Between Frost and Fury, страница 1
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FOR MOM AND DAD
“Delaney?!” Ruckus gripped the phone tighter in his hand. Fear was threatening to cloud his judgment, and he forced himself to still in the center of the living room. Inhale slowly until he stopped seeing black spots.
There’d been an odd note in Delaney’s tone when she’d picked up a few minutes ago, a hint that something was already wrong before he’d told her about the Basileus’s murder. Considering her plan had been to spend the day at the beach with her best friend, Mariana, there was no reason he could see for her to be nervous.
She’d been in the process of saying his name, which meant something had to have happened. There were any number of things that could mean—most of them bad—but until he got more information, he couldn’t panic. Panicking meant making mistakes, and he couldn’t afford any, no matter what was going on.
Ruckus hung up and dialed again, setting the phone on speaker and putting it aside while it rang, retrieving the clear device he’d left on the kitchen counter. He cursed when Delaney’s voicemail started.
Ended the call.
The forgotten device in his other hand made a beeping sound suddenly, a row of tiny yellow lights flickering at the top. He drew his attention away from the phone long enough to tap the center button. A second later Fawna’s face filled the palm-sized screen, the concern in her eyes apparent.
“We might have a problem.”
“Something’s happened to Delaney,” he said, that tightening feeling in his chest getting worse when her phone went to voicemail yet again.
“There’s a Kint ship,” Fawna told him, momentarily glancing away to use the control panel in her own craft. He couldn’t see it from the small screen, but the sound of her clicking keys gave it away. “I don’t know how long it’s been here. It was doing a very good job cloaking its presence. Could be they arrived before me.”
His stomach bottomed out and he gripped the edge of the counter to keep himself from visibly swaying.
He and Fawna had only just ended their conversation moments before he’d phoned Delaney to fill her in. Because Xenith and Earth were in different galaxies, communications were limited to a certain range. Fawna had come all the way to tell him about the political unrest in Vakar, which meant she was still directly outside Earth’s orbit.
And apparently she wasn’t alone.
“Whose ship?” Ruckus asked, though he was already rushing down the hall toward Mariana’s bedroom, where he’d last seen the car keys. He’d drive down to the beach and find out what was going on.
Because he was being paranoid, and there was no possible way what he feared was happening really was. No possible—
“I believe it’s the Zane’s,” Fawna confirmed, basically shattering any remaining hope he had left. “Wait.” She paused then added, “It looks like a smaller craft is about to board. Ruckus … it’s coming from Earth.”
Without stopping, he swiveled on his heel, adjusting his course of trajectory. He snatched the phone off the counter just in case, and quickly checked to make sure his fritz was turned on as he headed toward the front door.
“Come get me,” he ordered, holding the screen up so Fawna could see the moment he got outside. “Now.”
“We don’t know she’s been taken…,” Fawna began, though he could tell she was already preparing to do as he’d said. The console before her began to whir, and a digital voice announced preparations to approach the planet.
“She’s on that ship,” he stated, moving past the driveway and around to the back of the apartment building. There was more space in the yard. “Just get here.”
He disconnected the device before she could respond, shoving it into his back pocket so he could try dialing Delaney one last time, already knowing it was useless. There was only one reason for the Zane’s personal ship to be hovering outside of Earth.
Ruckus struggled against the mixture of anger and terror that warred within him, trying to keep his mind clear enough to run the calculations. If they’d just taken her, Delaney wasn’t too far ahead. He could board Fawna’s ship and be close behind, arrive shortly after.
The sound of an engine roared above him and he tipped his head back in time to see the smaller craft drop its camouflage, seemingly appearing out of thin air. A small hatch at the bottom opened, and a metal bar dropped down into his already waiting hand.
And then he’d do whatever he had to do to get Delaney back safely.
She felt like she was dying.
Delaney came to with a piercing pain, like an ice pick was being lodged in her brain. For a moment she stayed still, waiting for the spinning sensation to dissipate and her muscles to stop quivering.
The solid surface cradled her body awkwardly, causing her to wince when she shifted. The feeling was oddly familiar, and her mind struggled to comprehend what was going on. She’d yet to open her eyes, and inhaled slowly before reaching out blindly to feel her surroundings.
She stretched her arm over her head and met with a solid, cool surface. It was clearly metallic, and beneath it she could feel a steady thrum. Her eyes snapped open, but she had to wait for the black spots to clear before she could make out the familiar walls.
She was on a spaceship. Again.
“You have got to be kidding.” She pressed both hands to her forehead and tried to recall how she’d gotten here.
