Authors: Zoe York
“Seriously?” she asked as he roughly crossed her wrists, the twine sliding between her skin and his fingers.
He paused, the skin around his eyes tightening almost imperceptibly, before exhaling harshly. “I will not hurt you.” She yanked her hands, but he held firm. He kept talking, wrapping the twine with each statement, his other hand still between hers. “Your pain is my pain. Your joy is my joy. I will take care of you.”
“What the hell are you doing?” she growled under her breath.
He glared down at her. “Making promises to my future wife.”
Panic rose in her chest and she whispered, “Knock it off, it’s weird.”
He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and took a deep breath, then swore in Danish before growling, “This will go easier if you refrain from offering color commentary at every turn, woman.”
She ground her teeth together. This marriage better not last long. There was something about her soon-to-be
that made her want to stomp her feet and throw things. He was too good at this act. She wanted to point out that it would also probably go better if he didn’t call her “woman”.
Something about the way he was immersed in the role made her seriously doubt that would go well.
What the hell was this Viking man getting them into?
nd so the
binding is made.” Aldric muttered the important words in Danish, under his breath because it was risky enough to even say them out loud. But damnit, this wasn’t how his handfasting should go.
It wasn’t going to be a complete bastardization, not if he had anything to say about it. The rest of their de facto marriage ceremony had been a legal reading of the bill-of-sale, which had made Aldric want to strangle the jailer in front of him.
Ignoring the narrowed eyes of his brand-new wife and the confused blink of the prison official, he switched to English. “We done here?”
“Of course,” the official said through an oily smile. “We just need your fingerprint here for verification…” he held out a tablet and Aldric ignored the pulse of panic in his chest. Not a problem. The manufactured finger pads were firmly adhered over his skin. He’d tested the thumb scan himself more than once on the three day flight from Howard Moon.
Next to him, Navena was playing her part of the insolent brat to perfection. She’d probably done this more than once—diplomacy only went so far, and she had more than a decade in the FedNat Forces.
So much good that did her. The official record apparently read that she’d been killed in action, a mysterious statement since their capture had been without incident. For reasons Reinn hadn’t sorted out before Aldric left, nobody was in a hurry to correct that misinformation.
Which was insane, because it had taken Aldric half a day of inquiries to get the only “military trained human bride” in the entire prison system. Her photo had been in a catalog and everything.
A catalog he wanted to take a fire cannon to on their way off the planet.
“Mr. Gretch,” the official repeated. “Your hand?”
Aldric held out his hand, pressing his thumb against the tablet. Blue lights swirled on the screen, then slowly flashed green.
Which, from the darkening look on the warden’s face, didn’t mean the same thing as it did on Earth and Midgard.
“Everything good to go?” Aldric asked, moving between the official and Navena.
“We will need further verification—”
“No,” he interrupted, pulling the concealed donkey tranquilizer dart from his belt and whipping it across the room. Right into the asshole’s neck. “Let me rephrase. We need to go.”
wide-eyed as Aldric took out the jailer, but she knew better than to let the shock take over her body. As the other man crumpled to the floor, Aldric loosened the twine he’d used to wrap her wrists together and shoved it in his pocket. She sprinted across the room with him and together they emptied the jailer’s pockets. Aldric took the tablet and an access badge, and tossed the standard-issue weapon at her.
“You can use that?”
She nodded. It was a basic blaster. She tested the dial and aimed it at the couch, charring a nice hole in the seat with a single pulse of energy. “Yep.”
Another nod, and they were off. He strode toward the door purposefully, as if they hadn’t just attacked the office’s inhabitant and left him unconscious on the floor. As if they were the rightful owners of the access badge and hell yes, the door should open for them.
She breathed a sigh of relief and followed him into the empty corridor. He moved without hesitation, taking them down a maze of hallways until he found a main thoroughfare—full of people.
