Copyright © 2008 Liz Craven
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Lia’s eyes, accustomed to the dark mines, burned under the harsh office light. Blinking the tears back, the face of the speaking soldier wavered briefly, before coming into focus.
Her heart stuttered, and she managed to keep her jaw from dropping. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse—or any better, she wasn’t sure which.
His face was leaner than she remembered, giving his cheekbones a sharp edge. He had lost the soft features of a young man. The roundness of his cheeks had faded, making his square jaw more pronounced and giving him a determined look. He regarded the rep with gray eyes, the color of melted xyreon ore when light struck it. Unlike the ore, however, his flinty eyes were ice cold. The world “ruthless” flitted across her mind and a shiver danced down her spine.
His body had been long and lanky when she had last seen him, but the man before her was not the awkward boy she once knew. His chest had filled out, making him easily three times her width. His upper torso tapered to a lean waist. Body armor hugged trim hips and strong legs. The red emblem of an elected planetary official gleamed on his shoulders.
He barely glanced at her, and the feeling of disappointment that swept over Lia surprised her. She hadn’t wanted him to recognize her and had no business feeling hurt because she had gotten her wish.
As she studied him, he glanced at a soldier behind him and jerked his chin in her direction. A man with blond hair and the flush of youth still in his cheeks stepped towards her. He smiled at her—the first courtesy ever offered to her in the rep’s office—and extended his arm.
“This will only take a moment,” the young soldier assured her.
Staring at the device he was holding, Lia took a cautious step back. The rep still had a death grip on her arm—her fingers were going numb—so the step was small, but it was enough for the soldier to hesitate.
“What is that?” she demanded, relieved she sounded angry rather than panicked.
“It won’t hurt.” His tone was polite, if condescending, but he didn’t lower the device.
“What ‘won’t hurt’?” Lia snapped out.
The young man actually blushed. “It’s a simple DNA scan. It will take less than five seconds, and you won’t feel a thing.”
This time Lia wrenched her arm free from the rep as she leaped backwards. “Absolutely not.”
“I promise it won’t hurt,” the youth reassured her.
“I said no.”
Then he spoke, and he had the audacity to sound amused. “Madam, we are looking for someone. The DNA scan will help narrow our search by eliminating you. We will compensate you for your time.”
She snorted. Even if they gave her money, the rep would be the one “compensated” for her time. “I still refuse.”
“We must insist.”
Ignoring the furious glare of the rep, she stood her ground. “Under League privacy laws, a DNA scan cannot be compelled unless an individual is under arrest. Am I under arrest?”
He lifted an eyebrow. She resisted the urge to reach up and yank it back down.
“You are not under arrest—” he conceded.
“Then I am free to refuse the scan.”
“Neither are you in League territory,” he continued. He gestured towards the youth. “Caden.”
Lia’s stomach sank. They had her. League laws meant nothing on Tmesis. The only thing she could do was endure the scan with dignity.
The young soldier stepped forward, pointing the scanner at her.
Dignity be damned. With fury fueled by fear, Lia kicked out, knocking the scanner from the unsuspecting soldier’s hand. She spun and darted for the door.
She didn’t make it three meters, before slamming into another one of the soldiers who had circled around to block her path with inhuman speed. Her breathing hitched when she took in his glowing red eyes, wide-spread jaw, and sharp pointed teeth. An Inderian. A proud and fierce race of warriors steeped in tradition, blood feuds, and honor. If their inherent skills weren’t enough to inspire fear in those they met, the rumors of ritual sacrifice and cannibalism were. They rarely left their home system, but those who did usually hired out as assassins.
Were the soldiers seeking her out to ensure her death?
The Inderian turned Lia to face the others, lifting her completely off her feet to do so, and she hated that her face was flushed. The impromptu flight embarrassed her. Where did she think she was going? There weren’t a lot of hiding places on a barren moon. Especially when you needed pesky little luxuries like water. Fortunately, the dirt and grime smearing her face hid her blush. At least she hoped they did.
He stood in the same place, his arms crossed and that infuriating eyebrow still cocked, making no effort to hide his amusement.
Caden held the scanner again, his gaze flicking back and forth between Lia and his commander who met Lia’s narrowed eyes for a brief moment before nodding.
Caden approached her cautiously, like drawing near a nest of vipers. Lia felt a crazy urge to laugh. The Inderian held her immobilized. She could barely turn her head, much less attack a trained soldier. She wasn’t fooling herself. The only reason she’d succeeded in kicking him before was the element of surprise.
No miner in their right mind would attack a League soldier. Lia supposed that meant she was no longer in her right mind. Not that it mattered, seeing how they were probably going to kill her.
She had feared for her life for as long as she could remember and had half-expected to feel relief at finally facing death. She didn’t. She was pissed-off, plain and simple. And under the anger, her heart ached that the one good thing she remembered from childhood—this cold and amused man—was an illusion.
An illusion that was probably going to kill her.
Caden pressed a button and a beam of orange light moved over her. The crucial procedure took mere seconds. The light disappeared, and Caden began inputting data into the scanner.
Scrapping together what little dignity she had left, Lia addressed the Inderian. “You can release me now.”
A nod from their leader, and she found herself standing on her own two feet. The Inderian shifted behind her and she knew he prepared to catch her if she bolted. He needn’t have bothered. With the scan completed, she felt oddly resigned and drained of energy. With her anger gone, the long day, the cave-in and her injury finally caught up with her. Not to mention the strain of the last five minutes. She wanted to sit down. Actually, she wanted to curl into fetal position. She did neither.
A pair of boots stepped into her field of vision and she looked up into the face of the man from her past.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” The brisk tone lacked warmth, but Lia sensed he was trying to be kind. Her anger had amused him. She wondered if her dejection bothered him.
She decided to answer his question honestly. “Yes, it was.”
He blinked, and she realized she had surprised him. Instinctively, she knew very little surprised this man.
He inclined his head politely. “I apologize for the inconvenience.” He hesitated before dropping his voice to prevent the rep from overhearing. “We only seek to find a missing person. The scan will be used to eliminate your DNA as a match for hers. Once done, you will be free to go. We will not be passing scan results on to authorities or storing them in any public database. Your privacy and secrets will remain intact.”
He thought her a criminal afraid of being caught. She was about to surprise him again.
He turned away from her, dismissing her. “Caden, I believe we have taken up enough of this young lady’s time. Record her as a non-match and reset the scanner for the next subject.”
“I can’t,” Caden sounded nervous.
“You can’t? The scanner is malfunctioning?”
“No, sir. I just ran and reran a diagnostic on it. I also ran the results four times,” Caden rushed to assure him.
“Then what seems to be the problem?”
“There’s no problem. It’s just that…” He hesitated.
“That what?” the commander barked.
“I’m a match,” Lia said wearily. “I’m your wife.”