Things would get interesting now.
I leaned forward as a young Prospect Eight councillor activated his mic with a shaky hand. “How can we truly develop an enforceable law to prevent exploration when arc travel is used by so many citizens across the Realm?” he said. “Clearly, a ban is not effective. Perhaps it’s time to think differently about this matter.” By the white-knuckled grip on his tablet, it was evident it had taken his every last nerve to speak.
The group erupted into discussion.
I admired the man’s courage, but he was too naive by far if he thought Realm Council would even consider inviting an alternate approach to the prevention of exploration. The Corona had selected Prospect Eight to lead a task force that would enforce the law, not reinvent it.
“High Chancellor,” said Gabriel Minister, “when we suffered the incredible loss on Septima One, we were mere adolescents in terms of structure and technology. Now that our system’s governance and law have matured, there may be an opportunity to turn our minds to more strategic and customized protocols on exploration rather than enforcing a widespread ban.”
I winced at his ill-timed remark.
My father’s face flushed with color as he drew himself up in his chair, his ever-telling clenched fist sitting on the table. No doubt he was holding himself back by a mere thread. The man hated any sort of questioning of authority. The Realm’s motto — Strength, Resolve, Adherence — was more than simply a phrase to him. It was his creed.
“We are not here to debate the validity of a law that has protected us for hundreds of years,” he ground out.
Gabriel gave a short nod before withdrawing into his chair.
I eased back into my seat. Meetings like this were as everyday to me as the varying seasons between our worlds. Most of them were routine verbal dances of which I had come to know every step. Nevertheless, my father was still of the firm belief that many a great idea or achievement was born out of tense conversation during such sessions. Through a watchful eye, he told me often, one could read the silent communication between participants, understand their true intentions despite the words leaving their lips.
Under my father’s tutelage, I had learned a lot through the tedious process of studying my peers over the years. Unfortunately, I had yet to discover any such awesome revelation or incredible insight from these orderly and precise discussions.
A figure behind Gabriel shifted, drawing my attention. I tilted my head to get a better look and for the remainder of the meeting forgot everything — the heated back and forth between councillors, the senator who had been trying to catch my eye and the incessant appeals of incoming messages to my comm. My attention sharpened and became fixed on a newfound focus point.
Gods, I had never seen anyone like her. She sat as regal as a queen with skin like warmed honey and a dark and dense mass of hair that fell just passed her shoulders. Hallowed Halls, it was a wonder I didn’t see her before. My practice of hiding in the shadows at these meetings hadn’t served me well this day. Had I accepted the spot reserved for me, I would have been seated directly across from her.
I glanced about the room. A male subordinate two rows away sent her a hopeful look, but she was oblivious to him, her eyes turned down to her desk. Dismissing the man, I scanned the space again, only realizing when I saw him that I had been looking for potential rivals. A woman like her could not have been far from one.
So my adversary was a familiar one. Tai glared at me from his seat across the room, burning an almost tangible path of hostility through the air between us.
To confirm what I suspected, I glanced at the woman for a long moment before returning my eyes to his. If I were a lesser man, I would have been shattered into tiny pieces by the laser-like intensity of Tai’s hostile regard. I smirked.
Tai was one of the most respected protectors in his caste. Many saw him as on track to become marshal, if not high marshal. His father and my own were colleagues, somewhat friends of convenience by virtue of their positions at Realm Council. As a result, Tai and I had spent too much time in each other’s company. Over the years since his father had died after a battle, I had seen him less and less, which was fine with me, though the reason for it was not one I would wish on my worst enemy. I was as saddened as much as the rest of our peers when his father passed away. He was a good man. Unfortunately, his son left much to be desired.
Tai was so terribly square, the man had sharp edges.
His eyes narrowed as I returned my own to the young woman. I spent the final minutes of the meeting watching her take notes and had never been as enthralled by something so mundane in my entire life.
When she stood, so did I. It took me only a few seconds to cross the room. I saw her exchange a few words with Gabriel as I drew near to them.
“Well, it has been some time, hasn’t it?” Gabriel said, stepping around the woman to greet me. She lowered herself into a chair and began to swipe through her tablet, her graceful shoulders hunched into an appearance of shame and defeat. I frowned, not liking the posture, feeling that the look should never be there, that it didn’t belong. “I didn’t know you would be joining us today.”
She stiffened as her fingers slowed, and raised her head slightly. She looked ahead of her toward where Tai had been sitting. He was no longer there. I clenched my teeth, wondering at the meaning behind her seeking him out.
“I tend to prefer to watch from the sidelines when I can,” I said, still watching her as she shifted in her seat and returned to her device.
“Well, you’ll be drawn into the firing range soon enough, won’t you?” I dragged my gaze to Gabriel. He laughed, tossing his head in a way that seemed more practiced than natural.
“Yes, I suppose so.” I thinned my lips, glancing back at the woman. “Who is this?”
“Ah, allow me to introduce you to my subordinate on this project, Kira Metallurgist.” As soon as she heard her name, she rushed to turn. “Kira, this is Chancellor Gannon Consul, son of High Chancellor Marcus Consul.”
She stumbled a bit as she rose to her feet. When she raised her eyes to mine, my lips parted.
