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Mad had expected Kenzie to dart away from him as soon as her passion cooled. He’d been braced for the disappointment and half expecting another knife. When she’d let him pull her close and cuddle in the seating area’s pillows instead, he’d had to hold back a self-satisfied smile.
They were making progress.
She’d smoothed her tunic down so she was mostly covered, though she hadn’t done up the buttons all the way, and his hand itched to dip inside and cup her breast. He’d pulled up his own pants as well. If anyone walked in on them, a tryst might be suspected, but there was no proof.
Not much, anyway.
Kenzie leaned against Mad’s chest, a welcome weight. She’d taken out one of her knives and was tracing a finger over the handle. Since she didn’t seem keen to turn the blade on him, he’d call it progress.
“I should get back to looking for Carise,” she said, but she didn’t move to get up.
Mad wanted to wrap his arms around her and hold her in place. He was willing to bet all he was worth that Kenzie hadn’t taken a full day for herself since she started looking for her sister.
Could he get her to take one hour?
He didn’t hold her to him. If he tightened his grip, she’d pull away. That was her nature, he was beginning to understand. She could be coaxed, but never controlled. He’d have to remember that for the future.
If he could convince her they had a future.
“What did you mean?” She tilted her head up to look him in the face, green eyes wide.
“When?” He could get lost in her eyes, studying the way her pupils dilated, the shifting colors, the way they narrowed and assessed her targets.
“When you said I should ask the hand of fate? Is that a person? How superstitious is this place?” She put her knife back in its sheath and half turned in his embrace so she could look at him.
“Guerran doesn’t have time for superstitions. There are a few temples to the gods, but they’re mostly in the Green Zone. The gods live back on Krudare, and they don’t care about exiles.” He’d been a devout boy, happy to visit every temple as a child. But his faith had dried up as he grew. Guerran only made the loss more obvious.
Kenzie made a small noise, but didn’t say anything.
“You don’t want to engage in religious debate?” he asked with a smile.
Those eyes of hers got giant. “Hell no.”
He laughed. “Fate isn’t religious, at least not according to our scientists back home. It’s a real force in the universe, though we can’t directly see it. We can see how it affects things.”
“So fate is like dark matter?”
“Perhaps.” He was dancing up to the edge of what he suspected, that fate had brought Kenzie to him, that she was his mate. His true mate, not just some person he could choose to bond with. But he was learning how to read her, and the expression on her face was doubtful.
She didn’t believe in fate, not yet. And he could not push her in a single conversation. He had to change the subject before she latched onto it.
“How did you become so skilled with weapons?” He didn’t want to feel the kiss of her blade again, but he’d watch her fight all day… if he had some guarantee she wouldn’t be hurt.
Kenzie was quiet for a long moment, and he thought she wouldn’t let him get away with changing the subject. But she did. Eventually. “I learned to fight back on Earth. My own bullies at first, then Carise’s. Our mom died when Carise was just a baby, and our dad was… useless. He didn’t care that the neighborhood we lived in was getting rougher and rougher. I came home with a broken arm once, and he didn’t even notice.”
She paused, and Mad realized he’d made a noise. “That is unacceptable.” He tightened his grip on her, just a bit. “I’d hunt down anyone who tried to harm you.”
She studied him, eyes narrowed in concentration. And then she gave him a small nod. “It is what it is. The Detyen War made our town unlivable.”
“There was a war?”
She shrugged. “Sort of? It happened mostly in space. But a detachment of aliens infiltrated our town to potentially use as a base, and a bunch of space junk crashed down and destroyed the local schools. They were just starting to consider rebuilding things when I left. Carise was nineteen, an adult. It should have been safe. I went to EarthCol3 as a security officer and learned weapons skills. I was there for five years. It was boring, but the pay was amazing. It should have set me up for life. We spent most of the time sparring each other rather than doing any work. And then I got home and everything changed. Carise was abducted, and it was all my fault.”
“What? How?” There was no way that was possible. Mad may have not known Kenzie for long, but her love for her sister shined through with everything she was. She wouldn’t let something like that happen.
This time Kenzie did sit up, and Mad couldn’t hold her back. The space between them was an uncrossable chasm. “Carise was still a kid and I should have known that. Nineteen. She was practically still a baby. Dad had been making overtures, trying to be involved in helping her get a job or go to college. I thought maybe this time things would be okay. He didn’t try with me, so maybe I was the issue. When I got back, she’d been gone for months. All Dad did was report her missing. He told me she probably ran off.”
“It’s not your fault.” Mad couldn’t hug her close, no matter how much he wanted, so he’d use his words as well as he could. “Are women commonly abducted from your planet? Was this something you even thought to be worried about?”
“It’s common enough. A dozen or so confirmed abductions every year. Hundreds, maybe thousands, more suspected. There are billions of people on the planet, people get lost. I should have stuck around.” Kenzie stood and began to button up her top.
“Twelve people out of billions are taken every year? She’s just as likely to learn to fly as to fear abduction. It’s not your fault.” He got to his feet too. If Kenzie was about to run, he would chase. He wasn’t letting her go with this guilt riding so close to the surface.
“You’d understand if you had a sister.”
“I do.” Mad could still picture Taiana’s face as she’d visited him in his cell on his last night on Krudare. It didn’t matter that he’d seen her through a screen dozens of times since then. Her fear and disappointment hung over his shoulders every day. “She’s married to an ambitious leech back home. I would have protected her from him if I could, but he married her two months after I was sent here. I know it’s not quite the same, but I’ll go through any torture here on the hope that I can one day stand by her side again.” He could leave it at that, but more words sprang up. “Arbyn arranged transport for me off Guerran.”
She tilted her head in question. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“If I leave Guerran, my exile can never be lifted. That’s what keeps most of us here.” It was a cruel punishment. Home was only a few hours away by shuttle, and there was a space port with plenty of ships. “Rather than plead my case with the king or a judge, Arbyn wants me gone for good. But as long as Taiana might need me, I’m here.”
“I’d live in hell if it meant keeping Carise safe.”
“Good.” Mad shifted his mind to the task. He couldn’t take Kenzie back to his bed and spend the whole day there, no matter how much he wanted to. “I know where we should go next.”
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