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Authors: Chandra Ryan

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“There wouldn’t be any Subs in the military,” Parker added.

“Something Speck is working for anyway. His son told us that
while he was aboard.”

“And I wonder who would’ve been promoted to captain of the
Tempest
with you gone?” The harsh tone in Parker’s voice told her he’d already decided.
As had she. There was no doubt in Harlow’s mind. Vance would’ve been captaining
the
Tempest
before the courts had gotten the guilty verdict recorded.

“No wonder they were willing to risk being caught. If they
succeed, it would be a win all the way around.” Lee shook his head in disgust.

“But they aren’t going to win.” She smiled as everything
came into sharp focus around her. Now that she knew what she was up against she
knew what she had to do.

“What have you got in mind?”

“They don’t know that we know. And all we’ve got is
circumstantial evidence. We need something more concrete.” She heard the telltale
bang of the boarding ship trying to gain access to the
Tempest
. “But
first I believe we have some guests to welcome aboard.” She touched her com. “Captain
to engineering.”

“Engineering here.”

She wanted to yell at the sound of Vance’s voice. Still, she
needed the man for a little longer. “Have you gotten the division fields back
up?”

“Just about to complete the last sequence, sir.”

“Good. I think we’re about to have more passengers. I wanted
to make sure we had comfortable accommodations for them.”

“Captain, if I might make a suggestion?”

“Of course, Vance. You’re always free to speak your mind.
You know that.”

“I don’t think it’s wise to capture these men. You’ve already
said they’re trying to free one of the prisoners. What if being tossed in the
cells with him is part of their plan?”

“What would you suggest I do, then?”

“The Fleet has a no-tolerance law. Anyone who makes it
aboard the ship should be shot on sight.”

“That’s tantamount to a death sentence. Without a trial.
Even they have the right to assumed innocence and a trial.”

“It’s no better than what they’d do to us if they still had
their other ships with them. Outnumber, overwhelm and destroy everyone. It’s
common procedure. And it’s what we need to do in return.”

She was betting he had another reason to want the witnesses
killed. The fewer people to question, the more likely he was to get away with
this. “I’ll take your advice into consideration.” She tossed a small digital
recorder to Lee and nodded. “In the meantime,” she continued. “I have something
important I need you to keep an eye on for me until this is over.”

“Of course, Captain.”

“My XO is in my quarters with the package. You’re to relieve
him when you get here.”

“On my way.”

“Captain out.”

As soon as she turned her com off, Parker started pacing. “You
can’t leave Lee alone with Vance. He’ll kill him.”

“He won’t kill him.” She shook her head defiantly. “It’d
leave too much evidence behind. And a dead prisoner wouldn’t be enough to
implicate Prime Minister Lee. But he might just help him escape if he thinks
one of the hostiles made it onto the ship.”

Lee nodded. “And if I record the encounter we might just get
that evidence we need.”

“That’s the plan.” She looked at Parker. “After you leave, I
want you to stay by the door. They can’t take him off the ship. You’re to use
any force necessary to make sure they stay onboard. Am I understood?”

“Perfectly, Captain.”

“Good. See you on the other side, Parker.”

She left her quarters before she could consider the
ramifications if her plan didn’t work. It had to work. And she had her part to
do. She’d just made it around the second bend when the call came over the com.

“Breach.”

She ran the rest of the way. “Stun, don’t kill. We need them
alive for interrogation.”

The conflict took longer than she would’ve liked to contain,
but after all the hostiles were subdued she started making her way back to her
quarters. She had one of the men with her wear an assailant’s uniform in the
hopes of misleading Vance. They just needed him to think he was safe enough to
confess and it’d all be over. This whole episode would be nothing more than a
memory. As she approached her quarters, though, she knew something was wrong.
It was too quiet. It took her a moment to realize that Parker wasn’t where he
should be.

She ran into her quarters and searched the rooms but they
weren’t there. Where the hell had they gone? “Captain to Barkswell.”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Locate Commander Vance and Lieutenant Commander Parker.”

“They are in shuttle bay two, Captain.”

“Seal it down and send security there immediately.”

“Yes sir.”

She ran toward shuttle bay two at full speed. Whatever Vance
was up to, he had Parker. And it was her fault. Her plan had failed somehow.

When she reached the bay she pressed her palm against the
scanner and the door swooshed open with a soft hiss. “Stay back, Captain.”

Inside the hangar Vance had a weapon pressed to Parker’s
head. It made her heart race and her palms sweat but she had to focus. They had
a job to do. “Where is the prisoner?”

“Vance gave him something. He’s unconscious but alive in the
shuttle.”