The first time she’d been abducted by aliens and dragged unconscious onto a spaceship, she’d been completely terrified. Now, while there was a steady seed of panic at the center of her chest, it was manageable. Staying calm was always the best course of action when it came to dealing with Xenith.
It’d been a couple of months since her first encounter with the Vakar and the Kints, when she’d been mistaken for an alien princess and ripped from her home world. On Xenith, she’d managed to evade assassination and form a couple of strong bonds with members of the royal staff. Whatever was going on here, she could count on her friends. Though it would have been nice to have gotten a heads-up this time around.
“Why does this keep happening to me?” she groaned.
“That’s an interesting question.”
Delaney bolted upright and turned toward the voice so fast, she got whiplash. Instinctively she tucked herself against the corner of the wall, gripping the edge of the cot hard enough that her knuckles turned white.
Suddenly it hit her: the beach, Mariana, seeing him in the reflection of the car window.
“Trystan,” she said breathlessly, instantly recalling how easy it was for him to make someone feel off-center. He hadn’t done anything yet, and her heart was already pounding.
Delaney tried—and failed—not to be so obvious, but her gaze trailed over him, noting subtle differences and similarities before she could stop herself.
There was a band wrapped around his right wrist and her eyes locked on to it, recognizing the weapon as one that most soldiers—or Tellers, to use their word—carried. All he had to do was wave his middle finger over the bottom of it to turn the band into a gun.
Delaney had one as well, and because it looked so harmless, she’d kept it on her. It’d been a slight comfort, knowing that she’d had a means of protecting herself even when there’d been no cause for alarm. She barely resisted the urge to glance down at her own wrist, knowing already that there was no way he’d left her armed.
She should have turned and run the other way when she’d realized who he was back on the street. Or shot him.
He was watching her through those eerie eyes of his, cornflower blue with a ring of crimson around the outside of the iris. All aliens from Xenith had two-toned eyes, but his were by far the creepiest she’d ever encountered.
A long silence stretched between them before he took the initiative, dropping his leg so both feet were flat on the ground. He rested his elbows on his thighs.
“Hello, Lissa,” he purred, but he didn’t smile. His expression remained blank in that intense way only he could pull off. He had the best poker face she’d ever seen, and after posing as an alien princess for a month, she thought herself a good judge of such things.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and forced herself to pull her shoulders back, straightening her spine to appear more offended than afraid. There was only one reason she could think of to explain why she was here: He still thought she was Olena.
An alien device that somehow affected brain waves had been behind her initial kidnapping. The Vakar princess—or Lissa, as they called her—Olena Ond had used it on Delaney as part of her plan to escape an arranged marriage to Trystan. Because of that device, Delaney had been forced to pretend to be Olena, spending weeks undercover on the planet Xenith among the Vakar people until the real Lissa was found.
Once Olena had been discovered and they’d been able to swap places, another device had been used to reverse the effects of the first. Ruckus had finally been able to see the real her, and she’d gone back to her life. Which meant it had worked.
So what was wrong now? Was there a chance the correctional device’s effect had worn off? And even if it had, how had Trystan found her? Why?
“Care to explain what’s going on right now?” she asked, latching on to the thread of anger she felt. She’d done everything that the Vakar had asked of her, with the agreement that, once finished, she’d be left alone. The dream had been to never see Trystan again, let alone be kidnapped by him.
Did Ruckus know where she was? They’d been talking on the phone when Trystan had knocked her unconscious. As a trained commander, Ruckus should have been able to figure out what had happened.
He’d find her, she trusted that.
“I’m curious,” Trystan finally spoke, completely ignoring her question, “how you thought you could get away from this? You had to know you were already in too deep.”
Great, what the hell had Olena done now? Delaney let her head drop back against the wall with a resounding clank. The two times she’d met Olena she’d disliked her almost as much as everyone else seemed to. During her stay with the Vakar, she hadn’t heard a single good thing about her.
“This is a mistake,” she mumbled.
“The only mistake,” he sneered, finally letting some of his true feelings slip through, “was letting you fly away on that ship.”
It wasn’t hard to catch his anger now. She had to tread lightly. There were about a million different ways this could go, and not many boded well for her. If he’d been anyone else, pretending she was Olena again would more than likely be a good thing. Unfortunately, Trystan’s hatred for his betrothed was well-known, and if he thought she’d run again …
That had to be it. Olena had run again, and without Ruckus there to hunt her down, Trystan had gone after her himself. It didn’t really explain why he’d bother, considering he’d hated the idea of being betrothed to the Lissa, but Delaney couldn’t think up any other reason for him being on Earth.