There was beauty and then there was Kira Metallurgist. Spying her from afar hadn’t prepare me for experiencing her up close. She was stunning. Her face was a study in perfect lines and exquisite features. And her body — it was made for sex, and plenty of it. She was tall and shapely with full breasts that begged to be explored. The air about her stirred with unbridled sensuality.
I blew out a short gust of breath, reaching for the cool composure that always served me well when confronted with situations that caught me off-guard. I smiled, running my eyes over her, all the while noticing her own widen as they glanced over me.
“Metallurgist, is it?”
She nodded, staring at me. Her eyes were incredible. Brown was a common color, but hers were far from common. They seemed lit from within, the shade more like caramel.
I swallowed hard then said, “Yet you work as the minister’s subordinate at the Judiciary. Haven’t you decided on your profession yet?”
“I like my caste name,” she said.
“They’ll change it for you automatically if you wait too long.”
“Well, I’ll just have to hold on to it for as long as I can.”
I nodded, studying her. There was challenge in her tone. This was no retreating subordinate, quaking at meeting a superior. Neither was she an upstart seeking to beguile with her looks. From the way she held my gaze, unwavering, I knew at once that she was sharp, confident and without artifice.
“You must be very accomplished to have the privilege of working with Gabriel, especially on a project like this,” I said.
I could have offered her three suns and she couldn’t have beamed any brighter. Her full mouth curved into a smile, turning her beauty into something otherworldly. As I scanned the rest of her face, I knew that I would have her. We wouldn’t have sex. We wouldn’t make love. No, we would fuck — hard, fast and often. But even as I admitted to this baser desire, I suspected it wouldn’t be enough.
I drew in a steadying breath, forcing it around the odd ache that filled my chest. “Falahra.” It slipped from my mouth before I had the sense to pull it back.
She continued staring at me. If she knew Gildish, she hid it well. But then many must call her an extraordinary beauty in many languages and on numerous occasions.
Gabriel cleared his throat, interrupting our connection. “Kira joined the Judiciary, what, less than two weeks ago was it?”
“Yes,” she said before looking at her superior. Her breathing had picked up and a slight flush filled her cheeks. I smiled, knowing that when I had her, she would look something close to that writhing beneath me. Kira inhaled deeply and glanced at me at that moment, her eyes widening just a bit. She was a mind reader, it seemed. My smile grew.
“I was looking for you.”
I was wondering how long it would be before he arrived.
Tai strode up to stand beside Kira. He ran his eyes over her before placing a hand to her back. I struggled with the irrational urge to drag her away from him.
By gods, I had just met the woman and everything in me wanted to mark her as mine, possess her in a way that would tell every man, even a blasted protector like Tai Corporal, to stay clear. Tai looked at me and we took each other in, him knowing exactly the course of my thoughts and me knowing his.
“Why, it’s a veritable who’s who of up-and-coming leadership,” Gabriel said, but I barely heard him. Tai and I were busy sharpening our mental blades, preparing to inflict verbal wounds into one another.
Tai smirked, pulling Kira into his side. I wanted to shove a fist into his face. The man was pure muscle, but I knew how to fight. One didn’t have to be in the fucking Protectorate to know how to take a man down.
“Chancellor, allow me to introduce you to Tai Corporal of Prospect Council,” Gabriel said.
“We know one another,” Tai said.
“We know of one another,” I corrected, assessing his obvious unease and looking for chinks in his armor. “Gabriel was introducing me to Kira. We’ll be working together closely over the next little while.”
Kira and Gabriel glanced at each other, no doubt as shocked by my news as I was.
“Why is that?” Tai asked, looking at her. Tension stiffened his shoulders.
“My father asked that I represent him on the task force. I was considering a number of other projects, but now …,” I said, drawing Tai’s attention to me. “I’ve made my decision.”
Tai was back to shooting daggers at me. I welcomed them. I had an arsenal of them of my own at the ready.
Off in the distance, I heard the sharp bark of my father, calling my name.
Fuck. The man never did have the best timing.
Looking beyond our group, I saw him standing amid ministers who were more than likely hanging on to his every word. No doubt my father hoped to try to sway my decision toward taking on the task force as my next project. Little did he know I didn’t need any help in that regard. The woman standing next to me had convinced me more effectively than any political argument ever could.
“It seems my father needs me.” I glanced down to find her watching me with those brilliant brown eyes. Her expression had turned somewhat inward. She appeared to be considering me the way a scientist or explorer would study a new species or world. No one had ever looked at me in that manner. It unsettled me in a seductive way, leaving me feeling somewhat out of body and wholly aroused. I needed to know what was going on in that mind.
I stepped toward her, taking hold of her hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Kira Metallurgist.” I flipped her wrist over and tapped my comm against hers, capturing her contact information.
Her inquiring look shifted into one of indignant surprise. She appeared on the verge of dressing me down. My cock stiffened at that. Halls, if Kira Metallurgist aroused me when curious, she would unman me when angry. I looked forward to seeing her at the height of every emotion — joyful, vexed, excited … crying out my name as I pressed deep inside her.
I fought to restrain a grin.
With a nod Gabriel’s way, I ignored Tai’s slings and arrows, feeling the heat of her gaze as I made my way to my father. I could appease the man this one time.
All of a sudden, anticipation flushed through my system. I had to admit my father had been right. These meetings did have the potential for awesome revelation and incredible insight. I was looking forward to days filled with meetings upon meetings.
Kira Metallurgist would be there.