Vance pointed the weapon at her. “And now that you’re here,
we can get off this ship.”

“It’s over, Vance.” She shook her head. “I’m not going to
give that order. I know why you’re doing this. And I’m not going to let you get
away with it.”

“Please. If you had it all figured out you never would’ve
left me alone with Lee.”

She turned to the security officer still standing behind
her. “Officer.”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Please return to my quarters and search for a digital
recorder.”

“Yes, Captain.”

That seemed to get Vance’s attention. “What?”

“I let you near Lee to lure you into confessing everything.
I don’t know what’s on that recorder, but I’m interested in finding out.”

It took a few minutes but eventually the man’s voice came
over her com badge. “I found it, Captain.”

“Patch it through to the Prime Minister’s office immediately.
Whatever’s on the device is his concern and his alone. Use clearance code
alpha, sigma, prime.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“It’s done. It’s over, Vance. Let Parker go.”

He shoved Parker in her general direction but then turned
the weapon on her again. “It’s not over. You don’t get to win. Not this time.
If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me.”

It took her a split second to realize he had his gun pointed
at her head. He meant to kill her. As the weapon discharged, though, a streak
of black raced in front of her vision. He hadn’t hit her. Weapon fire filled
the hangar as her security team showed up. But she still didn’t understand.
Everything was happening so fast. Vance collapsed under the hail of laser
bursts. Only then did she see the body lying in front of her on the floor.
Parker had been the streak of black. Or rather his uniform had been. He’d been
injured protecting her.

“Medical. I need medical in shuttle bay two now.” She knelt
down next to him and took his hand in hers. “Why?”

“You told me to take whatever measures necessary. I was just
following orders.”

“To protect Lee. You had to know that.”

He smiled weakly. “You have your definition of necessary and
I have mine.”

His eyes closed and his pulse became thready under her
touch. “Medical. Where the hell is medical?”

It couldn’t end like this.

Chapter Nine

 

Parker swam through consciousness for the next few days. At
least he thought it was a few days. For all he knew it could’ve been weeks or
months. But when he did swim to the top—in those few moments when he was
aware—she was there with him. He felt the warm dampness of her tears. Smelled
the spicy aroma that followed in her wake. Heard her voice as she talked
consistently to him. He wished he could give her some sign that he was okay.
Hell, he wished
he
was certain everything was going to work out.

“Is he awake?” A male’s voice seemed sharper than usual.

“We’re pulling him out of the coma now. He should be waking
up momentarily.”

For the first time he felt a burning pain radiating from his
arm. And the chemically sanitized room stung his nose.

“Umhmer?” He’d tried to ask who they were. But he wasn’t
sure where he’d gone wrong. It was as though he couldn’t remember how to form
specific words anymore.

“Relax.”

Had he gotten tense? He didn’t remember.

“We’ll have you awake in just a few more minutes. You’ve
been in a medically induced coma for three hours.”

Three hours? It seemed so much longer than that.

“Can you hear me?”

He nodded. The simple move made pain explode in his head but
he felt a sense of accomplishment at having done it.

“Can you understand me?”

Seemed like a silly question. If he hadn’t understood him,
he wouldn’t have nodded at the previous question. Still, he nodded again in
answer.

“Good. Can you feel this?” A gentle pressure brushed against
his forearm.

“Yes.” The word sounded heavy and slurred but it was
recognizable.

“Good. Do you know where you are?”

“Medical?”

“Yes. Do you remember how you got here?”

“Vance shot me.”

“Excellent. It looks as if he’s coming out of the sedation
well.”

“Arm hurts.”

“That’s to be expected. Your genetic enhancement speeds the
healing process. Unfortunately faster means it hurts worse. Can you open your
eyes?”

He found it strange that he hadn’t thought of doing it
already. When he did open them, though, the bright lights made the pounding in
his head worse. “Too bright.”

It was quiet for a few minutes. “There. I’ve dimmed the
lights. Can you try again? We need to check your pupils.”

This time the light wasn’t overwhelming when he opened his
eyes. Sure enough, he was in an examination room. There were the usual beds,
tables, equipment and IV stands, not to mention the team of people in scrubs
and long jackets standing over him. “So how many doctors does it take to change
a light bulb?” He smiled at his own joke.

“Seems as though you’re feeling better already.” The doctor
shined a small penlight into his eyes. “Pupils are equal and reactive. No sign
of a concussion.”

He unwrapped the gauze that covered the wound next. “And the
laser burn appears to be healed.”

Parker looked down at his arm to find a small scar but
otherwise no laceration. “That never fails to amaze me.”

