The following excerpt is for mature audiences (18+ years only). Enjoy!
“How is it that with all our system’s technology I can’t make love to you from thousands of light years away?”
I snorted, but my lips tilted up at the corners nevertheless. “I’m sure the Protectorate has some sort of virtual reality device that could be refashioned just for that purpose,” I offered, rearranging the wool blanket on my lap.
I was curled up in bed, facing my monitor and resting against a pile of pillows. It had become a familiar position over the last few weeks, one from which I would relay the day’s activities during my nightly call with Gannon. Well, it was a nightly call for me. The sun had already risen where Gannon lived, on Dignitas One.
Suddenly, Gannon seemed to be deep in concentration. “No, on second thought, there’s no technology that could ever measure up to the real thing.” He grinned.
I smiled, heat rising to my cheeks.
“There’s the smile I was looking for,” Gannon said, leaning closer to his monitor, and so closer to me.
He was sitting in his office. He had been holding our calls from there more frequently over the last month. From what I could see, his office was a large, well-lit space. A wall of floor-to-ceiling glass ran its expanse directly behind him. Through it, I could see citizens of every caste striding by in obvious haste to get things done, more than likely at Gannon’s bidding. During these nighttime conversations with Gannon, and within the intimate surroundings of my bedroom, it was easy to forget who he was and his status. As chancellor, he surely had, every day, a checklist as long as my arm, filled with tasks.
I frowned as I noted the time. “I should let you go,” I said, sitting up.
I glanced pointedly behind him, fiddling with the thin strap of my top. “Your office looks incredibly busy.”
He blinked then swiveled in his chair to look at the steady stream of people behind him.
“Oh, my support always look like that,” he said, mischief glittering in his clear blue eyes as he turned back to me. “They think it’ll prevent me asking them to do anything else.” He winked, and I laughed, loving his cheekiness.
If his office was anything like the Judiciary on Prospect Eight, where I worked, there would have been, since Septima, a heightened state of activity and an added fervor underscoring every project. The Corona had wasted no time gaining approval from Realm Council to initiate an investigation that would seek out who was responsible for the attack. In her own words, it was an act of war against law-abiding citizens that would not go without justice.
A shiver rippled through me as I recalled her remark.
“Gannon,” I said so sharply that he became somber at once, “promise me you won’t monitor my family anymore.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Why would I do that?”
I swallowed. “Uncle Paol made his decision, but my cousin, she’s safe with my parents,” I said. “He’ll need to answer for his own choices.”
“I would rather be aware of what your uncle’s up to,” he said. “If he’s still aligned with the factions, then, depending on what he does, you or your family could be in danger.”
I was shaking my head before he finished speaking. “It would be best for Adria and my family if we just let things lie,” I said.
Gannon scowled. “That’s not something I normally do, Kira,” he said. “Things have a way of coming back up to haunt people.”
I leaned toward him, clenching my fists. “Please.”
Gannon must have seen something in my expression because he nodded, though with a great amount of obvious reluctance.
He ran a hand through his hair, disheveling the blond locks, as he lowered his gaze to his desk. “How’d it go today?” he asked.
I thought for a moment then ended up with “Good.” It was odd to describe a farewell as such, but there was truly no other way to describe it. I sighed. “A lot of people came by.”
He glanced up from under his lashes. “Was Tai there?”
I hesitated then nodded.
Gannon lowered his gaze again, this time to his hands, which were now clasped tightly in front of him on his clear glass desktop. “And how is the newly appointed commander of Prospect Council?” he asked, still looking at some point around his wrists.
I blinked. “He … seems fine.”
Gannon nodded, still not looking at me.
I studied the crown of his head with a frown. “When will you be back on Prospect?” I asked, hoping to change his mood.
Finally he glanced up, with apology clear in his eyes. “I was hoping to be there in the next few days,” he said, cringing, “but my father just asked me to lead discussions on Hale Three. Since their minister’s murder on Septima-”
My pulse spiked. “Where on Hale Three?”
Gannon drew back, frowning, no doubt at my sharp tone. “A town called Tork.”
I shot up to my knees, gripping the blanket on my lap. “Don’t go.”
Worry flickered across his face. “Kira, what’s wrong?”
I licked my lips. “The factions,” I said. “They’re using Tork as a command center. You could get hurt.” Or worse. Oh gods.
Gannon’s shoulders dipped as he frowned. “Lahra,” he began, and I melted a little at the endearment. “There’s violence everywhere. I’ll be well protected.”
That wasn’t enough. “Can’t someone else go instead?”
He shook his head, regret clouding his eyes. “It’s not that sim-”
“Please,” I said, holding back a swell of fear. “I can’t have what happened to my aunt happen to you.”
