted to line their pockets and do it by disarming the patrons. Sometimes they even added chemicals to the booze to strengthen the result and make their prey more compliant. The best place to sit was near an exit, close to fresh air and a quick escape, where she should wait for her contact. Brodie taught her about survival, and she’d taken the lesson seriously.

The hairs on her neck prickled. A predator watched. Ava turned around, looking toward the rear door and then over to a table next to it. Her gaze landed on the man who watched her as intently as she’d studied the room. She blinked once, twice, and grabbed Seth’s arm to keep from dropping to the floor as her knees went soft.

 

***

 

Ten years before….

 

Brodie escorted Ava down the walk. “Hurry. I don’t want to be late.”

“Where are we going?” Two months after her birthday, her uncle made port in New Xiera again, and as expected, Brodie showed up at the ship the moment her uncle left, let himself into her room and roused her from another nap. As always, his timing was impeccable. Ava blinked the sleep from her eyes, not quite awake and a tad on the grumpy side. Not knowing where they were going made her even crankier.

What surprise did he have for her today? It wasn’t a holiday, Nexian or Terran—nothing special to celebrate. Still, Brodie moved with a sense of urgency, nearly taking her off her feet with his brisk stride. “Slow down,” she huffed. “I’m not used to the gravity here.”

“We need to get there.”

“And there is…?”

“The Blue District. The debutants are on parade.”

Why would Brodie drag her to that? It was the last thing she wanted to see or be reminded of. That part of her life had died with her parents. Still, Brodie seemed determined to revive the heritage that had long since moved past resuscitation. “Is this really necessary?”

“Yes.” He sped up, and Ava stumbled.

The debutants parade happened once a year on Nexis. Some of the wealthier residents of the Blue District had adopted it, bringing the distasteful practice to the beautiful world. The women were nothing more than stock strutted before eligible bachelors. Banners floated over their heads in the most expensive silks, announcing the position and ranks of their households. The grooms would stand on the curb, looking for the right woman to breed heirs for their estates, tossing credits at the procession’s feet.

The women, some as young as fifteen, had shed their aristocratic white dresses in favor of brilliant jewel tones and would be escorted down the street, some by force, until a reasonable price was offered. The more prestige the woman’s family carried, the more money and rank she’d bring to the household, so putting on a show was a must. Every second of their lives they were prepared for this moment. A woman who brought less than her expected worth, or failed to garner an offer, would bring shame to her family and risked exile or worse.

So the pretty maids held their heads up, marched with grace, and each tried to outdo the other. The dresses were outrageously extravagant, and the jewels worn by just one debutant could feed the poor district for at least a year. “Pretty birds,” Ava’s mother once called them, “blown off course by circumstance, struggling to stay alive in the eye of the storm.”

Once an acceptable offer was made, the woman’s guardian would pocket the credit, a digital contract would be sealed on the spot with the thumb impression of both male parties, and the woman would be handed over to her new husband.

“The whore’s parade,” Ava mumbled, remembering too well the stories her mother told her of it, and the poor Nexian women subjected to the humiliation of an event that amounted to slavery.

“We’re going to crash their party and relieve them of some of that wealth. And….”

“And what?”

Brodie pulled her back into an alcove that curved around and into an alley. He peeked around the stone building. “There she is,” he mumbled, sucking in a deep breath.

“Who…?” Ava’s poked her head from around his back and searched for the woman Brodie mentioned. Her heart fractured as she caught sight of her.

“Her name is Vesha.”

“Vesha,” Ava mumbled. Time dropped into slow motion. The sounds of the crowd faded and everything but the extraordinary woman blurred. Brodie dropped Ava’s hand. She turned toward him. Heat. Passion. Desire. Ava had never seen him look at anyone with such intensity, even the night of her birthday he hadn’t looked at her that way.

She bit her lip and turned back to the object of his lust. A woman in electric blue, covered with jewels like a fancy iced cake. She strolled on the arm of a silver-haired man, seemingly oblivious of the male crowd who leered with lust in their eyes. The Nexian Duchy’s banner flew over her head, held by soldier in the same ice blue and armed with chromed lasers and a gunmetal-blue sword. The image on the banner twisted her guts into knots.

Interlaced dragons.

BOOK: Rebel Souls
2.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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