“Sorry,” he muttered, before pressing her hand that held the blaster hard against the middle of her torso and lifting her bodily in the air, settling her on his shoulder—the blaster conveniently pointing out between their bodies.
Okay. Unconventional, but she could deal— “Ouch!”
She wiggled against him, her ass smarting from the stinging slap he’d just delivered to her flesh.
“You didn’t just spank—”
He let out a whoop and took off on a run across the crowded concourse. Apparently her jail had been attached to what looked like a black market…shopping mall. Weapons and drugs and a million other things that shouldn’t surprise her since she’d just been sold.
To Aldric, at least.
But still—she wasn’t fucking chattel.
There were principles involved, and she was a uniformed member of a recognized military force, and right now her ass was hanging out. She was being paraded around as a prized possession.
“Put. Me. Down,” she hissed, twisting around to whisper her command to Aldric.
He ignored her, instead running into a dark hallway and through a sliding door into the clammy cold of a hangar bay. He set her down next to a small space craft just long enough to press a key code into a panel, then shoved her backward through the airlock door and dragged her across the living space to the cockpit.
“Buckle up,” he ordered.
“What the hell is going on? What about my team?”
“It’s a long story. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Seriously?” He swung around and glared at her. “Right now? When we just tranqed a guy and need to get fucking going?”
“Yeah, why did we need to do that?”
He swore under his breath, something about Earth women and being fucking nosy. She ignored that and just glared right back.
He sighed and set his hands on her shoulders, pressing her into the co-pilot’s chair. “I may have bought you with fraudulent credits.”
“More questions?” He shook his head at her. “Fine, don’t.”
“Oh sure, I’ll just strap myself in for a speedy getaway,” she grumbled, but at the first thunder of thrusters rapidly powering up beneath them, she did just that.
He didn’t look at her again as he went through an abbreviated launch sequence, and then they were hurtling toward the stars, and freedom.
Once they were free of the atmosphere and Aldic had laid in a course for the edge of the Hefder solar system at maximum impulse, she tried to start a conversation again. She meant to be civil, but she opened her mouth and…insolence poured out.
“This is your master plan? You’re kidnapping me?”
you. From a
. You could be more grateful.”
“I was going to escape on my own! And I only think it counts as a rescue if we don’t get shot at.”
“We haven’t been shot at yet.”
He gave her a look like,
yeah, yet, and let’s focus on keeping that the status report
. But he didn’t say anything else, just tapped back and forth between two monitoring screens. After a minute he slid her a glance that could only be interpreted as kind of playful. “How were you going to escape, anyway?”
She wasn’t in the mood to be playful, so she answered stiffly. “I hadn’t gotten that far in the plan yet. But I’m certainly capable—”
He sighed. “I have zero doubts about your capabilities, Navena. But I had an opportunity to get you the hell out of there, and I took it.”
“Don’t worry about that.” A ping sounded from the console and he sat up a little straighter. “We’re going to jump to overdrive sooner than I’d like.”
“Because we’re about to be shot at?”
His jaw flexed as his fingers flew over the controls, getting the second engine ready to take over. An engine that should normally be warmed up a lot slower than he was moving.
But what did she know? Space travel was only her job.
She bit her lip to keep from saying anything, because he was right—getting shot at wasn’t ideal, either—and watched as the man she’d only previously known to be a farmer and local politician deftly prepped them to go a hell of a lot faster, totally calm in the face of impending company.
Hostile company, from the sound of the ominous beeps that were coming faster together.
Just as her pulse hit the
point, the space around them flashed white, and they jumped. It was harder to follow a small space ship in overdrive. Not impossible, but Aldric looked like he knew what he was doing as he changed their course. The galactic version of changing lanes with the barest of glances over his shoulder.
Navena had a flash of wanting to see him behind the wheel of a hovercraft. He’d be magnificent in a race, she just knew it. He’d always been commanding in a quiet, understated way. Not with her, not until today. But with the farmhands and even her troops, back when they’d worked together to rebuild relations between Earth and Midgard.
