Excerpt from RECKONING

I headed for my room, and the contents of the box jostled as I sat down on my bed. Eager, I slid a finger under the lid, breaking its tight seal, and peered inside to find the most sophisticated technology I had ever seen.

A comm, tablet and … I picked up a small plastic packet that rested on top of the two gleaming devices.

What in the worlds is this?

Inside the clear pouch was a simple silver chain link bracelet that glinted in the morning light coming through my windows. I raised a brow. Tai was many things, but the type of man who gave a woman jewellery after an argument, he was not. Plus, he was the one angry with me – not the other way around. He had no reason to send me an olive branch.

Frowning, I returned the packet to the box and ran my fingers over the glossy screen of the tablet before taking it out. The device was so light, I almost lost hold of it, expecting more weight. When I held it up, I realized that the appartus was entirely transparent. I searched for the button that would make it flexible enough for me to roll it up, into the portable scroll-like form that other tablets could assume. When I found a clear tab, I pressed it and smiled at how the device went from hard as a board to slack in the blink of an eye.

I tucked the scroll back into the box and quickly picked up the comm, eager to inspect it too. Rather than made of black plastic and metal parts like the one I used to wear, the device was entirely transparent like the tablet. Tiny, almost non-existent, clasps fastened the see-through straps of the comm to its screen. Suddenly, a soft amber hue bloomed across the device’s screen and a familiar call code displayed.

I searched the device for some way to activate it. Finally, I tapped the side like I would my old comm.

“Good.” Tai’s deep voice filled the room. “You got it.”

I looked over the contents of the box. “Thank you, but why?” I said. “I could have gotten new devices on my own.”

“The ones I sent you are Protectorate-grade,” he said. “The newest and most secure models.”

Of course they are. Tai would have considered nothing less.

“I understand the comm and tablet,” I said, my eyes landing on the small clear packet. “But why the bracelet?”

It took a second before he replied. “It’s not a bracelet,” he said. “It’s a tracking device.”

I must have heard wrong.  “W-what? Why?”

“Maxim destroyed your communications devices,” he said. “This way, I’ll have some way of locating you if something happens to you again.”

A chill ran up my spine as I glanced at what no longer looked like an innocent piece of jewellery.  I hadn’t actually considered that Maxim would attempt to abduct me again, especially since I would now be on full alert, wary that he would do such a thing.

“Even if Maxim or one of his thugs don’t try to abduct you,” he continued as though reading my thoughts, “someone has to contact you at some point to tell you what files they want.”

I squeezed my eyelids shut at his logic. Damn it. I hadn’t thought of that.

“The comm’s highly secure,” he pressed, “so we’ll be able to speak freely when using it. There’s an activation code for the tablet somewhere inside the box. I’ve already activated the bracelet.”

I sighed, opening my eyelids to stare down at the tracking device. “All right,” I said.  “I’ll enter the code and put the bracelet on right after our call.”

He grunted his approval. “I managed to gather information about Gabriel and Maxim that I should share with you,” he said.

I perked up. “Does that mean you and Gannon have come up with a plan?”

He hesitated. “Not quite,” he said. “I need to look into a few things first. I’ll contact you to let you know when we’re ready to meet.”

I exhaled a deep breath, relieved. Maybe this ordeal would soon come to an end.

I sat there, staring at my new comm, wondering what to say next. Usually when Tai called, we spoke freely, more often than not ending up in a heated argument, but this time around, he was as quiet as he was cool. Since our last quarrel, our two interactions had been cold and factual, almost as though he was planning strategy with a member of his team. My heart squeezed, coming to realize what he was doing. He was building a wall between us, in his usual self-defensive way.

I wrapped my fingers around the comm, holding it tight. Gods, I hate this.

“Tai,” I began, “about the other night with Gannon. “I- ”

“I believe we have more important things to discuss,” he said. “Don’t you?”

I paused, cheeks burning at the way he cut me off.  I wanted to talk things, smooth the awkwardness between us, but we needed to deal with Gabriel and Maxim before getting into this.  And truthfully, I actually didn’t know what to do. I nearly laughed. Tai had already told me what to do. He had demanded that I make a decision between him and Gannon. And who could blame him? My mess of conflicting emotions would have tested the most patient of men. In fact, they had! Tai had been nothing but understanding as I tried to work through my feelings for Gannon and tried to get him out of my head and heart … out my life.

My shoulders slumped. Had I truly tried to get Gannon out of my life?

On a number of occasions, I had found myself back in Gannon’s arms. Hallowed Halls, after barely noticing Tai’s concern for me after my abduction, I had taken back Gannon’s promise ring, right in front of Tai! He should have written me off at that point. But he hadn’t. Even while filled with frustration and anger, Tai had still found the motivation to help me.

I exhaled deeply, overcome by the tide of emotion building inside me over the last few days, weeks, months.

“Thank you,” I said in a quiet voice, tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

“For what?”

“For setting aside your differences with Gannon so that you can help me and my family,” I released a puff of air with a sad laugh. “Once again.”

I waited so long for his response, I began to fear our connection had been lost.

“Protecting you is just common ground,” he said finally in a tight voice. “Don’t make too much of it.”

And then the amber color of the comm faded, its screen going clear, as he ended our call.