Except, what had Ruckus said on the phone before she’d been injected with whatever sleep agent Trystan had used? Something about the Basileus being dead? If Olena’s dad, the Vakar king, was dead, that changed everything.
“Okay”—she held out both hands, opting to try negotiation—“clearly we need to work a few things out—”
“I’ve already worked everything out for us,” he remarked.
Frustrated, she ran a hand through her hair. When his gaze homed in on the motion, his mask wavered, but she couldn’t make out what he was feeling.
“Why do you keep staring at me like that?!”
She’d never been able to read him very well; he had more facets than anyone she’d ever met. It was that very thing that always put everyone around him on edge. As the Kint prince, or Zane, it was a good thing.
For everyone else, it seriously blew.
“Your hair.” It was little more than a whisper.
“It’s longer.” She reached up and fiddled with a strand. In the five weeks since she’d last been to Xenith, her hair had grown to a little past her shoulders.
For a split second the world tipped on its axis. She hadn’t misheard him. He could see her, the real her, which meant the device hadn’t malfunctioned and she didn’t look like Olena at all.
Momentarily forgetting her earlier plan to remain calm, she scrambled up from the cot, searching the small area. Her initial perusal of the room had been accurate, however; there was nothing aside from the chair where he sat and the cot currently pressed to the backs of her knees.
Frantically, she groped her back pocket, letting out a relieved sound when she felt the heavy press of her cell phone. She almost dropped it in her haste to get it out, fumbling a little before activating the camera app.
The face staring back at her from the small screen was unequivocally her own. Her bright red hair was mussed around her face, and a bit of color stained her otherwise pale cheeks—color she’d gotten from spending the day at the beach with Mariana. Between the hair and the vibrant green of her eyes, there wasn’t a single similarity she shared with Olena. No physical reason anyone, let alone someone who’d known the Lissa for years, would have to mix them up.
The relief she’d been feeling at seeing herself began to fade as the reality of her situation came into focus. She frowned, a new wave of suspicion rising.
“This isn’t right,” she said, even though she knew that Trystan wasn’t the type to make mistakes. She forced herself to lift her gaze to his. “How about we turn this ship around, and you can drop me off in the nearest heavily populated city? Doesn’t even have to be where you found me.”
He eyed her for a moment, that blank mask back in place, before slowly easing to his feet to stand over her with his six-five height.
“You’re smarter than that,” he stated. “I didn’t travel all the way to that primitive planet for just anyone, and I certainly didn’t go for Olena or Ruckus. There was no mistake. I took who I meant to take, Delaney.”
“You know who I am.” She was too unnerved to be embarrassed by the way her voice shook. Obviously he did; proof of that had literally just been staring back at her in the mirror. Still, she’d hoped … she didn’t know what. Just that there was another explanation. Any other explanation.
“For a while now, yes.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You had me fooled for a long t
“I did what I had to do to protect my people,” she said. “You would have done the same.”
“It’s all I ever do,” he agreed.
“Then you understand why I did it.” She wasn’t stupid enough to allow herself to feel hope a second time. He wouldn’t have gone through all this trouble if he didn’t intend to enact revenge. Trystan wasn’t the type of guy you pissed off and lived to tell the tale.
“I understand why you lied to me, yes.” He was close now, less than a foot away, and he paused there for a deceiving moment. Baiting people was his specialty. He knew all the right buttons to press, the right things to say, the right spaces to crowd. “I never once lied to you.”
That, unfortunately, was true. He’d taken great pleasure in telling her how much he hated Olena, and telling her often. It was still a bit of a shocker that he was supposedly loved by his people, where Olena was disliked at best. He was just as big a jerk as she was, spoiled and pompous and entitled.
“Why bother with all this?” Delaney waved a hand to indicate the ship, unable to hold back the anger this time. “Why not just kill me on Earth? Too easy?”
He quirked a brow, the corner of his mouth just barely turning up. “Are you asking if I intend to torture you?”
“Did you murder the Basileus?” she blurted, admitting to herself that she was being a coward for doing so. Fact of the matter was, she didn’t think she was ready to find out what she was doing here. If he did plan on making an example of her for lying. He had to be feeling like a fool for believing she was Olena, and it wouldn’t matter to him that that hadn’t been her intention.
“I happened to be there,” he said, not really answering the question at all. “The Basilissa narrowly escaped the same fate, and her daughter’s life still hangs in the balance.”