Had it only two years since they’d first met? He’d become an easy part of her life, a stable friendship in the lonely life of a frontier soldier.
And she’d never had a clue that he was capable of a daring rescue and impersonating an outlaw.
She glanced around the cockpit. Maybe he actually was an outlaw.
But there were more pressing questions, ones that couldn’t wait. Eventually she’d get to the bottom of what made this man tick. Right now, though, she needed to know why
was the one who came for her.
“We’re not being followed?” If they were, she’d bite her tongue and keep her questions to herself.
“Not at the moment, anyway.” He didn’t look her way, but he didn’t sound annoyed.
“Can I ask…”
He flicked his eyes to the side. He looked every inch a leather-wrapped bad ass, but his gaze was soft. “Anything.”
“You said nobody was coming to rescue me.”
“Yeah. There was a…mix-up of sorts. Your team was retrieved a week ago.”
Shock ricocheted through her body. “What?”
“It was a—”
“Mix up?” She stopped herself before kicking the panel in front of her, but just barely. “Yeah. You said that. I’m struggling to understand how. But I get that’s not your problem.”
His face tightened.
She swivelled in her chair. “So…if there was some confusion about me…you finding me cleared that up, right? Are we rendezvousing with a FedNat transport?”
His nostrils flared and she thought he might actually growl at her, but when he spoke, his voice was quiet. “First step, I think, is to find you something else to wear.”
A blush threatened to crawl up her neck and she beat it back with a healthy dose of self-shame. She was a seasoned soldier. Plus she stank. It really didn’t matter if she was a bit bare in front of Aldric. They were both professionals. But she wouldn’t turn down the offer of fresh clothes. “Something clean would be good, yeah. Thanks.”
“I have a water tank, too. You’ll need to have an ozone shower, but there’s enough real water to wash your face.”
She gave him a small smile. “All the luxuries. My goodness.”
“It’s going to be okay, Navena.”
“I know.” She huffed a laugh. “My government might be bloated and occasionally run into a snafu, but they’ll make this right for you. I’m sure you’ll be compensated for this rescue.”
Like a credit-lender’s vault, Aldric shut down, his shoulders going tight and his attention snapping back to the job of piloting—which, at overdrive, was entirely unnecessary.
She sat silently, waiting for him to tell her where the bathroom was, or something, but either she’d said the wrong thing or he didn’t know the right response, because there was no more conversing.
Instead, he twisted away from her and grabbed a small data plug, jammed it into the computer, then roughly attached it to a silver cylinder she recognized as a sub-space signalling device, similar to the one she’d activated for Navena.
“Shove that out a port,” he said curtly, passing it across to her.
“Where—” She cut herself off. She knew the layout of a Star Speedster and was just asking to be a pest. “Got it.”
She stood up and her rescuer/husband froze, his gaze tripping over her bare legs—as if he hadn’t seen a woman in a while.
Rolling her eyes, she stomped out of the cockpit.
She never thought she’d get married—had no desire to share a life with someone. Joint decisions about a single meal pained her, so forever having to take someone else into consideration sounded like a terrible idea.
she were to get married, she wouldn’t have thought it would be as a purchased bride, for one thing. Being bought by a Viking, for another, was yet another layer of mind-fuckery. Everything she knew about her best friend’s marriage and adopted culture told her they took their wedding vows seriously.
At least they hadn’t exchanged any. Being read a bunch of alien gibberish hardly counted.
She had zero reason for feeling guilty about Aldric putting his neck out like that for her. Maybe for the fact that he had to come rescue her when he might rather be…
She slowed to a stop outside the airlock. What did Aldric
“Envoy stuff, most of the time.”
What did you think he does, professional sword-fighting?
She rolled her eyes at herself. No, he’d been Reinn’s second for the length of her first diplomatic mission to Midgard. He’d coordinated details with visiting officials from Earth and negotiated appropriate compromises when the inevitable conflicts arose.