The water falling from the three-tiered fountain in the center of the plaza shone with an ethereal blue light. Climbing roses framed every arch and window, and someone had come through to brush them with a luminescent nanite gel so they glowed a pale pink. Strings lights overhead mimicked distant stars, and already people were congregating around tables of food. Officially, the reception for Perrin and Genevieve didn’t start for another thirty minutes, but no one wanted to be late for a party.
Selena hung in the shadows, watching people arrive on the transport pad and via grounder cars. The warm summer air was encouraging everyone to come out.
Already, the happy couple was surrounded by well-wishers. Perrin’s adopted grounder family was there, although the youngest daughter had wandered off to flirt with Mars Sciarra. Captain Sciarra and her new second-in-command were there. The Lees, the Silars, most of the fleet, but Titan was nowhere to be found.
She pinged him again, trying to get a location, but he’d gone dark after breakfast this morning, promising only that he’d be back in time for the party. Looking over the crowd, she found a promising lead: Rowena Lee hiding in a small alcove. Selena made her way through the growing crowd. “Hello.”
Rowena put her hands behind her back, taking an at-ease stance. “Captain Caryll.”
“Do you know where my husband is?”
“I do. And I’m not allowed to tell you anything more than it is a surprise and he is safe.” She paused, then shrugged. “I’ve checked on him twice and he wasn’t bleeding, dehydrated, or in danger of losing oxygen either time, so he’s probably okay.”
Selena crossed her arms. “I thought he was planning to be here tonight.”
“Everyone is planning on being here tonight,” Rowena said, relaxing and sounding annoyed. “The invitations last week almost started a civil war and did trigger three mini-mutinies in crews who are stir-crazy. You opened up new housing outside Enclave, are throwing a party, and didn’t think anyone would come?” Rowena scoffed at her. “Hoshi’s favorite cousin almost killed him when the captain threatened to boycott the celebration.”
Wrinkling her nose, Selena considered the outcome. “Would it really have hurt…?”
Rowena gave her a glare she’d learned to accept over the past few weeks. “I’m not ready for a war.”
“When you are, Titan and I will be there for you. We owe you that. Meanwhile, Gen deserves a party after as long as she waited. So does Perrin.”
“We all deserve a party after this past month.” Rowena took a deep breath.
Selena nodded and waited for Rowena to leave, but the woman stayed stubbornly present. And silent. They watched more fleet and grounders arrive, more tables teleport in, more presents appear on the reception table. Finally Selena said, “Was there anything else you needed, or are we faking this buddy thing until Titan gets here?”
Rowena wrinkled her nose and raised a light sound shield. Nothing that would draw attention, but enough to keep anyone else form overhearing, or recording, their conversation. “I wanted to say thank you for the nanite gel you sent Aronia. The medicine helped, but we aren’t sure they would have both pulled through without it. The internal bleeding was extensive.”
“You’re welcome. Although that was meant to be a secret. I know what Hoshi thinks of me and I didn’t want to start any trouble.”
Rowena lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “No one knows, officially, but I knew the Sciarras didn’t have anything like it, and that Titan had used something similar. It wasn’t very hard to draw the right conclusion. I haven’t told anyone.”
“Thank you. How are Aronia and the baby doing?”
“Nia is up and moving. She’s feeling a lot better. The baby is good. They named him Ki, after a great-grandfather of ours.”
“Good. I’m glad that worked out then.” She stared off into the distance, not quite certain how she felt about the idea of sisters, babies, and bonding with Rowena Lee. It wasn’t as awkward as she’d imagined.
“You had a sister, didn’t you?”
Selena nodded. “Losna. She was eight years older than me and in crew training when I was born. We weren’t close like you and Aronia.”
“I’m sorry she won’t be here for your reception.”
She shook her head. “I don’t really remember her. She bunked with her age mates by the time I was old enough to remember anything, and then she went to the Academy. I was only home three weeks before she led a charge in battle and died.”
“Do you know who killed her?”
“No. I could. I have access to the files as captain. But I don’t want to carry that around.”
Rowena tipped her head in acknowledgment but not agreement. “I don’t know if I could be that restrained.”
“It’s easier when you know they didn’t love you.” The words seemed heavier than they were. She’d named the beast that had haunted her all these years. No one loved her. No one could love her. And now, that was changing. She was making a new family and crew with Titan. And—she glanced sideways—apparently with Rowena.
Every family needed uncomfortable sibling rivalries, didn’t it?
Rowena straightened up and looked around. “Titan says he’s incoming.”
“Why didn’t he tell me?”
“Because you’re shielding to the point of being invisible again,” Rowena said as she stood on her tiptoes. “Uh oh.” She dropped to her feet and spun around to inspect a rose.
Selena turned with her. “What’s uh-oh?”
“Silar is here.”
“Be more specific!” Half the crowd had red hair and freckles. Gen was well loved.
“Hollis!” Rowena sneered at the name. “I promised Ty I wouldn’t get into a fight tonight and…” She curled her lips in a dramatic look of disgust.
Selena rolled her eyes. “It’s his baby sister’s reception. He’ll be on his best behavior.”
“How do you find that reassuring?” Rowena asked. “His best behavior is flirting until your clothes spontaneously combust.”
“Never worked on me,” Selena said, amused. It wasn’t a bad description, but she’d never expected Rowena of all people to notice. Hollis had never flirted with anyone from the Lee crew that Selena knew about.
Rowena gave her a pained look.
“If I see you starting to smolder, I’ll dump the punch on you.”
“There are two of my three favorite ladies!” Titan’s voice made them turn.
Selena reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug, greeting him with a kiss. “Two of three?” She smiled at him. :Who am I forgetting?:
“Can’t forget my auntie,” Titan said before he gave her another quick kiss. “I’m glad to see you two getting along. What were you discussing?”