The doctor leaned over and whispered, “Us too. That’s why
there are so many doctors in the room.”

His head now felt remarkably clear and the throbbing pain
had receded to more of an annoying headache. “So I’m guessing the prognosis is
good.”

“Looks good to me.” The other doctors each took a turn
examining his scar before filing out of the room one by one. “If you feel up to
it, there’s someone who would like to have a word with you.”

He smiled in anticipation of seeing Harlow again. “Of
course. Send her right in.”

The doctor paused at the door and turned to face him once
more. “Him. I’ll send him right in.”

His momentary confusion cleared when Prime Minister Lee
walked through the door. Of course. He would be given priority over a ship’s
captain. Even if the injured party wanted to see the captain more. “Hello, sir.”

“Please, call me Jasper.”

“Okay.” He wasn’t really sure how okay he was with it but
when the prime minister asks you to do something, you did it. “It’s an honor to
meet you in person.”

“The honor is mine. It’s not every day I get to meet someone
as exceptional as you.”

That seemed unlikely. “I’m a soldier. One of a million.
Nothing all that special.”

“We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

He smiled. “I guess we will. How is your father?”

“He’s awake and comfortably back in custody. Thank you for
asking.”

“That’s a relief.”

“To you and me both. Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m
here.”

“Maybe a little.”

“I always like to say thank you in person. So thank you.”

Parker shook his head. “I was just doing my job.”

“No. You didn’t have to believe my father—an alleged
terrorist. You didn’t have to protect him from that madman. But you did.”

“It was the right thing to do.”

“And you most certainly didn’t have to throw yourself in
front of weapon fire meant for a Sub.”

“She’s the best damn captain I’ve ever had the privilege to
serve under. She’s fair, strong, kind, intelligent and has more faith in her
crew than any crew deserves. That Sub is more human than most of the men
wearing the uniform.”

Lee nodded slowly. “On this we do agree.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re humble and a great judge of people. I think our
fleet could use more captains like you.”

“But I’m not a captain.”

“Not yet. I don’t think it’s going to take long for you to
make the rank, however.”

“I’ve only been a lieutenant commander for two weeks.”

“So if I offered you a ship of your own today?”

“I’d respectfully decline. I’m not done on the
Tempest
yet.”

“Funny. I offered Lieutenant Barkswell XO on his choice of
ships and he gave me that exact answer.”

That was more than odd to Parker. “XO would get him one step
closer to captain. Everyone’s told me that that’s what he wants.”

“Guess there’s something he wants more.”

“Huh. Today is full of surprises.”

“That it is.”

“And what about Speck?”

“Undergoing a congressional investigation as we speak.”

“Good. Then it mattered.” The chaos and pain had made a
difference. The good guys had won.

Jasper smiled. “It always matters.”

Parker paused uncomfortably. He had one more thing to ask
and it wasn’t a small thing. “Sir? Sorry, Jasper?”

“Yes?”

“I was wondering if I could ask a favor?”

“After you turned down command of your own ship? I’m
intrigued.”

“I’ve gathered from conversation that you know Captain
Harlow and have done everything you politically can do to protect her.”

He nodded solemnly. “I made a promise years ago and I keep
my promises.”

“I saw her ability firsthand and can easily imagine how it
would’ve been abused if you hadn’t stepped in.” He shuddered as he remembered
how shaken and drained she appeared after having read Lee on the ship. He could
only imagine how painful a life of playing lie detector for the government
would’ve been for her. “For that I’m grateful.”

“I’m happy I’ve been able to help her. She’s a remarkable
person.”

“But that’s just it. She’s not. Not legally at least.”

Prime Minster Lee took a step back in surprise.

Parker didn’t slow down though. He had the advantage and he
wasn’t about to give it up. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for her and
for the others of her kind. But if you’d just given her citizenship, you wouldn’t
have had to write special laws or form committees. She would’ve been protected
with the same rights and by the same laws that protect you and me.”

“I…” He paused for a second and then shook his head. “To be
honest I didn’t think about it then.”

“And now?”

“Most of the citizens won’t like it. I’d be asking them to
share their rights with a group they feel is inferior. It won’t be easy.”

“Doing the right thing never is.”

Prime Minister Lee smiled and nodded. “You remind me a lot
of the man I was at your age. Life was simpler.”

“I have a feeling it was just as difficult back then. Only a
different kind of complicated.”

“You’re probably right. About everything.” He turned and
started walking toward the door. “I’ll have my people look into the
citizenship. I’m not making any guarantees. And if it does happen it’ll be slow
and in stages. But I’ll do everything in my power to see that it gets done.” He
saluted and then turned to leave. As soon as he stepped through the door Harlow
entered the room.