Gannon ran a hand across his mouth and he leaned back, studying me. For a few beats, we were silent as we stared at each other. My heart jackhammered. I knew I was being unfair, but I couldn’t care less.
He crossed his arms. “How do you know about Tork?” he finally asked. “I’ve only just learned of the trouble there, in a report.”
I opened my mouth, but hesitated for some reason before responding. “Tai told me.”
I took a deep breath. “Yes, well, at the farewell, Khelan asked Tai for information about the factions and …” I dropped my gaze to my lap as I rubbed my temples. “Why do I feel like I’m apologizing?” I lowered my hands, raising my head.
Gannon sat forward in his seat. “He’s so blasted ingrained in your life,” he ground out.
I exhaled a puff of air. “He’s my brother’s best friend. Our families are close.”
“Must he always be so close to you?” The light blue of his irises was almost translucent, his eyes were so bright.
This didn’t make sense. “What’s going on, Gannon?” I asked, searching his face for clues. Surely he knew by now that I was his even if it was acknowledged only between us!
Gannon exhaled deeply, leaning onto his elbows. “I’m sorry,” he said with a depth of gravity that filled me with concern. “I — I’m taking things out on you.”
“What things?” I asked, taking in the stiffness of his shoulders.
He glanced about the room before coming to rest on me again. “It’s Realm Council and these ongoing meetings since Septima. I just-”
“No,” I said firmly as I crawled closer to my monitor to assess him closer.
Gannon relished what he did. If anything, his work was invigorating, not irritating. Since leading the task force that established a special committee on exploration, Gannon had been called on to oversee a broad range of projects, from managing trade negotiations to offering opinion on security measures. Whenever we spoke, he gave me a rundown on his day that had my head spinning but seemed to only leave him more energized.
I narrowed my eyes. “This isn’t about work or Septima,” I said.
He looked at me for a moment then sighed. “I had an argument with my father.”
I studied him, expecting more. An argument with his father wasn’t new. Gannon and his father regularly exchanged terse words. I suspected they were too much alike to do anything else.
“About what?” I asked when it became apparent that there was no explanation forthcoming.
He thrust a hand into his hair, seemingly searching for words. After a long moment, he lowered his arm. “About things I want and can’t have,” he said finally, holding my gaze.
It took me a few seconds to understand he was talking about me. My eyes widened. “Oh,” I said for lack of a better response.
Gannon shook his head. “I wanted to be there with you, for you, at your aunt’s farewell. I almost ordered Talib to take me to an arc station at least five times,” he said. “But I couldn’t figure out how to explain why a senator — the Realm’s chancellor, no less — would be attending the farewell for a subordinate woman he never met.”
I tossed off the blanket that was tangled around my knees. The cool air skimmed my bare legs as I sat directly in front of the monitor, my hands fisted in my lap. “There’s no way you could have come, Gannon, and I’m glad you didn’t,” I said, causing his eyes to narrow even as they ran a heated path over me.
“You would prefer to have Tai stand by your side, instead of me?”
I frowned. “That’s not what I meant,” I said. “You being there would have only brought more complications to your life than I already have.”
“You’ve brought nothing but meaning and happiness to my life,” he said, steel in his voice.
I stared at him with my heart in my throat, clenching my jaw until it hurt so I wouldn’t say something foolish, like how deeply I cared for him. Heart aching, I raised a hand and placed it on the screen, just over his cheek. He sighed so deeply I could have sworn he actually felt my touch.
“I can tell you know,” he said, watching me as I ran my fingers along the lines of his lips. “No matter what you will or won’t say, I know how you truly feel about me.”
I smiled, tilting my head and lowering my hand. “Well, that should reassure you then, shouldn’t it?”
He studied me for a long moment, rubbing the pad of his thumb back and forth, across his bottom lip.
“Excuse me, Chancellor.”
Gannon turned in his chair. I looked beyond him at an older man, a senator, standing by the door. He had a shock of white hair that complemented the wisdom plain in his face.
“The marshal is here for your meeting,” he said, flicking a glance my way before looking back at Gannon.
“Thank you, Arthur.” Gannon turned to me as the man walked out of my view. He grimaced. “Time’s up.”
I smiled ruefully. All of a sudden, I had a horrifying thought and hiked the blanket up over my chest.
“Gannon, can everyone see me through your monitor as easily as I can see them?” While no one would be able to determine my caste in my nighttime attire, the scantiness of it had me alarmed.
“No, not everyone,” he said, then smirked. “Though poor Arthur is sure to be tongue-tied for the rest of the day.”
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