“Hollis Silar,” Selena said as she rested her head against Titan’s chest.
Titan raised his eyebrows. “Ways to kill him?”
“No!” Selena hit his chest. “We’ve talked about this. You can’t joke about killing my friends.”
“I’m confused,” Titan said. “Rowena talked about Hollis and murder didn’t come up as an option? Are you feeling all right, Ro?”
Rowena rolled her eyes. “I was up all night with the new baby on family duty. Call it a lapse of judgment. Or my present to Genevieve and Carver. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon enough.” She smiled viciously. “Where’s the present you’ve been teasing Caryll with for weeks?”
“Yes,” Selena held him tighter. “Where’s this present that kept you away from me all day while I was party planning? I was in desperate need of help,” she said dramatically.
“I saw you and Marshall out here. You didn’t need help, you wanted willing slaves. That’s what fleetlings are for.” Titan’s grin lit up the night.
“Excuse me?” Rowena held up a hand. “I’m leaving before you two have your first fight as a married couple. Caryll, try not to shoot the planet. Again.”
Selena pinged Rowena’s shield with the thought of someone sticking out their tongue as Lee retreated. Then she turned back to Titan. “Well? What’s this secret present you’ve been hiding from me for weeks?”
“I was getting this.” He teleported a small stick with a bundle of roots and four large, green leaves and let it hover in front of her.
Selena frowned at the twig. “Okay. It’s… a plant.” She looked from the stick to her husband. “Right?” There was nothing in her implant about Sciarra courting rituals. Was it a special plant? Was she supposed to eat it? Grow it? “Am I supposed to give you a plant?”
“No!” Titan laughed happily. “This is one of the plants that was sketched by your ancestors, or a descendent of the original at any rate. I spent the week tracking down a crew that had the seeds in stasis. I was thinking we could put it in our hydroponics section.”
“Greenhouse,” she corrected. The house didn’t have anywhere for a contained garden, but she’d make one for this, and for him. “Down here they have greenhouses, or conservatories. This is beautiful, thank you, Titan.” She kissed his cheek and took the plant.
He smiled and whispered in her ear. “I meant hydroponics.”
A shield she hadn’t noticed all day vanished and Persephone hit her with a dozen updates. It was a whirlwind of information that took her a minute to sort through.
“Estimated time to repair completion… two days?” Selena stepped away from Titan as she processed everything. “Two? Titan? What did you do?”
“You know the fighters that were mine as dowry?”
“I traded them for a convoy ship that lost its environmental controls but which had engines that matched Persephone’s. And then I twisted Rowena’s arm to help me fix it. My captain deserves a ship.”
Her jaw dropped. “Really?”
“We have a ship? A working ship? It’s perfect!” She fell into him again, teleporting them away from the party and to the bridge of the Persephone.
Everything was gleaming. The broken screen was repaired, the duty stations were waiting for a crew… Titan had even taken the time to install a chair for her second in command and her chief medic on either side of the captain’s seat. It was perfection, the one thing she’d wanted but never dared dream of having.
“Permission to come aboard?” Titan asked.
“Permission granted.” The words were a whisper. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything more. Selena walked around the bridge, touching the chairs and looking at the waiting consoles.
Persephone’s face appeared on the screen. “Welcome aboard, Captain.”
Titan wrapped his arms around her waist. “What are you thinking?”
“There’s no place to land her in Enclave. We’re still out of fuel.” There were so many things she’d overlooked.
“So we make new fuel. We land her somewhere else. We—”
“We have no crew.” A tear ran down her cheek.
“Love, what’s wrong?”
“You said we.” Selena looked up at him. “We. Every time I stood here as a captain, I stood alone. No future. No hope. No one there for me.” She’d bled and fought for her crew. She’d been ready to lay her life down for them. But, in the end when she needed them the most, they had left her. They’d fled to the life pods when she stood against Old Balaur. They’d run to other crews when she arrived in Enclave, broken and heart-sick. “It’s always just been me on the Persephone.”
Titan held her close. “That won’t happen again. Whatever fight comes next, I’ll be here. With you.”
She smiled as she claimed his lips in a kiss. “You’d better be.”
:Is that an order?: His hands slid down her back to squeeze her buttocks. One hand kept going, slipping down to the hem of her short dress to caress her leg.
Selena laughed as Titan brushed feather-light kisses down her jawline and slid the strap of her sundress down. “Persephone, dismissed.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The computers on the bridge shut down, leaving them truly alone.
Titan held still, watching her, waiting for her.
She blushed. “I don’t think our every moment together has to be recorded for posterity.” Sex on the bridge. There was a teenage fantasy she’d never envisioned coming true. “How long do you think we have before anyone notices we’re missing from the party?”
Titan’s smile widened. “I enlisted help from the Sciarra troops to accomplish my mission.”
“Your mission?” She couldn’t help but laugh.
“I have to see the morale and happiness of the crew.” He stole a lingering kiss that melted away her fears. “Relax,” he whispered as he massaged her back. “The Sciarras are on the ground handling that. If anyone asks, they just saw us go past or we just turned the corner. They’ll even cheerfully help people go search for us. Elea is going to answer our pings, and Rowena promised to make sure they don’t run out of food. We have hours before the festivities are over.”
She walked her fingers up his chest to reach the top button of his shirt and looked up at his gorgeous green eyes. “Have I ever mentioned how wonderful you are?”
“Several times.” A smile tugged at his lips as his eyes sparkled with joy. “Permission to proceed with my mission, Captain?”
…until the next book at least…
Ready to read the ending? BODIES IN MOTION is available everywhere books are sold! Grab your copy now!