“They tell me you’re going to live.”

“That’s what they tell me as well.”

“That’s good. Otherwise I would’ve had to kill you.” She sat
down at the edge of the bed. “You took a shot for me.”

“Pretty badass, right?”

She laughed but it was a hollow and brittle sound. “I guess
that makes you my hero.”

“You guess? Have you never read a fairy tale?”

“Sorry. I’ll have to add that to my ‘to-do’ list.” She lay
down so her head was snuggled in the crook of his arm. It was out of character
but he wanted her near him so badly that he didn’t dare question it. “I was
wrong. About so many things. I’m sorry.”

“Your plan was solid. I’m the one who screwed up. I should’ve
kept a better eye on the situation.” It was a difficult thing for him to admit
but it was the truth.

“Not about that. About…”

He waited for her to finish but she didn’t. There was only
one thing he could think of that would bring her to silence. “Us? It took me
getting shot for you to realize that?”

“No. I’ve known for a while. The last three days have been
hell. But you were over me so there was nothing for me to do but get over you.
Which, of course, I was a complete failure at because…” She paused and took a
deep breath. “Because I’d fallen in love with you.”

“I—”

“No.” She interrupted him. “I need to get through this. I
was too busy being stubborn to really listen to the misery. I couldn’t admit to
myself how much you meant to me. There was no way I could come clean with you.
I might have gotten around to it eventually. But everything went wrong before I
could.”

He chuckled at her summation. “Yeah, I was there.”

“So, before you’re off to your new assignment, I just wanted
you to know that I was wrong. And that I’m sorry.”

She didn’t know he’d chosen to stay aboard the
Tempest
.
That was interesting. He should probably tell her. But she’d been torturing him
for the last three days. And she had interrupted him when he’d tried to tell
her how he felt. He guessed he could keep her in the dark for a little while
longer. “I’ve been told that Barkswell elected to stay aboard the
Tempest
.”

“He did.”

“But I thought he was hell-bent on racing to the top of the
military ladder.”

“Apparently he’s got a thing for Rowe. Poor guy. I doubt she’d
notice him even if he stood on his head and serenaded her with a clackamore.”

“That’s rough.”

“It’s going to take something really special to get her to
wake up and take notice.” She wiggled as she cuddled closer to him and his cock
sprung to life at the contact. Apparently the sedative had completely worn off.
“So what about you? Which ship did you take?”

“Lee told you he was offering me one?”

“It might have crossed his mind.”

“And I thought you didn’t read minds.”

She chuckled. “I don’t read my crew’s minds. Politicians,
and apparently alleged terrorists, are a completely different story. In my
defense, I’ve found it can be good for my health to know what they’re thinking.”

He could understand that logic. “Which one do you think I
chose?”

“The
Severance
.”

His heart stopped at the name. “Holy shit. He was going to
give me the
Severance
?”

She poked him in the ribs. “You didn’t listen to all your
options before you chose?”

“Nope. I knew which one I wanted. Granted, I didn’t know the
Severance
was on the table.”

“So which one did you pick?” Her breath tickled his ear with
the question.

This was it. The moment of truth. “The
Tempest
.”

“What?” She propped herself up on one elbow to look at him. “You’re
taking my ship?”

“No. Silly thing. I’m staying on as your XO.”

“Oh.” She lay back down next him. “But why?”

“It’s the only place I want to be.”

“But it isn’t the ideal assignment for anyone. The ship is
run-down, the missions dangerous, the captain demanding.”

“All true. But it has its perks.” He kissed her forehead
gently. “I was wrong, too. You aren’t the only one who’s been in hell for the
past three days. I lied when I told you I was over you. I love you, Harlow. And
you aren’t getting rid of me.”

Her whole body relaxed next to him with his words. “You’re
going to be my XO, really?”

“I’m all yours, Captain.”

“Mine, huh? I like the way that sounds.”

He scooped her up and rolled her over so she was lying on
top of him. “So what are you planning on doing with me?”

She looked a little concerned. “What about your arm?”

“It’s healed. One of the benefits of being genetically
enhanced.”

She leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss on his neck. “Someone
could walk in at any moment.”

“Then you should hurry up so we can get to the good parts
before they do.”

“Are you sure you’re up for it?”

He wiggled his hips so his hard cock rubbed against her. “Oh
I’m up, sweetheart.”

She jumped off the bed and undressed as quickly as possible.
Thankfully the flimsy hospital robe that covered him didn’t prove to be much of
an obstacle. “Condom?”

She pulled one out of her uniform pocket with a
self-satisfied smile.

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